Friday, July 26, 2013

And for my next film...



I would like to direct, or act in, or watch at the very least, a new film version of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. At long last I watched the 1996 film with a young Nicole Kidman and a malicious, balding John Malkovich. He does a great job at evilness.

The movie broke my heart, truly. But I'd like to see it done again, because there is too much art in it, and not enough simple life. And the little things that were changed were unnecessary. Kidman was spectacular; the entire cast was perfectly first rate. I couldn't believe the acting chops that were present: Christian Bale, Viggo Mortensen, Martin Donovan, Barbara Hershey, Mary-Louise Parker, Sir John Gielgud.
I was glad to see it, but like I said it was heart-breaking, and I don't use the term lightly. Harder even to read, and reading first is fairly necessary. Not reading the book first would be the difference between eating a grapefruit whole and peeling, slicing, and sprinkling sugar on one. Rather messy and frustrating versus delectable and dripping juiciness.

A modern version wouldn't work. I doubt it. The shaping factors would not be the same; the plot needs the period it is set in. And yet (which is why the novel is known as classic literature) the insights, the manipulation, the disappointment with what a rotten oyster the world turns out to be sometimes...very modern themes. The tragedy is the loss of Isabel's potential, and the loss of her life's opportunity to love and be loved. What a perfect trap is set by others when they slowly draw her in with what looks like an open door. Her marriage turns out not to be an adventure, not even an escape, but a hideous, malignant trap.

A woman today would not live in such fear, would she? Not so easily trade her dreams for cheap and lifeless baubles? She would simply laugh, or yell or scream, and run away wouldn't she? Or perhaps not? The power of Isabel's own ability to choose was the lock and the key and the cage. All in one, and one for all.


The ending of the novel leaves a reader positively gasping for air, as she returns to Rome and maybe to Osmond...? Or was it to Pansy only...I haven't read any critical literature on the subject. I really can't understand it totally. The ending of the film was rather different, and I'm not sure I liked it as much. A portrait, yes, of self-knowledge and awareness. But it was only a portrait, with no action, and it left you not gasping but simply wondering what was next. In this case brevity was certainly not the soul of wit. It was as if Polonius had a hand in it indeed...more matter with less art would serve The Portrait well.

(But I loved it! I'll watch it again. Once a week for a year? Or until some genius reinvents it?)

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