The unbearable lightness of being Anthony Perkins

This movie I watched tonight on television has a silly name. It is called Goodbye Again (1961) and is adapted from Françoise Sagan’s Aimez-vous Brahms?

Sagan is repetitive in her own way, yet what she likes to say, she says it well. The plot is tight and subtle and maintains its pace without hurrying into any of those clichés. It is indeed a pity that the cinematic aspects of the film do not catch up in every critical moments to amount to something really unforgettable.

What really shines in this film is the acting. The three main characters all deliver high quality performances. But Anthony Perkins[1] is wonderful. First of all, he is one of the few actors who is able to deliver a physical agility outside the context of musicals. Although he never does tip-tap dance, one is almost sure he is perfectly capable of doing it. Moreover, in musicals, the physical agility is something that is taken for granted. If it is to be dialectically used, it is usually contrasted with the non-musical scenes, where actors and actresses act normal. In this way, agility signifies a transfer of dramatic context and it is accompanied by the act of singing. In Goodbye Again, however, the agility of Perkins has a quotidian function, which is to contrast with the inertness, the northern-Europe logy manner of Ingrid Bergman (think of how she and then how Hepburn moves). As if their movement is not obvious enough to deliver the message, the director arranges a detail to emphasize this difference. In the film, the Perkins character (Philip) drives a race car (sorry guys, not familiar with the mark) which has tight seats. When the Bergman character (Paula) enters the car, her stockings are scratched. At this moment, Philip remarks, “it is an art to get into this car.” But when Paula enters the car the next time, she scratched herself again. And this reenactment brings back the comment under a new light. It is as if Philip is actually saying, “it is an art to live young”, because the physical appearance visualize not only their age difference, but also the difference in their attitude towards life. The Perkins character is young, playful and irresponsible; the Bergman character experienced, solemn and realistic.

One has to note that this dichotomy is more often expressed in the reverse gender pattern, with a young woman being the naïve one. But the present pattern is not altogether without precedent. Sunset Boulevard (1950) is probably the best example. The setting, however, plays an important role here. In contrast to LA’s image as a sin city, a gloomy monster that ruins the youthful years of millions, Paris is the perfect place to have an affair and then go on with life’s serious demands.

Although in regards to the physical agility, Perkins is right in the lineage of Chaplin and Keaton, they are quite different underneath. For one thing, Perkins has actually proved that one can speak and not compromise this agility of his in the same time. Compared to his effortless speeches, Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952) looks really like an old man—is it because Chaplin, like Keaton, is no good for the talkies? I would rather believe that if Chaplin (Keaton is another case altogether) did talk at the height of his career, the result would have resembled the performance of Perkins (the sometimes magical, sometime desperate romanticism and its consequential melancholies ). But Chaplin opened his mouth too late, for even for someone who seems to have kept his youth forever—don’t forget he did Modern Times at the age of 47 and City Lights at 44—sixty is certainly beyond the limit. Do we not know that when a man gets older, not only he moves slower, he also speaks slower? The failure of the last three films of Chaplin is after all understandable (although they are all good films and I was especially touched by Limelight), for what is Chaplin without the physical agility? Gerald Mast has a point when he argues that even when Chaplin is bound to his seat and cannot move at all (the lunch machine scene in Modern Times), his agility is still in its full swing if he just moves his eyes.

[1] Let me remind you that this is immediately made after Psycho. So there is this mocking relationship again between the Perkins character and his mother. But unlike in Hitchcock, this relationship does not really bring anything into the plot. I even imagine it is not present in the novel (maybe I should read it some day).


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