Friday, May 13, 2016


This is a compare and contrast review of several slow poetic movies.  The first is “The Keeping Room” which is presented to readers of this interview linked below as a “feminist horror-thriller” and in another place as a “feminist Western.”  The trailer has little or nothing to do with the movie, though it includes the main characters and has the same theme, more or less.  Nevertheless, it’s engrossing and stays with you through the film.  I suppose it is pitched as a feminist-horror-thriller because that’s what the modern young audience think is “good.”  The nearly post Civil War ghastliness of Sherman’s relentless march of destruction, burning and killing, is not so different than we see on the news.

What strikes me is the similarity to my girlhood fantasies at the end of WWII, often enacted by playing what we called “guns,” with an echo of “girls-against-the-boys.”  It wasn’t just “Gone with the Wind,” but also Europe, Boers, Korea and now the Middle East.  But kids are discouraged from playing those games now, at least among “nice” people.  

So the film has a universal plot-line (survival), cleverly and skillfully interpreted — more like “Red River” and “Stagecoach” than more recent Western buddy films, partly since it goes along so slowly, but also because the clothes and structures are both authentic and archetypal.  It is a story anchored in anti-romantic reality, the way we seem to demand since “Deadwood,” but able to suddenly switch sympathies to reveal human depths reached only in moments of extremis.  These three women, one adult white, one adult black, and one adolescent white, who formed a protective household.  

This article is relevant because it is about a kind of shadow production route in which scripts have been offered, reviewed, noted, and even begun to accumulate casting and crew, but haven’t found a producer, mostly because producers are afraid of anything different.  It’s a little like the self-and grassroots publishing that shadows commercial books.  “We loved the concept but don’t find that it fits with our goals.”  (Like, money-making.)  Already films and books produced in this secondary way are better than the high-dollar productions.  Gradually commercial production will wither because it’s no longer profitable.

“The Keeping Room” (which is actually a small cooking cabin next to the “big house,” is a sort of platform for living, while the big house, now hauntingly empty, is almost a church, a sanctuary, an echo of a lost past.  In the days when fire was a constant threat, the separation of stoves was a good idea.  The small practical cabin is where things happen until invasion focuses on the grand house and its staircase.

The clothes, layered and buttoned, cotton in dull colors, were pre-zipper, pre-aniline dye, clothing I handled years ago as a costumer and as a child wore as a receiver of homemade hand-me-downs, which pleased me since they were mostly from cousins whose mothers sewed well, not off-the-rack.  I did register that rose-patterned wallpaper in the film’s bedroom, and I’ve handled similar guns since Bob Scriver collected them.  It was only all that long, loose hair that struck me as too modern.  There was no apparent makeup.  I’m not sure why the horses kept being swapped — from a white horse to a brown horse is pretty major but maybe to urban people “horse” is a generic concept.  But this is quibbling and even pedantic.

“Amour” is totally different, the height of sophistication and yet just as intensely emotional and evocatively framed by rooms.  This time it’s an ancient couple in a high-ceilinged Paris apartment where the front entry is capacious enough to practise operating an electric wheelchair, and the front room is sparely furnished to make space for a very grand piano because these people are professional musicians.  The couple is sophisticated, elegant, and deeply bound together — even by occasional crankiness.  It is the woman who takes the first blow, a stroke.  She is ashamed but copes until a second stroke.  The husband does his best, which is almost good enough.  Hired help is the usual assortment.  The daughter cannot understand.  I did not recognize Isabelle Huppert.

Emmanuelle Riva, the woman, is inscribed on my heart because of “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959) which was also a love story, but quite different.  More political.  Knowing her over such a long time meant that her portrayed collapse was even more devastating.  We were both so young in 1959!  The actors have received many awards since then.  They are the very best, who know how to convey galaxies while seemingly just holding still.  There are several dream sequences, dreamt by the man.  For all these people’s fine minds and good connections, there are things that can only be conceived as destruction, helplessness, inevitable at the end of the arc of life.

Last night I ran into another film about an old person’s last moments.  “The Window” is Argentinian/Patagonian, happening at the southern end of the South American continent.  An old man is bedridden with a heart attack, waiting for his son to visit.  He’s tended by a staff, several women and a driver, plus on this day a piano tuner because the son is a famous piano player and this instrument is much neglected, unplayable.  The old man sees the sunny land through his window and slips out with the help of the piano tuner, who doesn’t know he’s ill.  It surely looks like Montana!  He collapses out there but is found and brought home safely by vigorous and concerned young people in time to meet his son.  He dies happily, with the son’s wife, a self-centered glamourpuss fussing over her cell phone, whom he mistakes for a beautiful baby sitter he had long ago while a party went on downstairs.

Maybe real-life deaths due to old age are harder to assimilate than the violence of war shown in the first movie.  Today I got word that one of my classmates in grade school, Jim Ruscigno, has died.  I wasn’t close to him.  But I also got word that Bruce Clear, a classmate from seminary and a close favorite person, has had a stroke and been in a nursing home for more than a year.  A death in life.  He’s younger than me.  He did not guard his health — a chain smoker and night hawk — but he was a warm, intelligent, generous man, everything a minister ought to be. It's not possible to evade hardship by being virtuous.  Death or crippling blows can come from nowhere and whack you by surprise.  But almost worse is the half-death, the sinking to the knees and only watching while life goes on.  He still IS everything he ever was except his body won’t work right so he can’t talk properly.

Memento mori, right?  It snowed in the night again and since there are leaves now all the bushes are bowed to the ground once more.  Everything is already melting for the day but we have a strange sky, a blanket of gray I associate with weather farther north.  Normally by now I see from my big east kitchen window I see great bloomings of cumulus from warming land.  They'll be back.  It's just that the timing is different.

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