Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Sofia Coppola Touch / The Beguiled




The Sofia Coppola Touch

With 'The Beguiled,' Sofia Coppola continues to assemble a rhapsodic filmography.

by BILGE EBIRI
JUNE 28, 2017
We all have some idea of what the Sofia Coppola Style is like: dreamy, delicate, bathed in melancholy pop. But think of how different the plangent lyricism of The Virgin Suicides is from the digitized, fame-obsessed frenzy of The Bling Ring. Or the austere long takes of Somewhere from the gloriously colorful postpunk cacophony of Marie Antoinette.
The aesthetics are different, though each rendered with that impressionistic touch, somehow both buoyant and melancholy. Coppola’s films turn on the twin poles of solitude and solidarity. On one side, you’ve got the loners of Lost in Translation and Somewhere; on the other, the girl collectives of The Virgin Suicidesand Bling Ring. But the boundaries blur: In Marie Antoinette, we see a lonely teen who’s been made queen of France find and build and lose her own little community.
Now Coppola has released what might be her most ambitious movie yet — a remake of the 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film The Beguiled, adapted from Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel, A Painted Devil, in which a wounded Union soldier is sheltered by an isolated group of women in a Virginia girls seminary and slowly sows discord, sexual and otherwise. It’s a story with overtones of gothic horror, dripping with period detail. And, once again, the director has made it her own.
In The Beguiled, the loner and the collective collide: Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), understandably reluctant to be delivered either to prison or back to the battlefield, insinuates himself among these women, charming each in different ways — until they begin to resist. “He knows how to manipulate their weaknesses,” Coppola explains. Chief among his targets is the schoolteacher, Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a repressed, retiring woman who begins to see in him the possibility of escape and a better life. But even the seminary’s rational, exacting headmistress, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), isn’t impervious to this man’s charms.
McBurney’s seductions were handled rather bluntly in the atmospheric and somewhat hysterical 1971 film, which had Eastwood as a charismatic, lying sleazebag who, even as he lay nearly dying of a leg wound in the opening scene, found time to kiss the young girl who’d discovered him. (The film came out around the same time as the better-known Siegel/Eastwood collaboration Dirty Harry, and an entire cultural history of the United States could probably be written about how Eastwood’s scuzzy Sixties and Seventies antiheroes came to be blueprints for politicians in later years.)
It is interesting that the character of McBurney is somewhat more likable in the version of The Beguiled directed by a woman. Shouldn’t a feminist take on this material further indulge the male character’s villainy? Maybe not: The women of the 1971 Beguiled sometimes come off as weak, undone by their own need, as they fall for a man who is so clearly monstrous. “I wanted to see it from their view,” Coppola explains of her version. “You can see that he’s charming and understand why they get wrapped up in him. I want the audience to try to figure him out as the women do.”

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Coppola is famously quiet and doesn’t like to analyze her work too much; she insists that much of what she does is intuitive. “There are all kinds of things that you do that you’re not totally aware of until stepping back,” she says. But don’t let the understated quality of her pictures, or her soft-spoken personality, deceive you into thinking that Coppola doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing. She’s been doing it for two decades, and she has produced one of the most expressive filmographies of any working American director.
When a director remakes a movie, they usually either completely love the original or feel it was missing something. Was either the case here?
I wouldn’t think to remake a classic film, but I feel like I was just doing it from a different point of view. I think The Beguiled is a classic in its genre for people that really know films — but a lot of people don’t know it, and it definitely has a very Seventies B-movie style. I wanted to go back to this story and retell it my way. And I felt like enough time had passed and my approach was so different that it could exist as a conversation with the other one — between the male and female point of view. I didn’t relate to how the Seventies film dealt with women’s sexuality, and I wanted to deal with that in a more relatable way.
Some people find the original really campy. I don’t know if it’s campy so much as just kind of…
Over the top!
Yeah. But you have a very light touch with this material.
I don’t ever want to be heavy-handed. The material is so melodramatic, or just dramatic— I didn’t want it to be full camp, but to still have humor and playfulness, and also connect with the more emotional side. So, a balance, just trying to find that tone….In life, you can have darkness and humor together, and I appreciate those contrasts. But I don’t really think too much about it; it’s just my sensibility.
What kind of inspirations did you draw on?
I always try to collect images with my art department — the photographer and the team that’s helping with the visuals — so we’re all on the same page. I also looked at other films: The Innocents with Deborah Kerr, and [Roman Polanski’s] Tess, for the natural photography. We looked at some scenes from Hitchcock for suspense. It’s a blur of stuff. I studied little images from some Italian films from the Sixties, Seventies. And [Polanski’s] Fearless Vampire Killers. I didn’t always revisit these; you just have references in your mind of things you’ve seen.
You seem fascinated by rituals. Virgin SuicidesSomewhereMarie Antoinette — your characters, even when they’re loners, always find themselves at the center of different rituals.
I never thought about that, but it’s true. I could totally see that, now that you say it. There are so many rituals in life, and femininity is a lot about rituals.

