I’m only writing on this space for Nathaniel R.’s Best Shot series (we’re still waiting on Possessed :S) because my water birth-like paragraphs about the shots from Francois Truffaut‘s The Story of Adele H. that interest me are too long for tumblr. Truffaut thought that Adele’s story as fitting to tell in a 95 minute feature. However she is only and arguably unjustly seen as a footnote in her father Victor Hugo’s life and only having a stub page in Wikipedia. Anyway….
Third runner-up, because of what iMDb’s mothboy88 thinks:
When Adele (Isabelle Adjani) writes “Victor Hugo” in the dust on the mirror, and then wipes it off, it’s almost exactly the same as when Hanzo writes “Bill” on the window, and The Bride wipes it off with her sleeve.
Although I can’t remember which Kill Bill he or she is talking about. Part 1?
Second runner-up: I’m probably not the only Canadian who reads Nathaniel but I’m probably the loudest. If I was patriotic I’d dedicate this whole post to Canadian representations in this movie, since it’s mostly set in Halifax. I was also a bit irritated at how half of the characters didn’t know who Hugo was, or that this movie made Halifax look like a city for less than the 50,000 of its population during the film’s time period of 1863. Or that it wasn’t filmed in that city until iMDB’s pbellema reminded me that Old Halifax blew up in World War I, the same war that put the news of her death in the fringes. I also realized that beginning the story with a map reminds me of Casablanca but this movie is obviously more depressing.
Runner up: Because it’s my space I would like to talk about my broken heart. And fittingly, downward spirals are one of Truffaut’s favourite arcs. There are many instances where I withdraw my investment on such stories from him and other directors, as much as I appreciate the execution and the acting in those movies’ final moments. Regardless of what I think about these kind of movies, my tendencies to over-read images sees this shot as a heterosexual masculine aversion from ‘ridiculous’ women, or the world, gender dominated or otherwise, rejecting her. It’s also a majestic moment in an otherwise intimate movie, although it makes me feel like an asshole that my runner-up shot shows Adjani’s back instead of her beautiful face.
Best: If the earlier shot shows the movie’s world, this shot explains its format. This is not your average epistolary movie, as she recites her letters instead of being heard through voice-overs. What captivated me visually is how it’s dark and grimy like a Delacroix painting (this movie loves the colour brown). The scene where this shot belongs to also puts many things into context, how she has to cut paper from a roll like she would for bread. How she would talk about how her father owes her money which, even to me who belongs to the ‘entitled generation’ sounds unthinkable. How her beloved Albert’s position would be jeopardized and how single-minded love like hers might and should have only existed in her lifetime.
- ‘Best Shot’ Resumes Production on June 27th (thefilmexperience.net)
This is going to sound mean, and I’m trying to be nice, but the titular Georgy Girl (Lynn Redgrave) looks like what would happen if Kim Novak was loud and had an awkward phase – really 1960’s you call this overweight? But I like this awkward phase because she still has this full liveliness, running around to or being chased around London by the equally crazy people in her life, like her godfather Mr. Leamington (also Academy Award-nominated James Mason), roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) and the latter’s boyfriend, Jos (Alan Bates). Without context it’s a good thing if you’re being chased around the most happening city in the world by a younger Alan Bates – I’ve had a crush on this bushy-haired man since seeing Far from the Madding Crowd. But I changed my mind because his character is a underemployed flake and married his pregnant girlfriend. And that Georgy is contractually Mr. Leamington’s mostly platonic mistress and the latter, despite the creepiness, makes for a great situation that she shouldn’t abuse.
The movie shows the seeds of the Sexual Revolution through these relationships and uncertainties, characters lusting on each other strangely enough because of cabin fever like Georgy and Jos do. Georgy lands her place with Leamington because of a parody of a cabaret number, becoming a part of the mini-trend of leading women who are also awkward and make fun of female sexuality because their faces, body types or age don’t fit beauty standard. She’s an archetype, the supporting character in her own life, altruistically wrestling their problems and making her friends help her other friends. But she turns from having to watching people make love to this still-unfashionable woman being courted by two different men, getting accepted into the fold and her man being her best revenge. The Revolution also manifests itself through Georgy’s foil and object of jealousy, Meredith. This movie is very frank about this generation’s good and bad sides, poking fun at marriage with a scene showing Meredith and Jos’ civil wedding, Georgy trying her best to keep with other couples’ tradition and throwing rice at two people who don’t belong together. This honest is especially shown when Meredith proudly tells Jos about aborting the fetuses he’s sired – she asks Jos why he should have a say on keeping it or aborting, which is a valid argument although we don’t like the character making it. Despite her first optimism towards being a mum, she eventually screams about Georgy ‘babying’ up her flat and eventually shocking her ward mates and their visitors by playing one of movies’ worst mothers, calling “it” “that hideous thing,” shunning her child into Georgy’s care.
