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26 February 2007

Film as Research

Monday morning after the Oscars. What else is there to talk about? Yes, I stayed up and watched the whole thing (a great excuse to work the Sunday crossword while I kept an eye on both computer and TV screen.)

Some truly fine movies were recognized and equally impressive acting. My favorite for the year was Little Miss Sunshine, but The Queen was the movie that stayed with me the longest. Its penetrating insight into the life and times of Elizabeth II was more compelling than any book I have ever read about royalty. For the first time I felt more sympathy for her than I did for Diana.

Movies enlarge our world in so many ways. Since our blog is about research, here are a few that impressed me with their accuracy and invite you to do the same. A disclaimer first: I definitely prefer movies that leave me feeling better about the universe. That does not mean I avoid difficult stories (I loved Hotel Rwanda and Crash) but I am sure that I will never see The Departed.

Since the Regency is the period I write about I nominate Master and Commander as m favorite. Not only for the impressive historical accuracy but also for the excellent adaptation of the O'Brian novels. Yes, the movie made a few mistakes and the character of Steven Maturin was not fully developed, but Russell Crowe had Aubrey down. And director and screenwriter Peter Weir treated the period with all the loving attention of a true artist and devotee of the series.

Yes, Sense and Sensibility and Emma must be on the list. I did not even see like Mansfield Park (should I?) because I was sure from the reviews that I would hate it. The Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice was a fascinating visual interpretation of the period, much more Georgian than the usual almost Victorian of other films. A comparison of the various version reminds me, once again, that the Regency is a bridge between the two periods.

That is the end of praise for that version of Pride and Prejudice. t I think the director or screenwriter had Darcy all wrong. He is all about pride and prejudice which equals arrogance. Not the insecurity and shyness that came through in this version. The climactic scene where Darcy comes walking through the early morning fog with his great coat flapping and his shirt open literally made me laugh out loud. Give me the Darcy portrayed by Colin Firth and not just because he was so much fun to look at.

Milean Canonero's Oscar win for costume for the 2006 Coppola film, Marie Antoinette, was well deserved. Even though I think the movie is much more about our world than about France before the Revolution, it did give sympathetic insight into how Marie's world changed her and how she changed it. If you are as fascinated by the sociology/psychology of clothes as I am, there is a must-read book called "The Queen of Fashion." Written by scholar Caroline Weber, it is readable and worth the time, with 100 pages of footnotes in case you want to know even more.

There are a number of lesser known movies that I consider worth sharing. The Emperor's New Clothes and Princess Cariboo. I thought that Becky Sharpe was too inaccurate to be of any use. And I cannot wait to see Amazing Grace. What makes your list of fabulous and failure?

29 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I have to say that from an historical costumer's point of view the Kiera Knightly PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as well as the now Oscar-winning MARIE ANTOINETTE *sound of hair ball here* are both TRAVESTIES!!!

It huts me to watch them . . . and don’t get me started on GLADIATOR or KING AUTHOR, or *sound of grinding teeth* ELIZABETH.

It seems to me that there’s something really wrong with the film industry. Why is it that the costumes in SHAKESPERE IN LOVE (a farce) are spot on (except for Gwyneth’s shoe in the Juliet death scene), but those in supposedly serious movies can be so atrocious? It’s like Hollywood goes out of it’s way to present things that are wrong.

I totally agree that MASTER AND COMMANDER was fab (and I loathe Russell Crowe, so that’s saying something, LOL!), and I’m dying to see AMAZING GRACE.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks Kalen for an expert's POV -- as I said, I do not think Marie Antoinette was about Marie but meant as a metaphor. Have you read/heard of Weber's book Queen of Fashion?

Your observation brings up the oft argued question: How important is historical accuracy to the reader? It matters to ME, which is why I pursue the details, but I do not think it is the most important part of a story.

