Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bright Star

A friend asked me to watch and review this movie, so here it goes.

Bright Star is just as much about poetry as it is the poet; it's a movie that loves words. I was surprised at how good the dialogue was because the film instantly invites us to compare it with period pieces like some recent Jane Austen films, but unlike those films, Bright Star didn't have volumes of exceptional dialogue already written for it.

I love the scenes, for example, where Miss Brawne goes to Keats for lessons on poetry. He talks about how we don't jump into the middle of a lake and swim to the shore to get to the shore. The reason we jump in is to do the swimming, not to get to the destination. The same is for poetry. We don't read poetry to get to the end of a poem, or get right to the "meaning." The conversation made me think of Billy Collins' gem, "Introduction to Poetry":

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide


or press an ear against its hive.


I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,


or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.


I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.


But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.


They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


In the modern age, we've lost that enjoyment of poetry. It's nice to watch a movie where men write, critique, and love verse.

I don't care much for a lot of Keats's contemporaries, but he has always stood out to me from that period.  Mr. Brown's character, unlike his poetry, is the most interesting in the film. Paul Schneider does an incredible job. He is so detestable from beginning to end, but he always commands the screen. We Americans will probably recognize him from his role as Mark Brendanawicz in Parks and Recreation, which could not be more different from his role in this film.

This movie loves to dwell on beautifully composed shots. There are at least a dozen that feel as though we're really looking at a painting. Keats is lying on top of a tree, the three are marching after each other through the heath, or the maids are simply looking out the window—some of the shots are truly indelible.

As I was watching the movie, a poem from John Donne kept coming to mind:

I have done one braver thing
  Than all the Worthies did.
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
  Which is, to keep that hid.
***
But he who loveliness within
  Hath found, all outward loathes,
For he who colour loves, and skin,
  Loves but their oldest clothes.
***
And if this love, though placed so
  From profane men you hide,
Which will no faith on this bestow,
  Or, if they do, deride:


Then you have done a braver thing
  Than all the Worthies did,
And a braver thence will spring,
  Which is, to keep it hid.


Maybe Keats's poetry is so much better than Brown's because Keats lived and did that "braver thing." He loved Brawne for her essence, which was on a much deeper level of personality than the philandering Brown saw in anyone.

The movie has two faults, editing and the main song. Sometimes the sequence of shots is hard to follow; it doesn't read well at all. In fact, many times I was confused about whether the scene I was watching was a continuation of the previous scene, or if it occurred much later in the chronology. Also, the song at the beginning and end of the film is simply obnoxious.

But other than that, this is a film that is having a love affair with beauty. It loves the power of an image, the mystery of love, and the enchantment of language. I wholly recommend it.

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