This movie is director Silvio Narizzano‘s one hit wonder but I’ll include it with Repulsion and John Schleisinger’s Darling and yes, I’m using the comparison on a superficial level – because all three are in black and white. There are diverse approaches and tones among these movies and directors but what I like about this movie is its energy. The other two who have mature-looking actors, the younger members of the cast are baby-faced people who can make babies despite their immaturity. Even Mason’s higher voice is like that of a child’s, making his rapport with Redgrave easier. Rampling, despite her sculpted features and bitch virtuosity, still has this smoothness to her and thus we can easily perceive her as one of the three youngsters whose generation probably conceived the ‘trying to figure it all out’ thing that hordes of future twentysomethings will stumble into. They’re into awkward phase between education and ‘real,’ financially stable adulthood. They still want to play like kids do – the movie having that tone of playtime, really – but are ushered into marriage and baby rearing and all that. All three movies, in dealing with young urbanites, also cross shaky class lines. But unlike Repulsion and Darling‘s snazzily dressed, partying working class, Georgy Girl‘s characters are part of the grubby quasi-intelligent class. It’s not necessarily clear whether they are moving up or down, their adulthood marked by their independence from both parents and the class system. It’s also not easy to dismiss Jos as an idiot despite of his actions because of his vigour, he just seems like a slacker with too much squandered potential. Meredith, a great beauty, is surrounded by classical music through her work as a violinist and the one with the most constant brushes with high culture and is the highest paid. Georgy has connections through Leamington but she’s still the kind of girl who, on a violently rainy day, needs to be checked up by a child welfare inspector. And all three have to, for most of the movie, go home to the same shitty, overcrowded apartment or ‘flat,’ and that I like the complexities among these kids’ class statuses.
Georgy Girl is part of a double bill for the late night program for TV Ontario’s Saturday Night at the Movies. I know that what I say in the previous paragraphs and the terrible behaviour in which supporting cast uses to react to their situations, this movie is light thanks to Redgrave’s tone setting performance, earning that Academy Award nomination. And despite her perma-jovialness, she contrasts it because her face carries the same gravitas for which her sister is known. The movie rewards this constantly joyful character with happiness. I’ll write about the movie featured in the second half of that bill, another movie released in 1966 but with much better critical/awards reception, when I feel like it.
Oy, this movie’s a mess. If I see another burnt light bulb again and go insane, it’s because of Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn. The iconic Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) from the second she lands on England to work in the troubled set of The Prince and the Showgirl with (Michelle Williams), Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Dame Sibyl Thorndike (Dame Judi Dench), those light bulbs help to capture her image and aim to symbolize the fanfare around her but only shows how badly edited the movie is. Speaking of aesthetics, the cinematography is decidedly British, dulling the bright colors of 1956 movie making but it looks occasionally dewy and romantic.
I watched it expecting to experience the shadows that walked the hallways of those British studios in 1956. Marilyn, her arm cradled by her Method acting teacher Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) while third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) watches from behind. But neither Williams, Branagh, nor Julia Ormond who plays Vivien Leigh, capture these old essences, although it’s understandably hard for them to do so knowing how famous those characters still are. These actors’ voices are a bit deep for the characters they play and yes, I do want mimicry.
Let’s talk about Marilyn Monroe, the alter ego to Norma Jean Mortensen, the ineffable within the already ineffable. The closest that the latter is documented is in Monroe’s performance in The Misfits. Marilyn is the person on camera while Norma seems to be more of a blank slate. Williams portrays ‘Marilyn’ because she might be accused of playing herself if she fully tune out from emulating Monroe’s on-screen persona. It’s a kind of shorthand. But even in her attempts the poster for Prince has more chemistry that Williams and her co-stars. And despite getting Marilyn’s comic timing right, there’s too little in her performance that warrants the other characters’ praise of her. Her performance also has its share of multiple personalities, talking in Marilyn’s well-known whisper-y voice then dropping it in the next sentence.
There are moments where this bipolarity works. They’re filming an easy scene yet Marilyn fumbles lines. When Larry yells ‘Cut!’ she hides behind the door, sweat filling her brows. But when they do another take, she glows from afar. These transitions happen in seconds, Williams showing Marilyn’s professionalism. Then Larry tells her to ‘be sexy,’ making her eyes and lips quiver like Monroe’s, breaking down. In a way, Williams is micro-acting here, stretching and moving her body express both the sorrow and the joy. Leaning her head forward as Marilyn nervously tries to get another line right, or a hand gesture while spending alone time with Colin. If it’s not the real Marilyn, it’s the studied performance of a mid-century lady who finds her life’s mission to seduce either in person or on-screen. In a way she can represent the 21st century infantile ego, someone who’s been comforted into thinking that she can take her own time for the sake of professionalism. Someone who is addicted to constant praise and yet is never satisfied by it. We’re seeing this woman’s insecurities, putting her in a situation where she’s placed to work to be her best for these issues to come out, as an actress who’ll never know how great she is.
