Past and Prologue: The Films of Ridley Scott

The Duellists

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The Duellists
Ridley Scott, 1977
UK | Format: HDCAM | 100 minutes

After a successful decade in commercial advertising, Scott made his feature directing debut with this rapturously beautiful, profoundly ironic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novella The Duel. At the turn of the 19th century, during a momentary lull in the Napoleonic Wars, a Hussar lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) challenges a fellow officer (Keith Carradine) to a duel over a perceived insult to his character. The two men then spend the next 15 years jousting with each other whenever and wherever they meet, until the very reason for their dispute has receded into absurdity. Shot on magnificent locations in France’s Dordogne region, with Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon as a key visual influence, The Duellists remains one of Scott’s most impressive pictures, and a timeless portrait of the fine line between obsession and folly. Winner of a special prize for best first film at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival.

“It's the first feature film by Ridley Scott, a young English director whose previous experience appears to have been entirely in the making of television commercials (though this doesn't show) and it was written by Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, whose work is also unfamiliar to me. However they collaborated, the result is a film that satisfies not because it sweeps us off our feet, knocks us into the aisles, provides us with visions of infinity or definitions of God, but because it is precise, intelligent, civilized, and because it never for a moment mistakes its narrative purpose.”
—Vincent Canby, The New York Times

Screening with
Boy and Bicycle. Ridley Scott, 1965, UK, Digital; 27m
While he was studying photography at London’s Royal College of Art, Scott shot this impressionistic short film on locations in and around his childhood home of Teesside in the northeast of England. His younger brother (and future filmmaker) Tony stars as the eponymous teenage sprite, who plays hooky from school and sets out for a day of freedom and exploration, losing himself in Joycean, stream-of-consciousness reveries as he pedals his bike around the industrial seacoast.

Series: Past and Prologue: The Films of Ridley Scott

Venue: Walter Reade Theater

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