Sep 19, 2009

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars

Jane Campion's Bright Star arrived just in time for me and my wife's first wedding anniversary. How could I resist taking Kate to see a film offering "Hot English Chastity", according to the New York Times? The only question was when.
"Its on at 7.50."
"Its Friday night. We should get there early. 7.20."
"Its about Keats."
"7.30 then."
In fact the cinema was well packed, for a movie about a long-dead English poet. The film was beautiful and passionate and sad. What more could you ask from a movie about a poet? It may even be the best movie about a poet I have ever seen although I can't remember ever having see a good one. Tom and Viv was diabolical. Three weeks after Dead Poet's Society I was back on solids but only just. Even walk on parts for poetry give me the willies. Otherwise good movies, like the Bridges of Madison county, are marred by a single incursion into verse ("great stuff Yeats"). But somehow Campion brings it off. There are no cries of "very witty Wilde!", such as usually mar biopics. Her leads, Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish are both terrific. Cornish looks like a Vermeer, and acts the way Kate Winslet used to, right down to her toes; Campion films that beautiful dome of a forehead like it was the Cistine Chapel. Whishaw is a tender, watchful ink-stained boy, with just the right air of specialness — the kind of kid people make exceptions for. For every scene Campion finds some playful, teasing bit of business for her actors that brings them to life while staying in period. I was about to say "totally in period" but what do I know. It's not a question of accuracy versus anachronism: all is guesswork, really. The question is whether your guesswork has color in its cheeks and I haven't seen a filmmaker come up with a historical style that works so fluidly since Michael Mann's The Last of The Mohicans. There's geese and mud, bonnets and bees and summer light that looks very different from the winter light. Even the poetry sounded good, which really is something, the scene where Keats and Fanny speak lines of verse to one another ruined only by a long and protracted rumble from my stomach, which brought on a fit of church giggles from Kate. It wasn't entirely my fault: the movie is pin-drop quiet. I feel like I held my breath for two hours. The stars were in alignment on this one.

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