Sunday, March 11, 2012
Best Austen Ever
by Jeffe Kennedy
I'm really terrible at picking the best this or that. Or my favorite anything. And that's under the best of circumstances.
So, here I am at a pretty glass desk in my room at Aria in Las Vegas, scraping the brain I baked at the pool yesterday and pickled in mojitos all afternoon, trying to decide what I think is the best movie ever made and then defend that choice.
We will leave out, then, all the movies that I happen to love. These can be easily measured because I own copies of them. I don't own many. But they're the happy movies that make me smile, that I watch when I'm sick or feeling low: Bed of Roses, Romy & Michele's High School Reunion, Clueless, Wimbledon, Notting Hill. There are others, but I'm not looking at my little collection right now, am I?
For a long time I told people the best movie in my opinion was Out of Africa. I can also make a passionate pitch for A Room with a View. Both of those movies accomplished the most difficult of tasks, in that they illuminated the books for me. I also would put in a strong vote for The Mission - a heart-rending movie with a soundtrack I continue to listen to.
But for a movie that I feel I can defend for its cinematic value, with the caveat that I know next to nothing about cinematic values, is Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice, with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.
This is such a subtly beautiful movie on so many levels, not the least of which is that it condenses all the brilliant and complex detail of Jane Austen's novel into 127 minutes running time.
I also own the five-hour BBC version with Colin Firth, and I *love* me some Colin Firth, but I think Joe Wright's version is better. And yes, I may have watched all five hours of the BBC version and the two hours of Wright's version back-to-back for comparison. Possibly more than once.
From this movie I've learned how he uses visuals to compress the story to its finely honed core. I love it when a movie can teach me how to be a better storyteller.
It's also filmed in this amazing circular style, that I'm sure there must be a name for, but I don't know it. It's continuous and shows so much. For example. Lizzie sits on a swing and spins and we see what she does, the circle of the house and yard, the changing of the weather and seasons. From this shot we get both her emotional state and the passage of time.
During the balls, the camera drifts through the assembled guests and we catch bits of conversation, overlapping stories all moving forward. Every time I watch the movie, I see something more -- one of the characters in the background snickering at the drunken Mrs. Bennet, or a haunted-looking Darcy starting to walk up to Lizzie and turning away again.
In one intense scene, Darcy and Lizzie dance and the crowd of fellow revelers disappears, creating a bubble of them seeing each other alone.
And there's the first proposal in the folly, during a pouring rainstorm. The rain and the landscape become both secondary characters and a reflection of the player's internal landscape. Fabulous.
Here's a little montage of some of the lovely scenes to leave you with.
And the news that Wright's version of Anna Karenina, with Keira again and Jude Law, will be out soon. Oh yes yes yes.