There was a Q&A after a screening of John Cassavetes‘ A Woman Under the Influence with its star Gena Rowlands. I wanted to ask about Cassavetes’ Kubrick-esque methods towards directing or how this film might have been about their generation. Her character, Mabel Longhetti declares that she’s not a ‘stiff,’ mocking other housewives’ affectations. She balk later and tells her husband Nick (Peter Falk) that she can be anything he wants but he tells her that she’s fine the way she is. Their brashness rebels against past generations’ behavioural conventions as well as those people’s facades of white normality. Instead, I asked instead about whether she thinks Mabel’s insanity comes from society or within – like anyone, she said both.
The film is frustrating because of how it portrays Mabel’s, like Pink Flamingos but with complex shot schemes. The camera blurs or closes up on characters during conversations with others who are off-camera. Cassavetes didn’t want to plop a camera down to capture a domestic drama through wide-shot long takes. Instead he cuts to different angles, skipping from one thread of a conversation to another, making sense in portraying the tempers firing off from different characters as well as their constantly changing allegiances for or against her.
Reading Jessica Winter’s book “A Rough Guide to American Independent Film,” I misconstrued her synopsis of the film and assumed genre conventions, thinking that Mabel being ‘committed’ is Nick’s fault. But her insanity surfaces first, causing his outbursts, making him unsympathetic. However, there’s some progressiveness or even misguided feminism in him – seeing her post-hospital self makes him want her earlier imbalances back. Maybe the double standard shows that we can dismiss Nick’s insanity as boorishness while her essential role in the family can’t make her expendable. That her insanity being separate from their idea of her while there’s no ideal Nick.
“Masks and Faces: The Films of John Cassavetes” continues until July 31st at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Tonight’s movie is Husbands at 6:30.
- Gena Rowlands on John Cassavetes (arts.nationalpost.com)
Richard Eyre‘s Notes on a Scandal begins with the symbolically named Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) looking out of her classroom window, narrating her low expectations about her pubescent, multiracial students. A lesser actress would read the word ‘progress’ as a racist, but Dench knows to keep the undertones down here and besides, Barbara has taught long enough to see the rough-edged evil within every generation of adolescents and she hates her students equally for that.
The more Barbara gets to know the new art teacher, the symbolically named Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), the more she thinks she knows what latter wants. She calls Sheba’s affair with the year 10 student Robert Connolly a middle class fetish to mold any poor person and that Sheba needs rescuing from her loveless and impulsive marriage. Robert joins her so, curtly telling Sheba that she wanted to feel like Bob Geldof. They’re not necessarily wrong – Sheba is a lost character but comfortably so because of her financial stability and beauty, making others covet her, and a character shouldn’t feel needy if she’s wanted back. She hasn’t planned on the husband (Bill Nighy) and children (Juno Temple) but she’s grown to love them.
I’m also still ambivalent about how these major characters place themselves on a morality scale. Barbara and to a lesser extent Robert distrust Sheba as the other, a person similarly inwardly dirtier. There’s obviously some class war here. These working class characters dissociate the bourgeoisie as a prison of appearances and consumerism, both thinking about the affair as if she’s had many. The two are easy to condemn if we forget that Sheba is inadvertently a leech, too.
- Notes on a Scandal (shewhoshallremainmentallychallenged.wordpress.com)
‘My purpose in coming here tonight was twofold. Firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves.’
Gregory La Cava‘s My Man Godfrey takes satire over slapstick. The patriarch of the Bullock’s frustration with his family’s antics and lavish spending is delivered with sincerity. The titular dumpster hobo Godfrey’s (William Powell) mixed in with this craziness that always crosses the line, like Cordelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) trying to destroy whoever she doesn’t like. She especially finds Godfrey as a target, but not the same way we do – there’s eloquence in stinging the rich that makes us question his gruff demeanor. Cordelia, nonetheless, comments on the age difference between him and his love interest – her sister Irene (Carole Lombard). Often looking glamorous and elegant, like a blond Joan Crawford, Lombard kind of looks like a gangly woman-child in an expensive gown. It’s the curls. At least she is the reason this movie’s funny.
