Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Endings Blog-A-Thon: The Truman Show

This post is part of the cute little J.D.'s blog-a-thon, The Endings. Head over there to read other fantastic posts from across the blogosphere! [There are, obviously, spoilers from here on.]

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), unknowingly the star of a massive, continuous television show, is finally making his escape, and, having weathered the rainstorm created by the controllers above, emerges into the light on his battered boat, and the head of it suddenly crashes through what still appears to be distant sky.

This ending obviously plays up the God allegory that is apparent throughout the movie: director Peter Weir emphasizes Christof's (Ed Harris) omnipotent presence by cutting halfway through a couple of his lines here to show how they echo, facelessly over the entirity of Truman's world, accompanied by a shot of the glistening clouds in the perfectly blue sky. So, this ending, ultimately, is about the throwing off blind faith, as Truman, having questioned his acceptance of this world throughout the film, finally decides to use his rebellious thoughts and act. As he says himself, "You never had a camera inside my head!" Weir's not afraid to be ironic, here, though: as she watches Truman on the edge of freedom, his former love interest (and 'Free Truman!' leader) Sylvia (Natascha McElhone) is basically praying to her television, and even says "Please God!" (left) as she wills Truman to step out the door. Perhaps Christof is right when he says that "there's no more truth out there"- there is still blind, unconscious belief in someone who can manipulate our lives.

The film is also, naturally, about television itself. Throughout the film we visit various international viewers of The Truman Show, who are all on tenterhooks as Truman makes his escape, and all celebrate as he leaves. But do the workers at the Truman Bar not realise that this is their livelihood walking out of the door? Do the two old women clutching a Truman cushion not realise that this might be their last connection to any kind of outside world? At least the carpark workers get it right: "Where's the TV guide?" Television, too, is clearly telegraphed as a kind of religion: people sit blindly before it, believing that what they see is true human existance. What Truman realises is that it is not. How will he survive, is an unanswered question, when all he knows is a world that has been shaped to facilitate soap-opera dynamics?

All this is managed to perfection, as Weir creates an ending that asks questions rather than answers them, gives a traditional happy ending while also leaving worrying doubts hanging around. Do I well-up as the music swells over Truman's tearful, angry banging against the wall (right)? Of course. Do I cheer as he makes his bow- "And in case I don't see ya..."- and McElhone ecstatically runs to meet him? Yes. But do I also wonder what happens once Truman leaves the building, and whether he and Sylvia live happily ever after? YES. (But it's also something I never want to know, so don't go making belated sequels.) This is a film that I have always loved, always admired, always championed. And this contradictory, thrilling, poignant ending is just a part of why.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Poetry of War

Contains spoilers.

Should a film try to approximate other arts? Watching The Edge of Love sent me momentarily back to 2005 and the poetry-on-film double-whammy of Sally Potter's Yes- which was literally told via poetry- and Terrence Malick's marvellous The New World, which I said at the time was the closest thing to visual poetry film had ever come. The question of poetry comes up in relation to The Edge of Love because it ostensibly centres around a poet, Dylan Thomas (here played by Matthew Rhys). Director John Maybury doesn't seem to be- unlike Malick and Potter- making this story into any kind of poem, and indeed, the use of Thomas' words is surprisingly sparing and generally aptly-placed. But in the way that poetry- at least in the vein of Thomas' work- uses words and imagery to mean something other, so does Maybury approach the story of Thomas' entwinement with two women: his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and his childhood sweetheart Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley).

What I mean is that this is a story about images and the falsity they create and present. The Edge of Love has four central characters- our additional one being Vera's eventual husband William Killick (Cillian Murphy)- and it ultimately proves not to have a romanticized view of any of them. But their descent into disarray and unhappiness occurs because, in the midst of the panicked, suspended existence that WWII brought, these are four people that don't really know each other at all. The film's first half is full of laughter between bombings, suggestive trios on a bed and cigarettes passed between the women wearing gauzy bohemian clothing. But all this jollity is emblematic of people who are, by necessity of the situation surrounding them (the war), ignoring interpersonal problems. Thomas kind of gets sidelined here because the picture's true 'love story' is actually between the two women- the two characters who, perhaps naturally, understand each other the best, and indeed, it is the breakdown in their trust that spins the two couples away from each other in the end.

The question of who is centralized in this story is both fascinating and perhaps completely irrelevant. Miller and Knightley dominate both press coverage and the posters; but in terms of the thematizing of imagery and poetry, it is perhaps Dylan and Vera's picture. His poetry, when it appears, dominates the soundtrack by blocking out diegetic sound; but this is similar to the repeated occurrences of Vera's underground singing performances, where Maybury focuses his camera close up and square on her, the cinematography misty and gauzy like nowhere else, making her (rather vocally pedestrian) performance central to our understanding of Vera, where otherwise it would have been a momentary distraction. Vera is, if you want, our heroine, and her singing is the way she has forged an identity, which is then squashed by William's insistence on their rushed marriage, and the ultimate requirement of motherhood. The rather damp conclusion is staunchly melancholic- Vera says goodbye to Caitlin across the bonnet of a car, implicitly including Dylan in her goodbye because the Thomas's were her only way to retain her freedom.

