“I Am a Camera” (1955)
The first thing one notices in “I Am a Camera” is that the tone is completely wrong. In Christopher Isherwood’s Farewell to Berlin, the second of two novels comprising The Berlin Stories, the quote comprising this film’s title is a seemingly offhand but indelibly important moment of self-assessment both explaining his function as narrator to his story, and as a remarkably astute thumbnail characterization of his observational method of writing, in which he manages the neat trick of assuming neither the role of protagonist nor antagonist during the events which form the narrative, but strictly as observer, offering astute and colorful trails of objective description for which his subjective voice is skillfully neutralized, allowing characters and events to speak for themselves; his literary surrogate relinquishing the role of an active instigator of events. In this manner, Berlin is able to be experienced by the reader with a remarkable nonjudgmental clarity in all of its manifestations: mysterious, decadent, dangerous, yet vibrant, exotic and startlingly alive.
How the film manages to undercut Isherwood’s unique voice, almost immediately, is to dispense with the author’s artful objectivity and replace it with an uncharacteristically acerbic voiceover, ill-served by the harsh intonations of a misdirected Laurence Harvey as the author. The actor’s manner, from the start, reeks of condescension; exacerbated by smugly dismissive observations that often times make the narration feel like cheap film noir pulp. Isherwood’s narration neither observes nor sympathetically commentates, but rather disagreeably grumbles while throwing petty barbs. It’s not that Harvey is irretrievably damaging to the film, but that the film seems to find comfort in conforming to his rather distant actor’s persona.
To read the complete review, click the following link to: https://chandlerswainreviews.wordpress.com/for-queen-and-country-the-british-cinema/