The conclusion of an essay by Penelope Gilliatt, written in 1986 for a published edition of the screenplay:
'The title. It had always been "Bloody Sunday", Sundays nearly always being bloody in the minds of English children: the day of stasis; of grown-ups going to sleep after too heavy a lunch; of mothers in hats straight from church cooking roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts; of desperate people come for the weekend afflicted with the same childish fidgety legs as even grown-ups have in other people's houses on Sundays, escaping with the household labradors to "walk off" the lunch; of rows about the quality of the washing-up, done by the children at high speed (no soap; too little soap; too much soap; not enough rinsing, so that great-uncle's glass of port produces bubbly champagne and a soap taste that, to children, is no more disgusting than alcohol).
'But "Bloody Sunday" suddenly presented problems. Some young eager beaver working as a researcher at ten dollars an hour went to the New York Public Library and said didn't I know there was a famous Irish Bloody Sunday? Yes, I said, it IS famous. In England, sped by a Eumenides of innocent knowledgeability, an English researcher paid at five pounds an hour had been to the British Museum and telephoned me in America, where I then was two days later, to say didn't I know about the Russian Bloody Sunday? Yes, I said. But it still wasn't the English bloody Sunday. She agreed, with sweetness, having got the point in the first place herself, but glad of a job. The total bloodiness of Sundays from childhood to death is due, I think, to the enslaving legend we have made for ourselves, with the help of the enslaving Old Testament, that time off is fun and work is at the behest of others. On the contrary, diligence is native to the species, as one only has to watch a three-year-old to know, when it is pottering about on its self-invented projects of collecting stones, or making the sounds it likes on a broken plumbing pipe in the order it likes, or getting the blotting paper out of school ink wells, or numbering books. It is to break no holy rule to pursue things seven days a week. If there is any communal god, apart from the jealous deities that dictators have invented for their own warlike purposes, and if he takes one day in seven off, he or she or it should use it to repair the bungles of inadequate imaginings on the other six. A mischievous and motley lot, these idols that mankind has dreamt up for itself. As the research girls in their different ways agreed, Sundays are bloody indeed. Wars break out on Sundays.
'But the word "bloody" continued to worry the American front-office people. To them, "bloody" was still as much of a swear word as it was in Shaw's day. Anyway, they said to England on the transatlantic telephone, the English word was "bleeding". England waited. The telephone went every now and again from many other parts of the world where cross-collateralised films were being shot. "Apex" was suggested forcefully. So was "Triangle". So was "Every Day Of The Week".
'After a fortnight or so, the telephone went again and a well-known voice with a glottal stop of wealth said, "I've got it. Sunday Bloody Sunday." But no comma.'
Hope that answers it sufficiently!
Thanks. I guess I had the general idea correct. I must have read this excerpt long ago when I owned a copy of that edition of the screenplay. In those days, I had the audacity to try to direct a scene from the film on stage. We were too young to understand: the scene where Murray Head sees Glenda Jackson for the last time before he goes to America. There is a line he has "You could come over. Could you come over?" --we went crazy trying to get that line to play, it just wouldn't work for us.
Appreciate the response
Fascinating sense of audacity you have. There is perhaps a lot to be said for playing scenes from screenplays on stage; I've often thought that Woody Allen's film September would perhaps make a better play than it does a film. I'm quite glad to hear of your initiative.
The line you mention being troublesome seems very similar to one of my favourites from the film, which comes at the end of the scene between Glenda Jackson and Dame Peggy Ashcroft, said by the latter: 'You think it's nothing, but it's not nothing.' A wealth of meaning in there, in the simplest and barest of words. Likewise, the concluding monologue of Peter Finch's character. There are a lot of those sorts of lines in the screenplay, really: very tough things to put across if one is not accustomed to such a high degree of precision in one's delivery. All of them seem to be written in such a way that the actor/actress is expected to say something, but at the same time convey something entirely antipathetic (i.e., emotional) to the literal (i.e., banal) denotation of those selfsame words. Somewhat tough on the 'big screen'; immensely difficult (so I would presume) on the stage! I would imagine that only a very highly professional company could do them justice, and so it seems but a small slight to hear of your troubles with the one line.
But perhaps, I now realise, I'm being rather presumptuous in explaining all this to you. After all, it seems you would have far more experience than I in putting things on the stage—screenplays or otherwise....
