Archive for the ‘women’s art’ Category

Final shot of the house in darkness: the trajectory of the episode: unfolding before us its crowded life

Dear friends and readers,

So here we are, another season. What you notice the first time watching is how the film-makers hit the ground running. Speed: most scenes far less than a minute long. This costs. They were concerned people would say ho-hum, this is getting tiring, are we going to have this again? They do have to keep the characters in character. So a couple of strong star types were brought in: Anna Chancellor as the lecherous widow (she’s even eager for a drink before dinner) Lady Anstruther after the handsome young — harried anxious — Jimmy, 2nd footman (Ed Speleers)

She puts hand into Jimmy’s waistcoat

And Harriet Walter as the widowed Lady Shackleton who steals every scene she’s in, adding a grace note of real melancholy as she conveys something of the conditions of her widowhood to Lord Merton (Douglas Reith): relegated to a cottage she didn’t want to go into, she bears up:

She’s telling him she’s warm for the first time in her life

They returned to the old wittiness and sense of quiet routine of the first 5 episodes of the first season (where they were not worried about further seasons or setting up arching stories of melodrama). There are numerous funny dialogues, arresting quips, and not all are Maggie Smith’s (though some are). At the same time there is strong melodrama, ending in a climactic fire.

That’s Thomas (Rob James-Collier) rescuing Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) in fetching nightgown: she fell asleep after throwing a book of poems left her by her beloved Grigson over towards the fire (a death-wish it seems)

For a suggestive recap of the plot, see I should have been a blogger (Ani Bundel).

Watch a second time, though, and you see something else, something many have noticed before: The mini-series goes on to develop some of the same patterns and in a realistic enough way that three minutes thought ought to bring to mind the troubles and miseries of the servants and women. Each story line that matters and is melodramatic treats of some real cruelty in the lives of servants and women at the same time as it obscures the real motives for it and why the treatment of the person is so unfair.

The excruciatingly painful scene of Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) confessing her crime, with only a proviso of

“I’ll see what I decide,” from that site of power, Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern)

Is there any more painful depiction of abjection than Miss Baxter confessing her theft to Cora, Lady Grantham? As with Mr Bates in the first season (where he is discovered), there was a prison sentence; also like Mr Bates the story of explanation, she is anguished, can make no excuse but something evil in her (in Episode 2 we find it was a seductive male servant who “drove her to it” and was “no good”), not that servants were paid so abysmally, exploited so harshly with long hours and severe disciplined patterns, and expected to live among these luxurious super-rich. Who would not steal these fabulously wealthy people’s things? Far from being driven by others, you’d be almost superhuman not to want the comfortable warm beautiful things around you. Today too those who commit crimes are depicted with savage lack of empathy (I don’t know sheer statistics of petty robbery, whether it has gone up with the on going depression in the US with terrible or no jobs for vast numbers of people).

Downton Abbey repeatedly touches on these real subjects but always from the employers’ point of view — the question is how Cora, Lady Grantham, feels is the issue; and if she will see if she can endure to have such a low “felon” in her intimate room. Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle) it was who counseled Miss Baxter to confess in order to stop the fierce bullying of Thomas (once aqain playing his part of the spiteful gay) so it’s patriarchy which may save poor Miss Baxter, if Cora condescends to keep her. One almost longs for Miss Obrien’s strong sarcasms (Siobhan Finneran): we later hear she lost her place when the Marchioness of Flintshire (Phoebe Nicholls) got her comeuppance (not enough money to keep a lady’s maid). Not that Thomas is immune from the power-lady of this hour: when he goes to snitch on Miss Baxter, he finds he is too late: Cora, Lady Grantham tells him, she knows, and uses the opportunity to threaten to sack him too, for what what she doing recommending such a person to her? She so dim over Lady Edith has guessed Thomas was using his power over Miss Baxter to find things out.

She’ll think about what she’ll do to him (remember he needs a “character”)

Well, yes there is another, a second an equally painful depiction of abjection. As the series begins again, wesee that privileged ice-princess who makes it a hobby to throw corrosive darts at Edith, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) riding on her bike away from Downton:


who turns into Lady Edith careening near an old deserted church(where she will meet Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough), that super-loyal and therefore impeccable tenant-farmer. There they plan and plot how they will find a way for her to live as if she is child’s mother without telling, all the while using Mrs Drewe as their front. Before it was Ethel Parks (Amy Nuttall), a servant, driven to prostitution, driven to give up her child, whom we watched pacing everywhere with her baby clutched to her bosom; now (as a third watch-through proves) it will be Lady Edith, similarly holding tight to her child and near hysterical tears.

Lady Edith (first shot) watching

Mrs Drewe (Emma Lowndes) playing with Lady Edith’s baby, Marigold (uncredited)

As Anibundel pointed out, Mrs Drewe is our latest dimwit not to pick up the obvious: Edith is the baby’s mother (well, duh): it must be Mr Drewe Lady Edith is drawn to, or she is very sick indeed (well something somewhere is sick). Wouldn’t the natural inference be this child is Edith’s by Mr Drewe? This pattern of a mother giving birth out of wedlock is seen in later 19th & early to mid-20th century novels (Bronte’s Shirley to East Lynn to Poor Cow); here it is presented in such as a way as to make exceptional a pattern of deprivation and grief.

Anibundel also feels for Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville): on the second time round, he certainly seems to be the figure everyone else can ignore or look askance at. He is “donk” to his grandchildren because he once played “pin the tail on the donkey” and apparently was the donkey. He is not wanted to head the installation of a memorial on his own land (!), and is given a position as patron only because his butler, Mr Carson (Jim Carter) makes it a condition of Mr Carter’s accepting as chair. Lord Grantham is told off by the village schoolteacher, Miss Bunting (Daisy Lewis), and knows he looks bad for bullying her in his indignation that she should have the temerity to disagree with him — most strongly on the issue of the WW1 memorial

LordGrantham (2)

LordGrantham (1)

Let us stop at the memorial. Some of the loyal older viewers of Downton Abbey may remember the 1970s To Serve Them all My Days (scripted Andrew Davies, with that salt of the earth good man-teacher, David Powlett-Jones), based on the arch Tory Delderfield’s 1950s novel of the same title, a nostalgic look at the upper class schoolboy hood of the 1930s. The terms in which this memorial is debated in 2014 is precisely that of the 1950s novel. Miss Bunting is against spending money for a memorial to a war that uselessly killed millions and left the establishment in power; says she we can do something but not waste money on that. Lord Grantham’s allies around the table (Lord Gillingham, Tom Cullen) has produced the usual pieties about comfort for those who died and a symbol of gratitude. Even in the 1970s Andrew Davies did more justice to the Miss Bunting point of view as creditable and even right. Of course people have to be rude to voice it. But Miss Bunting does not have Tom’s approval; she is not exactly welcomed by the kitchen staff whom she hen wants to thank (ostentatiously) — though her coming downstairs does lead to Daisy, now a cook-kitchen maid (Sophia McShera), finding a teacher to help her with her self-improvement studies.

And note Lord Grantham’s misinterpretation of what is happening between Jimmy and Lady Anstruther is the one that decides what happens to Jimmy: having seen Jimmy in bed with the lady, Grantham sacks Jimmy because he cannot accommodate Jimmy’s ambitions. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Lady Anstruther will do anything for Jimmy but use him. If Jimmy could find it in himself (he can’t) Thomas would be the better partner (as he recognizes). Lord Grantham, like Cora, gets to decide who will be sacked; in discussions over the land, it is Lord Grantham Lady Mary and Tom must convince to build houses on the land for more rent. And it is Lord Grantham who leads everyone to put out the fire, who congratulates Thomas (who thus wins back Cora, Lady Grantham’s favor — too easily), and Tom Bransom (Allen Leech): back again as this deeply remorseful muddled liberal Irishman who seems to believe that leftism is a movement based on hatred, and has to ask permission to have his friends stay. He does still see to the cars (Lady Anstruther); maybe he does need to get out more.


