Monday, December 22, 2008

Man's Castle, The Line of Beauty

Bill (Spencer Tracy) and Trina (Loreeta Young)

Can Borzage make any movie that doesn't take my breath away ? Time stopped when I was watching Man's Castle. I love Borzage, he always does such romantic movies that could have been sirupy directed by anyone else but they become so true, real and heartbreaking thanks to his direction. His main theme is always love that can transcend poverty and day-to-day reality- love takes the place of religion in Borzage's movies. I have yet to meet someone who can depict very trivial aspects of life that become part of a beautiful, fairy-tale relationship that embraces this triviality for what it is - intimacy- , and reverses the challenging aspects this triviality and routine might contain.

I'll race you ! / Where to ? / To the moon

Man's Castle is no exception : some parts of it are the very opposite of romantic (the wedding scene, ironically). I love Frank Borzage's constant challenging of what should be. At the beginning of the movie, Trina (has Loreeta Young ever made such a good movie afterwards?), who's homeless and hasn't eaten a meal in two days, is asked by Bill (played by Spencer Tracy, I was very pleasantly surprised, he plays a man who doesn't want to commit and sees marriage and relationships in general as traps) whether she has ever considered suicide or prostitution. Katie, in Obscure Classics' Man's Castle podcast, is quite right I think when she says that when Trina explains that she couldn't bring herself to do it, Borzages suggests that Trina faces life as it is instead of running away from it like Bill does. He is a coward (and Trina says the word at some point) when she's the real strength of the couple.
I've got to say I was impressed with Bill's speech in the restaurant at the beginning of the movie : it rings so true even today, he says something along the lines of "there's gold in the bank and yet 12 millions people are unemployed and this girl goes through life without a meal".

You need to watch Man's Castle and you've got no excuse now that it's on YouTube. Once you're done, breathe, and then go read everything Obscure Classics has to say about it (which is quite a lot) and listen to the podcast. Some Loreeta pictures to lure you in :

And now for something completely different! This week end I watched The Line of Beauty - a BBC miniseries based on a book that won the Man's Booker Prize in 2004 - that was broadcast in 2006. I really like the summary on Wikipedia, even though it gives away much of the plot :

Set in the United Kingdom in the early to mid-1980s, the story surrounds the post-Oxford life of the protagonist, Nick Guest. As the novel begins, Nick moves into the household of the Fedden family, comprising his friend, crush, and fellow Oxford graduate Toby; Toby's eccentric sister Catherine; their wealthy and aristocratic mother, Rachel; and their Thatcher-obsessed father, Gerald, a newly-elected MP for the Conservative Party. Nick has his first romance with a black council worker, Leo, but a later relationship with Wani, the son of a rich Lebanese businessman, illuminates the ruthlessness of 1980s Thatcherite Britain. The book explores the tension between Nick's intimate relationship with the Feddens, in whose parties and holidays he participates, and the realities of his sexuality and gay life, which the Feddens accept only to the extent of never mentioning it. It explores themes of hypocrisy, homosexuality, madness and wealth, with the emerging AIDS crisis forming a backdrop to the book's conclusion.

From left to right : Toby Fedden Oliver Coleman (Oliver Coleman), Nick Guest Dan Stevens (Dan Stevens ), Wani Ouradi Alex Windham (Alex Windham)

I really liked it. The miniseries is very slow but from what I hear this pace is taken directly from the book. At first, I heard about it because Andrew Davies had written the script (does it come as a surprise to anyone?) and he's done excellent stuff - Bleak House, Northanger Abbey and A Room With a View are amongst my favourite adaptations - and also because of Dan Steven (who's really handsome). Let me tell you, that's probably Stevens' best role. I'm so happy for him he gets to do such different things (from The Line of Beauty to Sense and Sensibility). I thought the miniseries was so real in its depiction of Thatcherite years and life seen through the eyes of a Tory family. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of this conservative life Nick takes advantage of, and Nick's personal journey outside of the house. This period of time appears completely contradictory, as I'm sure it was.
One of the best moments of the series is when everybody is eating dinner in silence, then all of a sudden the mother tells Catherine, her daughter and Nick's best friend, that her godfather died. Somebody asks what he died of and the mother answers "pneumonia". Silence follows and there are some close-ups of the men in the room who realise he died of AIDS. Then Catherine bursts into tears and screams at the top of her lungs "Oh for God's sake, he had AIDS ! The least we can do is admit it !". The parents are shocked at the word but don't say anything. Typical, I'd say. In a few seconds, Andrew Davies' script and Saul Dibb's direction shows the hypocrisy of a conservative Britain.
Nick's character was layered and beautifully portrayed. I like that nobody - absolutely nobody - is entirely likeable in this miniseries. I couldn't understand Nick's attraction to this world of idleness and hypocrisy (and Wani - one of his lovers- is part of this world because he never speaks his feelings) no more could I understand Catherine's betrayal at the end of it. It makes a challenging story because you're in a way excluded from it in that even though you're shown why the characters act the way they do, you still don't understand it, and yet, I think it was part of the story to feel excluded.
I've heard at least twenty times that the book was MUCH better so at least I know what I'll buy next. Most of the criticism I've heard about it comes from people who loved the book but found the miniseries shallow. Well, I didn't find it shallow in the least, it's this constant distanciation from the viewer that makes it seem so but every word, every shot was meaningful and contained so much that I can't wait to get into this story again.