In 2004, after serving as Gucci’s creative director for a decade, designer Tom Ford walked away from the fashion industry. He was looking for a second act. Ford knew that he wanted to break into filmmaking, and began looking for the right vehicle. He read “every screenplay in town”, optioned a couple of books, and began developing a few projects. “Because I’m a fashion designer, people sent me very superficial, slick, beautiful scripts, but without any substance. Nothing was speaking to me,” Ford told FilmInk in 2009. “I was looking for something to make as my first film. But first, I had to figure out what I wanted to say. I knew what I was as a fashion designer, but why would anyone want to see a Tom Ford movie?”
Then driving to his office one day, Ford remembered a novel that he had first read in the eighties. Ford had thought about A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood on and off over the previous 25 years. He read it again. The book resonated with Ford on an unexpected level. “It spoke to me in a totally different way, being in midlife and reading a story about a man who can’t see his future,” Ford explained. “I had left Gucci. I had left fashion. All of a sudden, I didn’t have an identity, or a voice in contemporary culture. I was struggling.”
The film tells the story of gay British college professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) who, after the sudden death of his longtime partner Jim (Matthew Goode), loses direction in life and feels as if he is now simply getting up most mornings in order to make it through to the end of the day, without any sense of purpose. Then one bright blue California morning, he decides to tie up all loose ends and end it all. “The book was so spiritual,” Ford told FilmInk. “The first line of the book is, ‘Waking up begins with saying ‘am’ and ‘now.’ That’s the first line of the film. It’s about living in the present, appreciating the small things in your life, and really trying to take them in. This is a guy who has been going through the last eight months of his life not even looking at people. All of a sudden, on this last day, he’s looking at people and he’s connecting, and people are responding to him too, but in a very different way. It’s about connection. So, for me, it’s about a lot of things that are eternal and timeless. That’s why it spoke to me.”
Ford decided to remain true to the novel, and didn’t update the story for contemporary audiences. “This book happened to be written in 1964 and set in 1962. It was a real landmark book because of the way that it treated a gay relationship in an absolutely matter-of-fact way. The character George, who was a gay man in this particular moment, had to be invisible. It wasn’t anything that you could necessarily let the world know. Invisibility is what that particular minority – and some minorities today – still have to endure.”
In the film, the relationship between George and his partner of many years, Jim, unfolds in flashback scenes. At the time, their love was regarded as deviant behaviour in America, and while great strides have been made, homosexual couples still face prejudice, even after the legalisation of same sex marriage in many countries. “I wanted to portray the relationship like any other,” Ford told FilmInk just before the film’s release. “Most of those scenes are not in the book, where we never really see Jim. The scene of George and Jim lying on the sofa with their dogs is right out of my life. That’s me and my boyfriend.” Ford, who has built a life together with his longtime companion, fashion journalist Richard Buckley, hopes that homophobic attitudes toward gay marriage are changing. “I guess because I live in the rarefied world of New York/LA/London, I don’t actually ever think about gay/straight.”
A Single Man was very warmly received upon release (as was Ford’s 2016 sophomore effort Nocturnal Animals), with Colin Firth receiving a much deserved Oscar nomination. Ford described the praise as “wonderful”, but remained pragmatic. “Live by the buzz, die by the buzz saw,” he laughed. “I’d be silly to tell you that I didn’t care if people are saying nice things. I’m really proud of the movie, and that’s the most important thing to me. I always thought that I would be a good storyteller, and that I have a lot more to say than what I could put in a fashion ad or on a runway. I hope that I’m lucky enough to be able to keep doing this every two or three years for the rest of my life. It’s something that I’m really serious about.”
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