So paradigms of abjection and looking askance at those who are powerful still.


Watch a third time (preferrably after having watched all 8 episodes) and you see: several overarching storylines are set up: the first, whose emphasis is not lost from sight throughout: Edith’s need to build a life for herself: the study of Edith: yes just such an environment would foster her kind of dependence and love and despair when the one attempt for liberty she grasped at was destroyed. Parallel is Tom’s need to separate himself from these people, find himself.


Daisy striking out to become personally emotionally by knowledge gained independent. She has become an artist of a cook, and now she wants to ready herself for a life outside the house, perhaps in charge of Mr Mason’s farm. (And ho-hum who will Lady Mary marry in the end. Does it matter? as she might herself say ever so coolly. Later her grandmother will tell her she’s overdoing it.)

The sub-stories attached which are used to create feeling states, the communitarian ideal that is projected is that of Mr Molesley who emerges as a reader: we did see signs of this when long ago he gave Anna Smith, now Mrs Bates (Joanne Froggart), a copy of Von Armin’s Elizabeth and her German Garden (which true to her anti-intellectual practical spirit she never found time to read). Mr M is champion of good feeling. Mrs Patmore’s (Lesley Nichols) concern for Daisy’s self-esteem — like Edith’s character, this makes sense given Mrs Patmore’s background, where you learn you will be hurt more by the failure because the trying may get you nowhere.

As yet we only see Mr (Brendan Coyle) Bates and Anna marginally (they live in another house), enough to see the aftermath and results of the rape are not at all gotten past. They remain wary, she aware how vulnerable they both are, he on the alert for anyone suspicious of them who can hurt either. Why haven’t they had a child he asks; she doesn’t know. They fear Miss Baxter as a weak informer.


Secrets, many of the characters have secrets to keep to themselves (for some stills of them much later in the series at home [from Episode 7]).

A new note: we do see Barrow’s real loneliness and lack of life — a rare case where we see what happens from the exploited and marginalized person’s point of view — he cannot make a life for himself that he wants to live he tells Jimmy. And Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) is considerably softened: she is as pessimistic and wry as ever, but more willing to admit her need of others, e.g., Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton’s) friendship

How many widows this series has had … they walk through a graveyard as they discuss Mrs Crawley’s relationship with Lord Merton: it’s a matter of companionship

Characters are cast aside to make room for the new feeling states and developments of over-arching stories across the seasons: Dr Clarkson (David Robb) who will not now marry Mrs Crawley; and characters are brought to the front, the supposed amusement of the snobbery of Violet, Lady Grantham’s butler, Spratt (Jeremy Swift) who Violet, Lady Grantham is supposedly ruled by — not very.

And in each episode we’ll have self-contained stories of characters not seen again (as here, Anstruther and Jimmy, Lady Shackleton), or stories which last 2-3 episodes and conclude (TBA). Even Isis, the dog, is being readied to play her role when the time comes.

There is a darker palette this time: I have enlarged several stills because unless I do that you won’t be able to make out the guarded people.

Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the last shot of someone in the opening: she knows Lady Edith has a painful secret she has shared with Mr Drewe (now fireman he makes an appt with Lady Edith to discuss matters)


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Dear friends and readers,

If you are into historical films, costume dramas, mini-series, TV films, 19th to early 20th century classic and serious novels as adapted by British TV, this book should be just your thing.


I, for one, find Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Lady Grantham’s outfit irresistible: that soft blue color, the light velvety texture of the dress, the pearls, the long white gloves, not to omit the pearls peeking out of her bun matching her long strand and her tiara and that worried consulting look on her face as she talks to Jim Carter as the eternal butler-steward, solver of all problems, Mr Carson — perfectly poised as epitomizing costume drama.

Here is The Table of Contents:

Yes mine is among the essays — on Andrew Davies’s adaptations of Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now — but note this is a collection that begins in the 1960s, covers costume drama, British TV and thematic British issues generally across the second half of the 20th century; and the Edwardian and post World War I novel. It’s not just Poldark to Downton Abbey:

Jerome de Groot
James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo

Part I: Approaches to the Costume Drama

1 Pageantry and Populism, Democratization and Dissent: The Forgotten 1970s — Claire Monk
2 History’s Drama: Narrative Space in “Golden Age” British Television Drama — Tom Bragg
3 “It’s not clever, it’s not funny, and it’s not period!”: Costume Comedy and British Television — James Leggott
4 “It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion”: British Costume Drama, Dickens, and Serialization — Marc Napolitano
5 Never-Ending Stories?: The Paradise and the Period Drama Series — Benjamin Poore
6 Epistolarity and Masculinity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope Adaptations — Ellen Moody
7 “What Are We Going to Do with Uncle Arthur?”: Music in the British Serialized Period Drama — Karen Beth Strovas and Scott M Strovas

Part II: The Costume Drama, History, and Heritage

8 British Historical Drama and the Middle Ages — Andrew B. R. Elliott
9 Desacralizing the Icon: Elizabeth I on Television — Sabrina Alcorn Baron
10 “It’s not the navy-we don’t stand back to stand upwards”: The
Onedin Line and the Changing Waters of British Maritime Identity —
Mark Fryers
11 Good-Bye to All That: Piece of Cake, Danger UXB, and the Second World War — A. Bowdoin Van Riper
12 Upstairs, Downstairs (2010-2012) and Narratives of Domestic and Foreign Appeasement — Giselle Bastin
13 New Developments in Heritage: The Recent Dark Side of Downton “Downer” Abbey — Katherine Byrne
14 Experimentation and Postheritage in Contemporary TV Drama:
Parade’s End — Stella Hockenhull

Part III: The Costume Drama, Sexual Politics, and Fandom

15 “Why don’t you take her?”: Rape in the Poldark Narrative — Julie Anne Taddeo
16 The Imaginative Power of Downton Abbey Fan Fiction — Andrea Schmidt
17 This Wonderful Commercial Machine: Gender, Class, and the Pleasures and Spectacle of Shopping in The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge — Andrea Wright
18 Taking a Pregnant Pause: Interrogating the Feminist Potential of
Call the Midwife — Louise FitzGerald
19 Homosexual Lives: Representation and Reinterpretation in Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey — Lucy Brown
20 Troubled by Violence: Transnational Complexity and the Critique of Masculinity in Ripper Street –Elke Weissmann

About the Editors and Contributors

I could wish there were more here, more on the intermediary stages, the important film adaptations of the 1980s (Brideshead was typical of that decade), and the movement into TV at the time of serious cinema film-makers (e.g., My Beautiful Laundrette), but the way to read more books on this area, is by buying and or reviewing this one. I can’t as an interested party. But as I did for my essay on “Intertexuality in Simon Raven’s The Pallisers and other Trollope films” in Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, edd. Abigail Burnham Bloom and Mary Sanders Pollock, I’ll keep an eye out for reviews and link them in as well as myself read this collection and report back anything which seems to call out for special attention.


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Laura Poitras, photo by James Day

Jon Stewart with the male star of Rosewater, Gael Garcia Bernal

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past few weeks I’ve watched a series of documentaries about what might be called the state of the political world and military actions conducted by the Bush and succeeding US administration (Obama) in reaction to 9/11; this includes the present omnipresent use of surveillance over (I suppose) everyone by various US and UK (and other states’) agencies, imprisonment often w/o trial of literally countless individuals, the use of solitary confinement and other forms of torture. Quite an agenda.

