Actor Toby Jones provides some detail on The Last Detail
Cinema Salon has scored yet another impressive guest for its monthly film series at Vancity Theatre. On Tuesday (February 4), visiting British actor Toby Jones (The Girl) will be there to present one of his old celluloid favourites, 1973’s The Last Detail, starring Jack Nicholson.
Jones told the Straight that he first saw the masterful, Hal Ashby-directed movie—one of the key films in the new American cinema of the era, controversial at the time for its blunt use of profanity—when he was “gorging” on VHS cassettes in his early teens.
“I think some of the films I remember most vividly in terms of their atmosphere are the films that I saw when I was possibly too young to fully appreciate them,” he said. “And they had a profound effect on me because they sort of put me pre-emptively in touch with an adult world. It’s almost that feeling of a forbidden country that lies just ahead. The Last Detail belongs in my mental filing cabinet along with things like Joseph Losey’s The Servant and The Go-Between.”
Ashby’s film tells the tale of two U.S. Navy petty officers (Nicholson and Otis Young), ordered to escort an 18-year old sailor (Randy Quaid) to Naval prison in New Hampshire. Dismayed by the harshness of his eight year sentence, they decide to show him a good time along the way. The film’s gritty mix of humour and melancholy has lost none of its impact in the 40 years since it was hailed as an instant classic, while Jones said he was also drawn to its “close study of behaviour.”
“It looked like something I’d never be allowed to do in my career,” he said. “The acting style was so different from the kind of world that I belonged in, which was in the English traditional theatre. In a strange way those films sort of pushed me towards trying to explore other ways of making theatre, oddly enough.”
Jones also noted Ashby’s subtle approach to the material, with story seeming almost incidental to the film’s sad, wintry tone. “There was something about the way films were made then. They were dealing with a highly naturalistic world, and they chose those aesthetics very, very carefully,” he said. “So: a meandering storyline, and also a—not artless—but apparently artless style that’s entirely appropriate for the content.”
“I sort of watch films and the overall structure and details and smell and atmosphere lingers longer than story, so I run into trouble, even with films I’ve actually been in,” Jones continued, bringing to mind his recent roles in pungent, grown-up fare like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Berberian Sound Studio. “It’s very strange. When I read a script for the first time, where I think about the movie, it’s for the atmosphere of it, and how it ended, the sort of shape of it more than the actual plot, which often can feel to me of almost secondary importance.”
The Last Detail screens at Cinema Salon at the Vancity Theatre on Tuesday (February 4)