Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The only movie title I can immediately recall with three or more words, all ending in "y". Quite an achievement. Unfortunately, that was what we liked best about the film. Two thumbs down for this film which was once considered to be a great movie.

Scoop's notes in white.

Imagine this movie:

A couple of old British ladies share a young studmuffin painter. The old biddies are aware of each other, and would like to have the young man to themselves, but they are much happier with half a loaf than with none. The painter, for his part, seems to have nothing other than good looks. He exhibits no depth of feeling. He is pleasant to both women, but he doesn't really have any plans to incorporate either of the lonely old coots into his future. The oldsters, therefore, are not only relegated to half a loaf, but face the prospect that soon they will have none.

In the course of the ten days during which the story takes place, we see everyday people doing and talking about everyday things: getting their shots, playing charades, babysitting the neighbors' kids, discussing the weather, getting a haircut. The big excitement for the two lonely old ladies is the sound of the phone - the prospect that the studmuffin may be calling.

Sounds boring, doesn't it? Sounds like a very tedious soap opera. Your basic weepfest with a predictably pseudo-tragic ending.

But that's not exactly a summary of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Not yet.

OK, then, let's add some spice to it.

Without changing the script in any way, let's simply have one of the old ladies be a man. No need to change the script, we'll just call him Daniel instead of Danielle, and hire a famous actor for the part. The studmuffin painter thus becomes a bi-sexual, but we won't really dwell on that specific matter nor on the matter of gender roles in general, and we won't really take any position in favor of or against bisexuality or homosexuality. In fact, we won't even mention the sex roles at all. We'll just film the script exactly the same way we would have done it with two women.

Now we have a summary of Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Now we still have the same incredibly boring soap opera, but we have generated a vast amount of instant controversy. When the young painter visits his doctor/lover, we don't see him smooching with an older woman, but with Peter Finch. Everyone around them simply takes all this for granted.

This caused quite a stir in 1971, as you might imagine. The politically correct set felt that the offhanded treatment of the homosexual relationship was sophisticated and compassionate, signifying the beginning of a mature new world and a mature new cinema. The conservatives felt that the film's amoral, non-judgmental approach, as exemplified by its treatment of the two relationships as precisely equivalent, was morally reprehensible. The controversy got people talking about the movie, and about the issues it raised.

Let's give the movie its due. It was groundbreaking. It featured a tolerant attitude during a time when such tolerance toward gay relationships was quite a daring thing to exhibit. It did that in a quiet and subtle way, without any preaching. It showed men kissing each other tenderly. Let us raise a glass to director John Schlesinger for using his considerable fame and influence to attract some fairly big movie stars to his project, and to bring this quiet little film to the public's attention.

Having thus praised Caesar, let us then bury him. Let's be honest. The film was was otherwise unmemorable, and would have died a quiet death if every shot had been exactly the same, and every word of dialogue had been exactly the same, but the two old ladies had both been ladies. It's one of those movies which defines maturity by the lack of a sense of humor, the absence of dreams, and the constant habit of staring out of the window meaningfully.

It seems unbelievable today that this was considered a great movie in its time. The British Film Institute picked it among their top 100 of all time, but you really need the context to appreciate it, because it is a bland film about taboo topics. In its time, the very lack of sensationalism is what made it so controversial. Viewed through the prism of our own time, there is no culture shock. The casual multi-sexual triangle may have been a big deal in 1971, but it kinda seems like it could be a plot on the Teletubbies these days. Without the shock, viewing it from our time offers us just the leftover bland, unsensational movie.

Critics either praised the film for its artistic merit and groundbreaking attitudes, or lambasted it for its digressions, and its complete lack of energy and entertainment value. I felt that Mark Adnum of Outrate.net was the one critic who kept the film in perfect perspective:

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a meditational character study, and itís a brilliantly intelligent and melancholy film, but thereís something missing in the momentum department, and the meandering branch-off structure of the second act makes the last half hour a bit of an endurance test.

Sidebars:

1)  this is the one and only theatrical film which was written by the film critic Penelope Gilliatt, who wrote for The New Yorker and the Observer (UK). She may not have had much of a career as a screenwriter, but she got an Oscar nomination in her one try, which puts her one up on fellow critic Roger Ebert, whose screenwriting contribution consisted of co-writing three Russ Meyer films.

2) Murray Head, who played the bisexual, was most famous singing the part of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, and his single from that play made the Top 40.

NUDITY REPORT

Glenda Jackson showed her breasts a couple of times, and she also provided some frontal nudity. Like the movie itself, the nudity is quiet and subtle.

Murray Head showed his butt.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen letterboxed, 1.66:1

3) This was the great era of Glenda Jackson nudity. It may not seem like much nudity by our standards, but Ms. Jackson was a breakthrough performer in this regard. She was one of the first, if not the first serious actress to do substantial nudity. She even did frontal nudity in this era, which made her virtually unique. There is even a brief shot of her pubes in this movie.  As you undoubtedly know, she retired from performing about a decade ago, although still in her early 50's, and she is now a politician, a member of Parliament representing Hampstead. She was also some kind of minister there for a while. The government kind, not the religious kind. Possibly the Minister of Silly Walks. Actually, she was in charge of that. I believe silly walking is a form of transportation, and that was her ministry.

TUNA's THOUGHTS

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) is Awful Bloody Awful.

Since there is no real plot, the best I can do is talk about some of the things that we are treated to. We see Peter Finch dial a rotary phone, then have a long series of establishing shots where we trace the phone cables to the switch office, watch the rotary switches and relays click into place, hear the phone ringing on the other end, and nobody answers. We get to watch Finch's nephew at his Bar Mitzvah. We also see Glenda Jackson discover a spilled ashtray on the floor of her apartment, pick it and the butts up, and then grind the ashes into the carpet with her shoe. We are treated to a dog being hit by a truck, small kids smoking pot, and Murray Head nearly drinking breast milk with his coffee. All of those occupy more screen time and receive more emphasis than the kiss between Finch and Head, yet it is that kiss that was supposed to have elevated this into a brilliant and daring masterpiece instead of a dreary story about a love triangle with three unlikable characters who all act if they were heavily sedated start to finish.

Finch is a gay Jewish Doctor and Jackson is a divorcee, a slob, and too spineless to quit her job in human resources, even though she keeps threatening to. Murray Head is a self-absorbed young man who thinks he has invented the Spirograph, wants to take it to America and get rich, and spends part time as lover of each. Those are the main points, I think.

In case you hadn't guessed by now, this film did not impress me in the slightest. It is possible that there were some feeble attempts at humor, there was some noise about the British economy being bad, and a family that Jackson and Head baby sit for were raising their kids permissively, which was also hailed as brave and new, but I can't understand why anyone would enjoy this film or learn anything from it. Yet it is critically acclaimed, won several BAFTAs and Oscar nominations, and is rated 7.1 0f 10 at IMDB.

The Critics Vote

  • Nominated for four Oscars: best actor, best actress, best original screenplay, best director.

The People Vote ...

 

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this is a C. Of course, it is not my kind of movie, but I really had to struggle through this respected film. I started watching it three times before I could make it through. I couldn't find a single thing to enjoy about it, although there are things to admire." Tuna agrees, "In case you hadn't guessed by now, this film did not impress me in the slightest. C"

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