BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE IPCRESS FILE

By • Oct 12th, 1999 •

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Rating: RECOMMENDED

Innovative for its day, and still too radical for today’s ‘safe’ Hollywood fare (in today’s market it would be categorized as an experimental independent film like Being John Malkovich), Sidney Furie’s exercise in style-over-content is alternately impressive, amusing, and slow. In historical context it was a counterpoint to the Bond films, hatched at the time of Goldfinger and shepherded to fruition by Bond producer Harry Saltzman, who was clueless about film both technically or aesthetically. He reviled the young director, who reveals on the commentary track that Saltzman didn’t even invite him to the Ipcress party at the Cannes Film Festival, where he ended up spending the evening with the Janus Films (Criterion Collection) bunch. Furie and Bond editor (and later director of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) Peter Hunt share the track. Though we deduce from his voice that he is an elderly man, Hunt nonetheless has the better memory and keeps correcting Furie and even cutting him off mid-story, and at one point, while the director is bragging about how he was forced to do a fight scene but kept it his own by shooting it in long shot through a telephone booth window, the editor informs him that the studio sent him out to shoot reverses for the scene in order to make it work. And then identifies each one of them.

It’s very well edited, but clearly it’s Furie’s film, and he remembers proudly being on the set of Coppola’s One From the Heart (1982) and being told by Vittorio Storaro that Ipcress gave the master cinematographer and his peers the inspiration to be daring in films like The Conformist. That’s a great compliment, and it further qualifies The Ipcress File as an important piece of celluloid, even though, after two more stylish oddities (The Appoloosa and The Naked Runner) the studios never again let Furie play with the medium in that way.

The commentary track, with the two filmmakers amicably locking horns, generates lots of energy and suspence. And there is much to learn. The film was shot in Techniscope, which saved money since they got two frames for every one they would have if they’d used a normal 35mm process. This way a wide screen effect was achieved without using an anamorphic lens, and it increased depth of field since the aspect ratio became smaller, which proved vital to the placement of foreground and background objects in many of Furie’s bizarre frame fills.

59 minutes in, we have a scene shot in the Hyde Park underground parking garage. Remarkably, it was the first scene ever shot in an underground garage.

101 minutes in we see money being counted, and Hunt comments that the actor is doing it “The Charlie Chaplin way,” referring to Monsieur Verdoux. Good for Hunt. That’s a masterpiece that received very little distribution in the U.S., and I wonder how many viewers here would make the association? And later Furie withholds what promises to have been a raunchy a story about himself and Sue Lyon, but suggests that if the track had been done after he’d had a few drinks, maybe…

The film stars Michael Caine, early in his career, as a government agent who is the antithesis of James Bond, more bureaucrat than rogue, taken with cooking and the like, and he essays the part with droll touches that stand the test of time. I think that if you are a Bond completist, you must own this film to demonstrate what attempts were being made to challenge the mega series. The film was a big success and spawned two sequels, one of them directed by Ken Russell.

And if you like Sidney Furie’s outrageous visual approach, there are others of his films out there worth owning.The Appaloosa has been released by Universal on a double bill with My Name is Nobody on Laserdisc, and an early horror film, Doctor Blood’s Coffin, is available as part of a quartet called ‘United Artists Horror Classics, Volume 2’, one of the last boxed sets we’ll ever see from laserdisc land. Others of Furie’s films are available, but, like Lady Sings the Blues, they focus (albeit adroitly) on performance rather than optic derring-do.

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