Monday, February 18, 2013

Christopher Strong

Dorothy Arzner’s Christopher Strong played recently at Film Forum as part of their current homage to l933 pre-Code films (running through March 7th). Christopher Strong is a little like Freud’s discovery of infantile sexuality. Its premise begins in a parlor game with English aristocrats speculating on the implausibility of fidelity. 1933 might have hearkened the end of Prohibition, but not in the movies and a film like Christopher Strong with its witty highly sexualized repartee was a swan song for explicit sexuality in American film (until l968 when the code was rescinded). Curiously the character of Christopher Strong (Colin Clive), a member of parliament is an exception in the world of British liaisons dangereuses that the film depicts and it's his indiscretion with the virginal aviatrix Lady Cynthia Darlington (Katherine Hepburn), whose first love had been flying, that sets the stage for this precursor to the far more chaste Brief Encounter (l948). “You wouldn’t have loved me if I wasn’t the kind of woman who takes this kind of thing seriously,” Hepburn exclaims at one point.  Of course, it’s significant that Christopher Strong presents an upper crust world that’s above morality, while the transgression of Brief Encounter is far more grave considering its characters grounding in solid middle class values.Dionysius may be the subject along with Icarus since (since someone’s going to pay the piper for all the literal and metaphorical high flying), but the sensuality really lies in the cinematography. If it weren’t for its anachronistic setting, you might mistake Christopher Strong for a grainy experimental film of the 60’s with its constant wipes, superimpositions and split screen shots. Hepburn’s slinky silver moth gown could easily have been part of the wardrobe for the Jack Smith classic, Flaming Creatures. There is only one question. Why is the film called Christopher Strong when the Colin Clive character really plays second fiddle to Hepburn’s Lady Darlington?

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