The Local Stigmatic: Fame is the First Sin

The Local Stigmatic is a pet project of Al Pacino’s, a one-act play he had performed in the 1960s and turned into a film during the late 80s. It was never released theatrically and finally saw the light of day in a 2007 DVD version. Written by an eloquent, young talent Heathcote Williams during the late 60s, The Local Stigmatic is a disturbing and acidly funny study of psychosis, fame, obsession and jealousy. In a way, it is a precursor to Scorcese’s The King of Comedy, which during the 1980s was already ahead of its time. Williams’ work  eerily foreshadows our modern culture’s hypnotic fascination with and envy of celebrities. The play is famous for its violent and harrowing climax, in which the lead characters deliver a severe beating on a man outside a pub.

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The film opens with Pacino’s character Graham monologuing in an epic angry tirade to his friend Ray (played by Paul Guilfoyle) about a supposedly bad tip he got for a greyhound dog race. Guilfoyle’s understated menace and Pacino’s manic energy clues the viewer in that something is very off-kilter about these men.  They share a symbiotic connection as their banter, laced with angry and dark humor, feels like a secret code that we are not wholly privy to. We watch them roam the London streets, playing mind games with passerby and spewing their unsettling doctrine to anyone who will listen. Director David F. Wheeler frequently uses dissolving cross-cuts during shot reverse shots to signify the strength and bond of their sociopathic behavior. They blur together, their two halves forming one dangerous whole.

Graham picks up a celebrity gossip paper,  taunting the newsstand seller by proclaiming “Fame is the first sin because God knows who you are,” incedientially the thesis of Williams’ piece. The pair are framed underneath an ad for The Elephant Man. Graham and Ray are the sick type to identify with the Elephant Man’s cruel taunters, getting pleasure in the abhorration and ridicule he endures. They are quick to view others as less than human, equating them to a lowly animal, much like the greyound dogs Graham loathed in his opening monologue. The Elephant Man also has concerns with the nature of fame and notoriety, Graham and Ray would likely condemn the film for lionizing a “disgusting” creature.

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Later at a pub, Graham recognizes a famous actor at the bar. The pair walk up to him and zealously stroke his ego. Pacino delivers yet another incredible monologue, filled with vigorous smiles and his trademark intense stare. Graham showers the actor with praise, buying him a drink, complimenting his films, and acting as if they were old friends. The actor, meanwhile, is so enraptured with this hungry seduction that he is blind to who they really are. He drinks in their compliments without seeing them as real live human beings., looking beyond them and not truly listening or responding to their exact words.

capture3 Graham and Ray loathe celebrities for acting this very way. In their eyes, celebrities pompously regard themselves as better than everyone else, modern day Greek gods occasionally forced to slum amongst the common folk. They turn to violence in order to reign supreme over these modern deities. The pair offer to walk the actor home, resulting in the famed terrifying climax. It is important to consider the

Graham and Ray loathe celebrities for acting this very way. In their eyes, celebrities pompously regard themselves as better than everyone else, modern day Greek gods occasionally forced to slum amongst the common folk. They turn to violence in order to reign supreme over these modern deities. The pair offer to walk the actor home, resulting in the famed terrifying climax. It is important to consider the filmic changes to this scene, as discussed by Pacino in the DVD commentary. Due to the theatrical setting of the play, the audience’s distanciation to the scene rendered a misconnection. The theatre audiences would often concentrate on the physical blocking of the fight as opposed to hearing or concentrating on Graham’s incredible monologue.

The film uses subjective POV shots, with Graham staring into the camera/the actor’s face, arresting the spectator with the victim’s tensions and fear. This submerges the film audience into the beating in a closely felt way simply not possible in theatre. The film spectator is overcome with the oppressiveness of this moment, as Pacino stares too close for comfort with the harsh sounds of Ray’s pummeling fists and kicks in the background. Through these close-ups, the viewer can also concentrate on the eloquent and poetic beauty of the monologue. Pacino’s delivery of this soliloquy is impeccable, the words trip fluidly off his tongue with dynamic and terrifying energy.

Pacino specifically made the decision to dilute the violence, removing excessive views of blood or bruises in order to concentrate on the words. However, I feel that seeing stronger visceral ramifications of the beating would render this sequence more horrifying than it already is.

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Pacino and Guilfolye are incredible as this pair of domestic terrorists. Their characters share a feral bond forged and sustained by ritualistic violence. One gets the sense that this is not the first-or last-time these characters will commit this kind of crime. I highly recommend this film if you are a fan of Al Pacino, it is possibly one of his greatest performances. Plus, it’s only 50 minutes. Heathcote Williams’ sharply written work is a dark manifesto on the toxicity of fame. He wrote this during the 1960s, and one can only imagine what his opinions would be of celebrity culture today. The film is actually available on YouTube, link below:

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