That said, after thirty years connected to the military (through my husband) I go nuts when writers get the details wrong -- react rather like you and your "sound of hair balls" -- a phrase I never would have thought of, but which is quite accurate.

Which one of the Austen movies did the best with costume? My untutored vote is for the Garson/Olivier version.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

The Garson/Oliver version has Victorian costumes. Totally wrong for P&P (I haven't seen it in way too long to tell you how accurate the costumes are when looked at as Victorian). The most accurate version of P&P IMO is the A&E version with Colin Firth. Those costumes are spot on c. 1811-1814.

I do have Queen of Fashion. It’s a fantastic book. I haven’t had time to sit down and read it cover to cover, yet though.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Well, for a good laugh and a few hair balls, watch First Knight with Richard Gere as 'ole Lancelot.

Ughh. I hope for the movie's sake they weren't even trying for historical accuracy. There was a thread on the Smart Bitches website a few months ago that was so "WTF" funny, as they like to say, I went out and bought the DVD so I could get some "bad costume entertainment."

Even the horses were dressed goofily wrong. Oh, the indignity!

Kathrynn. . . who just turned in her copy edits. Thanks for covering for my post date, Kalen.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

For my sins, I actually saw FIRST KNIGHT in the theater -- and hated it for so many reasons. It is one story I have rewritten (mentally) several times. They could have done a great medieval love story instead of messing so badly with Arthur.
What a waste of an impressive cast.

1995 was before I started writing historicals, so I was not looking at it with an historian's eye. That said it was clear, even to uneducated me, that they should have called it a fantasy.

What do you think? If they did an historically accurate medieval movie would anyone go see it? Does BRAVEHEART make the cut?

12:51 PM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

BRAVEHEART...ai yi yi yi. They wouldn't have painted their faces blue (too late for that) nor worn kilts (too early, and most of Wallace's men would've been Lowlanders in any case). Why stage the battle of Stirling Bridge without a bridge? There are more issues, but the one that REALLY gets me is the epilogue purporting to be Bannockburn, making it look like Robert the Bruce was there to pay homage but then spur-of-the-moment decided to fight! He'd been fighting for years at that point, and Bannockburn is something of a tactical masterpiece because he went there planning to win and prepared the ground and distributed his forces brilliantly to maximize his strengths and turn Edward's into weaknesses.

So BRAVEHEART wouldn't make my cut, at least...

1:32 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

And if they HAD had kilts, they wouldn't have been those wee skimpy things. Thanks for shooting that one down, Susan! All I can say is Oh the horror. Liam Neeson's Rob Roy on the other hand . . . but that's Georgian.

Accurate Medievals . . . The Name of the Rose, Branagh’s Henry V, and I love The Lion in Winter (it might not be 100% accurate, but it feels and looks pretty damn good). I just don’t see how being inaccurate gives any benefit whatsoever.

2:36 PM  
Blogger RevMelinda said...

What about "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (the costumes, not Colin's horrible hairdo, LOL)? The film certainly looked beautiful. And probably my favorite film of all time is "A Room With A View"--and the costumes in that one are fabulous,too (you'll have to tell me if they're accurate--does Hollywood do better with more "modern" looks?).

2:50 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

So how many are disappointed that Peter O'Toole did not win for Venus aka His Life's Work? It's a shame he was up against Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird) in 1962. I thought O'Toole was brilliant in Lawrence of Arabia.

I can still recall that film even though I saw it before most of you were born.

Note both of those movies would be useful in an historical context.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

My 2 favorite period movies ever are CHILDREN OF PARADISE and TOPSY TURVY. Both, oddly, backstage movies -- I wonder why that appeals to me so much. CHILDREN OF PARADISE is about a beautiful woman of the streets, Garance, and her three lovers, the mime Baptiste Dubureau, the actor Frederique Lemaitre, and an aristocrat (I believe the aristocrat's a made-up character, while the other two were true personnages of the Paris stage of, I think, the 1840s). I have no idea of its accuracy, but it's replete with of grace, poetry, and attitude, It was filmed in Nazi-occupied France; the scripts wasn't allowed to mention politics, but it screams FRANCE.

