CIVIL WAR WITHIN THE CIVIL WAR

Razor-tongued Judith Crist, of national critical reputation at the time of the release of The Beguiled in 1976, wrote:  “A must for sadists and women-haters.”  Passing over whether that is an apt description of the earlier film with Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel, I am curious about how many of my readers would describe Sofia Coppola’s current version in the same way.

Under the firm yet delicate hand of Coppola, this Beguiled, from the novel by Thomas Cullinan  is a mood piece.  Pace and rhythm, atmosphere and setting, are  beautifully sustained and controlled.  If Nicole Kidman’s off-set comments are accurate  —  that Coppola captains a relaxed ship  —  the final edited result here is an impressive achievement.  (I remain confused about one aspect of the production design and/or the photography.  The backgrounds of the external shots invariably resemble still photographs  —  not process shots but stills.  They are consistent and fit the mood.  Was their intention beyond consistency and fitness?  I would enjoy hearing from readers about this also.)

The story is set in the Confederacy during the Civil War at a girls’ boarding school  —    currently two instructors (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) and four students.  They rescue and nurse back to health a wounded Union soldier, and the male presence among them surfaces repressions, rivalries and jealousies.  SPOILER ALERT:  They heal the captain’s wounded leg, but Miss Martha (Kidman with stalwart nursing skills) will eventually amputate it. Captain McBurney (Farrell)  —  though pathological in his fury  — is more fortunate than he realizes because this is a substitute Freudian amputation.

Elle Fanning is uncomfortably good as the most nubile of the students.  Dunst is pitch perfect in her special loneliness; Farrell is perfectly cast and always excellent; and Kidman is at her best in one of her most subtle performances.

A.O. Scoot in the New York Times describes The Beguiled as a comedy.  This is debatable, even in the limited sense in which he apparently intended.  But his description of the look of the film and of Coppola’s intent and achievement are both admirable:  “Mist and cannon smoke from a distant battlefield hang amid the Spanish moss.  The atmosphere is too genteel to be gothic, but it is haunted nonetheless, by intimations of disorder, lust and violence.”  And Sofia Coppola’s film “is less a hothouse flower than a bonsai garden,a work of cool, exquisite artifice that evokes wildness on a small, controlled scale.”  (New York Times, 6/23/17.)

The Beguiled                     The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola                       Don Siegel
2017                                      1976

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 11

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

1976

STRANGE THRESHOLD OR BEHIND THE DOOR FROM PETER LORRE

Rick’s Journal  —  MY FILM CAREER

When I was a student at UCLA the perks included not just the regular experience of hearing Colin Young and Hugh Gray and Arthur Ripley as regular classroom instructors.  They were always bringing outstanding  —  nay!  THRILLING  —  guest speakers for us.

I was late for class the day Mr. Ripley brought Peter Lorre with him.  I could see through the open door that not a seat was left.  I was able to stand in such a way that our guest could not see me but I could see him.  Even from outside the room, though, his presence was still vivid.  From where I crouched, I seldom distinguished any of his words; but I could hear the buzzing nasal hum of an internationally recognizable voice.

The Speaker

Right there, before my squinting eyes, stood M, a redder-faced, heavier M, heavy but not sloppy, neat in an expensive gray suit.  I was looking at Ugarte, at Joel Cairo, at Julius O’Hara.

In those good and glamorous days at UCLA, Peter Lorre was the only speaker I had to hear from such an uncomfortable distance.  I was close to all the others, usually in intimate classroom settings  —  small classrooms.  Billy Wilder  —  when only three of us showed (!), and we had him all to ourselves; and he graciously gave us an hour and a half.  Bette Davis  —  in a small classroom.

Dalio in CASABLANCA (photo courtesy of reader dmg)

 

I can’t remember why Marcel Dalio was in town when prof Hugh Gray brought him to class to talk with us.  And blithering, often hungover youth that I was, I cannot now report much of what he said to us.  He was candid, unsentimental and quintessentially French relating anecdotes from the sets of Casablanca but especially The Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion.

Coming Soon:  George Seaton.  Billy Wilder.  Jean Renoir.  And Bette Davis:  dynamite in a small classroom.

Coming Soon:  Farrell, Kidman and Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled.

Note:  Consult imdb for Arthur Ripley, Hugh Gray and Colin Young.

NEXT FRIDAY POST July 28

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick