Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to Happier Programming

I am a Jane Austen fanatic. Her books have given me much pleasure over the years, and I re-read the major works once a year for inspiration, joy, and just plain fun. Is there anyone more odious in fiction than Mrs. Norris? I think not. Is there anyone more delightful than Elizabeth Bennett? Blasphemy! Except if you're talking about Emma Woodhouse, and there we have something of a contest, the best sort of contest, because no matter who wins, they both win! I'm an abuser of exclamation points at the best of times, but when one is talking of Austen, it's torture not to append exclamation marks on the end of nearly every sentence because she's just that flipping marvelous (restrain self).

Given that we only have six full novels to enjoy--again and again--that leaves the fanatics with the various permutations and film adaptations. The latest Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Emma (the first two hours were aired last night) is a total romp and a delight. A delight I tell you!

Not that I haven't admired various adaptations over the years. Clueless was fun. The version with Gwyneth Paltrow was nicely done (of course, Toni Colette can do no wrong in my eyes), but what all previous adaptations never seem to get is how young Emma Woodhouse actually is. There's a girlishness about this Emma that rings so true. She's physically active here, running gaily from room to room, curtsying with a snap, and smiling with boundless energy. You get the sense that much of her meddling is because she has all this energy with no object to bestow it on. What other interpretations seem to miss is that Emma grows up in this novel, and the actress, Romola Garai, gets that. Also, there is a real chemistry between Jonny Lee Miller's interpretation of Mr. Knightley that successfully banishes the uncomfortable aura that always lurks in the corner of this novel where you have a thirty-six-year-old man lusting after a much younger woman. They play this like an old married couple. They snark at each other, endlessly, they argue, they get frustrated with each other, they share private moments in a room full of people. In short, I can't think of another adaptation that plays them so well as a couple.

I've only seen two hours of this, and I can say without hesitation that this is my favorite Emma on the screen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

So the Roman Polanski thing. I’ve stated my opinion on this matter in a previous blog, but it’s one of those horrible events that keeps on giving. Like a lot of people, I’ve been following the petition of those in the arts who support Mr. Polanski. There are a number of people who signed that didn’t surprise me (Woody Allen, the founding member of Directors Who Are Moral Scumbags, signed, surprise, surprise), and a number of people who did sign that upsided me on the head in the most profound way (Emma Thompson—who I understand has asked that her name be removed—and Natalie Portman).

The larger issue here is, naturally, can one divorce the immoral and depraved behavior of an artist from his or her art? I’ve read a fair amount on this subject and the high-faluting language about how art is pure and blahblahblah. You know what? Fine. You divorce yourself. I find I cannot.

Case Study No. 1: I wasn’t a fan of Woody Allen’s earlier comedies. I had a boyfriend who found Woody Allen hysterically funny and, insisting that I just hadn’t seen the right Woody Allen film, dragged me kicking and screaming to a Woody Allen marathon. During the course of six hours of pure cinematic hell, I laughed only once. Naturally, since he was guffawing like a madman the whole time, he couldn’t understand my inability to appreciate fourteen-year-old boy humor—go figure—and accused me of not laughing just to prove a point. I snapped back, “Does my face look like I’m suppressing laughter just to prove a point?”

But then we move on to Annie Hall and Manhattan, two films that certainly ranked up there somewhere in my top fifty favs of all time. Little did we know that Manhattan was nothing more than a documentary. Look, I was a teenager when my mother remarried. I know all about the boundaries between a stepfather and his stepchildren, his role as a parent and his role as a husband. This is a potential nuclear winter, and I am overjoyed to say that my stepfather was, in my eyes, practically perfect in every way. So when the Woody Allen/Soon Yi Previn scandal hit the newspapers, I could relate to exactly how wrong Mr. Allen was. How many boundaries he had ignored and trampled on. How can anyone watch Manhattan and not think that this was something of a test run? Where the artist couldn’t help but have his fantasy spill over into his art. The scandal broke shortly after the release of Husbands and Wives, and after we left the movie theater I said to my husband that I thought the relationship between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen was on the rocks. The writing and the cinematography did everything it possibly could to make her not only physically unappealing, but also a first-class shrew and a bitch. So here we have the artist blurring the lines between his fantasy, his anger, and his art. Why am I supposed to grant him a moral pass when he is using that very moral lapse to fuel his imagination?

Case Study No. 2: Okay, I wasn’t as big a Woody Allen fan as I was a Gore Vidal fan. I think he is the finest essayist of the twentieth century. I am extremely left, as is he. I am a huge champion of gay rights, as is he. Burr was a seminal book for me; I’ve reread it repeatedly. Lincoln is at the top of my top ten favorite books ever. His historical series sits in a prominent place on my bookshelf, so that when I walk into that room, his books are the first I see. And he called the Polanski rape victim a whore and, basically, said that all the best directors rape kids. What’s the big deal?

Well, I’ll try to sum it up in a nutshell. Just because you have a predatory society where the adults, who should be protecting the children, have not only abandoned their role but are exploiting them (I include her mother in this category) does not give anyone a moral pass. Plain and simple. It’s like saying the majority of the country are homophobic jerks; what’s the big deal? Clearly, he finds equal rights for homosexuals a big deal (which I do, too), and I find that making apologies for men who rape kids a big deal. Call me irrational.

Case Study No. 3: This just came to my attention and for some reason it hits really hard. I just saw a brief interview with Johnny Depp on YouTube where he comments on the Polanski case. He starts off the interview with a question: “Why now?” This is perfectly legitimate. I’ve asked myself that question repeatedly. Then he goes on to say that it was clearly political and that money had changed hands. Yes, well, I personally think that money has been changing hands for years and I think it was Polanski doling out the bribes. I'm digressing. Depp then comments that Polanski’s elderly and clearly is not a predator… By that point I was so enraged and disappointed that that interview couldn’t end fast enough. I think Johnny Depp has few peers as an actor. In fact, possibly the only people who come close are Robert Downey, Jr. and the late Heath Ledger. I admired him, and now he has ruined that admiration. For good.

I made a personal vow that I wouldn’t financially support anyone who signed that petition or commented in a way that I found reprehensible. If my financial support of their work as artists is the way I show my love for the expression of their craft, the flip side of that is to withhold that financial support. Because I cannot separate the actor, the writer from the man.

I cannot watch Manhattan without thinking, whoa, game plan for seducing your stepdaughter.

I cannot see the books on my shelf without thinking of the man who said that girl was a whore, I’m not wasting my time thinking of her.

I cannot watch that YouTube excerpt and listen to that man saying, well, he’s old, he’s got a wife and kids, he’s not a predator, when in fact Roman Polanski has a history of “mentoring” very young women.

So Johnny Depp asks, "Why now?" I ask him, "You have a ten-year-old girl. How would you feel if that child had been raped and thirty years later her rapist was claiming that it was water under the bridge?"