Before I even start discussing Jane Campion's Bright Star, which I watched this weekend after finishing up the third round of edits on my latest Classic Start manuscript, I wanted to just take a moment to say how well-deserved the Oscar wins for The Hurt Locker were. I'm amazed at the commentary I've read over the last few weeks -- how journalists and pundits and bloggers were all shocked that it (rightfully) beat out Avatar for the top prize. Let's just set aside all the movie-making wizardry for a moment, take Avatar out of its shiny box and you're left with an awful script, a mediocre (at best) storyline that's derivative and almost insulting in places, and dialogue that made the writer in me wince almost throughout the entire picture. It's the Nickelback of movies, as I've said often and to everyone who'll listen.
Just because a picture's small doesn't mean it's not worthy of the awards. It's not the movie's fault that no one went to see it. In fact, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to watch smaller movies as multiplexes are businesses driven by the bottom line and art house cinema goes the way of the publishing industry as of late. The whole purpose of an award isn't to celebrate the movie that made the most money. Sure, there were interesting technological advances with Avatar but that got old about two minutes into the movie, and then you're stuck with the Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves meets Every Movie Cliche meets Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Annoying Characters that Cameron "intends" we consider a "movie."
Also, I'm not sure if anyone else has reported on the irony of making the world's most EXPENSIVE film of all time, which must have used up bucket loads of energy, encouraged (nay, demands) people see the film wearing one-use glasses (sure, they're "recycled" at the end of the picture, but still), and drove piles and piles of garbage by way of concession stand sales because of the sheer number of people seeing the picture, and then having its director bang on about the ENVIRONMENTAL message in the film. Seriously, yawn.
My point? Right, that The Hurt Locker, like many small films, didn't have the marketing muscle behind it to drive huge audiences. The right people saw the film. The right people brought that picture to light, and its wins were terribly well-deserved. Money does not equal great art, if it did, men like John Keats would not have died in poverty, which brings me to the original reason I wanted to write about Bright Star, Jane Campion's equally small film that will reach an equally small audience, that so many gems of both books and films get lost when faced with competition from the big studios. I mean, I don't even know Bright Star made it to theatres in Toronto, and we're not an insignificant market.
Campion's films, to me, feel very literary. If they were books, I'm sure I'd sit curled up on the couch and not be able to stop reading until the very last page. Bright Star tells the story of the relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawn, who fell in love but never got the chance to spend their lives together; after all, the poet died penniless in Italy after succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of 25. The title comes from the poem Keats wrote for Brawne, and it's a sonnet he apparently revised until his death.
Bright Star tells the story from Brawn's perspective -- it opens with a lovely shot of Fanny sitting by a window sewing in the early morning. She's hard at work on her task (and was quite well-known for both her fashion prowess and her excellent seamstress abilities) and the light coming in from the window highlights the intricate and delicate nature of the project. Because the Brawns (widowed mother, younger brother, younger sister) live in close proximity to Keats (they rent a house from his friend, George Brown), he becomes an everyday focus for Fanny. Of course, there are struggles -- money for families without an income, money for starving artists, the importance of an artistic life, the love/hate relationship between Fanny and George Brown over Keats's affections -- but in the end, Campion resists traditional embraces, and there's no Hollywood ending (read Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice) to her film.
Abbie Cornish plays Fanny with a fierce independence. She's proud, honourable and feels her emotions deeply. British actor Ben Whishaw plays Keats, slender, gifted, and terribly troubled, not only because of his failing health, but of the complex emotions love stirs for him. Whishaw plays "tortured" very well -- there's an incredible scene in the book where the complex triangle between Brown, Brawn and Keats comes to a head and, without spoiling anything, it was riveting. It took me forever to place him, but he played Sebastian Flyte in the terrible medicore remake of Brideshead Revisited that came out a couple years ago. I thought he was terribly miscast in that film, thankfully, he's much better here. Mainly I was surprised to see Paul Schneider playing Brown (with an odd "Scottish" accent that often slipped into I don't know what) and displaying the same magnetism that he brought to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in Bright Star.
The costumes, the hues that seem to embrace the entire film (whites, greys) and the absurdly beautiful wildflowers that seem to abound, all contribute to the film's overtone of Romanticism. It's as if Campion set out to prove to sceptics like me that it is possible to bring the philosophy of the movement to the big screen. I felt deeply embraced by the sensibility of the film, if that makes sense, by the fact that it's impossible to rationalize emotions, as much as it's impossible to entirely scientifically deconstruct nature, and the relationship between Fanny and Keats certainly proves that theory.
All in all, I'm glad I gave up working on the novel a little early on Sunday afternoon to squeeze in this film. Highly recommended for easily persuaded romantic literary types like myself.