TOPSY TURVY is Mike Leigh's take on the making of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado. Sad, very human -- it seemed to me a fascinating take on men and women in the Edwardiam (or late Victorian ) era. Jim Broadbent is astonishing as Gilbert. And although I don't know about the accuracy of the clothes, one felt that the actors were wearing them from the inside (the corsets) out.

GOSFORD PARK would be a third choice, if early 20th century could be considered "period." So many sly moments, and I've never found anything in my researches to contradict the conditions of servanthood. Beautifully cast and acted by so many wonderful actors -- Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Eileen Atkins, Kristen Scott-Thomas, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and oh my goodness Emily Watson. For me a private favorite bit was Jeremy Northam as Ivor Novello (a real-life entertainer of the period) saying bitterly about the upper-class people he was surrounded by, "I'm paid to act as them." For me, it redeemed his silly, miscast, dreamboat of a Mr. Knightley.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Sandy Blair said...

Great blog. BTW, I have all the O'Brian novels on my keeper shelf. I'm a tall ship addict.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Amazing Grace was fantastic!

Haven't seen Master and Commander yet (gasp!). Russell Crowe was the reason why. But I've added it to our Netflix list now.

Marie Antoinette was a historical story? You mean other than those gorgeous period gowns and delicious pastries? OK and those gaudy rooms? Those three things are all I got out of the movie.

Rob Roy was done very well, imo. Liam Neeson played him accurately.

Gosford Park was perfectly cast, down to the cook and kitchen maids.

Kalen, after your comment, I'm afraid to own up to loving Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen in P&P. Colin Firth was way too angsty and long-faced for me (heresy!!).

4:22 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

What about Dangerous Liasons? One of my favorite all time movies. I've even seen the live play and the French version. Magnifique! (Laugh at my French, please. I pronounce it all with a Spanish accent.) So were the costumes as wonderful as they seemed? They certainly FELT accurate!

Off topic, I've got to say I don't really get the Colin Firth thing. He looks like the guy who should play the cuckold to me. But maybe I'm always picturing him in the Xmas jumper from Bridget Jones. Heehee. I'll take that other guy with no shirt any day. :-0

But I found the comment about the bad P & P interesting. You said, "which equals arrogance.Not the insecurity and shyness that came through in this version." I thought that was the point of the book? And this is a genuine question, because I'm not the least introspective about books or movies and I never studied lit in college. (I know.)

My normal reaction to a book is not, "Wow, I found that symbolism fascinating." It's more along the lines of "Ohmigod, that was so cool when he confronted her naked!" HAHAHA

So somebody educate me. Doesn't she realize at the end of P & P that what she's always taken for extreme arrogance was responsibility, etc. tinged by him not really being comfortable around people? *Victoria waits to be educated.*

8:02 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

I'm afraid to own up to loving Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen in P&P.

Keira, you're not alone! I confessed my shame to Kalen long ago. I loved the bad version. Loved it. Though even I thought the pajamas scene was ridiculous. But that was the first time I'd ever felt any sizzling sexual tension between them. I thought they were sexy as hell.

That scene where he helps her into the the carriage and then the camera focuses on him flexing his hand against the feeling of touching her. . . .OH MY GOD! *shiver* For me, that is the one moment on film that captures all the deliciousness of a good romance novel!!!

8:06 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Poor Vicki has to deal with my heated loathing of the latest P&P. It just didn't work for me on ANY level. Keira Knightly sounded like she was in a speed talking competition (it doesn't sound wittier just cause you say it faster). Matthew MacFadyen I just happen to find monkey-butt ugly, AND he delivered his lines like he was reading from a teleprompter. Tres sexy, IMO (yes, that’s sarcasm). And then we get into the 40-year costume spread (and the ones that just make no freaken sense in any time period). Add in the fact that they actually rewrote the dialogue for key scenes (like they were going to improve on Austen!), and what they changed it to felt like something a 14 year-old girl would swoon over. Ugh.

