Keats And Brawne: “Bright Star” Redux

Ambrotype of Fanny Brawne taken circa 1850 (ph...

Ambrotype of Fanny Brawne taken circa 1850 (photograph on glass) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A nice scene in Bright Star (2009), by Jane Campion, has the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) choosing to knock on a wall behind which is the bedroom of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who hears the knock.  Then Fanny herself, drawn to Keats, knocks back, with no other response forthcoming.  Shyly neither knocks again, or tries to communicate with words.  This physical separation between the two will become forced and lengthy as time goes on.  A love affair develops, and Keats implacably becomes everything to Fanny; but the couple is parted for long periods of time.

Fanny—the film is more about her than about Keats—is a proud, sometimes haughty dressmaker, who is usually even-tempered and who loves her mother and siblings.  And she gets to love Keats against all odds—such as John’s illness and his skeptical best friend, Charles Armitage Brown—but, woefully, she cannot keep Keats.  He travels to Italy for the sake of his health.  His illness kills him.  Critic Dana Stevens is right that “Campion captures the narrowness of most people’s social worlds [in the early 19th century],” and in her narrow social world Fanny suffers continually.  Though beautiful, Bright Star is an utterly sad film about defeat.  There is little light at the end; life here seems like a cheat.  All the same, the film isn’t too gloomy.

In an earlier review of the work, I praised the performances of Cornish and Whishaw.  They’re not the only ones, though, who convince as 19th century figures, for the instincts of Paul Schneider (as Brown) and Kerry Fox are also winningly sure.  Cornish owns the part of Fanny, especially when she’s lost in anguish.  Whishaw never takes a false step.  The music by Mark Bradshaw is delicate, the cinematography by Greig Fraser is incisive.


Is This “Nashville” In ’75?

Cover of "Nashville"

Cover of Nashville

Robert Altman’s 1975 film, Nashville, was severely whittled down from eight hours (!) to two and a half hours long, and this is the only version we have. In this version at least, it is obvious that Joan Tewkesbury‘s script is shallow and biased toward ordinary Americans in the South.

Consider that every song the country-and-western top dog, Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), sings is sanctimonious (not likely), but that he himself is arrogant and disdainful.  Consider that Suleen Gay (Gwen Welles), a likable waitress aspiring to be a country performer, is more or less a Catholic hypocrite, and deluded about her singing ability to boot.  And this is only the beginning.  It is not that the film invariably fails to be honest, but that only up to a point is it honest.  Indeed, in many plot elements there is mendacity as well.

It can’t be denied, however, that Nashville is wonderfully imaginative, with commendable scene creation.  An example is the funny sequence with the traffic jam after a car crash.  And there’s the scene where Keith Carradine sings “I’m Easy” to a concert audience while the camera catches the faces of the singer’s female conquests, erotic desire rising in a watching—and married—Lily Tomlin.  Granted, the actors’ improvisation in the film leaves me cold, but the actors themselves don’t.  They know what they’re doing.

As director, Altman is outstanding.  Unlike Tewkesbury.  The movie is a superficial mess which I do not regret having seen four or five times.

Good Nukes In “Pandora’s Promise”

We learn, I think, valuable things about nuclear power from Robert Stone‘s documentary, Pandora’s Promise (2013), which dutifully reveals people of science and environmentalist activism who have come to favor nuclear power as an energy source.  We are told, for example, than nuke energy is even safer than solar power because the making of solar panels is a very toxic process.  We are told how speedy France was in converting to nuke power and how well the “clean” stuff is working out for it.  Writer-director Stone seems to believe that global warming is a threat to the human race (I myself doubt it), and so he never beats the drum for fossil fuels.  Nuclear plants, however, release no carbon emissions—happy news.

There is nothing brilliant about Pandora’s Promise, and it could stand to be a little more analytical.  It is involving and usually cogent, even so, and is never too hard on either Democrats or Republicans.  The world is not listening to pro-nuclear messages, though.


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