I began with CitizenFour, led to go to a local movie-house at 2 in the afternoon to catch the movie by the crucial interest of the subject (while in the event the auditorium was remarkably crowded for that time of day, nonetheless the movie disappeared in less than 3 weekends), but then drawn by Poitras as a film-maker. I wanted a comparison so went for what was available, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater (also disappeared quickly); understanding that CitizenFour is the third of a trilogy, I used Netflix to watch the second movie, The Oath, and then (unaccountably I suppose going backwards), the first, My Country, My Country. I wanted to see Kill the Messenger, but it played in but one movie-house in all the DC area that I could find, a theater not easy for me to get and by the time my schedule permitted it, Kill the Messenger had been killed (never got to DC where the powerful politicians, their committees and aides, the media, and reporters it exposed work from). Kill the Messenger did last longer than CitizenFour and Rosewater, but then it was at just this one theater — in Ballston, Arlington, by the way, for those who know this area, a place of apartments houses, where in the mall Jim and I have seen startlingly original plays now and again, one of Rameau’s Nephew I still remember).

I’m here to tell you that Poitras is a great documentary film-maker, and her subject being what it is, you should make the effort to see her trilogy, which has been reviewed fairly by David Bromwich in NYRB, with an emphasis on CitizenFour (“The Question of Snowden”), and much less neutrally (hostilely, with snide remarks aimed at Poitras and sudden turn-abouts, such as out of nowhere “Snowden is of course a traitor”) by George Packer (the New Yorker, Holder of Secrets). I’ve already written about CitizenFour (almost upon getting home from the movie), as “A Win” (scroll down to the last third of blog).


I wish there were a recognized tradition of documentaries in the US as there are in the UK (where they regularly play on TV); the best comparison I can come up with is My Country, My Country is as good as any of Frederick Wiseman’s best.


Several things make it as good as it is: first her art, in a quiet way she juxtaposes the right scenes against one another; like Wiseman, she tries to erase herself so you are listening to others and watching them (there are little vignettes of people passing the time of day in the way of Wiseman, bits of weather); she photographs landscapes aptly and gets the feel of the place (from driving a cab in Somalia, to the dreadful quiet of Guantanamo, to the destruction of the cities of Iraq as well as life lived inside a house without electricity, or communication lines outside). She wins the trust of those she interviews insofar as they are willing to open up in all three films: the central figure of The Oath, Abu Jandal (complex, sensitive man who has led a brutal existence) seems to be doing this and in a way he does show himself; Edward Snowden is a man being interviewed until near the end in a dangerous situation (in the Hong Kong hotel), and the central figure of My Country, My Country, Dr Riyahd al-Adhadh, an Iraqi doctor, upper class male who runs for office during an election in 2005, acts out his daily routine (he works as a doctor) and seems to say what he intended to say or do wherever he is regardless of Poitras’s camera. She’s not as aggressive as Wiseman or as pointed in what she shows, and she gets an intimate feel as she films people making their tea, unexpected gestures that are revealing.

A campaign manager telling the people what Bush wants

People listening

The central story of the My Country, My Country is this election of 2005: all the people we see, soldiers, mercenaries (buying as cheap as they can get them, deadly weapons in order to “monitor” the sites and make sure they go the way wanted), the campaign managers (often from Australia) are there to make this election look right. Riyadh cooperates because he is hoping to help his Sunni brethren in his area of Baghdad and around the country (Falluja) to have some sort of say (however hopeless the attempt) At one point to some prisoners he visits in a supposed opening up who have been held for months without trial, put into solitary confinement, sometimes tortured in other ways, underfed, miserable in heated tents), he bursts forth, so frustrated is he in his inability to do anything to help any of them: “We are an occupied country with a puppet government.”


Soldier insisting a 9 year old is dangerous, that the people are decently treated, will be fairly tried …

One sequences of images shows an Iraqi man appealing to a committee to stop spending money this way, asking them what is the use of this (phony) election amid this slaughter; this destruction of needed services like electricity and water, these prisons? Well, Bush wanted it. As with the putting the challenger into space in 1987 done at the worst possible time weather-wise was done (as Feynman shows) because Reagon wanted it, so everyone is following the Big man and His men. Bush is the equivalent of the absent Henry VIII in Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. (Obama cannot escape this kind of numinous power from patronage that people still organize themselves around.)

The speakers and their plights make this a poignant movie.

Poitras basically follows Dr Riyahd around; she is in his house at all hours of day and night and we watch conversations of the women inside the house, sometimes with Riiyadh answering. We see a wedding held. We get to recognize the wife, the mother, older female relatives, his daughters one of whom cries out “we have no life and can have no life, have had no life for ever so long.”


The film’s hold and the respect it commands comes from this man who is reasonable, holding out, though at the close when the election gives Sunni hardly any seats, he is suddenly embittered and talks of how they must move (Where?); it’s touching how much care he will take over this or that specific individual as if each person matters. That speaks the values of this film against which we see the bombing and killing now and again.

fatcatsareseenat mikes
High fat cat at mike, urging them on their “mission”

You have to use your brains and recognize what are obvious lies; the film exposes the absurdity and cruelty of what was being done — we don’t see the actors who are making money of course — the Haliburtons, but in a way you can’t film that; as Alexander Pope said in the 18th century how do you dramatize the corruption of money and how it’s used and works silently so that’s it’s seen only in the people hired to work jobs, the boardrooms and dinners where things are decided. The conversations we might like to hear, money changing hands, moving digitally cannot be filmed.

A street scene (there are also scenes of Falluja and other towns and houses gutted out from bombs)


My Country, My Country, was nominated for an Academy Award as best documentary of the year. You’d think Poitras would have gone on to make even better films. But this has not happened. The Oath and CitizenFour are made on much cheaper budgets; she does not get to films interviews of or talks to the same kinds of important people after My Country, My Country. It was after this film, she began to be so harassed at every border crossing she passed, searched and stopped 40+ times at airports, her precious things taken from her more than once (returned most of them, but not always); after this film she moved to Berlin. Packer calls her paranoid — in one of his unfair dismissive descriptions of her. Yes she’s a privileged person, comes from people with wealth, went to fine schools (including New School of social research), lived in Manhattan, frequents nice bars. Does he want her to stay in sordid ones? she’s a woman.
(Packer also indulges in snide cracks at Julian Assange . The man is not cooperative,says Packer as if this were surprising or a sin. Well, duh. Not clubbable like Packer is, eh?)

In the case of The Oath, she wanted to make a film about the taxi-driver of Bin Laden who was captured, put in a black hole, tortured, taken to Guantanomo and (astonishingly to many), with the help of two military lawyers (we watch in the film giving public interviews) won a supreme court case where they declared that one could not call a man a terrorist for supplying daily aid (like a car, like services included in being a chauffeau in effect), so congress passed a law saying to give material aid to a terrorist was enough to make someone a terrorist. The case again was adjudicated and this time he was guilty as charged (according to the new law), but the sentence was time served plus four months so a slap at congress was administered. The Hamdan cases are now used in arguments about terrorism. Promising material, no?

But after giving one interview to a BBC reporter in London, after returning home, Hamdan will give no interviews. So Poitras uses a man close to him, who “recruited” him (got him a needed job as a driver), Abu Jandal, Hamdan’s brother-in-law.

Abu Jandal the focus of her second film, The Oath

She discovered that Jandal is a revealing and intelligent person in his own right. So Poirtras’s film centers on Abu Jandal, Hamdan’s brother-in-law, what footage she has found of one of Hamdan’s “interrogation” (under a hood, and his body all cringed and terrified in some hideous prison),


then the trial (just outside with sketches and drawings of what is happening inside the courtroom), the trial lawyers and congressional hearings; she has also footage of Guantanamo, and she films places in Afghanistan and where Abu Jandal now works as a cab driver.