To sum up: If you want to make Wuthering Heights, just freaking make Wuthering Heights. Don’t waste all of our time by attempting to turn P&P INTO Wuthering Heights.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Lots of historical films I love got mentioned here, but I was looking for Medieval films that I thought worked, historically. Sadly a lot them have something specific that works, but it gets lost in a sea of crap (e.g. Rutger Hauer ‘s costume in Flesh and Blood is a spot-on recreation from a Durer painting, but WTF is Jennifer Jason Leigh wearing?).

Girl with a Pearl Earring, great flick, but it’s Baroque.

I LOVE Topsy Turvy, but it’s Victorian.

Gosford Park is amazing. I just watching it again last night. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT. The cast. My god, the cast.

Dangerous Liaisons rocks my Georgian-loving world. That peach and black gown and jacket Glen Close wears. *lust in my heart* I want that costume. And the dressing scenes during the opening credits? Amazing.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Btw, Kalen, I LOVED Henry V. One of my favorite movies. But I saw it long ago and don't remember the costuming. Must be time to rent it!

8:44 AM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

I still haven't seen the Knightley/McFadyen P&P. I got it as a Christmas present this year, but I've been busy.

I love the A&E P&P, but while I think Colin Firth plays Darcy brilliantly, I've never found him all that physically attractive. He has sort of a soft face somehow--which sounds weird even to me, because it's not like his features are weak or delicate.

8:52 AM  
Blogger jennifer echols said...

I agree with everybody. Yes, Vicki, I thought Lizzie "realize[d] at the end of P & P that what she's always taken for extreme arrogance [in Darcy] was responsibility, etc. tinged by him not really being comfortable around people." Yes, the Kiera version is all wrong, very Wuthering Heights-y. Yes, I loved it! YES YES YES, I'm so relieved to finally find other people who don't find Colin Firth sexy! I have been arguing with my mother about this since the A&E version came out. Yes, I've read that the A&E version was very carefully researched for costumes: Jane and Elizabeth are even wearing replicas of necklaces owned by Jane the Author and her sister. And Mary, I will not vouch for accuracy of costumes etc. etc., but I thought Mansfield Park was an excellent movie, as was Persuasion. I wouldn't have missed them for the world. Not as gorgeous/sweeping/expensive as Sense & Sensibility, but lovely in an indy way, with GREAT STORIES!

9:16 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Victoria -- I recently went to an amszing discussion of Pride and Prejudice at our Libarry -- just a group of women who all love the Austen version (lol). Our consensus was that Eliazabeth and Darcy were both guilty of pride and prejudice and they did not truly fall in love until they overcame that flaw.

Have never seen DANGEROUS LIASONS. Guess I should add it to my list.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks Jennifer -- will add MANSFIELD PARK to my Netflix list.

Wow, I do not see Darcy as overwhelmed with responsibility and uncomfortable around people-- though I think that is the interpretation of the Keira Knightley version and another reason I dislike it so much.

IMO, it is not as though he had the wealth thrust upon him. He hadaware of the responsibility from childhood and had long ago internalized it.

As for disliking people -- I think he had no use for people who were beneath him -- and for a long time he confused that with their social standing when what he really had no use for was stupid people.

One of the great gifts that Elizabeth gives him is the realization that a social inferior can be at least as intelligent as he is.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

No, I don't think he was overwhelmed by his responsibilities. Just hyper-aware. Am I getting the shyness aspect just from the movie? If he wasn't shy or at least not entirely comfortable in social situations, then what was HER prejudice? What was she assuming about him that wasn't true?

