misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

The Sense and Sensibility Movies: deep patternings; an Austen do

Dear Friends,

In the past two days I have corrected and polished a second filmography, this one organized by the source text, and put it on my website; continued watching the 5 S&S movies back-to-back, measuring the second hour of all against one another to see where the movie had reached (so to speak) by the end of the second hour, and then the third hour or part of 4 of them against the last 20 minutes of the fifth (the 1995 Thompon-Lee S&S is but 134 minutes), and finally watched just the fourth part, a last half hour of one (the 1981 BBC S&S is a half hour longer than Constanduros/Giles 1971 and Davies/Pivcevic 2008 S&Ss). 

Today I went to the Washington area JASNA regular June meeting, this year held at Tudor Place, once the mansion set in gardens fo a powerful southern dynasty (related to Curtis/Lee/Washington clans) and now a tourist attraction in northern Georgetown. And this evening I came across a description of another woman's writing which made me understand this blog and Ellen and JIm have a blog, too and two better.

I'll begin with the description or rationale first.  In his literary biography of Hester Thrale Piozzi, Wm McCarthy devotes the first chapter to the first two great books by her that he discusses:  her book of poetry (not published, or published in but a few scattered fragments) and her autobiography, today known as Thraliana (the name she gave it, put I suppose on the outside of her notebook covers). With some small changes of titles and references, his description of her Thraliana may be used as a description of this and Jim and my new blog, plus what's left of the old one:

"her writing workshop, the birthplace of An Austen Miscellany, of plans for other books, and of stray sentences which ended up in other articles. It is also the place where ... she talks of herself about herself and her intimates. In it she makes a room of her own, articulating sentiments not welcome in the public world, and conducting a love affair ... She learns to delight in her book's variety, and to delight in it as her own variety: 'strange Farrrago as it is of Sense, Nonsense, publick, private Follies - but chiefly my own -- & the little Heroine. She learns to relish her own agility .. to enjoy even her own faults .. to rise, indeed, to sublime arrogance ... She enters also her resentments of family and friends ... As her private book, Austeniana gives her power; she could make of it what she wished, and no one could interfere. Everyone knew that she kept it, and people sometimes hinted a wish to read it, but she showed it to no one.  She enjoyed the power of her secret .. asserting from to time that her volumes might be read .. but must never be printed ...'
Piozzi's Thraliana is a writer and reader's autobiography

Hester Thrale Piozzi, 1793 (by George Dance)

This blog and the one that went defunct are mine.  So now the subheader of this blog will be a writer's workshop.

The second filmography now up on my website is useful to me because it represents an outline of my book.   I will organize the book by chapters, all but the introduction and last chapter dedicated to one of Austen novels and the movies adapted from it. The introduction I have planned to write after Chapter 2 or maybe 3: there I will rewrite the paper I tried to write for Abigail (for a collection of essays on film adaptations, the invitation what set me off on this project) and define and describe the three main types of film adaptation, look at what qualities the Austen ones specifically share.  The last chapter will be (I hope) a description of what sets the Austen movies apart from others -- if they can be set apart (which remains to be seen). 

When I chose stills for the filmography by type, I chose stills that recur throughout all the films, regardless of type: two women talking intimately to one another in a deeply supportive way. 

Elizabeth and Mrs Gardiner talking

When I chose stills for the filmography by source, I chose stills that show how different are the specific elements in each film, what stands out in them as individuals. 

Emma tears her shoelace; she is the only trickster among the heroines

So they become a kind of pictorial elaboration of two different ideas about the films: what unites and what separates them.

I am relieved to say that the second hour of each film does not end on the same climax.  Had they, I might have decided I was going mad to think so, or movies are strange species indeed; and the third part, and in one case (the 1981 film), a fourth, differs too.  On the other hand, there were still striking similarities at the same time as none of them opted for Austen's structure.  The end of Austen's volume 1 puts before us the shockingly painful episode (especially the first time you read it and it comes as a surprize to you as well as Elinor) of Lucy informing Elinor that Edward has been engaged to Lucy for the past 4 years; the end of Austen's volume 2 puts before us Lucy's exulation over her invitation to come and stay with Fanny Dashwood and Elinor's abject despairing surmize that yes now Lucy will bond Edward permanently to her once again as she will have a chance to be with him continually.  The 1971 S&S has a brilliant long series of scenes between a complex malacious and angry and desperate Lucy (Francis Cuka) and intensely controlled Elinor (and Joanna David is too controlled to affect us enough), but these are not the climactic conclusions of the 2nd or 3rd of its four parts nor the end of its first or second hours.  And none of the other S&Ss gives Lucy a comparable role in length of time or powerful presence.

