17 In Focus: Mike Leigh (JP)

The British filmmaker Mike Leigh puts the move into movies: he never stops changing, never stops inventing. In nearly 50 years of filmmaking, he has ranged from comic portrayals of ordinary life amid the social breakdowns of Thatcher’s Britain (Life is Sweet, High Hopes) to gritty renditions of working-class constraint and bourgeois hypocrisy (Meantime, Abigail’s Party, Hard Labour) to period films that reveal the “profoundly trivial” elements of artistic life even two centuries in the past (Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Turner).

Leigh (did you guess he was our Mystery Guest from the grainy photo we posted last week?) contains multitudes. What Roland Barthes says about the novels of Marcel Proust is true of Mike Leigh films as well: you notice different things every time you return to them.

When he sat down with John in Columbus, Ohio (at a Victorianist convention, no less!) they were united by love for a hometown boy made good: James Thurber. The conversation ranged from recording working-class voices in the 19th century to Method acting to the pointlessness of fetishizing closeups to the movies John had never seen and should have–and that’s only the first twenty minutes. It cries out for footnotes, but maybe the best result of all this talk would be simply your decision to go off and see a couple of (or four, or five, or like John seven) Mike Leigh films you’d never seen before. You won’t be sorry.

Discussed in this episode:

Peter Jackson (dir.), They Shall Not Grow Old

John Osborne, Look Back in Anger

Ingmar Bergman (dir.), The Seventh Seal

Harold Pinter, The Caretaker

Jean-Luc Godard (dir.), A bout de souffle

John Cassavetes (dir.), Shadows and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Sam Mendes (dir.), 1917

Alexander Sukorov (dir.), Russian Ark

James Thurber, The 13 Clocks, “The Unicorn in the Garden” and “The Greatest Man in the World

Norman Z. McLeod (dir.), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Stanley Davis (dir.), Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint and Exit Ghost

Ermanno Olmi (dir.), The Tree of Wooden Clogs

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Listen to the episode here:

Transcript Available Here:

BONUS EPISODE UPCOMING: Rita Felski, literary theorist extraordinaire, and Namwali Serpell (prizewinning author and scholar to boot) talk to John about empathy, the novel and what it means to get “hooked” on literature. That was not on our Fall schedule! But it happened, we taped it, and it’s coming your way in a couple of weeks. Followed by our conversation on scientific and humanistic collaboration with string theorist Albion Lawrence…

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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