Loving Memory Review
Tony Scott - yes, that Tony Scott, of Top Gun and True Romance and neon colors smeared against rapid fire cuts that pound out headaches in unsuspecting viewers - began his feature directing career with a spare black and white film that runs under an hour in length and consists primarily of a woman speaking to an unresponsive corpse. In truth, I'd probably rank it above any of the glossy fare he's put out since. Loving Memory is credited to a young Anthony Scott and it seems to resemble very little of the work that would follow once he made the move to Hollywood.
The film, which Scott also wrote, begins with a young, bespectacled man riding his bike down the road and abruptly being hit by a car. The driver and his female passenger check on the poor fellow but he's apparently already dead. They load him into the car, eventually arriving at their isolated home. The man works in a mine there while she, as we begin to see, is a fragile but nonetheless mentally impaired soul. The two are brother and sister. Our deceased bicyclist is brought to the former room of the siblings' dead brother where the woman cares for the corpse as though he were simply a house guest. Eventually, her mind allows for a transformation of sorts, turning this young man into the brother she lost in the war, and even going so far as to outfit him with the fallen soldier's clothes and glasses.
Much of Loving Memory consists of the woman, played beautifully by Rosamund Greenwood, speaking to the bicyclist's dead body in monologue. The living brother is seen less often and rarely talks. The two siblings exist in their own sort of world that, in the film, feels like it's stuck in time and oblivious to outside influence. The patience Scott shows in building this atmosphere and air of dementia is impossible to reconcile against the filmmaker he would become. It's an artistic work that is content with subtlety rather than either obfuscation or going wildly over the top. The contribution of Chris Menges' cinematography also cannot be lauded enough. It gives the film a sophistication that helps prevent any hints of amateurism, also doing well to mask some obvious inexperience on Scott's part.
There isn't a great deal of plot to take in, and even the short running time could conceivably have been trimmed by several minutes if not for the overall effect and mood that is attained by the persistent, growing creepiness of slowly seeing Greenwood's character make herself believe that this new dead man is the brother for whom she likely had tried to care for in much the same fashion after his own expiration. She has made him up to be as much and the time spent gradually establishing that transition is done quite well by Scott.
Atmosphere is such a vital aspect of making quality movies, and Loving Memory lands it all effortlessly. That's, undoubtedly, the film's main strength just as its short running time proves a double-edged sword. What's here is accomplished largely without any of the hindrances expected of untested directors. It's a solid, engrossing drive into the realm of unease. And, yet, if there's a complaint it's that the brevity and limited nature of the plot can make it all feel like there's an absence of anything substantial. Feature-length running time aside, the idea and execution resemble a short film, albeit one stretched ever so gently past the threshold for acceptance as a releasable work on its own. What a perfect extra feature this would have been to some austere and thoughtful Tony Scott film never made and possibly never contemplated.
The BFI has, in my opinion, somewhat overemphasized the importance of a work that's technically not a short but questionably qualifies as a feature under the normal usage of the word. Loving Memory is the headliner of a Dual Format package also containing Tony Scott's earlier short "One of the Missing" and his brother Ridley Scott's "Boy and Bicycle," which happens to have Tony in the lead role. Both discs are single-layered.
The region-free Blu-ray presents Loving Memory in a nothing if not impressive transfer, the high quality of which makes sense once you realize that the starting point was the original 35mm AB negative, with further restoration also being done. It's in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio and shows little to no marks of damage. Grain is present and in good measure. Detail looks sufficiently excellent. As usual with the BFI's black and white films released for Blu-ray, the contrast stands out as especially strong here. It's akin to a redefining of how a film now forty years old should look. The DVD is of similar quality when measured against its reduced standards, though the progressive transfer is clearly a step below the high definition version.
Audio is mostly voiceover as live sound must have been too difficult to record both here and in the other two films found on the disc. The English lossless mono track is slightly low in volume. It also tends to register some static quite often. The methods used to record the audio were probably somewhat unsophisticated. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are provided as an option and are white in color. They do a nice job of conveying even things like the buzzing of the flies around the corpse/house guest.
Extra features on the discs, in HD on the Blu-ray, consist of Tony Scott's 1968 short film "One of the Missing" (26:33) and his brother Ridley's "Boy and Bicycle" (27:52), from 1965. In the former, an American Civil War soldier goes out on his own and gets caught in the collapse of a mountain of rocks. The young man is stuck there, held captive by the stones, against his will. Here there are actually hints of Scott's later stylistic tricks as we see the image spin around wildly and get subjected to quick cuts as well as images of nasty, unrelenting blood amid an inherent display of violence. It's an intriguing work, though the line readings are delivered in a listless manner and the viewer is pretty much left to observe everything with little in the way of care toward anyone on screen. The 1.33:1 image looks better than decent, with more grain than Loving Memory but still within reasonable bounds.
Ridley Scott's "Boy and Bicycle" starts almost like a kitchen sink Ferris Bueller and lets little brother Tony Scott rise from his bedroom to find freedom on his bicycle as he roams around town. He narrates through an internal monologue that's very much in the stream of consciousness vein. It goes on longer than it should but remains charming and features a nice score by John Barry. The quality of the transfer, in 1.33:1, is a step down in comparison to the other two films on the disc, complete with lots of scratches and damage marks, but it is still in relatively good shape.
A booklet inside the case leads off with an essay by Kim Newman on the three films that allows him to slyly chide the Scott brothers for abandoning these roots in favor of the Hollywood orgies of spectacle that followed. If you want a good laugh, read the 1970 interview with a 26-year-old Tony Scott in which he cites the work of Hungarian filmmaker Miklós Jancsó as a model for his future in the craft. That piece, originally published in Time Out, points to Albert Finney as a benefactor, along with the BFI, of the £12,000 needed to make Loving Memory. Finney had apparently been impressed with "One of the Missing."
The 26-page insert continues with an essay written by Christophe Dupin on the Scott brothers' history with the BFI. There's also a page showing an extract from the shooting script of "Boy and a Bicycle" and another with some background information on the characters of Loving Memory (then known as Early One Morning) that was submitted to the BFI Production Board. Beyond all of that, the booklet generously contains stills and photographs as well as credits for the included films and technical details.