Thursday, February 23, 2006

the juice

four or so years ago, the international cinema showed abel gance's masterpiece, napoleon [1927, i think]. the blasted thing is silent and four hours long, but i wanted to add it to the list of movies i've seen, and knew that i could never sit through that much moving picture at home. this was my one and only chance.
i took it, and i loved it. a large part of the film's beauty is carmine coppola's immaculate scored, which was incidentally added sometime in the 1970's; francis ford had made so much off the godfather that he could give money to his father to score some silent movie about a short dead dude. worth every penny, but that is fodder for another day's posting.

with the i.c. as such a useful resource for seeing very long movies [tarkovsky's solaris comes to mind], i was quite excited to see the definitive six-hour pride and prejudice on the schedule for this semester. if you count the lord of the rings and the decalogue as parts rather than wholes, this would be the longest movie i have ever seen.
i saw half on tuesday and half on wednesday.

i figured i would like it. i saw persuasion and sense and sensibility last saturday, so i kind of knew what to expect, and 2001 is one of my top favorites, so 'slow' has very little relevance.

but i did not think i would love it like i did.
yes, it is six-hours, but there is not a wasted minute. everything is placed purposefully, every look and line having a purpose in the larger tapestry. time is never a concern, because it all has a purpose, although i don't know if i could have done it consecutively. the break gave me a chance to think about what had happened. i admit, my only previous exposure was with the 'pink' lds version, which i used as a sort of 'cliff notes' to helpd me follow what was going on [i agree with the legions: it does not count as 'pride and prejudice.']

watching my first two jane austen movies last saturday [i really loved sense and sensibility] was like watching a foreign film, sadly. there are almost no movies from a female perspective. there are 'chick flicks', and usually they are as demographically exploitive as the lds cinema, mere genre movies reveling in their girliness, rather than looking afresh through their own eyes.
the kind of movies kitty and lydia would watch.

so this was fascinating in and of itself, to see things from a new lens; seeing the confusion and hopes and frustrations and joy of relationships from the other side [and certainly without 'the gaze']. watching a scene with four or more women, all with distinct characters [and clothes!] was very fresh and new. hearing them discuss their situations and observations, watching them
remain silent out of propriety but knowing their feelings, and feeling joy as elinor breaks down in front of hugh grant--it's all very cool.

pride and prejudice is the capstone. six hours of characters, established, flawed and nuanced. none are perfect, although some are of a higher disposition than others. one of my initial questions during my jane austen education was 'what is shown as acceptable, and what behavior is being chastized?' because some actions seem crazy to me, is that because they are, or because i am a guy and 'don't understand'? [i have heard it posed that girls may similarly wonder when watching fight club]
mr. bennet is a favorable character and declares continually that he three of his daughters are the silliest girls in england.
i felt validated.

there was no evil villian, not bad guy that the maiden was forced to marry. that is disney's idea of a girl movie.
no horse chases, no kabooms. no 'love' scenes or even any kissing until the very end, and that is one of the most gratifying kisses in cinema [while we're here, i give the 'holding hand' award to 'punch drunk love']. NONE of the usual 'elements' of a movie here, and yet this a story that is involving and fascinating to watch for hours, with plenty of drama and plot turns.
i thought only yasujiro ozu could do that.

watching the interpersonal epic on the big screen [i was one of four guys in the theater- i have never seen such a concentration of girls at the i.c.] was the ideal way to see it, as it is with nearly every movie. excepting the occasional girl-laugh/hiss/swoon, i became absorbed into the story, forgetting that it was 2006 and that i travel by a honda.
every character played their part well but not as a stock character- while it is easy to recognize each person, they are not cliches. even elizabeth is flawed, as is mr. darcy [if she were perfect, the story would just be called pride, and that would be really dumb].

darcy was perhaps the biggest surprise. before seeing this, i didn't know anything about him but that he was the perfect guy. i suppose i imagined him to be like 'willoughby' from sense and sensibility [before he is revealed to be slimeball]. thus, i was quite confused after the first three hours when girls were melting before him; all i could see was that he was rude and hid in the corners most of the time. i can do that.

i agreed with elizabeth, he was a jerk. [i liked her.]
now that the story is over, i still do not entirely understand the irresistable charm of said darcy. he is noble and kind, respectable and self-sacrificing. he has control and discipline, but it seems i heard other things mentioned in his praise from girls in the theater.

all of this is hinged upon the infinitely intriguing interplay of boy+girl. i have seen many movies that have wise observations on the enigma, yet this has so much time to do it more subtly than most. so much of plot and character and story and emotion is portrayed through looks, glances, and disciplined silences.
mr darcy's nervous asking of the same trite questions that he had asked but a minute earlier rang true and sounded of hope to all nice guys who have had wiring short-outs. i may nominate that as the best scene in the movie, but if it isn't, then another contender would be his awkward proposal scene. the shot is balanced in a way that would inspire wes anderson, and the uneasy groping for conversation topics is so much that we want to shout out something if only to break the ice ourselves.

a spoken word produces a look, which elicites a silence from the listener, then a response.
an attentive viewer knows that very different feelings and ideas were revealed or understood by the conversants. and that is the immaculate genius of the movie.

there were some times when i found myself having acted similarly, although this was from the girls' point of view. could that mean that the response given by the guy [resembling that said by the girl in my experience] would be thinking what the guy was thinking [i.e. the opposite of what was said]?
this was groundbreaking. old understandings began to shift and melt away as light was shed. i was able to unravel confusions and bewilderments that i had pondered over and left unfinished for so long.

i can think of nothing like it. i tried, and after being at pemberly for so long, any other movie i could come up with did nothing but reinforce the uniqueness of this: gone with the wind? casablanca? sleepless in seattle? they are nothing like it.
the insights, observations, and commentaries offered by ms. austen are what has made her timeless. this is a faithful adaptation of the 19th century novel, but it is as current and real as anything that could be written today.

some things never change, and yet we still can't figure them out.
jane comes pretty close, though.


hairyshoefairy said...

Nice insights. I love your analysis! It's one of my favorite films, which I also own cuz I love it that much. I'm happy you enjoyed it and I'm glad you shared why.

Em said...

" [i have heard it posed that girls may similarly wonder when watching fight club]" - Or especially The Big Lebowski..... I have yet to meet a girl who "gets" that film.... irksome.

Thanks for thinking so hard Jeff... I think you are better at it than I am, as I got very restless with P&P A&E.... I felt like some of the more delectably flawed characters were reduced to 2-dimensional statics, especially Mrs. Bennet and Caroline Bingley... but as I have no suggestions as to how this could have specifically been improved... I would do well to shut my yapper.... I do hope you get a chance to read some of these novels.... as is usually the case the original narrative is best.

-->jeff * said...

the byu bookstore used to stock a classy compilation of all the jane austen novels for about $20; i looked for it yesterday to no avail. but after seeing the movies, i do want to read the originals all the more [they've always been on my 'to read' list, but the desire is hightened now]. your comment about mrs bennet is interesting- she was little more than a sort of trgic comic relief, so i am curious to see how she is in the literature.

Em said...

In the book Mrs. Bennett is a little more justified in her frantic/silliness. Because it wasn't just her being melodramatic (although that was true too) - it really was a problem and a lot of work to get all those girls married (which was their only prospect for living with any semblance of self-respect and comfort after their parents died), and they really were in a tight spot if Mr. Bennett died and they were turned out of their home.... but A&E makes it seem like all of that is silly and Mrs. Bennett is too. She is supposed to seem a little dramatic and flighty, but not entirely clownish.