Tom Ford Tells All
BY Advocate Contributors
November 09 2009 8:00 AM ET
Ford’s imprint on A Single Man includes his decision to have George walking through his day planning to commit suicide at the end of it; the revolver he removes from a drawer is almost fetishized throughout the film. He deleted important characters to focus on George and Charley and Kenny, the student of George’s who becomes a kind of stalker. Kenny, played by Nicholas Hoult, gives a rather problematic performance. Are his slightly stilted line readings the result of Kenny’s own ill-at-ease youth or Hoult’s? Or is the deeply English Hoult—remember him as the child in About a Boy?—just being extra careful with his American accent? He is, thankfully, achingly sexy and ultimately quite affecting. Ford also uses his own beloved dogs, Angus and India, with heartrending results in the film. Ford’s longtime lover, fashion journalist Richard Buckley, is seen fleetingly in a cameo appearance, and Ford puts some of Buckley’s own witticisms into George’s mouth. He creates a scene with a Spanish hustler at a liquor store that is not in the book but is one of the film’s most visually stunning. Ford’s love of architecture and style and fashion also gives the film a heightened visual scheme. The movie, set in 1962, has the look of a haute couture Mad Men. The film stock seems to have been saturated with a stunning combination of sadness and beauty.
“To me, beauty and sadness are very closely linked,” Ford says, sliding lower into the sofa’s plushness, his languor not studied, no longer louche, but the result of his busy worldwide work schedule. “Truly beautiful things make me sad because I know they are going to fade. When I see a beautiful 20-year-old boy or girl—and they are breathtaking—I am filled with a kind of sadness. But maybe they are beautiful because we know they are not permanent and they are in a kind of transition.”
He pauses and remembers his posture. He straightens his spine. “I know what I am as a fashion designer, and when I started out to make my first movie I asked myself, ‘Who wants to see a Tom Ford film? What am I about? What do I stand for? What do I have to say?’ You have to be true to yourself, and I am not a person who is about reality. I am about enhanced reality. If I were working in a different period, I would have been working at MGM. By the way, Mr. Hitchcock—who is my favorite director—never made anything realistic in his life. Everything by him is so stylized. Another of my favorite directors is Wong Kar Wai. And Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of my favorite films. Part of the image of those two directors is the look of things. I’ll always be that way also.”
Ford, however, bristles at the Mad Men comparison. “It’s pure coincidence—even though I do use Jon Hamm from Mad Men in a voice-over role. There is nothing about Mad Men and A Single Man that are similar except that they are both set in 1962.”
Ford’s spine becomes even straighter. He fidgets with one of the several unbuttoned buttons on his gray shirt. He buttons it—then unbuttons it once more. “When you come down to it,” he says, “style without substance isn’t worth anything. I didn’t want to make a stylish film that wasn’t about anything. The substance was what was important to me, and the style was a part of telling that story—nothing more, nothing less.” With that, his spine seems to unspool and he slides back down into the sofa.