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The Europeans (1979)
All clothes; no emperor
I first saw this movie in a "Henry James on Film" class back in about 1994. I'd just read the novella of the same name and enjoyed it immensely. Not only was it remarkably beautiful and deeply moving but also, at moments, intentionally laugh out loud funny.
MIP, as is their way I later discovered, created a script that fails to recognize the difference between the written word and the spoken word/visual image. The camera work is beautiful, and all the superficial details seem so right (furnishings, clothes, surfaces in general), all of which I've found to be typical of MIP films. What a pity they didn't devote at least some of that time to other matters, such as understanding the characters involved. Lines are lifted directly from the novella, with little or no attempt to adapt them to the demands of the big (or small) screen.
As a result, all of the glorious subtlety of the original is lost, absolutely lost. James' characters are complex, yes, but also thoroughly real, human, and comprehensible, despite what some of his critics may claim. You wouldn't know that from any of the MIP adaptations of his works, specifically THE BOSTONIANS and THE GOLDEN BOWL. I've yet to see HULLABALOO OVER GEORGIE AND BONNIE'S PICTURES, which is, according to certain film critics, and suggested by what I've read about the film, an adaptation of James' "The Aspern Papers." Ivory has been asked about this, but has refused to answer one way or the other.
It doesn't help that MIP films have tended to be shot on such tight time/money budgets that it may be impossible to shoot all the scenes that were scripted, let alone to reshoot a scene when needed. As such, they rely heavily on editing the footage they have. Anyone who studies their films may well find that this approach leads to most unsatisfying results.
I've seen ten or more MIP films since this one, in an attempt to determine if this was an isolated misstep on their part, or the norm for them. I found the latter to be the case. Their films make me think of the children's fairy tale of the emperor who had no clothes. But, in the case of MIP fare, it's just the reverse: it's all clothes -- and no emperor!
Death of a President (2006)
A haunting, highly responsible response to the Bush presidency
Gabriel Range has, very simply, delineated what many could see as a reasonable outcome of the Bush presidency. There is nothing irresponsible here, no sensationalism or self-indulgence, and clearly no intent to incite anyone to act in this way. Instead, he speaks for many of us, in- and outside the US -- not that we want to see Bush killed, but that, in ever-increasing numbers, we regard Bush's actions as insufferable. Impeachment (as a number of the protesters' signs in the film call for) would be SO much more satisfying, and yet seems so unlikely.
There are so many points about this mock-doc that deserve mention:
*The dignity of the true sniper's wife was most touching. And it was brilliant, in my opinion, to make her (and the sniper, and both their sons) patriots and African American.
*The treatment of the falsely-convicted man and his wife, both Muslim, was frighteningly realistic, I should say.
*The jury that falsely convicted him was made up, largely of minorities, and still, there was the passion to blame someone, and that someone not be "one of us." *The highly skilled use of archival footage.
*The remarkable performances Range got from these extraordinary actors, none of whom I recall seeing before.
Would that Bush would watch this. He just might learn something.
Bravo, Gabriel Range.