Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ANNIE 2014

Given that my accepted mindset on the topic of most contemporary films (remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings, in particular) is a resounding, “Bah, humbug!” I have to say, after seeing the new version of Annie starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, I feel a little like Albert Finney in the last reel of Scrooge (1970).

Certainly, what with all those negative reviews, poor boxoffice, and my own casual antipathy toward the source material itself  ‒ I love the musical score, but my very W.C. Fields-like aversion to hordes of singing children has always prevented Annie from being a huge favorite ‒ expectations couldn't have been lower. I would have been happy had this, the third screen incarnation of the 1977 Broadway musical, been made into a splashy, tolerably bad movie musical on par with Hairspray (2007) or Nine (2009); and if I’m really being honest with myself, I think I might have even secretly hoped for a so-bad-it’s-good hoot-fest, à la Lost Horizon (1973) or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978). But as it turns out, Annie: 2014 caught me completely off guard. It seems the one thing I wasn’t expecting was an utterly delightful, thoroughly enchanting musical whose thoughtful and canny updating reclaims the heart of a musical long lost to shrill children’s recitals and hollow theatrical revivals.
I’m light-years away from being the film’s preferred demographic, but as a dancer and longtime fan of movie musicals, I was wholly captivated by Annie’s old-fashioned charm and sentimentality. A sentimentality that touchingly reaffirms the musical’s simple message that everybody needs to feel loved, and family isn't only something you’re born into.
Quvenzhane Wallis as Annie Bennett
Jamie Foxx as William Stacks
Rose Byrne as Grace Farrell
Cameron Diaz as Colleen Hannigan
Bobby Cannavale as Guy
David Zayas as Lou
With two flawed Annie adaptations already committed to celluloid (the overstuffed 1982 film you can read about HERE, and the wan but more faithful-to-the-stage 1999 TV-movie), I was less than thrilled when, back in 2011, actor Will Smith announced plans to produce an Annie remake starring his daughter, Willow. Of course, now, three years later, we can all give thanks for the role growth spurts and sluggish pre-production played in averting that particular disaster, but still, who needed yet another screen incarnation of that irrepressible orphan unless in a significantly reinterpreted form?

Happily, Annie 2014 proves to be just that: a surprisingly funny, disarmingly sweet update of the Broadway musical which, through the clever repurposing of songs, characters, and situations draws amusingly apt parallels between contemporary times and the hard knock life of 1933. 

Quvenzhané Wallis’ Annie has the spirit, spunk, and boundless optimism of her comic strip namesake (not to mention the same headful of curly locks), and plot-wise, the film cleaves more to the 1982 John Huston film than the original Broadway production written by Thomas Meehan (with music composed by Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin). But in spite of the many changes, it’s still the story of a hopeful waif searching for her real parents, and how she comes to warm the capitalist heart of a lonely billionaire through pluck and a cheery outlook. Annie is no longer an orphan, but (more reasonably) a foster child in the resentful care of the embittered, frequently besotted Miss Hannigan (Diaz), a failed dance-pop singer who was unceremoniously dumped from the C + C Music Factory back in the 90s (“I was too good!”) and now has to live off the subsidy income of playing foster mom to five annoying “little girls.”
Daddy Warbucks is now William Stacks (Foxx), a New York mayoral candidate whose standoffish public image is in dire need of the kind of PR rebranding and instant photo-op warmth temporarily taking in a foster kid can provide. Stacks is looked after by Grace Farrell (Byrne), the super-efficient VP of his mobile phone empire, and Guy (Cannavale), his pitbull of a political adviser. Beyond the narrative tweaks necessary to usher what is essentially a 90-year-old character into the 21st Century, Annie follows along the same fairy-tale path as its Broadway-inspired predecessors, retaining just enough of the familiar to evoke nostalgia, yet delivering plenty of (welcome) surprises to make the entire enterprise feel like something entirely fresh and new.

Granted, Annie is not a perfect film and not without its problems. Cameron Diaz’s over-caffeinated approach to the character of Miss Hannigan takes some getting used to (maybe small children will find her funny), events occasionally feel rushed (I know I'm alone in this, but I could have stood a longer running time), and like many musicals that strive to be “of the moment” (Xanadu, anyone?), Annie is in grave danger of looking dated by the time I post this. But in all, I found Annie to be a an fun, enjoyably tuneful re-imagining of Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie (“Foster kid...” as the certain-her-parents-are-still-alive Annie has to keep reminding everyone) which, thanks in large part to the engaging performance of its adorable 10-year-old star, had me feeling (to quote Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol"...as merry as a schoolboy."


