Moon Landing for Endeavour

DATELINE: Aging Badly.

aging badly Allam & Evans.

Sixth season, episode 2, takes place at the time of the Apollo Moon landing. So, it is only natural that the murder victim at Oxford is an astrophysicist. Endeavour is more earthbound than the astronauts in July, 1969.

Morse is an exhibits officer who routinely oversteps his bounds. His new superior sees him as a condescending twit, and he may be right. Morse’s friend, Jim Strange, notes that the brilliant detective has not lost his heavy-handed social skills.

This episode is directed by star Shaun Evans.

Thursday (Allam) keeps reminding him that they are part of a bureaucratic system that follows chain-of-command, but Endeavour is the rebel within the system.

While astronauts make giant leaps for mankind on the Moon, back on Earth there are small steps toward crime solving by hard-working detectives.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the historical inaccuracy of the series is that the days when cops were despised by youth movement types, you have them with more virtue and dedication than Joe Friday ever showed.

As a mystery show, Endeavour always puts together disparate elements into a stew that may be overly complicated. Punch and Judy has now reached marionette TV space shows of 1969, where jealousy and spousal swapping are the hot topics of the day—and motive for murders.

The regulars (Roger Allam, Anton Lesser) and others recognize now how good they had it in the previous five seasons. Now, they are reduced to working under lesser talents while bigger events overwhelm the world.

Though this series is not as elegant or finely tuned as an Agatha Christie story, you may find it convoluted on the side of intellectualism. That’s a rare problem in this age of unusual idiocy in TV shows, detective programs, and characters in general.

 

 

 

 

 

David Suchet’s Evil Under the Sun!

DATELINE:  Poirot Dandy!

Poirot cast Great Cast!

We took in an old TV chestnut from almost twenty years ago, Evil Under the Sun, from the eighth season of the off and on series of David Suchet as it attempted to film every Agatha Christie episode.

This one had the delight of Poirot being sent off to a health spa in Devon to recover from his obese condition.

Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) insisted that Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) accompany him. The classic regulars of the show are here in their element, perhaps beyond their element. Miss Lemon is sent by Poirot all around the countryside to do legwork for the case. Usually, Miss Lemon claims to have filing to do—and must decline any other assignments.

The other stand-up regular is Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) more respectful of Poirot in later seasons. Though he and Hastings are now semi-regular dinner companions, they are always murder investigators.

The health spa is filled with suspicious and dubious figures who claim the place is the opposite of health. Its torturous steam boxes and daft clientele are perfect candidates for murder and murder victim.

It becomes increasingly obvious to Poirot that the place is ripe for crime, even as he is served various vegetable drink concoctions.

Sometimes murder flows trippingly on Christie’s contrived plots, though this one clunks to a finish, it is still fun to behold. We can see the roots of disgust in Poirot at the human condition, though this low-budget, low-star power TV version is a delight compared to the overblown movie with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.

Most of this is the result of a delicious ensemble cast and a deep dedication to the color scheme of Art Deco.

Gathering all the suspects in the hotel dining room for a big Reveal loses none of its luster for mystery fans. It’s a gem.

 

 

 

American Experience Fails H.G. & Orson Too

 DATELINE: War of the Worlds

orson  Orson, not H.G.

We can usually count on American Experience documentaries to give us intelligent and insightful looks at history.

Nobody is perfect, and an attempt to look at the 1938 radio broadcast that made young hotshot Orson Welles a household name is disappointing. War of the Worlds probably owed more to the idiocy of audiences and their unsophisticated and non-critical thinking skills.

In some ways, not much has changed when it comes to the public and its media habits. However, radio as the first big democratic source of info learned that it’s not nice to fool people, even on Halloween.

Half-way through the broadcast, executives wanted to stop Welles, but Orson had a head a steam up—and he ignored his producer John Houseman and his writer Howard Koch. He did it his way: and it won him a contract in Hollywood. Houseman thought it was a terrible idea and that Welles never read Wells.

In his own rash dash style, Welles came up with a mimic newsreel approach to the topic, eschewing the real H.G. Wells for his own personality. After all, this was the man who put on Macbeth in Harlem with an all-black cast and set it in 19th century Haiti. He dared convention.

