(Dir. Ronald Neame) (1958)
Alec Guinness plays Gully Jimson, struggling artist, in this off-beat and very amusing film (adapted virtually beyond recognition) from Joyce Cary’s novel. Jimson lacks recognition and cash but he is supremely assured of his genius (or John Bratby’s genius – he did the ugly but oddly impressive works) and willing to exploit anyone and everyone in the service of his art. To that end, he flouts convention and disregards personal discomfort.
He’s even willing to lie to rich amateurs. But as he suggests, “Don’t look at the picture, feel it with your eyes.”
Guinness is great in an Anthony Quinn-type role, a gravelly bohemian immoralist, who takes the view that anything not to do with his visions (and needs) can all go into the great hole he creates in his “hosts'” mansion apartments. But before he does, he lets them in on his great artistic truth, “straight from the horse’s mouth. You have to know when you succeed and when you fail…and why.” And later, with respect to his giant mural on a soon-to-be-demolished wall, “learn when to leave well alone.”
It’s a pity that Mr Cary didn’t last quite long enough to see the film, with a screenplay by Guinness, concentrating largely on the personal life of the artist, but with good reflections on the fleeting nature of art. One hopes he would have liked it, deviating from his book as it does.