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Published:December 26th, 2011 10:40 EST
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - The Book, The Movie, and The Soundtrack

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - The Book, The Movie, and The Soundtrack

By John G. Kays

No getting around it. For Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy you have to read the book, watch the movie (several times), and pick up the soundtrack also. The three mediums worked in harmony like synergies on one another, and get you closer on the tail of the Mole. As some point (once we digest the direction this is all leading to), we`ll want to purview the 1979 BBC television series starring Alec Guinness. 

But I need to type out a report to the Circus on my whereabouts, contacts, and pertinent information ascertained when in the field of operation. On assignment as I was to The Arbor Cinema, a visit to BookPeoples, and then a cyber visit over to itunes for some Cold War soundscapes to use as fodder for my report to Circus Headquarters. Yet my words are carefully guarded, just in case a Mole working over at Central retrieves my report and brings me down with a slip-shot double-cross. 

The Book

I`m only on page 103 of John Le Carre`s mesmerizing novel (published in 1974), but I just began reading the handsome Penguin paperback edition the day before yesterday (the same day I saw the movie), and can`t seem to put it down for even a minute. I`m at the part where Smiley pays Connie Sachs (a retired researcher for British Intelligence) a visit, to see if she can aid him in some way in his mission of digging out a clammy Mole, who has poisoned the well (perhaps permanently) of the British Secret Service.

Last night I read much of Ricki Tarr`s harrowing story when in the field of Hong Kong, as related to George Smiley and Peter Guillam. This is one of the primary plot lines, as Ricki gets to a Soviet spy, a dissatisfied woman (Irina) who`s ready to jump ship at a moment`s notice. But Ricci`s coded telegraph wire is intercepted at Circus Central by our anonymous Mole, who tips off the Soviet agents in Hong Kong as to her intentions. Smiley is starting to get it, but must reconstruct some procedures gone wrong from the enmeshed timeline-histories of covert Circus operations.

The Movie

When in the field of operations, and struggling against a formidable foe of hectic last minute Christmas traffic, and neurotic necromantic Christmas shoppers, I weathered a chilly screening of Tinker, Tailor at the Regal Arbor Cinema, and managed to purchase a ticket while forgetting to mention a tricky title to the clerk, which is derived from a mostly forgotten, antediluvian English nursery rhyme. I knew instantly it would be a terrific ride down a twisted Cold War path, that tosses you asunder, Here, There, and Everywhere, where PARANOIA is ever grasping at the trim of your pant cuffs.

A key to the success of the movie version of Tinker, Tailor is the use of ambience or atmospherics. Condensation of the book into a working screenplay, and with a duration of merely two hours, was an impossible task, but Swedish director Tomas Alfredson pulled it off anyway. The book is largely a cerebral, psychological affair, but the movie compensates for this with the use of atmospherics, excellent acting, and soundscapes that lock you into the ineffable aura of `aesthetics of espionage ambience`.

This is achieved through the many camera shots of dingy offices, filled with Top Secret file cabinets (where the guts of the British intelligence are stored), and close ups of veteran actors (such as Gary Oldman or Colin Firth) giving furtive glances to each other, as if they are starting to put in place the pieces of a very complex jigsaw puzzle. Furthermore, I will say, I believe it`s preferable that you see the movie as the first thing on your agenda, while in the back of your mind, you make meticulous plans to read the book immediately after your departure from your local art cinema house.

The Soundtrack

While you`re reading the book, you can have the soundtrack playing in the background, and you`ll be sure to notice how nicely the sounds tie-in with the words, a proper meeting spot where intrigue and espionage can inform both your eyes and ears at the same time. The composer is Alberto Iglesias, who often works with the great Spanish director, Pedro Almodovor. Alberto was nominated for an Oscar for The Constant Gardner (I had to see it again yesterday on DVD), which is also based on a book by John Le Carre.

Alberto Iglesias is just the right composer for the job; the soundtrack keeps you glued to your theater seat (or the leaves of your paperback), when he draws your undivided attention to the purpose at hand, to fill you with a sense of suspense or mystery, that grips you perpetually as you contemplate Smiley`s task of unravelling what went wrong with the Circus, as a clever Mole out-foxes them a lions share of the time, during the peak of The Cold War Era (1950s and 1960s) that rages uncontrollably. 

The first cut (George Smiley) is a sort of theme song that runs throughout the film. Smiley`s in a minor key and is a slow-burning jazz riff with canny use of a trumpet, something along the lines of Miles Davis and his breakthrough record, Kind of Blue (1959). While I still have much sorting out to get through, in terms of trying to understand how the Circus went awry, I`m beginning to see a theme emerge here, and that is disenchantment (or disillusionment).

As Smiley backtracks through his entire career and that of his trusty (or untrustworthy) colleagues, a massive wave of consternation and befuddlement sweeps over him, as he realizes how crafty the KGB and specifically, Karla have been all along. Much of the disillusionment comes from a realization of just how wrong things had gone with the Ricci Tarr/ Irina affair and especially with the fiasco involving Jim Prideaux and Operation Testify.

In a Bigger Picture way of looking at what happened to these loyal British servants, John Le Carre is telling us the bureaucracy of the British Secret Service is not always firing efficiently on all eight cylinders. Agents have been known to trod down a path of contempt for their own Western intelligence organization. This seems to be the case with Bill Haydon, played convincingly by Colin Firth in this newest film adaptation. And how could Roy Bland and Percy Alleline have gotten so easily bogged down in the tricky refracting mirror show of a footnote operation, Witchcraft?

Well, I haven`t come along far enough in my decipherments to let you know how that ball of yarn (tangled up by an ever clever, one step ahead, Karla) gets untangled, if indeed it can ever do so. I will let you know, however, that every word I`ve typed here doesn`t have the meaning to it, as it seems. You`ll need to de-code it before you can detect what I really meant to tell you. 

I don`t want the Mole (in my organization) twisting my words about and framing me up for fall, such as Humpty-Dumpty once endured in yet another codified English nursery rhyme from my childhood days. I`m on to you and haven`t spilled any beans or trade secrets that may expose my real mission in these treacherous times we live in.