Welles provided a contrite and unbelievable apology next morning. It must rank as the worst performance he ever gave. He hardly could hide his smirk.

As for the documentary of the event, the film uses bad actors, emoting and faking, pretending to be people in 1938 (wearing period clothes in black and white film) who talk unconvincingly about their experience listening to the program. These imbecilic comments were based on real letters.

The technique fails miserably and demeans the entire hour-long episode of American Experience. Five weeks after the broadcast of 1938, the FCC fully exonerated Orson for his folly.

 

Five Movies with Spirits

 DATELINE: Oldies but Goodies

Mrs. Muir & Ghost

 

 

 

Crusty Dead Sea Captain?

You may well wonder why five of the most influential and fascinating fantasy films about timeless ghostly encounters were made in a short span of the 1940s.

Some theories have centered on the fact it was the time that millions of women lost their husbands and boyfriends to casualties of World War II.

Our selected films do feature a romantic drama complicated by the fatalism of war. Two movies present men (one maimed, one an alleged suicide), and two depict dead women (yearning for unrealized love).

The women characters grow up and grow old in long sequences of time passing. Two of the men are actually one man: Rex Harrison.

If you have not guessed the movies, here they are:

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, wherein Gene Tierney meets a salty and dead sea captain at her new home, Gull Cottage (see photo above). In Blithe Spirit, a sophisticated writer finds his first dead wife jealously returned to claim her husband. (See photo below). It’s the only one in color, if that’s your preference.

Playful Blithe Spirit Rutherford as Madam Acardi

Between Two Worlds features a shipload of dead people learning their fate—and finding heaven and hell are the same destination and destiny.

Go to Hell?  Go to Heaven or Hell?

Life apparently is filled with apparitions and reincarnated souls, as told by these literary-styled tales.

 

Jennie, Dead Dream Girl  Jennie, Dead Dream Girl?

Portrait of Jennie featured a painter whose model seems to age a few years with every sitting—and who died before they met. In Enchanted Cottage, a location with magical qualities can help a disfigured war survivor and an ugly woman find themselves transformed into movie stars by an invisible benevolent force in the universe.

Enchantment Makeover  Enchanted Makeover?

If you are haunted by lost love, dead friends, and cheating fate, you may relate to these stunning films.

There are some fairly sophisticated quantum physics theories at work back in the 1940s. We hear about tears in the seams of time, or atmospheric conditions that give a place parallel universal magic, or we meet obese Examiners who measure your life like a haberdasher fitting a good suit.

In nearly every instance of these plots, you must ultimately give up the dead and continue your life until you may be returned to some dimension where death is ephemeral and an illusion.

Perhaps we love these movies because they tell the fortunes of a haunted landlord and his soulful tenant.

Our Cosmo Topper ties to a personal spirit parallel each of the story-lines of old celluloid ghosts. If there is a common thread for all these stories, it is a dimension called limbo. One day both parties will be reunited, if not reincarnated.

Stead Fast in the Titanic Library!

DATELINE:  Bookworms?

W.T. Stead & booksW.T. Stead, Spiritualist

Over 100 years ago, W.T. Stead was a big name in spiritualism.

He was one of the foremost proponents of life after death, and he used his pulpit of investigative journalism to publish many books and articles about the paranormal world. He was a man of steely gaze and intense demeanor.

Some historians credit him with being one of the founders of tabloid writing, in order to dismiss him as one of the age’s séance masters. Like Conan Doyle, he was an authority with the power of public support—and public ridicule.

So, what happened?

He booked passage on a ship across the Atlantic from his British home to lecture in New York about the occult topic of ghosts and spirits. Alas, the voyage was not a happy one: his accommodation was cabin C-89 aboard RMS Titanic.

Among the reports after the tragedy, his last night’s dinner table companions insisted that Stead told them how a medium friend had warned him that there was a chance of trouble on this trans-Atlantic trip.

Later, the witnesses to the comments were disparaged as exaggerating the story, though one wonders why anyone who survived the Titanic disaster would feel compelled to exaggerate their trauma or misremember a single detail of their vivid night to remember.

