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Further comments on the season in film


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Regarding The Producers: the cover story for the Dec. 2005 Dance Magazine is an interview with Susan Stroman. There's nothing profound there, but it's interesting. Among the comments:

"When we were shooting the dance numbers, the camera essentially became another dancer. The camera has to move on the exact same counts and keep a spatial relationship as if it were a dance partner."

And:

"Those directors [of Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Top Hat, etc.] shot a lot of their numbers without any cuts, and I wanted to bring that to this film. We are a good old traditional musical comedy ... "

And:

"There are 83 dancers in the 'Little Old Ladyland' number alone. When I cast a stage show, 300 dancers come to audition, and usually there are only openings for one or two or at most eight. This time I could hire 300 dancers."

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The plot of Match Point actually reminds me a lot of "Strangers on a Train." I haven't seen it, mostly because I came to the realization a long time ago that except for Annie Hall I haven't actually ever enjoyed a Woody Allen film.

dirac, tell us what you thought about BM!

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From the reviews I've read, it sounds like there's less to laugh about in the re-make.

You know, I was never a big fan of the original movie. I've never really "gotten" Zero Mostel, plus the whole "Springtime for Hitler" segment that's supposed to be the big climax is a one-note joke that goes on waaay too long. In the show, there's a surprise here (I won't spoil it for you), and it's a stroke of genius--much, much funnier, and the lyrics are genuinely quite witty. I have never heard an audience reaction like the one in the theater during this number--a roar of sheer dilirium and unbridled love for the performers. (At curtain calls, Nathan Lane teared up.) Maybe PBS should have just broadcast a film of the thing live, to capture that buzz.

Anyway, looks like I'm not seeing "The Producers" tonight after all. My friends (one of them from Berlin!) had to back out. Maybe it's all for the best.

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The plot of Match Point actually reminds me a lot of "Strangers on a Train." I haven't seen it, mostly because I came to the realization a long time ago that except for Annie Hall I haven't actually ever enjoyed a Woody Allen film.

That's amazing! I had never thought about it, but you're absolutely right. I'm going to have to watch the Hitchcock again and look for parallels.

canbelto, I have the opposite problem. I used not to like Woody Allen at all (not even "Annie Hall"). Somewhere along the line, for no good reason I can pinpoint, that completely changed, and now I adore all of his movies, even the ones I know aren't really very good. Just a weakness of mine.

An interesting aspect of "Match Point" that's been much commented on is the fact that there is no "Woody" character in it at all, which, together with its London location and mostly British cast, gives it a very different feel from Allen's other movies. (On the subject of British actors, why is it that Rhys-Meyers, who is Irish actor playing an Irish tennis player, sports an English accent?)

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I've never really "gotten" Zero Mostel, plus the whole "Springtime for Hitler" segment that's supposed to be the big climax is a one-note joke that goes on waaay too long.

I never got Mostel either. To swerve off topic for a moment, I was raised on his Fiddler, but thought he was a buffoonish. (Although, according to the shows writers, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, when interviewed on Fresh Air, they offered to cut the contemplative last verse of "If I Were a Rich Man," thinking it out of place and character with the rest of the song and Mostel's characterization, and he insisted on keeping it in, saying that this was the real Tevye.) When I heard the new Broadway cast recording with Alfred Molina, I couldn't believe how moving the character was, especially in "Do You Love Me?"

Back to the regularly scheduled topic :thanks:

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I attended Woody Allen’s pictures faithfully until about the time of The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and then he finally lost me. Although I’m pleased that Match Point seems to represent something of a comeback, the plot sounds like a retread of other people’s material as well as Allen’s. I’d be happy to be wrong. If he did something fresh with it, then good for him. I’m not going to go out of my way to see it – I’ve been burned once too often – but I’ll check it out if an opportunity arises.

Anthony_NYC writes:

(On the subject of British actors, why is it that Rhys-Meyers, who is an Irish actor playing an Irish tennis player, sports an English accent?)

Depending on background, education, and circumstances, an Irishman might not sound “Irish” at all.

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dirac, tell us what you thought about BM!

