Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Wife. Image courtesy of UNITED ARTISTS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION
Nobel Prize-winning English playwright, screenwriter, director and actor Harold Pinter will take the spotlight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in November. Harold Pinter: Comedies of Menace & Quiet Desperation, taking place November 22 – 28, will feature highlights of some of Pinter's best film adaptations in addition to original screenplays and adaptations by other writers.
An influential British dramatist with a career that spanned over five decades, some of his best-known work includes The Birthday Party (1957), The Homecoming (1964), and Betrayal (1978), each of which he adapted for the screen. His screenplay adaptations of others' works include The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), The Trial (1993), and Sleuth (2007).
The Room (1957) marked his beginning as a playwright. His early works were described by critics as “comedy of menace,” while later plays such as No Man's Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978) were deemed “memory plays.” He appeared as an actor in productions of his own work on radio and film, undertook a number of roles in works by other writers and directed nearly 50 productions for stage, theater and screen. Pinter received over 50 awards, prizes, and other honors, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the French Légion d'honneur in 2007.
Peter Strauss and Robert De Niro in The Last Tycoon. Image courtesy of PARAMOUNT / THE KOBAL COLLECTION
“The Broadway production of one of Harold Pinter’s masterpieces, Betrayal, is sure to be one of the theatrical events of the year, and provided the perfect occasion for us to revisit Pinter’s body of work for the cinema,” said Gavin Smith, Editor of Film Comment Magazine and Senior Programmer. “The major omission ironically, is the 1983 adaptation of Betrayal starring Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley—which we look forward to screening early next year following the conclusion of the Broadway run.”
Harold Pinter: Comedies of Menace & Quiet Desperation lineup and schedule:
Accident, Joseph Losey, U.K., 1967, 35mm; 105m
Summer in Oxford, and beneath the genteel surface there’s a network of resentment and cruelty between two professors (Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker). They’ve both dallied with the same student, who’s boyfriend has just been killed in a car accident. Pinter’s second collaboration with Joseph Losey is even bolder than The Servant; the time shifts, the nuanced performances and the astonishing use of color and sound contribute to a quietly devastating film. One of the boldest works of a bold era. With Michael York, Vivien Merchant, Jacqueline Sassard, Alexander Knox, Delphine Seyrig and Pinter himself as Bell.
Monday, November 25, 9pm
The Birthday Party, William Friedkin, U.K., 1968, 35mm; 123m
In what Harold Clurman called “a fantasia of fear and prosecution,” seaside boarding-house lodger Robert Shaw is terrorized and broken down by two menacing strangers (Patrick Magee and Sidney Tafler) who throw him a birthday party—even though it isn’t his birthday. British actress Dandy Nichols gave a career performance as the landlady.
Saturday, November 23, 4pm
Tuesday, November 26, 1:30pm + 6:30pm
Thursday, November 28, 6:00pm
The Caretaker, Clive Donner, U.K., 1964, 35mm; 105m
One of Pinter’s favorites among the many adaptations of his plays for the screen, this movie, also known as The Guest, was privately financed by a group of 10 that included Peter Sellers, Noel Coward and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Burton. Alan Bates and Robert Shaw are Mick and Aston, two warring brothers. Aston invites a tramp named Davis (Donald Pleasence) to stay at Mick’s house, and the brothers use the poor man as both a shield and a weapon. Brilliantly directed by Clive Donner, and shot by future director Nicolas Roeg.
Friday, November 22, 4:15pm
Monday, November 25, 2:00pm
Wednesday, November 27, 2:00pm
Thursday, November 28, 3:45pm
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Karel Reisz, U.K., 1981, 35mm; 123m
John Fowles’s celebrated novel is rethought by Pinter as a metamovie in which the story of a Victorian fossil-collector (Jeremy Irons) gradually drawn into an affair with a scarlet woman (Meryl Streep) is interspersed with scenes of the making of the film in which actors Mike (Irons) and Anna (Streep) begin an affair of their own.
