Oops, we discussed this one but I never wrote anything down about it. Australian period lit adaptation with some lively bits. I completely cannot recognize the Judy Davis of Barton Fink and Naked Lunch (which I just rewatched) in this Judy Davis… both Judys are very good, they just might as well be different people. We very much recognized Sam Neill as her suitor in the latter half, but it’s the odd movie about a woman who chooses to stay unmarried so she can have a career. Along the way we get one of the most well-staged pillow fights since Zero for Conduct.

We held a miniature Jane Austen film festival at home the week all the movie theaters closed and first-release films started coming out to (expensively) stream… tried one of those, plus three standard-def classics.


Persuasion (1995, Roger Michell)

Better of the two Persuasions. Anne is an old maid (by classic brit-lit standards) who rarely smiles. When her dad and snob-ass sisters retreat to Bath, Anne encounters old flame Captain Wentworth, whom she turned down before he became rich and acclaimed. She follows like a mouse while he’s aggressively courted by a neighboring family with ridiculous daughters, then when a “rich” (not at all rich) cousin shows interest in Anne, Wentworth reveals that he still likes her, and all is settled nicely.

Amanda Root followed up with a Jane Eyre, Ciaran Hinds with Cold Lazarus. The fluffy-haired, not-rich-after-all cousin is Samuel West (Dr. Frankenstein in that jacked-up Van Helsing). Complainy sister Mary is Sophie Thompson of the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma. Susan Fleetwood, Anne’s substitute mom who wears great hats, died of cancer the year this came out.


Emma (2020, Autumn de Wilde)

Radiant looking movie, with high color and production design, and I do love Anya Taylor-Joy and Bill Nighy. Unfortunately the editing was all over the place. It turns out we watched the two Emmas in the wrong order – you’re supposed to watch the one that makes dramatic sense first, then the one that’s super stylized. Persuasion followed Anne, who was persuaded to reject her love, and now we follow Emma, who persuades her friend Mia Goth (of Suspiria Remake) to reject her farmer suitor. Both girls end up with their rightful guys in the end.


Persuasion (2007, Adrian Shergold)

Oh wow, somebody got a digital HD camera and is very excited about it. Sally Hawkins is a more naturally emotive Anne, at least, and we enjoyed that Giles plays her dad. Shergold had previously filmed Dennis Potter’s Christabel and a Timothy Spall hangman movie.


Emma (1996, Douglas McGrath)

A proper version of the story, and highly enjoyable, with the title character as played by Gwyneth Paltrow seeming more foolish and less cruel. Toni Collette played the Mia Goth role, Alan Cumming as the minister who Emma tries to hook up with Toni, and Jeremy Northam as the man both Harriet and Emma fall for, before Harriet goes back to her farmer. Ewan McGregor is briefly a love interest before it’s revealed that he’s secretly marrying Emma’s rival. The music beat Randy Newman and Hans Zimmer at the oscars, and The English Patient beat this for costumes. Confusingly, between the two versions of Persuasion, Paltrow and Northam and Jennifer Ehle starred in a non-Austen movie called Possession.

I wondered about the nursing home intro, but in the end felt it was the best framing device of an older woman recalling dead friends since Atonement. Bulk of the movie follows serious-minded, self-assured Marcus as he learns (and ultimately fails) to navigate a college full of distracting human elements – a patronizing dean, a sexy rich girl, noisy roommates and people who want atheist Marcus to define himself as Jewish (and at the same time want him to attend the school-mandated chapel services). After he’s caught buying his way out of church (he’s not wealthy, but felt that getting out of church was morally necessary), he’s expelled, sent to the Korean war, killed.

Marcus’s girl Olivia is Sarah Gadon, Gugu’s white sister-cousin in Belle, Pattinson’s wife in Cosmopolis, the sick celebrity in Antiviral – I should be able to recognize her by now. If I watch this again, need to pay more attention to her character, now that I know more about her emotional instability and tragic end. Marcus is Logan Lerman, who starred as loner high school freshman in Perks of Being a Wallflower, now a loner college freshman. He’s magnetic, and his clash with the equally serious and self-assured dean (Tracy Letts, writer of Bug, also in Homeland and Christine), mostly represented in one extra-long, tense meeting scene, was reason enough to keep watching, though I didn’t get much sense of narrative progression or the movie’s point until it all comes flooding in at the end.

M. D’Angelo:

A chilling illustration of nails that stick out being hammered down, lent additional blunt force by the strangeness of (fairly recent) history … Also rare and exciting to see intellectual ferocity onscreen, even if it’s the annoyingly self-righteous undergrad variety.