To summarize, the second hour of the 71 S&S ends with the scene in the book where Edward breaks in upon Lucy's exultant over Elinor to confide in her and finds Lucy unexpectedly there, and has to endure Marianne barging in with painful misunderstandings and faith in him.   The second hour 81 S&S ends on a visit by John Dashwood to Elinor who has just listened to Colonel Brandon tell her the melodamatic story of how Willoughby seduced and abandoned Eliza Williams and told her what Marianne needs most is a real friend: it's darkly ironic or is supposed to be, because John Dashwood is anything but a real friend, and his advice to Elinor to marry Brandon is yet another instance of his obtuseness which functions a cruel.  The second hour of 95 S&S ends on the powerful scene of Elinor crying frantically over Marianne who seems to lay dying, begging Marianne to leave she, Elinor, alone; she has borne all and can carry on bearing, but to bear it alone is too much to ask. 

Emma Thompson as Elinor at breaking point

The second hour of 08 S&S ends on the dreadful first avoidance and then reactive humiliation of Marianne by Willoughby at the London ball (a terrible Tuesday).  (The 08 film often uncannily resembles the 71 film which I doubt either Daves or Pivcevic saw: the end of the second episode of the 71 film is a version of this scene where Willoughby tries to signal Marianne to play a game of politeness with him and pretend they are mild acquaintances but finds she cannot play such insincere games so abruptly turns round and decamps.

By contrast, the second hour of the 00 I have Found It, a Tamil musical, an Indian film closes at the second hour with a terrific upswing in the fortunes or our heroines:  our Elinor character, Sowmyra has gained her job and is suddenly promoted, and her boss vouches for her and her family so they can get a mortgage and move to a nice apartment to live in, and we see them arrive with their belongings by truck, settle in, and on the balcony hug one another while fireworks are set off in the sky. 

The Dashwood women rejoicing

At the end of a second hour the western films show excruciating pain and/or embarrassment, hard irony, betrayal; the Indian a Providential design intended to show the workings of God Who in the next episode kills off the John Dashwood character and makes the Fanny Dashwood character dependent on the charity of our Dashwood women; they then decline to take back the house which the John Dashwood character, of course at heart really a good man, had left to them in his will.

The third part of four of the films is of different lengths (71 S&S has 45 minutes, 81 S&S had 2 30 minute, the 95 S&S has 20 minutes, 00 IHFI has 50 minutes, and the 08 S&S an hour), while the fifth (81 S&S) has yet another half-hour of denouement.  Here it's a matter of comparing what is in these final episodes, and what is cut, what is added, and how the different movies are shaped according to their themes, moods and internal psychological patterning.

I will reserve details for the book, only saying that in this third part, short or long are some revealing parallels between all of them (once again). For example, all five films have Brandon and Marianne drawing gradually (or in the case of the hurried 95 film quickly) together (over books, over poetry, over music, over deep congeniality finally revealed) and Marianne either ready to fall in love or gradually doing so with Colonel Brandon before Edward returns to Elinor for the penultimate climactic scene of intense reaching out in love:  in the Tamil film, it is the Marianne character, Meenu, who must aggressively insist to the Colonel Brandon character, a man crippled by war, and genuinely not handsome, Captain Bala, that she loves him (at which he declares himself no longer to be a disbeliever in God's goodness) but the scene still occurs before the Edward character, Manohar, returns to Elinor (Sowmrya) in a scene modelled on the Edward/Elinor scene in the 95 film. The last half hour of the 81 S&S closely resembles the feel and pattern of events of the last 20 minutes of the 95 S&S.  In none of the films is Marianne married off suddenly to Brandon based on esteem, gratitude and the pressure and approbation of her family, with the assumption that love must come later, given the man's character. 

Revealing differences include these:  the 71 film alone has the comic actress, Patricia Routledge (very great) retell the scenes where Edward is exposed and defies his family and so spares us the jarring exaggeration of the dramatized scenes of the other, and substitutes an extra invented one of Edward in a broken down room in a poor inn and Elinor's visit to him. 

Robin Ellis as Edward stopping from reading in the inn he hides away in, 71 S&S

All but the 95 film has Willoughby come to confess (and there he does not come because the film lacks time for it), but all four do it in quite a different mood, with different emphases. 

Yet the motif of Elinor facing someone and enduring it is common throughout all the films; here is the 81 Elinor (Irene Richards) fiercely facing Willoughby

It is a climax similar to the snubbing at the ball for the 71 and 81 S&Ss, but a coda in the 95, 00, and 08 films, with the illness of Marianne and Elinor's vigil taking precedence over it in the 95 and 08 S&Ss.  I'm going to argue that only in the 08 S&S does Elinor succeed in dominating the film so that by the end it has become her agon and ordeal and that this is largely the result of invented montages by Davies throughout

Elinor takes her drawing of Norland mansion in expensive frame down and replaces with her drawing of Barton cottage in a plain frame -- and Hattie Morahan's performance.

These findings bring me back to my idea of close reading the films to show them as individual works of art; at the same time I must admit there is a deep romance patterning which will they nill they shapes these films and makes them feel quite similar as do the P&P films; by contrast, the Emma films feel quite different and I expect to find different deep structures.

