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SophieandMe
My friend, Sophie and I last week at Cinema Art Theater where we saw Gemma Bovery

Dear friends and readers,

Stumbling along is an accurate characterization of my life this summer in my 2nd year as a widow. In the UK people used to say they were “muddling through,” but that implied a goal to somewhere, which I’ve not got. My attachment to all but a very few things I do and few friends is artificially sustained so I may remain absorbed (reading, writing, watching movies) or active (out to see and participate in events, with friends and acquaintances, mostly the latter) simply because if I let go, I fear I will not know what to hold onto, and what then? If anyone objects to my frank characterization of myself as a widow, which is what I am seen as well as relate as, I ask them why: it’s no longer acceptable to object to people characterizing themselves as GLBT, or disabled, or depressed, or simply on their own in whatever way. So why is the designation widow kept so sotto voce?

A high point, a good evening out with a friend, Sybilla, my neighbor across the street who is a widow of four years, her husband died at age 67 of pancreatic cancer. I got the tickets, she drove us to Wolf Trap. Both brought picnic baskets to share with one another. We were too late to have our picnic in the first area beyond the roofed theater, but we managed to see and hear directly and intimately enough by walking into the area just after the theater and sitting on the stone quarter-size wall. John Fogerty had been Sybilla’s choice but I immediately recognized, the songs, the voice. He’s extraordinary; he gave enormously. He had with him a remarkable band of musicians. He told of his family, had his grown son wit him; the son also plays the guitar very well. His wife in the audience. What a light show, videos, fires …. sparkling balls. The crowd became alive with the music, people standing, swaying, dancing in their seats.

Many years ago:

It was not just nostalgia, but there were new numbers, contemporary ones. I haven’t been to anything like this in years or even before. He just never stopped singing and playing with and without his band. He did not stop for an intermission and was still going apparently strong as most people began to leave. He meant to do that, to make us remember him playing his heart out and entertaining us with all his might and soul and body …

Had also enjoyed a lunch date with a scholar friend (decent meal at Darlington House in DC) and planned for a coming panel at EC/ASECS: Forging Connections among Women. I’m loving Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountain, Essays on Superstitions and Memoirs of an American Lady. Like me she reaches out to friends by her writing.

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Jacob Lawrence, from his Migration of the Negro (at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC)

I probably ought to write separate blogs about two museum exhibits I saw, except that while recommending them if they come near you, I found them disappointing so I cannot say that you should go out of your way for these. At the Philips, with another friend, Vivian, I saw a room full of small abstract-kind of paintings by Jacob Lawrence called “The Struggle.” These were a pendant to his Migration series: the pictures show the inception, origination of the US was in violence, and it specifically used and excluded from citizen rights to right, slaves, women, non-property owners.

Struggle Series No. 1

There are too few was the problem. Lawrence’s unforgettable Migration series makes the effect it does because of the plenitude of pictures. For all the efforts of local Washingtonian media to speak well of the Philips (and they do host remarkable lectures and readings of plays and poetry), their permanent collection is singularly uninspiring and small. Their cafe remains awful because they are perpetually understaffed — I feel for the staff working there who look so nervous.

With Sophie, Yvette and Sophie’s partner, I went to the Caillebotte exhibition at the National Gallery. It was oddly disappointing. Not because there were too few (5 rooms of paintings from a scarcely believable number of places disparate geographically so this was a major effort of cooperation and curator negotiation) but that they were not accounted for in an insightful way by the curator. The obvious was said (that we look at from a rich person’s window, that he painted family and friends, still lifes meant to make us think about how we treat animals, and landscapes very much in the mode of Monet). They were generally thematically group (as here are river landscapes, here the city seen from this window, here ordinary people going about their business). The exhibit led with “scrapers:”

GustaveCaillebotte

It included superbly beautiful design work:

Boulevard Des Italiens Painting by Gustave Caillebotte; Boulevard Des Italiens Art Print for sale
Boulevard Des Italiens

There was nothing on the technique, on how Caillbebott differed from other impressionists — considerably. He uses lines heavily, and is impressionist rather with water and rain. Sometimes Caillebotte seemed to anticipate pointillism; there were Manet-like street scenes. I was impressed by how expressionless his people were. He does include animals in a sad state on the street — so perhaps someone should write about his capturing the vulnerable stray again and again:

LePontdeLEurope
On Le Pont de l’Europe long since gone to his or her grave

For the first time Yvette and I ate at the elegant 2nd floor cafe — we’ve been going to this museum for 30 years and never tried it before. My friend’s partner apparently would have hated the “plebian” cafe downstairs. The food was dolled up bits of meat, potatoes and vegetables, almost unrecognizable, overdone salad dressing on wilted stuff, undrinkable tea (with no milk) — at probably a horrendous price. This is to tell you if you go there, don’t be fooled. Get yourself something edible downstairs at 1/4 the price in 1/10th the time.

