Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.


But Bess dear, what if bernie and i MOVED to virginia?
would we have to go home again at night?
who would get really annoyed at a movie that wasn't historically accurate as well

maybe if we ever see it.....I will just put in ear plugs and watch the silence?

By Blogger vi, at 5:16 PM  

Well - that is the one thing I worry about. Everything looks so beautiful i am afraid hoards of people will come trying to buy up Water Front Property. and then all the pristine beauty will be gone.
all of us at the movie yesterday were saying "don't tell your friends about this!"

By Blogger Bess, at 5:25 PM  

So, it sounds like it would have been a better movie without sound ;)
Yay, that the cyber gatekeepers are letting you back through to visit me now! It sure is nice to know you can pad into my "living space" at will.
I love the new stuff you added to the side of your blog - "What I'm Reading" and "What I've Just Watched" AND your ratings!!

By Blogger Carolyn, at 8:59 PM  

No really. Did you like the scenery???
You remind me of me, when I watch a movie with my husband. I see the scenery, costumes, architecture etc. The story is secondary. Plus I am very critical--imagine that!
My husband enjoys the fantasy.So maybe I should also see it with ear plugs!
Maybe Vigo would have been better, since you can never hear him anyway!

By Anonymous Isobel, at 6:36 AM  

Great review. I've read a couple of reviews that were not as crisply defining about the Issues as yours, but all hit the same level of approval. I'm filing this as a movie to watch on the obscenely expensive plasma thing, on a rented DVD. I LOVE that part of the country and know it, though not as intimately as you do, and I will watch it for the scenery.

Clooney looks like he showers regularly, and, hot as he is, he's entering the Harrison Ford Zone. They had to go younger or it would have been too creepy.

By Blogger Catherine, at 7:10 PM  

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Monday, January 23, 2006  

Movie Review - and some progress reports.

Perhaps the knitting progress report should come first. My knitting has been neglected of late but I did get a bit done on Sunday. I’m on the last short row for the bust shaping of the front of the BSHP. There should be one more inch of body before I start the armhole shaping. That’s 6 rows, since that’s what this sweater is knitting up at. 7 rows to the armhole shaping. I swear - there will be photos soon - and I do believe that in 2006 there will be a digital camera so my efforts can be more graphic, though I don’t promise that they shall be less wordy.
Why do I think there will be a digital camera in my hands soon? Because I finished the Current $Paperwork$ Organizational Renovation. Yes. One tidy file box with labels for Bills and Bank Statements and Income Taxes, etc. And it only took me 53 years to arrive at Paperwork Heaven. I accept your applause with regal grace. Thank you.
The rest of this is my take on the film The New World, and, in true Queenly Loquacity, it’s looooooooooooong, so the cinematically bored and the history disgusted are released from bondage. Shoo. Shoo. Go have fun.
Okay. First off I must tell you - I really liked this movie. Or perhaps I ought to say - I really liked a lot about this movie. And the lot I liked, I liked a lot. BUT
And of course, there must be a but. There are some things I didn’t like and some opinions that formed my reasons for not liking those bits. I’m going to put them first, so that I can save the best for last. I’m telling you the down side of this movie first, partly because it’s so much easier to sound witty when you criticize than when you compliment. In some ways, this is a bit of a literary warm up for me. But also, I think you’ll enjoy the film more for having a little preparation. Its down side was enough of a distraction that watching the movie was not a perfect experience for me, neither as entertainment nor as literature. It was a very good experience, and I’m going to give its good side due praise, but if I squirm in my seat during a movie, which I did, I can’t give it top marks.

So. Let’s get the easy stuff over with so I can get on to the succulent praise. This is a movie about the famous myth of Jamestown, not the history. It’s the story of Pocahontas and Smith, with Pocahontas getting top billing. Attention Virginians. Be prepared. If you know a whole lot about that first moment when two worlds collided, you’re going to be irritated every time the facts are wrong. You will also be really frustrated because the film is extraordinarily vague about who everybody is. You can pick out Smith, and Pocahontas, of course, and Christopher Newport and Powhatan, but hardly anyone else. Even Mr. Jamestown had a tough time identifying everybody. And it sure looked to me like the same guy plays both Opechancanough and Totopotomoy, unless, of course, they’re fiddling with history again. Opechancanough never went to England. Your best bet is to just watch this as a movie about a boy and a girl from two different worlds, falling in love and being buffeted by circumstances. Watched that way, the authentic feel to the story line is an enhancement. Watched as a dramatization of one of the great moments in western history, the movie will either mislead you or let you down, depending on how much you listened to Mrs. McCarthy in 7th grade history class.

