Tony Scott’s “Loving Memory” (1971)

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Notable Festivals: Cannes

At a scant 50 minutes, LOVING MEMORY (1971) can barely be called Tony Scott’s first feature-length film.  As a quiet, pastoral character film, it’s quite the anomaly within his action-oriented canon.

The film follows an old couple in midcentury England who accidentally run over a young man on his bicycle.  They proceed to take the body back to their home in the country and store it in the attic.  While the husband spends his days building a mine (seemingly by himself), the wife cultivates a one-sided friendship with the carcass, telling it stories of her youth and her dreams.  It’s a very creepy story that raises more questions than it answers.

Shot in Academy ratio 16mm black and white film, Scott builds off the visual language that he established in his earlier short, ONE OF THE MISSING (1969).  He locks off his camera on a tripod and limits his movements to pans and zooms.  He also employs a recurring visual motif, where he starts close up on a subject from an overhead angle, and then slowly zooms out to reveal them as a speck against a wider landscape.  This is repeated several times throughout the movie to dramatic effect.  For the firs time, Scott utilizes cinematographers outside himself.  With LOVING MEMORY, he employs the services of Chris Menges and John Metcalf.

On an audio level, Scott maintains a naturalistic atmosphere of heightened background noise, and whispered dialogue.  Indeed, what little dialogue there is in this nearly-wordless film is barely intelligible.  We have to strain to hear the words before they dissipate in the air like breath vapor on a cold day.  The only music is non-diagetic, played from a creaky gramophone in the couple’s rustic house.

LOVING MEMORY is the slightest strand of a story, but it’s strangely compelling in a morbid way.  Scott gives us just enough visual information to create a sense of curiosity and mystery to the proceedings.  Why does this woman dress up the dead boy as a soldier?  Why is this man building a massive mine all by himself?  Why did they never alert the authorities as to the accident?  These questions coalesce to form an incredibly enigmatic film.  It’s a far cry from the types of film that Scott would very soon be making his name on.