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Showing posts with label Anne Brontë. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anne Brontë. Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Don't forget you have a board meeting at the museum at three¹

A reaction to Nocturnal Animals (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


St Stephen's Day


A reaction to Nocturnal Animals (2016)


From Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst downwards (including Aaron Curry (courtesy of LA’s David Kordansky gallery), Beatrice Caracciolo (courtesy of Paula Cooper gallery, NY), and Robert Polidori (courtesy of Edwynn Houk gallery in NYC)), the closing titles of course give credit for the original artwork that Tom Ford chooses to show us, but not for the provocative images with which the film starts² (which, maybe, should not provoke ?). However, they might embody a sentiment to which Ford seems to have attached his name :




Since they are clearly pastiche, but Ford clearly also wanted them in Nocturnal Animals, the thing that asking us to credit them as works of art does is to deny Susan Morrow (pictured above) plausibility from the start even in the capacity of gallerist¹, and to undermine whatever is meaningful in including views of actual artworks in the film : after the opening, it might as well all be invented, for all that it matters.


Likewise, this canvas was made for the film by Ford and his art department



Here, the film within a film would possibly be of no real interest³, were it not for being contained in this film - which makes it of marginally more interest for being, through her imaginings of a novel in proof form, some insight into [the character of] Susan Morrow (Amy Adams).


Except that she has no real character⁴, except as a repository for Proustian recollection that leads to much-delayed guilt (and regret ?) : she is a void whom we see Edward Sheffield, her former husband, filling up (with text that we do not, however, directly experience), and from whom reactions are elicited.

(Abel Korzeniowski's principal theme for the film is of quality, and has all the fineness of one of Bernard Herrmann's most lusciously orchestrated themes, but - as if to emphasize the conceptual sterility of Morrow's interior world ? - two important moments, at the conclusion of the film within a film, are accompanied, respectively, by the unsubtlety of an absurdly-held tremolo, and the mimicry of a pulse.)


To be sure of the true mark of Symbolism, though, director Tom Ford gives us this curious detail on the night when the typescript is delivered : On seeing Morrow driving up, first, to the automatic gate that lets her car into her property - and as if it has never happened before - the head-lights reflect on the gate, blinding her, and she has to shield her eyes !


It is therefore not surprising that it appears, from ‘Communicating through Fiction : Tom Ford on Nocturnal Animals’⁵, that what appealed to the writer / director in Tony and Susan, Austin Wright’s original novel, was the idea of this device of communicating to someone through a work of fiction. Through a written work of fiction. And thereby communicating something that they had not been able to really communicate clearly.

That novel is, in case we miss it, Tony and Susan, i.e. the character in the book, Nocturnal Animals, and the person who compellingly reads that book (by the man from whom she divorced nineteen years ago).



Anne Brontë might have written in a way that endangered the structure of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, with around one hundred and fifty pages that we are to conceive of as read overnight. Even so, though Brontë risks breaking not so much the flow of the book as our attention by such a prolonged leap back in time, the fine impulse on her part here is to have us read – just at the same time when Gilbert Markham reads it – what informs his (and so our) understanding of where Helen Graham has come from, and so of who she is.

Whereas, with Susan Morrow and what her rememberings and her intense engagement with her ex-husband's fiction tell us, one is more reminded of James Joyce, dismissed by Virginia Woolf for Ulysses as a bell-boy at Claridge’s, scratching his pimples⁶. [Woolf also wrote, of Ulysses, Never did any book so bore me.] As with Belle toujours (2006), the entire conceit here is to have the film consume itself, as if a dragon ate its own tail : it begins, after an opening at a gallery, with the delivery of the typescript, and ends - with precious little in between - just after Morrow has finished a weekend of reading it.



Certainly, whatever proponents Nocturnal Animals has, one could not rightly claim of it (as Time Out did of something no less unworthy⁷) that the film offers a deceptive, philosophical and cautionary meditation, not only on age, appetite, pleasure, betrayal, mendacity, revenge and disillusionment but also in idle curiosity. (Largely, that seems more fitting to describe the films evoked by its empty establishing shots at a distance, Mulholland Drive (2001) and Sunset Blvd. (1950).)


Even if some reviewers / explicators have not imputed this motive [for example, Vulture and The Cinemaholic], is Nocturnal Animals essentially - as Belle toujours and Sleeping Beauty (2011) before it - no more than a wind-up, of the form that (purportedly) engages us with it, and then does something different ?


In the former (the alleged sequel to Belle de jour (1967), although it is hardly like Buñuel), Henri and Severine at the dinner-table is bad enough, but there are a thousand reasons why what is shown at the end of this film (even with a suggestion of a tear ?) could, in its own terms, just signify something other than what it seems to imply. (The writers quoted, who only consider the film in isolation, adopt the familiar tactic of making a virtue of an offence.)

