Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bright Star, Redux

Upon further reflection, I have come to realize that my initial reaction was rather off the mark and that I’m now going to have to eat some of my earlier words regarding this film. Not that I’m now going to praise it as one of the greatest films ever made, but it does have a certain charm which really grew on me in the days following my initial viewing, and which was further reaffirmed upon a second. I think this is one of those movies that has to be evaluated on its own terms, something I failed to consider in my first review, forgetting that not every film aspires to the same level—or even the same kind—of greatness.

To reiterate some of the picture’s more obvious strengths: exquisite cinematography, delightful costumes, and several first-rate performances. (Paul Schneider is particularly effective and fun to watch as Keats’ friend and patron, Charles Armitage Brown.) My first time around, I thought the score was decent but too sparse; now I realize that this was an exercise in studied and wise restraint, one which increases the potency of the scenes where the music does make an appearance. (Bonus points too for the unique a cappella arrangement of the Mozart wind serenade, which is featured prominently. Come to think of it, that may have been the subliminal trigger that caused me to make the Amadeus comparison in the first place.)

Certain almost incidental elements, such as the interactions between Fanny and her siblings, are likewise subtly endearing. It’s also striking and refreshing, especially given the Romantic context in which the film is set, to be so boldly confronted by the presentation of two lovers who, though stirred by the most intense passions and forces of attraction, nevertheless resolve to act honorably (in sharp contrast to Brown’s character, it should be noted), remembering that their actions will have consequences far beyond the present moment. (HT to Jeffrey Overstreet for this observation, and to Joe Thacker,for pointing me there.)

And lastly, I was very much remiss in failing to mention the absolutely fabulous and right-on-the-money quotation about the nature of poetry, given by Ben Whishaw in his role as Keats.

A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it’s to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.

So my reconsidered take on this film is to approach it much on these terms. This is not a fast food flick; it’s a leisurely four course meal kind of movie. Watch it being prepared for a somewhat slower-than-normal pace, and without expecting any huge surprises—no innovative plot twists, or grandiose commentaries on the human condition. This is not one of those films which, as Keats also says of certain men at one point in the dialogue, aim to "make you start without making you feel". Be prepared, rather, to luxuriate in the sensation which each progressive scene conjures up, and I think you will find the experience a most enjoyable one.