Butley  [DVD]
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Official Australian Release DVD / Region: 0 Pal / RARE OUT OF PRINT TITLE / On any given day Ben Butley, a self-made train wreck of a n English literature professor at a London University, can shrug off everyone and everything with equal ease. But today, the disaster of Butley's proudly misspent life threatens to dwarf even his cynically fatalistic non-expectations. Arriving at his cramped cave of an office, Butley is informed that his adored prot+ªg+ª is moving in with another man, his estranged wife is re-marrying and his seemingly untalented colleague has been published ahead of him. As embodied by Alan Bates, Butley falls back on the surgically precise wit and savage eloquence that helped put him in his current circumstance in the first place. The blitzkrieg of vitriolic commentary with which Butley engages lovers, students, rivals and allies, all with equal ferocity, becomes a glass bottom boat illuminating the churning depths of his bankrupted soul. Acclaimed playwright Harold Pinter, in what Time Magazine hailed as "a quite superior directorial debut," turns another Simon Gray's single-set, dialogue driven stage play into an irresistible dynamic visual experience that tracks Bates' hilarious and fearless performance with cunning precision. Bates and an expert support cast, including Oscar winner Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy), joust with a sly, self-referencing wit and an unselfconscious exuberance that is breathtaking. With every verbal parry and valedictory flourish of world play, Butley's life becomes more of an inescapable bear-trap of thwarted ambition, clandestine affection and squandered brilliance.
Top customer reviews
Ben Butley's life may have been on the skids for some time, but the origins of his malaise seem to be rooted in the collision between a powerful intellect and an emotional incontinence. Butley dispenses with T.S.Eliot in favour of Woolly Bear and Mistress Pussy, an exchange that may signify that an immersion in the recondite world of modern poetry may have its perils for a certain kind of sensibility. We certaintly get the impression from Alan Bates' masterly performance of an overwhelming sense of ennui, nurtured in an academic world that has for him lost all meaning and purpose. This university lecturer clearly possesses an intellect superior to most of his colleagues - but what good has it done him? Without a centre, 'an anchor' as Simon Gray explains in his thoughtful commentary, Butley flounders - his ribald and devastatingly funny commentary on his colleagues and former lovers only faintly conceal his inner torment. His agony may be self-inflicted, but that doesn't make his suffering any less real or moving. An unusual DVD - not the kind of thing you see produced too often. Perhaps its theatrical origins will be too obvious for some, but for those who enjoy a literate and bleakly humorous take on the comlexities of emotional life it's a must.
Had we met Ben Butley the day before, we'd have him down as an embittered soak with nothing to offer but his (wasted) intellect. He's certainly that when we do, but on this day, what passes for his world is being dismantled before his eyes. It is his desperate effort to control things he so clearly can't that compels us.
Alan Bates is captivating as Butley, using so many guises to mask his pain. He is at once incredulous and childish, darkly funny, a wasted talent, viciously cruel, so very frail, frightened, pathetic and so utterly human.
The scenes are largely set in the office Butley shares with his ex- student and partner, Joey. Director Harold Pinter makes good use of this space; it is an unwelcoming, claustrophobic womb but it represents somewhere safe for Butley.
So much of what passes between Joey and Butley is of things - life! - outside that room. Like Joey, we want so much to leave it but we cannot unless Butley allows us to. Instead we remain with him, slowly suffocating. The only respite we get is when another character enters the room. We hope they bring new hope, some fresh air, but they only bring more disappointment.
For students of drama this is an excellent study in status and dramatic tension. For everyone else it is an expertly crafted and pared down film.
I was going to give this film four stars but I couldn't think of a reason not to give 5, so I have.
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