Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) Directed by John Schlesinger

It was inevitable that at some point in the 1960's, pop culture, so prevalent would seep into all aspects of creativity. It was a boom time for radical ideas, drugs....well you know the story. It makes for some funny cinema.  Far From The Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy's 19th century novel, is enthused by a 1960's, swinging London sensibility, even though this is a period picture. It could be Nic Roeg's excellent cinematography (the real star here) which at times is quite psychedelic. Or it could be nothing more than our perceived, retrospective 60's iconography. Julie Christie and Terence Stamp were children of David Bailey's school of 60's cool.

Schlesinger's picture has got a lot wrong. It is overlong and its painstaking insistence on picturing the lower classes in the 19th Century rural England is patronizing at best. Yet the film works as a great picture of unfulfilled desire, especially in the portrayal of obsessed landowner Mr Boldwood (an excellent Peter Finch). This also applies to a lesser extent to Alan Bates' Gabriel, although the Jesus like analogies to his character are far to obvious. Julie Christie is pretty shallow here and along with Stamp there isn't much to grasp hold of other than cliche and "my God how beautiful they are together". You could just watch this picture in awe at how good they look. Far From The Madding Crowd is aesthetically excellent.

Two scenes are essential. Gabriel losing his flock of sheep over a cliff, tragic and powerful. The other scene, Stamp charging Christie with his army Sabre, sexually provocative, is high 60's camp. So, an enjoyable period piece, yet ultimately a 60's curiosity. No depth here.

I went to a Steiner school where for the first three years we were handed a personally picked poem each spring instead of grades or other means of evaluation. My second grade ended with a poem about a little mouse girl whose parents wanted to marry her off to the sun and the moon until at the end they realized that the little mouse would be happiest with the neighboring mouse who had always been around the corner.

Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd appears to be a variation on the same story. The 19th Century brought with it the idea that love needed to exist before marriage, the romantic predicament. Bathsheba
(Julie Christie) becomes a wealthy owner of a farm and suddenly she does not need a man to take care of her, but to love her. The problem is that society around her and especially the men, still view marriage as a kind of business deal. The movie also strongly suggests that the beauty of a woman drives men crazy with the need to own and control. It is somehow her own fault then that all these men obsessively lust after her...

Would you marry for looks, for lust, money, sex, security, status, practicality, friendship, pity or some kind of a mixture of the above? These questions are not so far from what Sex and The City (the TV series) used to ask. Gossipy entertainment with romantic English scenery and good looks, that's Far From The Madding Crowd.

And as for me and the mouse poem: I remain with the mice gladly, but may still secretly be reaching for the sun and moon (or at least be dreaming of them).


Popular Posts