Cordelia picks Godfrey out of the dump near the Hudson river, she hides pearls under his bed accuses him of stealing, pearls go missing because he ends up stealing and hiding the pearls better than she can. He uses the pearls to turn the dump into a place that can accommodate both a night club and housing apartments, two institutions that won’t mix today. Godfrey, thus, invents gentrification avant la lettre, but unlike today’s version, he incorporates the poor into is urban vision by giving them work instead of simply turning them away.
- My Man Godfrey (1936) TIME TRAVEL, first class (boxofpuzzlepieces.wordpress.com)
I finished this book on February 15th for a Jane Austen Book Club. We’re never going to have our first meeting. Sad. The first thing that comes to mind is the dialogue, impressionistic between the Dashwoods, focusing instead on portraying a pastoral tone through narrative. The novel seems more dialogue-centred during chapters when Elinor and Marianne encounter male characters. Some conversations are either omitted, or through hearsay, obscured so that even the Dashwoods don’t know their endings. dialogue is important both in form and content in this book because it cements or disintegrates the female characters’ engagements with their suitors.
Had Austen been born in this era, Elinor would have rolled her eyes at people, especially when it comes to the alleged relationship between her and one of Marianne’s suitors, Colonel Brandon. This platonic relationship is probably Elinor returning the favour to Marianne with the latter’s few conversations with the former’s suitor Edward Ferrars. Marianne and Edward both hate jargon, the former’s poetic personality refreshed by Edward’s simplicity.
The book also perfectly encapsulates female heartbreak. I’ve seen it personally and it’s nasty and can almost suck the soul out of someone. Yes, and even if the book is mostly from Elinor’s perspective, Marianne’s heartbreak is more tragic. Speaking of conversations, Elinor has a last conversation with Willoughby that doesn’t really make him sympathetic, no matter how hard Austen tries to sway us.
The only adaptation of the book that I’ve seen is from Emma Thompson’s screenplay. Willoughby’s introduction scene still makes me giddy, even if I know how he really is. Eventually having to cast herself as Elinor, Thompson is the wrong age for the part. But I can’t help but hear her voice when I’m reading Elinor’s dialogue. Pardon the limp wordplay, but Thompson’s adds sensibility and soul to make Elinor and Austen proud. Also, House is in this movie.
The only handheld moment I remember from Moulin Rouge, as Christian (Ewan McGregor) sneaks away with Satine (Nicole Kidman), cuckolding the Duke even if the latter if a few feet away. Naughty!
This movie’s whimsy and surrealism in covering late 20th century pop songs in contrast with Paris almost a century ago is a precedent to Ryan Murphy’s surreal abomination known as “Glee.” I understand people who don’t like this movie, as Michael koresky called it ‘porno garbage‘ in context of a review of the Hardwicke-Seyfried Red Riding Hood movie. I admit, I sometimes hate parts of this movie too. Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent – he won an Oscar in the same year for Iris. I haven’t seen that, but I’m sure he should have won for this movie instead.) singing ‘Like a Virgin,’ or a ‘Roxanne’ in tango. In the end of the day, it didn’t matter whether the cast had the perfect voice, since they were auto-tuned just like pop stars and TV musical stars after them. But their gilded backgrounds help us dive into the film’s craziness, and as Christian belts out lyrics like ‘we can be lovers’ or ‘we can be heroes’ with an innocent enthusiasm and Satine, like us, can’t help but sing along.
I also believe this movie is created to venerate Kidman’s face, especially since this is her at her prime. Possibly the last time she’ll look immortal. Her emotions when Satine denies her affection for Christian, only to sing his loving words to him later. It’s really difficult to stamp any role of hers to be her best, giving something different here as she does with the naturalism of Grace in Dogville or the sincere upper-class pathos of Becca Corbett in Rabbit Hole. The first word that comes to mind is seduction, when Satine gets our attention by singing the words straight and looking directly at the camera with her big eyes. She doesn’t, however, shy away from the histrionic side of attracting men like Christian and the Duke, with high-pitched whispers for comic effect. Or when her game stops and has to tell Christian the truth, tearing up when necessary.
Also, when I was watching this, her face only has colour three times, when she’s adjusting her make-up, on top of the elephant singing along with Christian or when she’s trying to ward him off. She tells Christian that the Duke has given her everything, and anyone would have taken her word for it unless it’s someone as resilient as Christian. The rest of the time, the blue light makes her seem like an unreachable Parisian geisha, her wintry beauty under the evening blue light already foreshadows her tragedy.
