That Kiss!

Amos Lassen

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” directed by John Schlesinger, a gay English director, now dead is a sociologically astute drama about bisexual love during the early sexual revolution of 1970 and was shocking when it was released in 1973 as it showed the first one screen male-male kiss. It is the story of three characters attempting to navigate the changing mores of the British Empire and it is classic. Daniel Hirsh played by the late Peter Finch is a gay doctor and Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson), a divorced working woman are both in love with the same man, a self-absorbed sculptor, Bob Elkin (Murray Head). Instead of keeping the affairs a secret, Bob chooses to have Daniel and Alex be perfectly aware that the other exists which leads to ruminations on the nature of love, sex and relationships in a society which is built upon class distinctions and fractured lines.

This was a groundbreaking movie at the time for the way it dealt openly with a homosexual relationship and the kiss between the two men. The film nonjudgementally approaches the loneliness of the characters by presenting a social commentary on the exiting system. In fact the movie received for Academy Award nominations including best director and best actor and best actress.

In its slow and meandering way the movie is a character study of three different people who are not all that interesting. What stops the movie from being a festival of boredom is the fluid direction and the incredible performances of the leads and the frankness dealing with homosexuality. Because the characters are treated as almost individual case studies, there seems to be a bit of disjointedness in the script. The main question that is never answered is how Bob came to be involved with two people who are so completely different and why, if Alex is at odds with sharing him, stays with him nevertheless. More intriguing is the relationship of Bob and Daniel but this is not fully explored either especially concerning the age difference between the two men.

The film covers ten days in the lives of the characters as Elkin plays the elusive lover who can’t understand why his lovers are at odds with each other. His attitude seems to be that each of them should feel lucky that he even spends time to give them sexual pleasure.

From what I have read about the film, it seems that the movie is based upon an episode in the director’s own life and it is a highly stylized film that becomes more involved in the sex scenes than in the development of the characters. It also deals with class issues and British economy but it never really gives the romantic situations a greater meaning than just romance.

The liberal sexual attitude of the film was years ahead of its time as it presented homosexuality as no big deal. It also showed how loneliness can drive people into a relationship against one’s better judgment especially when a person knows that it has not much chance of working.

Now let’s have a look at that famous kiss that shocked the moviegoers of the time. It wasn’t just a peck but a drawn out affair that made history. It is reported that when questioned about it, Finch, a staunch heterosexual said,”I just closed my eyes and thought of England”.

There are tow memorable scenes in the movie. The first occurs when Elkin and Alex are babysitting and the interactions between adults and children are hilarious. The other rang closer to home. When Hirsh attends a bar mitzvah, his overbearing relatives try to set him up with a nice Jewish girl.

Considering the age of the film and the fact that the director and Finch are now dead and Jackson sits in Parliament, the movie has held up unbelievably well. What it did more than anything else was present a look into the lives of a trio of people who were trying to grab hold of something they don’t have.

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