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
In this day of Disney animation and Muppets, live-action movie musicals are hard to come by. Rarer still is the screen adaptation of a beloved Broadway musical that avoids succumbing to the curse of having too keen a sense of its own legacy. Camelot, My Fair Lady, and Hello, Dolly!, and Mame were all perfectly fun, lighthearted Broadway shows which arrived on the big screen ponderously weighed-down by big-for-big-sake elephantitis and an overdetermined sense of  their own “greatness.”
As a fan of cinematic bloat, I adore Annie’s visual sweep and glossy sumptuousness (it’s like a shiny, jewel-box vision of New York), and I like a large-scale musical number as much as the next guy (OK, probably more). But if I had to choose between the two, I much prefer an adaptation that pokes fun of itself with wry, self-aware humor, and which doesn't allow its heart to be smothered by all the production razzle-dazzle.
It's to the latter point where I think Annie succeeds most admirably. This is the first Annie I've ever seen scaled down to a size appropriate to the perspective of its heroine. And whether motivated by budgetary constraints or the dancing limitations of its cast, Annie sidesteps big production numbers at every turn (“It’s a Hard Knock Life” is almost modest) and in doing so, proves that less is consistently more. 
With intimacy intensified by the New York locations, the actors all doing their own singing, and the “dancing” consisting more of spontaneous movement inspired by the nature of the characters themselves; this Annie is the first one that I ever found to be really funny, and definitely the only Annie that has ever moved me to waterworks.
I thought by now I'd had my fill of the song, Tomorrow, until I heard Quvenzhane Wallis sing it. The staging of the number is very moving and her performance is outstanding. What a sweet voice she has!

PERFORMANCES
Impressive adaptation choices aside (I love the comically self-referential opening sequence that cleverly addresses the remake elephant in the room), Annie’s major asset is Academy Award-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (and Golden Globe nominee for this) who is fast proving herself a child actress force to be reckoned with. There’s nothing comic book about the astonishing level of nuance she’s able to bring to a character usually summed up with a few glib adjectives built around the word, "spunky."
As realized by Wallis, Annie's belief that her parents will one day return for her is as movingly and realistically conveyed as her self-protective resilience is poignant. to bring this to a musical in which she also shines in the most engaging fashion in the comedy and musical sequences is something of a marvel. Having never Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, the film that made her the youngest Best Actress nominee in history (she was nine), I can only say that I was fairly blown away by her display of talent here. Easily the best performance in the film, she’s an Annie for the ages.
Wallis' performance of the original song, "Opportunity" was a real goosebump moment for me. Wonderful to hear a child sing in a voice that actually sounds like that of a child, not a pint-sized Ethel Merman 
Cognizant perhaps of the indomitable juggernaut posed by the pairing of an absurdly charismatic child and a dog, Jamie Foxx wisely underplays as Stacks and comes off the all better for it (although one wonders what he thought when, rather prophetically, his big solo, "Something Was Missing" did just that in the release print). Rose Byrne is a standout and singularly appealing as Grace, the lonely-little-girl-as-grown-up spin given her character making for a nice subtextural trifecta (with Hannigan) about women/girls accepting themselves as individuals worthy of love by first learning to love themselves. Bobby Cannavale, so wonderful in last years's Blue Jasmine adds considerable comic verve to his role, David Zayas is solid as a local bodega owner harboring a love-has-20/20-eyesight crush on Hannigan, and Stephanie Kurtzuba as a wealth-struck social services worker is a scene-stealing highlight.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Oz, Pompeii) as Nash, Stacks' driver/bodyguard

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
I don't consider myself a big admirer of most of today's music (I think Miss Hannigan and I share similar musical tastes) but I was immediately taken with like the ingenious way the songs from Annie were reworked. I even like the new stuff (save for Moonquake Lake, which is a tad trying). I've read critics calling out the film for its Autotune sweetening of the vocals (a staple of every Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus song I've ever heard, and evident in 2010s Burlesque with little comment), but I'd rather have the "assisted" vocals of the real actors than the kind of rampant dubbing that occurred throughout the 60s.
And what is a musical without a favorite number? Annie has several standouts for me but my fave rave and the one number I can watch again and again is "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here." 
Grace & Annie make like Mick Jagger and David Bowie in the infectiously upbeat, 
"I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here"