I’ve bought myself 5 tickets to plays at the Capitol Fringe Festival and hope to find the places and see some Shakespeare (A Winter’s Tale), his contemporary Middleton, and a drama about women’s roles working during WW1. I had my worst experiences of STUGs (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief) last summer as I realized the joy of going to these events was with Jim. Sophie is coming to one of them with me and three are easy to get to this time. So it’ll just be one that might be hard — at Gallaudet College (perhaps a long walk from the Metro), a Thomas Middleton play somewhat abridged and adapted. I’ll tell about these plays here.

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Italianedition
Ippolito Nievo, The Confessions of an Italian (Italian text).

Framley Parsonage is doing well at the OLLI at Mason (I’ll blog separately on some Australian books and films my post-colonial project have led me to): I work away at my projects. I read and post with and to others on my listservs (Ippolito Nievo’s Confesssions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall on which I will write when we’ve done), not to omit blogging on the new Poldark mini-series, women artists, and Bernie Sanders.

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I’m beginning to see my way in teaching Fielding’s Tom Jones, starting to reread it slowly once again (there I had a recording I realize was appalling as the reader worked hard to make the text into a comic romp which it is anything but) and see the usefulness and depths of perspective and information in approaching it the way I did the Poldark books, by going into the real history of injustice, law, custom, the era’s revolutions. I still love the 1997 Tom Jones mini-series movie though I now know it utterly misrepresents the tone and attitude of Fielding who remains behind a mask of double-turned intricate ironies.

Low points include the Dance Fusion Workshop becoming hard to get into. The instructor has decreed only 15 since we have to go down to the Dance Studio (more fun if you are there, immersion with a mirror) and there are about 40 women who came regularly. I find I have to phone on Sunday morning around 8 am at the latest to be included in the Tuesday session at 8:30 am. A small thing it will be said, but I need to get out each day and be among people. So I re-joined the Chinquapin Alexandria Community Center about 6 minutes away from me where there’s a pool and I’ve begun swimming 5-6 laps (very slowly and I’m collapsing by the end of the 6th) to swim a few later afternoons each week. In this 90+ degree heat (I don’t look at the humidity) the water is refreshing and between 4 and 5 there are no camps, no people home from work.

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So it’s not that the old pleasures aren’t still strong for me: I’m just revelling in listening as I drive in my car to a brilliantly alive reading of Mantel’s Wolf Hall by Simon Slater (unabridged). The text is extraordinary. But all around me so hollow feeling, my existence so impoverished, hopes I once entertained for the future for both of us gone. The worded-truth is:

I can no longer convey how not okay it is that my beloved friend and companion and lover of a lifetime died so young, in such an agony and I have to carry on without any meaning, any deep companionship or understanding, any validation of how I see the world and relate to it. Yes time and new experiences change the nature of people’s grief and sense of loss, the meaning of what happened: the acute anxiety has subsided; but my sense of justifable anger at how he was treated, at how I now realize cancer is not discussed has hardened as I see more from my new knowledge. I’ll never forget what I witness and it will shape my conduct towards doctors and the medical establishment — all those cold hard people taking our, his money — ever after. My feelings are now turned into more clear awareness he’ll never be back. I can’t conjure up a ghostly presence (I’m not the type, the sky is the sky, nothing on another side of silence) and my memories are not pictorial or very physical. there are physical remnants in my arms, hands, central body. If I had been younger and could build a new or other life, it might have been different, but I cannot. I would not want to have been younger for that would have destroyed him earlier. Now the feelings as transformed and by new realizations become unspeakable as they go deeper and deeper, seep into my veins.

AdmiralandClary2
Clarycat stayed snuggled up to him until very near his death — late September 2013

Miss Drake

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HandsomeIanMay2015
Ian last month

Dear friends and readers,

I want to record a theft that I witnessed and put a stop to last week and, having seen it, I was on the alert for to stop again. I will also connect many people’s love for their pussycats with today’s world via Manglehorn’s Fanny (movie directed by David Gordon Green, screenplay Paul Logan, featuring Al Pacino).

For at least thee years now I’ve been suffering chilblains on the skin of my hands. This is the 18th century word for a condition where your blood doesn’t circulate efficiently and if you experience sudden heat or cold, your skin turns red, burns, feel itchy and no cream seems to be able to soothe it. I first noticed it in supermarkets in the summer where the air-conditioning is fierce. I now take with me when I go out a pair of thin wool gloves because I’ve learned the best way to deal with this condition is to not let it happen. It’s worse when it’s a matter of burning cold, but I’ve suffered from chilblains in sudden heat. I’ve had people look at me strangely, but I explain and tell them they should look at Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg’s hands. She is never without white cotton gloves. I don’t know where she gets her beautifully thin lacey pairs; I’ve not been able to duplicate it on the Net. The only thin gloves I can find are the sort used in hospitals, throw-away gloves that don’t warm you. And thin wool gloves are not everywhere either.

