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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


  A Single Man


Director Tom Ford (USA 2009)

Well I didnít know that fox terriers smell of buttered toast. Mind you, Iím not likely to get close enough to find out. And the look on that womanís face when Colin Firth picks up her dog and starts nuzzling it ecstatically.

Itís not the buttered toast heís after, of course. A la Proustís madeleine, itís the memory of his lover who took their pooch with him to his death, eight months earlier.

Professor George Falconer (Firth) is having trouble getting over it to say the least, not helped by the family shutting him out of the funeral on account of it being 1963 and his lover being another man.

But the Englishman in Los Angeles has plenty going for him otherwise. A beautiful house of glass, designed by his architect lover, a beautiful car, a beautiful best friend in the permanently slightly drunk Charley (the brilliant Julianne Moore).

He also has his impeccable good taste to fall back on. In clothes, in soft furnishings, in boys (who throw themselves at him with barely an invitation), in girls (who are faintly bewildered), in malt whisky.

Falconerís favourite drink is 25-year-old North Port. I thought I knew about whisky. I thought they were making it up. But I checked. North Port Distillery, in Brechin, was mothballed in 1983 and later demolished to make room for a Safeway supermarket. How recherche is that!

Tom Ford, writer and director, is a fashion designer, and the film is bursting with detail. Lighting and drawing on a cigarette, down to the small squeak of the smoke as itís sucked through the filter, is a gorgeous miniature opera.

Then there are the eyes. Lots of close-ups of eyes, quickening a character with vulnerability and desire.

But there is more to A Single Man than its exquisite surface. More even than Firth and Mooreís imperious performances.

This is, after all, 1963. The Cuban Missile Crisis is on the news. Falconer (the name is, perhaps, an allusion to Yeats: ĎThe falcon cannot hear the falconer / Things fall apart; the centre cannot holdí) breaks from his usual English lecture to discourse on fear. Fear of nuclear war, fear of communists and, gently hinted, fear of homosexuals. The fears they use to define and control us.

Itís a fine line between fear and beauty, and A Single Man is a finely-drawn story of a minor skirmish in the battle to be on the right side.


February 17, 2010

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