Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bright Star. A Review and a Review of a Review.

I started out in Women's Film Studies back in the day when we essentialized.  Women were this way and that way and it was different from men, and so were the films they made.  And then I lived through the realization that there were all sorts of other variables besides biology: women also had race and class and lived experiences and sexualities and nationalities, all of which were as foundational as sex and gender for shaping the stories they told. And recently I've been having discussions about women's voices and men's voices in the craft of film, and, let's face it, I'm annoyed at my (boy) neighbor's incessant viewing of loud, crashing (boy) action films.

So now I want to make an unapologetic, full-circle move back to brazen essentializing.  Because I just saw a "woman's film" and read a "man's review" of it.

Oh, Jane Campion, thank you.  Thank you for "Bright Star" and its lingering, sanctifying extreme close-ups of needles being threaded, of scissors cutting ribbons, of embroidered pillow slips.  Of fabrics and jams and teacups and interiors--the holy mise-en-scene of domestic spheres.

Thank you for the breath-catching scenes of fingers tracing a beloved's forbidden hand, the knocks on walls that served as telegraphic connection in the night, the suspense that you created as letters with red wax stamps and florid script were awaited one day, and another, and another.

Thank you for showing the hand-me-down social roles being learned and displayed in the young sister's blush, for the patient camera, the painterly nature scenes.

Thank you for framing the narrative with sewing at the beginning--the binding--and with cutting at the end--the severing.

Thank you for poetry and sonorous voice-overs.

To be fair, the New York Times (boy) reviewer A. O. Scott loved the film as much as I did.  And while I agree with him that this is a film about poetry, social morés, social hypocrisy, and the power of chaste ardor, I can't help but marvel that I found the cinematically reverential approach to domestic detail so central to a film when A. O. Scott misses it.

I'm eager to discuss this film with girls and boys alike.

In the meantime, I'm dusting off my college poetry collections and leaving you, fair readers, with this pleasure:

When I Have Fears

by John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.


lynn @ human, being said...

I love Keats, and I can't wait to see this movie. I heard Jane Campion interviewed about it on NPR on Friday--the first I'd heard of it.

Lisa said...

wonderful wonderful wonderful! I am drooling in anticipation of the pleasure of seeing it! thanks for the insights and the inticing review!

Elizabeth said...

Does it make a difference that the boy reviewer is Joan Wallach Scott's son?