For, as Vivian Mercier says⁸ about the conclusion of Samuel Beckettt's novel Malone Dies (Malone meurt), even the apparent ending is 'not conclusive' because, as happened before, Malone may have dropped his pencil.


And, perhaps, Beckettt seems ever so slightly more relevant to Morrow, because of that tear, and his succeeding novel The Unnamable (L'Innommable), as well as 'Rough for Radio I' (collected by Faber & Faber in Ends and Odds : Plays and Sketches) ?

Animator : Particularly with that tear so hard behind. It is not the first, agreed. But in such a context !




End-notes :

¹ Though the line neatly enough avoids establishing later where we are and why, devices such as it afford Susan the status of being a person of import, but who is just seen wandering around, looking at things, and barely in the film, in real time, except to put herself into the film within a film that she creates.


Maybe, in this professional life, Adams is precisely not meant to possess any conviction, but, whether as Jeanne, a gallerist married to Germain (Fabrice Luchini) in François Ozon’s In the House (Dans la maison) (2012), or the madly art-collecting Iona Aylesbury of Martha Fiennes’ Chromophobia (2005), KST has it in spades.



² We might have suspected that the video projection and sculptures on plinths were designed and created by the film’s art department and Tom Ford - as is confirmed to us Emerson Rosenthal in conversation with Shane Valentino, the film’s production designer, for VICE.

³ There seem to be undigested elements that are familiar from Funny Games (1997) or Wind River (2017).

⁴ Trivially, of course, she is no more real than the characters of Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), whom we believe that we see her embodying.

⁵ Zacharias, Ramona (10 January 2017). CreativeScreenwriting.com.

⁶ Also quoted in the form The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.

⁷ Written of Belle toujours [20–26 November 2008].

Beckettt / Beckettt (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979). Mercier writes that it is frequently assumed that death comes to Malone when his hand ceases to write on the last page (p. 175) - quoted in Anthony Davis' No Symbols Where None Intended (Belston Night Works, Bristol, 2nd edn, 1998).




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 20 May 2017

From a town in western Russia to the north of England... (work in progress)

An accreting assortment of Tweets about Lady Macbeth (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


20 May

An accreting assortment of Tweets about Lady Macbeth (2016) (work in progress)



Those born in Russia (or the former USSR) – or who were not, but who study Russian literature – may be in a different relation to Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and, because considering it in, its literary and social context – if we are interested in music, we will all know that (so the story goes) Dmitri Shostakovich, looking at an edition of Pravda, found himself there condemned*, and having [to appear] ‘to change his ways’ (again, as the story goes).

One question, amongst many, that the film may pose (not necessarily a bad thing in a film that we should wish to enquire) is whether it commends to us Shostakovich’s opera / libretto, and / or Nikolai Leskov’s original novella (from 1865)…




In modern Russia, the town of Mtsensk lies in Oryol Oblast (a federal subject of Russia)




Film and other references :

* Effi Briest ~ Theodor Fontane




* Lady Chatterley (2006) [adapting** John Thomas and Lady Jane ~ D. H. Lawrence]

* Sunset Song (2015)

* The Tenant of Wildfell Hall ~ Anne Brontë


End-notes :

* Not straightaway, when the work was first performed in Leningrad and Moscow (within days) in January 1934, but around two years later.

** Not 'Based on one of the most scandalous novels of our time', as IMDb asserts (@IMDb), with regard to Lawrence...




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

In my Father's house, there are many rooms

This is a review of Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


13 November



This is a Cambridge Film Consortium review of Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919) as performed at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) with live solo piano accompaniment by John Sweeney

If you missed it, the film is to be shown again on Sunday 16 November at 1.00 p.m.



Trish Shiel, of Cambridge Film Consortium, introduced the event, telling us that it was being projected from a 35mm print and that, to add in an English translation of the inter-titles (which are in Swedish), manual dual projection was being used - stressing that The Arts is one of a few cinemas equipped to mount such a performance.

She also said a few words about the film, its history, and its director, male lead and co-writer, Victor Sjöström, who later worked with Ingmar Bergman (who remarked of the film Where did Sjöström get the idea of composing these incredible sequences, these remarkable, exciting scenes ?). That said, nothing prepared for the pleasure of learning who played the principal female role of Brita (on whom, more below...) :





The title of Ingmarssönerna (1919) has been translated as Sons of Ingmar, but they are more like 'descendants' than sons : suffice to say that it reveals little to say that, in thought if not in reality (whatever reality is, when one can feel oneself to be part of a line of men who have occupied the same land for centuries), Young Ingmar goes to meet his father, Old Ingmar, with a dilemma.

