Friday, 8 March 2013

Revealing Mr. Maugham?


Revealing Mr. Maugham (2012) is the new documentary on W. Somerset Maugham directed by Michael House. One can buy it through Amazon by requesting a copy (either PAL or NTSC) made. 

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much of it because so far biographies about Maugham have not been too successful. I attribute this to the fact that Maugham writes so much better about himself that it leaves other people’s efforts pale before his Summing Up (1938), A Writer’s Notebook (1949), or the semi-autobiographical Of Human Bondage (1915).

The description on the back of the DVD case reads: “For the first time the full story is told of one misunderstood & influential Gay writers...” It puzzles me immensely what was in the mind of the person when he/she was writing this. I think it is very likely that Maugham would reject the label “gay writer.” In the age of gossips and invasion of private space, his homosexuality swells to an exaggerated importance that distracts the reader from his work and his masterful narrative skills. On second thought, I guess Maugham would have been amused to read this. In The Moon and Sixpence (1919), he certainly prizes the scandalous over the dull and virtuous when it comes to biography:
Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz belongs to that school of historians which believes that human nature is not only about as bad as it can be, but a great deal worse; and certainly the reader is safer of entertainment in their hands than in those of the writers who take a malicious pleasure in representing the great figures of romance as patterns of the domestic virtues.
Back to our description. I would take the “influential” but I am not quite sure what “misunderstood” is referring to. I guess it has to do with the fact that Maugham fails to become a literary canon, the famous “Class Two, Division One.” However, the documentary does not seem to try to reinstate him either; if it does, a few praises from a bunch of so called “best-selling authors” are surely poor arguments. I would try not to assume that “misunderstood” simply goes with “gay.”

Let’s look at the above claim. “Full story” is incomprehensible upon finishing watching the documentary. Except the little anecdotes told by Maugham’s grandchildren (by the way, those short interviews are the only watchable parts), none of the people know Maugham personally or intimately (except maybe Anthony Curtis who is a Maugham scholar), nor does what they say reveal anything about Maugham. Virtually nothing new has been added by the narration of Maugham’s life by his most recent biographer Selina Hastings. The  interviews with an arbitrary selection of authors and a high profile Maugham collector are like sharing in a book club evening session. They shed no insight about Maugham as a writer or a person. When it is supposed to “reveal” Maugham, it serves more as a platform for these authors to talk about themselves, which, for me, is completely uninteresting, nor, I assume, for those who buy this because of their interest in Maugham.

Besides the interviews, the rest is filled with familiar photos of Maugham and clips of film adaptations of his novels. 

Since there is no “full story,” the “first time” is invalid. When I was buying it from Amazon, I noticed that it was also sold with an educational license for US$145. I wonder where the educational aspect of this documentary lies. The library funds would be better invested in something else.

The link to the full video is available on the Videos page.

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Related Posts:

Somerset and All the Maughams

W. Somerset Maugham. A Candid Portrait

W. Somerset Maugham and His World

Chronicles of Barabbas

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5 comments :

  1. I agree, this documentary is no better than those phony gossip magazines you see at the supermarket check-out. There isn't even any REAL evidence that he was gay; he's obviously had quite a few relationships and affairs with women. If anything could be said of his sexuality it's that it was simply not an important part of his life. But it's like you say - it's such a shame there can't be a good documentary a bit more about his incredible writing and the FACT that he was a prodigy who prevailed through some really tough times early on. These days certain cultures (like American gays) are almost like culture gangs who enjoy labelling people, or defining a person based on some of the most unimportant (and even un-substantiated) aspects of them (the gay writer) - it's belittling and degrading. If they really want equality, they should just say "the writer", and in this case all they can do is guess, because Maugham obviously is no longer here to confirm or deny the "gay" rumor. What is really repugnant to me in "Revealing Mr. Maugham" is the intricate, far-fetched speculations into the "models" of his fictional characters.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Mike,
      Thanks for leaving a comment.
      It in fact puzzles me why they made this documentary at all.

      Delete
  2. Hello Sir

    My name is Michael House I made this film 'Revealing Mr. Maugham'.

    To answer the question about why I made the film, because I love Maugham's books and wanted to tell people about his legacy - that is the only reason why.

    I regret you found the film bad and useless. Clearly your are passionate about Maugham and found my efforts offensive. Did you not find the discussions with WSMs family or the home movies or the private photos of WSM interesting at all? All of these elements were unique to this film. It was huge thing to stuff a 90 year life into an 84 mins film believe me, sorry you found it so disappointing.

    I met dozens of people who were close to WSM when he was alive and everyone said he was always gay so I felt it was only right to make that clear, excuse me if this offended you. It was not my intention to offend only to reflect what I discovered while researching the film.

    Normally I would not write to a person who critiques my work in public but in this case I felt that you should be told that I am sorry you hated the film so much. I made it to introduce Maugham to those who did not know of his amazing life and work, however I also made it celebrate him - for those who already know and admire him, people like yourself - thus I truly regret you found it a disappointment.

    Thank you for taking the time to write about the film on your site and on Amazon. The film is now available for free for personal and educational uses and is also being aired in numerous countries on TV. It was featured in 13 international film festivals and I have received 100s of letters about it, nearly all those who wrote said that the film made them want to Maugham's books - so that is good thing I think.

    All the best,
    Michael House

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    Replies
    1. Hello Michael,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I understand that it can be frustrating when one can't please everybody. I am very glad to know that you enjoyed making the documentary and that a lot of people appreciate your efforts. It is such a privilege to be able to talk to people who actually knew Maugham.

      My review reflects my personal response to a piece of work and I explained my reasons, and I would like you to know that I don't hate it.

      Delete
  3. Thank you for posting this, I truly appreciate it.

    I enjoy your blog and look forward to future posts.

    Kindly,
    Michael House

    ReplyDelete