A blog 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

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Room With a View (James Ivory, 1985)

Rosemary Leach, Daniel Day-Lewis, Simon Callow, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves in A Room With a View
Lucy Honeychurch: Helena Bonham Carter
Charlotte Bartlett: Maggie Smith
George Emerson: Julian Sands
Mr. Emerson: Denholm Elliott
The Rev. Mr. Beebe: Simon Callow
Eleanor Lavish: Judi Dench
Cecil Vyse: Daniel Day-Lewis
Mrs. Honeychurch: Rosemary Leach
Freddy Honeychurch: Rupert Graves

Director: James Ivory
Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Based on a novel by E.M. Forster
Cinematography: Tony Pierce-Roberts
Production design: Brian Ackland Snow, Gianni Quaranta
Music: Richard Robbins
Costume design: Jenny Beavan, John Bright

James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant had a collaboration that began with the formation of Merchant Ivory Productions in 1961 and lasted until Merchant's death in 2005. It usually included the screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The trio developed a reputation for literary adaptations that were beautifully filmed with opulent sets and costumes and a gallery of celebrated stars -- most of them British. But the trouble with developing a distinctive style is that you can become a cliché: "Merchant Ivory" eventually became a label for a film that was tastefully middlebrow -- well-done and entertaining but just a tad safe. It's a pity, because their best films -- Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), and this one -- set a high standard, despite their "safeness." Few films have a better sense of place and time than A Room With a View, in its depiction of Florence at the start of the 20th century. Granted, it leans a bit too heavily on the cliché about stuffy Brits losing their cool in the warmer climate of Tuscany, but that's the fault of E.M. Forster's novel -- not one of his major works -- and not of Jhabvala's Oscar-winning screenplay. Oscars also went to the art direction team and to costumers Jenny Beavan and John Bright, and it was nominated for best picture, for the supporting performances of Denholm Elliott and Maggie Smith, for Ivory's direction, and for Tony Pierce-Roberts's cinematography. The cast includes Helena Bonham Carter (in her "corset-roles" period) and Julian Sands, along with a then little-known Daniel Day-Lewis. Proof that Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of all time is no longer needed, but it's worth contemplating that he created the character of the prissy Cecil Vyse in this film within a year of appearing as the gay street punk Johnny in My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears), and that he would follow with the sexy Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman, 1988), the paralyzed Christy Brown in My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 1989), and the dashing Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992). Day-Lewis's Cecil Vyse verges on a caricature of the sexually repressed Brit, but he has an affecting moment near the end when, after Lucy (Bonham Carter) breaks off their engagement, he emerges as a vulnerable, three-dimensional character. Richard Robbins's fine score is memorably supplemented by Kiri Te Kanawa's recordings of two Puccini arias: "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi and "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine.

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