Among the survivor accounts, there was the stunning image: people saw W.T. Stead calmly sitting in the First-Class Reading Room of Titanic, smoking a pipe and perusing a book as it sank into the cold briny deep.

The image of the old man facing another world with singular and peaceful demeanor is striking amid chaos and panic of others unprepared to meet their destiny.

Like young Richard White, the elder writer loved the ambiance of a library—and chose to spend his last moments in such a haven. It is likely that Richard and Stead crossed paths, if not exchanged pleasantries at some point. They were both denizens of the Titanic library.

Poetic Richard may have been the only young man among the first-class passengers who might agree with Stead that the library provided a special comfort.

Years later, the daughter of Stead—herself a spiritualist—contacted a medium to conduct a session of automatic writing (Ouija board stuff) in which they contacted W.T. on the other side to give the particulars of the final moments of Titanic’s destruction.

He also provided a glimpse into the Blue Island, a dimension he called “beyond the veil”: a double metaphor for the Great Beyond, another part of the universe.

The saffron yellow sofa in the Library of the Titanic washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia several days after the sinking of the ship. Apparently, someone thought it might make a good life-raft.

Stead’s body was never recovered, like so many hundreds of his shipmates and fellow passengers who booked a date with destiny on Titanic.

Library of Dreams!

DATELINE:  Magic on the Bookshelves?

end table of Titanic   Brenda Duval’s Titanic End Table

We all know the famous baseball story by W.P. Kinsella, Field of Dreams, in which a man is inspired by a spirit of Shoeless Joe Jackson to build a baseball field in his cornfield.

As a result, he finds himself at the epicenter of spirit life.

We never presumed to be the builder of a “Library of Dreams,” yet it appears to be our role late in life. It was easy to change part of the house, the north wing, to a library to honor all the people who lived in the Spring Village area since 1800, but in particular we had a push by the main spirit who has reached out to us:  one of the passengers of the Titanic who met his end at an all-too young age of 21 years.

For decades, without knowing why, compelled by unknown forces, we have collected many items somehow associated with the infamous tragedy at sea that killed 1500 people: RMS Titanic.

Our part has been minor, pointing out only one more benighted victim of the arrogance of luxury and money in 1912. He is our spiritual chess-mate from Titanic.

Richard himself was privileged by birth, but also never had a chance to realize his potential as a poet and philanthropist.

Richard too loved libraries. The final library in his life was the First Class Reading Room on the Titanic. There is even a photo of him, back to camera, reading while his father was on deck, also photographed, looking for his son.

Within two days, they would drown.

Richard’s other favorite library belonged to his aunt, Julia White Castle, who married the Hawaiian pineapple king, James Castle. They had the largest library in Hawaii in 1900 in their Waikiki Diamond Head mansion.

Richard lived there for a year. While his brother went out to enjoy the climate and people, Richard enjoyed the hundred magazine subscriptions that arrived regularly .

Almost in irony, after Richard died, his brother Percy wrote over 25 books: they too adorn our library shelf.

Local artist Brenda Duval, painted a picture of Titanic at full steam atop an end table. It is a labor of love, as she has all four funnel stacks billowing dark smoke. Only three were functional: the fourth was for show. It was the one that fell off the ship after the iceberg hit. It smashed into the frigid water atop dozens who had jumped—and were struck by a lethal force before hypothermia killed them. Richard likely was one of these unfortunates.

All of this is part of our library of dreams, giving the spirits of Mill Circle their safe haven. Based on photos of the original First Class Reading Room, we proudly note that we have more books! We will maintain it as long as our own spirit holds out.

 

American Master: Andrew Wyeth, son of N.C.

 DATELINE: And father of Jamie Wyeth

Christina's World Another World?

As painters go, he was dismissed by a generation as the dark vision of Norman Rockwell, or the pastel version of Grant Wood.

Andrew Wyeth ignored all and remained true to himself: he is a giant of American art.

