Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

11 May 2007

Billy Budd

I have a confession to make. Though it is a classic, I've never read Herman Melville's novel Billy Budd, Foretopman. I've also never heard or seen the Britten/Forster opera Billy Budd. I have no explanation for this at all. There's a play, too, I guess, called Uniform of Flesh.

But today I saw the film Billy Budd. It was directed by Peter Ustinov and came out in 1962. The acting is first rate. It marks the first cinematic appearance of the great actor Terence Stamp, and also stars Robert Ryan, Melvyn Douglas, Ustinov and John Neville (the well-manicured man from The X-Files). It's also exquisitely made, beautifully shot, Ustinov has a way with actors, and the homoerotic tension he builds in some scenes is palpable and intriguing. BUT.

This movie is the biggest, stinking pile of ideological bullshit I have seen in quite some time. I liked this movie for the first hour and forty minutes or so, but the ending pulled the rug out from under me. It's unconscionable, horrifying. The justification for murder is something like I haven't seen in I don't even know how long. That anyone would choose to put this story on screen in the way that Ustinov did is to me unthinkable. And he plays the murderer! I am so angry at this film I can barely speak about it. I was yelling back at the screen like I could change the course of the narrative. Billy Budd is worse than, say, Munich in terms of ideological bullshit. The way it glosses over real facts and attempts to make the audience sympathize with the murderers in the film is unbelievable. Up until the 90 minute mark I would have given this film five stars. The ending bumps it down to one. Fuck this movie.