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
As much as I absolutely fell in love with this film (flaws, bad reviews, and all) and think Annie batted it out of the ballpark in a way I never would have anticipated given my general distaste for remakes; I've become an even bigger fan of the film after the daughters of a friend of mine told me what it felt like to see a little girl who looked like them starring in her own bigscreen musical adventure.
Hearing how excited they were about Quvenzhané Wallis’ singing and dancing, how much they liked her hair, her mode of dress, and how it made them cry at the end....
It just got me to thinking about what a difference a film like this would have made to my sisters when we were growing up. I have four sisters and we went to the movies nearly every weekend when we were kids, yet in all the dozens of movies we saw, they never got the chance to see themselves represented onscreen. Certainly not front and center.
In researching this post, I came across a press junket video interview for Annie in which actor Bobby Cannavale had this to say on the topic: “It’s for a new generation of kids who wouldn't necessarily see themselves in those old productions, be it the movies or the play. I recently saw the play and I still didn't see anybody of color up there. So I think it’s an important thing for kids to be able to go to the movies and see themselves.”

I've always felt that dreams are what movies are for. And as Xanadu proved in my life, a movie doesn't have to be a critic's darling to inspire a person and speak to their spirit. So my hat is off to Annie for giving a lot of kids who aren't always afforded the chance, an opportunity to dream.
Black pearl, precious little girl
Let me put you up where you belong.
Black pearl, pretty little girl
You’ve been in the background much too long.

Black Pearl-1969 (Spector, Wine, Levine)

BONUS MATERIAL
As in the 1982 film (not the show), Annie is taken to the movies. In this instance, an intentionally silly-looking Twilight parody titled MoonQuake Lake, whose fake trailer can be seen (complete with surprise cameos) HERE. Sadly, as with all good parodies, it actually looks very much like a film that would be greenlit by Hollywood today.

Clip of the "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" number on YouTube.

I read that Annie director, Will Gluck, placed 30 tributes to past versions of Annie in this film. I haven't found a site which lists them all, but here's a start:
1. The spunky, red-haired "Annie A." who opens the film giving a class report on Herbert Hoover (the Depression era President who's the topic of a sarcastic song in the Broadway show). 2. "Annie B." follows with a oral report on FDR and his New Deal (President referenced in song in the Broadway show). 3. A mayoral candidate is given the name Harold Gray, the creator of Little Orphan Annie comic strip. 4. Will Stacks is bald. 5. A band called "The Leaping Lizards" plays in a nightclub (it's the famous catchphrase of the comic strip Annie). 6. Annie rescues Sandy from a  bunch of bullies. 7. The song "N.Y.C" from the Broadway show, is played in the background of a scene. 8. The names of the actors in the fake film, MoonQuake Lake (Andrea Alvin & Simon Goodspeed) reference Annie history (original Annie, Andrea McArdle, The Alvin Theater, now the Neil Simon Theater, and The Goodspeed Theater in Connecticut where Annie premiered in 1976). 8. The red jacket, white leggings, and Mary Jane-style shoes Annie wears in the finale is a contemporary update of the classic Little Orphan Annie outfit.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

WOMEN IN LOVE 1969

As a hormonal pre-teen whose nether regions went all atingle at the sight of Oliver Reed’s Bill Sikes waking up in Shani Wallis' bed in the 1968 kiddie musical Oliver!; no one wanted to see Ken Russell’s adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love more than I. More to the point: no 7th grader with a wholesale unfamiliarity with either D. H. Lawrence or Ken Russell wanted to see Oliver Reed appearing full-frontal naked in a movie more than I.
But it was not to be.
For although my track record for persuading my mom to grant me permission to see age-inappropriate films on the basis of their “seriousness of content” was one both impressive and fruitful in one so young (my being both a shy and humorless 12-year-old got me into Bonnie & Clyde, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?); little did I know that my hopes for pulling the same stunt with Women in Love would be dashed thanks to my parents having seen the controversial film adaptation of Lawrence’s lesbian-themed novella The Fox (1967) a couple of years before. I was undone by the fact that the advertising campaigns for both The Fox and Women in Love downplayed these film's highbrow literary origins in favor of stressing the inherently sensationalist virtues contained in their then taboo-shattering display of nudity and sexual frankness.
Alan Bates as Rupert Birkin
Glenda Jackson as Gudrun Brangwen
Oliver Reed as Gerald Crich
Jennie Linden as Ursula Brangwen
Eleanor Bron as Hermione Roddice
That I had been able to wheedle my way into the “Recommended for Mature Audiences” films listed above is largely attributable to the fact that they all pitched themselves as important, self-serious motion pictures commenting on contemporary issues. On the other hand, Women in Love, betraying a perhaps well-founded lack of faith in America’s interest in or familiarity with D.H. Lawrence, and hoping the lure of eroticism might offset the stuffy reputation of British imports, chose to go the exploitation route. Like The Fox before it, which used lesbianism as its prime publicity hook, Women in Love moved its homoerotic nude wrestling scene front and center as the defining image and focus of its entire marketing campaign.
And while I’m certain all of this paid off handsomely at the boxoffice, closer to home (seeing as it only solidified my mother’s perception of D.H. Lawrence as a high-flown pornographer, and strengthened her resolve to keep me far away from any film bearing his name) that particular marketing strategy ultimately proved disastrous to my private campaign to get a look at Oliver's reed. Roughly nine years passed before Women in Love's rounds at the revival theaters and my suitable chronological age coincided.
The stylish (if not eccentric) mode of dress of the Brangwen sisters not only establishes them as modern, independent-thinking women at odds with their  dreary, working-class surroundings, but assert Women in Love's subthemes of internal (emotion and instinct), external (nature and environment), and man-made (industry and art) conflict.

