misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Sense and Sensibility and Miss Austen Regrets 2008/9: sister films

Dear readers and friends,

I'm now thinking that the 2008 S&S is the product of an intersection (blending) of the art or presence of Andrew Davies and Anne Pivcevic as the 1995 S&S is a blending of the art of Ang Lee and Emma Thompson.  In a previous blog I listed those films by Davies and those by Pivcevic I've seen and which they did together.  As one must not forget James Schamus too in the 95 S&S, so John Alexander, Scots director is a presence in the 08 S&S.

Anne Pivcevic and Andrew Davies talking during interview on DVD of S&S (they also talk but separately in interviews on DVD of Dr Zhivago)

A few notes:  what distinguishes 2008 S&S:  Davies and Pivcevic get so much in each segment (ditto perhaps Dr Zhivago and Little Dorrit).  Uses of montage (from John Alexander?), sense of naturalness and reality nuanced in continually.  The dreaming-grief over objects sequences, Elinor in iibrary (in Miss Austen Regrets too?).  Close-ups as opening of scenes central to transitions; and close-ups within scenes too.  Some quiet focus on objects (the pictures Elinor draws and replaces) which are interwoven with narrartive.  Framing (in MAR too?)  Set in history, custom (like Davies's Middlemarch, and Pivcevic as script editor in Tenant of Wildfell Hall), this time while 95 S&S a fairy tale.  This is the only one which allows Marianne to come near full sexual congress, only one to bring Eliza Williams before us.

Another element is brought out by the commentary:  this film has scenes intended to give us "window into sort of their life at home," the "stuff which you don't always get in this type of perid drama, the stuff that happens after hours or before the main scenes, a sort of stolen moment from the night."  This is part of what makes for the sense of life and reality one feels in Davies' films (even NA and certainly his Room with a View even though they are so short) and I saw in Miss Austen Regrets. Done though montage in the 95 P&P.

To match other chapters, the longer part on Brandon, and the shorter on the poetry of the montages.  Three montages:  tjhe two in Part 1:  Elinor and Edward interspersed with Marianne playing piano, Margaret dolls; Marianne and Brandon interspersed with Middleton and guns and sheet music, and windows.  Third montage is the close of the film Elinor after she is told Edward married:  drawing, buying fish, sitting interspersed with mother, goes slow. 

Objects fixed on as in 71, melodrama as in 81; they take from previous JA films.  I just love Davie's substitute dialogues for what is in the original novel (as in the one the night i S&S where Edward comes to stay) the way I do the substitutes in NA (vampiric General say Davies's Henry Tilney) and find those in TWWLN a propos (Paul to Roger on who is Roger to talk when Paul sees how Roger hungers after young women).

To look at at film made in 21st century first decade: abjection.  Did I discuss abjection yet? If not, it's here in the frail hands and scooping Marianne up after wild run in the rain.

2008 also influenced strongly by 95 Persuasion (see comment by Penny Gay in referenced blog), for example, scenes imitated: 

95 Persuasion, they are discussing how to retrench while in the grand rooms of Kellynch; natural light and wide angles

08 S&S, letter arrives from Fanny Dashwood to say they are coming; "it's their home now" says Elinor

That time I went to the Princeton Conference with Jim (on copyright) where I heard film-makers discuss how producers continually interact with directors and people share tasks, influence, so is this Pivcevic?: so too there's an obsessiveness in Miss Austen Regrets, extraordinary prettiness of landscape as in 08 S&S. Must see one of Gwyneth Hughes's films (said to be drenched in melancholy, I sent for Five Days from Netflix)

Commentary by Alexander, Pivcevic throughout, with Steevens and Morahan for Part 1, Cooper and Wakefield for Parrt 2:   we can see the film moving so slowly and I can see so many more of the stills, so many more moments I hadn't noticed.  How worth while it is listening to the commentaries over-voice while the film runs much more slowly. I'm doing this for the 2008 S&S and if there is a commentary will do it for the 2008 Miss Austen Regrets.  I see how much I miss by the rapid pace, and how nuanced the performances.  The speakers reveal a lot of how they see a film as they work.

The commentaries on the 21st century film brings home too how filming today is so much richer or more complicated in every way so that we can understand why the earlier films seem dull in comparison. Each shot just does not have as much in any way; cannot hope to get near reality for in some sense they are filming realities.  Description of filming on the landscape of Devon, one day for one side of the hill, and one day for the other. Putting together of shots from different weeks and moments and places.  They couldn't do that before or didn't. 

They also film dances differently: the beautifully choreographed dance is shot so we see the designs in older films; in these new ones it's chopped up so we are in the midst of it as an experience.  Pivcevic says:  "it's just faces, isn't it" [showing the centrality of this motif].

I've also discovered that Anne Pivcevic was a moving force behind the six part Costume Drama documentary screened on BBC last year or the one before. It's a bit too pop, but she meant to convey the history and important aspects of costume drama as well as to rise its status.

