Tom Jones (1963)
The story of a well-to-do playboy from the English countryside in the Eighteenth Century, complete with period costumes and haughty accents, Tom Jones is presented in the flashy, self-aware style of contemporary British filmmaker Guy Ritchie. The final product of this mash-up between period-piece and contemporary 1960’s is quite remarkable, if not for it’s strange depiction of the title character’s autobiography than for the at times utterly outrageous ride getting from start to finish.
I think most people are put off by the frantic opening, where a coy silent film exhibits the filmmakers sly awareness of film-as-medium; we are not only in ‘story-telling’ mode, we are in an editing room trying to make sense of this fascinating complement of images this wacky director has just given us. After a rather violent but exhilarating deer hunt, characters begin to wink knowingly at the camera, inviting us to join in the adventure. As the narrator calmly imparts the tale, we find that all we really want to do is have a good laugh with Tom and his mates.
In my opinion, those who describe this as ‘the worst’ of the best picture canon lack imagination. Not wishing to sound superior but wanting to give credit where it is due, I would go to so far as to say that this film is approaching the deconstructionist school of academia, inhabited by minds such as Derrida (and perhaps even Stoppard?), where the film itself is acknowledged to be somewhat arbitrary; what matters is the space between your mind and the screen. Tom Jones is pointing right at us, interpollating us and screaming that we’re in this together. It’s awareness of itself makes it’s very existence seem pointless: much like, one might say, the hyper-aware mind contemplating the necessity of existence.
Peculiar but stunning performances and a quirky soundtrack to match, I suspect that this film will prove to be a rare find in the Best Picture canon and I am certainly glad to have had the chance for this unique experience.