I didn’t know who James Baldwin (writer/activist) was, nor one of the friends/subjects of his unfinished manuscript, Medgar Evers (killed for working for the NAACP to integrate schools). So I watched this half as history lesson and half as experience, taking in Baldwin’s great language and experiences, the director’s intercutting of film history (Baldwin commented regularly on the movies), and Sam Jackson’s narration in a low, very un-Sam-Jackson voice.

M. Sicinski:

Baldwin’s prose focuses on his memories and observations of these three pivotal men, but also veers into other related questions: his sense of duty to leave his expat life in Paris behind and return to America at the height of the Civil Rights movement; the historical legacy of slavery and the culture of the South; the psychopathology of the white man; and his becoming reconciled with his position as a “witness,” a man of letters in the midst of a historical epoch too often cemented by bloodshed.

Sicinski comments positively on Peck’s filmmaking – M. D’Angelo counters:

The conceit of structuring this film around Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript requires Peck to find images to accompany the words … and he does a thuddingly literal job … Most of this just isn’t a movie — it’s a visual audiobook.

Second of the oscar-nominated documentaries we’ve seen at the Ross this month. We’re almost through the O.J. doc, about to watch Life Animated, and we’ll see if we can get to 13th before True/False.

May 2020 EDIT: Still haven’t seen 13th, but we rewatched this during a heavy month in America.

Ruiz made a series of films in the mid-1980’s involving sailors, pirates, children, islands, treasure and magic. There’s an explicit Treasure Island reference in Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), and in between the similarly-themed City of Pirates and Manuel on the Island of Wonders, he made the movie Treasure Island, and wrote a book called In Search of Treasure Island.

As I learned from The Golden Boat, I’m not a big fan of Ruiz’s English-language films (actually Klimt was good). Treasure Island is full of fascinating work, especially when the plot comes together at the end, but while watching all I can think of are the language problems. Most actors (not Martin Landau or Anna Karina) are badly dubbed. Dialogue is imperfectly translated and conveyed, and performance styles are inconsisent – I tried to overlook it, but it’s too clunky to ignore. Little things make me think Ruiz wasn’t at the dubbing sessions (paella is pronounced “pai-YELL-ah”). And it’s cool that Jean-Pierre Leaud was cast, but distracting to hear him speak with no trace of French accent.

Ruiz’s Treasure Island isn’t an adaptation of the novel… not exactly, anyway. After a while it starts to follow the story when young Jonathan’s father dies while his seaside home is being visited by Landau (who asks to be called The Captain), then after Jonathan runs off he’s picked up by a sailing shoe salesman named Silver.

Some mutinies and mercenaries later, it comes out that this is an annual reenactment LARP, performed with a different Jim Hawkins every time. Captain Silver is the professor who invented the game, an “expert on game theory” (maybe not coincidence: when Silver gave his real name I wrote it as Omar Amiralay, which is also the name of a Syrian filmmaker who was active at the time). Jim/Jonathan sees through the ruse when he realizes during a gun battle that the fighting is fake, so he goes off alone, commandeering the ship with only Israel Hands (who soon dies) aboard. I start to lose track of the characters as the roles shift (The Dead Father returns as the ship’s doctor, for instance) – shades of the re-enactment identity-blending of The Territory. Even the narrator, who we assumed all along to be Jim/Jonathan, is revealed to be another character, who kills J/J offscreen at the end.

Jim and Helen:

Martin Landau, who dies, comes back to life, declares Jim is his son during an earthquake, and jumps out a window:

It’s fun to analyze the movie afterwards, to go through the screen shots and read reviews – maybe a less painfully-dubbed version exists in another country and will come out someday (argh, a restored print played Paris last month – the poor dubbing remains, and the movie has lost 15 minutes). Anna Karina is very good as J/J’s mom, anyway.

Karina and Helen:

Don’t think I got all the characters straight. Multiple possible captains – besides Landau we’ve got Silver (Vic Tayback of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), the French Captain (Yves Afonso, who appeared with Karina and Leaud in Made In USA), and Mr. Mendoza (Pedro Armendariz Jr. of Walker in a Yankees hat). Mendoza is obsessed with a different ship-mutiny novel, Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. There’s the doctor / Dead Father (Lou Castel, Bruno Ganz’s driver in The American Friend) and J/J’s aunt Helen (singer Sheila). Crabb (Michel Ferber) imprisons J/J, Ben Gunn shoots diamonds from a slingshot. That leaves Israel Hands (Jean-Francois Stévenin, the immortal Max in Le Pont du Nord), Squire Tim Moretti (Jeffrey Kime, the doomed Jim in The Territory), and back on shore before the adventure began, Leaud as a writer (and possibly the narrator), and the creepy Blind Man (Charles Schmitt). Jim/Jonathan himself is regular Ruiz star Melvil Poupaud, returning from City of Pirates.

The island scenes (second half of the movie) were filmed on the coast of Senegal, where Katy is now.