True enough, he was groomed for the role of independent artist by his father, N.C. Wyeth, whose vibrant and bold book illustrations inspired generations of readers. He was the guy who gave you early 20th century visions of Treasure Island and other classic novels. He was Scribner’s go-to artist of robust literary images.

N.C. felt smaller than life, making a big living in his art, but not true to what he felt he should have been. So, he instructed and mentored his son Andrew from an early age to become all the father never could.

If you don’t yet appreciate Andrew Wyeth, this documentary will educate you fast and completely. He was a man who never went to study European masters but stayed in PA and Maine to paint the bleak landscapes of his world. He also used a tempura style to mute the already dour, almost airless world of his art.

“Christina’s World” catapulted him into international fame. Few understood the stark horror of an invalid crawling home, which was the subject matter.

For a man who seemed to catch the wind on canvas, he was an easy mark for a wife who served as business manager, and a secret model named Helga who gave him 15 years of portraiture. In his old age, he released these works, which catapulted him back in the conversation of art masters.

He was dismissed for a time as not being abstract enough, experimental enough, and too sentimental with his deathly images. It’s no wonder: his father was killed by a hideous train accident.

Art and man conjoined in Andrew Wyeth, and the ample 20th century record of pictures, interviews, home movies, and his art work, provide us a documentary for the ages.

A Lump of Titanic Coal

DATELINE:  Fool or Ghoul?

lumps  Real or Fake?

When we chose to buy a small (and we mean small) piece of coal salvaged from the Titanic wreck site, we never expected to be excoriated as either a “fool,” or a “ghoul.”

Yet, here we are.

We purchased a rather expensive piece of coal with a certificate of authenticity, which may or may not be worth its weight in coal dust. Internet scams are made of such stuff.

Friends called us the victim of a scam, and others called us a grave robber. We point out that we have written extensively on dead people, even those who were our friends: is that exploitation too? Honoring those we admire and making a profit motivated people from Shakespeare on down the line of writers.

Those who know us well understand that we have lived in a house once owned by two victims of the Titanic’s sinking: the father and son Percival and Richard White. In fact, our home is haunted by these disembodied presences, likely ghosts or spirits.

As a result, we have dedicated ourselves to their memory—and have turned our library into a shrine of sorts, a Titanic Reading Room of First Class Order.

You see, we have discovered a photo of Richard in the Titanic library two days before it brought him to a watery grave. The picture was taken by a priest who disembarked at Liverpool with a camera full of first-class denizens on their way to doom.

As for the coal, it is legally the only object that can be retrieved from the Titanic debris field and sold.

Courts ruled it was not personal property. In fact, the Titanic Foundation uses the money to bring museum shows to the public.

The salvaged coal from a 1996 retrieval operation has been chopped into tiny pieces, about 400,000 of them. We cannot figure out why anyone wants a chunk, but we decided that our spirits might find the psychic energy in the coal to be helpful to manifesting themselves.

We may be opening up a Pandora’s Box in our home library, but orbs gallivant there nightly, and things go bump all the time. Richard is here too, guarding us from any miscreant of mischief.

So, we will provide regular reports on whether the lump of coal is residual or has caused intelligent hauntings. We await the noise in the library from a safe distance in the other wing of our house.

A security camera will give us insights and in-sounds. We expect to keep you, dear readers, posted.

If this light-worker is a bad boy, my lump of coal has arrived.

 For those interested, a website for GhostsofMillCircle.com provides information on visits to the Titanic Library at Mill Circle and walking ghost-hunter tours of the neighborhood on a limited basis. See the website for all details.

 

Slaughter-House 5: Major Disappointment

 DATELINE: So it goes!

michael sacks    Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim. 

It sounds like a sequel to itself, and that’s how it goes. Billy Pilgrim of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novella is a man unstuck in time.

Slaughter-House 5 goes nowhere repeatedly and quickly.

It might have been a traditional sci-fi fantasy, but author Vonnegut achieved some kind of immortality by dealing with timeless repetitive living by a man abducted by aliens—and “forced” to randomly re-live his hideous life, from surviving plane crashes to surviving the horror of Dresden’s bombing in 1945.

