Losey, Joseph

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LOSEY, Joseph

Nationality: American. Born: La Crosse, Wisconsin, 14 January 1909. Education: Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, B.A., 1929; Harvard University, M.A. in English literature, 1930. Career: Stage director, New York, 1932–34; attended Eisenstein film classes, Moscow, 1935; staged Living Newspaper productions and other plays for Federal Theater Project, New York, 1947; hired by Dory Schary for RKO, 1948; blacklisted, moved to London, 1951; began collaboration with writer Harold Pinter and actor Dirk Bogarde, 1963; directed Boris Godunov, Paris, Opera, 1980. Awards: Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1957; International Critics Award, Cannes Festival, for Accident, 1967; Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, for The Go-Between, 1971; Honorary Doctorate, Dartmouth College, 1973. Died: In London, 22 June 1984.

Films as Director:


Pete Roleum and His Cousins (short) (+ p, sc)


A Child Went Forth (short) (+ co-p, sc); Youth Gets a Break (short) (+ sc)


A Gun in His Hand (short)


The Boy with Green Hair


The Lawless


The Prowler; M; The Big Night (+ co-sc)


Stranger on the Prowl (Encounter) (d as "Andrea Forzano")


The Sleeping Tiger (d as "Victor Hanbury")


A Man on the Beach


The Intimate Stranger (Finger of Guilt) (d as "Joseph Walton")


Time without Pity


The Gypsy and the Gentleman


Blind Date (Chance Meeting)


The Criminal (The Concrete Jungle)




The Damned (These Are the Damned); The Servant (+ co-p)


King and Country (+ co-p)


Modesty Blaise


Accident (+ co-p)


Boom!; Secret Ceremony


Figures in a Landscape; The Go-Between


The Assassination of Trotsky (+ co-p)


A Doll's House


Galileo (+ co-sc); The Romantic Englishwoman


Mr. Klein


Don Giovanni


The Trout




By LOSEY: books—

Losey on Losey, edited by Tom Milne, New York, 1968.

Le Livre de Losey: entretiens avec le cinéaste, edited by Michel Ciment, Paris, 1979; as Conversations with Losey, London, 1985.

By LOSEY: articles—

"A Mirror to Life," in Films and Filming (London), June 1959.

"Entretiens," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1960.

Interview with Penelope Houston and John Gillett, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1961.

"The Monkey on My Back," in Films and Filming (London), October 1963.

"Speak, Think, Stand Up," in Film Culture (New York), Fall/Winter 1970.

"Losey and Trotsky," interview with Tony Rayns, in Take One (Montreal), March 1973.

Interview with Gene Phillips, in Séquences (Montreal), April 1973.

"Something More," interview with Gordon Gow, in Films andFilming (London), October 1975.

"The Reluctant Exile," interview with Richard Roud, in Sight andSound (London), no. 3, 1979.

"Dialogue on Film: Joseph Losey," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1980.

Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), October 1982.

"Screenwriters, Critics, and Ambiguity," an interview with J. Weiss, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 13, no. 1, 1983.

Interview with Allen Eyles, in Stills (London), May 1985.

On LOSEY: books—

Leahy, James, The Cinema of Joseph Losey, New York, 1967.

Ledieu, Christian, Joseph Losey, Paris, 1970.

Hirsch, Foster, Joseph Losey, Boston, 1980.

Palmer, James, and Michael Riley, The Films of Joseph Losey, Cambridge, 1993.

Caute, David, Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life, New York and Oxford, 1994.

On LOSEY: articles—

"Losey Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1960.

Jacob, Gilles, "Joseph Losey, or The Camera Calls," in Sight andSound (London), Spring 1966.

Ross, T.J., "Notes on an Early Losey," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1966.

Durgnat, Raymond, "Puritan Maids," in Films and Filming (London), April and May 1966.

Phillips, Gene, "The Critical Camera of Joseph Losey," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Spring 1968.

Strick, Philip, "The Mice in the Milk," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1969.

Gow, Gordon, "Weapons," in Films and Filming (London), October 1971.

Combs, Richard, "Losey, Galileo, and the Romantic Englishwoman," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1975.

Legrand, G., "Pro-positions à propos de Losey," in Positif (Paris), October 1976.

Phillips, Gene, "The Blacklisting Era: Three Cases," in America (New York), 18 December 1976.

Houston, B., and Marcia Kinder, "The Losey-Pinter Collaboration," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1978.

McCarthy, T., obituary, in Variety (New York), 27 June 1984.

Amiel, M., obituary, in Cinéma (Paris), September 1984.

Roud, Richard, "Remembering Losey," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1984/85.

Elsaesser, Thomas, "Joseph Losey: Time Lost and Found," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), June 1985.

"Losey Section" of Positif (Paris), July/August 1985.

"Joseph Losey," in Film Dope (London), February 1987.

Alion, Y., "Joseph Losey," in Revue de Cinéma (Paris), no. 475, October 1991.

Gauthier, Guy, and Raymond Lefèvre, "Joseph Losey," in Mensueldu Cinéma, no. 15, 1994.

* * *

Joseph Losey's career spanned five decades and included work in both theater and film. Latterly an American expatriate living in Europe, the early years of his life as a director were spent in the very different milieus of New Deal political theater projects and the paranoia of the Hollywood studio system during the McCarthy era. He was blacklisted in 1951 and left America for England where he continued making films, at first under a variety of pseudonyms. His work is both controversial and critically acclaimed, and Losey has long been recognized as a director with a distinctive and highly personal cinematic style.