Canbelto, I thought Brokeback Mountain was excellent, and deserving of most of the praise it’s received. I had read that the film was static and dull, but although Ang Lee takes his time as he always does, I was never bored. It did seem that the filmmakers were anxious to ensure that Jack and Ennis’s hold on audience sympathy never weakens, and this involves a certain amount of special pleading and deck stacking in regard to the depiction of family relations and in particular the characterizations of the two wives. The picture is astonishingly faithful to the story in outline, although it’s constructed on a much larger scale – I think Proulx said it was the difference between a canoe and an ocean liner -- and that’s not all to the good. Some of the passages added by the scriptwriters feel like padding and in addition strike false notes, such as the Thanksgiving scene at Jack’s house and the scene with Ennis and his girlfriend. The picture gains considerably in strength close to the end – Ledger is very fine here, and the last frame of the film is a masterly bit of composition.

Below is a link to the earlier thread on the season in film, which I closed – it has comments on Brokeback and other pictures of the year. I thought I’d re-post it here as it might get lost with the passage of time. :)

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=21053

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bart, thanks so much for the Stroman quotes. Now I'm actually eager to see it, glad to anticipate good, old-fashioned long takes. May the directors of "Dance in America" learn a thing or two from it.

Spoilers ahead for "Brokeback Mountain"

dirac, you might be right about the Thanksgiving scene in "Brokeback." Maybe this is far-fetched, but I suspect one reason for its inclusion was to introduce "stud duck," a phrase Proulx has talked about--part of the theme of masculinity that runs through the story--though here it is applied to Jack's father-in-law rather than to his father, as in the story.

I'm not sure which girlfriend scene you're referring to, but I thought the introduction of Cassie was largely a set-up for the final trailer scene. canbelto pointed out, correctly I think, that we begin to lose sympathy for Alma. She can't quite love Ennis enough to get beyond her hurt and reach out to him in his own. Alma Junior, on the other hand, understands and accepts--almost unconsciously, it seems--that her dad isn't "the marrying kind." That beautiful smile of hers in the trailer scene--a wordless communication of unconditional love from a younger generation to an older one--is Lee's only subtle offering of hope in this otherwise bleak tale.

But then, yeah, there's that final masterly shot, where we lose the picture of Brokeback for the flat "grieving plain" out the window. It's devastating.

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I'm not sure which girlfriend scene you're referring to, but I thought the introduction of Cassie was largely a set-up for the final trailer scene. canbelto pointed out, correctly I think, that we begin to lose sympathy for Alma. She can't quite love Ennis enough to get beyond her hurt and reach out to him in his own. Alma Junior, on the other hand, understands and accepts--almost unconsciously, it seems--that her dad isn't "the marrying kind." That beautiful smile of hers in the trailer scene--a wordless communication of unconditional love from a younger generation to an older one--is Lee's only subtle offering of hope in this otherwise bleak tale.

But then, yeah, there's that final masterly shot, where we lose the picture of Brokeback for the flat "grieving plain" out the window. It's devastating.

I think another reason for the introduction of Cassie was to show how, in his own way, Ennis was being incredibly faithful to Jack. The relationship with Cassie goes nowhere, because Ennis's heart belongs to Jack. Ennis is the "distant" one in the relationship, the one who won't just run away and start a life with Jack. But the Cassie character shows the depth of Ennis's love for Jack.

I think the character of Alma Jr. is also a contrast to Alma. Alma knows about Ennis's sexuality, and is resentful and even spiteful. Alma Jr., OTOH, understands Ennis and accepts him.

Another reason for the introduction of Cassie I think was to highlight the strong class differences that start to emerge between Jack and Ennis. Jack leads a comfortable middle-class life, while Ennis lives in borderline poverty.

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I think the character of Alma Jr. is also a contrast to Alma. Alma knows about Ennis's sexuality, and is resentful and even spiteful. Alma Jr., OTOH, understands Ennis and accepts him.

I regret to say that’s exactly what I meant by special pleading. (Not yours, the movie's. :) ) Alma has to live with Ennis, remember, on Ennis’ terms, until she finally calls it quits. I do not mean to suggest that Ennis is a Bad Person, only that if the picture was a little more honest about the consequences that Ennis’ kind of emotional shutdown often wreaks on families, particularly children, we wouldn’t stop caring about his fate but our feelings about him would be more mixed.

