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Posts Tagged ‘Clueless’

I’d like to share my thoughts on two Jane Austen movies before the end of the year: Pride and Prejudice, 2005 and Clueless, 1995.

CapturePP_Clueless
Pride and Prejudice 2005 premiered in November ten years ago in the U.S.. I recall watching the film with two members of our Jane Austen book club. The three of us felt less than “whelmed.” We usually eat dinner after a movie and discuss the film in detail. I recall very little discussion other than sharing our sense of disappointment. Keira Knightley seemed too thin and modern as Lizzie. Matthew MacFadyen was no Colin Firth, not his fault, I suppose, but damning in our eyes.

PP05_icons
Ten years later, my opinion of the film has changed somewhat. I have come to appreciate that Joe Wright was trying to reach an audience much younger than the members in my book club. That he targeted his audience correctly is proven by the numerous fan clubs that sprang up around the film, the tens of thousands of creative and interesting icons that were created to represent P&P 2005 characters, the many discussion forums and blogs that dedicated reams of information about the film and its actors, and the many nominations the film received at award shows (although I find Keira Knightley’s Academy Award nomination for best actress perplexing). One cannot fault the film’s cinematography and music, which were lush and gorgeous. Has England ever looked more romantic? – its ancient, gnarled oaks, sweeping vistas, misty fields lit by rising suns, and grand houses never looked lovelier on film.

PP country

Let’s not forget that PROPOSAL scene in the rain. One cannot deny the chemistry between Keira and Matthew. Pure unrequited lust sprang off the screen.

rain scene

There was also a lovely scene in which Lizzie rotates on a swing in an archway as the seasons of the year swirled past. While this scene was short, it provided a unique visual of the passing seasons.

lizzy_jane

Finally, finally, this film delivered an actress as beautiful and sweet as the Jane Bennet of my imagination! I will be forever grateful to Joe Wright for hiring Rosamund Pike for the part and pairing her with the first true puppy-like Mr. Bingley.

Film directors are not expected to follow an author’s vision religiously. After all, film is a visual medium, whereas the author relies on words to stimulate our imaginations. BUT. Please. Did Jane Austen really mean for the Bennets to live in a moated manor house, with pigs, geese, and cattle meandering through a muddy courtyard?

darcy courtyard

While I adore Donald Sutherland as an actor, at 70 he was more suited to playing Mr. Bennet’s elderly uncle than Mrs. Bennet’s husband. He also interpreted Mr. Bennet as still having the hots for Mrs. Bennet, despite her irritating personality, a modern POV, to be sure, but surely not in keeping with what we know about Mr. Bennet’s huge disappointment with his wife’s foolishness (and with himself for choosing such a ninny)?

mr mrs bennet
While Lizzie was definitely a tomboy compared to her sisters, did she HAVE to be shown walking barefoot or slogging through the fields and dragging her hems through mud and dew so often? Austen, in demonstrating Lizzie’s loyalty to Jane, devised a scene where Lizzie walked through 3 miles of wet fields to be with her sister. This caused Miss Bingley to note with disdain that her petticoat was six inches deep in mud. The Bennets, while upper class, were not super rich. Cloth was not easily obtained or cheap. Clothes were made, remade, reused, and worked over, until the cloth became so threadbare that it was used for cleaning. So, for Lizzie to be shown muddying her hems in so many scenes makes no sense. Her gowns would need repeated washings, which, with the strong lye soaps of the day, would have degraded the cloth too quickly for practicality. She would surely have pinned her dress and train up, exposing only the petticoat, or worn a shorter day gown, as so many commoners and country folk did. Perhaps I am being too much of a stickler, but these lapses in logic affected my experience of the film the first time around and they still do.

catherine violet

One more rant. It’s become de rigueur in historical films to dress dowagers in the richly made, old-fashioned clothes of their younger years (think of Violet, the dowager countess in Downton Abbey and Judith Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this film). We get that. My mom still wears serviceable but outdated clothes from the 1980s, but can there be any excuse for dressing Miss Bingley in a nightgown for the Netherfield Ball and arranging her hair in a 1960’s updo?

caroline bingley

In my opinion, this 2-hour adaptation of a 200+ page novel falls short when compared to the 1995 six-hour P&P. In 2005, Wickham was given very short shrift, as were the younger Bennet sisters. The scenes moved too fast, though I suppose this suited director Joe Wright’s intent, since he was targeting an audience that can barely remember life before fast-paced electronic games, instant messages, and music videos.

