Star Bright

Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR is easy to underrate because it drifts by quite easily, very lovely to look at and quite nice, making some effort to get the audience to really hear poetry, not always wholly succeeding, not quite managing something which would cross over the arthouse barrier and hit the teen market the way ROMEO + JULIET did (I’ve since come to thoroughly loathe Luhrmann’s style, but seeing that film in a cinema full of sobbing schoolies made me appreciate its brute effectiveness) — but that doubtless wasn’t Campion’s aim anyway.

I would almost compare the effect to somebody like Olivier Assayas, whose films grip with such cushioned gentleness that you’re scarcely aware of being interested at all, except that you can’t look away. And Campion also has a nice rogue element, in the form of Paul Schneider as Keats’s friend, Charles Armitage Brown. Good Ol’ Charlie Brown! Keats groupies seem to be divided between those supporting the poet’s lover, Fanny Brawne, and those who reject Fanny and regard CAB as Keats’s true friend. Campion, of course, is on the side of Fanny.

Schneider plays Brown with a Scottish accent borrowed largely from Mike Myers’ work in SHREK, for which I don’t believe there is much historical evidence. It’s not the worst attempt at a Scots accent I’ve ever heard, but it’s slightly second-hand and certainly not convincing to a native — not as downright weird as Anna Paquin’s in THE PIANO, which deserves some kind of STAR TREK-sponsored reward, but AP had a pretty good alibi in that she was Canadian, shooting in New Zealand, and aged ten. Schneider is American, but at least he was thirty-two and shooting in the UK.

However, despite his linguistic handicap, Schneider is a barrel of smiles (and you can get more of those in a barrel than you can laughs: stack them sideways to avoid breaking a smile) — while the film’s lovers are quite teenaged in their all-or-nothing romanticism, Brown is a peevish little git, emotionally about three years old, an agglomeration of lousy traits packed within a meaty, fundamentally fairly decent personage. Watch him be annoying! It’s great.

The little girl’s great too. Adorable and completely real.

The other real coup in the film is Abbie Cornish’s meltdown at the end, the rawest expression of grief Fiona and I could remember having seen, ever. In a film, anyway. Cornish and Ben Whishaw are both excellent throughout, but this moment of unphotogenic pure trauma was a very considerable feat. Now I want to see IN THE CUT to see if it’s as bad as everyone says.

38 Responses to “Star Bright”

  1. I really want to see this film. Keats is my favourite Romantic poet.

  2. david wingrove Says:

    Rest assured that IN THE CUT is not as bad as everyone says. It’s considerably worse…but still nowhere near as dreadful as HOLY SMOKE.

  3. I never liked The Piano.

  4. Gillian Armstrong’s Oscar and Lucinda was a very enjoyable film.

  5. “Doon’t Hoort theh Peeinnow!”

    Poor Anna Paquin gets quoted in my house more than is probably commonly decent, and it never fails to raise a smile. Her current American South accent in True Blood is likely no more realistic, but next to Steven Moyer she’s Meryl Streep.

  6. I for one liked THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY.

  7. I really liked the character of Brown as well. Provides the film with the necessary balance, even structure – stops it tipping over into formless slush.

    Re In the Cut, I didn’t much care for it – so po-faced and self-important, and kept reminding me – in a bad way – of Hawks’ wonderful Ball of Fire, in which academics-going-argot-hunting-among-the-lower-orders is played for laughs.

    But it was the film that made me realise how much Mark Ruffalo is a bit of all right. Fiona may be interested to hear that he is now one of my honorary husbands.

  8. I couldn’t get my eyes to see Brown when I watched the film, my gaze just kept sliding off him as if repelled by some kind of natural force. It wasn’t the accent that bounced me off, more the way he twisted his face to produce it and that fawning smile.

  9. I see that Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or at Cannes:

    I saw “Syndromes and a Century” a couple of years ago in Paris.

  10. THE PIANO has to be one of the most wildly overrated films of all time. It’s heavy-breathing Gainsborough melodrama dressed up as a profound feminist statement. Its one remotely believable moment comes when Anna Paquin looks at Holly Hunter and says “You really shouldn’t have done that, mummy!” Pretty much sums up the whole film…

    It was the inimitable Harry Kumel (DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS< MALPERTUIS) who put it best: "THE PIANO is not a film. It is a piece of political correctness. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes because she was a woman and she was mute. If she'd been black and had a wooden leg, it might have won a Nobel Prize!"

