Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Boring Movie Post

I really outdid myself this time.

These came up on my list but I had already seen them before, in some cases several times. One of them I did not even bother to watch again, due to time constraints and a second I only watched with the commentary on as a refresher. But I want to keep a full record here so I will leave a few brief notes.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

This is the one I watched with the commentary on. It is one of those films that makes me wish I had more of the native instinct for ferocity and scorn. It is perfectly adequate of course, especially for the likes of me, and the cast is almost a who's who of fully developed and humblingly literate British acting talent. But I suspect there is more than enough room for it to be knocked down a peg or two, if you have it in you to persuasively assert that it is smug, lacks warmth, lets the actors show off too much, and all of the other things I find in it in the frame of mind I inhabit now. There were instances where the lines seemed and objectively were funny, but I did not feel entirely free or eager to laugh, and twisted my mouth into a grim smile instead. It was as if I were hesitant that doing so would give satisfaction in a quarter such as would be especially distasteful to me.

Sense & Sensibility is probably my least favorite Jane Austen book (I won't count Northanger Abbey). That is not to say it isn't better than ninety percent of even well-regarded novels, but I find the particular characters and the general situation of this one the least compelling (I've always been a big Mansfield Park fan, which I feel is underrated among us because the main female character is less feisty and more deferent to societal expectations than the other Austen heroines).  Among the Jane Austen film adaptations I do like the 1992 six hour Pride & Prejudice, which does a better job it seems to me of inhabiting the story as Jane Austen would have regarded it. It feels like a younger person's movie in general. There was a BBCish version of Mansfield Park, very low budget and pretty conservative (compared to the 2000s version that featured explicit incest and lesbianism anyway), that came out in the 80s that I also liked because it had that ruling spirit of youthfulness about it. I think that must be important to the Jane Austen formula.  

Roman Holiday (1953)

I have this listed on my profile page as one of my favorite movies. The other time I saw it was before I took a trip to Rome in 2001, so that predisposition towards excitement and the power of the association ever since have doubtless influenced my idea about it ever since. Did I like it as much after the thirteen year interval? Probably not but how could I? I don't feel about anything anymore the way I used to feel about them. I fear that if were to read War & Peace or the Pickwick Papers again I would not find that they moved me as they once did, and I should agree with modern people that long form novels and the whole idea of great books are a relic from a age comparatively starved for information and novelty, and that tech innovators and economists discover and accomplish things every few weeks of more probity and import than Dostoevsky did in the whole of his life. (Interlude--I managed to begin this posting in the morning, and sneaked in about an hour of writing. Now I have to stop, and the rest of this will probably have to be finished late at night. Note how the quality both of my mood and my coherence of thought will slip from this point forward).

(Starting again, about a week later...)

I had forgotten that the first half hour is a little slow going. However, once they get out on the streets of Rome that part really is, and probably always will be, still great. This was, famously, Audrey Hepburn's first movie, and it is one of the great debuts of all time, a stroke of great luck not only for her, but for the movie itself, for as it was pointed out in the little documentary that came with the DVD, if she had already been an established star, the film almost certainly would have been made in technicolor, had a much bigger budget, been much more serious, and not as good. All of these legendary film stars and directors and producers and writers, we are told, had dark sides that would make the average earnest workaday type of fellow shudder to encounter face to face. It is hard to imagine Audrey Hepburn, at least at the time this was made, having such an unfathomable dark side. I only mention this because I was looking for signs of it both in the movie and in the other materials, but I didn't really see anything.

It would be easy to be envious of the cheap expat life in the great capitals of Europe that was available to Americans in the 50s (though the Gregory Peck character and his friend are supposed to be behind on their rent and scrounging up money to order coffee). However this is one thing I cannot really lament this, because I was able to replicate this to a very great extent in Prague in the 90s, which I think is not possible anymore for people who are bringing the amount of money to the party that I was at the time. I have to confess I have been lucky in my timing in several of these life experiences, in fact. I only regret that I could not have made more of the opportunities, the comparative rarity of which for people in my condition I now realize.

So, is Roman Holiday still one of my all time favorite movies? About half of it definitely is, yes. I am not dissuaded enough to take it off the list and replace it with anything else.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

This is the one that I did not bother to watch again because I have seen it often enough and I just don't have the time. I watched it every year as a child when it came on television and I looked forward to it, though I was always more of a fan of the books, and as the movie departed massively from the book in pretty much every way (to my literal 9 year old brain) I never quite embraced it whole-heartedly. Of course at that time I was not in the Judy Garland cult either. This is probably her signature role in most people's minds, though I have always tended to view it as something separate from the rest of her career, because it does not seem to me to fit in with those other movies. I met Margaret Hamilton, who played the witch, at the annual Munchkin Convention (for East Coast Oz Club members--the Munchkin Country was the eastern part of Oz in the books) in Cherry Hill, New Jersey when I was nine or ten. She seemed to me a regular little old lady. She did not break into character at any point, that I can remember. We have a tape of this and my own children watch it sometimes. They don't seem to be afraid of the witch the way I and most other older people remember being afraid of her. Modern kids not terrified by witch. I don't whether the proper question is why they have no terror of this character or why older generations did have it? Obviously there was some threat hinted at in the witch character that had a reality for us that it does not have for my children. Indeed, my children do not seem to have much sense of anything more unsettling than that someone may restrain their ability to express their anger to its absolute fullest extent.

I have come, in my periodic glimpses of the movie when it is playing in the house, to appreciate the MGM production values in the black and white, really sepia-toned, scenes in Kansas. This is probably my favorite part of the film at this time. The songs are (mostly) good, and the scenes where the Wizard is exposed and then departs have a certain undeniable poignancy. It's more that I had not noticed the vintage 1939 beauty of the Kansas part earlier in my life the way that I do now. 

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