November 17, 2014, 4:00 p.m. — Leo the Last (1970)
Leo the Last
1970. Great Britain. Directed by John Boorman. Screenplay by Boorman, Bill Stair, based on a play by George Tabori. With Marcello Mastroianni, Billie Whitelaw, Calvin Lockhart. Our weekend with the great English writer-director John Boorman begins with one of his most underappreciated—yet formally daring—films. Leo the Last is an allegory of racial and class strife, told through a complexly layered soundtrack of fragmentary song and verse (inspired by the musical collages of Luciano Berio, with a score written by Fred Myrow and sung by the Swinging Sisters), and a somber palette leached of all color (a study in gunmetal grays and sooty blacks, brilliantly designed by Tony Woollard and Peter Young and photographed by Peter Suschitzky). Departing from the explosive violence of Point Blank (1967) and Deliverance (1972), Leo the Last nonetheless shares with these celebrated early-career successes, and with other Boorman films like Hell in the Pacific (1968), The Emerald Forest (1985), and Beyond Rangoon (1995), a fascination with man’s primal instincts and civilizations under existential threat from without and within. Played by Marcello Mastroianni in a kind of ethereal silent-movie pantomime, Leo is a globe-trotting aristocratic ornithologist who inherits a grand, decaying mansion on a Notting Hill cul-de-sac. Trapped in the vapid, grotesque decadence—and fascism—of his fellow blueblood society, Leo finds himself drawn to the teeming life of West Indian immigrants living in the shadow of the mansion’s spiritless confines, first observing them with his binoculars in wide-eyed wonder, and then experiencing a political awakening that leads to revolt. Courtesy Park Circus. 104 min.