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April 04, 1996 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily, 1996-04-04

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The Michigan Daily - WE c- 4c. - Thursday, April 4, 1996 - 3B

Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' tops her 'Sense and Sensibility'

Public Access
For the third week in a row, "The
Bird Cage," Mike Nichols' revamping
of the 1978 French film, "La Cage Aux
Folles," has taken its place at the top of
the charts. Everyone's going to see it
and everyone loves it. With its hilarious
frontmen, Robin Williams and Nathan
One, its wonderfully garish and over-
the-top scenery and costumes, its in-
triguing if farfetched storyline and its
feisty, show-stopping chorus numbers,
who could possibly resist? As pure en-
tertainment, it succeeds at every level.
As anything other than entertainment,
it stinks.
Granted, movies and art in general
are not required to have a social con-
science. "The Bird Cage" certainly
oesn't. While director Nichols and
reenwriter Elaine May argue that the
film isn't meant to be taken seriously
outside of its entertainment purpose,
one can't help but acknowledge the fact
that as goofy and lighthearted as the
filmmakers claim the film to be, it is
still essentially just another Hollywood
exercise in "let's laugh at and trivialize
gay people."
But this is nothing new. It's so preva-
t that a new, soon-to-be released
ocumentary called "The Celluloid
Closet" presents a two-hour ride through
open and closed door gay Hollywood
from film's inception to its present.
Historically, any person who is -
gasp! - (whisper) - NOT HETERO-
SEXUAL - has been ridiculed. From
'the strange, creeping, criminal deviant
(Of '40s and '50s crime movies) to the
child-molesting older uncle or friend of
the family, to the tough, butch, lesbian,
*her behind bars or on the police force
(a favorite of early '80s sitcoms) to the
passive-aggressive, tight-jeaned, sex-
obsessed guy who hits on all the poor
straight men who just want to be left
alone, nobody since the Native Ameri-
can has been so insultingly represented.
"The Bird Cage," although consider-
ably more mildly, continues this cycle.
But it's the mild, comparatively subtle
:jhesof "Bird Cage" that makes it all the
ore dangerous.
High-quality, low-budget, non-Hol-
lywood films such as "Go Fish," "Part-
ing Glances," "Grief," "Longtime Com-
panion," and anything made by under-
rated indie maverick Gregg Araki ("The
Doom Generation") have addressed
homosexual relationships with the same
attentiveness and respect that big-bud-
get, Hollywood studio films routinely
impart upon heterosexual ones.
Yet, the same cannot be said of those
1ollywood studio films. The possible
exception is perhaps last year's "Jef-
frey." Although made by a large studio,
the film was still low-budget and got a
limited release.
Yes, I've seen "Philadelphia."
Can you name any others? Please don't
say"Tootsie"or "VictorVictoria." Please
don't mention "To Wong Foo, Thanks
for Everything, Julie Newmar." Other
*n the fun, Australian-born "The Ad-
venturesofPriscilla, Queen ofthe Desert,"
the drag queen and the transsexual have
had it just about the worst.
But let's talk about "Philadelphia."
In its examination of the life of a corpo-

rate businessman named Andy (Tom
Hanks), fired from his job because of
his battle with AIDS, the film examined
the seeds of prejudice in the corporate
sector. But that was the focus, preju-
te, not the HIV virus or AIDS itself,
t its consequences for gay and straight
people alike, but the wrongs of on-the-
job discrimination. An important topic,
-but not the same.
Like "The Bird Cage," "Philadelphia"
didn't shy away from a happy, stable
couple who happen to be gay. Like "The
Bird Cage," "Philadelphia" completely
denied the physicality of its characters'
relationship. It's not that these couples
Suld be shown engaged in graphic sex.
But the fact is, if "Philadelphia" were
about a straight couple, where the man
had gotten HIV through a blood transfu-
sion instead of through sex, you better
believe that in their time of pain and loss,
the filmmakers would have allowed them
to kiss. Armand and Albert discuss their