Gudrun and Ursula Brangwen are two emotionally restless sisters whose naturally colorful natures chafe at the drab-grey existence proffered by their working-class status as schoolteachers in the coal-mining town of Beldover in postwar England, 1921. Both women are dreamy loners unable/unwilling to fit in with their surroundings. Both are also, if not exactly looking for love, reluctant to duplicate the domestic desperation of their mother, and therefore curious and receptive to exploring the experience.

Gudrun (Jackson), the youngest, is a self-styled artist and free-spirit sensually attracted to power and passion. (And, it would seem, brutality. In one scene she is shown becoming excited by the sight of Gerald mistreating a horse. In another, stimulated by a story an artist [Loerke] relates about having to beat one of his female models in order for her to sit still for a painting.)
"I would give everything...everything, all you love...for a little companionship and intelligence."
Vladek Sheybal  as Herr Loerke, a homosexual artist (Richard Heffer as his lover) presents Gudrun with a possibly of platonic love
Ursula (Linden), more of a realist and more sensitive than her sister, nevertheless envisions fulfillment as something achievable only through the surrendering of oneself to an idealized vision of one-on-one domesticated bliss. Into these sisters' lives, as though summoned by mutual longing, arrive Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich; best friends of dissimilar emotional temperament who contribute to forming, in their coupling with the sisters, two contrasting yet complimentary halves of a cyclical treatise on the conundrum that is passionate love vs. romantic love. The perpetual struggle between the sexes.
Woman in Love #1- Rupert & Ursula's loving relationship is often photographed in nature
Ursula finds romantic kinshipif little in the way of stabilitywith Rupert (Bates), a school inspector possessed of extravagantly quixotic theories about nature, life and love, all seeming to channel from a nascent awareness of his bisexuality. Meanwhile, Gudrun, perhaps out of want of stimulation or, as Rupert surmises, a lust for passion and greed for self-importance in love, is drawn to Gerald (Reed), the brutish, aristocratic son of the town’s coal industrialist. A shared quest for power, corrosively mixed with a need for both intimacy and independence, makes theirs a passionate, albeit combative, relationship more or less doomed from the start.
Woman in Love #2 - Gudrun & Gerald's doomed relationship is often photographed in dark surroundings
Intruding upon Ursula and Rupert’s self-perpetuating emotionalism and Gudrun and Gerald’s incessant power plays, are: Hermione (Bron), Rupert’s one-time love and the walking embodiment of orchestrated eroticism with none of the heat; and Rupert himself, whose unrequited love for the mulishly impassive Gerald encumbers his relationship with Ursula.
Men in Love - Rupert advances the possibility of an implicit, perfect love shared between two men

Many films have used the entwined relationships of two couples to explore the inconsistent, conflicting complexities of spiritual and physical love (my favorites being Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge and Closer), but Ken Russell’s Women in Love gets to the heart of the matter (so to speak) in a way that is as visually poetic as it is emotionally painful. It's one of the most intelligent and genuinely provocative films about love I've ever seen.

