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.

16 comments:

  1. I do truly enjoy this film, and not even in spite of being something of an Austen purist! I appreciate the aesthetic and the fact that the characters are the appropriate ages really does something for this adaptation.

    The only scene I wish they'd never, ever filmed is the very last one! It's SUCH a shameless indulgence and departure that when re-watching, I always turn it off before I get there.

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    1. I confess I love the shamelessly indulgent final scene - though I totally understand why an Austen purist wouldn't!

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    2. I love all of the snogging that comes with modern Austen adaptations, I just thought that the last scene was much too cheesy for my beloved Darcy and Elizabeth :P

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    3. I guess I'm a sucker for the cheese..."My pearl for Sundays." *sigh*

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  2. Donald Sutherland made that version of the film for me. (Well, he didn't actually make it, but...)

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    1. Oh yes, KAK - the perfect foil, with his somber, wry demeanor. I could have gone on and on about the secondary characters...

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  3. What's this about Anna Karenina??
    Also, omg, I have never seen this. I must RECTIFY!!!!

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    1. ohhhh - you MUST, Carolyn! and let me know what you think. Can't wait for AK!!

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  4. Wait, are we talking "best" or "favorite" this week? Or both? A pretty distinction, I know, but I think I would find one subject much more interesting than the other.

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    1. The theme is officially "best motion picture ever made - which would you find more interesting, Kev? I did try to stick to why I thought this was a GOOD movie.

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    2. I think "favorite" would be more interesting, because it can be less about objective merit, which is harder to agree on anyway, and more about what hits your personal buttons or what memories and feelings are associated.

      But maybe I only feel qualified to discuss "favorite" because "best" involves a level of artistic sensitivity I'm just not up to.

      Now I have to go wash my hands repeatedly and count ceiling tiles because you didn't close your quotation marks.

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    3. Oop - sorry! Plane was delayed last night and I got in very late. Not awake. I'd fix it, if I could. I totally agree on the favorite part.

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  5. Okay, I guess I'm going to have to break down and see that movie now...

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    1. You want to, Linda. You know you do. :-D

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  6. >_< I've never actually read an Austen book. Or seen one of the movies all the way through. (Unless you count Clueless, which is just a modern retelling of Emma.)

    Suppose I ought to remedy that?

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  7. I love Clueless, but it doesn't really count. The "real" movies, and the books, are much more slowly paced. You have to settle into them. But totally worth it! You might start with this movie and work from there. Still, you have to pay attention to "get" it - no dipping in and out, chasing children! ;-)

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