This part seems like I’m over thinking this movie, but there’s also something interesting about her showstopper of a number, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ a song she sings in two versions. During both times, she’s practically dressed in diamonds, shining as they hug her body. I’m not sure what director Baz Luhrmann’s intentions are, but using the song inadvertently puts Satine with Marilyn Monroe, the rest of the characters depend on the woman’s intelligence but none of them point that quality out. They both commit to their fictional selves. Their health and career are vulnerable and precarious, their broken hearts hindering them from moving on.
Let me now talk about the multicultural references in this movie include Switzerland, India and Spain (or arguably Argentina). I’m still figuring out the fictional turn of the century Parisian’s fascination with what’s outside them, letting pieces of the world in through Expos and caged zoo exhibits and, in the case of this film, cabaret shows. And the ‘legitimate theatre’ of the last act. The film also dedicates some time to show Christian, Harold, Lautrec (John Leguziamo) and the rest of the crew making sets and backdrops, rehearsing intricately elaborate dance numbers, looking just as fabulous as the finished product.
There are also some intermissions, when the bearded Christian is alone, when the titular Moulin Rouge is barren, its red curtains no longer blushing like a youthful face. The fictional world of the Moulin Rouge at its peak is still vivid and magical even if once in a while, we remember that it all has ended.
Doing this post on a whim. Much more actresses have one or two great movies a year, but due to realizing that the great Claudia Cardinale has been in three great movies in 1963, I decided to do some time-wasting and find out which other women have had the same luck.
Yes, I’ll admit that I’ve only seen Cardinale and Williams’ full list while the rest are below because I’ve seen one or two of each actress’ movies. Many of the women on the list are also here because of their supporting roles. It’s hard to carry a great film. Can you imagine trying to do the same for three?
Also, I know nothing about the silent era but I’m sure that I’ll eventually learn that the likes of Lillian Gish and Janet Gaynor have hat tricks under their CV’s, the latter winning the first Best Actress Oscar for three performances. It’s also harder to get names of actresses and movies belonging to world cinema. If I could only double myself and extend the hours of a day.
And yes, Williams is here because as much as I hate parts of Shutter Island, I know a lot of you love it. Although I’m sure her 2011 is looking better than her 2010. Here goes the list.
Olivia de Haviland – 1939 – (Gone with the Wind, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth of Essex)
Barbara Stanwyck – 1941 – (The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire)
Grace Kelly – 1954 – (Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Country Girl)
Claudia Cardinale – 1963 – (8 1/2, The Leopard, The Pink Panther)
Faye Dunaway – 1974 – (Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Four Musketeers)
Patricia Clarkson – 2003 (Dogville, The Station Agent, All the Real Girls)
Michelle Williams – 2010 – (Shutter Island, Blue Valentine, Meek’s Cutoff)
A factor in making this list involved representing each decade, one actress per decade to be more frank. I chose de Haviland over Bette Davis’s movies in the same year, Kelly over Marilyn Monroe‘s 1953 (it hurt me to do that), Driver over Kirsten Dunst (Driver might be disqualified since her involvement in Mononoke only came through 1998/1999, when Miramax released the film stateside, but Dunst 1999 films are guilty pleasures that I can’t admit to the public yet) or Clarkson over Maggie Gyllenhaal’s 2002. Besides, this post is a picture overload already, as is most of my posts in this blog.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no actress in the list that has an 80’s hat trick. Great roles and movie seemed spread out generously among the Meryl Streep generation and the Brat Pack girls.
Lastly, I’ll make a list for the boys and the directors, or make hat trick lists for consecutive years or movies, but only if you ask nicely. Or better yet, if you could do the rest 😛
- Princess Mononoke – Japanese Anime (8thumbsup.wordpress.com)
Banjo music plays during car chases when the gang of Bonnie and Clyde get away, the only soundtrack we hear in the film. The film doesn’t romanticize through diagetic music, the gang’s ups and downs portrayed through a consistent tone.
The gang drive by the countryside too quickly, or cut often towards close-ups. The film’s briskness still allow us to experience great images, slowing it down would only call attention to its Academy Award-winning cinematography too much. Images like during nighttime on highways, the only source of light are the headlights from the car. The interiors of the cars are well-lit, but outside they’re plunged into darkness, surrounded by the insufficient infrastructure, alone in their journey’s last legs.
Or when the gang visits Bonnie Parker’s (Faye Dunaway) family, the yellow earth of that country under sunny haze. The film’s most manicured moments are here, the clouds looking too light. Bonnie breaks the scene’s dreamlike essence, feeling disconnect between her, her senile mother, and her shortsighted boyfriend Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty).
The actors don’t deliver lines like those in earlier gangster films, realistically sounding like hicks instead. Most of the actors exclaim their raspy Southern accents, mostly during good times, but the dialogue’s just as energetic and quick during the film’s denouement.