Jandal is a fascinating person: he is someone who was recruited as a devoted follower for Bin Laden’s army and he is very smart — you must listen to him carefully. He now abjures violence, but he knew all the 9/11 Bin Laden people on the plane who died. Also of great interest is Swift, the lawyers working for Hamdan:

Charles Swift, one of Hamdan’s lawyers

there is also a military officer who says he does this to keep the constitution alive and well.

Neal Catyal, another defending lawyer

It has depths of a different kind from My County My Country. Jandal is someone who was recruited as a devoted follower for Bin Laden’s army and he is very smart — you must listen to him carefully. He now abjures violence, but he knew all the 9/11 Bin Laden people on the plane who died. He was someone who administered oaths of loyalty. Abu Jandal is an intense believer — in his religion, we see him bringing up his boy continually — and among other things he believes in is the Arab way of life he saw personified in Bin Laden; he presents his wife and sister-in-law (in burkas). We see him teaching his son:


Father and son

He followed Bin Laden out of a personal identification. People who get followers do sometimes do that.

The film merits comparison with CitizenFour — done on a similar budget, similarly centrally focused without much story line (Snowden escapes to the Russian airport near the end of the film and at the close he is interviewed briefly from an unknown place in Russia by Greenwald with Poitras as film-maker). See my A Win (blog — scroll down to last 3rd).


She keeps her distance says Packer from Abu Jandal as she does not in Citizen Four. He seems to feel she identified so closely with Snowden that accounts for her taking what he said at face value. I wonder — Packer says we are watching a man being interviewed, not the inner man; well the same happened with Jandal (who is not revealing “all”). She also couldn’t get past the mask (as sophisticated people we want to know the pyschological and personal sociological reasons for his giving up a good life to risk life in solitary confinement and worse, or in Russia meagrely tolerated) becUse he was in danger at those moments as Jandal no longer is.

What we do see in Snowden is revulsion. He felt intense revulsion at what he was seeing going on around, him, at the secret life he was living, at its privileges. I think he’s an austere guy — e has not yet been apprehended because he has files of just this nature that will drop the minute he disappears–and people in power know it. He has not released much of what he has. Why Assange remains safely (tenuous safety) inside the Equadoran embass. The for how Snowden’s girlfriend got from their apartment in wherever it was to now live with Snowden in his Russia and cook spaghetti together. People may also think some of these files are known to Greenwald and Poitras. The repugnance (revulsion I called it) was not just for the way of life he saw in the high tech firms and their employees’ home life but personally, a feeling of how at risk they all were from one another.

Snowden no sentimentalist but he does seem to have acted out of a deep feeling of what is decent and indecent. What he saw happening where he worked, he felt was indecent — Imagine him watching people looking into files of just anyone or someone they wanted to hurt or were paid to find things out about. In comparison Abu Jandal has beliefs that are deeply optimistic (from his religion which is real), though he fears snatching and killing. At the end of The Oath he has lost his job and is worried about having lost his cab but doesn’t say why these events have occurred.

It’s no coincidence that decency also actuates Poirtras’s chosen Iraqi doctor. This sort of emotion outraged, and an idealism as well as intense curiosity about the people who involve themselves fuels Poitras’s films. Her film on Snowden is more careful — it seems apolitical and that’s to enable her to make another.
Films can be a source of real information and insight — like so much in our culture, because their power and abilities are often so wasted and thrown away and wrongly exploited that does not mean the medium is not one of the most powerful we have today.

David Denby of the New Yorker tells about the incident on Stewart’s comedy program which Denby thinks helped lead to Rosewater.

Maziar Bahari interviewed comically by Stewart

At the time of this real life incident on TV, Stewart’s interview of a reporter named Bahari that led (circuitously) to Bahari being snatched, kidnapped, imprisoned, held in solitary confinement for months and emotionally tortured, terrified and also beat up hard a couple of times, I was not watching TV at all so can say nothing (I still don’t watch TV much.) The important element was this gave Stewart a justificaion, a raison d’etre beyond the actuating purposes of the film (similar to Poitras) — to expose what the war on terror, surveillance, and torture in imprisonment, specifically solitary confinement inflicts on individuals.

Bernal as the British reporter captured by Egyptian nationalists, being harassed by one of his interrogators

Bernal is a powerful actor and this is not the first political film he’s been in; he was superb in After the Rain, about the attempt in a South American country by a corporation to take over the water supply and start charging money for it (see my blog, Even the Rain).

It’s a good not a great film, and part of the flaw is its fiction and sentimentalized (we don’t get deep pain at all). He’s also careful to be mainstream and he does this by suggesting all political movements and leaders are shits. Bahari’s father was high in politics and gov’t in 1953-54 when the only attempt thus far was made to set up a secular democracy, socialist in thrust: the US and UK with their CIA and M15 moved in and overthrew them, imprisoned, tortured (probably) and destroyed it. In the movie Bahari’s father is implicitly criticized as a deluded communist with the implication all communists are tyrants, deluded people follow them. As if they are more evil than fascists, totalitarians, religious fanatics. In fact they were trying to set up a neutral secular state with the socialists; a real election had put a democracy in place. The US staged a coup. The happy ending of the film also seems to justify the American state as a sane one: but the real topic of the movie, solitary confinement (to which much of the movie is given over and is an stunning feat), is more widespread in US prisons than European ones, and political imprisonment has grown to visible public dimensions. The film did not stay long in theaters anyway.

Rosewater (cont’d in comments).

Some tentative conclusions:

That Poitras comes from wealthy people tells us more than how she affords her traveling, her living in Berlin, and see her earlier privileged life (New School in NYC); more importantly (from my studies of liberty and reading Mill and Berlin and others), her sense of her self, her background, upbringing makes her feel she can exercise her liberty. It is as important to feel you have the right to exercise your liberty, which comes from background (upbringing, class, gender, education, habitas) as to have it. Like Penelope Fitzgerald (an article by James Wood in the same New Yorker as Packer on Poitras), her quiet sense she need not explain, her concision and other aspects of her film making come from this background. Their nerve, they have the nerve.

The non-fiction trilogy is by a woman — there’s a cyclical feel; we end where we began in The Oath, poor Jandal now has lost his cab and job. We are not told why — nor exactly who provided the money for the cab in the first place. We go back to white letters on black in CitizenFour. There’s little superfluous violence, hardly any at all, it’s just menacing us at the corners of the screen – all the people we see interview Jandal (she includes film clips) and the film clips of the defense atttorneys for Hamdan and of course the narrative line telling us accurately what happened to him (sold to the Americans, put into black hole, &c&c) and we feel it in her overvoice of Citizen Four. We see it in the silent pictures of the cities and landscapes (Guantanomo, Afghanistan, places not identified where people are meeting in tents and being interviewed or talked at by reporters and high officials.) Now she’s not an official. She’s just a woman.

As to the issues, there is passing discussion of liberty which one lawyer says is now unfortunately defined as privacy: that’s a real loss as what’s at stake is more than privacy. A friend writes: “The issue of free speech was also addressed. What this surveillance means is that the notion of free speech is essentially meaningless. In invading your privacy, your civil liberties have been suspended. For example, should you try to organize a protest, the government will know what you are up to. If they consider the action a treat, they can stop it. I guess this is when the swat team arrives at your door.” The 8th amendment is also gutted as your money can be stopped from getting to you. The US government and others too (the UK perhaps in its decades old GCHQ), has records of all our business transactions, such as our public transit card, and our credit cards, and our banking info, as well as everything we do on the computer and every phone call we make. They can access these files at any time and go through them retroactively.

Stewart is a deeply compassionate man but without the “license” of non-fiction curtailed what he could have dramatized.