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The “Brokeback” backlash proceeds apace. Stephen Hunter had this to say in The Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...0102477_pf.html

In fact, generally, the movie is cruel to family. It seems to think family is a bourgeois delusion; Ennis's poor daughter ends up in a gaudy Trans Am owned by her fiance, a harbinger of roughneck disaster to come. Jack's boy is simply forgotten about; his ultimate pain -- and it will be considerable -- is not commented upon.

The movie also misses the deepest joy of family, which is that sense of connection to the great wheel of life. Giving birth to, educating and loving a kid are among the profound joys of human existence. "Brokeback Mountain" cannot begin to imagine such a thing; that reality simply is not on its radar, and if you looked at the story from another vantage -- the children's -- it would be a different tale altogether: about greedy, selfish, undisciplined homosexuals who took out a contract in the heterosexual world, and abandoned it. They weren't true men; they failed at the man's one sacred duty on Earth, which is to provide.

You know, I have nothing against the family, it can be at its best a fine thing. As mentioned above, I had a few issues with the picture's treatment of the men's dilemma and family matters. However, I’m not sure that a sense of connection to The Great Wheel of Life had much to do with what Annie Proulx was talking about.

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Well, Brokeback Mountain is a very good movie, but ultimately the romance didn't move me the way it obviously moved others. I don't understand why Ennis and Jack were not prepared to risk everything and live together, why they weren't prepared to do what Romeo and Juliet did. At certain moments, I felt downright angry with Ennis and Jack, as they sacrificied other people's happiness as well as their own.

That said, the movie itself was masterfully done as were all the Ang Lee movies I've seen. (I didn't see the Hulk.)

A few comments on some of the links in this thread:

- I agree that the lovers only seem happy in the wide open, but the wide open is a place to escape to, not to actually live. The fact that they are only happy there doesn't emphasize the 'naturalness' of their love so much as it does the doomed nature of their love. Quite clearly, love which is outside the 'norm' can be accepted only in a heterogenous urban environment.

- The NYRB review was excellent but it also begs the question - is the audience too liberal for this movie? Are we so colorblind as not to notice that it is only about gay love and not about universal human behaviour? If so, isn't this a good thing? :)

- speaking of chauvinist tendencies, in the year 2005, I don't think that any movie wins a European film festival for representing the "heart of America", so I really don' think that BM is successful because it brings homosexuality into the "heart of America".

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Hmmm. Very thought provoking post, GWTW. My own comments:

I don't understand why Ennis and Jack were not prepared to risk everything and live together, why they weren't prepared to do what Romeo and Juliet did.

I’d suggest that Jack is prepared to take the risk, but he can’t get Ennis to do so, because Ennis’ character and background are such that they won’t permit him even to contemplate it. This picture really isn’t Romeo and Juliet material, and although it was a shrewd move to market it as a "Titanic" style love story -- check out the ads -- it was also misleading. (This wasn’t so much of an issue in the short story for several reasons, but my own feeling was that Proulx wasn’t emphasizing that they can’t get together, but that they don’t. I hope this distinction makes sense.)

At certain moments, I felt downright angry with Ennis and Jack, as they sacrificed other people's happiness as well as their own.

Perfectly legitimate reaction. I did think that the filmmakers were hedging their bets a bit, going out of their way for example to make the wives unsympathetic lest the audience feel too sorry for them.

is the audience too liberal for this movie? Are we so colorblind as not to notice that it is only about gay love and not about universal human behaviour? If so, isn't this a good thing?

GWTW, I think you’re referring to this passage in the NYRB review?

The real achievement of Brokeback Mountain is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it. If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they're not really homosexual—that they're more like the heart of America than like "gay people"—you're pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed.

Other thoughts?

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Alma has to live with Ennis, remember, on Ennis’ terms, until she finally calls it quits. I do not mean to suggest that Ennis is a Bad Person, only that if the picture was a little more honest about the consequences that Ennis’ kind of emotional shutdown often wreaks on families, particularly children, we wouldn’t stop caring about his fate but our feelings about him would be more mixed.

I agree. I think Alma has good reason to be resentful. Ennnis hasn’t just broken his wedding vow to her and caused her financial worry, he’s neglected her emotionally, not even noticing her tears as he runs off to be with Jack, not even caring enough to bring the fish she and the children love. It’s a shame she’s given that bigoted “Jack nasty” line, but she only comes out with it when Ennis won’t acknowledge her pain. He has never leveled with her, and he still won’t, but she’s known all those years, and she’s kept her silence. To my mind, she, as much as Jack and Ennis, is a tragic character.

