Losey is above all a researcher, his mise en scène a method. His declared objective: knowledge. His only apparatus: inteligence, or rather lucidity. His approach is modelled on that of the scientist. The same basic attitude to the phenomena under observation, the same procedures: discover lived experience in its totality, record it like an object, make this object the field of investigation, in short, place lived experience in laboratory conditions. Losey restores the camera to its original function as scientific instrument. That is the mark of his originality.

Does this mean that other film-makers are not fired by the same ambition? The a priori concept of reality, the ideal and filtered reality of a Fritz Lang, who creates an abstract universe in which passions pared down to the essentials confront each other, of a Mizoguchi, haunted by the perpetual oscillation of an external and a personal world, of a Raoul Walsh, who glorifies adventure, shows that these film-makers don’t have the same concerns as Losey, even though their mise en scène is similar and very often superior to his. But what of Nicholas Ray and Rossellini? They too consider lived experience as a whole to be respected a priori. Knowledge, for them, thus consists of the sudden intuitive penetration of a reality that has first been laid out for examination. The process is the same for both: going from the outside to the inside, through affectivity.

This means that, in spite of a common point of departure, their procedures are radically opposed to Losey’s, since he always goes from the inside to the outside. To an instinctive knowledge that is purely artistic in the traditional sense of the word Losey prefers a logical knowledge, one in which intuition and deduction are subordinated to intelligence. This kind of attitude raises the problem of modern cinematic aesthetics which goes far beyond the scope of this article: ‘It was one of Brecht’s principles, and the only one I am in entire agreement with’, Losey told us, ‘that the moment emotion interrupts the audience’s train of thought, the director has failed.’

If one term can characterize Losey’s mise en scène, I think it must be that of bursting open to view. It isn’t quite true to say that he goes from the inside to the outside. He sticks to appearances, scrutinizing objective relationships and refusing to interpret them. Any other attitude would be unscientific and thus, in his view, unartistic. Because the outside is for him the reflection of internal phenomena, the projection of an interiorized conflict. The gesture refers to what motivates it and to nothing else. Effects reveal only their causes and what generated those causes: the person stripped naked. Losey is the first film-maker who has taken as his only material for investigation - without any reference to morality, metaphysics or religion - the truth of human beings. (The aesthetic argument that Jan, the young Dutch painter, expounds in Blind Date is, in this point, very clear.)

But if the skin is to burst, if the person is at last to be revealed to the light of day, reality has to be placed in laboratory conditions, that is, shut in and subjected to a high enough pressure to produce the split. That presupposes a dramatic situation pushed to the brink of theatricality. There has to be an acute crisis, a feverish temperature, an emergency operation. Hence that style that is so particular to Losey, a style that is raw, tense, strained, incisive. A style that shocks. For, like Time Without Pity and The Criminal, Blind Date is indeed about an upheaval. An earthquake shatters every illusion of stability. It’s the observable manifestation of the tremendous pressures that have built up beneath the earth’s crust.

If that is accepted, everything in Blind Date becomes clear, gestures and setting, plot and narrative structures. The story begins thus: Jan is hurrying along to his mistress’s apartment. It’s the first time she has allowed him to go there. The door is open. He goes in. No one there. He makes use of the opportunity to discover what kind of decor his lover has, as if it will help him get to know her better. He laughs at her untidiness, is surprised by the garishness of the bathroom, reassured by a small Van Dyck and, stretching out on the settee, mystified to find an envolope stuffed full of banknotes. He waits. The police arrive. His mistress has been murdered while he has been looking round the apartment. He becomes the prime suspect.

Let’s pause for a moment on this opening sequence and Jan’s discovery of Jacqueline’s apartment and thus of Jacqueline herself. The camera just observes scrupulously the sequence of events, the manifestation of phenomena and their objective relations. First of all Jan’s own personality. Excited by his adventure, his true self reveals itself in his attitudes as well as in his reactions, and is apparent in each of his gestures. And because they are the reflection of that true self, his gestures are as rare as they are precious (and sometimes, I admit, verging on preciosity). Like the way our young lover stops suddenly on one leg in the doorway of the bedroom, a position that is emphasized still more by a change of angle. Everything in Jan betrays an unsullied innocence, the unbroken heart of a child eager to be enchanted by love.

