Friday, September 20, 2013

Portrait of a Lady



I'll have to watch the movie after reading the book.  Quite a star studded cast!  All though I would have probably cast Malkovich as Ralph Touchett, not Gilbert Osmond, even if Malkovich is more Osmond's age.  I'm not convinced of the casting in general -- Richard E. Grant as the dashing Warburton?  Christian Bale as the insecure Edward Rosier?  Kidman wouldn't have been my first choice either.  It also seems that the movie focuses largely on the second half of the novel, whereas I was more interested in the first half.

I really enjoyed the interplay between Ralph Touchett, Lord Warburton and Isabel Archer, with the looming presence of Ralph's parents.  The second half becomes too prosaic in my mind, with Isabel making what appears to be the wrong choice in Gilbert Osmond.  Really hard to figure out what she sees in him, given the unknown narrator's description, other than he appears to give her the room she desires, whereas Warburton and Goodwood appeared to smother her with their love declarations, and Ralph was too fragile a person to fulfill her desires.

Anyway, it will certainly make for an interesting discussion, as Henry James offers a painstaking analysis of each character, although he seemed to keep Gilbert Osmond at a distance for reasons that I hope to discover later.

32 comments:

  1. I just got the movie, the original novel, and Gorra from the library today. Will watch the movie sometime before the weekend is out and hope to finish Gorra before Oct 11 when it is due back (cannot be renewed).

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    1. Having nothing better to do I decided to watch the movie this afternoon. After all, I'm suffering from yet another stomach virus and a head cold so I needed to get my mind off my health issues.

      The movie was superb. Great costumes, setting, dialog, and characterizations. The one problem there was that too many of the indoor scenes were in the dark and you couldn't always see the actor's faces. Don't know if that was the fault of the director or maybe the DVD was somewhat defective. But the use of shadows throughout the film reflect how each person is haunted by something and is a superb form of symbolism.

      Malkovich as Osmond was perfect - cold, calculating, manipulative. Despite the evil mindedness, he spoke in restrained tones for the most part and which further showed the subtlety of his evil. And I absolutely adored Shelley Duvall as Countess Gemini esp since I have personal admiration for her (alas poor me as I will never get a chance to cross paths with her!). Makes me sorta feel like Rosier when he tried in vain to woo Pansy from behind those "prison" bars - I thought that was excellent symbolism and superb directing by Campion.

      Another scene that was very compelling to me was when Isabel was entranced by Mme Merle's playing of Schubert's Impromptu in G Opus 30 #3. She was stopped dead in her tracks by the music, slowly descended down the stairs, slowly opened the door, and walked into the parlour. It was as if she was being ensnared by the devil for, indeed, that's what Mme Merle was.


      Good movie - hope you enjoy it!


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    2. While Barbara Hershey portrayed Mme Merle very well, I would have spiced up her role just a bit more in order to make her look more devilish. For example, instead of playing Schubert on the piano, I would have had her play Tartini's Violin Sonata in G or the Devil's Trill Sonata as it is better known:


      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPTaE59mwBQ


      I like the symbolism used by the poster of that video above.* Note the devil near the sleeping or dying figure. Now transpose that to Mme Merle doing it to Old Touchett. How apropos! MM is often seen next to artistic figures such as a Michelangelo male nude but Campion should have shown her next to a devil or demonic figure. That symbolism would have been so much better as ultimately it was her who ensnared Isabel into the trap.


      * One thing that I noted was the number of viewers of this video: 23666

      666!

      23 = 2 x 3 = 6


      A DEVIL of a number!!!

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    3. Shelley Duvall as Countess Gemini:


      http://i218.photobucket.com/albums/cc275/thehousenextdoor/2008/5%20for%20the%20Day/Shelley%20Duvall%20Callahan/The-Portrait-of-a-Lady-1193870341.jpg


      I was hoping to find other pics of her in that role but couldn't. What I did find was multiple online posts from guys who are madly in love with love and who expressed great admiration for her work in the movie. Many others agreed that she stole the show!

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    4. costumes used in the movie:


      http://periodmoviecaps.blogspot.com/2010/01/portrait-of-lady-1996.html


      Unfortunately, I couldn't find pics of Malkovich as Osmond. At some points in the flick he wore a head dress more suited for the late Renaissance period rather than Victorian times. Perhaps it illustrated what a dilettante he really was.

      The background music both at the start and end had a late Baroque motif much like Tartini's era.

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  2. In the last chapters of the novel. Want to finish it first.

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  3. Hmmm.... I must be reading a different novel than the movie is based on. As long as the devil and 666 don't suddenly show up, I still want to finish it before tackling Gorra's version, so I may be a bit behind, as per usual. Sounds like I'd better skip the movie, though.

    Strether may also join us - she has ordered the book.

    By the way, my guess is that Madame Merle plays Schubert in the movie because she plays Schubert in the novel on their first meeting.

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    1. Schubert = Romanticist

      Tartini = "devilish"


      As you noted, the novel and movie are a bit different. That's why I would have added a bit of spice by changing the music around. They call that directorial license and it makes for added artistry. :)

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    2. No problem with taking liberties with a huge novel. You have to pick a story line and stick with it. I sure hope the book doesn't take such a devilish turn, though. We'll see how the rest goes.

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    3. GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!


      this clip may illustrate just a bit what I'm driving at:


      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE3sJuISdR8



      Isabel's "Journey" ~ note how Mme Merle hovers behind her like a devil lying in wait for the kill at the :20 sec mark.

      Later on in a church with the dead Jesus as background she again stands behind Isabel after she has sacrificed her.

