Writing about Past and Future Oscar Films
Sandra Bullock is serious business at my guest post at The Film Experience.
TIFF just announced their Gala and Special Presentations line-up which had many lovers and some doubters, but over at Anomalous Material I chose around ten of the fifty films that they announced. I suppose I could have written about more films that I was excited for, but I believed that it wads better to write about the why as much as the what. Although I’m ambivalent about not including Eye of the Storm, the image of Chloë Sevigny‘s friend Charlotte Rampling is captivating enough as her character, Elizabeth, chooses everything about her life including her ‘society’ and her own death. I then hesitated because of that synopsis but a cast that includes Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush are good enough for me.
I’m equally ambivalent about Hick, a coming of age story where a young Chloë Moretz finally plays a real person in a movie and Blake Lively might become a great talent, as potential and hype about her was around for a TIFF release two years ago, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.
- TIFF 2011: U2, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and more (thestar.com)
Overreading Colour! Shine!
This is stupid. Let’s begin.
Red is used in Shine, denoting public arenas where adolescent David Helfgott (Noah Taylor), well…shines. The curtains of a stage where he plays and is hailed a prodigy. He meets Isaac Stern. He’s supposed to tell Stern, through his stage dad Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl)’s coaching, that he’ll give anything for success. Surprisingly Daddy wants to thwart David’s education, offered to him by Stern himself. The colour is also used in a library scene, meeting a girl but leaves her out of obligation. Red marks the boy’s desires, repressed yet encouraged.
Humour me as I try to combine both pink and orange in symbolism, the two complementing each other, used on different times in young David’s life. The former, as you can see in the still, is the girl’s room where he can bond with his sisters and tell him about others who encourage his dreams of studying in America. The latter in a more minor moment, as he wakes up after a drunken night out in the town, wearing an orange boa feathered scarf, one eye-opening to his new world in England. Those colours mark freedom for David.
There’s a lot of green around Peter. The vegetation in his shack’s front porch, tall to protect his family from being taken by the outside world and the backyard grass, where he can watch over them. Except for the girl’s room, most of the house has green wallpaper, including the piano room where he teaches David, in the bathroom and in David’s bedroom. In the still, he’s telling David that hating one’s own father is the worst thing in the world. The colour in the interior scenes feel masculine, less of a stabilizing sense but more drab, weathered and gloomy.
White has its double meanings. We see it’s strongest manifestations around David’s music professor Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud), the latter’s collection of marble representations of body parts of the greatest musicians including Rachmaninoff’s beautiful hands. The piano keys themselves suggest the classicism that the music suggests and requires for the people who love it and want it. It’s an intellectual, genius’ colour. As the cliché goes, genius borders with insanity, the same colour of David’s hospital gowns.
Black. An internal colour, where David remembers the music and simultaneously forgets it. His hair that’s perfectly combed only to be dishevelled with sweat. His enlarged pupils. Cecil warns him not to let the music engulf him. This shot at first didn’t make sense, David’s head being vertical makes me feel like he never falls. Maybe that’s the point, or that this way we can see that there’s more air space above him. How much he’s lost into the space of the music.
Gold and yellow are closer relatives than pink and orange. The first pair, for both young and old David (Geoffrey Rush), mark domestic spaces outside his home, places where women dominate. The first belongs to David’s intellectual mentor. She’s the first person he tells about any scholarship, the golden brown effect coming from her eclectic possessions and personality. The yellow comes in as wallpaper on one of the institutions where David is admitted, a freer space where mentally challenged people can relax.
Lastly, there’s blue, shining through the windows of the lounge where he starts playing again. And with his sheet music floating his wife Gillian’s (Lynn Regdrave) pool, having to fetch him and sheet music from the pool. Blue spaces seem controlled, even modern. They represent his second birth towards performing music and the support he needs to do so, and again he gets that support from female characters. But unlike his younger self, he’s ready this time.
Albert, the Modern King
I found two brilliant starting points in The King’s Speech, both marking many of the film’s themes without overselling them. The first is the microphone, modernity, technology, what Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must overcome. On the surface, the radio is another way to scrutinize the volatile monarchy, especially with Albert who has a stammer. His father George V would say that the wireless means that they have to ‘invade people’s homes with our voice.’ George’s words also imply that the king’s job now needs interpersonal skills. Connecting with the commoners.
The royal court doesn’t realize that modernity is Albert’s best friend. Speaking to the microphone with his ears covered in headphones, his stammer’s gone. The phonograph is a mirror-like device, making him see his potential. There’s another modern innovation that helps him – psychiatry. His wife Queen Elizabeth (the charming Helena Bonham-Carter) hires a speech instructor, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who actually asks why he has a stammer instead of yelling at him or making fun of him. That’s what he needs to overcome his impediment and helping him out of being an ‘incompetent’ king, or worse, being self-destructive.
Leading me to Firth’s performance. His Albert has a temper and the things he yells might make him sound like a spoiled brat. He even puts a heart at moments when he can be unsympathetic, like telling Lionel he’s a nobody. Instead he reacts to Lionel and to the other characters like a person constantly prodded, a man with a secret world where he’s funny, personable, a good king.
My second favourite moment is when Lionel walks on the stage to audition for “Richard III.” This shows an improvement on Hooper’s earlier work, where a male friendship has main and supporting roles. Her he has his own failures, which is why they relate to each other. Instead of Albert predictably hilariously talking Lionel’s ear off, Lionel equally reveals his own pathos, thus helping each other to be stronger.
The Richard III audition thematically brings about the ‘monster’ who wants the spotlight. Like the Shakespearean character, the characters here openly discuss how wrong it feels for Bertie to be kingly. His brother David, or King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) finds something malicious in his speech therapy and even antagonizes him for it, leading him to regress. Lionel also brings up the possibility, which leads to the most devastating argument they would have in the film. Nonetheless, they know it’s inevitable and they have to accept him despite his imperfections.
Nonetheless, Bertie’s doubts creep on him. In one of those scenes, he argues that he has no power yet he has to do all this publicity work. The film had to make a stance, either lying to the audience that the king was the most influential, politically powerful figure in the war or stick to self-improvement and make that Bertie’s outlook, no matter the ramifications. That final self-doubt scene adds either ambivalence or ambiguity. I’m picking the latter even if it’s still a minor problem.
Kudos to the acting, hair and make-up because I didn’t realize until the final credits that Michael Gambon plays George V and Timothy Spall plays Churchill, both of whom add subtle performances of a solidly acted, layered and funny film that humanizes the royal figure. While everyone else is quoting Black Swan, I’m quoting this movie. 4.5/5.