Thursday, August 04, 2016

Break From Origin Story to Catch up on Movie Notes (1982-2009)

I actually have nine of these to do, but as I have only gotten through four and the end of the week approaches, I will divide this into two parts.
Me and Orson Welles (2009)

Period piece about the 1937 production of Julius Caesar directed by the 22-year old genius and egomaniac Welles, largely from the viewpoint of a teenager from, I presume, the outer boroughs or maybe New Jersey who lands a small role in the play. I like the period aspect. It is well felt, particularly in the romantic attitudes towards the arts and learning and New York City life (by outsiders) that seem to be more characteristic of that time, or at least my idea of it, than of our own. Welles, whose genius was evidently already established, or was forcefully impressed rather quickly upon anyone who had to deal with him, comes off as pretty insufferable, not to mention capricious, manipulative, bullying, and generally joyless. As long as all this is in the service of great art and the exercise of the g-word, it need not be of any concern to lesser mortals. However, in Welles's defense, I have seen real-life interviews with him in which, while arrogant, he displays more humor and charm than he is depicted as having in the film. He also, in these interviews, strikes me as engaging with the person talking to him, even if he is berating him, on a more personal and intimate level than is common with celebrities. On the other hand, as I get older, the Welles genius, at least as experienced through the medium of his movies, seems to be losing some of its appeal and power. Now I have only seen two of these since I began documenting all of my cinema-watching here, one being The Trial, which is not renowned as one of his better efforts, though some people still consider it good, and the other The Magnificent Ambersons, which I thought was great when I saw it in my twenties, but in my forties found to be difficult to concentrate on and be drawn in by, as there are long, long spells of verbose conversation unenhanced by music, etc, which effect had only gotten worse by The Trial. So while I do still like Welles to some extent, especially as far as what he represented in his youth, I would not regard him as someone who needs to be treated with the level of artistic reverence that I feel this movie thought it was obligated to do.

An Education (2009)

Another period movie, this time taking us back to the hidebound, provincial London of 1961 in which all of the better sort of young people are dying from boredom and waiting for things to loosen up and get exciting (hey, I'm 46 and still waiting for this to happen). It's not bad, though I found it kind of depressing. It's about a teenage girl (who, despite having hopelessly middlebrow and status-anxious parents, has a legitimate shot at going to Oxford), who has an affair of a kind with a comparatively sophisticated older man, who turns out to be disturbing for reasons other than his predilection for dating teenagers, which, while perhaps of a body with his other objectionable qualities, is not presented as a terrible thing in the movie. The supposedly cool, more alive people in this themselves have rather more of an air of desperation than joy about them. Even the teenage girl when she is swept up in the excitement of the more sophisticated, jazz-club and art auction life seems not to be exactly having real fun, though I guess that is the point, one has to be educated in these things before you can fully take part in them as an independent agent as an adult.

The girl, whose name is Carey Mulligan, is pretty (she was also 23 or 24 when the movie was made). The director was Lone Scherfig, who is a Danish-born woman and was part of the Dogme 95 movement that was a big deal for a time. Since this movie she seems to be working mainly out of Britain.

It is a point of emphasis of course that the era in which this is set was stifling and dull and culturally stagnant, especially for women, and while all that was doubtless true, especially for the more artistic and dynamic-minded, I don't see a lot of films depicting contemporary England that would indicate that the overall quality and tone of life has improved that much beyond the circumstances, usually presented somewhat superficially rather than deeply explored, that some people are more cosmopolitan, that women can hold important and lucrative jobs, travel is easier and more frequent, and so on. Working class horror show movies like Fish Tank and Wasp come immediately to mind, though the whole genre of Hugh Grant-type yuppie movies don't portray a way of life that I find especially attractive, and yes, I am assuming that these movies are rooted to some degree in reality or aspirations for some such lifestyle, or they could not have such similar attitudes, characters and so on.

This is based on a memoir. I hope for the father's sake he lived long enough to see his suburban London house appreciate to be worth half a million pounds or whatever it would go for these days. It would have given him real joy.

Hamlet (1996)

There was an article by John McWhorter that came out around the time I saw this in which he made a point that I was going to make in this article, which is that he, and presumably many other modern people, cannot really enjoy watching most staged productions of Shakespeare because it is difficult to keep up with the spoken language in real time, because the syntax and word usage and so on are not what we are used to processing, even if we have a lot of experience with and are able to enjoy reading them. Obviously this is not the case with many people, who are either able to process the language faster, or have committed greater snatches of the plays to memory, but I usually find it to be the case with me. There are some Shakespeare movies that I like, though these tend to be more cinematically (visually) oriented ones, like Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V. I also remember kind of liking the Zefferelli Romeo and Juliet, though I haven't seen that one since I was in 9th grade. Most of the film adaptations I find either too stagey without the warmth that a stage performance can sometimes convey or otherwise disconnected from, whether emotionally or by way of intellect.
As you have probably guessed, I have written this introduction because I did not have the time of my life in getting through Kenneth Branagh's four hour plus movie, considered by seemingly a lot of people who demand to be taken seriously to be the greatest of all filmed Hamlets. Besides falling asleep several times, which happens to me now during all movies except those most exactly fitted to the workings of my brain, and finding difficulty in keeping up with the dialogue, I was not inspired by any aspect of it, and nothing in it fit with or satisfied any of my pre-existing ideas about the story, which could mean that I understand absolutely nothing about it, though I doubt it. The cast is full of big name stars, including lots of Americans, even in minor parts. For the most part this was a distraction as far as perceiving the characters, who in the long run are more famous and greater personalities than most of the movie stars. There were even people in this that I like, and Gerard Depardieu I thought was pretty good in his part, while the effect of Jack Lemmon and Charlton Heston, who seem by the way like they have been dead for too long to have been in a movie with all of these other people, is just strange. Then there are the people I don't particularly like, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal as the gravedigger (spare me!). Kate Winslet is Ophelia. Since I never like her in anything, I am starting to think that maybe she can't actually act. I know unlikeability is considered something of a virtue now, especially when it is people like me who are doing the unliking, but I never really think she is all that good. However, casting directors love her. I will grant that she looks great naked, and in most of her movies (including this one), they'll put in a scene which requires her to appear in this natural state.

I've never liked Kenneth Branagh much either. He plays Hamlet here as a prick who luxuriates in his superior intelligence and facility with words and is aggressively contemptuous of everyone. Of course one can read it this way (Yes, I know you don't read Shakespeare, Shakespeare reads you. Another of my favorite people), and I shouldn't be surprised that your brash, in the arena types would interpret the most important character in world theatre to be temperamentally closer to themselves, just like everyone else does.
Missing (1982)

One of those movies that was a big deal when it came out but has to my mind been kind of forgotten, though whether because it is not similar enough to other stories that we have grown accustomed to in the interval or too much like them I cannot determine. It is based on an actual event, the disappearance of an American journalist during the 1973 military coup in Chile (though the specific South American country we are in is not identified in the movie), that is widely assumed to have been instigated in no small part by the United States government. I guess what I remember most (the movie, while well made and dealing with one of those dreaded serious subjects, does not seem to have left much of an impression on me) are snippets into the characters and mindsets of Americans of the time: the still overwhelming maleness of professional life, especially at the upper ends; male sexuality that is still aggressive and assertive; the know-it-all arrogance of the younger boomer aged males, and their often uncertain comfort levels with physical danger; the attitude of the father (at first) that diplomats and other U.S. government officials are in some way answerable to and should care about him at all. All of this did not add up to any great effect for me however.

No comments: