Until recently very I had never heard of SWiM cinema and was not entirely sure what constituted an “ARTumentary” film as opposed to a more conventional documentary. The difference though, is in the subject, with this global platform showcasing many artumentaries on a variety of topics ranging from literature and cinema through to photography and international art events.
SWiM’s first release: ‘Revealing Mr Maugham’, by Michael House, tracks the life of W. Somerset Maugham, the well-known and well-loved playwright and author of an extensive list of novels and short stories. Self-confessed to have “no imagination” he took a lot of inspiration from personal experiences leading to novels such as; The Razor’s Edge; Rain; The Painted Veil and Of Human Bondage.
Although his writing is discussed throughout, the film has a more personal focus using his bibliography as a stencil through which excerpts of his personal life are woven in the form of photographs, interviews and original footage of Maugham himself. His first published story, “Liza of Lambeth” was based on his early beginnings as a doctor in the impoverished London district, and after its publication released him from his medical duties in a bid to make it as a professional writer. This inevitably successful mission achieved him his desired “fame and money” when he got his first break as a playwright when four of his plays were shown on the West End in his first year.
Despite moving in such theatrical circles and engaging in intense love affairs with other men, Maugham kept his sexuality private as homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. And it wasn’t until he volunteered for the Red Cross in WWI as a medical officer that he found what he realised he’d been looking for in the young, attractive American, Gerald Haxton. It was with Haxton that he would eventually settle in the south of France and travel the world, sequestering inspiration for many of his stories.
One of his most autobiographical and sexually explicit novels, Mrs. Craddock, based on a deeply unhappy marriage, was taken from his own experience as one half of a highly successful yet despondent couple. His marriage to Syrie, a well-respected interior designer known for her fight against the clutter of Victorian design and advocacy of the “white room”, lasted a decade during which they had one daughter, Liza. She went on to marry and have children and it’s through interviews with Maugham’s grandchildren that these darker elements of his story are told. Personally, I think these interviews are the most poignant and enlightening of the film with such a living situation reflecting that of many homosexual people today. It was due to Maugham’s fortune that he was able to leave such circumstances and relocate with Haxton, under the guise of his secretary, but even nowadays many are not so lucky.
However, the ending is not one of fairytale romances and it is not a beacon of hope. It is a dark cautionary tale for older men with younger lovers. After a 30-year companionship Haxton died, leaving Maugham depleted and without his literary sparkle. In an attempt to fill the void he invited Alan Searle, a previous part-time lover and secretary of Maugham, to reside with him in his French villa. Searle willingly agreed and throughout the rest of Maugham’s life proceeded to turn the now senile old man against his friends and family in an effort to secure the entire fortune for himself, in this he was ultimately victorious. Maugham died at the age of 91, miserable and shunned by the society that had previously held him in such high esteem.
Although less than 90 minutes long, the film manages to span the globe with adventurous tales from Parisian beginnings, to German love affairs and espionage covering the breadth of Europe. There is too much for me to accurately and justly portray here but it is clear why the film was such a success. ‘Revealing Mr Maugham’, along with future releases from SWiM cinema, is definitely worth watching, visit http://www.swimcinema.com for more details.