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Tiler Peck enacting the famous Degas statue: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Dear friends and readers,

I did not realize I was going to see a mainstream Broadway musical circa 1950s when I bought my ticket to go to The Little Dancer this past Sunday. A man I had talked to a couple of times at the Film Club at Cinemart had recommended it, saying it was having its “world premiere” here in DC rather than NYC. I thought only of the famous statue, and did not foresee there’d be Ethel Merman like numbers sung by Marie’s mother, Martine (Karen Ziema), played as your robust but downtrodden and heavy-drinking laundress who does a little prostituting on the side.


But as the musical began and I heard some of the corny language – at its climax Degas (Boyd Gaines) actually cries more than once: “My God! what have I done?” and runs about — and saw what was supposed to be desperate poverty and maginalized aspiration sung about in this super-cheerful way, with choral numbers of men dressed as abonnés (exploitative upper class men who hung around these theaters, sometimes supporting them for a time) and girls alternatively dressed as ballerinas and laundresses gyrating rhythmically or in parallel formation, I knew what I was in for. (The director and choreographer is Susan Strohman.) Still I was a little surprised at the standing ovation and strong cheering the full auditorium gave the people on stage since at no point were there shouts of bravo or high sudden applause of the type showing spontaneous deep accord or pleasure or emotion. I had heard a couple of people during intermission saying this was an “old-fashioned musical” in a way that showed approval, but in fact it lacked the stand-still kind of singing and full crew dancing numbers that characterized Oscar and Hammerstein or My Fair Lady. And the story was implicitly much darker than these mid-century vehicles (Carousel let us recall makes up for misery by asserting one never walks alone and then showing us heaven watching out for Julie).

I’ve been spoilt. What Jim did was buy half-price tickets to see unusual plays, original musicals (and or operas) in local repertory theaters around the area, so the conventionalism of the 3 hours blared out at me. I don’t watch the Net, pay attention to what’s on everywhere, and haven’t the intuition to recognize what will be worth the time as he did — though once I get there I recognize what’s in front of me. I’m not the only one. Charles Isherwood was less than overwhelmed. The Washington Post article by Philip Kennicott is more about the genuinely relevant material to us today that makes up the circumstances of the story than the musical itself.

One of the replicas of this statue now in the National Gallery in DC

I don’t mean to be too hard on this musical. It was as much a ballet as a musical.


There was effective expressive dancing by Peck continually and with Harris and the chorus, and male and female ballet and ballroom dancing ensembles. The books and lyrics were clearly by a woman, Lynn Ahrens; the structure was cyclical and empathetic to central female figures — Mary Cassatt (Janet Dickinson) was represented as Degas’s great friend. Central female figures, the issue of abonnés show the women-authored nature of the piece. There was a woman voiceover-narrator, the adult Marie who has come to visit Cassatt after the death of Degas. I didn’t realize that the actress-singer, Rebecca Luker, was a known favorite of this audience until I read in the playbook Luker is famous for her performance on Broadway of Mary Poppins: I fear a benignly strong saccharine version of Julie Andrews’ role, and then heard the applause for her at the musical’s end and recognized she was dressed to recall her previous role.

Luker is to the left and Mary Cassatt as old to the right, with Degas and the devastated young Marie (he’s ruined her career by his daring statue!) at center

Nonetheless, the music (by Stephen Flaherty) was disappointing — maybe the apparently necessary continual rhythmic background for the dancing numbers precluded individuation, the way one could not ask Peck and the other ballerinas also to be a nuanced actress (they were not, it was soft caricature all the way). It was a kind of cross between a weak version of lyricism of The Secret Garden (book, lyrics, screenplay, all by women) where what is being remembered criss-crosses with what is happening now, an interlace; and a weak version of Sondheim’s self-reflexive wittiness. You could feel Sondheim in the talk rhythms and staging, as well obviously in the bringing forth from actors on the stage simulacrums of works of art. But to remind one of Sondheim had the unfortunate effect of comparison and the lines were so utterly banal, and to remind one of The Secret Garden is to invoke music more like The Pearl Fishermen: The Secret Garden has dual tenor duets, a strong mezzo-soprano singing with bell-like barritone, quirky rhythms as well as melancholy lingering. None of that here.

I was very moved at moments, and tears came to my eyes (not hard to do with me nowadays) at some of the trials and disappointments of Marie. The refrains of a couple of songs were about how one’s future is sometimes determined on the chance of a single event. I got caught up intensely when in the second act it seemed as if Marie was going to be raped by the abonné, who kept Antoinette (Jenny Powers) her sister, though this being a musical which ultimately doesn’t question or disturb, she is saved by poor but honest loving musician, appropriately named Christian (Kyle Harris), just in the nick of time.

Little Dancer  Susan Stroman: Director and Choreographer Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik studio@paulkolnik.com nyc 212-362-7778

Since nothing disquieting here, our Marie does not experience much conflict over not eloping with the poor violinist when he is fired for saving her: she is ever prudent, looking out for her career, supporting her feckless mother (made violent towards Marie doubtless to match the men of course). The real ballerina Degas sculpted did not go on to a successful career and that is here explained by showing that Degas offended the contemporary audience, something that one must not do (according to the thrust of this piece) or one will be punished. Marie becomes a pariah and the theater manager fears being made a laughing stock by a statue not made of bronze but of material and wax, and real or simulated hair: he told her (manager scolds) “to stay away from Degas.” Musical as warning lesson to any Bohemians out there. While the book and vignettes include the types of the commercial world of art (patrons, “rats” — cattle call, workmen, cataloguers, patrons), it is very naively invoked. (The Kennedy Center audience included mother-daughter pairs with the daughters in dancing or ballet outfits!) The dialogue did at least show an awareness of what Jim used to say about Degas: that his paintings of downtrodden hard-worked women were cold and distanced, somehow voyeuristic and that was reflected in the treatment of the abonnés.

But hey you didn’t have to go all the way to NYC, pay extravagant hotel fees and the price was less than it would have been in NYC. It had its moments, real talented people on the stage giving it their all, seemingly engaged by this simple material about art.



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Jonny Lee Miller as the creature desperately trying to bring an exhausted Bernard Cumberbatch as Frankenstein back to life on the ice

Dear friends and readers,

Yes, I’ve just returned from watching the version of Nick Dear and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein where Miller is the creature and Cumberbatch Frankenstein. The moviehouse had the version where Cumberbatch is the creature and Miller Frankenstein on Monday night. I didn’t know. Next year if my local HD theater repeats this duo, I’ll be sure and see Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as Dr Frankenstein.

Not that I was at all disappointed: I have known since watching Miller in an episode of Prime Suspect (and in the difficult roles of Edmund Bertram in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 MP and Mr Knightley in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma) what a versatile, effective, deeply feeling compelling actor he is. In this intelligent adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel (and the novel is kept in mind throughout), the creature is far more central to the action and consciousness of the play than his creator. We see his birth from his point of view,

Jonny Lee Miller as the monster being born

how he moves bewilder through a landscape of powerful machines and cruel people, to happening on the French family escaped from injustice and the kindness of the blind old scholar, De Lacey (Karl Johnson gets some comedy out of this role) to him, in succouring him, teaching him,


so (except for Frankenstein’s horrified rejection of his creature and abandonment of him) it is a long time before before Cumberbatch returns to the stage. And Frankenstein is the far less astonishing presence, even if central to the emotional action-reaction at play’s center

Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein pushing away from him what he has done

I’d just like to see how different would be the feel and meaning in the reversal; according to Michael Billington of The Guardian, considerable.

