JOSEPH LOSEY by David Caute

JOSEPH LOSEY

A Revenge on Life
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This mean-spirited recounting of the life of the expatriate American filmmaker gives a new meaning to the term ``critical biography.'' As profiled by Caute, a prolific author with a specialty in the history of the political left (Sixty-Eight: The Year of the Barricades, 1988, etc.), filmmaker Joseph Losey emerges as a domineering, womanizing sourpuss, a humorless, often dour man with a certain visual flair and a knack for alienating longtime friends. Caute traces Losey's career in a needlessly complicated structure of flash-forwards and flashbacks, beginning with the 1963 triumph of The Servant, his first collaboration with screenwriter Harold Pinter. He then moves back to Losey's childhood in Wisconsin (Losey was one of a trio of great filmmakers from that state who emerged in Hollywood in the '40s, the others being Orson Welles and Nicholas Ray), his years at Dartmouth, his budding radicalism, his stage work in the '30s, and onward to his Hollywood work. Losey was blacklisted because of his Communist affiliations and left the US to avoid a subpoena, continuing his career in England, Italy, and eventually France. Caute follows his growing reputation as a ``European'' filmmaker, his long collaborations with Pinter, Dirk Bogarde, and cinematographer Gerry Fisher. He describes each of Losey's films in detail but seems neither engaged with nor interested in them. The book is a stifling compilation of minutiae, and Caute never lets a statement by his subject go unchallenged. But why should recollections by Losey's sister or by his collaborators be more reliable than Losey's own? The book's elaborately nonchronological structure renders Losey's development as an artist all but opaque, and Caute's literal-minded readings of the films, filled with quibbles about plausibility and faithfulness to details of British class structure, reveal his blindness to the films' own universes. An encyclopedic catalog of Losey's shortcomings and sins, unleavened by any sense of historical context, artistic development, or even sympathy for his work.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-19-506410-0
Page count: 591pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1994