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Posted October 29, 2012 by William Dunmyer in Drama
 
 

Sunday Bloody Sunday: Courageous and Revolutionary, But Not a Great Film

After his global triumph with the revolutionary film “Midnight Cowboy” (winner of the Best Picture Oscar for 1969), English filmmaker John Schlesinger came back in 1971 with the equally revolutionary “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

It stars Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson as two middle-aged Londoners struggling for the attention of a young bisexual artist whom they share. Murray Head plays the artist.

Partisans of gay liberation, such as myself, want very much to herald this film because of its extreme courage in openly showing two men kissing and making love and presenting it matter-of-factly. One cannot overstate how radical this was for well-known actors and an Oscar-winning director to do in 1971.

But the truth can’t be denied. It’s a dull film. There isn’t much of a story. Schlesinger wanted to do a slice-of-life depiction of English culture at this extraordinary time when revolution was in the air. Everything was questioned, including how we raise children, establish families, and establish romantic relationships.

The problem is that the depiction is not that gripping. The slice-of-life approach can only work if the presentation of day-to-day life is filled with visual poetry. Visually, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is rather pedestrian. Whereas “Midnight Cowboy” was an overpowering work of visual art, with extraordinarily poetic use of music, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is visually flat, without the slightest bit of inspiring music. It has all the sonic poetry of a phone ringing.

What little story arc there is consists of the artist planning a long trip to America and disappointing both of his middle-aged lovers. We listen over and over to Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson whine to the artist that he’s not spending enough time with them, while he flits mercurially from one to another.

This is not a menage-a-trois. There are two separate relationships. Finch and Jackson know of each other’s existence, but they only meet at the tail end of the film. The artist never lies to either one of them. All cards are on the table.

I like the critique of non-monogamous “no strings” relationships, which became quite the rage in the 1970s, with young bisexual men embodying this perhaps most quintessentially. But it isn’t explored in enough depth or with enough poetry to be interesting for more than about a half-hour. After an hour, I was sick of hearing the characters whine to each other, saying very little.

I love that Schlesinger and his cast had the guts to do a film like this at this time. I just wish they had more to say with the project. The first on-screen kiss between two men is not enough on which to build a film. That’s just not enough to warrant 90 minutes of viewing. As I once said about Martin Scorsese’s brave project “New York, New York,” I admire the cojones but not the final product.


William Dunmyer

 
William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.