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

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Beguiling

The Beguiled (Don Siegel, 1971)
Geraldine Page and Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled (1971)
John McBurney: Clint Eastwood
Martha: Geraldine Page
Edwina: Elizabeth Hartman
Carol: Jo Ann Harris
Doris: Darlene Carr
Hallie: Mae Mercer
Amy: Pamelyn Ferdin
Abigail: Melody Thomas Scott
Lizzie: Peggy Drier
Janie: Patricia Mattick

Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Albert Maltz, Irene Kamp
Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan
Cinematography: Bruce Surtees
Production design: Ted Haworth
Film editing: Carl Pingitore
Music: Lalo Schifrin

The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola, 2017)
Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled (2017)
Corporal McBurney: Colin Farrell
Miss Martha: Nicole Kidman
Edwina: Kirsten Dunst
Alicia: Elle Fanning
Amy: Oona Lawrence
Jane: Angourie Rice
Marie: Addison Riecke
Emily: Emma Howard

Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola
Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan and a screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp
Cinematography: Philippe Le Sourd
Production design: Anne Ross
Film editing: Sarah Flack
Music: Phoenix

Why some movies get remade and others don't is one of the abiding mysteries of the business. There doesn't seem to be a very clear reason why Don Siegel's 1971 The Beguiled should be a movie that Sofia Coppola would choose to remake 46 years later other than that it's a pretty good premise: a wounded Yankee soldier is taken in by a Southern girls' school who hide him from the Confederates until events turn them against him. The premise does have a slightly pornographic quality to it, but that's unlikely to have motivated this particular version. Whatever the reason, we now have two pretty good versions of the story, the first starring an actor who became known for a taciturn masculinity, the second with a softer, more feminine (not to say feminist, because who knows what that means in any given context) approach. In fact, the two films are almost complementary, notable as much for what the remake leaves out as for the way in which Coppola changes the tone of the first version. Siegel's film is rougher and more action-filled, and it treats the sexual tension of the material in a more heated manner -- not to say overheated, which the 1971 version veers toward in its suggestions that Martha, the girls' school headmistress, not only committed incest with her brother but also had a lesbian relationship with (or at least attraction toward) the head teacher, Edwina. Times have changed, and Coppola steers clear of both, probably because they add nothing to the main story and same-sex attraction doesn't have the the power to shock in 2017 that it did in 1971. Coppola also eliminates a major character from Siegel's version, the slave Hallie, who serves as a kind of interlocutor with Clint Eastwood's McBurney, the two commenting on their different forms of captivity. Although the major characters retain the same general outlines, Coppola's Martha and Edwina, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst, are less eccentric performers than Siegel's Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman. I think this works to Coppola's benefit, making the women's turn against McBurney more startling, even a little tragic, than in Siegel's film. In Siegel's version, the girl who lures McBurney, called Carol in his film, is more vulgarly hot to trot than Coppola's Alicia, played with more subtlety by Elle Fanning. As for the two versions of McBurney, Coppola gives hers more of a backstory: an Irish immigrant lured into the Union Army by the promise of ready cash when he agrees to serve as a substitute for a Yankee reluctant to fight. Colin Farrell is also a more versatile actor than Eastwood, whose tough guy persona makes it hard for us to accept his acquiescence. The scene in which McBurney eats the poisoned mushrooms comes off better in Coppola's version because Farrell lets us see the poison taking its effect, whereas Siegel decides not to show the effect on Eastwood's McBurney. Yet somehow, I prefer the Siegel film, perhaps because there's an inherent cheesiness to the story's melodrama that Siegel embraces but Coppola strives to downplay.

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