I was eagerly awaiting the release of Tom Ford’s A Single Man to home video. This was mostly because I love seeing suits on film and I had heard quite a bit about Tom Ford’s fashion background havingan influence on the film. Unfortunately, fashion seems to be all there is to this flick.
Colin Firth plays protagonist George Falconer, an English professor whose partner died in a car accident. We follow him on a single day as he contemplates suicide. Throughout the course of the day, nothing really happens. He meets an interested student, comes across an incredibly handsome young Spanish fellow, meets up with his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore), and ends the night by having a drink with said interested student and proceeding to take him home after a naked swim.
I’d like to get into a plot analysis and all that jazz, but the truth of the matter is that it’s really nothing more than a cursory character study of a gay Englishman. As a movie, Ford creates some visually stunning images. As an appreciator of men’s fashion, I noticed the great attention to detail to the character’s wardrobe. George Falconer was one tasteful and impeccable dresser. Ford’s use of saturation and desaturation was interesting. I only wish was that he used such an effect more subtly: the way Ford implements it almost smacks of amateurism, not unlike the way a kid plays excessively with his newfound favorite toy. Sound, usually an underused and ignored part of film making, was finely utilized. The dramatic and wistful score, combined with the stunning imagery, almost stands to say volumes on its own.Unfortunately, it doesn’t say enough. I am a huge fan of character studies. My own screenplay-turned novel is a character study. That is why I know how difficult it is to write one. For a character study to be successful, it must have conflict, and it must cause the audience to ask questions. It must engage the viewer’s emotions and challenge the intellect. It is immensely difficult to craft a movie out of a character study that doesn’t exactly have much going on in it. It takes a very skilled writer to pull it off. Getting the audiencetobecome invested in the psychology of the main character is difficult. When I watched the movie, it lost my interest a little more than half way into the film. I kept wondering if this was just some kind of exhibition show for homosexuality and fashion in the sixties.According to IMDB, co-writer David Scearce (who is really a lawyer by day) has no experience under his belt. That he says himself that he is “still learning how to write” is very telling. It’s clear to me that while his cinematic sense combined with Ford’s own visual direction to craft the fantastic set pieces we see in the movie, nobody on that movie knew quiet how to write.
Personally, I think it takes a great deal of skill and talent to be able to adapt a novel into a screenplay. I imagine that it would take someone who is firstly trained in literary writing to understand the source material. Then it takes someone who is also a cinematic thinker. An adaptation of a novel can only be successful if the screenwriter has both skills. Otherwise, things are lost in translation as they usually are when making the traversal from novel to movie.
Because the film doesn’t deliver as a character study (though Firth’s performance is undoubtedly as excellent as the clothes he wears), it is nothing more than a moving painting. Yes, there is no doubt that the cinematography can be described with words like ‘beautiful,’ and ‘stunning.’ But a film needs to be more than just appealing to the eye. It seemed to me that A Single Man was more a vehicle to show off Ford’s outstanding sense of fashion and attention to detail; a showcase of what a well-dressed man would look like in the sixties. I felt like there was much more to the book than we were shown in the movie. I imagine that the novel would be a far more satisfactory emotional ride. The movie is akin to a blonde bimbo: very good to look at but not very intelligent or engrossing.
If Tom Ford can marry his visual sense with better storytelling, I’m sure he’ll be a great success. But for his debut, he exposes his lack of cinematic vision and tells us that he is still just a fashion designer.