Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Films I Personally Enjoyed (Even If Others Didn’t)

Penned upon the 25th of July, 2007

Lady Tanah and I don’t often get out to the pictures, but when we have lately left the comforts of home, the reward has usually been well worth our efforts. There have been a few films, though, which we have thoroughly enjoyed but which haven’t been so popular with everyone. I thought I might devote a few lines to simply presenting what I liked about them!

Pride & Prejudice
Starring Keira Knightley & Matthew Macfadyen

I think Pride & Prejudice was taken for a star vehicle, considering Ms Knightley’s role in the regrettable Pirates series. Perhaps the lush visuals didn’t help; they could have been mistaken for covering for poor writing or acting. To my eyes, though, it’s a masterly exercise in fitting Austen’s entire story into a little over two hours, without sacrificing detail or battering the watcher with too much information. This rendition tells so much in nuance, in a glance or an aside, where (for instance) the BBC miniseries had to resort to absurd exaggerations and excessive flashbacks. Really, you should watch it more than once – devote one viewing to the visuals, say, one to the dialogue, another to the subtleties you missed the first two times, and so on.

I also thrill over the interpretation of the story as set in the 1790s (the time of the book’s authoring,) rather than the 1810s (the time of its publication.) The differences manifest in costuming – looser, more flowing lines – and also in an opulent, dramatic, even mystical aesthetic. Certainly, this indulgence could have been a weakness, but the strength of the acting – especially Macfadyen’s utter puppy-dog soulfulness – reinforced it and made it beautiful. By the third sitting, I’d fallen so in love with this film that it has joined Buffy on our extremely select “watch it anytime, over and over” list.

The Prestige
Starring Christian Bale & Hugh Jackman

A film drawn from a classic novel can reasonably meddle with the story: being a classic, it’s safe, it can weather any number of re-interpretations. A contemporary novel, though, probably only has one chance, and an unscrupulous filmmaker can leave it remembered by nothing more than a short-lived action flick or a vaguely topical hash, without any of the content which made the story what it was (see also The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta and also many books not written by Alan Moore.)

The Prestige is not, I think, such a film. Certainly, much changes between book and film, from minor character details to major plot points to elements of structure. It would be unfair, though, to say that because they are different, they are worse. The result is a strong, tightly-written film, which addresses the same themes – the nature of sacrifice, commitment to one’s art, the distance between the genius and the world – without anything superfluous or unable to support itself. There were some truly clever touches, too – like Cutter’s celluloid collars! If they were able to make a film this good, why not make it without reference to the book at all? A good question, but its quality might indicate that this story is intended to become a classic, and to be retold and reinterpreted again.

Marie Antoinette
Starring Kirsten Dunst

Coppola’s Antoinette baffled the media when it appeared. A biopic of the infamous queen, starring another young actress primarily associated with a cheesy popular trilogy, with a New Wave soundtrack? Most previews focussed on shoes and cakes, leaving the public with no real idea what to expect.

Perhaps it would have been impossible to expect what Antoinette was: a sympathetic viewing of Marie, seeing only the world she experienced, revealing her frailties and the narrow scope of her actual power. We don’t get a story of the hardships and privations of life under the Louis dynasty, or of the brutality of the revolution, or of the gallantry of its leaders. We simply share the life of a young woman, as limited in her abilities as anyone else in the world, doing her best to learn and to act well. The lavishness of the royal wardrobe is no more central to the film’s appeal than the pleasantness of her personal orchard. What is important is that we empathise with her, we see her as a human being – and really, any film which succeeds in bringing us to empathise with each other is a good film to see.

Incidentally, I also liked that Antoinette used modern touches, such as accents, to give us an anchor toward understanding the characters – Louis XV’s unsophisticated drawl, for instance, lets us recognise him as something of a letch immediately. This warrants comparison to the methods used in, say, Dangerous Liaisons – why would French characters speak English in a French accent? If the film were French, would they speak French with an English accent? And why Keanu Reeves? Ever?


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Commentary upon “Films I Personally Enjoyed (Even If Others Didn’t)”

  1. Meaghan was heard to remark,

    Upon the 30th of July, 2007 at 8:43 pm,

    I can agree with your comments on ‘Marie Antoinette’, but frankly, I cannot see what is good about the Knightley P&P other Rosamund Pike, who is gorgeous and wonderful.

    A few more to add to the ‘must see’ list if you haven’t already had the pleasure of viewing them:

    Wilde

    Gigi (my favourite musical!)

    The better Austen films- S&S, the Paltrow ‘Emma’ and ‘Mansfield Park’ with Frances O’Connor.

    The Firth ‘Importance of Being Earnest’

    ‘Washington Square’ with a young Jennifer Garner

    ‘The Lady and The Highwaymen’ – the one where a very young Hugh Grant has the Restoration mullet

    and

    ‘The Libertine’- Johnny Depp, more Rosamund Pike and a cute little Australian actress called Samantha Morton.

    Oh, and what about the most recent ‘Phantom of the Opera’?


  2. Sir Frederick Chook was heard to remark,

    Upon the 30th of July, 2007 at 8:58 pm,

    A post of films which are uncontestedly good would be much longer, even without the fun of debating an invisible opponent! Except, we did find that Blockbuster head offices made our local video shop remove their ‘Queer’ section, and so Wilde found itself reshuffled. I think it was just a question of terminology – ‘Gay and Lesbian Interest’ or some nonsense – but still. We’ve only seen the Redgrave Earnest, not to be confused with Vanessa Redgrave as Lady Wilde – ahhh, six degrees of stupid coincidences. Cheers for the recommendations!


  3. Sir Frederick Chook was heard to remark,

    Upon the 30th of July, 2007 at 9:01 pm,

    Oh, speaking of IoBE, shall I ask about to see if people would care to form a Wildeing party?


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