I was in my early 20s the first time I saw Women in Love, and had you asked me, I genuinely would have told you I'd understood it then. But it seems with each passing year, the film reveals itself to be about so much more than I'd initially thought, I'm certain what I'd gleaned from the film at such a young age was but the mere tip of the emotional iceberg Russell presents us with.
Women in Love is one of those rare films that seems to grow smarter in direct proportion to the amount of life experience one chalks up. So it would seem, although you couldn't have convinced me of it at the time, my mom was right in thinking I was too young for this. Not that I wouldn't have loved to have seen Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in the buff, but Women in Love is far too mature in its themes for any of this to have made a whit of sense to me as an adolescent.
Sumptuously filmed, magnificently costumed (by Shirley Russell), and so exceptionally well-acted you can watch it again and again without ever unearthing all the delightful nuances in the actors’ performances, Women in Love is a thoughtful, surprisingly restrained film, and a pleasant departure from the operatic bombast of Russell’s later works.
Gudrun's desire for power and its liberating effects is poetically dramatized in a sequence in which her lyrical dancing tames and eventually overcomes a threatening-looking herd of highland cattle. (Amusingly, a herd which, when photographed from the front, share Gudrun's coloring and haircut.) 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
My favorite thing about Women in Love is how artfully it tackles the unwieldy topic of love. Especially the pain and emotional upheaval born of that overused word never seeming to mean the exact same thing to any two people at any one time. 
Obscured by illusion, distorted by need, thwarted by cowardice; the impulse to love may be innate and instinctual, but it’s also intensely confounding. Ken Russell contrasts images of nature with images of the encroaching industrialism of postwar England to dramatize the natural urges of the characters as being in conflict with their repressed, intellectual notions about love. Ursula, Gudrun, Rupert, and Gerald all do a great deal of thinking and talking about love, but none betray a  trace of genuinely having any idea of what love really is or what they want. 
As suggested by Women in Love's repeated use of the popular song "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," the characters all harbor romantic illusions about love: its potential for fulfillment, its ability to heal wounds, the emotional void it can fill. Conflict arises out of whether or not the grasping need of desire is capable of giving way to the vulnerability and freedom love requires.
Love & Death:  In a pairing shot that many critics of the day thought too heavy-handed (which, of course, meant I absolutely loved it), the drowning death of the film's only romantically idyllic couple (Sharon Gurney & Christopher Gable) is contrasted with Ursula & Rupert's unsatisfying first tryst. A premonition of blighted love, a graphic representation of romantic ideologies at cross purposes; the women's poses can be interpreted as lovingly embracing or greedily clinging to the men, the men, unequivocally adopting gestures of disentanglement.


PERFORMANCES
While Ken Russell's operatic zest and Larry Kramer's graceful screenplay mercifully spare Women in Love from the kind of over-reverential airlessness common in most film adaptations of classic novels, I attribute the lion's share of the credit for the film's vibrancy to the talents of the amazing cast. 
In an era that required so may actresses to play the compliant love interest to counterculture antiheroes, Women in Love was a refreshing change of pace in presenting two women who have a say in what they want from life and love. Personal fave Glenda Jackson (looking quite smart in her blunt, Vidal Sassoon bob) emerged in this film as something of the "New Woman" of '70s cinema.
Blessed with a mellifluous voice and an articulate beauty that radiates strength, intellect, and fleshy sensuality, Jackson is Old Hollywood star quality without the lacquered veneer. Much in the same way I attribute Woody Allen with unearthing Diane Keaton, Ken Russell and Glenda Jackson are a pair forever locked together in my mind. Her performance as Gudrun Brangwen, certainly one of the more complex, emotionally paradoxical characters in literature, is almost wily. Throughout the film she wears the look of a woman in possession of a secret she dares you to find out. The quintessential Ken Russell heroine, Jackson won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and deservedly rose to stardom on the strength of this film. 
A real scene-stealer whose presence is very much missed when her character is required to recede into the background early on, is the ever-versatile Eleanor Bron as the pretentious Hermione: a potentially ridiculous individual made real and sympathetic by Bron's prodigious talent. Only after I'd read the book did I really come to appreciate the spot-on perfection of Bron's performance.

Women in Love as a costume film/period piece, tightrope walks a space between stagy theatricality and naturalism that few but Russellwith his talent for finding natural locations that look like stage sets for an operacould pull off. Alan Bates fits the film's romantic setting perfectly (because I find him to be so swoon-inducingly beautiful, I can’t honestly say I've ever been able to really evaluate his performance with much objectivity), and Jennie Linden is effective in the somewhat thankless role of Ursula.
Reed and Jackson bring such smoldering dynamic intensity to their roles that their scenes together always feel slightly dangerous. I can't think of a single other actress who could appear opposite Reed in a scene and leave you concerned for his safety. I think Reed's Gerald Crich is his finest screen performance. Employing his trademark whispers to great effect, he somehow manages to be brutish, refined, and heartbreakingly vulnerable all at the same time.


