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March 10, 2015

Life of Riley

life of riley poster.jpg

Aimer, boire et chanter
Alain Resnais - 2014
Kino Lorber BD Region A

I swore that I would refrain from making any references to the television series, The Life of Riley, but this is too good to pass up. In that Fifties show, the title character played by William Bendix was famous for the catchphrase, "What a revolting development this is." That same phrase was recycled for use by the comic book character, Benjamin Grimm of The Fantastic Four, created by Marvel comic's Stan Lee. And Lee, as some already know, wrote a never filmed screenplay called The Monster Maker and also, decades before Sam Raimi came on board, tried to make of film of Spider-Man, both to be filmed by Alain Resnais. OK, so there's this roundabout connectivity that I enjoy, but I think that Alain Resnais might have found it a bit amusing.

The French title translates as the equivalent to, "Eat, drink and be merry". The English language title is from Alan Ayckbourn's play. The title character is George Riley, and though the film and play revolve around him, Riley is never seen. The six characters we do see are reacting to Riley's impending death.

I should admit that Resnais lost me after Providence. I've seen most of his films that followed, but never felt particularly enthusiastic about any of them. I Want to Go Home is one of the couple of films I liked best in this latter period. The supplemental material here, essays by Resnais and critic Glenn Kenny, as well as interviews with the actors shot soon after the completion of filming, are helpful in pointing out what to look for here, in what turned out to be Alain Resnais' final work.

Much of the time, Riley looks like filmed theater, with the actors on a stage with a painted backdrop. This may have been a result of budget constraints, but Resnais tries to use this obvious theatrical setting to his advantage. During the times Resnais breaks into a close-up of the actors, what we see behind the actor is not the stage backdrop but something that looks like the cross-hatching in comic books. Interludes between scenes are a combination of traveling shots in the parts of Yorkshire where the story takes place, with those shots dissolving into colored pen and ink drawings of the respective homes of each character, with the action taking place in their gardens.

That the final shot is of George Riley's coffin has turned out to be an uncanny coincidence. Life of Riley was never intended to be the 91 year old Resnais' last film. As final images from final films go, the post card with the image of angel of death on top of a coffin is as unintentionally fitting as that of some other filmmakers, including Anne Bancroft's defiant, "So long, ya bastard" prior to her suicide drink at the end of John Ford's Seven Women, or Barbara Harris' wink to the camera at the close of Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot.

resnais on the set.jpg

Posted by peter at March 10, 2015 07:10 AM