  11. My response to The Piano after being heavily breathed on to see it was more pithy, less specific: “So what? It should win an Academy Award it’s so dull”. The friends who inveigled me into seeing it never attempted to talk me into another film.

  12. Such great news about Joe winning the Palme d’Or ! He’s a terrible sweetie.

  13. It’s really remarkable he won since his isn’t the kind of film-making that generally wins at Cannes. I wonder if Tim Burton at the head of the jury had something to do with it…

  14. But I think regardless of the kind of filmmaker he is, he has the kind of reputation now that has to be taken seriously everywhere. I somehow wonder if Burton knew his work before, but if not it would have been even more of a pleasure for him to discover it.

    I’ll stick up for The Piano a little: I agree it’s an old-fashioned melodrama with PC trimmings, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a slam. It does imply certain limitations, and means the movie isn’t the kind of Great Art it’s been claimed as. But I think it’s quite a beautiful PC melodrama. With dodgy accents.

  15. What amuses me is that depite her dodgy accent she won an Academy Award. But then again they don’t give out AAs for the accuracy of accents.

  16. Discounting the accent, it’s a very good perf. Campion is good with kids.

    Holy Smoke is a complete mess, not entirely lacking in interest but lacking in sense. I don’t think Jane’s sister is a good influence.

  17. Once, at a party, I found myself being talked to by a woman who was making me feel trapped and nervous, though I couldn’t put my finger on why. I finally realised to my horror it was Anna Campion, whose film with her sister I had absolutely LOATHED. I literally had a panic attack and had to run to the toilet to throw up.

  18. david wingrove Says:

    Wasn’t that most people’s reaction to HOLY SMOKE?

  19. But have you seen her solo film, Loaded? Worst British film ever would be putting it a bit strongly, maybe. Maybe.

  20. I reviewed Loaded when it came out. Sample extracts: “a waste of time and film-stock”, “an inept, amateurish affair”, “it made me feel nostalgic for the days of Friday the 13th, when it was the fate of all such characters to die horribly instead of illustrating some obscure and pretentious point about the social dynamics of a generation.” Worst British film ever? It has an awful lot of competition, but it’s certainly a contender.

    Thank God I’d forgotten about that one when I was talking to her. Otherwise I might not have been able to make to the toilet on time.

  21. I read an interview with her where she talked about a little news story that inspired her. And this original story had EVERYTHING. It was dramatic, it had a point, it had an escalating series of crises, and all in just a few lines. But it could only take place in America, or at any rate not in Britain. And in slowly moving away from it, she lost the entire story, the point, and the first interesting event migrated from end of act 1 to, I think, end of act 3 (by which time it’s no longer interesting).

    Classical example of someone who can appreciate a good story but absolutely can’t write one. Which is most people, and there’s no shame in it, unless you want to call yourself a screenwriter.

  22. Danielle Says:

    I really enjoyed Star Bright. And, yes, that total, uncompromising meltdown at the end was one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed on film. It almost made you want to look away for her sake. It made one feel that they shouldn’t be privy to this intimate and unrestrained display, that they were intruding on something that should be completely private, as no one should suffer the added weight of baring their soul like that so publicly. Her expression of pain in that scene was so palpable that you could feel it in your gut — that is, if you’ve ever yourself suffered that kind of emotional devastation before.

    I don’t think you could “act” the scene that effectively without having “been there” at some point in your life. Not necessarily the physical death of someone, but definitely a circumstance that, though it didn’t stop your heart, made you beg the heaven’s for that exact end, just to bring an end to the unbearable pain. It would be interesting to know what she drew upon for that performance. And I hope for her sake that it was a “one take” deal! Sort of feels like it was.

  23. david wingrove Says:

    Glad to see STAR BRIGHT is getting some attention. As a confirmed non-fan of Jane Campion (see my earlier comments) I was more than agreeably surprised – if only because Ben Wishaw as Keats was the sexiest Romantic poet since Richard Chamberlain as Lord Byron in LADY CAROLINE LAMB.