Not at all my friend. A very good reply from you again. I was audacious, in 1973, that long ago. I was taking a directing course in college. I chose that scene from a film I liked but never at the time fully understood. My actors were inexperienced to say the least. They did as well as they could. But it was a lesson in selecting material: only use what you understand. I am not now or ever was involved in the theater after that year.
I think your description of the text in this piece is very good. Very true, many lines are spoken,but something else is meant, or something more is behind them. The line you quote from the mother sums up the main idea of the film. We think we can have the whole thing, that it will be perfect, but we must learn to make do with 'enough' very often in life. This is what the doctor means at the end, that he learned to accept what what he did have. The cliché perhaps, something is better than nothing.
Very good advice, that, on selecting material. I shall have to remember it. It would seem your experience, limited as may be, was certainly not for naught.
And yes, your last point definately right on the money (if you'll pardon the expression). And, on top of it, that perhaps our hopes/expectations were far greater than they ought to have been, and that 'making do with enough' could perhaps be much better than we'ed like to admit. 'They say he'ed never have made me happy and I say, I am happy, apart from missing him.'
And as well that the whole reason these people then go on about their lives speaking in banalities when they clearly have so many more important and personal things to say is that, if they did say them, no one would be listening anyway. 'I've only come about my cough.'
And, of course, that monologue takes place on a Sunday.
Very interesting interpretation of the cough line. I have often pondered it. It makes sense, no one really wants to know 'how you are' when they ask, etc. We expect banalities and usually get them. The doctor understands all this better than anyone. He reconciles everything in his life, accepts all the seeming contradictions or dissatisfactions, while the woman remains miserable. The film is a closer look into the everyday existences of 2 characters (I don't count Bob, he's just there to look desirable I guess). This can be seen symbolically perhaps in the view we get at the start of the inner workings of the telephone system, with the old operator (a former silent film star) listening in, as we ourselves are about to do.
Maybe I think too much about these things, but it fascinates me to consider why things are there in a film. And I always want to know what the film ultimately means, a good film is never just an interesting story. It's like the difference between a B-movie and an A-movie, or an 'art' film. There has to be a point beyond entertainment, otherwise why would they go to the trouble?
Thank you for pointing out Bessie Love's former career history to me! As familiar as I have been with this film, I must never have once bothered to look her up. Would never have guessed that she had been in Intolerance or The Broadway Melody, amongst so many others. (I wonder if she's in the number from the latter that's shown in David Lean's film This Happy Breed, which would put her somewhat surprisingly in both of what are perhaps my two favourite British films.)
Anyways, yes, I guess that's how I've chosen to explain the final line usually, although I'm sure that I'm oversimplifying it in doing so. In any event, I always assume he's sort of taking on the role of, if not the exact same patient, then at least that of one very similar to the one in the very first scene (whose presence is seemingly not very pertinant to the film, besides pointing out the fact that Dr Hirsh is clearly a VERY patient doctor), who, despite his evidently-longstanding hypochondria and how important he clearly imagines all of his personal problems to be, seems as if he would only have responded in such a solipsistic fashion as 'You might throw me a pill or two for my cough' if even given details of his doctor's personal life. Although perhaps, again, this idea of bookending is just a bit too pat for a film so heavily founded on its ambiguities.
And which, quite certainly, makes it all the more worthwhile in trying to explicate and examine it all in this way. There are certainly films that I watch just because I want to see a good story, but which I never come back nearly as many times as I do to the ones which make me think. And, to me at least, Sunday Bloody Sunday is not only both of these types of film, but to boot is also almost criminally well-written (even good enough for the stage, it would appear).
I find your explanation of the role of those repeating shots of the telephone interesting as well...not to mention placing us within the strangely important minor part that the answering service woman plays in the story. For myself, I often considered the pervasive occurance of these mechanical telephone bits as also another part of these banalities omnipresent in the film: what does it entail, from the point-of-view of the real, physical, non-emotional world, when one places a call and waits for a lover to answer the phone? Merely a set of rotors and dials turning in space somewhere unknown to us. This is all that any of us 'others' (audience/operator) could actually see happening in these moments, despite the fact that there are real upheavals occurring, but visible only from the hearts and minds of those placing the calls.
But again, perhaps an oversimplification. There are so many of these moments in the film wherein time feels almost as if it has stopped entirely. The shots of the machinery that Murray Head's character creates. The moments when Dr Hirsh listens to his Così fan tutte aria. The shot, which seems so irrelevant but at the same time so strangely haunting, of the roller-skaters after the doctor finds his bag has been stolen from his car. The morbid fantasies of the leads: Peter Finch of his lover dying of a botched vaccination; Glenda Jackson as a child of her father alone without his gas mask, dying during a attack. The double-exposure shots of Murray Head feeding the toucan at his apartment, and of that same apartment barren. The stare-off later on between Glenda Jackson and the toucan after he has left for America. And on and on.