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So often your characters exist in groups. Is that something that you have to work with your actors on, to create that dynamic?
It’s just natural between girls and women. But definitely, with [The Beguiled], it was important. I had them spend some time together before we did the film. With the little girls, the students, they became friends and they hung out together on location. I wanted them to feel natural doing the things that women did at that time. They took sewing lessons and dance lessons or etiquette lessons. It helped them bond. You see that onscreen and feel like they have a familiarity.
When it comes to period detail, is there a point at which you have to step back and say, “OK, this is authentic enough, now I have to be freer and bring my sensibility to it”?
I always want it to be approachable, or naturalistic, in a way that you can connect with the characters. With the costumes, I decided that they shouldn’t wear their hoop skirts, because they’ve been working in the field — but also, it looks more like a silhouette that kids will relate to today. So that was a challenge: how to be authentic to the period, but also still relatable. And the dialogue, too: If we would change a line at the last minute, I’d think, “That has to sound like the period, but I also want it to sound naturalistic in a way that we can relate to as a modern audience.”
You’ve been criticized for cutting out the slave character.
The slave character was written in a really stereotypical way, and I didn’t want to make a movie about racial politics in the Civil War. So I decided just to focus on the women. When I went through the book I focused on the characters and sections I wanted to know more about and that I connected to. I left out the incest story, for example. I was very thoughtful about what I was going to include and not include. The process of adapting a book requires a lot of focus and thought on what you feel is at the core of the story you want to tell.
Some might say that by avoiding the character entirely, you’re helping to erase that aspect of history.
I thought it would be worse to make the stereotypical character and then not treat that story with respect, to just brush over it lightly. It’s too important. It’s another movie. I’m also trying to focus on the story about this group of women and this man. So to have a little side character I think would be disrespectful to that story….I thought a lot about it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’ll just snip that part out.” I just thought to do it in a light way without giving it respect would not be the right thing to do.
I’m intrigued by the way you use nature in the film. In the opening scene, the girl is picking mushrooms, and McBurney emerges from the mushrooms and the trees, like a force of nature. That’s in the Siegel as well, but I feel like you lean into that idea more.
These Southern ladies are so contained, and they’re cut off in their delicate world. So there’s this threat of nature, and the vines are growing in, and they’re going to take over the house soon. And the contrast of their inside, feminine world with the war and the brutal world outside.
You use sound interestingly to achieve that.
Oh, thank you. When I was writing the script, I thought a lot about that, because working with our sound designer Richard Beggs for so many years, he taught me to pay attention to those details, and I wanted that to be a key element. Because it’s so stark, and to keep the tension going, I wanted to really reflect a sense of the place with the cannons in the distance, and the sounds of nature.
In the first half, we hear the cannons in the distance. In the second half, we’ll see the outside of the house and hear the sounds of the domestic conflict coming from inside. So it’s as if the sound of warfare has infiltrated the house.
Oh, that’s interesting. I’m gonna use that! It wasn’t a conscious decision, but subconsciously it makes sense. I knew that I wanted the cannons to leave. The troops are moving on, so the women are really abandoned now. The war has moved on. But it’s true that then the war comes inside. There is more violence to the sound in that last section, and so it makes sense that it shifts. There’s a rhythm to the editing. But it’s intuitive; I’ve always tried to be open to what happens when you’re in the place, and not to plan it out too much. I never really plan out the shots until we’re there on the day with the actors and the setting, and then they rehearse. They’re going to have opinions about what feels natural to them, and then we figure out how to shoot it.


