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?
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).
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.
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 ….
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.
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.