I’m now on at least my third pair of such gloves. I often lose gloves but in this case what happened was I found now and again when I went into my handbag, there’d be only one thin woollen glove. The other had gone missing. I blamed myself but now I feel that at least some of the time the culprit was my ginger tabby, Ian.

Last week I happened to turn around and witness Ian on the floor of my study patiently pulling at a piece of leather that forms a kind of tie to the zipper of my handbag. He had discovered what I know to be true: the leather stips facilitates pulling the zipper open. He pulled and pulled until he had the handbag about 1/3 of the way open. Then he put his paw in, rummaged about, and managed to lift one of my gloves. Next thing he has it in his mouth and is trotting away with it! I headed him off at the door, and plucked it back. I put the two gloves in a drawer in my bedroom bureau.

But I have to use them, and each time I go out remember to put the gloves there. I usually do because I also have to remember (nowadays) to take my cell phone (unplug it from the wire where it is continually being re-charged). But I’m not so good at remembering to take the gloves and cell phone out again.

Two days ago, there he was at it again. This time he had pulled the handbag opened, secured the glove and all I saw was him trotting away. Again I thwarted him. Tonight I know there were no gloves in the purse, but I saw him nonetheless with the purse one-third open fishing.

What to do? Put the handbag high up somewhere? he can climb high. Reason with him? He doesn’t speak English. About a year and a half ago my lower partial denture went missing from the supper table. I didn’t think I had dropped it. To replace it cost me $1600. Now I know for sure who took it. It’s probably behind one of my 43 bookcases.

He mews at me on and off during the day in an effort to get my attention, to say something to me, to get me to play with him, or hug, and I usually talk back before leaving the room. He knows I’m talking to him and will follow me about. He likes to climb very high on the bookshelves — believing I surmise he is out of sight. (When he was a kitten, he’d hide 2/3s of his body under a stool under the impression he was invisble that way — my little Snuffle-upagus). I have to take a broom to get him to come down and then while leaping he can break something if he hits it — like a glass. Nowadays when he comes into a room, he often murmurs and meows softly to let Yvette and I know he’s there. He will jump up on my lap and press his body stretched out against my chest, and put his head next to head, rubbing. He brushes up against my legs when I’m eating, tries to climb on my lap during breakfast and after supper if Yvette and I sit there talking. He will re-discover, as if it were new, an old spot; and then inhabit it obsessively for a few days — these past few days he re-found his grey cat pad in the front room and has been staying in it for hours.

Caroline remarked that if I didn’t have a video of him persisting at my purse, it was almost as if it didn’t happen. She has her cat on a video slowing opening a cat-proof container and taking out food to eat. Who says cats don’t execute plans? don’t remember the past? they do when it’s repetitive and people are creatures of routine.

Face-book by one of its algorithms sends me photos from years ago I put on face-book. This week it was one of ClaryCat that Jim took five years ago. She is two:

clarytablecloseup

The photo was taken by Jim close-up and brought back memories. Chris Hedges’s is over-the-top and he is blaming technology when the way technology is used is a reflection of a deeper malaise of skewed values and social structures: The Lonely American.

The bowl of varied fruit, the different wines, the treats in tupperware, another world, a previous life over now. For Yvett not such a happy time that year — she had finished graduate school and seemed unable to get a job of any kind. I now love & understand Clarycat and Ian more than I did then. How close she came to me. How in character is that pose I now realize. In the mornings when I wake she is snuggled up to me; most of the day she’s not five feet from, often a lot closer. She never disappears for several hours the way Ian does. She does still hold on fiercely to her favorite toys, and will hiss and growl at him if he tries to take one away she is playing with at the time.

I believe for a long time afterward both were affected by Jim’s death. Upset by the long dying over 4 days and then when he so totally disappeared. When I take them to the Vet, it takes Ian several days to trust us again.

Sometimes I hear one or the other of them crying in another room — or they are making a complaint-like sound. I get very upset when I hear that and rush over to see what’s happening. If it’s nothing or they can’t stand that Yvette has her door closed, I tell them “don’t cry! I can’t bear it!”