You’ve now made three films with Kirsten Dunst, all at different stages of her career. How has your relationship changed?
Knowing each other now for so long, we have a history and of course we have a shorthand. And when I met her she was a kid. And now, you know, she’s an adult woman, and she’s getting married, and so we relate to each other in a different way….As far as acting together, we always had a connection where she got me and I didn’t have to tell her that much. But on The Beguiled, more and more we can speak less. We have an understanding, a similar sensibility and sense of humor. There’s a trust there. I know that she’ll convey something in a way that I will like. But this was interesting to see her play so against type, which we haven’t done before. The character is so different from who she is. It was interesting to see her turn into this very other personality than what I know of her.


Friday, July 21, 2017

My best shot / Rankin / Beautyfull

Beautyfull
by Rankin
Rankin's best shot 

'This was taken at a time when we didn't really care about health and safety'

Thursday 25 January 2007 


This is quite an old picture. It was for a fashion story for Dazed and Confused magazine called Highly Flammable, in 1997 or 1998.

At the time, a lot of clothes were made out of that horrible shiny nylon material. I was at a party, and my ex-wife, who was always very critical and amusingly ironic about fashion, said to me that if someone set light to these kids at the party, they'd all burn immediately. It made me think it might make for a funny set of images.
I photographed them in the studio with very soft daylight, and then I had the images made into life-size cut-outs. I did a similar thing with Pulp, where we made cut-outs of them for an album cover. Then I took the cut-outs into the street and set them alight. I just threw on a load of lighter fluid. There's lots of pictures of my assistants jumping out of the way. It was at a time when we didn't really care about health and safety.
I shot it on film, on a tripod, because it was quite a long exposure. I didn't use any flash, but there is a very little bit of retouching. I just took out the stand for the cut-out, which was pointing out of the back a little.
The photo is a bit of a dig at fashion, the shallowness and emptiness of the industry, which can take itself far too seriously. You've got to balance out the seduction and what you enjoy about it with a little bit of cynicism. I think that pervades my work in general. I'm asking, "Why am I seduced by this? Why do I like it so much?" That's what the piece is about.
Interview by Leo Benedictus

My best shot / Anne Hardy / Untitled VI


Untitled VI
2005
Photo by Anne Hardy


Anne Hardy's best shot




Interview by Leo Benedictus

Thursday 11 January 2007 10.33 GMT


I
t took about two months to set everything up in this picture, which was taken in December 2005. It's not a real place; it was built in my studio in Hackney, London. The whole space is structured around the position of the camera. It's put together as a photograph, rather than an installation. Sometimes I go back and reshoot things, moving something 10cm this way or that. The actual moment of taking the final photograph can almost seem - not an anticlimax, but such a tiny thing.

I usually start with abandoned objects I find in the street. All the old science equipment here came from a school. I put a lot of specific things into the image, without making specific references, so people can bring different things to it. There is no single explanation. I wanted to create the feeling that there are unfamiliar systems at work here. For example, maybe it was reasonable for someone to label the sections of a basketball.
I always use a similar setup for my pictures, which are taken with a medium-format camera and wide-angle lens. I try to make it look as if the light has come from within the space. In this shot, it comes from the skylight, which is intended to look like daylight, and from the red bulb, rather than anything behind the camera.
I just enjoy this picture. It's always hard to choose a favourite image, but there's something about this one that surprises me more than the others. You have certain pieces as an artist that you feel push your practice on, show you new things. It surprises me that I made this one.