Back on land, The Blind Man with Karina:

Played in Cannes in 1991 alongside Yumeji, Boyz n the Hood, Hearts of Darkness, and three African films. Rumor is that Chris Marker assisted Ruiz in some way. A four-hour cut was planned, but I don’t think it was completed (nobody claims to have seen it).

Ruiz in conversation with J. Rosenbaum:

Treasure Island was a complete misunderstanding, because the money was there at the beginning and then suddenly the money was gone [not there anymore]. So I had to reduce the budget, and do it like a kind of B movie. This movie starts very strangely, with a good atmosphere, and then suddenly we are in a typical TV serial, because it was shot in continuity, so you can see the point at which the money starts to vanish.

From Michael Goddard’s book:

As [the film’s introductory] television transmission is interrupted by a power cut, we are informed that its tale of a coup d’etat, diamonds and treachery continued in Jim’s head. In other words while we may be aware that stories originate elsewhere and come to us from the outside it is we who continue them as they take possession of our imaginations; so before even introducing any of the elements of Treasure Island, the key theme of possession by prior stories that make up not only Ruiz’s film but in a more implicit way the original novel itself is already established.

As in the cartographic game in Zig-Zag this is a game played in real spaces with real lives and deaths but it is no less fictional than the novel on which it is based, while the latter is increasingly read not as fiction but rather as an instruction manual for how to operate successfully in the Treasure Island game.

JW McCormack:

For one thing, the pirates don’t look much like pirates, more like guerillas, revolutionaries. Jim’s friends the Doctor and the Squire appear without much fanfare. Other characters, like participatory academic Aunt Helen, are without an analogue in the book. The Oedipal strains of the Disney version have gone haywire, as everybody claims to be Jim’s father and nobody seems terribly concerned with treasure. But as Jim says — or, rather, as Jean-Pierre Léaud says, since we learn three quarters of the way through that he has literally run away with the script and has been telling the story from Jim’s point of view — “I didn’t see why we couldn’t just carry on without the treasure. It was an adventure anyway.”

But alas, no reconstruction is perfect: in perhaps the funniest joke in the movie, Silver, disappointed that the action has fallen so far from the book, echoes the sentiments of any reader who has ever been outraged by a movie straying from its source: he fires a machine gun into the air while shouting “It was not written! It was not written!”

Ruiz interviewed by D. Ehrenstein:

When I reread Treasure Island recently I discovered that the structure was stronger than the material. The way Stevenson tells the story is so remarkable that it could be about anything – pirates, kidnappers, whatever. We are surrounded by stories that are like houses we can enter. We play amidst these stories, sometimes being involved in two or three of them at once. In one you’re the hero, in another you’re a secondary character. These scripts are the society in which we live – if you want to be a sociologist. It’s a notion I feel more and more. This has been expressed in many ways – by Stevenson, by Orson Welles, Borges, and many others – this notion that certain stories have the structure of dreams. For those stories it’s as if the cinema had already been invented.

“It may be over between us, but it’s not finished.”

I find it immediately annoying that the first two listed stars of WOMEN in Love are Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. Women can’t even star in their own movie! But I stopped being annoyed almost immediately. I think this was Ken’s third theatrical feature after Billion Dollar Brain and the little-known French Dressing, and it’s intoxicating, successfully applying all his (and his actors’) stylistic excess to a period novel by D.H. Lawrence about doomed rich people.

Jackson taunts some cows:

Linden and Bates:

The doom begins early on, as all our main characters meet at the wedding of two vibrant young lovers who drown together soon afterwards. I think Oliver Reed (star of The Devils) was the bride’s brother, and Bates (The Go-Between, Dr. M) is his friend.

Reed:

Also at the party: two sisters with great names (Gudrun and Ursula) and extravagant, attention-grabbing host Eleanor Bron (four years after Help!), who is dating major romantic Bates until he takes up with Ursula (Jennie Linden, lately of a Dr. Who movie), while his more intense, coal-mine manager buddy Reed goes with red-haired Gudrun (Glenda Jackson of Hopscotch, later an anti-Thatcher member of parliament who ran twice for mayor of London)

Thinking ’bout Eleanor Bron:

Bates and Ursula get married and take a ski trip with the others. Reed is jealous and old-fashioned, disapproves of Gudrun’s friendship with a local sculptor, finally nearly strangles her then tromps off into the snow to freeze to death.

The title made me think there’d be a lesbian story but instead we get Bates and Reed wrestling completely nude by the fire, and the ending implies that the great love story of the film was Bates and Reed’s friendship.

This movie got heaps of award nominations including 11 from the Baftas (but Midnight Cowboy and Oh! What a Lovely War cleaned up) and 4 from the Oscars, with Glenda Jackson winning most of them, and made Russell’s reputation in Britain. Wikipedia says the book was a sequel (the sisters appeared in earlier novel The Rainbow) and Bates’s character may have been Lawrence’s stand-in.