      In past forum discussions I've been on, very little has been made of Mme Merle's truly evil nature. But Campion presented it very well and deserves praise for making this point in such an artistic manner.

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    4. Darn - forgot to include the link to that photo:


      http://www.tvcatchup.com/programme/23364


      Though this time there appears to be some remorse on the face of the she-devil.

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  4. The book is taking a very odd twist in the later chapters. Seems the movie largely focuses on Isabel's marriage. As I said before, I enjoyed the first half of the book much more. The second half is reading like Dangerous Liaisons, but then it seems that Henry James was steeped in French novels.

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  5. It will be great to have Strether join us.

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    1. any relation to Lewis Lambert Strether from "The Ambassadors" ?

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  6. Gorra is going to have to make some very compelling arguments on how this book has anything to do with American exceptionalism. So far I see very little that is political, in the broad sense of the term. The novel seems to be largely about decorum and how these characters try to retain their composure when things don't turn out their way.

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  7. I don't believe in exceptionalism (I'm with Putin on that) so we'll see ...

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    1. Kevin Phillips' "American Theocracy" is best at debunking the myth of American exceptionalism.

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  8. an unflattering review of the movie:


    http://joanellis.com/reviews/PORTRAIT_OF_A_LADY.htm


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  9. I remember it got mixed reviews, but am very curious to watch it once I finish the novel. It will also be interesting to see the line Gorra takes on the novel. It may just be that he made some comment on American Exceptionalism and the reviewer picked up on it. Whatever the case, should be interesting reading.

    What I found interesting about the novel is that James deals with little more than a handful of characters. I counted only 10 characters that actively engage in the novel, and that the party scenes have little panoramic sweep (unlike Tolstoy), James seems to use them as little more than props.

    Osmond is an odd character. You never really get an understanding why Isabel would have been so drawn to him except for a much later chapter where James finally captures her thoughts. Warburton was definitely the catch here, at least in the way James describes him.

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  10. For some reason, I don't think Roger Ebert read the book,

    http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-portrait-of-a-lady-1997

    as all the characters were American save Lord Warburton, and he is perhaps the most sympathetic character of the lot. The "snake pit" appears to be entirely Osmond's creation, enticing Isabel into it because of what appears to be his intellectual detachment. Come to think of it, I can see Malkovich playing this role quite well.

    You get the sense that Osmond and Madame Merle had wasted their resources in Italy, although James doesn't come straight and say it, and now choose to prey on the Touchett family and their mysterious cousin, Isabel.

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  11. Wrapped up the novel tonight. Very strange ending. Can't say I really enjoyed the story, although I very much liked parts of it. Mostly a character study with very little action. I couldn't figure out the constant need for Caspar Goodwood. He became exceedingly annoying, but maybe he was intended to be.

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  12. I'm still reading in bits and pieces, but also started the Gorra book last night so I don't get too far behind. I think James may have met his match.

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  13. Nice introduction by Gorra. I also enjoyed the John Updike introduction to the little Oxford copy of the novel I have. Updike mentioned the Graham Greene wrote the intro to the original Oxford edition, but alas no on-line copy of that introduction.

    It was also interesting to read that the 1906 edition is significantly different from the 1881 edition, although the basic story remains the same. I don't think I have the patience to read the earlier edition, and will rely on Gorra's commentaries.

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  14. I had never even heard that there were two editions.

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    1. Evidently, in one edition Mme Merle plays Beethoven rather than Schubert!

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    2. I hadn't either until I read the introduction. According to Gorra, James was never satisfied with his work and would return to it again and again.

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  15. I'll put up the page on Tuesday.

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  16. Watched the movie today. I thought Malkovich and Hershey were great, but on the whole the movie was rather stiff. It didn't seem like Campion quite knew what to do with the material. Odd travel sequence which looked like something out of a Bunuel movie. Didn't get the opening credits either. I think she just should have had fun with the theme and try not to stick so tightly to the story.

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    1. In all honesty, I do not believe this is the greatest novel I've ever read - nor does it come close to being among my favorites. While the book is rather long, there just isn't all that much in it that deals with the human condition and how to correct certain issues common to us all. The problem as some critics view it is that Campion is an ardent feminist who attempted to turn this novel into a sorta feminist anthem. Perhaps we can develop this further when we discuss Gorra.

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  17. I thought she stuck pretty much to the book, except for those odd moments I mentioned. I can't say I was a big fan of the novel either, which is why I felt Campion should have had more fun with it. No one would have been any the wiser for it, as I don't think many persons have read the book to compare. I really had to struggle to finish, but liked the ending well enough as it fit with her character.

    As Gorra noted, James seemed overly obsessed with his characters at the expense of action. We literally get inside their skin, but don't see them move. He essentially isolates them from their surrounding, and in the case of Osmond, quite literally. He lived entirely in a world he had constructed for himself, which is what makes him compelling, but at the same time you are left to wonder why Isabel Archer would submit to this, but will save additional comments for the new thread.

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  18. Recommended movie:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTC_N5oDfk8



    "The Lost Moment" [1947] - based on HJ's "Aspern Papers".


    Superb acting & concluded in only 90 minutes. Not well regarded in its time but now thought to be a classic.

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    1. The movie also has a scene where the lead character is entranced by piano music - Burton (as Venable) is stunned to hear lovely music being played, slowly finds his way upstairs in a mysterious part of the large estate (unlike Isabel who walked down stairs) and finds a wild eyed Miss Tina playing. She is so mesmerized in her role that she believes herself to be the dead Juliana Bordereau awaiting her long lost lover (whom she killed many decades before). Superb directing by Martin Gabel which, no doubt, inspired Jane Campion.

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