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Given your average ratio of anticipation to disappointment, it came as no small surprise to discover, after having waited so many years, Women in Love’s fabled nude wrestling scene more than lived up to its reputation. Satisfied with merely being sensually enraptured by the sight of two obscenely sexy actors wrestling in the altogether; I wasn't at all prepared for what a dramatically powerful and daring scene it is. Daring not in its exposure of flesh, but in its exploration of a subtextural, taboo attribute of a great many onscreen male relationships (and, I daresay, many real-life relationships as well).
I'm not sure who said it, but someone once made the keen observation that homophobia in men is not really rooted in a general distaste for male-on-male sexual contact, but rather in the fear of "What if I like it?"
Heterosexual men have established a social order in which they have left themselves few avenues allowing for the expression of male affection. In lieu of this they have contrived a network of female-excluding, male-bonding rituals so convoluted and complex (sports culture, strip clubs, ass slapping, "bros before hoes" guy codes, homophobic locker room humor, bromance comedies, misogyny masked as promiscuity [the Romeo syndrome], etc.) you sometimes wish they'd just have sex with each other and get it over with. One can't help but feel that the world would be a less aggressive, insecure place if they did.
In Women in Love, Rupert and Gerald's friendship is really the most intimate, passionate, and loving relationship in the film, but Rupert uses words and lofty theories to mask his inability to fully confront his own sexual confusion, while Gerald is too emotionally remote to allow himself to address the issue at all. On the heels of the death of Gerald's sister and following Rupert's less-than-fulfilling consummation of his affair with Ursula, the two friends find themselves at a loss for how to "appropriately" comfort one another. So, as is the wont of repressed heterosexual males the world over, Rupert and Gerald resort to displays of physical aggression as a heterosexual means of expressing homosexual intimacy.
As the friendly combat gives way to a physical exhaustion matching their physical closeness, it's clear to Rupert that Gerald feels "something" akin to his own feelings. But before that ultimate intimacy can be broached, Gerald, in an act of willful misunderstanding, finds it necessary to break off what has been established between them before things have a chance of preceding any further. (Wrestling by firelight, the very natural state of their nudity is made vulgar and shameful by the intrusion of the modern electric light he abruptly switches on.)

As a fan of '70s movies, what makes this sequence particularly compelling for me is how it symbolically evokes the unaddressed subtext in all those post-feminism, male-centric buddy pictures of the decade. Films like Butch Cassidy & the Sundance KidMidnight Cowboy, and Easy Riderfilms in which women are shunted off to the sidelinesare all essentially male romances. In each film, women are present, even loved, but there's no getting past the fact that the deepest, most profoundly spiritual love occurs between the male characters. Women in Love's wrestling scene dramatizes the struggle men face when affection for another man is felt, and (at least in this instance), the societal and morality-imposed roles of "friend" are found to be inadequate.
It's an outstandingly courageous sequence whose confrontational frankness wrests Women in Love out of the past and centers it far and above what most mainstream filmmakers are willing to do even today. Who knew? A sequence I only expected to be a feast for the eyes proved to be food for thought as well.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Women in Love was promoted with the tagline“The relationship between four sensual people is limited: They must find a new way.” And while this might sound more like the tagline for 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, it does at least touch upon the theme of the inadequacy of classically “romantic” notions of love in a modern world, and the need for a kind of sexual evolution.
The Proper Way to Eat a Fig
Almost as scandalous as Women in Love's nudity was the inclusion of a scene (not in the book) where Rupert compares a fig to female genitalia. The words are taken from D.H. Lawrence's 1923 erotic poem, Figs, which can be read in its entirety, HERE

None of the characters in Women in Love are able to fully align what they presuppose about love (nor what is true to their natures) with their present realities. In an earlier post about Mike Nichols’ Closer, I wrote:
“The four protagonists fumble about blindly seeking love without knowing how to return it, demanding love without earning it, and giving love without committing to it.”

The same can be said for the characters in Women in Love. And although more than 70 years separate the creation of the two works (Patrick Marber's play, Closer, was written in 1997, D.H. Lawrence's novel was published in 1920) it intrigues me that after so many years and so much human progress, the basic cosmic riddle that is love remains essentially and eternally unchanged.
Undomesticated
Rupert - "But I wanted a man friend eternal...as you are eternal."
Ursula - "You can't have it because it's impossible."
Rupert - "I don't believe that."

Copyright © Ken Anderson