Sunday, August 4, 2013

When the Werth's Away...

Late summer in New York is a beautiful time in the city.  The July heat has mostly dispersed, although not before driving off the beach crowd to their shore-side homes.  The traffic on the avenues has lessened, and while Times Square still throbs with tourists, the city can feel almost empty on a quiet Sunday morning.  Even Film Gab is unusually quiet as Werth has taken his gargantuan trove of movie knowledge down south to visit friends, leaving this humble Gabber to ponder over silver screen explorations of the solitary life.  

In Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), Bridget (Renée Zellweger) would do just about anything not to be single.  Based on Helen Fielding's runaway best seller, both the film and the book depict a woman in her thirties, slightly plump, clumsy, and besotted by romantic notions that obscure the fine qualities of her childhood acquaintance Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) in favor of the rogue sexiness of her boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant).  The film is full of pratfalls and cringeworthy embarrassments heaped on Bridget, but somehow Zellweger's bouyancy transforms her character's awkward strivings into something heroic.  (At least the Acadamy thought so;
Zellweger nabbed a Best Actress nomination.)  Of course her co-stars have a lot to do with the success of the picture: Grant deploys his matinee idol looks to make Daniel's toxic charm nearly irresistible, while Firth creates a character so bound up by honor that he appears priggish until Bridget discovers his heart of gold.  

Cast Away (2000) is more properly a film about loneliness.  Tom Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a FedEx executive so caught up in the rat race that he eschews both family and friends—including his long-suffering fiancée Kelly (Helen Hunt)—in favor of pursuing the corporate grind.  A plane crash lands him on an uninhabited island where for four years he confronts the sequestered life he had always seemed to choose over the people he cared for most.  Hanks does something miraculous here, quieting his comedic impulses and finding the circumspect dignity of a man who has achieved hermetic perfection.  He even does double duty by creating a second character in his volleyball companion Wilson;
when the two face separation, it's as heartwrenching as even the most tragic Hollywood ending.  Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and deservedly so.  His performance, mostly without words and barely with co-stars, is a riveting tour-de-force.  

While not properly a film, William Luce's dramatization of the life of Emily Dickinson, The Belle of Amherst (1976), was filmed for PBS, and even though star Julie Harris appears alone for the full length of the production, she populates the stage with an ensemble of over a dozen other characters in telling the life of this singular American poet.  Directed nimbly by Charles S. Durbin (the primary helmer of TV's M*A*S*H and the Lesley Anne Warren version of Cinderella (1965)), the film escapes the ordinarily flat-footed interpretations of stage-to-screen by focusing primarily on Harris's luminous eyes ("like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves" as Dickinson would have it).  Harris created her performance on Broadway under the direction of Charles Nelson Reilly (yes, that Charles Nelson Reilly), and while Luce's play is full of references to the since-discredited notion of Dickinson as the victim of a tragic romance,
Harris's Dickinson full of the fire and self-possession of an artist at the height of her powers.  Still, she is "small, like the wren," giving a clear idea with her physical performance how a determined woman could elide the chauvinism of the 19th Century world.  

Whatever your summer plans, we here at Film Gab hope you're having a blast, but still saving time to enjoy the pleasure of the silver screen.  Join us again next week when Werth returns and I leave behind my solitary musings for more rollicking adventures of next week's Film Gab. 

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