The gang aren’t Robin Hood, nor am I attracted to them in the Manichean sense. They don’t seem evil, even with the cop killing, infighting and how they narcissistically take pictures of themselves. The characters behave like ones in early Godard films, impulsively childlike, dressing up and chasing their victims, toting their guns.
The film’s doesn’t view them as neither good nor evil. The newspapers portray them as curiosities instead of hunted criminals. The bankers they rob hog the camera just like the gang. A couple (one half of which is Gene Wilder) rides along even if the gang steals their car. The rural sprawl causes plurality of reactions towards the gang, equally creating both fans, onlookers or snitches.
The ‘good guys’ don’t live up to their labels, as Texas Ranger Hamer goes to Missouri hunt for the gang for bounty money instead of protecting people from his own jurisdiction, his quest for them eventually rooted on revenge and not on trying to do good.
The characters often think of the couple’s death. The farmer in the bank promised to order them flowers at their funeral, a morbid way of saying thanks. Bonnie poeticizes their martyrdom. We know how this film’s going to end but not its specifics, a few close-ups of the couple followed by a wordless shootout, without lyricism, a brutal defeat portrayed in twenty seconds.
Exhausted. This is after the disastrous tea time social with the Higgins’ family and friends. Colonel Pickering tells Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) that they’ll never be able to pass off Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) as a duchess. Higgins asks her if she wants to go on and says yes. She tells him in a later scene why she decides to go on. What follows is a really crappy montage, Howard portraying an affected caricature, making himself look older, making Hiller look like the better actor as she deserves to be hailed as so.
Perfection. Eliza enters the room with fear in her eyes, but she puts this mask on and she transforms into elegance. She smiles at the right people with warmth. She’s in the receiving end of a conversation and she’s so worried about standing gracefully that she might as well not be listening. She does the right moves, performing, so calculated that people can marvel at her and know that she’s not ‘from here.’ Karpathy (Esme Percy) tells his former teacher Higgins that she must be a Hungarian countess. I would have put my five pounds on outer space.
Mad. Eliza is exhausted again after the Embassy Ball. She is furious at Higgins, then anger turns slowly into depression. She asks him ‘Where am I to go? What am I to do?’ He hells her that she’ll get married, which doesn’t comfort her, retorting that as a Covent Garden girl she sold flowers but not herself, a line I don’t remember from the play, but packs a big punch. She easily moves from upper class to a refined Cockney within her anger.
Let’s discuss the ‘noirlike’ style here. I’ve noticed a lot of shadow play in ‘British’ movies between this one and The Secret Garden in 1949. Pygmalion‘s cinematographer, Harry Stradling Jr., is also responsible for Southern Gothic films like A Streetcar Name Desire, and actually shot the colourful My Fair Lady as well.
The scene also hints on the uselessness of institutions like education and marriage. Upper class people learn to speak the King’s English and ‘science and literature and classical music.’ Then they start a business and marry. It’s easy for the upper class to get from one institution to another, but those are hurdles for Eliza. Her education with Higgins isn’t adequate.
Awakened. Again, this scene is probably not a part of the play. Context. Freddy has waited outside Higgins’ door for Eliza for days, without looking like he smells. Eliza, while constables are watching, tells him to kiss her again. Both factors should seem creepy, but it’s not. Both actors don’t play the scene as if it is real love, and neither does Hiller act out Eliza like she’s using Freddy, not consciously anyway. It’s a fine line between those two extremes of love and rebound that this scene walks on, and greatly so.
Triumphant. There are ups and downs within this scene and Hiller’s elastic facial expressions takes us to this last stop. For this film, she’s looked like many personalities between her transformation. From an ancestress of a chavette as she to a mannered Hungaian ‘ingenue’. From boyish innocence to an elegant, chiseled-face goddess. Eliza is now a ‘pillar of strength’ over Higgins. This part of the scene is actually when Eliza lovingly tells Higgins why she has gone along with the experiment, even if it has meant emotional strain on her. But she leaves for a while anyway. Also, I dare you to find me a more prominent set of cheekbones in the history of cinema.
‘Christmas,’ exclaims Louisa. “My Favourite Things,” a song from the infamously jolly movie musical The Sound of Music, reflects the bucolic existences of the nun turned governess Maria Rainer (Julie Andrews), and the kids get this too, Marta naming pussy willow (?) as one of her favourite things. She’d fit in well in Berlin. Liesl (Charmian Carr) names ‘telegrams,’ not just indicating Rolf, the creepy boy who sends them, but she also breaks the pastoral spell and naming something modern and technological. She’s becoming a modern woman, a potential improvement on Maria herself.