As to the Thanksgiving scene discussed elsewhere on this thread, I guess I’m imagining this since it hasn't been mentioned, but I thought it was there to set up Jack’s murder. I looked away during the brief scene in which he is beaten to death, but it struck me later that Lureen’s father must have been one of the killers. I can’t quite remember the scene, but didn’t Lureen say earlier, when they’d first met, that her father might have committed murder? I saw the humiliation the father suffers as Jack finally stands up for himself would serve as the last-straw motivation. But perhaps I made that up.

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kfw, thanks for reviving this discussion.

It’s a shame she’s given that bigoted “Jack nasty” line, but she only comes out with it when Ennis won’t acknowledge her pain.

Exactly. I wouldn’t feel too charitable about Jack, either, if I were Alma. As far as she’s concerned, Jack is bad news, the guy who took away her husband. Of course, Ennis can’t acknowledge his own pain, either – but that means he clamps down not only on his own emotions but everyone else’s, too.

I saw the humiliation the father suffers as Jack finally stands up for himself would serve as the last-straw motivation.

Hmmm. Interesting. I didn’t put that interpretation on it, but it’s possible. Proulx doesn’t suggest it, as I recall. I took the mean father-in-law scenes as another way of drumming up sympathy for Jack – her father treats Jack like dirt, and does Lureen support her husband? In the short story, Proulx indicates that Jack and his father-in-law don’t get on, but I think she leaves it at that. (I think there is a kind of set up for Jack’s murder, though – that little scene early on where Jack puts the moves on the rodeo clown, not realizing that he might as well be telegraphing his proclivities to the entire bar.)

Another important lacuna, it seemed to me, is that we don’t find out enough about Lureen, and it makes Hathaway’s final scene on the telephone with Ledger opaque – what did she know and when, if she knew, did she know it? Hathaway starts off very strong and vivid, but I thought the script let her down a bit, although it’s in most respects a remarkable piece of adaptation.

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Interesting debate. I did some writing on Brokeback on my own blog to process it. The gay men I know (including me) "get" Jack and we don't get Ennis, partially because we live in a different time and place. In fairness to Ennis, we're talking about a world pre-Stonewall, far from cities at a point when homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. Yes, the tragedy affected everyone, and yes, a significant part of it was a sad failure of imagination on Ennis' part - "There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe" but I cut him some slack for coming from a place where it took an extraordinary amount of imagination to get there.

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Yes, the comments on Brokeback are thought provoking.

For me the movie was a two character play and the scenery and such was pleasant but not that important--I don't go for the closed space/ ease in the open space idea that much. The ocean liner in the canoe, so to speak, are the scenes with the wives and families of the main characters, which are more Larry McMurty-like than Annie Proulxish. They're very good and in tone something like those of the Last Picture Show. In the original story however--at least as I remember it from ten years ago--the family lives of Ennis and Jack were just sort of a background pencil sketch, only lightly filled in. (And Ennis' wife discovers the false fishing story much more slowly and much later on, which makes more sense.)

So in the movie version you sort of have two stories going on, and people identify with one or the other. Two of my colleagues at work today said they thought the wives were very well acted and I thought: but that's not the story, they're shifting the center of gravity. And it seems as though for many people the secondary parts have eclipsed the original ones. (And even Annie Proulx herself seems to have been eclipsed. Notice how she was not given any screen time during the presentation of the writing award at last night's AA ceremonies. Even after her presence was pointed out, the cameramen didn't know what to do, who or what to show--you felt a bit of panic there.)

And I must add that Heath Ledger's character could have come from any of San Joaquin Valley dust bowl-created towns anywhere in California from Fresno to Bakersfield--the area where I grew up. I would have run into him at Penney's or the hardware store on Saturday. It was an amazing characterization and yes did get stronger and stronger, there was an incredible arc at the end of sad, very quiet and slow self realization. And the scene with Alma Jr was very moving.

Edited by Quiggin
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Yes, the tragedy affected everyone, and yes, a significant part of it was a sad failure of imagination on Ennis' part - "There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe" but I cut him some slack for coming from a place where it took an extraordinary amount of imagination to get there.