When you allow yourself to get into an intimate relationship with your pet, you identify with other like animals. This Sunday the film club was disappointing: for the first time the Cinema Art Theater owner picked the film — it seemed. It is one he means to show in the theater anyway! I thought the idea was to show us films we would otherwise not see chosen by Gary Arnold, a Washington Post film critic-reviewer. On top of that it was awful: Manglehorn, well-acted by Al Pacino (now 75) but a senseless movie where we were to believe he behaved indifferently to everyone because he could not get over the loss of a girlfriend to whom he was writing letters for years; all sent back by the post-office. He is implicitly criticized for telling hard stories of death when he goes to group meetings. What is wrong with him is the feel of the other average people there. What they talk about we are not told. The ending was sudden reform (“redemptive”) because he begins to go out with Holly Hunter who is so dismayed by him. Her view is he needs to work at being a 12 before she will open again.

The reality was a depiction of a depressed man who does not understand himself; who is deeply disappointed by a shallow son who seems to spend his life pressuring others meanly in order to make money off of them; whose wife left him (we are not how that came about). It is another one of these films where we see such lonely people; a distraught man half-mad in a bank; a vile noisy brothel where in fact people are desperate, hideous neon lights, people dressed in the ugliest of ways; everyone alone with memory objects. The film-makers offered no understanding of the deeper human realities and misbegotten society they were visualizing and dramatizing.

The film features a cat called Fanny, a long hair white cat who I worried very anxiously about. This depiction was the best thing in the film. Manglehorn pays for an expensive operation to remove a key she swallows by mistake and seemed to have affection for her and nothing else. But I didn’t trust him; he’d leave the house without checking to see that she was not caught in a closet. We did see her hide in closets the way Ian does. He’d take her out on walks where there was no leash keeping her securely attached to him:

manglehornandcat

Or he’d put her on a branch near where he was sitting, or sit high on a branch with her in his arms, looking like they were going to tumble down.

I noticed this particular cat was picked because her face was probably seen by the people who made the film as grumpy (a factor in her genes probably). Since the unexamined acceptability of cat pictures and messages have flooded the Internet, it is more acceptable for even men to love cats, and this is the second recent movie where a man’s close relationship to a cat was the only element in the film that was believable or absorbing, the only comfort in sight. The cat’s affectionate nature has not been perverted by the false structures around her. She is oblivious to them because they are absurdly irrelevant to her basic (eat, sleep, play) and emotional needs.

Jim used to say that most social experience in the US nowadays is dysfunctional. The dismaying isolation seen in Manglehorn is depicted from an upper class older woman’s point of view in I’ll Dream of You, from a working class Milan man’s in L’Intrepido.

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man
but deteriorate the cat. —Mark Twain

My two cats are my last companions before I go to sleep. In the morning Clarycat is there and soon she is nudging her head at me, licking me. Ian comes to greet me from elsewhere, somewhere else on the bed, in the short cat-tree near my bed (with a green pillow), from one of the cat pads around the house, from where Jim used to sit. He puts his paws out as hands to me. She does too.

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Jim and Ian, September 2013

Miss Drake

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Takasi Shimura as Watanabe (Ikiru)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been for months it seems writing about a subgenre of novels I called “grief memoirs,” some are ostensibly non-fiction and may be in verse (Donald Hall’s Without), others novels (Toibin’s Nora Webster), memoir’s (Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking), sermon disguised as science (Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die). I have bought myself an art history book, T. J. Clark’s The Sight of Death, which I found focuses on precisely a couple of Poussin’s paintings that Jim loved so, and will come back to that another time. For now I add movies, one 24 hours after the first viewing has worn off seems to me as meaningful and beautiful too (deep, true, subtle, complex and complicated emotions) as any list of best prose or poetry books you can find.

The trouble with hyperbole is when you want to single out something you can be at a loss for words. After I watched Ikiru by Kurosawa last night (Yvette told me about it over supper last week) I was at a loss for words to find adequate expression. Maybe unforgettable, maybe so direct with true emotions which in life we are taught by experience and our own need to guard ourselves from showing or even feeling, we hardly ever acknowledge openly and yet are in such need of — for ourselves, to help others, to be with, and to experience from others. I had never heard of Ikiru though I had seen (years ago with Jim in a tiny movie-house in Leeds, for 12 and 6) Rashomon. So here’s wikipedia for the vanilla version (it lacks stills), and Ebert, headed with the justly famous moment of the man at the close of the film on a swing.