And, before he gets there, we have visuals of a ladder up to heaven (and down from that ladder) that give us all the evocations from Jacob's ladder to Jack's Beanstalk to The Tower of Babel. Quite a quaint sort of heaven, however, where only the directly ascending, male relatives are there (and, from what follows, they are unaware of what befalls those still alive) ?

Be that as it may, Young gets Old to come into a side-room and tells him a whole story, where the inter-titles, from time to time, remind us with an icon that this is still in heaven and still telling the background to the dilemma...


A risky stratagem for a film, one might think, to rely on the patience of the audience with such a lengthy narration, and which is hardly a strength of the structure here any more than it is, celebratedly, in Anne Brontë's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Yet, after the decision that is pressing on Young Ingmar has been explained, and when omens have been interpreted as guiding his way, the film distinctly picks up in energy and emotional pull, as the core story that was within that daring flashback now unfolds.


Harriet Bosse, playing in Strindberg (apparently in To Damascus)


Perhaps naively, we may imagine that, because film was in its relative infancy, a dramatic approach to contextualizing our mixed motives and feelings in life through this medium was necessarily novel. Put this in context, though, and this film's Harriet Bosse (as Brita) was, briefly, August Strindberg's third wife, and Strindberg wrote the roles of Eleonora in Easter (1901) and Agnes in A Dream Play (1902) for her (amongst others), the latter of which alone shows the psychological depth of theatre at the time :

Although Dream Play was not to be performed until 1907, that is a clear decade before the present film, so we can guess that Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf - of whose novel Jerusalem this film adapts the first part (and Karin Ingmarsdotter (1920) the conclusion) - would have known some of Strindberg's significant plays, which date to when Lagerlöf was writing her work.


Though it is true to remark, say, that the preoccupations at the time of the United Artists, from Mary Pickford to D. W. Griffiths, were very different from that here**, one only needs to delve into an overview such as Francine Stock's In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it has Shaped Us to realize that, just because these films now look old (physically, they are), we need not imagine their makers to be unknowing - any more than we should imagine that our grandparents knew nothing about sex.

Without giving away the main story, there are so many reminders here of other works. For the subject-matter, though it has its particularities, is universal :

* Schumann's last acts outside the locked door of the asylum

* Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête*** (1946)

* Shakespearean pairs such as Much Ado About Nothing's Beatrice and Benedick

* Even Chaucer's long-suffering Griselda**** (in The Clerk's Tale)


In the screening, what made the impact was the subtlety of Bosse's expressiveness, the action going on in the eyes and the look of her face (when not, very demonstrably, throwing herself on her pillow, or the ground), and one need only reach back in time to what she might have been like on the stage. Now, though, one is haunted by Sjöström's long-jawed face, and, in the context of the film, he is having himself be La Bête, with a largely down-turned, hangdog mouth, until he finds out who he is.

Which is where the story closes, not concerned with the expected resolution, but with a reverie of the kind that James Thurber gave us for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), when we gained a name for that type of character / behaviour :

Since this is just the first part of the story (seemingly re-made, according to Amazon®, in Jerusalem (1996)), though it stands complete in itself (despite the puzzling absorption in Ingmar's being elsewhere), one might detect a hook here, from Sjöström, for Karin Ingmarsdotter...


In introducing the screening for those unfamiliar with silent film, Trish Sheil had rightly pointed out that the painting of the scene in the accompaniment is part of what makes such films different - as is knowing that it is the accompanist's skill to give that portrayal whilst keep pace with the unfolding of the film.

In his inspiringly colourful accompaniment, John Sweeney (who gave us Hitchock's Blackmail at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF) 2012) organized himself around themes for the various moods and evocations of the film, from anxiety to tenderness, or to depict energetic behaviour as against reflectiveness - and, likewise, using unsettling rumbles alongside bell-tones (the high and low registers of the keyboard).

Sweeney had a very warm round of applause at the close, and had provided us with an excellently enjoyable musical experience to match the emotional range of the film.

And now there is a follow-up piece about the effect of inter-titles in the film...


End-notes

* Which, thanks to marketing manager Jack Toye's Tweet from the second screening, looks frighteningly complicated :




** With, for example, Pickford continuing to play the role of a young girl / woman when she was very much older - just as, here, Bosse and Victor Sjöström are too old to be taken literally for Brita and Young Ingmar (Bosse was 41 at the time of the film's release).

*** In Young Ingmar, a similarly gruff and hidebound figure, desiring wisdom, but finding himself locked in by duty, and Birta, against her will, in the equivalent of La Bête's domain : even requesting Birta's hand, his vacillating nature intervenes, and his heart is never quite in it.

**** The magnanimity of You'll have to forgive me for all the pain that I have caused you, Ingmar and I wanted to ask your forgiveness, although also the exposed feeling of O, dear God, I will be saved of nothing ?, when he insists on reading her letter.



Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)