Kurt names ‘snakes,’ reminding Maria of his earlier pranks with her and showing that the kids aren’t devoid of personality after all. I’ve been watching movies where the main/’supporting’ characters listen to others to understand them, simply enough. Later in the film, a wet Maria shows her master Captain Georg (Christopher Plummer) that she’s been doing her homework with the kids and that she’s one step ahead of him.
This movie’s very much maligned, a friend of mine actually saying that if William Wyler directed the thing, the film would be more veracious with its time. And he’s not alone. But this movie is set in 1938. It accurately portrays an antebellum, when characters declare war through whispers, speculations and accusations, when the rich worry about their trifles and of what’s to come. Georg spanking his children is potentially as frightening as the Nazi ‘spider’ banners. It’s just as human to see joy in frightful times, while it’s insulting if a movie about say, our times is full of characters who are constantly depressed. A movie, like a nation, is allowed to reimagine its Arcadian past while anticipating is future, right?
Lastly, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the reprise for “The Sound of Music” sounds like it could fit well within a Summer of Love setting or concert. But then Captain had to ruin it, but not as much as these guys did.
Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) petitions to an all-male Christian council to be married to an outsider, Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard). She tells them that the outsiders are good because of their music, her eyes telling the camera that she isn’t talking about music at all. It’s already been established that her community’s very patriarchal, that even in the beginning, a beloved member of a community and her family will be addressed with the words ‘Hold your tongue, woman.’ Or that women in her community are not allowed to discuss questions during church like men. Or that this society relegates women to waiting for their men for long periods of time as they go to work on the rigs. These first scenes already denote the film’s themes – a young woman’s blossoming sexuality clashing with patriarchal suffocation. In no way do these scenes prepare us for the film’s second half, putting Bess in an emotional roller coaster on earth previously unimaginable.
Women are forbidden to go to funerals. Antony Dod Mantle (not pictured, not that I know) will rise again to win an Oscar.
Bess has put a heart on November 26 on her calendar, marking Jan’s scheduled return. She lets out a childlike outburst when she finds out that her sister Dodo has ripped and hidden the calendar. She wrestles with God (Watson in a deeper voice, don’t ask) for her husband to return ten days before he’s supposed to come. God tells her that she’s changed but nonetheless grants her wish. I watched the movie on November 27, thirty something years and a day after Jan’s supposed to come back.
I’ve had at least a week to think about the film’s ending. Sure she didn’t plan for her husband’s debilitating injury. Nonetheless, Bess got the best possible escape to her situation. I wish I can have someone to politely argue against this film with me. I’m usually good to subscribe to feminist, politically correct readings that speak out against auteur’s misogyny. Yes, showing a woman being oppressed isn’t enough to be the equivalent of a statement that women shouldn’t be oppressed, as many aueturs and apologist critics and film writers have lazily tried to argue. von Trier, from the only other movie I’ve seen of his, gives his women 150 seconds of victory to erase 150 minutes of degradation. It’s up to you the audience to buy that, which I do. Yes, change is the only way to combat a patriarchal society. Yes, Bess is still dead. However, it’s not as if Bess can move to New York City and burn her bra. Yet her sacrifices ensured her husband’s convalescence who in turn can defend her right for a proper burial. Dodo eviscerating the men at Bess’ funeral seems satisfying. Lastly, von Trier successfully makes his audience believe that Bess did go to heaven. I know I should have a problem with the material, but I don’t.
- Take Three: Emily Watson (filmexperience.blogspot.com)
Juno, its eponymous hero and the actress who plays her, Ellen Page, probably have slightly maligned reputations by now. The movie and character would be seen as aloof and jokey despite of her pregnancy, and the actress almost got typecast as the leading star of the indie pack. My ‘job’ is to tell you the readers that there’s much more to the film. I caught this movie four minutes in, and Juno’s in real distress, convincingly telling her best friend (Olivia Thirlby) on the other side of the hamburger phone that she’s a ‘suicide case,’ revealing her situation. But yes, she does deliver on the humour, so relax. It’s eight minutes in and she’s already covered pop culture references and ironic ebonics, and sells her lines efficiently. She understand exactly what she’s experiencing, by this part of the movie anyway. And there’s her and the movie’s conundrum during unexpected pregnancies – the slightly depoliticized choices of keep, adopt and abort. When she chooses to give up her child for adoption, she has to deal with the new characters as well as ones already in her life.
And no, the characters in Juno don’t all talk alike, with their different rages of old, conservative – both gentrified and not – Americana and new, snarky Americana. Even bit parts have their own ticks, just like every human being in a fictional universe like this one we live in. A lone pro-life protester who shouts that all babies want to get ‘bornd,’ or a goth, sexually active receptionist.