What Dear and Boyle did was pare down the novel to its doppelganger, and in their characters, their talk, their relationship all the themes of Mary Shelley are drawn out. Some of the matter is lost: the depiction of larger social injustice is not there and so the instinctive fears and savagery of human beings to one another is not outweighed; much of Frankenstein’s life and relationships: the depiction of education (critiqued), how Frankenstein began to try to recreate life partly in reaction to his mother’s death; his arrogance and lack of responsible behavior to others, the intense distrust of science. Frankenstein is someone not social (of course a no no), going off on his own. The emphasis of this twist is so 21st century. The role of Elizabeth is made to enact socialableness (a new word), responsibility, an attempt at kindness towards the creature, and that natural ways trump egoistic artifice. Naomi Harris is effective in the hard role in both versions (a side note, she played the black heroine to Cumberbatch’s white anti-hero in Small Island). ElizabethCreature

I suppose what is so compelling is the dialogue between the two, what’s said, but one is exhilarated even in a movie version by the staging, the use of machinery, the pivotal stage, the symbolic way each phase of the story is presented — matching the fantasy aspects of the story (for it is fantasy). I’ve been to the National Theater in London (with Jim) and seen a number of these creative productions: Aeschylus trilogy comes to mind, Henry IV part 2 (Michael Gambon as Falstaff), and at home on Bravo, the Yorkshire Mystery Plays. The material from Shelley is gothic, but the conventions here eschew anything like film noir or horror/slash movies. it’s really an intimate one-on-one play (not so different in this from say the Fly episode of Breaking Bad where we get a similar intense interaction for an hour between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Mr White and Jesse respectively, with bodies entangled eventually too).

One of the best reviews is that of Paul Taylor of the Independent, only he is wrong to say the play ends so differently from the novel. Yes at the close of Shelley’s novel it seems the creature immolates himself on a pyre on a slab of ice, while Frankenstein expires in Walton’s ship but it seems to me this dying is not what is important: it is the the pursuit and the insight (emphasized by Shelley in her text) that the two creatures to live on are forever intertwined in their hatred and (due to Frankenstein) thwarted love.

He lives for my destruction. I live to lead him on

I haven’t any shots of Frankenstein pulling his sled after the creature (nor of Andrea Padurariu as the Female Creature Frankenstein is drawn to himself, but destroys), but I do of the creature’s desperation when he thinks Frankenstein may have died, and his loving attempt to bring Frankenstein back to life so they can up and move on again (see still at top). In this one the director had Michelangelo’s famous image of God and Adam in mind:


Ice is central to the gothic and among the additions to Shelley’s vision, is that of body snatchers: the uses of corpses, poor people’s remains is brought out in comic pragmaticism when in Scotland Dr Frankenstein pays two Scots peasants to bring him materials. I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher.

Perhaps Dear congratulated himself too much on having given the creature back his voice, for Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 production of Frankenstein (screenplay Steph Lady, and Frank Darabout, producer Francis Ford Coppola) with Robert De Niro as the monster and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and a bride-monster of Frankenstein, had an equally articulate poignant presence for the monster. Dear and Boyle learned from Branagh and De Niro.

It was a production and is now a film which shows how transcendent and variable the gothic can be. The New York Times critic made fun of it — a paradoxical measure of its transcendence (the monster is alive and peeved!) It’s very effective in this film production – – where they do intersperse some stills from the 1931 Whale Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff), but for once I will concede that I was aware how much more charged it must be to have been in the theater. I don’t often feel this in the HD operas which are directed for film; this is a play taking advantage of all the techniques and stagings possible nowadays of a theater in the round and live stage.

It’s worth while to listen to Dear’s description of a many year project and the book as providing a contemporary creation myth:


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Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) during trial of Eichmann

Every Day: War is no longer declared,/only continued — Ingeborg Bachmann

Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor, is the true test of civilization — Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

In the feature Von Trotta says she had wanted to make film about Arendt for a long time, but was stopped because this was the story of a thinking woman, a woman who spent her life thinking passionately and then writing about it. She did succeed in making an absorbing thoughtful movie on just this theme, though the way it’s done is to thread into much of the story (I tell below) with scenes of Arendt lying on her bed smoking and (presumably) thinking, walking in woods smoking (and presumably …) or at her typewriter. We get little about her earlier background, and only so much of her autobiography as sheds light on her experience of Nazism: she was fortunate enough to escape.

Although I know I’m not qualified to write about Margarthe von Trotta’s thought-drenched portrait of Hannah Arendt in a film named after her because I’ve read only excerpts from her essays or brief essays about her (often semi-hostile or not quite comfortable) and have just begun Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s Hannah Arendt: for love of the world (biography), still since I may never get to a level of reading in her or hear or see her talk, I think I can make do on what I do know, as what this blog will be about it is von Trotta’s film.

Allow me to cut to what is important about the film. While von Trotta is known for representing forgotten or marginalized women, or “foremothers” in history:

VISION. A film by Margarethe von Trotta.

her film about Arendt is about a centrally important & remembered philosopher whose works include Eichmann on Trial and The Origins of Totalitarianism. And though some love stories provide “beats” in the movies’ plot-design, the central of the movie is Arendt’s thought. In a DVD feature, von Trotta talked about the difficulty of portraying a woman most of whose hours were spent reading, writing and thinking. She also wanted to convey the content of the thinking.

The solution was to move quickly in the film from a depiction of Hannah’s home life and friends, a long time correspondent, Mary McCarthy (Janet von Teer),


Hannah’s long-time happy marriage with a kindred German spirit, Heinrich Blucher (Axel Milberg)


and secretary, Lotte (Julia Jentsch),


a general ambience of her life living in a co-op in Manhattan, teaching at NYC, to the New Yorker invitation to her to write several essays as a reporter. It was the ferocious angry rejection of what Arendt wrote and her response that gave von Trotta her opportunity. In life Arendt carried on writing (as she does in this film) and stood up for her beliefs and her work. In this film she gets into debates with the central figures in her life, e.g., Hans Jones (Ulrich Noenthen) and Kurt Blumenfield (Michael Degan. She explains and defends her choices.

One seemed to me relevant to us here today, whether you live in the US (evolving in the most inhumane and unjust ways as a fascistic oligarchy backed by militarism) or Europe (see, e.g. Perry Anderson’s Italian Disaster, LRB): what is causing the evils we see growing everywhere (from privatizing of all things, hospitals, prisons, schools, the post office): she argues one center of evil comes from the refusal of people to behave as individual human beings with any kind of conscience and obligation to others as human beings. Not recognizing any sense of social reciprocity beyond their obedience to an organization to maintain and rise in their place in it. It’s not fiendish monsters. This idea of Arendt’s that Eichmann was not extraordinary monster provoked outrage. The key to where evil comes from is the idea individuals have no obligation to others. Here’s an economic example:

A story example: Bruno Bettelheim has a story about how real evil occurs between two men sitting in a restaurant where one offers the other a contract for a supposedly strong bridge built cheaply and gets a kick-back knowing the bridge will collapse in a few years (or need heavy repairs).

An economic example: from The Arrogance of Architects in the NYRB, June 5, 2014:

In Dubai, the much-ballyhooed botanical symbol of a sheltering oasis gives way to a more mundane reality. As Moore writes:

The Palm, so impressive when seen on Google Earth, is more ordinary at ground level, where what you see are high walls and close-packed developments that block views of the water. Owners of homes on the fronds found that they faced not so much the sea, as a suburban cul-de-sac penetrated by a tongue of brine.
Moore describes even more unappetizing realities of this dysfunctional fantasyland:

What couldn’t be seen from the helicopter was the crisis in the drains. Dubai’s buildings emptied their sewage into septic tanks, whence they were taken to the Al-Aweer sewage works, on the road out towards the desert and Oman. The sewage works had not kept pace with the city’s growth, and a long line of tankers, some painted with flowers by their Indian drivers, stood for hours in the heavy heat as they waited their turn to offload….
Some drivers, tired of waiting, had taken to pouring their cargo at night into the rainwater drainage system, which discharged straight into the sea. The owner of a yacht club, finding that his business was affected by the sight and smell of brown stuff on the bright white boats, took photographs of the nocturnal dumpings and gave them to the press. The authorities responded, tackling the symptoms but not the cause, by introducing severe penalties for miscreant drivers.