I bought Criterion’s Lower Depths double-feature, watched the Renoir version then only took seven years to watch the Kurosawa version. This one by comparison lacks snails, a fancy baron’s house, and a finale where the happy couple walks off into the sunset.

Toshiro Mifune is the big named star, but this is completely an ensemble drama – he’s less the lead than Jean Gabin was in the Renoir. It seems like a play, mostly confined to the interior of a single room, ending in the courtyard just outside. Shot mostly in long takes which, thinking back on vague recollections of Ran, Dreams and Ikiru, might be a Kurosawa trademark.

Mifune lives with a bunch of others in a shitty tenement – there’s the tinker with his deathly ill wife, a gambler, a drunken actor (Kamatari Fujiwara of The Hidden Fortress and Mickey One), an ex-samurai, a candy-seller, and prostitute Akemi Negishi (the only woman on Anatahan). Mifune used to be hot for the landlady (Isuzu Yamada, Lady Macbeth of the same year’s Throne of Blood) but lately has taken up with her younger sister Okayo (Kyoko Kagawa of Mothra, lead guy’s miserable suicide sister in Sansho the Bailiff), incurring the older sister’s wrath. Landlord Ganjiro Nakamura (star of Ozu’s Floating Weeds and The End of Summer) hangs out with the gambler, tries to stay out of the romantic drama but gets killed for his trouble.

Also in the mix: randomly-appearing high-energy Unokichi, and a traveling magical grandpa who shows up to dispense wisdom then vanishes during the murder.

I expected to like this a lot more, considering the last 1970’s Richard Lester star-studded period adaptation I watched. Adapted by the guy who wrote Octopussy and a few later Lester films, which starred some of the Musketeers, so I guess there were no hard feelings all around.

Logan’s Run star Michael York is our excitable young D’Artangnan, who teams with musketeers Oliver Reed (between The Devils and Tommy), Frank Finlay (his follow-up to Shaft In Africa) and Richard Chamberlain (Julie Christie’s husband in Petulia). The evil Cardinal Heston plans to undermine the monarchy by exposing Queen Geraldine Chaplin’s affair with Duke Simon Ward. Heston and his partner Faye Dunaway try to preserve evidence of the affair while the Musketeers ride to their presumed deaths trying to hide it. Doesn’t seem like the most noble use of their talents in service of the king, but whatever, it’s pretty fun. Christopher Lee and Spike Milligan were in there somewhere, too.

Revisiting this after watching so many Rivette movies. The sound design, amplifying ordinary noise from clothes, floors and chairs, usually uncovered by music, is the main familiar element. It may be his most tightly structured film, without any improv, though I’d have to watch it back-to-back with Don’t Touch the Axe to be sure.

“In marrying your sisters, we’ve ruined ourselves.” Anna Karina, towards the end of her Godard relationship, is sent to become a nun by her parents against her will in the mid-1700’s. To her, the experience is just like prison, but she manages to sneak out some letters and secures herself a lawyer (soundtrack plays ocean waves when she’s finally allowed to see him), incurring the wrath of head nun Francine Berge (gorgeous baddie of Franju’s Judex), until her punishment is finally noted by Berge’s superiors and Anna is moved to a new convent.

Karina and Berge have a nun-off:

The new one is a pleasure palace, run by clingy lesbian Liselotte Pulver (of A Time to Love and a Time to Die), whom the father confessor tells Anna to avoid like the devil. Anna doesn’t like this place any more than the last one, finally teams up with an amorous monk (Francisco Rabal, whose face was ripped off in Dagon) to escape. Best scene is with him, as she realizes his intentions and the music goes mental.

Karina and Pulver bond:

Anna flees him and he’s captured – oh, and her mom is dead, her friend who talked her into becoming a nun in the first place (Micheline Presle, Depardieu’s relative in I Want To Go Home) is dead, and now her lawyer is dead. Then she flees the village where she’s hiding out, gets picked off the street by a fancy lady, and finally flees her party right out an upper-story window. This made more sense once the internet told me the “fancy lady” was a prostitute, oops. C. Clouzot: “Rivette completes Diderot’s unfinished novel with her suicide.”

brief moment of happiness, post-escape:

the end is near:

Banned in France for over a year, with much public debate leading up to its eventual release. It’s funny now that this movie was considered so outrageous, falling five years after Mother Joan of the Angels and five before The Devils. Quite a good movie, even if not extremely Rivettian. Cinematographer Alain Levent worked on the first films by Chabrol, Rohmer and Truffaut, shot Cleo from 5 to 7, The Nun and later, Sam Fuller’s Day of Reckoning and Madonna and the Dragon. Adapted again (sort of) by Joe D’Amato in the 80’s and there’s a new version out with Isabelle Huppert.