The Look comes with a subtitle, A Self-Portrait Through Others. The subject is Charlotte Rampling and here she discusses her thoughts on herself and her career through conversations with friends and family. The film is structured as a series of chapters, each of which denotes the theme of the next exchange. She chats about age with Paul Auster, for example, or talks demons with the poet Frederick Seidel. Clips from relevant past movies are interspersed where necessary meaning her first scene from Stardust Memories plays during a discussion of beauty or a handful of clips from The Night Porter appear as taboo is chewed over.
As the range of subjects suggests - and within each we find scope for everything from the afterlife to male fantasies - The Look goes deeper than most artist profiles. It isn’t hagiography nor is it straightforward biography. Rampling reveals details from her past that would satisfy a tabloid approach, most notably when she mentions the death of her sister by suicide, but such moments are rare and always adjuncts to the discussion rather than the main event. Nowhere is this more obvious than during the conversation she holds with her son, the television director Barnaby Southcombe; the biological connection between the two comes across as entirely secondary. At all times it is the subject matter which is key, though presumably each participant - whether novelist, poet, photographer or son - has been chosen for the very particular insights they can provide.
Unfortunately this doesn’t always prove to be the case and The Look suffers from lapses in focus. The exchange between Rampling and Southcombe, for example, involves the pair going through actor exercises whilst in the opposite corners of a boxing ring. The moment is as pretentious and self-involved as it sounds. Conversely, the Auster chat is interrupted with asides about his diesel stove and the cup of tea he is making with a saucepan. The cutaways are no doubt intended to suggest a friendly and relaxed mood, but it translates awkwardly to the audience; it’s too chummy, almost like an in-joke we have no connection to. We’re too separate from proceedings and that goes against the grain of Rampling’s overall openness as she relates her thoughts on these wide-ranging subjects.
The look of The Look has a similar effect. Director Angelina Maccarone a gloss throughout, albeit one that resembles a colour supplement. The surface distracts from the weight of the material, especially as Rampling trots around the globe for these conversations: one minute she’s in South Kensington, the next she’s in New York, all of which is treated with the air of a travelogue as the actress makes her way through Times Square at dusk with a camera or chats with relaxing Parisians. It’s too fussy and not in the slightest bit necessary. Arguably it also creates some distrust in the viewer: The Look is beautifully shot, certainly, yet the resemblance to a commercial sits uneasily with the aims of a candid portrait.
At times the qualities are able to shine through. When The Look has its focus, and when the conversations really get to grips a particular subject, it exerts as much fascination as you would expect. Those hoping for analysis of the key features shouldn’t be disappointed when it comes to certain titles, notably Max mon amour and Pauline Kael’s reaction to The Night Porter. There is only one film per chapter, however, meaning that only the key films in the Rampling back catalogue are mentioned. No room for Basic Instinct 2 or Babylon A.D. here.
The great shame is that such instances are only momentary. There is a terrific film within The Look but we only get glimpses of it. Ultimately there’s a little too much fuss, a little too much extraneous detail, a little too much distraction. Rampling is quite obviously happy to get to the nitty-gritty of her thoughts and experiences of the past five decades and should have been left to simply speak for herself. It doesn’t need dressing up or any kind of gloss (ironically, during the opening chapter on beauty, Rampling’s lack of make-up during a recent photo shoot is commented on and commended), it just needs the actress and her words. They’re still there, of course, but so too is all of this additional bullshit.
In the US The Look has just been issued onto Blu-ray such is the faith in the cinematography and the quality of the film clips which adorn it. Park Circus have opted for a DVD-only release for the UK, but it’s more than up for the job. (It would also be a rich of me to complain about a lack of Blu-ray after complaining about all the needless gloss!) The film comes in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement and has been sourced from flawless materials. There is not a spot of dirt or damage whilst the level of detail and clarity is superb. Colours would appear to be to cinematographers Bernd Meiners’ intent and so too the clips which pepper the film are in tremendous condition. The soundtrack is available in both DD2.0 and DD5.1 though without optional subtitles for the hard-of-hearing. In both cases we find very clean offerings which ably handle the various interviews and conversations. Admittedly there’s also very little between them in terms of sound design. Hardly surprising, perhaps, given the nature of the film. As for extras, only a gallery of production stills and the theatrical trailer have found their way onto the disc.
Charlotte Rampling in interview and in conversation.