Saturday, April 28, 2012

John Le Carré and the Aesthetics of Humiliation

Mr.and Mrs. B. have been imbibing BBC version of John Le Carré's, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. That would be the 1979 mini-series with Alec Guinness, not the current movie (that comes later). And I'm struck by the general air of grunge, of seediness that haunts the whole enterprise. Some it surely is intentional, deriving from the novel itself. Some is, I suspect, a tad more accidental. The almost comical amateurishness of the sets, for example,  like the stuff they used to market as self-parody in the old Bullwinkle cartoons (and the telephones have cords, bleah). But I suspect part of it just derives from the larger atmosphere. Though this is 1979, we're still at the end of the long and debilitating case of the grippe that swept over England when it woke up to the fact that was broke, without an empire, and generally an also-ran in the competition for national greatness.  And it brings you up short to reflect that we're actually functioning after the Beatles, the Swinging Sixties, the Carnaby Street revolution: crushingly, almost none of these characters seems to grasp the fact that his entire career has been a total waste of time.

Humiliation enough right there, had you known what was happening to  you--and George Smiley, at least, for one does appear to know.  He also know that he's being shamelessly cuckolded by one of his nearest and dearest.  To watch it, to enjoy it all, you pretty much have to share his own bleak sense of his own disgrace.  This theme of humiliation, not bye the bye, is also the theme of  my true favorite post-war British flic: Sunday, Bloody Sunday, where we see Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch both having their nose rubbed in the fact that they're not the lover they wanted to be.   

1979: way past the pull  date for the post-War malaise.  Meanwhile, the clattering you here at stage right would be that rough beast herelf, her hour come round at last.


dilbert dogbert said...

"almost none of these characters seems to grasp the fact that his entire career has been a total waste of time."
Ha Ha! I was pensing about my 43 years in the MIL and NASA and the realization that all that I did in those careers did not do one thing for the general welfare. The pay did a lot for me and my family however. Maybe one of the kids will do something useful?

Taxmom said...

Le Carre studied German and French at Oxford, and it shows in his novels. For instance Hofmannsthal's Chandos letter. (link here: I recall in one of his earlier novels the safe house is called 'Chandos' house.

Buce said...

Interesting re the French/Germanties. Of course there is a "Chandos House" in London, and the Dukedom of Chandos was a British foundation. Cf. also Handel, Chandos Anthems, for a German/British crossover. Be interesting to know--I am sure someone does, I do not--why Hofmannsthal chose it for the letter.

BTW Le Carré means "the square," not so? I assume John Moore Cornwell knew that when he picked his pen name.

Taxmom said...

Oh, must be like "Karo" for plaid in German. The Steve Martin movie "Dead men don't wear plaid" came out as "Tote tragen keine Karos".

And I forgot about Chandos being English to begin with.