Yet such treatment of migrant workers would scarcely surprise the vast foreign labor force recruited worldwide to construct and maintain the new architecture and infrastructure of Dubai and the other United Arab Emirates, under sometimes appalling and widely documented conditions tantamount to indentured servitude, if not de facto slavery. The preponderance of celebrated architects hired to work in the Gulf States for the “value-added” commercial cachet of their well-publicized names and Pritzker Prizes—including Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Jean Nouvel—has led to calls that these respected figures boycott commissions there until laborers’ working conditions, pay, and freedom of movement are markedly improved.

However, despite the numerous horror stories about this coercive exploitation, some big-name practitioners don’t seem moved by the plight of the Emirates’ imported serfs. Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University and a member of Gulf Labor, an advocacy group that is seeking to redress this region-wide injustice, earlier this year wrote a chilling New York Times Op-Ed piece.1 In it he quotes the Iraqi-born, London-based architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the Al Wakrah stadium in Qatar, now being built for the 2022 World Cup. She has unashamedly disavowed any responsibility, let alone concern, for the estimated one thousand laborers who have perished while constructing her project thus far. “I have nothing to do with the workers,” Hadid has claimed. “It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.”

She also devoted a number of pages to the leading well-connected and better-off Jewish leaders who colluded with the Nazis, making it easy for the Nazis to round up poor Jews and send them off to their deaths. Like Eichmann, they claimed innocence, but on other grounds: they denied knowing a massacre and enslavement were what awaited deported Jewish people. Others less well-placed did not flee because they could not or kept hoping that they would not have to (and leave a life-time’s work behind). She was accused of blaming all Jews, of blaming the victims — she was explaining the social psychology of what happened.

These are but two of the debates the film manages to convey without becoming at all a didactic costume drama where characters talk in unreal abstract preach-y ways. Also dramatized briefly is Hannah’s affair with Heidegger (Klaus Pol), a Nazi, anti-semite some said, her mentor in college, and his idea that what we flatter ourselves is thought logical thought is not; it’s ideas going through our heads as we remain alive. We see her talk with her husband, Heinrich about people politics; with William Shawn (Nicholas Woodson) about editing the New Yorker articles and Shawn talk with his staff about what the average New Yorker reader understands and wants to read.


Three men at the New School who hired her become implacable enemies (fearful for their school reputation).

Margarethe von Trotta

All this is embedded in a woman’s life. The director a woman, the scriptwriter, Pam Katz, the producer, Bettina Brokemper. I enjoyed the story-line which represents another alternative script-type from Syd Field — this one personal and cylical as we watch Hannah’s relationships with her women friends and then each male, sometimes in a flashback, sometimes re-met today as older people who go back together. Her husband has an aneuryism and she’s terrified of losing him. He does seem to recover. It’s said Sukowa is one of von Trotta’s favorite actresses for her films: in this one became Arendt — chain-smoking away, going through phases of existence and writing. A friend Diane R had alerted me to the existence of the movie on Women Writers Across the Ages (at Yahoo) when she wrote:

It wasn’t a great movie, too episodic, too polemic in spots, too wooden in other spots, hampered by its clunky attempts to be faithful to history, but I very much appreciated its depiction of Arendt as a middle aged woman who is relentlessly presented as no longer beautiful but who is nevertheless a full human being with a full life. While not sexualized in a Hollywood way, she is yet clearly sexual to her husband (or partner), and while she is attacked over her Eichmann in Jerusalem book, she is never humiliated. No woman in the movie is humiliated. Although Arendt has a young, pretty assistant, and at the beginning of the movie Arendt’s friend implies that Arendt’s husband/partner must be having an affair with a student, the set up of older woman betrayed by younger woman never comes to pass.

So many movies make older women into figures of ridicule (Grand Budapest Hotel the most recent.)

A great deal of money was spent. It was a long-time germinating and took a long time to do. It was filmed in New York City, in Jerusalem, in parts of Germany. The costumes and hair-does of the sixties, the furniture, the student ambience. The way TVs worked. There was real care to imitate the look and arrangement of the rooms (their uses) and furniture in the last Riverside Drive apartments (all taken precisely from Young-Buehl’s book). Each room had several functions, all had books and places to write and places to sit and talk with friends. And it’s all there.

Perhaps the strongest stroke of inspired genius was to work in the real footage of Eichman himself in Jerusalem. He was creepy: his face twisted with humiliation and anger as he faced people he had treated as “vermin.”


I felt his arrogance and disdain. It was chilling, like someone out of Dr Strangelove. As Hannah and Heinlein say in the movie, the trouble with hanging him is it doesn’t get near to what might be an adequate punishment without becoming barbarians ourselves.

Other characters in the film have stories like that of Hannah: Fran on our WWTTA list also wrote the “Zionest Kurt von Blumenfeld the fatherly figure also turns from her on his deathbed, and was a writer, a survivor of the Holocaust himself, who wrote the memoir, Not all of them were murderers. A childhood in Berlin describing the way he and his mother escaped deportation and the gas chambers by assuming false identities and living with non-Jewish friends for the duration. His father wasn’t so fortunate: he died as a result of the torture he experienced in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Degen’s memoir has also been turned into a film.”

I mean to read (if I had spirit enough and time) Eichmann in Jerusalem, the book that was published from the six New Yorker articles. Origins of Totalitariansm: (from Publishers’ Weekly): “she discusses the evolution of classes into masses, the role of propaganda in dealing with the nontotalitarian world, the use of terror, and the nature of isolation and loneliness as preconditions for total domination. (e.g., Republicans in Tennessee outlawed any further money for public transportation; US cities are rebuilt to put middle and lower middle class people out of the center and with little public transportation.) The film has provided a basis for seminars in studies of Arendt.

The real Hannah Arendt


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Breakfast in a cafe: Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent)

Moment of release (also from Le Weekend, scripted Hanif Kureishi, directed Roger Michell)

Dear friends and readers,

I hurried out today around 4:30 in the afternoon, to catch my Uber cab to take me to the one theater in my 3 state area (10 minutes away) still playing Le Weekend because I thought I’d like it and I had read reviews whose condemnation was (I could now see) based on the 3 act goal-, and plot-oriented screenplay structure, said to be the only one worth doing (with its obstacles, pinch points, and resolution). I wanted to confirm to myself this movie was being wrongly damned because it used what Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush in their book, Alternative Scriptwriting call “alternative” modes.

Well I did like it very much, it certainly does avail itself of “alternative modes” (as did two more of the four films I’ve seen recently: The Lunchbox, Gloria), and I recommend not missing it as an intelligent and absorbing depiction of a long-married English couple’s attempt to experience some enjoyment and perhaps patch up their relationship by a weekend in Paris they can ill afford. Each feels he and she has failed in life: Nick has just been fired from, and Meg is on the edge of retiring, from teaching. During the time of the movie we see their painful (and sometimes satisfying) sexual acting out: she does refuse him sex, will not submit and at one point he gets down like a dog in front of her (perhaps this is why it’s dissed); at the same time he’s the (ex-)university professor (albeit Birmingham) and she only a schoolteacher and clings to him; Morgan is his friend, not hers. We hear their sudden passionate self-revealing subtext outbursts, witness moments of release and fun too and listen to them talk and talk, not always coherently.