Michael Sacks plays Billy Pilgrim, an all-seeing optometrist and is the epitome of what you’d want in the actor: he is timeless and can play callow youth, and middle-aged crazy. Yet, Sacks provided mostly promise unfulfilled. He never rose above this, his greatest role. He became stuck in the mud as much as anything else.

Other names in the 1972 film became more household:  Valerie Perrine, Perry King, Eugene Roche, Sorrell Booke, Ron Liebman, John Dehner, and on and on. The film is a litany of familiar faces of the age.

Music provided by Glenn Gould is Bach on harpsichord and limited to the alien scenes, which seems par for the course of the universe.

This was meant to be a great film based on a great book, but it’s not.

You might forget the movie if you don’t realize what the stakes were:  Michael Sacks borders and teeters in his lead role from wide-eyed innocent to bewildered twit. He seems perfect for abduction and living in a zoo on another planet.

Billy goes from hapless POW to hapless toy for creatures from a fourth dimension. He slips from a Lion’s Club speech to a POW camp assembly in a blink. He goes from here to there in a hop of time travel that Einstein would envy.

“So it goes” was the existential motto and motif for the book Slaughter House 5, but you will never hear it once in this film. That may tell you the failings and inadequacies of the movie. So it goes, indeed.

Lost at Sea: USS Partridge

DATELINE: Death on the Diamond!

USS PartridgeUSS Partridge.

My life seems to be surrounded by sea disasters.

Each person must reach a point in life where they have to take stock:  it may be time for me to sell some of the most cherished items that I have held in my safeguard for years.

Though I may hope my home will be a modern pyramid, taken care of by survivors, kept in pristine condition as I have set it up, that is not likely.

Things will be sold, or worse, thrown away and thought to be worthless by those trying to liquidate the property quickly. Oh, there is some vanity in thinking that my home, once owned by the victims of the RMS Titanic and haunted by their associates (Richard’s cat and his housekeeper Addie), deserves to be kept like Lizzie Borden’s house, in historical decoration forever, frozen in timelessness.

It would be pretty to think so.

The reality is something else, and I have put up for auction on eBay one item that particularly strikes me as precious in a lost, sad way.

I have a rare first-edition book, not even signed by author Cortland Fitzsimmons. It is his 1934 baseball murder mystery, made into a charming little movie with Robert Young that same year.

The book is special, not because of its American subject of baseball, but because of its own survivor history.

Stamped on the inside cover in fading blue print are the words “DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY, Bureau of Navigation.”  Under that is another stamp, “Library, U.S.S. Partridge.”

That ship was commissioned in 1919, but never knew what heroism would be asked of it. During World War II, the ship became a mine-sweeper, fairly dangerous duty. Indeed, it was hit by a torpedo in 1944, and was brought to an ignominious end. En route to Normandy, France, after D-Day, a German E-Boat fatally attacked the ship.

The Partridge sank in 35 minutes on July 29, 1944. Thirty-five of 90 crew members were killed, and many others were seriously injured.

We don’t know who saved the book from the ship’s library, or why. We don’t know how many sailors on that boat read the book for pleasure and escape during their dangerous duties of the War. We cannot say that the spirits of heroic men are attached to this item. We know only that for a time, it fell under my protection.

Now, I must find another home for it and another who will care as much as did I. It does leave me with an empty feeling, which seems to be a bittersweet aspect of growing old.

Truly Miss Marple: Rutherford Murders?

DATELINE:  Murder Most Foul!

Dames Margaret & Agatha

Dames Margaret Rutherford & Agatha Christie!

A little British documentary about character actress Margaret Rutherford is shocking, surprising, and ultimately saddening. If you have forgotten her dotty old ladies, she was the first movie Miss Marple.

The film has the overwhelming title: Truly Miss Marple: the Curious Case of Margaret Rutherford. The actress died in 1972 after a rapid decline in health at the height of her popularity

Agatha Christie was appalled at the folly of turning her aged detective into an eccentric comic actress, but they later enjoyed each other—to the degree that Christie dedicated The Mirror Crack’d to Rutherford.