Saturday, November 23, 1:30pm
Sunday, November 24, 8:40pm
Wednesday, November 27, 4:15pm
The Go-Between, Joseph Losey, U.K., 1971, 35mm; 118m
Michael Redgrave is Leo Colston, remembering back to 1900, when he was boy of 13 (Dominic Guard plays Leo as a boy) and spent the summer at the Norfolk estate of his friend Marcus. Marcus’s sister Marian (Julie Christie) takes a shine to Leo, and eventually starts asking him to take secret messages to their neighbor Ted (Alan Bates), behind the back of the man to whom she’s engaged (Edward Fox). L.P. Hartley’s novel is a modern classic, as powerful an inquiry into the nature of veiled motivations and emotions in Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier. In their final collaboration, Pinter and Losey crafted an acutely perceptive, quietly tragic film out of Hartley’s classic. Thanks to their addition of the framing device with Redgrave as the older Leo, The Go-Between ranks as one of the finest “memory films” ever made. “When I first read The Go-Between I burst into tears on the last page,” Pinter admitted.
Friday, November 22, 9pm
Saturday, November 23, 6:45pm
Monday, November 25, 4:15pm
The Homecoming, Peter Hall, U.K./USA, 1973, 35mm; 114m
Cyril Cusack, Ian Holm, Michael Jayston, Vivien Merchant, Terence Rigby and Paul Rogers repeat their brilliant performances from the original 1965 production of Pinter’s masterpiece, brought to the screen for the American Film Theater series in the 70s and perfectly staged by the great Sir Peter Hall. Jayston is the son returning home with his wife (Merchant). They find the family nest buzzing with anger and ill feelings, a small colony of people—father (Rogers), Uncle (Cusack) and brothers (Holm and Rigby)—who can never get away from the terrible, cozy comforts of family. A towering achievement in theater, and a great film.
Sunday, November 24, 4:00pm
Monday, November 25, 6:30pm
Wednesday, November 27, 9pm
Thursday, November 28, 1:30pm
The Last Tycoon, Elia Kazan, U.S., 1976; 130m
Pinter’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel, inspired by MGM mogul Irving Thalberg, about a Hollywood production head undone by a romantic obssession and the complications of studio politics. Elia Kazan assembles an all star cast: Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Tony Curtis…
Friday, November 22, 6:30pm
Tuesday, November 26, 9:00pm
The Pumpkin Eater, Jack Clayton, 1964; 110m
Anne Bancroft is a woman with six children who fastens herself to Peter Finch. As she is pregnant with baby number seven, she discovers that her new husband is unfaithful, and suffers a breakdown, made worse when lecherous James Mason tells her Finch is expecting a child with another woman. A magnificent film of hushed resignation and anguish, adapted by Pinter from Penelope Mortimer’s novel, beautifully acted by Bancroft, Finch and Mason and perfectly mounted by perennially underrated director Jack Clayton. Music by Georges Delerue.
Sunday, November 24, 6:15pm
Tuesday, November 26, 4pm
The Servant, Joseph Losey, U.K., 1963; 115m
A breakthrough: a long, elegant swan dive into the intricacies of the British class system, with a tone unlike that of any other film before or since, at once urbane, nasty and cool. Dirk Bogarde is Barrett, the servant hired by a lazy young aristocrat (James Fox) named Tony to manage his newly acquired Georgian townhouse. When Barrett realizes that Tony’s upper-crust girlfriend (Wendy Craig) is a threat to his supremacy within the household, he sets his sluttish girlfriend (Sarah Miles) to work. By the end, the tables have turned, and master and servant are equals on a field of loathing. It took quite a bit of doing for Losey, Pinter and Bogarde to get this adaptation of Robin Maugham’s novel off the ground, but it was worth it: “The film still seems as fresh as a daisy to me,” wrote Pinter, “whilst stinking of moral corruption.”
Friday, November 22, 2:00pm
Sunday, November 24, 1:45pm
Wednesday, November 27, 6:45pm
Turtle Diary, John Irvin, U.K., 1985, 35mm; 96m
In this adaptation of Russell Hoban’s novel, lonely bookseller Ben Kingsley and single children’s author Glenda Jackson are brought together by their mutual longing to liberate the turtles at the zoo aquarium, aided by zookeeper Michael Gambon. Watch out for Pinter’s bookshop customer cameo and supporting performances by Jeroen Krabbe, Harriet Walter and Eleanor Bron.
Saturday, November 23, 9pm