My best shot / Bruce Davidson / Girl holding kitten

Girl holding kitten
London, 1960
Photograph: Bruce Davidson

Bruce Davidson's best shot 'I found her by accident. She took me into a cave, then some kind of dancehall'
Thursday 4 January 2007 11.41 GMT

I always had a feeling for Britain. We would listen to the BBC during the war, when I had an uncle Herb who was flying a bomber, which I believe may have been from England.
In 1960, I purchased a Hillman Minx convertible, which wasn't a very expensive car in those days, and drove around England with the top down. It was an American-drive car, which was an advantage because I could snap people on the sidewalk more easily. I also had a sports coat made with the side pockets larger, so I could fit my Leicas in them.
I found this young woman quite by accident, as I was walking the London streets. I came upon a group of teenagers, and struck up a conversation. They took me into a cave, and then some kind of huge dancehall. I think it was on an island. It was getting late, and I needed to move on the next morning, so I didn't stay very long.
But I isolated this girl to photograph, holding that kitten, which was probably a stray she had found on the street, and carrying that bedroll wrapped around her body. There was a great deal of mystery to her. I didn't know where she had come from, and I didn't get her name, but there was something about that face - the hopefulness, positivity and openness to life - it was the new face of Britain.
The picture was taken with a normal 50mm lens, with a wide aperture. I used the Ilford film, called HPS - hyper-sensitive film - which I loved, although it is probably no longer made. I loved that grainy texture; she has the feeling of a statue.
I still feel close to this picture. I wonder what that young girl is doing now. She must be lurking around London someplace, or she may not be alive, you never know.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jane Eyre by Cornelia Parker





On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Cornelia Parker




Cornelia Parker

Cornelia Parker

Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST


I identified strongly with Jane and her painful childhood when I first read Jane Eyre as a teenager as I was having quite a painful one myself (though perhaps not as bad as hers). So later in the book when she overcame her shyness, threw off her childhood problems and then became this incredibly strong woman, it was emotional and cathartic. I reread it in 2006 when on a residency at Haworth Parsonage. Back in London in the British Library I actually got to leaf through the original text, neatly written in three musty notebooks. She had obviously copied out the manuscript many times but this was her final draft, so seeing where she had deleted a single word here and there made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. There were about 50 corrections in all, which I recorded through photographs: “crimson” was crossed out and replaced by “purple”; “soul” was changed to “spirit”, “glimpse” became “idea”. I also took images through an electron microscope of tiny punctures in Charlotte’s pincushion, holes that she made unconsciously when sewing, and of split ends in the little plait of Emily’s hair that had been kept after she died. The Brontës and their characters have attracted so much literary attention, been the subject of so many Hollywood films, it seemed appropriate to work with the seemingly inconsequential traces, the tiny little frictions of everyday life.

When my daughter read it at school a couple of years ago, it was touching to read out passages to one another. The book has stayed with me all my life and I was pleased that she loved it too.



Jane Eyre by Julie Myerson



On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Julie Myerson


Julie Myerson

Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST



I first read Jane Eyre propped up in my little single bed with a shawl around my shoulders in a cold and creaking attic room at the top of a house in the middle of the starless Nottinghamshire countryside. The room, my old and once beloved bedroom, was badly lit, unheated, dusty and forlorn. It hadn’t always been so. But that summer our mother had left our father in a most spectacular fashion – at dead of night, taking half the furniture, all our pets and all three of us children with her. And my father vented his rage in the only way he knew how: by replacing nothing, leaving the house – and especially our bedrooms – to grow sad and dusty and unloved, a reminder each time we visited (fortnightly as the court decreed) of how our terrible mother had ruined our once “happy” family life.
I could not have wished for a better setting in which to get to know the Brontës. Charlotte, Emily, Anne – all of them kept me company in that cold and sad little room. I was 13 and I knew very little about anything, but suddenly here it all was: injustice and illness, death, shame, fear and secrecy – not to mention the possibility of love in unexpected or even inconvenient places.