By Neal C. Carruth
Daily Arts Writer
Last year was dubbed by some as the
comeback year in film for a most un-
Californian personality: English novel-
ist Jane Austen. First, there was the
engaging, but ultimately unsatisfying
"Clueless," which writer-director Amy
Heckerling purports to be based on
Austen's "Emma." Then, the fall saw
the release of "Sense and Sensibility"
and "Persuasion." Sadly, "Persuasion"
was eclipsed by the bloated and over-
rated "Sense and Sensibility." And de-
spite their common source, the two films
represent two quite different approaches
to Austen. Hopefully, this week's re-
lease of "Persuasion" on video will
allow this subtle and moving film to
reach a wider audience.
Characteristic ofAusten's novels, the
plot of "Persuasion" concerns the so-
cial maneuvers and posturings of the
English bourgeois in the early nine-
teenth century. The story involves the
Elliots, a proud but melancholy family
that is in financial decline. To stay afloat,
they lease their ancestral home,
Kellynch Hall, to a retired admiral (John
Woodvine) and his wife (Fiona Shaw).
The Elliots move to another, less osten-
tatious home, where the aging and un-
married Elliot daughters are under the
supervision of the manipulative Lady
Russell (Susan Fleetwood).
The second Elliot daughter, Anne
(Amanda Root) is the central protagonist
of "Persuasion," and the film effectively
charts her course from a meek would-be
spinster to a self-assertive woman. The
intricacies ofthe social web ofthe film are
uncovered with grace and restraint, re-
vealing that eight years before, Anne was
engaged to Captain Wentworth (Cioran
Hinds), the brother of the admiral's wife.
She was persuaded by the meddlesome
Lady Russell to abandon her hopes be-

cause of Wentworth's low status as a
mere sailor.
Wentworth enters Anne's life once
again because of his sister's residence in
Kellynch Hall. Anne finds him utterly
transformed after eight years. Not only
has he quickly ascended the ranks, but he
has made a small fortune. Wentworth is
now a weathered gentleman of distinc-
tion and it is the Elliots who are slipping
in social stature. It is at this point that
"Persuasion" is most compelling. Anne
must hold back her undiminished feel-
ings for Wentworth because of the social
restraints placed on them. And Wentworth
must reconcile his powerful love for Anne
with his bruised pride, after being re-
buked eight years before.
While the agile social commentary
of Jane Austen is probably not
everybody's cup of tea, "Persuasion"
does have many virtues. First among
them is its departure from the usual
codes and formulas of costume drama
and period pieces. Director Roger
Michell was insistent upon maintaining
a low-key production style that does
not overemphasize the sets or costumes,
but rather makes them appear natural in
their artificiality. The production de-
sign never intrudes upon the characters
in "Persuasion." It only amplifies the
rather constricted and suffocated na-
ture of their emotions.
Also in Michell's favor is his careful,
intimate and unobtrusive camera work.
This is in marked contrast to the showy,
tempestuous direction of Ang Lee in
"Sense and Sensibility," which bespeaks
the Brontes, not Jane Austen. Michell
gives us sedate, naturally-lit interiors
that merely allow the actors to do their
work. Further, he is adept in his use of
close-ups, which allow us to read the
dynamic play of emotions across a
character's face. Root, in particular,
with her sad mouth and plaintive eyes,

has the perfect face for projecting con-
flicted emotional content.
Michell shouldn't get all the credit, of
course. A stunning array ofactorslargely
unknown to American audiences, was
assembled for "Persuasion." Amanda
Root, making her film debut, is incredible
as Anne Elliot. As suggested before, I
don't think I've seen an actress in recent
times who can convey more without ut-
tering a word. This is interesting in light
of Root's background on the stage, a
medium, that doesn't allow one to rely on
facial expression of interior states. Root
gives us a sense of true character develop-
ment, which is engrossing and very mov-
Cioran Hinds is enjoyable as the rug-
ged Captain Wentworth. What is per-
ceived, at first, as arrogance is instantly
transformed into deep and abiding hurt
when we learn of the aborted engage-
ment. Hinds does a commendable job of
holding these possibilities in check and
presenting a multifarious, complex char-
acter. Also of note is Susan Fleetword's
performance as the prim and self-inter-
ested Lady Russell. She is the perfect
emblem of the duplicity of the age.
"Persuasion" was one ofthe best films
of 1995. Its clarity of expression and
careful construction are rarely in evi-
dence in contemporary film. We are
given an unperfected landscape, popu-
lated by characters that have richness
and immediacy. Forget about the Hol-
lywood fluffball "Sense and Sensibil-
ity." If you are genuinely interested in
the spirit of Jane Austen's work (and
not just the flustered, stuttering Hugh
Grant), then give "Persuasion" a try.
In addition to "Persuasion," other
films available on video this week are
the film noir "Devil in a Blue Dress,"
Jodie Foster's family drama "Home for
the Holidays," the virtually real "Strange
Days" and Disney's animated "Balto."