To me, the feeling that these create are without any equivalent in cinema.
Good to hear from you again, Marc-David. I have decided to watch the film again now, with all these ideas in mind. I couldn't agree more that this is the type of film you go back to again and again because it has so much detail to observe and make connections with.
I was thinking exactly of Bob's water fountain sculpture just before I read your message. to me, it has always seemed an expression of his inner coldness and lack of a genuine artistic nature. It seems more like a commercial product, than a work of art. Did you notice when Finch is driving along the dark street, he quickly glances at a neon fountain in a shop window? I always think that's reminding him of Bob.
I'll get back after watching SBS again soon
Yes, sorry for ringing off so abruptly, as it were—blame the somewhat sporadic internet access on my part.
In case I forget the point that's come to mind just now, I'll commit it to text (with lacuna expected during your re-viewing). In terms of Bob's 'art' (if it could even be called that), it seems as if he might have been closer to something more genuine at one point, and that it's a rather drastic slope down more and more into the realm of the commerical. To me, the fountain sculpture is at least a bit beautiful, even if entirely shallow, and compared to the sorts of considerations he gives his lovers as of the timeframe of the film, it's practically gushing (no pun intended) with emotion. But considering that he's now gone from that to the sort of spirograph machine that he's developing during the middle part of the film, which he mentions explicitly is being made for wealthy, American businessmen, I don't suppose it's entirely coïncidental that when he sits down with a sketchpad whilst Glenda Jackson takes a nap that what he 'sketches' is a pound sign!
So, with that off my chest, shall look forward to your refreshed opinion of the film. I've mostly been looking at the screenplay and other writings about it recently, in preparation for an article I'm hoping to write, but could be perhaps that it's high time I took another look at the film myself. Reconvene after the break. Glad to know there's someone else out there as passionate about this film as I am; seems somewhat tragically neglected compared to a lot of more undeserving matter.
Back again. I just saw SBS for at least the 10th time. Noted that scene where Bob draws a UK pound sign and then imitates the drawing machine he wants to market in the US. That's one of several scenes that rhyme with each other, where a character watches another sleep. Only Daniel doesn't have anyone watch him. There are numerous motifs like this in the film. Another very good one I think, is images of characters' hands. We first see Daniel's hands on the patient's fat stomach, the opening shot. Bob's hands caress Alex's face, hers caress Alex's, Daniel's caress Bob's....the out-of-work business man frames his face to imitiate a face lift, while Alex frames her own. And so on, there a lot of hands in this film. It's a trademark of Schlesinger's better films, this use of visual motifs, and in the dialog as well. DARLING is full of Italian references, some very subtle. And MIDNIGHT COWBOY uses a lot of the techniques he'll use again in SBS, the cross-referencing of image and word.
By the way, here are words to the Mozart trio we hear several times:
Soave sia il vento
Tranquilla sia l'onda
Ed ogni elemento
Ai nostri desir
May the wind be gentle,
May the waves be tranquil,
And every element
Could the trio be an image of perfect harmony, unachievable in life? Maybe that's seeing too much in all of it.
I was wrong about what Daniel sees in the shop window. After Jon Finch gets into the car, Daniel sees exactly the same type of sculpture as Bob had made.
Another moment that always stands out: after the dog is killed and the couple with all the children have returned, Alex apologizes about the dog. The woman (Alva) says "It must have been awful for you". Alex is surprised by the kindness of the comment. A genuinely kind word is rare in this film, only Daniel has some for his patients ("People can get by on very little"). I had always thought that Alva had an affair with their friend the University lecturer, but I missed a reference to it this time. Everyone makes do with 'enough' or with 'something'. The final speech does really sum it up. "I am happy, apart from missing him". It reminds me of a Wallace Stevens line, "A part of pleasure and a part of pain", never only one thing. Still, I can't blame Alex when she protests to Bob that there is nothing wrong with caring for someone and wanting them around all the time. It's human to want that. She hasn't found a way to live with not having it, Daniel has found a way. He'll go to Italy without Bob.
Could the trio be an image of perfect harmony, unachievable in life? Maybe that's seeing too much in all of it.
Ironically, what brings stability in the physical world (the third component -- as with a tripod) brings instability to most relationships.
Thanks for an interesting thread. "All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people."