I have read the novel since and always found something new to love. But my abiding sense of it then, as well as now, is of Jane herself – her sheer, steady-hearted goodness. Throughout the novel, from start to finish, she unwaveringly tells the truth. Such clarity and, in an odd way, such calm. It felt like something worth aspiring to. It still does.




Jane Eyre by Blake Morrison





On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Blake Morrison




Blake Morrison

Blake Morrison


I grew up not many miles from Haworth, in a vicarage at the top of a village; my mother, like Patrick Brontë, had come from Ireland; the landscape we looked out on resembled the one Jane Eyre wanders through after fleeing Thornfield Hall: “[the roads] are all cut in the moor, and the heather grows wild and deep.” The novel wasn’t on the syllabus at my grammar school; no self-respecting teenage boy would have wanted to be seen with it. But the sense of recognition I felt when I read it was immense. All adolescents feel like victims, and the mistreatment of Jane in the early chapters, first by Mrs Reed then by Mr Brocklehurst, put me firmly on her side. I too knew what it was like to be humiliated in class (the slate-dropping episode) and to lose a close friend (as she does Helen Burns). I too distrusted wealth and finery. Never mind Jane’s gender: it was the two of us against the world! Whether Mr Rochester would prove worthy seemed doubtful. The romantic denouement engaged me less than the impediments along the way: Miss Ingram; mad Bertha (we too had a scary attic); the halting of the wedding ceremony. But I liked the teasing and banter, and there were ideas to grapple with, too, about class and work and beauty. Above all, there was Jane’s denunciation of female servitude. Women, she says, “need exercise for their faculties … they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded … to say they ought to confine themselves to making puddings”.A hundred and twenty years after the book came out, that idea still met occasional resistance, especially in laddish rural outposts. But Jane Eyre showed it was plain common sense. Soon we’d all be reading The Female Eunuch. But Charlotte Brontë led the way.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Jane Eyre by Helen Dunmore





On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth


Jane Eyre

by Helen Dunmore






Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore

Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST



What I love most about Jane Eyre is the ferocity of her radicalism. She refuses to see the world as it tells her it should be seen. She will speak out, although she is a friendless nobody: small, pale, plain and female. From the first page there are hints of the fire that burns in her. Jane is out of favour, banished from the family hearth. She hides away in her own no man’s land, a window seat where she sits “cross-legged, like a Turk”, revelling in the pages of Bewick’s History of British Birds. A drawn red curtain conceals her from the room, while the glass protects her from “ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly from a long and lamentable blast”.
Jane Eyre is between two worlds and belongs in neither, although she will have to live in both during the course of the novel. She will be a beggar-maid, exposed on the moors, and a princess wooed by the King of Thornfield Hall, Mr Rochester. Neither will satisfy her. Jane’s quest is long and solitary, and she is protected only by her fiery spirit and incisive intelligence. But if Jane Eyre has fairytale and mythic qualities, she is also an intensely political creation. Jane genuinely does not believe that morality has anything to do with wealth, power or social standing. She repudiates the idea that women’s mental capacities are less than those of men. She would rather live alone than accept a relationship that compromises her independence. Strong stuff even in our times, but revolutionary in 1847. At 10 years old she castigates rich, powerful Mrs Reed for her hypocrisy and cruelty. At 18 she sets out into the world to support herself, having done everything possible to secure an education.
Her relationship with Mr Rochester is, to put it mildly, challenging. She will not be flattered: she must be an equal. Is Jane Eyre lovable? Perhaps not. She is intensely critical, and quick to scorn. There is no warmth of humour in her. She is elemental, with “rather a look of another world” as Rochester says, and yet at times extraordinarily prosaic. But if not lovable, she is utterly compelling. There was no one like Jane Eyre before she blazed on to the page, and into a million imaginations.