Emma Thompson, pictured here in the acclaimed "in the Name of the Father,"
adapted Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility." It is not as good as Austen's

Unique films escape typical spring marketing 'dumpster'
Recent blockbusters give jumpstart on promising summer cinema

By Michael Zilberman
Daily Arts Writer
As unpleasant as it may sound, one
has to admit that the contents and even
quality of a movie at a multiplex near
you are in direct dependence on the
weather outside. Hollywood prefers to
divide the year into seasons according
to its own slightly twisted calendar.
Summer (May to Labor Day) is the
undisputed blockbuster season, with
ridiculous pile-ups of new releases
dumped into the same few weekends in
fits of aggressive programming. Fall
(Labor Day to Thanksgiving) is the
Streep season, if you will. It's a time for
quieter dramas that might not even re-
coup their costs in their opening week-
end but will presumably have a shot at
the Oscars - and consequently, the
second release and an infinite video-
store shelf life. Christmas (which seems
to run from Thanksgiving to the end of
January) is sort of self-explanatory.
And spring, ladies and gentlemen, is
one grandiose dumpster of movie re-
leases. Selling a more or less decent
product is simply pointless - it won't
qualify for this year's awards and will
definitely be forgotten until the next
year's (case in point: if last February's
"Murder In The First" were released in,
say, November, it's Kevin Bacon who
would probably be clutching his Best
Supporting Actor Oscar on the "USA
Today" front page).
Of course, there are exceptions to
this rule, and sometimes risky release
patterns pay off quite nicely. Some-
times they don't. Take, for example, the
marketing strategies behind three of the
latest Sylvester Stallone movies. In
1993, "Demolition Man" wasjust about
the only dose of blood-and-guts among
the generally gentler fall fare, and was
advertised accordingly. The target au-
dience (primarily teenagers), semi-
alienated by the film industry, immedi-
ately made it a hit.
On the other hand, last year's "Judge
Dredd," a shameless "Demolition Man"
rewrite by the way, grew enough guts to
face off with "Batman Forever" in the
testosterone-propelled summer season,
and the results were pretty unsightly. In
the fall of 1995, Stallone went back to
the "Demolition Man" tactics with a
twist: In an attempt to thrive simulta-
neously within and against the fall
schedule, "Assassins" was advertised
as an "arthouse action" movie. Need-
less to say, the audiences stayed out in
droves, both the typical Stallone crowd

eral picture are Disney live-action
cheapies and Chevy Chase vehicles.
Instead, there's "The Birdcage" with
its 18-million opening weekend;
"From Dusk Till Dawn," which in-
stantly transported TV's George

Clooney to the true star status and
landed him the part of Batman in the
upcoming fourth installment; "Execu-
tive Decision," a Kurt Russel career-
saving move ... And don't forget what
was probably the oddest week in Hol-

lywood history, when two (two!) top-
grossing slots were occupied by mov-
ies with Hong Kong directors --John
Woo's "Broken Arrow" and Stanley
Wong's Jackie Chan starrer "Rumble
In The Bronx."
Even the failures of this spring are
weirdly noble. Take "Mary Reilly," Julia
Roberts' sorry stab at serious acting,
and - very recently - "Before And
After," a Meryl Streep-Liam Neeson
drama, for example. The fact that Meryl
Streep's name shows up in a March
release, alone should be an indication
that this years' studio calendar is some-
what mangled.
On the flip side of the coin, the sum-
mer of 1996 looks almost bland com-
pared to this week's top-grossers. The
biggest studio gambles are "Mission:
Impossible" (which might end up being
perceived as a variation on "Golden-
eye") and Demi Moore's "Striptease"
(a variation on "Showgirls"). No

.r. The Summer of
1996 looks almost
bland compared to
this week's top
"Waterworlds" or"Jurassic Parks" an)
where in sight.
For some reason, though, I'm gla:
The current situation seems more nat.
ral. Frankly, there is something faintl
insulting about the system described i
the opening paragraph. If one happer
to like or dislike a movie, it's nicer t
think that the reaction was triggered b
the movie as such - and not predete:
mined by the' season, date, day of th
week or level of humidity.


Jackie Chan will knock you out in "Rumble in the Bronx."

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