    Also like PORTRAIT OF A LADY, a creditable stab at a very difficult novel, with an outstanding performance by Barbara Hershey as Madame Merle. I even have warm memories (from way back) of AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE. But I’d still think twice before I go and see a Jane Campion film.

  24. Portrait of a Lady is very nice — I especially love the zany traveling montage. And her shorts, especially Passionless Moments, are classics.

    I bet they did more than one take of that incredible collapse by Cornish. It may be that she reached that point in stages. Exhausting, of course, but also thrilling for an actor, once it’s over, to have reached that kind of extreme.

  25. Judy Dean Says:

    Here’s one feminist who was dumbstruck by the sheer awfulness of Holy Smoke, and who remains profoundly agnostic about the merits of The Piano. I attended a free screening of the former at our local arts cinema (when desparate measures were obviously being taken to find it an audience), and still felt like asking for my money back.

    So I’ve avoided Bright Star even though people whose judgement I trust seem to like it.

  26. Judy – I sympathise. I thought The Piano was overrated, and Holy Smoke was awful. But Bright Star is something else, and definitely worth seeing. Her best film by a long way.

  27. Bright Star is a beautiful film (cinematography by Greig Fraser) and it is extremely frustrating that Sony decided NOT to release it on Blu-ray in the U.S. (And apparently 20th-Century Fox which has the U.K. home video rights also elected not to release it on Blu-ray.)

  28. I presume that’s just a cold financial decision. In order to make money on it they’ll probably release it in the end, if BluRay replaces DVD. It’s an odd decision though, since presumably a high resolution master will have been made for HD TV.

  29. I’ll have to try and see Bright Star. I like Keats’s work, especially his letters.
    “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination”.

  30. Glad to hear BluRay hasn’t totally taken over yet. Am I the only film buff who resents this constant ‘upgrading’ of formats? Basically, it seems like a way for companies to sell the same films over and over again…ad nauseam, with optionla extras.

    Of course, DVD has many advantages over VHS, but do we really need an all-new format after barely a decade? Does this not have the air of a massive con-job?! If companies are hesitant about releasing films to BluRay, that suggests consumers are finally learning the word NO.

  31. As part of the accelerating pace of technological innovation, expect further upgrades to arrive even faster in future.

    Of course it’s driven by the market’s desire to sell you the same film three times, but the market has to provide a genuine appreciable improvement each time otherwise you’ll reject the invitation. BluRay is a complicated case because the films can look worse, either because existing flaws are exacerbated, or because the makers get carried away tampering with the look of the film. Mind you, this was already true of DVD to some extent.

  32. —————————————————–
    Glad to hear BluRay hasn’t totally taken over yet. Am I the only film buff who resents this constant ‘upgrading’ of formats? Basically, it seems like a way for companies to sell the same films over and over again…ad nauseam, with optional extras.
    I couldn’t agree more.

    I watched Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” the other day. Excellent documentary.

  33. I don’t expect to find Blu-Ray to have any significant advantages except for recent films. Meaning that I won’t be getting one just yet. Besides, I don’t think it likely that the next “upgrade” is going to be visually significant, but instead it will be a transfer method (get you to rent the same film over and over, exactly what the sellers wanted all along).

  34. We’d probably all need big new TVs before anything bigger than BluRay would be any help, I guess.

    My only real objection to the format changes is it means some titles don’t get released which might if the situation were more stable. Just watched Play It as It Lays, and feel that a Frank Perry box set would be a marvelous thing. But it doesn’t seem very likely.

  35. There’s only a few places where a big-screen TV even makes sense. Not in my house. I don’t like seeing a big screen where it takes over a room, with speakers littered all over. A McMansion can handle it, even dedicate a room for it, but I’ve seen huge TVs even in small apartments, where they look damn silly.

  36. Can’t help thinking back to the days when my parents considered it ‘bad form’ to have a colour TV set.

    As for cable, that was truly beyond the pale!

  37. “Bad form” is a fantastic phrase to apply to home cinema! BluRay is certainly bad form.

    If we had a video projector the only place we could aim it would be the window, so I guess we’d need a blind that doubled as a screen.

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