On Miss Austen Regrets: of importance: 

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen writing

I returned to David Nokes, this time as a biographer of Jane Austen at the same time as I've been watching Gwyneth Hughes, Anne Pivcevic and Jeremy Lovering's Miss Austen Regrets.  My question about the relationship of Nokes's book to this film was a serious one, which I have now answered myself:  yes.  Hughes has been strongly influenced by the close reading and (in some cases) probable interpretations of what we find in Austen's letters.  I am persuaded by some of it.

This leads me to look at the criticism of this movie, and while I agree with the general tendency to object to the presentation of Jane Austen as obsessively concerned with love and marriage and sex in her life, I suggest the way the real source of the movie has been overlooked is part of the strong tendency not to take movies seriously.  No one has bothered to look at Nokes, to ask where this particular set of readings of the letters came from. Nokes's book incurred the displeasure of the conservative readers of Austen, the Deirdre LeFaye school I'll call it; but it has been reprinted in paperback, sold widely (it's very readable and interesting in just the way of his biography of Johnson), even exists in a audiotape unabridged version.  One of the two I own -- the other is a reading of the complete text of Claire Tomalin's book.

The strong urge to dismiss and deride movies -- an easy target, not prestigious as yet, with a long tradition of being regarded as trash or "simply entertainment," a stance encouraged by the industry to widen audiences -- also leads to ignoring something I find in the movie:  it's not reading against the grain to see the movie as also questioning this obsession with love and marriage.  Olivia Williams plays Austen as not such a nice person, someone who can and does needle people, who rightly resents her lack of power and the way she is bombarded by blame for not having married.  I think Andrew Higson's recent book on the ambivalence of costume dramas and how they play off different attitudes towards what is presented (dialogics) is central to understanding what this movie is doing.  Watching too two other movies by Anne Pivcevic and Gwyneth Hughes I see a repeat of this questioning of the demand women marry and relationships that ensue in film adaptations of modern texts. Pivcevic's corpus is especially interesting here, because she is a main producer of the deeply melancholy 2008 S&S.

Going slowly over it, capturing stills, taking notes, transcribing the screenplay into stenography (Pittman), it is very curious. For my interests, the cinematography and moods are close to the 2008 S&S (same producer, script editor), also attitudes towards women which I think now we were wrong to present as simply pro-marriage and punitive, but it does take some odd stances.  Why this emphasis on Fanny?  When Jane dies, the last scene is Fanny looking out over her grave, having herself married strongly anti-romantically.  Jane Austen in this movie continually presents herself as having decided not to marry and preferring not to despite all around her nagging otherwise. Madame Bigeon is given a speech late in the movie which validates this against everyone else.  It's very odd siblings chosen for emphasis: why do we have nothing of James. The two sailor brothers are away, but why not James?  Anna is there as the married cousin and when at the close of the film she gives birth Jane utters this:  "Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty.---I am very sorry for her."  A revealing choice from all the quotations Hughes could have chosen (Anna has not a chance of escape; her husband called here the other day, & said she was pretty well but not equal to "so long a walk; she must come in her "Donkey Carriage."--Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty.---I am very sorry for her.--Mrs Clement too is in that way again. I am quite tired of so many Children.--Mrs Benn has a 13th... (Jane Austen's Letters, ed. Le Faye 336, Letter dated Sunday 23- Tuesday 25 March 1817)

I'm persuaded that this movie has been misread because not close read enough by studying filmic features: still, juxtapositions, facial expressions and precisely words attributed to Austen (which she said). For examle, look at this still from: early in the film when Jane, Cassandra and mother attend Anna's marriage.  Thus that enigmatic and somewhat grim look on Olivia Williams's face as she watches her niece marry is the central motif of the wedding ceremony in this movie.

Phyllida Law, Gretta Scacchi and Olivia Williams as Mrs [Cassandra], Miss [Cassandra] Austen and Miss Jane Austen

And after that her (it seems) unkind but also vexed teasing of the Reverend Papillon who in her letters people wanted to marry the real Austen off to and her comic rejoinder, of course, what less could she do for such good wishes?

This is not a usual presentation or framing of weddings for the Austen movies or even women's films.  Again, the movie is far more ambivalent about marriage than has been realized; what's needed is close reading of the visuals and dialogues.

At the same time the American DVD package includes a reading of selections from JEAL's memoir together with connective statements and pieces from Austen's letters, which is called Remembering Austen, a radio play; the text I could see also mentions James as JEAL's father.  Joanna David does the voice of Austen -- so beautifully.

All this packaged with that S&S and the interview which sees the novel autobiographically. A quiet project is brought before us I think; that is to say, the story which reflects the forced moves of the Austen women, their final entry into Chawton Cottage, their lack of power by not having men, is reinforced or paralleled in Miss Austen Regrets, and what's left out underlined by the "radio play" feature of the DVD.

Here she is ever so uncomfortable as she listens to her brother, Henry, Mr Haden and Madame Bigeon talking about her in the shrubbery

Tags: andrew davies, film adaptation, jane austen criticism, jane austen films, jane austen novels, jane austens letters

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