Doodad Kind of Town

Checking In: What I Did on my Blogging Vacation
October 21, 2008, 12:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Two weeks away from the blog have given me a little bit of perspective.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I blog – in particular, why I chose to blog about film. Truth be told, when I started out, I actually thought I had a lot of interesting things to say about the art form that has most captured my imagination and my passion over the years. But if I had to choose just one word to characterize my first 18 months in the blogosphere, it would be “humbling.” In my interactions with others in the film blogging community, I’ve come face-to-face with just how much I don’t know about cinema, how many great and significant films I’ve yet to see. And it all started to be a bit overwhelming.

But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent more time with friends who aren’t particularly cinephiles, I’ve curled up with a good book or two. I’ve spent an autumn afternoon baking a pumpkin praline cake while listening to some old CDs (movie soundtracks, ironically, from “Living out Loud,” “City of Angels,” and “Bandits”; good music if not necessarily from good movies.) And, truth be told, I have made a couple jaunts to the multiplex, despite my earlier pledge to avoid such venues for a good long while. Here are few musings on what I’ve seen:

“The Duchess”

I’m not quite ready to march in the Keira Knightley love parade; I figure when you’ve seen one eye-popping, chin-thrusting Knightley performance, you’ve seen ’em all. But she does bring a certain charm and vivacity to this refreshingly unstuffy historical drama. Knightley plays Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, a noblewoman of great charm and style who’s adored by the masses but privately trapped in a loveless marriage to an unfaithful older man. (Does that remind you of any recent marriage in the British monarchy? You may not be surprised to learn that Georgiana was an ancestor of the late Princess Diana.) Ralph Fiennes has the thankless, one-note role of the cold, emotionally cruel Duke, and he glowers though it fairly predictably.

“The Duchess” has all the trappings of a standard, big-budget costume drama – voluminous gowns, enormous powdered wigs, imposing castles and photogenically woolly sheep scampering on verdant hillsides. But it doesn’t suffocate under the weight of those trappings; it feels almost contemporary in its depiction of a marriage in which both partners suffer, hurt one another, make enormous compromises and eventually reach a sort of resigned truce. It’s even very funny in spots (although not nearly as funny as the woman sitting two seats away from me thought. Next to movie talkers, my least favorite kind of multiplex patron is the one who doesn’t get out much: the one who laughs uproariously at mildly amusing lines, yells out stuff like “Oh, SNAP!!” in response to bitchy, onscreen repartee, and applauds wildly when a character has the slightest bit of good fortune. Can’t these people stay home with their DVD players and their cats?)


I’ve never much cared for Oliver Stone; I like George W. Bush even less. But neither of those facts stopped me from running right out to see Stone’s biopic of the outgoing POTUS.

I found “W” outrageous, funny, disturbing and wildly entertaining all at the same time. It managed to reaffirm all my worst fears about Bush and what goes on in his White House while making him a sympathetic character. As imagined by Stone and portrayed by Josh Brolin, he emerged as the thoroughly mediocre black sheep in a family devoted to exceptional public service, the family scion who longs to prove himself. He has big dreams and noble intentions, but neither the discipline nor the aptitude for analytical thought required to keep those dreams on track. He’s an oversized boy with boyish behaviors and enthusiasms -guzzling Dr. Pepper and tearing into lunch meat sandwiches, purposefully striding across his Texas ranch to the accompaniment of the theme music from ’50s TV show “Robin Hood.” There’s nothing here we didn’t already know, but Stone presents it in a well-shaped and lively package. And there are uneasy pleasures to be had in Richard Dreyfus’ sneering, Dr. Strangelovian portrayal of Dick Cheney.

There were a few distractions.

First, there’s Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. She looks very much like – and sounds exactly like – Parker Posey’s character in “Waiting for Guffman.” Very disconcerting. If Laura Bush had worked at Dairy Queen, this clip could have been included in “W” and no one would have known the difference:

I couldn’t shake the Libby Mae Brown connection any time Banks was onscreen, and it weakened the film a little for me.

Back on the plus side, it’s to Stone’s credit that he doesn’t milk easy laughs out of Bush’s religious devotion. Religious conversion is one of the hardest things to portray credibly onscreen – it’s such an internal process. Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser capture the significance of Bush’s conversion in a perfectly calibrated scene with a kindly evangelical preacher (nicely underplayed by Stacy Keach), cut together with some fleeting images of Jesus and a soundtrack of heavenly-sounding hymns. The religious iconography, however, doesn’t overwhelm the scene; what comes through is Bush’s anguish at being the family fuck-up, and the sense of comfort, purpose and acceptance (not to mention sobriety) that he finds only in his Christian devotion. And in subsequent scenes, he does appear more mature and responsible, if no smarter. You may not share the man’s religious convictions, but you’ll better understand the role they play in his life after that scene.

6 Comments so far
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Hey Miss Pat… those were some really, really good insights on Stone’s portrayal of Bush’s conversion. My thoughts exactly.

Comment by Nayana Anthony

Haha, funny comparison to Guffman. I didn’t think about that, but you’re right.I know exactly what you mean about the humility that comes along with blogging. The more I read and the more I write, the more I realize that I’m way behind a lot of other people who are taking this a lot more seriously! It’s still a fun hobby, though.

Comment by Daniel Getahun

Nayana -Hey, great to hear from you! As a fellow Christian, I know you understand what I was getting at. Daniel -Blogging is definitely fun and worthwhile, even if I’ll never catch up with all the films I feel I should see. Although I would count your blog among those that I constantly learn from.

Comment by Pat

Nice to see you back in the saddle, Pat. Which of us is ever as truly versed in film as the next person up the ladder? If you’re not having fun as an unpaid enthusiast, what’s the point?I haven’t seen W and won’t, but The Duchess has my interest. I’d like Knightley much more if she didn’t leave her mouth hanging open all the time, but she’s a fresh face in films. I’m not going to see anything for a few days. The festival is over, and so am I!

Comment by Marilyn

Just wanted to say thanks for that, Pat. It means a lot!Funny observation on Kiera Knightley, Marilyn – I’ll be keeping an eye on that from now on…

Comment by Daniel Getahun

Marilyn – I’ve greatly enjoyed your posts on the CIFF. I didn’t get to the festival this year, but I’m planning to see some of those films now that they’re opening around Chicago (“Happy Go Lucky” is at the top of my list.) Funny observation about Knightley – now that you mention it, she does leave her mouth hanging open a lot. I always notice her thrusting her chin out. Guess there’s a Knightley mannerism to irritate everyone. “The Duchess” is a worthwhile film,and I’m surprised that it’s getting so little coverage in the blogosphere.Daniel – You’re quite welcome!

Comment by Pat

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