Archive for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Sunday Intertitle: Quite Wrong

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2021 by dcairns

I always misremember the start of BLITHE SPIRIT — I always imagine that the opening preamble is delivered as title cards, or as VO. In fact, it’s both. Which is a great idea. The title cards are replied to by the author himself, Noel Coward, who had one of the most distinctive voices in Britain. It’s like Cocteau’s handwriting, perfect for introducing one of his works.

“We are quite, QUITE wrong.”

Coward’s father was an unsuccessful piano salesman, so his fantastic posh voice, coming from somewhere behind his nose, was a concoction of his own.

I must find an excuse to introduce my students to him. The younger generation don’t generally know about him, and I’m pretty sure my nine Chinese students won’t have come across the works, let alone the persona.

Impressive that CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? managed to build a plot around his correspondence without having to shoehorn in unnecessary explanations of who he was, exactly. The Americans are good at smooth exposition, a lost art in Britain.

I wonder how Brits processed the Coward persona back in his day. He seems “obviously gay,” and I think this was probably recognized, but we just didn’t speak of it. You could be flamboyant yet discreet and it was sort of accepted. The acceptance was conditional on nobody being forced to acknowledge what they all knew. You can’t quite call it “tolerance.” Well, maybe tolerance of the unstated. As Wilde discovered to his cost — though he already knew it, too — if the love that dared not speak its name were forced to account for itself, the lover quickly found himself beyond the pale. “The don’t ask don’t tell” brigade demand to live in a state of low-key cognitive dissonance, and if their compartments break down they get very irate.

Noel’s skill at navigating these murky depths is evident in BLITHE SPIRIT’s script, which constantly escapes truly facing the scandalous implications of its concept. If there’s an afterlife, then widowers remarrying becomes bigamy. Sure, this movie is a fantasy, but pick at it and Heaven comes crashing down under the weight of its own contradictions. Or at any rate, we’re forced to revise our expectations of it to include the menage-a-trois and more. Or, I suppose, taking into account the “till death us do part” escape clause, we assume all vows are null up there, and a twice-widowed spouse could choose which, if any, of their former partners to remarry. Design for dying.

Interesting to see David Lean when he apparently had no interest in landscape. Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford, sublime) stands at the window and rhapsodises about the evening, but our director isn’t tempted to provide even a single illustrative cutaway.

Neighbourhood Watch

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on August 31, 2021 by dcairns

Hard to overstate how terrific CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? is but the same director’s A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD might be even better, even though comparisons are odious (even more odious than other things).

Marielle Heller is a new favourite. And it says something that ABDITN, in which Tom Hanks plays Fred Mister Rogers and Matthew Rhys plays a fictional-but-inspired-by-real-life journalist assigned to interview him, is arguably much more flawed than CYEFM?, but still manages to be even more moving and effective, at least for this audience of two.

We didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers in the UK, although I’ve seen snippets. This might actually be an advantage, because the question of whether Tom Hanks sufficiently resembles Fred Rogers in look and manner wasn’t really an issue for us. I could see how it might be distracting. And I can see how Hanks’ physiognomy dictates certain effects when he smiles protractedly (he can seem slightly eerie) which distinguish him from his model (a little otherworldly but never spooky). Never mind that.

I think MAYBE the use of models and puppets could be integrated more ambitiously into the full-scale action. It’s always fun and charming, though. Apparently the director and cinematographer had rules about everything, but these are not obvious to the audience, and the editor sort of ignored them. But I did sometimes puzzle over why one exterior longshot was a live action full-sized location, and another was a miniature with obvious toy figures and vehicles. Again, it doesn’t really matter, I just think you could have even more fun with this stuff, delightful as it is.

And there’s one noisy sequence — a Cat Stevens song comes in and I think “Oh good, I like Yusuf Islam” and then a bunch of Mr. Rogers clips crash into it and the lyrics and the dialogue are on top of one another, and while a build-up of Babel could be quite effective, instead it’s just two sets of words all the time, shouting over each other, and this was weirdly unsure-footed in a film that’s otherwise so effective.