He tries so hard. And it’s terrible, because there is a form of happiness waiting for him and he doesn’t – can’t – reach for it.

I wasn’t thinking so much of Ennis the character, though, as the way the wives are depicted in the film. As I said somewhere earlier, there did seem to be an anxiety that we might stop sympathizing with Ennis and Jack, however briefly, and so the wives are made more unappealing and whiny than I thought was absolutely necessary. (If this was an Elia Kazan production from 1956, they’d have cast Shelley Winters as Alma.) It seems to me, however, that you don’t have to choose sides. The point is that everyone suffers. Jack and Ennis are in the foreground, and as Quiggin notes, that's where they belong -- it is their story.

The ocean liner in the canoe, so to speak, are the scenes with the wives and families of the main characters, which are more Larry McMurty-like than Annie Proulxish.

Interesting that you should choose the ocean liner/canoe metaphor, Quiggin – I read an interview with Annie Proulx where she used it, too.

It was an amazing characterization and yes did get stronger and stronger, there was an incredible arc at the end of sad, very quiet and slow self realization. And the scene with Alma Jr was very moving.

Yes, Ledger gets better and better as the story progresses (Gyllenhaal doesn’t age convincingly). I've done Ledger an injustice in the past -- I used to think he was just a blond hunk with a great voice.

In the original story however--at least as I remember it from ten years ago--the family lives of Ennis and Jack were just sort of a background pencil sketch, only lightly filled in.

Lightly filled in, yes, but another one of the impressive things about the adaptation was how little McMurtry and Ossana had to invent. I agree with you about The Last Picture Show connection. Proulx works in a lot of detail without making a big show of it. I have to go read the story again.

Thanks for the comments, people. Keep them coming. canbelto?

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Not to change the subject (I could discuss "Brokeback" forever, I love it to pieces), but I wonder if I could solicit opinions about "Munich." From the listless "The Terminal," to "War of the Worlds," where the director seemed to have lost interest in his own movie, to "Munich" now, it seems to me like Spielberg has been off form lately. "Munich" was a much better than the first two, but, like them, it left me unmoved and a little bored. There isn't enough of a payoff by the end to justify its great length. You spend a large portion of the movie wondering little more than how they're going to off their next target. Obviously, it was a deliberate decision on Spielberg and Kushner's part to structure it that way, but I don't quite understand what I'm supposed to take away from the experience. Was I supposed to tire of the violence just as the assassins do? Or was I supposed to grow inured to it, making the final shot a sudden jolt of reality? Honestly, I feel like I really missed something.

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He tries so hard. And it’s terrible, because there is a form of happiness waiting for him and he doesn’t – can’t – reach for it.

Ang Lee has said that by the time Ennis realizes what he had, it's gone, and that is the tragedy of the story. If you've ever had someone near and dear die suddenly and unexpectedly, this hits home especially hard when it is portrayed with such excruciating eloquence as in the movie. I find it almost intolerable even to think the movie from the telephone scene to the end.

As for the wives--you know, I like Lureen all the way through and don't find her the least bit unsympathetic. She suspects but never really admits to herself what her husband is. It's not until that final telephone conversation that she's forced to really KNOW who Ennis is, he's right there on the other end of the line, and she is forced to KNOW that Brokeback was not an imaginary place--Jack had the passion and joy in his life she never did, as she buried herself in her work, a method of denial ironically identical to Ennis's. Her physical appearance is I think meant to mirror that years-long struggle to cover up the emptiness in her inner life. When you remember how young and bold she was in the beginning, how pretty and fresh and full of promise, your heart just has to ache for her. I too wish Lureen had more screen time, I'd love to know more about this character--a tribute to how superb Hathaway was in the role.

About the much-debated Thanksgiving scenes, another function of them is to distinguish the characters and destinies of Ennis and Jack. Ennis, confronted by his ex-wife, is totally, pathetically beaten down (literally!). Jack, on the other hand, finally confronts the self-described "stud duck"--a stand-in for his own father and for patriarchal oppressiveness in general. (This, in turn, mirrors the Independence Day scene where Ennis knocks down the biker who disparages his manhood.) Jack takes charge of his family, Ennis runs from his.

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