This is largely a pageant style of movie, with the actors miming a tableau most of the time, while voice-over narrators tell the story or get you inside the brains of Smith, Pocahontas, and later, her husband John Rolfe. There’s minimal dialogue - verging on silence – and that’s too bad. The movie would have been better for more, and more clear, dialogue. Most of the narrators’ scripts are so full of inner angst and self doubt you’d think their words were lifted from a New York City psychoanalyst’s notebook. There’s way too much agonizing introspection to make these people interesting, much less make me believe they had the guts to cram into miniscule wooden tubs, bob across the North Atlantic and try to found a colony in the mosquito riddled swamps of Tidewater Virginia. I swear, I thought if I heard Colin Farrell muse huskily "Who is she? What do I want?" one more time, I’d puke. Alright, already. We get the idea: Smith as modern urban man, full of doubt and low self-esteem. Probably his father rejected him and his mother molested him. Sheesh! The NYT review got it right - he could have been called Hamlet Smith. Or you could call him Portnoy Smith.

This is too bad, too, because the real John Smith, as he tells it in his own writing and as portrayed by his contemporaries, is bold and brash, confident, decisive, a fabulous story teller and a clever, crafty opportunist. He was explorer, scientist, geographer, and author. This is a very interesting fellow who did a lot in his life and left plenty of accounts, including some magnificent maps and several books. Jamestown was just one of the jewels he added to his string of adventures. He’d already been a slave to the Ottoman Turks, a pirate’s captive, and a fine soldier. This was a man of action, not of intense naval-gazing. Colin Farrell was very badly directed in this movie. He barely even shut his mouth, most of the time. I expected to see him drool after a while. What a disappointment, since he has a good smile and the facial features to portray a swashbuckler if he wanted. Whoever convinced him that Smith ever toyed with, much less yearned to be one of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s noble savages ought to have been fired before filming ever began.

We spent a good bit of time trying to imagine who would have portrayed a better Smith. BD thinks it would be Robin Williams if only he weren’t so typed as a wacko nut-case. I think George Clooney would have been better. Some combination of the characters he played in Ocean’s 11 and Oh Brother. I’m sure that’s who Smith would have picked.

Unless you are very quick-eared, and perhaps already know a good bit - nay - a phenomenal amount of Virginia history - you’re going to be terribly confused about who all the other Englishmen are. If you had a favorite from Jamestown and it wasn’t Smith, you’ll be disappointed. You’ll never be able to pick him out. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t really matter, since, as I said, this is mostly the story of Pocahontas. Just accept that they are a bunch of Europeans and let it go at that.

And Pocahontas is the important person in the cultural myth. She is the one who left one world to live in another. She was the bridge between the two societies and she was a remarkable woman. Dr. Helen Roundtree was a consultant on this movie and she is truly the world expert on the Powhatan Indians. I could feel her hand on all the Native American portrayals, which are all superb. Except, that is, for the California dreamin’ narratives of Pocahontas, and really, after a while you just accept it. She’s 13, after all. That’s what 13-year olds do.

Cinematically this is perhaps the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s pace is off. Tempo, timing, pace, whatever you call it, it’s a vital part of a movie and when it’s off - when it’s badly edited, it makes you squirm as you sit in those rocking theater seats, surrounded by strangers. About half way through I suddenly remembered the film Barry Lyndon - or Borey Linden as my sister called it. I actually liked that movie very much, but yes, it had a very slow pace and the same affliction casts a shadow over The New World. There are also too many fade-out to a black screen moments, a few too many shots of birds flying across a grey sky. (Though BD swears this is an important literary symbol: the bad omen, when birds fly across the sky. "Black birds bring bad weather" he quotes to me and reminds me of Homer.) The scenery in this movie is fantabulously beautiful, but sometimes, moving from one scene to another was choppy and incongruous. Too often the cameras stayed too long on a pastoral scene only to jerk you back to the fort and its squalor without a good reason or any preparation. Too many time leaps, no thread of steps to follow. Huh? Who’s that guy, talking about kidnapping the princess? Where’d he come from? Whaaat the heck? Smith is being whipped? Where did that come from? Huh? Now he’s back romping with Pocahontas? Huh?

The final criticism, which is so subjective I am almost unwilling to voice it, except - hey - this is my blog so it belongs. In the main, I don’t like musical soundtracks. They cover up so much of the poor enunciation of present day actors, all of whom must take mumbling lessons from Vigo Mortenson. Well done, though, they can enhance a movie tremendously, identifying characters and situations instantly. The music chosen to accompany all the love scenes between Smith and Pocahontas is a Motzart piano concerto and I tell you, that 18th century music, reminiscent of gilded salons and women in high powdered wigs just didn’t fit the leather jerkins, marshy banks and ochre based face paint of this late renaissance Age of Discovery. Palestrina, Gabrielli, the second, Palestrina – yes. Even some early baroque, perhaps Henry Purcell. But not the sweet silken, gilded and flounced notes of Mozart. You might not care. I, alas, have spent too many years in the violin section to let that one pass.

So - that is my criticism of the movie – bad pace, wrong music and a wimpy Smith. Now for the compliments and there are several aspects deserving of much praise.

