A Dreamer Walking

Tom Hooper- An Observation- No Glamour

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 28, 2011

Ever sense watching the movie The King’s Speech I have been fascinated with the director Tom Hooper. I felt his direction for The King’s Speech was marvelous. I thought he did a great job with building the relationship between the main characters King George VI (Colin Firth) and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Hooper also greatly fascinated me with the use of the camera. I loved how he was able to express the inner emotions of the characters through framing and camera movement. A good example would be a shot Hooper often had for King George. Most of the time when George sat down he only occupied the very bottom corner of the screen and we saw him usually through wider lens making George look even smaller in frame. These shots expressed perfectly how isolated and belittled King George felt because of his speech impediment. In the movie Hooper didn’t seem to be afraid of the close up, distorted shot, extreme upper or lower angles, or a crooked shot if it served his purpose.

Due to my admiration of The King’s Speech I chose to look up a few more of Hooper’s films. I was surprised to see Hooper, who I knew to be British, directed the John Adams series for HBO, since the series concentrated on the second president of the United States John Adams and the breaking away of America from British control. However after beginning to watch the series I thought to myself that Tom Hooper was a perfect choice for the director of the John Adams series. Hooper did not glamorize any of the early American history because he did not grow up idolizing it. The breaking away from Britain, the creation of the constitution, and the presidency of John Adams were all portrayed with a grit few movies show in the film business these days.

Tom Hooper brought an authenticity to the John Adams series. He did not feel the need to make the time period too romantic, glamorous, or idolized. The John Adams series was full of hurt, betrayal, and wrong turns. Hooper did little things for the series that I think made all the difference. For example, Hooper made it clear he wanted to see the teeth of every adult character be full of cavity and decay and the skin of the characters more scabby and rough, in order to stay more authentic to the time period. I must admit it was distracting at first. I looked at this legend, John Adams, and could not help but stare at his mouth full of black decay and at the scabs all around his face. I was use to Hollywood always trying to clean those small things up. In most movies about revolutionary events the good guys always look like a million bucks and the bad guys were the only ones with rotten teeth and scabs and warts all around their face.  Tom Hooper fought hard against those tendencies. He said in the making of John Adams he needed to constantly remind the prop and costume people to dirty everything up and resist making things look perfect.

Hooper explained his constant effort to distress things by saying, “Getting away from that romanticized vision of the American revolution allows you to experience the suspense more vitally.” After hearing this I realized one of the things I most liked about the John Adams series was the suspense. Not the “a bomb about to go off!”,  kind of suspense but rather the, “who is in the right and who is in the wrong?”, kind of suspense. I liked the fact I did not always know who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. Later on Hooper explained the only reason why you romanticize or glamorize is because you know the outcome. He wanted to be in a world where he didn’t know who the great men were.

I personally do not think Hooper believes in the good guy vs. bad guy mentality we so often see in Hollywood film these days. I think Hooper realizes in order for the audience to understand the characters in his films he needs to stop glamorizing them and instead bring the characters down to reality, where we see them as human beings just like us. In the series John Adams Tom Hooper showed us a a more authentic John Adams, who made some wrong choices, held grudges, and threw temper tantrums. Hooper knew we as the audience could relate to those things. The flaws of the protagonist usually makes the good qualities shine all the greater.

Hooper brought the mindset he had on the John Adams series to The King’s Speech. He said one of the greatest problems he had with the first draft of the screenplay for the film was the writer portrayed King George VI as completely cured of his stammer at the end of the film. Hooper felt this was not true to the real King George VI. He indicated, in reality most people are not cured of disabilities but rather they find ways to cope with their disability. It is usually only in the movies we see situations where people are completely cured of a disability like a stammer. Because we know the stammer is still an issue for the King when he gives the speech at the end of the film there is more suspense, we do not know whether he will make it through the speech or not. We also have more admiration for the King when he ends up fighting through his disability to give the speech. We were able to relate to the King in a way we wouldn’t have if he did not struggle. He has flaws just like us and the end of the movie he does not find an absolute cure for those flaws but rather he gives us hope that we can be successful in spite of our flaws, just like the King.

Taking the glamour away from a situation might be thought of as a bad thing at first. Will people still come to our movie if we show them the real dirt and grime of this world? As filmmakers we have the tendency to want to make things look better then they really are, just like we do in real life. When we are out with our friends we do not want to show them our flaws. We usually clean up and make ourselves look like we have no problems going on in our lives. However, film is all about the drama and drama does not come out of perfection. If the main character has no flaws and always knows what to do, we will never fear for his safety. If the main character makes no mistakes we won’t be able to relate to him.

Hooper seems to know filmmaking is all about the imperfections. He really wants to take away the glamour of a time period and give the audience authenticity. It is in the flaws of a character, dirt on a costume, or wear of a set piece, that we are able to see the authenticity. Hooper knows we relate to sweat, dirt, and sores. He wants to put his actors into the environment of the time period they are portraying. He knows the elements, such as mud, rain, and heat, help do the acting for the actors. Hooper’s goal is not to express a bunch of characters who are above reproach. Rather his goal is to show us great people from our history, like John Adams and King George VI, are humans just like us. Hooper is not interested in expressing glamour he is interested in expressing truth.

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