Her acting career did not fully reach success until after age 40: she was always the costar, whether it was for John Gielgud or Edith Evans. When success came, she played old ladies who were NOT battle-axes. It was an unkind comment by interviewers. Dame Margaret was always a gentle figure of fun.

Her biggest break came with Noel Coward in Blithe Spirit, a role she almost refused because she thought it might demean spiritualists (as she was a believer).

Her indomitable English grand dames gave way in old age to the Christie character, though Margaret hated the word “Murder” in the titles of the four grand Miss Marple movies. There was a reason for her sensitivity: her father murdered her grandfather, and later, likely as a result, her mother committed suicide.

Yet, Rutherford herself was the ultimate woman of kind hearts and coronets. If there was a downside, it was her growing periods of depression. It was a losing battle, especially when dementia added to her woes.

She briefly went to Hollywood with Burton and Taylor in The VIPs and won an Oscar as a supporting actress. The Oscar disappeared after her death, stolen and on the black market, sold by a conniving housekeeper.

Miss Marple’s little murder mystery movies remain delightful, owing to Rutherford’s charismatic personality.

 

Our Man in Havana: Cuba Before Fall

DATELINE:  Greene for Thrills

ready for bed Guinness Doth Make Coward!

Would lightning strike twice? Throw in a Graham Greene novella, director Carol Reed, and a hotbed of political activity in the 1950s, and voila, you have an instant spy thriller, called Our Man in Havana.

The novella and screenplay were written by Greene himself, which may or may not be good, considering his lofty and singular opinion of what a good film should be. He respected Carol Reed enough to trust him again after The Third Man. And, with his lukewarm anti-American streak, the pre-Communist Castro lent his blessing to the project.

The result is a last-ditch look at the charm of old Havana before it underwent a lifetime of rot. To see it like this may sadden any self-respecting tourista.

Add in a delicious cast:  Alec Guinness as a would-be spy, Ernie Kovacs as a Cuban military leader, Maureen O’Hara as an officious colleague, Noel Coward as a Home Office Boy, with Ralph Richardson as his boss, and Burl Ives, hot off his Oscar, as a German expatriate, and something’s gotta give. The story concerns a British vacuum salesman who gives off airs of an obsequious secret agent who riles up the Cuban dictatorship before Castro. You mean there was no role for Errol Flynn who was there for the Cuban rebel girls?

At one point, Guinness notes that his daughter has an American accent for some reason. We suspect it has to do with the producer hiring his girlfriend, but we may be too harsh.

Burl Ives advises Guiness to take a job as a secret agent for Noel Coward and send it fake secret reports by fake secret agents. Alas, reality bites: everything he makes up is actually true.

The humor is so dry in this film that it almost seems arid. Greene rakes the James Bond ilk over the coals, with its bird-dropping invisible ink and codes taken out of a Dickensian book of Lamb to the slaughter sayings.

Kovacs and Guinness play a game of drinking checkers as a mental match.

Today’s audiences may be more befuddled by the intelligence of yore. Some of the actors are clearly in a straitjacket with not much ado. Yet, the overall effect is high-dudgeon Cold War spy thrills.

Our Man in Havana is simply amazing when not overwrought with super-suction.

Edith Wharton: Harmonic Pretense

DATELINE: America’s Great Woman Writer

edith & dogs

Wharton also Wrote about Ghostly Dogs!

Like Henry James, one of the great American writers is a person who lived too long in foreign places.

Edith Wharton is presented in a documentary called The Sense of Harmony, which presents in somewhat disjointed form, her odd life. She was from the New York self-ordained aristocracy, socializing with a world alien from the real America of the 19th century. She is certainly at the polar opposite of Calamity Jane.

Wharton crossed the Atlantic on steamship 66 times in her life. Though she never gave up her American citizenship, and her greatest fictions were set in the United States, she lived mostly abroad in France.

You likely know her from the stories made into movies over decades:  Ethan Frome, Age of Innocence, The Old Maid, House of Mirth, all presenting scandal under the veneer of well-appointed homes.

Indeed, she began writing with an architect about interior design of houses. Though her novels sold and made money, she really had no need of it—except to live the way she wanted.