The story: Kanji Watanabe, an old man who has spent 30 years in a dull office where work is meaningless, and promotions come by staying put and doing nothing that displeases those above you, discovers he has stomach cancer and less than a year to live, probably 6 months. This is 1952 and there is no treatment at all in Japan. He is not given the dignity of truth: told he has a mild ulcer and must try to eat as long as he can, but he has had a conversation with someone who told him just the same words from a doctor means you are dying of stomach cancer. Already he can’t eat much, vomits most of what he takes in. Shimura is a powerful actor; he is unashamed to put the most vulnerable abject emotions on his face: in his eyes come and go the terror of death, but since no one in the doctor’s office will admit he’s dying, and he cannot bring himself to tell the cold son, he has no one to express himself to.

knowledge

Watanabe has spent 30 years in an office where nothing is done and any one trying to get help is given the runaround. Like Dickens’s Nobody’s fault – now not to get anything done. he has this intense revulsion and for several nights goes about with two young people, a man who is a novelist and has compassion for him when he tells the man he is dying of stomach cancer, a young girl who he is driven to tell as she tires of him and grows frightened. He tells her he has spent these long nights with her because her youth and intense aliveness makes him feel alive again, younger (Jim used to say that’s why older men left their wives for younger women). She calls him creepy. He is creepy looking. now unshaven, desperate, deeply hungry in his soul.

withgirl

The nights are awful: hugely overcrowded places where people are in an endless circle of useless (meaningless) activities, all smiling and seeming to enact pleasure. Horrible nightmares really, but the old man tries to enjoy himself — his old hat is destroyed by a passing car and the young man helps him buy a snazzy one. At home his relationship with his son and daughter-in-law has become cold; they resent him, they want his money when he dies; they leap to the worst conclusions: that he is after the young girl sexually; that he is suddenly becoming a layabout; he is disgracing them the son says. He should stick to the job and do what’s wanted.

Job

He remembers things as he is going about at the clubs and in the night streets — seeing couples, seeing groups of people. In a flashback, wee see him and his son in a car with his parents — they are driving to or from his wife’s funeral. She died very young. All crowded in. The feel so impersonal because there is a driver in front too. He remembers intensely happy moments as in later years alone he watched his son achieve this or that. He remembers his son making gestures of love to him. Oh it is just heart-breaking.

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Well, when the young girl says she has had enough he remembers — finally — a group of women who had come to beg for having a huge cesspool near where they live fixed, and then if possible build a playground. We cut to his funeral where a Deputy Mayor and high functionaries are with his son and daughter-in-law. The DM is angry because people are saying the old man built the playground; he did not.

As these people talk, the women come in who he helped, and they cry and put incense in front of the Watanabe’s picture. As they sit there for a couple of hours and then are replaced by close co-workers, the story of how the playground came to be is told in flasbacks. The co-workers include a few people who have intelligence and hearts and under the influence of lots of liquor they realize the old man was transformed all at once, put together memories and realize he was dying of stomach cancer.

KurIkiruReview

In the flashbacks we see that as a minor Chief Something-or-other he can and does sign for this project to be done, but to get it done requires terrific terrible patience, bowed over before so many mean hostile irritated selfish people — really it’s all about selfishness, how selfish we all learn to be.

Scene after scene of him bent over begging, of people — restaurant owners infuriated because they want the space for their profit-making establishment (doubtless another of the rooms crowded with people supposed to be enjoying themselves), whom he lurches past.

hospital

He is endlessly hunched over, whether walking the streets at night with the two companions, with his office workers begging for playground or with his son (a huge newspaper dividing them) or daughter-in-law, resentment itself.

It’s a parable. Alas it’s improbable that he would have gotten so many people to agree and act just to get rid of him. This is where we are in the improbable. By his open vulnerabilty he gets everyone to act to make him go away. We see him on the site. But Kurosawa has forestalled our objections.

Several times in the film he or others is nearly run over by cars and/or huge trucks as in one of the site scenes.

The workers getting ever drunker remember seeing the old man on a swing looking happy one night in the rain with the playground all around him — that is the moment of the miraculous serenity. When the co-workers are talking and one denies the old man had stomach cancer, says he is putting together a story that didn’t happen that way, it was by chance it was achieved, for other practical reasons it was done, because the DM had an election, another worker looks at him. He doesn’t believe this: the old man was an inane fool. The worker says if that is so, there is nothing but this dark place (as life, for life). The worker begins to cry. So if we rule out Kurosawa’s story, we are left bottomlessly bereft.

As all who have seen the film recall we switch to the old man swinging on the swing. It is night and raining. Kurosawa manages this shimmering beauty in the texture of what we are seeing. The old man sings a brief slow melancholy ballad which he had gotten one of the musicians on the nights he went out to play: life is brief, it urges you to enjoy it while you are young. My favorite of the many stills taken from this scene is one where we see the old man from the side, swinging, singing.

From what he sees at the funeral the son gradually realizes that he misunderstood totally, especially (the film continually does this, provides a mean motive for what is happening) as when he gets home, his wife finds the old man left him and her his whole pension. One of his grief feelings is clearly from his now being left with irretrievable remorse. He cannot undo the life they led.

He is intensely hurt his father never told him he had stomach cancer. But everything all around them pushed the old man to tell only the two semi-strangers at night in moments of sudden anguish, and the girl does not react well. The character who reacts best over the whole film to this news is the young man the first night, this novelist who can’t get his novels published, who looks poor and awful and who we at first fear will cheat the old man, but does not.

novelist

It is he who helped the old man buy himself the new hat. That hat all battered is in the son’s hands as the film ceases. This is, ladies and gentlemen, an affirmative film.