This is the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen. The scenery is stunning and better than that - it’s real. In fact, if, my dear readers, you’ve ever wondered what it looks like down here on the riverbank, where I live - just watch this movie. It could as easily have been filmed off my back yard. The marshes, the pine forests, the exotic temptation of the next bend in the river - they’re all there, a daily part of my life. I never tire of looking at them. Seeing them glorified on the big screen by skilled movie camermen was truly a thrilling experience. There’s a scene of a narrow canoe wending through the marshes, whose shoulder high reeds bend gently over the heads of the paddlers. I’ve been there – I could take you there any time, come autumn, when the pickerel weed dies back. The red winged black birds sing their little song: to-da-lo to to tooooo. I shivered when I heard it. I did again when, in one Indian village, the mourning dove gave it’s “wo ooooo, whoo whoo whoo” call. Yes. It is a paradise. Terrence Malick really does know how to give you native beauty. It’s said he had planned to film in some South American jungle, till he visited the Chicahomony and realized he could tell his story where it actually (might have) happened.

In the end, the great beauty outweighed the bad pacing for me. It was heart stoppingly, gaspingly beautiful. I will definitely go see this movie again.

Now how about the story? Well. Actually, I think it’s a pretty good story; it is a fair tale of what certainly could have happened. It’s condensed, of course, and the emphasis is on the love story between Smith and Pocahontas, not on the exploration and discovery of North America. You don’t see the development of an English settlement - and of course, during those few early years, there almost wasn’t any development. The colony nearly died, but not quite. Jamestown - as a New World for Europeans - plays a secondary role so it’s not very fleshed out. But there are enough good scenes with accurate portrayals of things like pike drills and farming techniques to satisfy. And since it becomes pretty obvious early on that this is a modern story of a man and a woman, just set in olden times, you can easily make the existential leap and just enjoy a tale in its luscious setting.

But was there a romance between them? Well, no one ever wrote there was, not even Smith himself. But it could have happened. I remember what it was like to be 13 and be passionately in love with uncles who were Big Men who Did Powerful Things. I remember my budding sexuality and I can see how the most exotic man in the world, with talking sticks and magic glass that showed your face or made fire out of sunlight, and a whole floating house full of treasures, would be irresistibly desirable. And if I’d been Daddy’s Favorite, well, I’d have made sure I was around whenever that god-like being walked like a giant across the earth.

The most famous bit of the Smith/Pocahontas legend is one only Smith himself ever wrote about: the story of Pocahontas saving his life. Alas, I think Malick threw that scene away. It was supposed to have been a fairly big ceremonial execution and ought to have been in the open, surrounded by the entire village. Instead, it’s in the dark longhouse, all smoky and murky and quite unnecessarily shadowed. And another one of those stupid blackouts follows so swiftly you barely realize that’s the scene you just watched: The famous one. His head on a stone. Her head on his. Poof. Gone.

Still, I can believe. I accept the myth because I see enough of human nature in it to make me believe. I’m glad to see it on the screen.

As for her being captured and brought back to Jamestown, well, that really happened. By the way, that was Capt. Argyle, who traded a copper pot for her, though I never heard his name in the movie. And once there, she fell so in love with English ways she refused to go home. There’s nothing in the contemporary accounts about her dad rejecting her, but hey - it provides a nice bit of literary movement and safely puts her where she needs to be in order to meet John Rolfe, yet another introspective moody man, delicate and obviously fresh out of sensitivity training. And at least, with Rolfe, we know so little about him, we can’t possibly be offended by his characterization on the big screen. I suspect he was a science guy, someone like J. J. Audobon, but hey – who’s to say the bird man wasn’t racked with angst and self conflict too?

Altogether, the story gets a C+. Actually the plot gets a high B but the actual script gets a D+. Combined, they create an okay story. The guys are not my heroic fantasies but they work. Q'Orianka Kilcher does one fantastic job as Pocahontas and if only she didn’t have that ubiquitous swollen lip she’d be perfect. She really does have a bit of the look of that famous engraving in the National Gallery. She ages with her role with grace and truth. She actually improves with maturity – like a real person.

And still I come back to that magnificent cinematography; those panoramic views of a land I love with passion and forgiveness. That overriding truth, earth’s phenomenal beauty, still here after 400 years, tugs at my heart and whispers in my ear that “really, sugar, it’s okay they made Smith such a wuss. The real star of this show is me anyway. Your river, your pine trees. Your doves and eagles and raccoons. Your mosquitoes. Your mayflies. Your summertime humidity and your raw winter storms.” Like a family reunion photo that makes every one of your relatives look like beauty queens and handsome heroes, this movie gives you my Virginia, as pretty as it was – and as pretty as it is now.

And remember - y’all’r welcome to come on down, just so long’s ya go backup.

posted by Bess | 6:39 AM