They encounter Moran (Jeff Goldblum), a successful American colleague of Nick’s, go a party where they meet his prestigious Parisian connections in publishing and beautiful young pregnant French wife (he’s on his second family), and empathetic (to Nick) seemingly isolated teenage NYC son from another marriage.

It is part of the movie’s meaning that Lindsay Duncan does carry off the role of an aging still beautiful woman (who may long for an affair but has not had one) and Jim Broadbent an aging still virile (if frequently frustrated and jealous) man. Its intended niche is probably the 50 to 70 set although some of what happens surely speaks home to any adult experiencing increasingly frustratingly counterproductive roles in worlds where inequalities are made more egregious by the insistent luxurious environments.

The lobby

In the hotel room

There is a sort of resolution: by the end they have confessed to one another how much they need and mean to one another, have told an exploitative son (who is in need of a place without rats for himself, wife and baby) no, he cannot come live with them again (upon which the son hangs up), gotten themselves so badly in debt for a gorgeous suite in a top Parisian hotel that their passports and luggage is being held. The friend comes to take them back to his flat, with the film dissolving into a three way dance to a juke box in yet another cafe.

Morgan at a dinner party he invited them to, just before he makes his speech on behalf of Nick’s life — and Nick makes a counter-one showing himself to be a financial and career failure

They do not (as most reviews online have suggested) end up burnt out completely — far from it. The friend, an ex-student pal of Nick’s speaks a speech which shows how meaningful much of Nick’s life as a teacher and scholar have been. Meg has at least held her own as a woman in daily control of herself, her body, her space. The aesthetic closure of the film (the final dancing) is much less important than the texture of the experiences (hotel rooms, clothes, food, their bodies) and thematic parallels and contrasts, the spoken words and gestures in the film’s story-line and character displays, the colors and lights, now garish, now washed out.

Paris at night and they remember hurts

Shots are oddly cut and juxtaposed, a hand-held camera is common; there are no crises until the very end (when their credit card is canceled), no ratcheting up at the end of “acts,” no pinch points or melodramatic reversals from which there is no return or even surprises.

Street walking

I decided to write about this movie because it defies the Syd Field prescription — as do many of my favorite films and I don’t just go to art films. I go to mainstream ones (like Woody Allen’s which often do not fit). I don’t think this movie’s premise, appercus, rich if bleak offering could be conveyed by the 3 act structure so insisted on as the only thing possible (except for the rare “art” film) in not only the widely-read work of Field but most books on screenplays which are knock-offs and variations on his schemata. And I regularly see many films which do not adhere to the three act structure trumpeted everywhere, whether character- or plot-driven.

How do these screenplay books get away with this falsification. I’m reading a more intelligent version of these just now: Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush’s Alternative Scriptwriting.

Cover for first edition

It’s simple: they do not discuss any films by women, any films made with the women in an audience in mind. All the movies they analyze at length are better versions of strong male-oriented hits Field analyzes (e.g., The Verdict where guess what the hero gets control over his life); in the rare instances they do have a film meant for women, it’s one which follows the masculine model (Thelma and Louise does). Another aspect of these choices: — no homosexual central roles in any of the chosen films for analysis. I know US films have a narrow view of heterosexual male sexuality and rarely make a homosexual person central — hardly have a GBLT person as a minor character — and it is reinforced in these formula books.

Dancyger and Rush made be said to try to offer an alternative to what is an intelligent version of Syd Field but not quite succeed. Several times now when they say here is an alternative structure, they go about to discover the Field model (action, goal oriented, finally upbeat) or when it’s not there they talk about what is substituted. I don’t think Ingmar Bergman in his (1955) marvelous magnificent Smiles of a Summer Night (which I watched the other night) was substituting features for a Fieldian model in an archetypcal mould.

I wish I could say I was amused by Dancyger and Rush’s single paragraph acknowledging both the conventional models they begin with are not the way “women know”. They cite a famous classic, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, agree it’s cyclical and goes against conventional goal-oriented conventions, but after briefly recommending a book on Women’s Ways of Knowing, they move on. They also have a brief chapter on the “multiple threaded long form TV serial scripts.” They do analyze how it differs: for example a “narrative voice” or tone and mood emerges by organizing the segments around unifying themes. They appear to find this form rich with more possibilities of intertextuality and intelligence than the three part Field structure. At the same time though they avoid all the really popular costume dramas and soap operas and instead found some popular male serial on commercial TV or looked briefly at Breaking Bad. There really appears to be no book on women’s screenplays and scripts where they differ radically from men’s. No book on the kind of screenplay used for Le Weekend.


I have about 4 books on technical filmic art matters by feminist film critics who are women; one of them Women and Film (ed Pam Cook) is quoted everywhere. My little library appears to comprise some of the central ones written! books by women which are in effect analyzing to expose the falseness of typical shibboleths and taboos (no voice over, no flashback as feminine or too intellectual): Kozloff’s Invisible Storytellers, and Turim on flashbacks and time in film, but neither identifies herself openly as feminist or about films by women (as do the books on content and women’s films like Jeanine Basinger’s How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-70). I now see they do go over films I watch and go well outside these action-adventure male films, but none of them go into screenplays, the very backbone of the film. I have a number of studies of costume drama and soap opera but again often not of the scripts or screenplays.

A lacuna. A perspective for the first part of my book (as my reader will instantly recalled its working title is A Place of Refuge: the Jane Austen film canon could be how Austen films go against these male conventions in many of their screenplasy – even though many of the Austen films are by men and several of those by women for popular cinema obey the male conventions, e.g., Juliette Towhidi’s Death comes to Pemberley out of P.D.James’s book has the restorative three act structure used for character development: the premise of the film is Elizabeth needs to prove herself mistress of Pemberley, gain everyone’s respect the way her housekeeper, Mrs Reynolds has, to somehow show Darcy that he did not make a mistake when he married her, and prove that to herself; only within this upbeat goal-oriented convention does a gothic cyclical structure emerge for the Wickham-Young-Bidwell back-story repeating the hanging of a boy in the previous generation; and a flowering out soap opera romance one for Georgiana Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Henry Alveston triangular conflicts.

Each of the characters in the book and film of The Jane Austen Book Club corresponds to characters and themes in Austen’s book

Still of the 5 films I’ve chosen for this opening part, 4 are based on books by woman, 4 have women as script writers, 1 a woman director and producer, and I know three of them, Robin Swicord’s The Jane Austen Book Club, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, and Guy Andrews’s Lost in Austen rely on the alternative feminine (if one wants to give it a gender label), narrative voice and dialogue within a multiple thread plot-design. The middle part is a study of the 7 Sense and Sensibility films as a group and the third (a triptych!) what are the assumptions film-makers make about the reading experience audiences have had with an Austen novel and expect to have analogously in watching an Austen film. What makes many readers uncomfortable when they read Austen and what have the film-makers done to compensate, erase, replace. The perspective here at the last will be biographical, out of her letters and the one biopic film based on these, Miss Austen Regrets.

I have gathered a number of screenplays and DVDs to watch and study: a number by women, e.g., Laura Jones’s The Portrait of Lady, some by intelligent sensitive males, Pinter’s A Proust Screenplay, Graham Greene’s a Third Man, four of Ingmar Bergmann’s and four of Woodie Allen’s. But I find that nothing is a complete and useful as the annotated and footnoted scripts accompanied by richly-illustrated and photographed scenario books for Julian Fellowes’s Downton Abbey (and a combined book for Vanity Fair, directed by Mira Nair) and rejoice at the coming third book of scripts for the third season, due out next year just in time for the airing of the fifth season: shooting has already

Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis) in the rain under an umbrella — making me remember Jo March and Prof Bauer’s kiss under his umbrella (Little Women)


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