Minggu, 15 Mei 2011

Alan Clarke - The Hallelujah Handshake (1970)

Outsider Allegory and The Hallelujah Handshake

Clarke's 1970s output does not entirely display the style with which he would become identified in the 1980s, but a selection of films show that key tendencies were well in place long before their unification in the well-publicised Scum, and, intriguingly, that Clarke was finding additional viable solutions to similar thematic challenges. A good example is The Hallelujah Handshake, the story of Henry (Tony Calvin), a lonely, compulsive young man who eagerly and devoutly joins a church, where the priest (John Phillipps) soon realises he suffers from some form of mental illness. The film builds upon the sub-category of outsider character studies, like Horace or The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel, in which Clarke's concern for untold stories manifests in an individual psychology not yet necessarily intertwined with a larger social problem. Yet with Colin Welland's Hallelujah, the director finds material that allowed oblique commentary without a hard-charging political approach, by following Henry's flawed efforts to fit in and the inability of even a well-meaning institution such as the church to integrate or rehabilitate.

The structure of the film is a tale broken up with tiered narration, nearly mimicking the perspective of a case study. Scenes of Henry's getting involved in the church's community are punctuated with voiceover and cuts to scenes that show the priest relating his increasing worry to a social worker. Toward the end, these priest scenes are supplemented with scenes with parishioners who complain, merging the retrospective concern with the story's present moment. Thus much of Henry's tale is selected from the perspective of the world at large, a point of view that serves to underline the process by which we understand character and how it is crucial and often insufficient when evaluating sick individuals. Henry eagerly shows up for every service, teaches Sunday school, and even coaches kids at sport, and yet it gradually emerges that he is a compulsive liar and so hungry for human contact that he is physically over-attentive to the children. Even recognising that Henry's is not yet a fully developed malignant pathology, the parishioners must balance ideals of inclusion and spiritual improvement with fears about his strange behaviour.

Much of Hallelujah has a recognisably early-'70s aesthetic of looming long or medium shots that don't necessarily cut in for narrative clarification and instead let action move to the foreground. The approach here heightens the sense of observation and judgment of Henry's activities, which gradually accrue an aura of dread as the priest's concern seeps into the viewer. One memorable shot-reverse shot shows a depressed Henry sitting on a park bench ignoring some adoring children who try to get his attention; in a later related shot, Clarke then extends this heady feeling of disconnect to the priest, also on a bench. Clarke also strives for a candid feel, using casual, even obstructed compositions in both exterior and interior shots. The film opens memorably on a series of pseudo-impromptu shots “stolen” from a church gathering, wherein we notice Henry edging up to a group of people standing and talking, toting his own drink – the picture of a man trying to fit in. An interesting counterpoint to this aesthetic occurs in a couple of scenes in what appears to be Henry's combined workplace and home: a tiny stall with a window from which he sells supplies to construction workers. The cramped setting fits Henry's own underdeveloped personality, and the workers' sexually vulgar teasing, which aggravates him especially, reveals sexuality as something that riles him for being out of his control. A later intimate conversation with a fellow parishioner, in which he all but accuses the woman of tempting him into sex, reveals his confusion over libido: as he shouts in frustration, Clarke cuts to a child yelling in a playground, merging the sense of immaturity with the dangers of his socialisation.

Although Hallelujah ends with Henry being caught after a compulsive theft and sale, for which he has no defense in court, the sense of inevitability to the tragic proceedings imprints more than any implied demands for social accountability. Indeed, the shrillest comment, even satire, seems directed at the Catholic church, in scenes between the suspicious priest, an Anglican, and the Catholic priest at the second church Henry attends when finally kicked out by the first. The Anglican tries to warn of Henry's tendencies, but the priest seems to believe that Henry's switch to his church was somehow a validation of Catholicism over Anglicanism, as if the Anglican were merely jealous. “Sometimes I wonder if you and I are on the same side”, is the Anglican's acid farewell. A scene in the Catholic church shows the priest making introductory comments before a mass and warning about a major problem afflicting all of them, which turns out not to be Henry but “the dilapidated state of our vestments”; Clarke follows with reaction shots from disgusted congregants. An almost black-comic moment also occurs, in a nearly unheard line, when the priest offhandedly asks a nurse in a hospital ward, “Anybody new for me, Nurse?”

Henry's own fate is left somewhat unresolved. The final scene, occurring an unknown length of time after the theft and court date, shows him now part of a marching band, which in an extended shot marches down the road into the distance. The film never pretends any privileged access or elucidation of the character, a frustrating position given the impenetrability of Henry, who comes off as half a person. Handshake.avi

no pass

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