Friday, 29 July 2011

Friday Night Film: The Magus

Woody Allen once said ‘If I had to live my life again, I'd do everything the same, except that I wouldn't see 'The Magus'.’ Of course, this was some time before he started sleeping with his stepdaughter, so he might give a different answer now if asked, but it neatly sums up most people’s attitude towards the film of the book: it’s shit.

It took John Fowles twelve years to write ‘The Magus’, and he continued to fiddle with it for years after publication. The story of a feckless poet who takes a job on a Greek island and becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly dark psychological games with an enigmatic Greek millionaire, its publication coincided with the dawning of the age of Aquarius, and became something of a key text in its exploration of mysticism and illusion, myth, magic and mind games.

The mysterious Conchis.

Pan's People.
Inevitably, a film of the book was made, but the challenge of condensing nearly seven hundred pages of tightly packed narrative and characterisation proved impossible, even for Fowles, who wrote the screenplay himself and then promptly blamed the lacklustre and really boring end result on the director, Guy Green, who in turn thought it was all Fowles’ stupid script's fault.

Michael Caine plays the young poet, Anthony Quinn* the God like Conchis, and Trigger from 'Only Fools & Horses' is Conchis as a young man. Caine has said that he had no idea what the film was about and what he was supposed to be doing, and it shows – he keeps smirking, ostensibly to convey his character’s superior attitude, but, in actual fact, he just looks embarrassed. Quinn is a pretty awful actor, anyway, and his Conchis is Zorba the Greek and Picasso - with a big hat on, hardly the genius magician and expert game player of the novel. Trigger is, of course, beyond reproach.

An embarrassed Mr. Caine.

He deserved that.

The film is nearly two hours long and you feel every second of it. Even the normally luminous Anna Karina is rubbish in it. That said, like all disasters it has a compelling quality and, in the climactic trial scenes, it becomes psychedelic enough to be quite visually interesting, although ‘The Prisoner’ did this much better on telly a year earlier. File under ‘It was the 60’s’.

Occult Shit.

Jackal Head and Big Hat.

He appears to have misplaced his blindfold.
* Quinn was apparently an egomaniac, and Martin Amis (who, as a child, made a film with him) tells an amusing anecdote about how one of Quinn’s pretensions was to play speed chess with a dozen people at a time, despite the fact that he couldn’t play very well at all, waiting until the point of defeat before suddenly realising there was something else that needed his brilliance and regretfully abandoning the tournament.

1 comment:

  1. Have to say that I love this film. There! I've said it. If Michael Caine didn't understand what it was about, then that just shows him up for the all-round tosser he is.