Thanks to Peg Aloi, I’m going to be appearing with her (and possibly some other folks) on a panel tonight after the documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry on 2nd wave feminism of the 60s & 70s. Join us for a lively discussion. See The Linda’s site for more info.
What absolute joy this film is. The sense of fun and delight in being bad is not what one usually associates with Austen but it is exactly the reason her best observations cut so deeply. I may have to reconsider Whit Stillman.
First I should admit to being a hoarder. I had not read Lady Susan which is the text for this adaptation despite the title. With so few Austen novels in existence, I had always kept this early epistolary novel in reserve for a day so terrible that only some ‘new’ Austen could cheer me. I suppose I ought to be happy that day has not yet arrived, but having seen the film of course I hoard it no more.
Kate Beckinsale is flawless in the title role, which is a challenge: she is so awful that everyone hates her and yet she is such a genius that they cannot help admiring her. How wonderful it is to see a woman on screen called genius with genuine admiration. Her confidence is unflagging and no set back cannot be out-maneuvered. Her pleasure in manipulating others is too great to be kept to herself, so she needs a confidant in Mrs. Johnson, married to respectability though it is not to her liking. Indeed she finds her husband, ‘too old to be agreeable, and too young to die’.
Chloë Sevigny is certainly not the obvious choice for the role and I found her American tones a bit discordant at first (cf. Sarah Polley as ‘Selma the Witch Woman’ in Beowulf & Grendel) but they did a smart thing in making her nationality the point. Her husband’s only real weapon against her is the ever-present threat of moving to the US. I laughed out loud at her shuddering in the face of the horrifying prospect of being sent to –gasp! — Hartford.
The cast is terrific. Small roles are made vivid: Jenn Murray as the wailing Lady Manwaring, who conveys incredible frustration and fury. Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet as the DeCourceys convey effortlessly the rich complications of a long relationship. Morfydd Clark, in addition to having a wonderful voice, brought to life the transformation of Lady Susan’s daughter Frederica from a timid and frankly abused child to a young woman who blossoms under her first experiences with kindness.
Tom Bennett’s comic turn as Sir James Martin verges on going too far but stops just short of it. His misunderstanding about the name of the Vernon estate had me guffawing. Not an idiot, just ‘a bit of a rattle’ is an Austenian phrase we really need to bring back.
But this is Lady Susan’s story and it is so much fun. It has all the brashness of youth: Austen’s mature work is both kinder and more sharply observed, but this is spirited and reckless, a tone the film captures precisely. Watching Lady Susan turn the prejudice of the smug Reginald DeCourcey (Xavier Samuel) into admiration offers a showcase of both Lady Susan’s skill and Beckinsale’s. Fabulous.
The trailer has some of the really good lines, so watch it at your peril.
Can they actually be classics if they were deliberately lost? I don’t know, but inspired by Jane Gutter of the Cultural Gutter with all her movie-watching shenanigans, I decided they needed to exist. The hard part was stopping once I started…
A snippet to whet your appetite:
LLAMA RIDERS OF THE SEVENTH MOON (1953)
Despite a cast that included several purebred llamas and enthusiastic jockeys, the film failed to take off—perhaps for the same reasons. Rumour had it that producer Alana Perez refused to work the llamas for the grueling shifts that director Jimenez Arlberg demanded, citing the concerns of the Quechua handler of the beasts who claimed they were never used as mounts at all. Indeed throughout the production it is possible to see llamas doing their best to dislodge riders with bucking, rolling and lying down on top of them. By the end of the shoot, the disgusted breeder took off with his llamas and it became necessary to shoot several key scenes with large dogs. It is to the credit of editor Roberta Santiago that in most of the scenes the change is hardly obvious. However, with the majority of the budget spent on acquiring the llamas, the sets were rushed and poorly constructed. In fact during the infamous crater scene, it is possible to glimpse the surprised crew revealed as one panel of the set falls away. Arlberg’s attempts to connect the script to a Ray Bradbury story for publicity purposes backfired when the angry writer sent him a fake vicuña scarf in retort.
Read the rest here.
The eternal struggle in Belle Ombre: agreeing on something to watch with my brother. One of the places our largely divergent tastes overlap is in the realm of costume drama, so the other night after one or the other of us voting down this or that film we finally agreed on the 2012 version of Anna Karenina.
I had vague memories of when it came out: Knightly and Law seemed an odd pairing, perhaps I had assumed he was playing Vronsky. He’s Karenin and I thought that was even more odd, but no. I should give him more credit. He was terrific. And of course Aaron Taylor-Johnson made a Vronsky you could imagine any number of people swooning for. Knightly was very good, Matthew McFayden should do more comedy —
— and that reminds me: the big thing I forgot that I ought to have realised at once when I was captivated and amused and immediately won over by the dialogue and the conceit that the whole story was unfolding in the world of a play. Tolstoy, but Tolstoy through the means of Tom Stoppard.
If that doesn’t already make you realise what a gem you also probably missed, let me also say a fantastic cast including Olivia Williams, Kelly McDonald, Domhnall Gleeson, and new to me but amazing Alicia Vikander as Kitty. The whole production design by Sarah Greenwood is superb. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui who also choreographed for the NT Live Hamlet created such beautiful dance scenes — and the costumes by Jacqueline Durran! Absolutely sumptuous: if Tolstoy wanted to show the evils of uptight nobles, at least this film shows how they luxuriated in their wealth.
I finally got the Blu-Ray/DVD package of The Bed Sitting Room because it came up in conversation on the J G Ballard group. I have long had a very poor recorded-off-television-on-videotape-then-transferred-to-dvd copy. When the beauty of the photography was mentioned I thought ‘huh?’ and since the dual package was cheap (and meant a copy for each residence) I decided to take the (not especially deep) plunge.
And yes of course it’s Peter Cook and Dud and Spike Milligan and a terrific cast of luminaries and Richard Lester, so of interest naturally to any fans of them all. I remember reading the play written by Spike and John Atrobus in the British Library and trying not to laugh too loud as I always seem to be making too much noise there.
We watched it last night and it’s just as mad as I remember. More a meditation on the absurdity of trying to ‘keep calm and carry on’ in the face of nuclear annihilation than a real story. Some funny moments, but it’s mostly sad. It is indeed beautifully shot though, and filmed (alas) on mostly scouted locations of ugliness, pollution and trash. It’s more a curiosity that works well in bits. You could imagine structuring a lecture about post-apocalypse narratives illustrated with various scenes from it.
I am looking forward to the Braden interviews with Cook, Milligan and Lester, all 20-30 minutes each. When I’ve got a moment between translating bee charms and whatnot.
See all the overlooked gems at Todd’s roundup.
A mockumentary exploring the silent epidemic of tea dependence. A plight, engulfing our society for a millennia – undocumented.
I supported their kickstarter and received a lovely tea coaster like the image above. I will admit to a tea addiction but I see no harm in it. It fuels my whimsical imagination — how dull I would be without it!
Check out all the overlooked A/V gems at Todd’s blog.