There was only a hint of scandal in her own life, though she often wrote about its corrosive secrets. She divorced and had one affair with a protégé of Henry James.

She also was the first woman to go to the front at Verdun in World War I and write about it. France considered her a war hero for tireless volunteering to help refugees and children.

Wharton famously has a haunted mansion in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she spent surprisingly little time. Perhaps ghosts frightened her, though she wrote many short stories about the paranormal. Her most famous tale, “Roman Fever,” again focused on upper-crust society.

She loved a good tale, well-told, and was planning a short story on a horror anecdote about the Titanic she had learned, but never actually finished. You might be driven to check out her less well-known tales from watching this documentary.

 

 

 

 

Bright Star, Muse to Amuse Keats

DATELINE: Campion as Keats Champion

Whishaw as Keats Ill-tailored poet.

Ben Whishaw is John Keats in this sumptuous movie by Jane Campion. If you want a sense of what living in 1818 was like, this film will provide it—from drafty houses to ill-fitting clothes.

Director Jane Campion ended her feature-length movie association with this effort called Bright Star. She felt there was no room in movie universe nowadays for real literary films with the domination of cartoon heroes stealing all box-office receipts.

Keats is a Romantic poet, but that does not mean he should be presented as a Hallmark cable channel character. Romance is a 19th century philosophy, not a sentimental love story.

Campion illustrates the quaint conceits of another era when bohemian poets hit the wall of standard social norms.

This is a costume drama where the costumes are shabby because there really was no haute fashion when poet John Keats was putting ink to paper—with grubby ink-stained fingers.

Though Abbie Cornish is delightful as the “bright star,” in Keats’ life, she is maddeningly and alternately feminist and fading flower. It makes the movie almost guaranteed to please nobody. This film likely impressed Madonna enough to give Cornish the lead in her film of the romance of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in W./E. the following year.

Campion, as director, is an artist true to herself, like Keats, and she walks a fine line with her saucy seamstress as muse.

After playing Sebastian in Brideshead, Ben Whishaw had cornered the market on sensitive/effete men for a few years, and his Keats may be poetic, but we don’t have a sense of his “consumptive” doom within a few years. It may be a shock to those who don’t know the biographic facts. Marriage is not within his power because of debt, not illness.

This may seem a frivolous love story on some levels, but director Campion has eschewed directing films ever since—to our great detriment as followers of intelligent character study.

 

 

 

 

Hollywood Takes on the Bible

DATELINE: Testament of the Trailers

hollywood bible

From 1994, in time for the Passover/Easter season, comes a two-part documentary that relies heavily on newsreel footage and trailers of Bible movies from silent days to the heydays of the 1960s epics.

You can find rare clips from all your favorite epics like King of Kings and The Greatest Story.  It’s all subverted by dry humor.

Of course, the fly in the ointment is that the streaming part two comes before part one. No way to stop that cart before the horse. The Bible According to Hollywood is a fast-paced sermon on the mount.

The narrator sounds like Robert Osborne, late of TMC fame, but it is a wit named Henry Stephens. And, the Old Testament starts off with a hoot and a half as it lambastes all those tacky Adam and Eve movies.

The light-tone and word play certainly makes this an enjoyable documentary. Since Cecil B. DeMille is the name on the marquee most of the time, you have mostly clips from his movies and his interviews.

Now and then, you hear from one of the stars of yore, like Virginia Mayo or Charlton Heston, They offer a few amusing morsels too. Heston contends he made only two Bible movies: the others were costume dramas. We’ll let you guess which ones he believes a truly Biblical.

Most of these sword and sandal films use a copyright free source to save money—and the early silent movies set the tone, and likely made the most money. Profits over prophets seemed to be the Hollywood motto.

Alas, most of the movies flopped:  the Old Testament stuff is far livelier than the New Testament, which is hamstrung by political forces: evangelicals want referential, and Jews don’t want to be scapegoats. The New Testament movies walk a tightrope.

All in all, the two parts could be interchangeable, and they will make you laugh and roll your eyes. What else can you expect from parables adapted for the screen?