Bright Star – Day Seventeen – #40movies40days

bright_star09Bright Star starts a bit slowly but builds and burns with a growing intensity.  The longing, the loss, the passion and the separated lovers make it a classic Power of Idealism film with two young Power of Idealism lovers.

Since it is a Saturday I am taking a bit of the easy way out by quoting from two of the many lush, poetic and enthusiastic reviews this Jane Campion film received on it’s release.

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Both articles are beautifully written and part of much longer reviews.  I’ve provided the links to the original discussions of the film.

Dana Stevens writing in Slate – http://www.slate.com/id/2229522/
Bright Star (Apparition), Jane Campion’s new film about the brief love affair between John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne, is a thing of beauty: the rare film about the life of an artist that is itself a work of art. Campion’s inspiration was Sir Andrew Motion’s massive 1997 biography of Keats, which attempted to supplant the popular image of Keats as a Romantic martyr who died of consumption at age 25 with a portrait of the poet as a vibrant thinker and citizen, engaged in the debates of his time. But Keats proves as tough to demythologize as Marilyn Monroe: He died so young, his life was so tragic, and the small body of work he left behind is so incomparable, that any depiction of his short life is bound to be tinged with idealization.
That’s why Campion was smart to make her film less about Keats than about Fanny Brawne, the fashionable, flirtatious young woman who captivated him in the spring of 1818 and lived next door to him in Hampstead for the last two years of his life. Fanny, as played by the up-and-coming Australian actress Abbie Cornish, is a curious heroine. She’s not a quick-tongued wit, like Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet. She’s grave-faced and a little stolid, skeptical of flights of fancy. (“Poems are a strain to make out,” she tells her little sister after sending her to a bookstore to buy Keats’ Endymion.) Fanny is inordinately proud of her gifts as a seamstress, and she dresses herself in homemade finery that’s outrageously ornate for the simple village life she leads. (Meeting Keats at a party, she brags, “This is the first frock in all of Hampstead to have a triple-pleated mushroom collar.”) Campion’s insistence on Fanny’s sewing skills is a feminist gambit, yes, but one that’s entirely consistent with the character. By emphasizing sewing as Fanny’s creative outlet, Campion shows the social constraints on women in Regency-era England and also gives the poet’s muse an art form of her own: When Fanny presents Keats with an exquisitely embroidered silk pillowcase, it’s a kind of sewn poem.
By A. O. SCOTT writing in The New York Times– http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/movies/16bright.html
Fanny, the eldest daughter of a distracted widow (Kerry Fox), has some of the spirited cleverness of a Jane Austen heroine. A gifted seamstress, she prides herself on her forward-looking fashion sense and her independence. She is also vain, insecure and capable of throwing herself headlong into the apparent folly of adoring a dying and penniless poet, something no sensible Austen character would ever do.
If it were just the poet and his beloved, “Bright Star” might collapse in swooning and sighing, or into the static rhythms of a love poem. And while there are passages of extraordinary lyricism — butterflies, fields of flowers, fluttering hands and beseeching glances — these are balanced by a rough, energetic worldliness. Lovers, like poets, may create their own realms of feeling and significance, but they do so in contention with the same reality that the rest of us inhabit…
Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. “Bright Star” could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.
The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.
The heat of that moment and others like it deliver “Bright Star” from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.
Dana Stevens writing in Slate says:
.
Bright Star (Apparition), Jane Campion’s new film about the brief love affair between John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne, is a thing of beauty: the rare film about the life of an artist that is itself a work of art. Campion’s inspiration was Sir Andrew Motion’s massive 1997 biography of Keats, which attempted to supplant the popular image of Keats as a Romantic martyr who died of consumption at age 25 with a portrait of the poet as a vibrant thinker and citizen, engaged in the debates of his time.
.
But Keats proves as tough to demythologize as Marilyn Monroe: He died so young, his life was so tragic, and the small body of work he left behind is so incomparable, that any depiction of his short life is bound to be tinged with idealization.
.
That’s why Campion was smart to make her film less about Keats than about Fanny Brawne, the fashionable, flirtatious young woman who captivated him in the spring of 1818 and lived next door to him in Hampstead for the last two years of his life. Fanny, as played by the up-and-coming Australian actress Abbie Cornish, is a curious heroine. She’s not a quick-tongued wit, like Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennet.
.
She’s grave-faced and a little stolid, skeptical of flights of fancy. (“Poems are a strain to make out,” she tells her little sister after sending her to a bookstore to buy Keats’ Endymion.) Fanny is inordinately proud of her gifts as a seamstress, and she dresses herself in homemade finery that’s outrageously ornate for the simple village life she leads. (Meeting Keats at a party, she brags, “This is the first frock in all of Hampstead to have a triple-pleated mushroom collar.”)
.
Campion’s insistence on Fanny’s sewing skills is a feminist gambit, yes, but one that’s entirely consistent with the character. By emphasizing sewing as Fanny’s creative outlet, Campion shows the social constraints on women in Regency-era England and also gives the poet’s muse an art form of her own: When Fanny presents Keats with an exquisitely embroidered silk pillowcase, it’s a kind of sewn poem.
.
The full article is here:  http://www.slate.com/id/2229522/
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539wA. O. Scott writing in The New York Times continues the analysis:
.
Fanny, the eldest daughter of a distracted widow (Kerry Fox), has some of the spirited cleverness of a Jane Austen heroine. A gifted seamstress, she prides herself on her forward-looking fashion sense and her independence. She is also vain, insecure and capable of throwing herself headlong into the apparent folly of adoring a dying and penniless poet, something no sensible Austen character would ever do.
.
If it were just the poet and his beloved, “Bright Star” might collapse in swooning and sighing, or into the static rhythms of a love poem. And while there are passages of extraordinary lyricism — butterflies, fields of flowers, fluttering hands and beseeching glances — these are balanced by a rough, energetic worldliness. Lovers, like poets, may create their own realms of feeling and significance, but they do so in contention with the same reality that the rest of us inhabit…
.
…Ms. Campion is one of modern cinema’s great explorers of female sexuality, illuminating Sigmund Freud’s “dark continent” with skepticism, sympathy and occasional indignation. “Bright Star” could easily have become a dark, simple fable of repression, since modern audiences like nothing better than to be assured that our social order is freer and more enlightened than any that came before. But Fanny and Keats are modern too, and though the mores of their time constrain them, they nonetheless regard themselves as free.
.
bright_star09The film is hardly blind to the sexual hypocrisy that surrounds them. Fanny can’t marry Keats because of his poverty, but Brown (Keat’s friend) blithely crosses class lines to have some fun with (and impregnate) a naïve and illiterate young household servant (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). That Fanny and Keats must sublimate their longings in letters, poems and conversations seems cruel, but they make the best of it. As does Ms. Campion: a sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema.
.
The heat of that moment and others like it deliver “Bright Star” from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms. Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word.
.
The link to the longer article is here:  http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/movies/16bright.html
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On a side note one of the things I noticed was how simple the entertainment choices were in that period– and how much personal engagement these choices demanded.  Dancing, choral singing, word games, reading aloud, blind man’s bluff, hide and seek (all played by adults as well as children) required everyone to interact personally with each other on a physical and emotional level.  There was something incredibly charming about this very direct social connection and a sense of personal presence missing from much of modern types of entertainment.

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