Someone in the group at the funeral asserts he has seen Watanabe walking on the bridge over the playground, wandering among the children. We see them in the office and the co-worker who cried sees another group of people in need of help come in and at first stands up to try to do something for them. But no one stands with him. He soon sits down.

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How long will the playground last? who will mend it when things break? these children will grow into the adults we saw late at night wandering wildly.

The film’s last image is of a man in shadows standing on the bridge looking down: is it the co-worker who cried? Watanabe’s ghost? if so, this is a a redemptive ghost moment: most tales come out of the irretrievability of a life’s experience. But it’s not clear what we see.

A larger perspective: the film shows Japan after WW2: the devastation of the bombing from the Allies, dreadful before the atom bombs hit.

ikirucafe

I felt I ought to write a novel about some of things I carry on thinking to myself and feeling since Jim died but when I once tried it came out so raw (and grim) I had to stop. What is astonishing is the control in the film which makes the surface cool and produces these capabilities of human hearts in the midst of a society desolate of uncorrupted structures for people to relate to one another too, instead with structures which reinforce the worst feelings of materialism and superficial gaiety.

Maybe in Wolf Hall there are in it, due to Rylance’s presence, tone, face, moments of deep gravitas, projections of still true emotion, that reach near what flowers in Ikiru.

Last night I dreamt of Jim, it was disturbing because the dream was he was back but with the cancer. Probably I was longing to have him back with me on any terms. Yes I can survive — I have conversations with people where I gather I am expected to have “gotten over what happened” by now. That is, by those who have never had such a loss or have never felt life at its core. Those who have know better.

Sylvia

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Dear friends and readers, Patrick Leary put this on Victoria (a listserv) with the introduction “clips from what is claimed to be the oldest surviving footage of London, shot 1890-1920, with maps showing where the cameras were pointing, and split-screen comparisons with present-day London.”

I was touched by the people living in 1890 going about their business. The music is appropriately chosen too.

None of my grandparents were born until the middle-1890s, Jim’s grandparents were probably born about 10 years earlier as his parents were 10 years older than mine. During many visits to London Jim and I walked those streets as filmed more recently.

Sylvia

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Ian2015
One of my two perpetual companions, Ian Pussycat

Dear friends and readers,

One of my ways of getting through the hours of my life at night is to watch good movies and/or blog. After I finished my “The Importance of Screenplays” paper, I turned to the stack of DVDs I had on one of my two library tables in my “workroom” (study?). I began with 8 Acclaimed Films, and have now enjoyed 4 of the 8. Each has made my evening valuable to me and I shall try to share what I think was valuable as a form of recommendation.

I am not inclined to credit any institutionalized group with the aim of increasing compassion and understanding of individuals towards others in communities (I avoid the bankrupt term “society”), but the effect of these 1990s Miramax movies could be this (like drops of water on a stone wearing it away), even if their conscious aim was more like reaching a niche segment of the marketplace audience seen as liking Anglo-costume dramas of the non-violent, much “sensitivity” type liked by intelligent readers.

I read an article over lunch on film by Laura Riding Jackson (written long ago, reprinted in the January 2015 PMLA –- which I still get issues of even though I stopped membership in December 2013) where Jackson identifies a central flaw in popular films: they are capable of giving a strong education in feeling, of forcing us to enter the consciousness of the film team, the product and its process, but  they “fail to supply their audiences with an adult emotional language for the successions of emotions they induce. “ Why? lest they disturb or alarm or shock us by becoming aware of what we feel and expose to others (if they could see it).  It comes to me that this adult emotional language, stance, understanding is precisely what four of the 8 “acclaimed” Miramax films I’ve seen thus far attempt to do: The Ideal Husband, A Month by the Lake, My Life So Far and Her Majesty Mrs Brown (on IMDB just Mrs Brown).

My question is, Why were these not as good as they should have been? what held them back as a group and/or individually?

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Central love scene between Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Northam – the emphasis on this heterosexual pair distorts the experience — she is a naive woman, and he bestotted sexually and emotionally by her is the core of the movie

Film adaptation from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband: first up because Jim bought and now I own a complete works of Wilde. He made efforts to see good productions; a high point of our 2004 3-week holiday in the UK with Yvette and Caroline was when the friend we were staying with, Angela, took us one summer night to watch The Importance of Being Earnest. For the first time I realized how funny it was; hitherto I was in audiences who didn’t get it or saw a film adaptation

It’s not Wilde but Wilde adapted into a screenplay by Oliver Parker. While I enjoyed it for the acting, beautiful settings, I was interested to find it didn’t work right. I have found that before in Wilde plays turned into movies. They are different genres, and often while updated, the adaptation is not sufficiently changed so what was intended as witty somehow doesn’t come across except as dull. Maybe it’s the pace of a movie (slower), the demand for a believable (seeming realistic) illusion, but I find Wilde most of the time does not translate into a movie without considerable change that weakens the heart of what he has to offer. You recognize the 18th century origin but it’s not enacted quite.