Those are the quibbles. I’m not even that bothered about whether Matthew Rhys’ particular family troubles, which Mr. Rogers helps sort out, are compelling or convincing. I can treat them as a placeholder and still find the film enormously satisfying because the scenes between Hanks and Rhys are what it’s all about and they work like gangbusters. Although Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) is supposed to be interviewing Rogers (Hanks), Mr. Rogers insists on reciprocity. He’s like Hannibal Lector in that way. Only in that way — but here the faint suspicion of some interior darkness is not a disadvantage. Although it might be important to keep in mind that this suspicion might be ALL OUR IMAGINING — based on the ways we read faces, and the way faces are sometimes shaped in ways that mislead us. Rhys’ character is, initially, trying to figure out if Fred Rogers is for real. And Hanks doesn’t tip his hand one way or the other.

They put one of the most incredible scenes on YouTube:

In this scene we also get to see the real Mrs. Rogers. But isn’t Rhys excellent? We enjoyed him a lot in the Perry Mason reboot, but here he’s wonderful, really a master of micro-acting.

A scene Heller and DP Jody Lee Lipes talk about in they’re commentary (yes, it’s worth buying the disc, but you could rent the film on YouTube right now if you desire it) is the first in-person meeting, where Vogel/Rhys tells Rogers/Hanks that he’s having trouble knowing if he’s talking to a person or a character. “There’s you, and there’s Mr. Rogers.”

Heller does something magnificent. She crosses the line. The scene has been elegantly filmed from BEHIND the two characters, with over-the-shoulder shots favouring each face, and for Fred’s reaction (or is it Mr. Rogers’?) she jumps to a shot taken from the FRONT.

It’s not confusing at all, since this is a static two-hander at present, and all the shots show at least part of both characters, so we’re perfectly orientated. But the line-cross kind of turns Rogers (whose name, like Hanks’, is appropriately plural) into two people. YOU and MR. ROGERS. Heller says the scene gets a huge laugh from audiences, without them mostly knowing that it’s the line-crossing that makes them respond that way. Which is fascinating. And super-nerdy. It’s going straight into my first-year teaching where I talk about the eyeline.

So good they named it nice

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2021 by dcairns

Watched Pretend It’s a City on Netflix and CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? on Prime, and so I have nothing to show for it. That’s one problem with streaming services, if you’re (a) acquisitive and (b) like to frame-grab.

Netflix’s algorithm is so stupid that it never suggested the Scorsese-Leibovitz documentary series, despite my watching THE IRISHMAN, so I didn’t know about it until I read a letter in Sight & Sound complaining about the indifferent review it had received. I don’t believe S&S should bother printing letters in which readers complain about reviews they disagree with, because that’s dumb, but I was glad to learn of the series’ existence.

Unlike Scorsese-stamped things like the Bob Dylan series and the George Harrison series, this is (a) really interesting and (b) imbued with Scorsese’s personality, mainly because he’s in it, but also because the film clips and music are clearly more his sensibility than Fran Leibowitz’s. So you get a perfect blendship. One of the great pleasures of the show, which is FL’s observations on New York and life therein is the sight and sound of Scorsese hunched up with helpless mirth, almost constantly. A joyous thing.

Fiona had been keen to see CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? since it came out but we hadn’t gotten to it. It’s really very good. Outstanding central perfs (Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant carry pretty well every scene) and a lovely sense of the city. The soundtrack is beautifully chosen — like the Scorsese series, it’s eclectic (Scorsese casts his net wider than usual) but everything seems to marry together and forge a style.

CYEFM? should also be studied for the way it gets the viewer on the side of an “unsympathetic” character (actually she’s extremely sympathetic) and how it portrays someone in a miserable situation (capitalism, basically) without making the audience despondent, inclined to withdraw. Of course the rules of drama favour characters who find some means to struggle against what’s oppressing them, and therefore favour those who resort to crime… I was cheering the larcenous lead on all the way, saying to Fiona, “No, this is a good plan…”

So, now I like Marielle Heller not just as an actor but as a director, and the good news is I have a charity-shop-purchased DVD of A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD all ready to run.