Lastly the JASNA tour and luncheon.  It went all right. I was nervous the day before when I thought about going, and had a period of intense anxiety. But in the event I did fine:  I went on my own by train and then foot.  The real problem here was the walk from the Dupont circle station to Tudor Place and back again was very long. So my feet, lower back, and later (when Jim and I also walked in old town) hips and thighs ached. I have taken two powerful muscle relaxants this evening.  The group of women (and a couple of men) included people of all ages from mid-20s to 70s, though the common age was around 50 or so. The tour was informative: this is a house turned into a tourist place about 30 years ago; from around 1805 or so when it was first built until the 1930s it was inhabited by 6 generations of one powerful southern dynasty, pro-confederacy, related to George Washington, the Custises, Lees. There was the usual worship of wealthy and famous people's objects, particularly much piety, as is so common, over anything having to do with Washington himself and Lee: the house was first built for the step-granddaughter of Washington.  There were many different layers and eras of history to see in the disposition of the rooms, various technologies, things (like toys) as well as cultural remnants.  The most revealing were those rooms renovated around 1914 and what could be seen of life then. 

Really creepy was that the family through all those years kept minute and accurate records of themselves, their doings and thoughts and left not one record of the names or lives of 3 generations of slaves (who slept in huts around the house).  The guide suggested, well, they were ashamed; to which the reply could be not ashamed enough not to sell their slaves (there are records of this outside the house) and exploit them ruthlessly.  6 generations of white lived there and kept obsessive records of themselves, took pictures, 3-4 generations of black slaves and two of black servants and not one iota of a record. It seems that when the black people were no longer enslaved, they were allowed to live in the attics.  We saw a kitchen-dining area the servants used as of the 1890s.

Two incidents the guide told of were interesting: from this house the family watched the British burn down much of DC in 1812.  I wondered if the slaves were at all encouraged to try to revolt during this time, but the woman said she didn't know and couldn't imagine what such a life was like (with slaves -- that was her standard reply about slavery, which cut off talk).  During the civil war, the woman who was mistress at the time had to allow union soldiers to live there; meanwhile her two nephews who supposedly for a prank dressed up as union soldiers and went into a union camp one night, were caught at it and hung the next day as spies.  Something of the ferocity and hatreds a civil war engenders was caught up in this story.

The tour took about an hour. I asked questions and so did a couple of other people. One woman I got friendly with walked with me in the garden and then sat with me for lunch. Judith was her name, a ballet teacher who also gives lectures on dance.  The lunch was picnic sandwiches in a room off the garden sloping down to lower Georgetown. It was pleasant at the table (though the talk about books such as it was was demoralizing in the way people objected to "heavy" detail in any books), and the talks by the organizers were reasonable (plans for other meetings, one person had died and was commemorated).  I thought to myself I could come again and while I was the first to leave, I left when everyone else was getting ready to go. I was rare for not having come by car so I didn't have to walk back to the garage (where most of them ended up leaving their cars).

My worst moment came when Judith, the woman befriending me, persisted in asking me if I wanted a lift.  She kept saying that she lived in Arlington and would drop me off at an Arlington station. I at first didn't say yes or no, but then demurred, mainly because she was so vague about "dropping you off." I feared she would leave me at some station in Arlington from which I could get lost.  I have a problem about imprecision and getting lost. Had she named the station and suggested the line I could take home, I would have gone.  I told myself maybe this way I shall make a contact to see again. But she never got concrete and it makes me nervous to feel I am unsure where I am and how to get back home.  Jim always gives me precise instructions; oftentimes I practice going places and I did have a map with me from google showing how to get to the place and back.  She did not offer to drive me back to Dupont Circle which I hesitatingly nearly suggested.  This would have taken her out of her way. I felt ashamed of myself walking back that at 62 I still could not dare to just take such an offer and che sera, sera.  

However, this was mended as a feeling when I reached Jim who picked me up at the King Street station (after I phoned him from the station as we had agreed to). Jim said there were no Arlington Metro stations for the yellow and blue lines which come to Alexandria. There were only orange line stations which take you elsewhere or to Maryland. So I would have been stranded unless she offered to take me wholly home. Probably I would have gotten onto to the station before I realized I was on a wrong line and then had to buy tickets into DC again and back and that certainly would have made me very stressed and upset.  So my caution was right. And the woman was very opinionated: I admit I'm not used to quick replies which by loudness and declamatory statements don't give me a chance to talk back:  she had strong opinions about which sequels were good (JA Book Club which I said I liked she pronounced awful) and which films she disliked (she was an advocate of faithfulness as a criteria).  So I was peaceful, read Howards End once I got to the train, and made my way back calmly and was happy to be back with Jim, Izzy, and our two kiitten-cats, Clary and Ian.

I was disappointed that there does seem no way to join a reading club or group from these JASNA large meetings. Perhaps if I keep coming I will meet someone eventually who can clue me in to a group.

So that's my Austen budget of thoughts, study, conclusions, and dos for tonight.


Tags: jane austen films, jasna

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