Too eager, in fact, for an impartial observer like us, and we can’t help thinking there is a hiatus between Jan’s nature and the kind of woman he loves, as she is betrayed by her apartment. It visibly belongs to a high-class tart. Some of Jan’s reactions make it clear that he is aware of this, but then a tastefully chosen object reassures him. He is in fact willing to let himself be taken in. He is blinded by his love and his trust. He is on the verge of submission, his innocence is threatened. That is the heart of Losey’s subject-matter. Jan has to weigh up to what he has, take an exact account of its value, sum himself up, in short, study himself, i.e. attain lucidity through a critical self-examination in terms of his relationships with the outside world.

The murder creates the conditions necessary for an experiment of this kind. It constructs an enclosed world in which maximal pressures are brought to bear on him. They bear down with increasing intensity on people shut up in these conditions and lead to a kind of tearing apart that is rendered visually by the mise en scène and which is, it seems to me, the basic dynamic of Blind Date. This tearing apart comes into being with the hiatus between Jan and the setting. It is developed as soon as the police arrive, when Inspector Morgan also looks round the apartment. This time it is a cold, clinical inspection that leaves no possible doubt about the fickleness of Jacqueline’s character or about Morgan’s down-to-earth brashness and tactlesness (his gestures, his Welsh accent, his reaction to the mirror in front of the bed, etc.).

The confrontation of two divergent visions of the same interiors and thus of the same woman brings about an even more violent tearing apart, the flashback. This is opposed visually, through its harsh, white, Nordic lighting and bare sets, to the grey photography and the cluttered apartment in the first part. The flashback, generated simply by the logic of the situation, is as much a sensual evocation of a love affair as an exact analysis of the relationship between the two lovers and a judgment of their love. As an investigation made necessary by the internal logic of the situation, it brings out the obvious incompatibility between the Jacqueline Jan loves and the owner of the apartment as she is pieced together by the police on the basis of evidence and objects.

That is what Morgan can’t help noticing - he has a good nose even if it is blocked. Losey likes to overlay the struggle for lucidity with this kind of physical handicap (Redgrave’s drunkenness in Time Without Pity, Morgan’s cold in Blind Date), a handicap that is matched by the blind infatuation of the partner. You have to fight against the fog in your own mind. For Morgan too is involved in this affair, even as much as Jan is. He finds himself caught up in the same quest for truth and thus for his own truth. Hence the pressures he has to submit to. Social pressures that impose a split between his careerism and the more imperative issue of his own self-respect. A simple question of dignity. The problem for Morgan and for Jan is the same: resisting corruption, preserving their integrity. Once they have realized this, after the short struggle that Jan’s wounding question provokes in Morgan’s office, the resolution isn’t far off. The woman - Jacqueline/Lady Fenton - is rediscovered; under the double pressure exerted by Morgan and Jan, her duplicity is blindingly clear. The lie curses the truth. The self has conquered appearances. Innocence goes free.

We would, then, be misjudging Losey, we would indeed be completely misinterpreting his work if we refused to link his aesthetic to a rationalism of the Left. Even, as Domarchi has suggested, of the extreme Left, since Losey categorically refuses any appeal to the sentimentalism the so-called artistic Left is so attached to. His art is a laboratory art. You place a complete lump of lived experience in a jar. You create the most favourable conditions for the experiment. Then you meticulously analyse all the objective relationships that form themselves and you discover that struggle is the vital source of all reality. The struggle of individuals (Jan and Jacqueline, Jan and Morgan), the class struggle, etc. But since the knowledge of the observer is always determined by that of the person observed, the struggle allows this knowledge to develop. In this climate of dramatic conflict, justified violence breaks down ossified structures, pushing the self out on the surface.

Seizing hold of the inner vibrations of the self: this demand that Jan makes of Jacqueline while she is drawing (whereas she, reflecting her class, seeks only to conceal it) is what Losey demands of his art. An art that despises ornamentation, that uses lucidity to destroy the myth, that grates and shocks. An art that hurts because it allows no compromise. But an art that thirsts after truth. That is why it still repels so many people.


(Cahiers du Cinéma nº 117, March 1961, pp. 47-50. Republished in Cahiers du Cinéma: The 1960s - New Wave, New Cinema, Reevaluating Hollywood, edited by Jim Hillier, B.F.I., 1986, pp. 146-149. Translation by Norman King)





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