Monday, October 3, 2011

Tom Jones Reconsidered

Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones (1963) is an insidious film that had a deleterious affect on the manners and morals of a generation of young men and women. After 48 years the movie should finally be banned, along with the 18th-century Fielding novel on which it was based and the script by John Osborne of Look Back in Anger fame. Now you’ll ask what’s so bad about a largely forgotten mid-20th-century film starring Albert Finney, who was only 27 when the role of Tom earned him an Academy Award nomination. What’s wrong is table manners—Tom’s bawdy adventures with wenches are exemplifications of poor etiquette. Emily Post would not approve. As depicted in the film, Tom had a Henry VIII complex, though he was plainly the embodiment of the notion of everyman as libertine. It is really unpleasant to be in the company of someone like Tom, who has his fun at expense of others. Richardson’s movie glamorizes gluttony and eating as a sexual act in the same way that Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs glorifies violence. Both the film and the book are incidentally sexist in that they sensationalize the function of mammary glands, fetishistically objectifying them along with their possessors, and turning both into a form of nourishment. If Pasolini had made Tom Jones, he would have had men exhibiting their penises instead of women showing off their breasts. However, it is doubtful that this would have been much of an improvement.

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