Although Losey rarely wrote his own screenplays, preferring instead to work closely with other authors, there are nevertheless several distinct thematic concerns which recur throughout his work. It is his emphasis on human interaction and the complexity of interior thought and emotion that makes a Losey film an intellectual challenge, and his interest has always lain with detailed character studies rather than with so-called "action" pictures. Losey's domain is interior action and his depiction of the physical world centers on those events which are an outgrowth or reflection of his characters' inner lives. From The Boy with Green Hair to The Trout, his films focus on individuals and their relationships to themselves, to those around them, and to their society as a whole.

One of Losey's frequent subjects is the intruder who enters a preexisting situation and irrevocably alters its patterns. In his earlier films, this situation often takes the form of a community reacting with violence to an individual its members perceive as a threat. The "boy with green hair" is ostracized and finally forced to shave his head by the inhabitants of the town in which he lives; the young Mexican-American in The Lawless becomes the object of a vicious manhunt after a racially motivated fight; and the child-murderer in Losey's 1951 version of M inspires a lynch mob mentality in the community he has been terrorizing. In each of these cases, the social outsider who, for good or evil, does not conform to the standards of the community evokes a response of mass rage and suspicion. And as the members of the group forsake their individuality and rational behavior in favor of mob rule, they also forfeit any hope of future self-deception regarding their own capacity for unthinking brutality.

In Losey's later films, the scope of the "intruder" theme is often narrowed to explore the effect of a newcomer on the relationship of a husband and wife. The Sleeping Tiger, Eve, Accident, The Romantic Englishwoman, and The Trout all feature married couples whose lives are disrupted and whose relationships are shattered or redefined by the arrival of a third figure. In each of these films, either the husband or the wife is strongly attracted to the outsider. In The Sleeping Tiger, Eve, and The Trout, this attraction leads to tragedy and death for one of the partners, while the couples in Accident and The Romantic Englishwoman are forced to confront a serious rift in a seemingly untroubled relationship. A further level of conflict is added by the fact that the intruder in all of the films is either of a different social class (The Sleeping Tiger, Eve, The Trout) or a different nationality (Accident, The Romantic Englishwoman) than the couple, representing not only a sexual threat but a threat to the bourgeois status quo as well.

This underlying theme of class conflict is one which runs throughout Losey's work, emerging as an essential part of the framework of films as different as The Lawless, The Servant, and The Go-Between. Losey's consistent use of film as a means of social criticism has its roots in his theatrical work of the 1930s and his association with Bertolt Brecht. The two collaborated on the 1947 staging of Brecht's Galileo Galilei, starring Charles Laughton—a play which twenty-seven years later Losey would bring to the screen—and Brecht's influence on Losey's own career is enormous. In addition to his interest in utilizing film as an expression of social and political opinions, Losey has adapted many of Brecht's theatrical devices to the medium as well. The sense of distance and reserve in Brechtian theatre is a keynote to Losey's filmic style, and Brecht's use of a heightened dramatic reality is also present in Losey's work. The characters in a Losey film are very much of the "real" world, but their depiction is never achieved through a documentary-style approach. We are always aware that it is a drama that is unfolding, as Losey makes use of carefully chosen music on the soundtrack, or photography that borders on expressionism, or deliberately evokes an atmosphere of memory to comment on the characters and their state of mind. It is this approach to the intellect rather than the emotions of the viewer that ties Losey's work so closely to Brecht.

Losey's films are also an examination of illusion and reality, with the true nature of people or events often bearing little resemblance to their outer appearances. The friendly community that gives way to mob violence, the "happy" marriage that unravels when one thread is plucked; these images of actual versus surface reality abound in Losey's work. One aspect of this theme manifests itself in Losey's fascination with characters who discover themselves through a relationship which poses a potential threat to their position in society. Tyvian, in Eve, can only acknowledge through his affair with a high-class prostitute that his fame as a writer is actually the result of plagiarism, while Marian, in The Go-Between, finds her true sexual nature, which her class and breeding urge her to repress, in her affair with a local farmer.

Several of Losey's films carry this theme a step further, offering characters who find their own sense of identity becoming inextricably bound up in someone else. In The Servant, the complex, enigmatic relationship between Tony and his manservant, Barrett, becomes both a class struggle and a battle of wills as the idle young aristocrat slowly loses control of his life to the ambitious Barrett. This is an idea Losey pursues in both Secret Ceremony and Mr. Klein. In the former, a wealthy, unbalanced young girl draws a prostitute into a destructive fantasy in which the two are mother and daughter, and the prostitute finds her initial desire for money becoming a desperate need to believe the fantasy. Alain Delon in Mr. Klein portrays a man in occupied France who becomes obsessed with finding a hunted Jew who shares his name. At the film's conclusion, he boards a train bound for the death camps rather than abandon his search, in effect becoming the other Mr. Klein. Losey emphasizes his characters' identity confusion cinematically, frequently showing them reflected in mirrors, their images fragmented, prism-like, or only partially revealed.

Losey's choice of subject led to his successful collaboration with playwright Harold Pinter on The Servant, Accident, and The Go-Between, and Losey once hoped to film Pinter's screenplay of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Their parallel dramatic interests served both men well, and their work together is among the finest in their careers. Yet if Losey found his most nearly perfect voice in Pinter's screenplays, his films with a wide variety of other writers have still resulted in a body of work remarkably consistent in theme and purpose. His absorbing, sometimes difficult films represent a unique and uncompromising approach to cinema, and guarantee Losey's place among the world's most intriguing directors.

—Janet E. Lorenz

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Joseph Losey

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