All this is to say nothing of how well The Edge of Love achieves these impactful themes. At one point, the thought flashed through my mind that this was kind of like a poem, because the story seemed so loose and the images so translucent that it was not so much a linear narrative as a circulating, elliptical mystery. This is, perhaps, a fitting description for most of the first half, but the move to Wales loses both the visual beauty and the elusivity of the narrative, and becomes more drab and wearing as the characters slip into unhappiness. Knightley, too, gets lost in the second half, her mixture of Vera as pointed yet vulnerable falling into a glut of glum facial expressions and a ripe Welsh accent that basically shouts 'fake' at the top of its voice. Rhys, though, retains the charming arrogance that makes Thomas so hatefully fascinating, and best of all, Miller continues to justify my championing of her by making Caitlin's wilful, acidic personality become slowly eroded by confused, hypocritical misunderstanding. To say little of Maybury- whose direction becomes gradually more unfocused- is perhaps apt, because this is an actor's film that gives its performers the task of unlocking characters trapped behind romanticized or otherwise false images of each other, kept at the edge of love by lack of communication. B-

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stop steering, and start driving.

Speed Racer is really too amazing to describe in words, so, instead, I present my review in pictoral form. (I cheated a little.)

I'll leave you all to figure all that out. (Except that Speed Racer was probably the best summer blockbuster and I'm angry that it all went so awfully wrong.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Boxes ticked by Marjorie Morningstar

Film initially appears to be about girl but is actually about man.

Virginal, beautiful ("The Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen")teenage girl dreams of being on the stage.

Teenage girl is held back by her family's prudish/religious morals and their own ideas for her future.

Girl is made to look virginal even when her family disapproves because she's not as bad as her SLUT of a friend.

Girl falls in love with handsome but caddish older man.

Man changes his usual character and actually falls in love with her ("You're not like the others.").

Man takes girl away from her usual sphere of activity.

Girl gives up dreams for man.

Man's unsuitability is highlighted by more suitable but boring/unattractive male's presence.

Someone's death causes friction within couple.

Man and girl are made to look better because they are in love despite ethnic/religious/class differences, highlighted by use of either family's disapproval.

Girl appears at least once looking like a Scottish Widow (except miserable).

Girl renounces man only to remain passionately in love and return to him almost immediately.

Man conceals his whereabouts to protect girl.

Man fails in his quest for success because he's a Great Artist.

Man fails in his quest for success because he's a drunk.

But Marjorie Morningstar lets the side down by failing to check off the following.

Girl achieves enormous, acclaimed success while man fails.

Couple live happily ever after.

And because it rebels, even if just a little bit, I'll let if off with a C.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Victim's 20 Favourite Actresses of All-Time

I've been tagged! This meme originates from the almighty Nathaniel at The Film Experience, and it is one tailor-made for he and all his actressexual friends: your 20 favourite actresses of all-time. No explanations, no rankings: just pictures. And, as I can't resist the multitude of diva-ish goodness, here are my twenty (in alpha order).

(click to enjoy the enormity)

Joan / Jean / Ingrid / Toni / Olivia
Marlene / Mia / Audrey / Katharine / Holly
Laura / Marilyn / Julianne / Jeanne / Miranda
Rosalind / Barbara / Kathleen / Sigourney / Kate

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Give Me Moore

Ho ho ho and all that jazz, what a brilliant punster I am.

But seriously. It's Julianne Moore's birthday today (48?! Wow.) and I simply can't let this day pass without comment. The woman's been on my mind a lot lately. What with the Blindness trailer forcing us all to think that the film we've come to see is actually starting just because the trailer MUST be seen in all its digital glory, and those Todd Haynes' films that have been haunting my dreams because I just wrote an essay on them (it's over now). I even had a dream last night- this is now very vague- that she was in the credits of Titanic (oh what crazy dreams I have), and the dream-me didn't seem to question the fact of her being in it. Oh, and there's also me finally seeing Savage Grace (um, whoa) thanks to my university course- good taste prevails! (Unfortunately "we"- that is, not me- chose Pan's Labyrinth to do next term, so that didn't last long.) Does Moore's one-two-three hit of I'm Not There., Savage Grace and Blindness mean she's finally back to being the glorious independent muse of the mid-'90s? You don't need money, Julianne. Our respect is more important.

Oh, how I ramble. Anyway. In the vein of My New Plaid Pants, I'm going to celebrate Julianne's special day by informing you of my five favourite performances from the red-headed goddess. (And no, it's not too soon to include Savage Grace. Oops, spoiled that one.)

Amber Waves in Boogie Nights
"That is a giant cock."

Barbara Baekeland in Savage Grace"Will you still love me when my hair is grey and my tits are sagging?"

Carol White in {Safe}"Where am I?"

Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven"We ladies are never what we appear, and every girl has her secrets."

Laura Brown in The Hours"We're baking the cake to show him that we love him."

Those are seriously some brilliant performances. In many cases the best of their respective years. (I wish I'd seen Vanya on 42nd Street, but, alas, it is not to be.) Isn't it just marvellous how she moved from supporting player in rubbish like Body of Evidence (shudder) to being one of the best actresses of her generation- and of all time? She is truly marvellous. And beautiful. I could stare at her freckles all day.