Jane Eyre by Polly Samson



On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Polly Samson






Polly Samson


Polly Samson

Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST



I read Wide Sargasso Sea before I ever got to Jane Eyre. It wasn’t until my youngest son was set Jane Eyre for A-level that I finally read it (I thought I had but it turned out I’d only osmosed it from the air and screen). Wide Sargasso Sea, I’d read several times. Reading them the wrong way round, which happens to be chronologically the right way round, does rather spoil the romance: leaving you alert to a morally derelict rather than a Byronic Rochester. Jane falls for a man whose degeneracy and sadism drove his first wife mad. Lushly erotic and deeply disturbing, Rhys’s book bleeds very darkly into Brontë’s.

Throughout the exquisite suffering and withholding dance of Jane and Rochester’s courtship, you are thinking, ‘Please no, Jane, not after all we’ve been through so intimately together, the beatings and privations, the humiliations and near-starvations. Did love deafen you when he told you of roaming Europe and setting up home with three separate courtesans? What of his STDs?’
And what of poor little Adèle, the abandoned child of his Parisian mistress? There he is, pampering her with cadeaux while referring to her repeatedly and within her hearing as “it”, and remarking on her stupidity. Why did he take her in if he despises her so? And then, Rhys whispers in your ear and you shudder to remember that in Wide Sargasso Sea Rochester has sex with a servant girl, who can’t have been more than a child.
And on to the spectacle of the mad woman in his attic: unkempt and ugly, raving and knifing and biting. Rhys won’t allow you to dismiss her as some sort of mythical vampyre, or even Jane’s rebellious alter ego. In Wide Sargasso Sea, she is a beautiful but fragile Creole heiress whom Rochester marries for her fortune, and on his honeymoon is already resenting for her “disconcertingly non-European” eyes.
It is never made clear in Jane Eyre from what form of madness the first Mrs Rochester is suffering. Something must have turned her from a beautiful bride into this swollen, purple monster. Given what Brontë tells us of his decade-long lost weekend, does it seem unlikely that Rochester has given her syphilis?
And then, up on the roof, among the flames of Thornfield Hall, Rochester loses his hand, his left hand, the one he gave in marriage. According to Jane Eyre, the woman he gave it to jumps, thus freeing him to marry Jane. Oh dear. Reader, I can’t help but think he pushed her.


Jane Eyre by O'Farrell

On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth


Jane Eyre

by Maggie O'Farrell


Maggie O’Farrell

Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST


Like many people, I first read Jane Eyre in my early teens, in the first flush of excitement at swapping my children’s library card for an adult one. The back cover promised a thrilling love story between a poor, plain girl and a brooding, troubled landowner. Later that night, I found myself wrong-footed. What, I wondered, was this neglect and abuse of an orphan child? Whose was this frank, unwavering voice? By the time Jane was locked by her heartless aunt into the terrifying red room, I had forgotten all about the promised love story. I pressed on, late into the night, straight into Lowood and the deprivations at the hands of religious fanatics.
I had, in short, never read anything like it. The shock and thrill of discovering this book, aged 13, continues to run in my veins. I read it without a single preconception; I knew nothing about it. I was as unprepared as those first Victorian readers for Rochester, for the fire, for the stalled marriage, for the lunatic locked away in the attic.
If Jane Eyre taught me anything as an astonished 13-year-old, it was to strive, to push my reach beyond my grasp, not to settle for compromise. When we studied the book at university, Brontë’s words were filtered for me through various frameworks of academic theory. Jane Eyre is a feminist novel, I was told. Or it is the link between the epistolary and the gothic novel. It is the precursor to all stream-of-consciousness writing. It is a psychological tract about doubles and doppelgangers, addressing levels of human consciousness. It is all these things and yet none of them. One of the reasons Jane Eyre continues to provoke so much discussion and theorising is that, like Jane herself, it eludes definition. It does one thing with its right hand while doing quite another with its left.
Thirty years on, I still haven’t read anything like it. Jane Eyre remains the book I return to the most. I read it every couple of years. Parts I know off by heart, yet each time I come away with something different. It is my datum, my pole star, the novel by which all others shall be measured.