Speaking of quirky, there’s a bit of focus on the characters’ material possessions and moments of privacy. I already mentioned the hamburger phone. There’s the discarded living room set, the picture of prince Charles in Juno’s cheerleader best friend Leah’s room, love interest Paulie Bleeker’s (Michael Cera) maroon and yellow outfit combination while he’s putting deodorant between his thighs. While we’re at Paulie’s shorts, by the way, let me just say that yes, cinematographer Eric Steelberg isn’t Wally Pfister nor Roger Deakins, but correct me if I’m wrong, he did bring the most eye-popping movie in an otherwise sepia tone year. Brenda’s (Allison Janney) obsession with dogs, adopting prospective Mark Loring’s guitar. Again, my fascination with these objects root from my boring decor. Mark’s wife Vanessa’s (Jennifer Garner) contradiction of bourgeois chrysanthemums and Alice in Chains tee are given the same light of individuality as the possessions of the working class characters on the other exit on the highway.
Yes, Bleeker’s a nerdy jock anti-stereotype and Leah encourages her best friend’s new sexuality yet still cool enough to join a rock band. However, the movie has clichés. Product placements. Juno’s short body trying to walk opposite everyone else’s direction. Juno’s stepmom Brenda warning of something that’s gonna happen and being right. Speaking of which, I would like to congratulate the internet for not ruining the movie.
Despite her wit, thank God she isn’t always the smartest person in the film, where the adults also show her things that are as she says ‘beyond her maturity level.’ She has her flaws. She crosses the line with the people in her life, using the word ‘gay’ – Leah does too. Page is nonetheless amazing in this, giving more than expected for the role. There’s something even in the way Juno runs up the stairs to the bathroom that shows how inventive and physical she is in a role that’s more script-based. If there is a flaw to her performance, it’s her voice that usually isn’t this nasal. She also ends most of her snarky lines with a lower tone, reminding me of how a younger Jorja Fox would speak.
And who says the women’s picture is dead? Diablo Cody sprinkles her script with well-written female characters. As Leah, Thirlby supports her and moves furniture for her. She also does the best readings of the word ‘pants’ and ‘I know, right’ in the history of cinema. Vanessa’s slightly frosty demeanour ventures for need to have a child with sane amounts of caution. Janney plays Brenda as a sap with a Kristen Wiig outfit yet knows how to eviscerate anyone like she does in “The West Wing” in probably the film’s best scene. All three equally convince the audience that they’re the best parts of this movie in their moments onscreen.
The male supporting cast does wonders in this film too. J.K. Simmons as Juno’s dad Mac reinvents himself as the balanced, supportive parental cool from whom she gets her sense of humour from. Bateman as Mark Loring tries his best both to support his wife’s wishes to adopt while holding on to the youthfulness that Juno’s sparked within him. Cera knows how to convey anxiety only through his eyes – his face doesn’t move but it doesn’t need to. And despite seeing her at her worst, Cera’s Bleeker gives her the moment of tenderness when she needs it.
The trailers on the DVD include 27 Dresses who co-stars Jonathan from “30 Rock,” The Savages which I should have seen instead of Sweeney Todd and a digital copy promotion thing that ties-in with promoting Live Free and Die Hard.
It’s Roberta Guaspari’s (Meryl Streep) second day at her new job at an East Harlem alternative elementary school teaching violin. Her class is half as large as it has been the first day. They’re still rambunctious with the exception of Naim, who actually pays attention to her. She notices her competition, DeSean, talking about basketball, when she asks him a question on that day’s lesson, about the parts of the violin’s bow. He feigns indifference in not knowing then she replies ‘Yes you were [here], buy you weren’t paying attention. Do you want people to think you’re stupid.’ She turns to her star student, saying ‘Tell him, Naim.’
As the expression goes, her words with the kids are like a confident tightrope walk, and as expected she doesn’t come off as any hurtful. Neither does she look like the naif who miraculously comes up with a quick rebuttal to hurl on the person she’s talking to. Well, she does raise a few alarms from a parent, but that gets ironed out by the urban ‘stop snitching’ code.
The movie also typically shows the difficulties in running and staying in a class related to the arts. The children have to be whipped out of their ADD, which all but one of them apparently have. They have to regard the class as if no other exists. And Roberta deals with her own marital issues and its effects on her own children, having to let them ride a plane on their own on Christmas.
Also cast and crew notes: Directed by horror director Wes Craven, trying something new. Aidan Quinn plays Roberta’s boyfriend. Gloria Estefan plays a teacher/parent who also sang the film’s theme song. The grown-up version of Roberta’s kids are Abe from Mad Men and Kieran Culkin. Don’t pretend you don’t know who that is.