Still of interest: the theme is how you have to tolerate other people’s weaknesses and not have such a virtuous high minded view of yourself nor demand it of others if you are an ethical person. Seems strange. Did viewers ever really believe themselves so good they needed this kind of lesson? An Ideal Husband is someone with feet of clay, that way he can (among other things) grow rich, stay in power, do some good.

The wife is presented as a woman working for women’s causes, but the word “suffragette is not seen.” Otherwise all the women gain place and power in the world by marriage and the two central ones are conventionally in love and want to be submissive in romance. It would have been truer to the text to bring out the loss, the suffering compare these women to contemporary politically active feminist women.

It’s the subtext that is compelling I suggest — each of the characters is found out and the play-as-movie shows each of them tolerating one another and thus themselves. This is about homosexuality  — Colm Toibin has written that Wilde was ever trying to be found out, writing about it, and the urge destroyed him. Here in this play he is dreading his own impulse and exorcizing off what he anticipated would be and was the result. I would have preferred a straight dramatization of this darker fable and some sense in the movie of it brought out clearly. It was not at all but kept to the literal text — here and there in someone’s eyes you saw flashes of despair, which was steely (Everett) or just hardened to accept (Lindsay Duncan).

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Vanessa Redgrave challenging Edward Fox — the core is their ages and that he comes to accept her strength and see the beauty in her

Film adaptation of H.E. Bates’s A Month by the Lake. I don’t know how many of my few readers are familiar with the work of H.E. Bates — another “middle brow” or ignored/minor writer of the 20th century. If you’ve seen the superb mini-series from the 1970s, Love for Lydia, you know something of it: he’s called SubLawrentian and in a way it’s so. He’s a writer of short stories and has a marvelous three part biography, male version of Storm Jamieson.

The director John Irvin, screenplay Trevor Bentham, featuring as Miss Bentley Vanessa Redgrave (she reminded me so of her daughter in this one, Miranda Richarsdon); as Major Wileshaw Edward Fox and as Miss Beaumont a young Uma Thurman. The novella by Bates has not that long ago been reprinted (I just bought it); the movie reveals it’s another Lawrentian one: an older woman and man meet in an Italian resort by the northern lakes, and while he is attracted to her as a person as well as woman, when a young girl is hired as an au pair by a bourgeois Italian family staying, his librido goes in another direction. Older men want younger not older women. Luckily for all concerned she’s a of a shallow flighty disposition, can’t get herself to pretend even though she hates the upper class boarding school her parents had sent her to, and needs money (shades of Lydia). Fox’s character cannot accept the independence and athleticism of Redgrave’s (she beats him at tennis) and the story is of their gradual getting together, one attempted rape of Redgrave by one of the younger Italian men “around.” There’s a very much E.M. Forster feel here — like A Room with a View (Miramax did that too) — all last names, repressed English people abroad ….

It was somehow not as good as it should have been; as with the film of “The Ideal husband” in the same collection, despite great actors, wonderful script, good source, somehow doesn’t quite “soar” — but it is very good and touching. I wished I were Redgrave at the end where we see we have been in retrospective throughout and she is talking from later years of a partnership with Fox (not clear it’s marriage) where every summer they return to the mountains and spend a month by this lake. She is the center of the film and my guess is like Richardson (the character Christopher Blake played) in the book Love for Lydia. I remember Jeremy Irons as the drunken friend, opting out of life. In this film there is no opting out of life. One is not permitted to.

Don’t miss it.

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The family group at one of their seasonal rituals — the point is there is nothing eccentric here …

My Life So Far. it’s the story of the boyhood of one of the founders of the BBC and a man who ran one of the major opera companies in the UK. Well you have to have built in strong self-esteem and contacts to achieve that. Well you have to have contacts, connections, a sense of your the worth of your own culture in negotiating with others. It’s based on a memoir of Denis Forman. It’s about a privileged life. Hugh Hudson the director, Simon Donald the screenplay writer, David Puttnam the producer.

