A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Angel at My Table (Jane Campion, 1990)

Kerry Fox in An Angel at My Table
Janet Frame: Kerry Fox
Janet as a child: Karen Fergusson
Janet as a teenager: Alexia Keogh
Mother: Iris Churn
Father: Kevin J. Wilson
Myrtle: Melina Bernecker
Isabel: Glynis Angell
Leslie: Natasha Gray
Miss Botting: Brenda Kendall
Frank Sargeson: Martyn Sanderson

Director: Jane Campion
Screenplay: Laura Jones
Based on books by Janet Frame
Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh
Production design: Grant Major
Costume design: Glenys Jackson
Music: Don McGlashan

Three years before The Piano (1993) earned her critical acclaim and an Oscar for screenwriting as well as a nomination for directing, Campion made this film, originally as a TV miniseries. It's an account of the life of New Zealand author Janet Frame, told in three segments. Writers' biopics are difficult to bring off, in large part because writers' lives are usually less interesting than the things they write. Their chief function is typically to give us insight into the personal experiences that shaped their art, which in Frame's case included growing up in a working-class family in rural New Zealand, having a mental breakdown while she was at teachers' college, and being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and institutionalized for eight years at an antiquated mental asylum where she was treated with electroshock therapy. But during her stay at the hospital she wrote a series of short stories that were collected and published, receiving acclaim that eventually resulted in her release. Campion's film is based on three volumes of autobiography by Frame. I have to admit that I've not read any of Frame's books or stories, so I'm not qualified to judge whether the film adds substance to either the autobiography or the fiction, but the screenplay by Laura Jones and the performance by Kerry Fox as the adult Janet Frame (she is played by Alexia Keogh as a teenager and Karen Fergusson as a child) are compelling enough in themselves. I also admit that I had trouble understanding the New Zealand accents, so I lost out on some of the dialogue.