Monday, August 19, 2013

Criteritron #4

The Criteritron is an occasional series in which I take a look at The Criterion Collection's vast offerings on HuluPlus and recommend a title to watch.

The Criteritron #4: Victim
UK, 1961
Directed by Basil Dearden

What Is It?: A call for social reform loosely disguised as a blackmail thriller. Through the story of lawyer Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) and former lover "Boy" Barrett (Peter McEnery), who run afoul of a criminal extortion plot, Victim shows how the laws that made homosexual acts illegal in the UK left people vulnerable to blackmail, forcing them to pay up to prevent prosecution and blackballing lest their "secret shame" get out. As Farr attempts to root out who is targeting him and Barrett, Dearden and screenwriters Janet Green and John McCormick use the tropes of a standard crime thriller to keep us anxious and involved. In the process, the film wraps us up in the complicated emotions a man in Farr's situation must feel, the tremendous shame and paranoid need for self-protection. Victim presents what was (for the time) a relatively novel, compassionate argument for tolerance and liberty that even cuts across Britain's entrenched class boundaries.

Why Watch It?: Because the world can always use more tolerance. The situation today in Russia, many parts of Africa, and even here in the US demonstrates what happens when the political establishment kowtows to the irrational fear some still have towards LGBTQ people. While Victim isn't exactly a paragon of social justice—there are a few decidedly camp characters, as well as an insistence that Farr isn't SO bad because he and his lover never actually had sex—it nonetheless takes a stand against legislating morality between consenting adults. And Victim is considered a landmark film, in that many point to it as a prime factor in changing public perceptions of homosexuality, contributing to the eventual partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967. It's hard to say just how much Victim had to do with this, as pushes for some form of decriminalization were already in the zeitgeist, but as a record of the damage that such unfair laws can inadvertently cause, Victim's importance cannot be overstated.

Victim is available for purchase on DVD in Eclipse's Basil Dearden's London Underground set, or to rent from Netflix. You can also stream Victim via HuluPlus on any compatible device or through the embedded player below the cut.

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