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Death Watch

La Mort en Direct

Directed by Bertrand Tavernier

UK, 1980

Cornerhouse, 14 October 2012

Death Watch

This must-see classic has a prismatic cast: Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, Harry Dean Stanton, Max von Sydow… not to mention the city of Glasgow itself.

And that’s not all.  It is curiously prescient in predicting the wanderweg that television has now taken, its obsession with sensationalism and ersatz intimacy, what is commonly called reality TV.

Will we in time see someone die on live TV?  That’s the prospect in store here.  Our heroine (Romy Schneider) has been told that she has a terminal illness, and the producer of a programme named Death Watch (Harry Dean Stanton) is tracking her.  He is determined to make her death (contra Wittgenstein) an event in the world.

The end of the film, coming about through a telling disclosure and a final defiant act, is perhaps a little too pat.  But there are some effective moments of unease and uncanniness before then, such as only present day sci-fi can give.  The cinematic pinnacle of the genre is probably Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, but at its best this film scales similar heights.

Death Watch is showing again on Wednesday as part of the Matinee Classics season, further details are here.