Our brilliant Alec Guinness Centennial continues with what is probably the man’s most underrated comedy, The Horse’s Mouth, for which he received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay (but not his acting, which is a crime.) Don’t miss this rare 35mm screening!
The Horse’s Mouth review by Trylon volunteer Patrick Vehling.
A few years ago I came across a well-to-do looking gentlemen in Loring Park, a neighborhood in Minneapolis, struggling to push a shopping cart full of LaserDiscs from his car to his apartment. Having never witnessed such an amazing and bizarre sight, I approached him cautiously as I casually wiped the drool from my lips. Hesitatingly, he explained his idea of selling them while my eyes peered through the find–a find consisting mainly of discs from the Criterion Collection, a company dedicated to restoring and releasing some of the world’s best arthouse film. With that, I promptly turned into my seventeen-year-old self chomping at the bit for fresh ideas in movie expression.
One of these titles was The Horse’s Mouth (1958), a picture I had never heard of at the time. The odd thing about the sleeve is that the only picture on the back makes Alec Guinness appear to be a very poor farmer, which is the only concept I had about the film since I didn’t read the synopsis; there’s something seemingly curious these days about going into a film with no prior knowledge since it’s so easy to get information, view trailers, and most likely watch the entire film for free on the Internet, which makes finding gems all the more satisfying.
It’s no wonder that Alec Guinness was nominated for an Academy Award for the script, an adaptation of a novel by the same title, because from the moment the first line is spoken to the last, this script is hilarious and wonderful. Arthur Ibbetson, the cinematographer, chose to shoot the film in Technicolor, a film process notable for its elaborate and extremely saturated color, a format usually reserved for major Hollywood epics and highly staged dramas.
He most likely chose this process to showcase the wonderful paintings done by Jimson (Guinness) in the film. I found that this process revealed a layer of the film that most critics feel was left out of the film adaptation from the 1944 novel: social and political themes. One look at the drab and dreary browns of the London streets and skyline, the casual working class faces covered in dirt, and the rising smokestacks spewing black smoke is an indirect look at the social spectrum of late 50s post-war England, a landscape that continued up until the 70s when the massive government-funded mostly feces-brown housing complexes were built to house the booming population (most of which have since been torn down and replaced with condos).
At its core, The Horse’s Mouth is about the struggle that being an artist entails. The man I briefly encountered pushing the cart full of films was a classical music composer, selling films that helped craft his growth in music. This film is a wonderful gem full of pathos, sardonic wit, light-hearted comedy, simple moments of happiness, and sadness. This is all weaved together to solidify the idea that an artist should never give up on their talents, should continue to express themselves with ideas that define them, the consequences be damned.
Patrick Vehling was raised in Minneapolis, weaned by Kurosawa, Tarkovsky and Herzog, interested in travel, linguistics, coffee, whiskey and sometimes has been known to make a film on Super 8.
The Horse’s Mouth screens Friday and Saturday at 7:00 & 9:00; Sunday at 5:00 & 7:00. Purchase tickets here.