THE LIFE AND DEATH
OF PETER SELLERS
DIRECTOR: Stephen Hopkins
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Peter Levy
MUSIC: Richard Hartley
CAST: Geoffrey Rush as Peter Sellers, Charlize Theron as Britt Ekland, Emily Watson, John Lithgow as Blake Edwards, Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick, Maurice Woodruff.
ONE WORD: Not sure the film maker cared for Peter Sellers or the film is so hacked up as to be sad!
This was a film that I saw ... with much trepidation and thought.
I liked Peter Sellers and enjoyed a lot of things he did. And I doubted, that anyone could be good enough to help define him better ... and not leave behind what made him the outstanding actor that he was, even if not recognized as such. Perhaps it is that The Goons are still heard on BBC in all of England and Australia, and everyone seems to know those characters ... but few these days even know (or care) about The Pink Panther series that he did. And while many of those were fun, they were never serious films, or great films, like The Goons ... they had a good director, but not one that knew how to write, or explore, more of Peter's performances like Spike Milligan could, not even Blake Edwards. His days with The Goons had demonstrated his incredible ability with voices, which is not explored in this film that tries to make a life story instead. And it was his knack for characterization that got him where got.
So I sit, watch this film and then try to decide if I like it or not. I'm inclined to think that Geoffrey Rush had never seen a role that was so meaty and fabulous as this one, with the exception of the Marquis de Sade, maybe. And it already had voices and tones to work with. All he needed to do is add the rest. It should be easy ... and many actors would love to have a go at that.
And probably tougher since he is juxtaposed to the real thing. Sorry to say that he does not displace the real Peter Sellers. And this film is not really a thank you to him as much as it is a finger pointer at his family and some Hollywood things and types. Which is sad … that is not what Peter was about.
I would imagine that if the film had spent more time on his (lesser known) formative years, a lot of what went on later would make better sense. But the film skims the early days and then jumps to a 3 second shot of the Goons and then an attempt to get on film and ... he's off to the races. A more thoughtful film might show The Goons, and then how he ended up doing so many voices for a Stanley Kubrick film ... which made it a memorable film, instead of just some silly lout. What made Peter Sellers a great actor was his starting point … VOICES … not comedic characters! This Peter was able to translate later in life into film roles … way better than most comedic folks out there ever could or will.
But I digress.
Maybe there is just too much I know about this subject to write a fair review ... but if you really want my opinion, I would say that listening to 2 or 3 Goon Shows, then seeing a Dr. Strangelove, then a Pink Panther film and then Being There for dessert and After The Fox for one of those English brandy and cigar ideas ... and you will have a much more satisfying evening than this film. And it wasn't a cheap thrill ... it was fun and crazy and all that … and you laughed.
Perhaps there is one thing that should be included here, and wasn't, out of the many things missed or cut out. And it would have been the best pretext to make a film ... how in the end, Peter Sellers was a really good actor, and knew how important to have a physical appearance next to outstanding vocal characterization he created. One never got to see what he really did … how he had the un-canniest (and some even said scariest) ability to switch voices and characters on the spot ... he did it in The Goons always doing 5 or 6 or even more voices in the course of a half hour LIVE radio broadcast ... and if that is not enough, check out Dr. Strangelove and then the ending clip in "Being There". The ending of that film, is by far the best detail and the thing that should have been added to this film in some way, as it gives you the best indication of who Peter Sellers was and what his work meant to him. And it was all just a laugh that was added as an after thought, but one that is so special, and way better than this film, that it says only one thing ... wrong director and bad script!
Sorry to say it, and despite its large cast and attempts to make it meaningful ... but this film is simply not worth it. Ohh .. .while you are at it .. get the sound bit he did for TWA for your phone when you have to put someone on hold! Or get a compilation of Major Dennis Bloodnock's adventures. Better yet … Spike Milligan’s voluminous stories of their adventures in Algeria (they met during WW2) and much more … or if you are really bored, get a couple of his records that have his comedy bits and you can see how he works as an actor ... he is that person.
It does bring about the thought that directing an actor like this is not easy, or fun, since they tend to run on and on and keep on experimenting and living the life of that character. And one might ask who would be better playing this role, and the immediate thought is that Steve Martin pops into the mind, and he might be better having an inner understanding of comedy, but he is not a polished and dedicated actor, or if he is, he has never been directed properly and gotten a chance to get past the "star" that he wears all the time. But in the later Pink Panther redo's he is badly directed and way too flimsy although there are a couple of good bits here and there that the director is not capable of maintaining or extending, and ends them too soon. And that maybe the clue, by the way, for Peter Sellers ... there was always more! With Geoffrey Rush and Steve Martin, there is no more, and I think that this has to do with the writing and the directing, not being capable of making room for one of the most important things in comedy, which is to allow the actor to do it.
I think that I would have preferred to see this film partially written by Spike Milligan, whose stories and tales were numerous and even specify how they met (in Algeria), and how that was to shape their relationship for the next 15 years, or Jimmy Grafton's book on the Goons and a couple of others, where there was so much more interesting material to choose from. I had the thought that this film wanted to show more of the Hollywood difference and affected ways than it was interested in Peter Sellers and his own life. Yes, it could be said that he wanted to be a star, but in this situation it would have been better to show us how he got into cars (even the Goons joked about it!), and many other things, including money and food. And personal habits, but we will leave those behind, so we don't make the film seem so bad after all.
You have to give Geoffrey some credit though, as this is not an easy role to pop into, and I think it might have been easier to work on the beginning a little more instead of a glimpse, and the formative years in the war would have been a much better indication of how he became so crazy many times ... what else can one do in the war awaiting Romnel? And there are many actors that deserve to have played this role and would have done it better, and it is not Steve Martin, btw.
Please email me with questions and/or comments
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