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Archive for August 15th, 2010

by Joel

#77 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Though helmed by a bona-fide auteur, House of Mirth fits snugly inside the conventions of the art-film adaptation style, the elegance for which “Masterpiece Theatre” and Merchant-Ivory are bywords, and which those who don’t like can tag, with Truffautlike scorn, “the tradition of quality.” Some have tried to read a “queer eye” subversion into Terence Davies’ handling of the material, but viewers not keyed in to the director’s idiosyncrasies (myself, for example) will see a more or less faithful handling of Edith Wharton’s source novel, gracefully executed without seeking the propulsive vision Martin Scorsese brought to Wharton in his 1993 Age of Innocence. (In that film, the ornate and coded appearances and behaviors of society are filtered through the rapid-fire, visceral sensibilities of the director; some were impressed by the friction, some didn’t notice, and others found the combination incongruous – like Jonathan Rosenbaum, whose characterization of Scorsese led to angry letters and, fifteen years later, a fascinating blog thread which Rosenbaum himself eventually joined. But I digress…) On the aforementioned thread, Arthur S. notes that Scorsese’s film is “a rare film which adopts the novelistic narrative rather than the old standby of make the book a play and shoot the play”; though Davies’ film has been praised for its cinematic qualities, its approach struck me as very much the latter. (Quickly defined: the cinematic approach emphasizes uniquely filmic qualities, such as editing, camera manipulation, or intimate and/or complex visual viewpoints; usually the “cinematic” will stress presentation rather than text, at least compared to a play.) However, this observation should not be taken as a thorough-going criticism: there are virtues in the “theatrical” on film, and Davies makes the most of them.
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