What’s so effective is the film-makers managed to recreate the life of a rural country house estate, family and servants, houseguests, village, surrounding area, with all the appurtenances of what they do in daily life in a way that is so convincing — yet it’s “warm bath” stuff.  Since Cranford such movies have become common; this one was made in 1999. Many extras had to have been hired for some of the large group scenes — of yearly rituals, of games, of sports. Rosemary Harris is the grandmother who owns the house and her death at the end brings an end to the life-style after a while. She made me cry several times because she enacted her role as a widow so well — quiet and controlled, seeming the center, a kind disciplinarian to her grandchildren advisor to son, but then something would happen or she’d get drunk. That she once played George Sand as seen in her letters, is the mother of Jennifer Ehle made sense.

There’s a Chekhovian feel without the sense of tragedy coming so much.   It’s told from the point of view of a young boy, a new actor at the time who appears not to have gone on for a career; the famous actors who are very good include Colin Firth as this young man’s patriarchal but very stumbling and half-fantasy driven father, a squire in a great house in Scotland.

What made the difference in this film from the two previous is timing. Just as Harris is taken to bed weeping, at the right second we saw a full length of her now dead husband in a weak sort of Sargeant style — hunting or fishing gear around him.

We see the quiet and important miseries of such a place — Firth has a sort of affair with the fiancee of his brother, and hurts his wife intensely; she has had several children by him and her life wrapped around him, applauding him. The boy’s own hurts.

It’s very masculinist in outlook — shows the patriarchy without feeling uncomfortable about it. How many films there are about boys’ growing up. But this one was intelligent and its script and whole sense showed us the women’s lives too – -they are presented as happy (the wife at the end) but we may realize otherwise.  A Month by the Lake and An Ideal Husband had a lot more from a woman’s point of view — indeed that was part of their point. We don’t see much of the servants though they are there and we can see endlessly working, on the alert, and sometimes unfairly fired. We see the poverty of some of the artisans in the countryside.

I recommend it as a full realization of the privileged country life house from the standpoint of privilege. Not a melancholy picture like Isabel Colegate’s Shooting Party (and its remarkable film adaptation with James Mason).  I suppose a curiosity whose title might have been the Boyhood of a Privileged BBC executive, English upper class life in the country idealized ….

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Mr Brown and the queen facing down, strong against the pressures of the outside world when they are out on their horses

Her Majesty Mrs Brown, directed by John Madden, screenplay Jeremy Brock, producer Sarah Curtis under a Miramax distribution and (doubtless purse). Judi Dench enacts the part of the bereaved queen somewhat brought back into life by Albert’s groom, Billy Connolly. This one might be a made-for-TV film (the credits suggest this, BBC) – except 105 minutes is a typical length for movies intended for cinemas. The film-makers mean to give us a touching depiction of real human emotion (what people do feel) with the movie there to make sense of the two people’s unusual depth of feeling; the story turns precisely on the evolution of the feelings the two people in the center experience together and over time.

I’m not sure the film-makers achieve it altogether, it sometimes seems strained.  Since 1997 Rumor has moved on to suggest a marriage between the two (so physical intimacy), but what the movie turns on is partly their partial defiance of her vast superiority to him (which now and again she insists on) and his corresponding movement from deference, to active concern that is sensible to a sort-over-compensation idea that he is needed to keep the queen from assassins. He did once save her but the movie makes him obsessed late in life, exhausting himself, and finally dying in this cause (of pneumonia). There are vignettes of familiar 19th century political figures either in Parliament or around Victoria. Beautiful scenery in (apparently) Scotland. There is said to have been a diary kept by Brown and destroyed by Victoria’s courtiers.

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Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, making music together (Master and Commander, a Peter Weir film): no Miramax but it seeks to make sense of its heroic and anti-heroic emotions (when I’ve finished watching the extensive features, I’ll blog on it)

Riding’s question is what is a film for? What can it do no longer medium can? Movies which offer just immediacy of entering a kind of consciousness” are a “shallow pleasure,” an “emotional waste.” Movies can offer “new kinds of emotions” not much acknowledged, “sensibilities” ordinary people do have but which movie makers are afraid to present.  She talks of how color should be used to express emotion, and also music (not just as backdrop to add emotions or moods the film-makers haven’t been able to whip up). This is done in all four films. What went wrong? In each case they bowed to conventional ideas of women, of hierarchy, of monarchy. Oddly, the one which was most successful in what it endeavoured to do was My Life So Far. It was felt that the privileged who identify also understood more: surely a prejudice.

I’ve bought myself a copy of Bates’s A Month by the Lake. I have the highest respect for Victoria and Albert since reading Gill Gillian’s We Two.

Kayla was not the only ‘net friend who meant to comfort and give me company at Christmas time by such a present.  She and I and Yvette had dinner together at the Jane Austen Summer Program do in North Carolina in June 2013 . A restaurant you had to know was there to find it; a gate before you got in.  Another friend, a scholarly woman, professor, who I’ve met at ECASECS and ASECS and has read books with me online (including Clarissa) sent a lovely card and Jo Baker’s Longbourn.

Miss Drake

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