9:32 AM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

I didn't particularly like the MANSFIELD PARK movie, but I owe it a debt of gratitude for kick-starting my writing career! (At least, I think I do--lately I've been going through a phase of wondering if I'll ever get published, with associated angst. :-( ) Basically, I came out of the movie babbling to my husband about the different choices I would've made, had I been adapting MP. Over the next few weeks I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I started building a story in my head with a similar basic set-up to MP. I started writing it more or less to make it go away, assuming that I'd peter out around Ch. 3 like I'd done with everything I'd previously attempted to write.

Two years and 150,000 words later (and yes, I'm fully aware that's too long, which is one reason that story lives under the bed!) I had my first manuscript.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

My problem with Mansfield Park is the big slavery bugaboo they centered the conflict around. If simply doesn't exist in the book, and I’m not sure why they decided that it was an element worth adding. Other than that, I guess it was ok (not ok enough for me to have ever bought it on DVD, though). I’d much rather watch Persuasion (which rocks!) or Wives and Daughters, which I just adore.

I am dying to see Amazing Grace! Couldn’t go this past weekend, so I’m thinking I might have to run out and see it tonight. I just can’t wait.

I’m another that doesn’t fancy Colin Firth (but he’s way better than Matthew MacFadyen, IMO). I’m a David Rintoul girl when it comes to “Who’s your ultimate Darcy?”.

In P&P it says pretty specifically that Darcy was given an over-inflated sense of himself by his mother (who I think is the sister of his horrible aunt, in whom we can see the full blossoming of such pride). But his principals are sound (thanks to his father) and his disposition is honest and caring (hence how he cares for his sister, and for Bingley, even if his interference ends up being wrong, the motivation wasn’t bad). Elizabeth’s own failings center around her willingness to form snap judgments of people and her reliance on hearsay from prejudiced sources (aka Mr. Wickham, who she believes totally merely because he’s attractive and plays up to her vanity).

10:23 AM  
Blogger RevMelinda said...

Okay, medieval. . .does RETOUR DE MARTIN GUERRE count? (Nathalie Baye and Gerard Depardieu, IIRC) One of the best films I've ever seen in any language.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

The insertion of the slavery issue into MANSFIELD PARK didn't bother me as much as making Fanny into a scrappy tomboy. I've nothing against scrappy tomboys--I pretty much was one, and I've written them myself--but it changed the story all out of recognition for me. I thought it would be more interesting to show how life in the Bertram family forced Fanny to suppress whatever natural spirit and gumption she possessed...and next thing you know, I was writing my own book!

11:32 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I forgot about The Return of Martin Guerre! That's an amazing movie.

And I totally agree with you Susan about the change in Fanny. She wasn't the same girl as in the book at all.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

where to start!
Kalen, I too loved MASTER AND COMMANDER altho I hate Russell Crowe.
Kathryn, about FIRST NIGHT...it's based on the entirely ridiculous premise that a woman would leave Sean Connery for Richard Gere, so of course everything else would be absurd.
I thought the 2006 P&P was a masterly piece of film making, once you'd forgotten the book. All shot with natural light on location. Wow.
I didn't dislike MANSFIELD PARK nearly as much as everyone else. One interesting thing about the costumes was that they were based on "Mrs. Hurst Dancing," a collection of Regency era-watercolors that are the equivalent of family photos--out of print, but well worth finding. As for the abolitionist issue--well, it was the burning issue of the late Georgian period. Households boycotted sugar, Wedgwood issued an abolitionist plaque, etc. etc. But I think the director glommed onto it from the mention of the estates in Antigua, missing the point entirely. Austen was very interested in the navy, and there was a harbor there that Nelson fortified, so I think that's why she chose that location over, say, Jamaica.
PERSUASION is the best, tho.

10:37 AM  
Blogger jennifer echols said...

Kalen--Slavery wasn't mentioned in the book MANSFIELD PARK, but I took the movie's interpretation as what might very well have been going on, what Austen was implying but leaving unsaid.

7:29 AM  

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