Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Algonquin Painting

In Brian Gilbert?s Wilde (1997), we discover the early nature of Oscar Wilde?s fame (played by Stephen Fry) from a conversation between the characters of Ada Leverson (Zo? Wanamaker) and Lady Mount-Temple (Judy Parfitt):

Lady Mount-Temple: I know your friend is famous, Ada.
Ada Leverson: Notorious, at least.
Lady Mount-Temple: But I don’t understand for what.
Ada Leverson: For being himself, Lady Mount-Temple.

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy ParkerIn Alan Randolph?s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), this type of fame is said to be true of Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as well. The repetition of this notion (in?these and other?films)?suggests that writers have a?larger-than-life personality and high social profile in addition to the work they produce. While we know this to be untrue, particularly?since writers lead much of their lives behind a desk?writing about subjects other than themselves, only those eccentric, dramatic?and often tragic figures?lead lives worthy of having films made about them. Unless we look beyond the film portrayals, what an audience is left with is the notion that all authors must experience adventurous escapades to craft good work.

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Bullets Over Barton; Barton Over Broadway

Bullets Over?BroadwayIn the Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath 1995 film, Bullets over Broadway, fictional playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) is on par with fictional playwright turned screenwriter Barton Fink (John Turturro) in the Coen brothers? 1991 film of the same name, Barton Fink. Each character is conflicted by the stereotypical questions that face all authors, such as:

? From where, what or whom does inspiration come?
? What constitutes art, one creator?s original idea or collaboration?
? What is the value of art or artist and how is that value recognized?
? In what ways does the art belong to the author as well as the audience?
? At which point does that private to public transference take place when dictated by capitalism?
? Does this transference to the public realm devalue the art, the artist, both or neither?

What makes each character?s experience realistic in both films is the fact that their moral and ethical struggles in relation to the convergence of idealistic art and life?s monetary motivation are born out of authentic human experience.

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Actor! Actor!

Richard Barsam?s Looking at?MoviesMoving into “Chapter 5: Acting” of Barsam’s Looking at Movies, it’s interesting to learn about the ways in which acting techniques have evolved in relation to increasing capabilities of technology. Moving from theater to silent film, to camera with sound, to sound separate from the camera has provided increased actor/audience intimacy and morphed into more natural character portrayals over time.

Forest Whitaker as Idi?AminWhile this reads as a natural progression, what this technological growth has meant for acting is a regression from a more naturally performed, chronological performance. At present, many takes and set-ups are required and dependence upon location determines the shot sequence rather than narrative order. It?s no wonder that Forrest Whitaker made such an effort to be Idi Amin in Kevin McDonald’s The Last King of Scotland, off the set as much as on. The vast number of performance interruptions can only be a distraction from the feel of the story as a whole. Amin, as a man, was so intense that to slip in and out of character would have been far more difficult than to sustain that constant level of intensity.

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You’re a Sick #%@!, Fink!

Coen Brother?s Barton Fink?(1991)

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The audience is left to believe certain conventions about the life of writers in films like John Madden?s Shakespeare in Love, James Lapine?s Impromptu and Brian Gilbert?s Wilde. There is often a love interest, one that inspires passion and thus story (or, as in the case of Oscar Wilde, self awareness), yet this passion tends to reside outside the institution of marriage. The writing is always done?following the passionate living that inspires it ?and this passion must include sex. We see art written for the solicitation of money rather the romantic notion of art for art?s sake. To be productive, a personal, quiet space (often in the country) is necessary but an artistic community is also essential for inspiration and critique. And, of course, every writer does the bulk of his or her writing through the far more boring process of revision, which is sometimes portrayed and sometimes simply referred to. Success comes when art imitates life and life is worthy of such imitation. Each of these conventions, or some variation on them, are also incorporated into the fictional authors in the Coen Brothers? 1991 film, Barton Fink.

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Wild about Wilde

WildeIn Brian Gilbert?s Wilde, Oscar Wilde (Stephen Fry) says of the male escorts? he meets through Lord Alfred ?Bosie? Douglas (Jude Law), ?Such flowers never could grow in the harsh light of day.? This comment is more than a simple scripted line. It is the basis for much of the film?s mis-en-scene. For the filmmakers, homosexuality becomes a descent into darkness in terms of secrecy, invoking the necessity for Wilde to hide his true identity from the social critics of his time. This theme is strategically played out through the careful use of lighting in both interior and exterior scenes.

In scenes representing homosexuality, although brilliantly colored, the rooms are?also dimly lit and contained by dark walls. The first inkling of Wilde?s desire for young men is depicted when he descends into the darkness of the Leadville, CO mines and yet is guided by ?angels.? When Bosie sings at the piano, the dark wood interior makes his light gray suit and honey colored face stand out. All the young faces glow and these fresh flowers of men flourish in this type of light. Wilde wears white and also shines brightly within the scene, a film gesture than not only represents his eccentric taste, but his desire to reclaim his fearless and confident youth. In the hotel, this pattern is repeated. The costumes coordinate Wilde?s solid yellow suit with Bosie?s yellow and gray plaid. Bosie wears a yellow rose in his lapel coordinating with Wilde. Each shines brightly against the dark wood paneling. A shift is foreshadowed when Bosie learns of his brother?s death and is consoled by Wilde. The two sit in a very dark room huddled on the couch. Blinding light from the outside outlines their bodies morphing together into a nearly unrecognizable shrinking silhouette. The flowers appear to be wilting as they become smothered by the harsh scrutiny of Bosie?s father, Marquess of Queensbury (Tom Wilkenson).

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If I were a poet…

What British Romantic Poet are You?

Your Result: You are George Gordon, Lord Byron!

Byron was as well-known for his lifestyle as for his remarkable works. He was a poet, athlete, womanizer, and gunrunner, who was once accused of writing poetry “in which the deliberate purpose…is to corrupt.” He died at 36.

You are John Keats!
You are William Blake!
You are William Wordsworth!
You are Samuel Coleridge!
You are Percy Shelley!
What British Romantic Poet are You?
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Hmmm. Not sure how I got this result.

  • My work is not remarkable… I’m a jane-of-all-trades?but?master of none
  • I’m SO not athletic
  • I am a woman, not a womanizer
  • Gunnrunner? My dad made me shoot?a .22?when I was young, but I’m no Dick Cheney.
  • I’m not out to corrupt anybody, just enlighten them, but I can see how?perspective would depend upon point of view.
  • Last but not least, I’ve already outlived this dude.