My final beef is with the alternative American ending. Mr. Wright insulted many serious fans of classic literature across the Pond with the final dialogue between Lizzie and Darcy, which lowered their romance to the level of a Barbara Cartland novel.

 

I still don’t like P&P 2005 half as much as P&P 1995.  Yet, despite my misgivings, P&P 2005 has held up relatively well and I think younger viewers still prefer this adaptation to P&P 95. The second film on my mind is Clueless, which premiered several months ahead of Pride and Prejudice 1995 in the U.S., and which also targeted the young theater goer.

Amy Heckerling’s 90’s take on Jane’s meddlesome Emma is as fresh and funny today as it was then. It’s hard to choose which is more ridiculous: the slang of the 90’s valley girl airheads,  the over-the-top fashions, the conspicuous consumption of LA teen culture, the banality of Cher’s high school education, the immature boyfriends, or the neutered adults.

Who can forget Cher’s mugging, where she resists lying down on the ground in her designer outfit, even with a gun to her head? Or how Heckerling turned Frank Churchill into Christian, a disco-dancing, Oscar-Wilde-reading, Streisand-ticket-holding-friend-of-Dorothy cake boy?

cher and christian at the mall

As Dion reminds Cher, “He does like to shop and the boy can dress.” Cher’s classic reply to Christian’s being gay? “Oh, my God, I’m totally buggin’!” Then there’s the girls’ inability to drive in LA, where driving is as essential as breathing. Those scenes are still classic and not to be missed.

Amy Heckerling did a smart thing in reinterpreting Emma. She brought Jane’s heroine over to California and gave her a different name, and moved her from a dull, country town and dropped her in the center of Beverley Hills, the Mecca for consumption-driven materialists.

Like Emma, Cher is motherless. Whereas Emma’s mama died a natural death, Cher’s mom died from the complications of liposuction on a plastic surgeon’s table. Both Cher and Emma are rich, bored, and meddlesome. Cher babies her father, much as Emma caters to Mr. Woodhouse. In Clueless, Cher’s father, a lawyer, is more dynamic than Mr. Woodhouse. One senses that he tolerates Cher’s mothering more than needs it. The love between them is palpable, and Cher’s kindness to one and all is genuine and sweet. These traits save her shallow character.

There are many similarities between the Emma characters and Clueless characters, and it’s fun to guess in the film who is who. You can tell from my excited tone how much I like this cinematic take of Emma. Clueless is a broad satire that seldom delves below the surface. The film is a feel good movie designed to give the viewer a rollicking good time.

Clueless has the same energy, sense of fun, and satiric take on human foibles as Jane Austen’s Juvenilia. I wonder if Amy Heckerling, having lumbered through all 400+ pages of Emma, turned to Jane’s juvenile stories for inspiration? They are filled with zany plots and joie de vivre. I wonder if she decided to meld the boisterous tone of Jane’s youthful stories with the more layered and complex plot of Emma. Meld? I think not. I think Amy gleefully tossed Emma’s subtext aside in favor of a bit of fun.

I am curious, gentle readers, about your take on both films. Do you agree or disagree with my assessments? Please let me know.

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Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma. This film still leaves me laughing, and I suspect JA would have approved of its modern Beverley Hills setting.

Do you have an account with Netflix for instant videos? How about an Amazon prime account, which offers amazing discounts as well as free postage and handling for all your prime purchases? At less than $80 per year, Prime has proven to be my best investment in entertainment.

Here are a few Jane Austen film titles that have become available for instant streaming. These keep changing every six months or so, and I am always on the look out. In the instance of From Prada to Nada, which is a nada good send off of Sense and Sensibility, I cannot tell you how lucky I felt that I watched the film for free.

Netflix Streaming Video – instantly available with your instant video membership

  • Pride and Prejudice 1980
  • From Prada to Nada
  • Aisha
  • Clueless
  • Emma 1996
  • Mansfield Park 1983
The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

Amazon Prime, Instant videos free, for rent, or for purchase

  • Persuasion 1995 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1940 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1980 (free with Prime)
  • Emma 2009 (free with Prime)
  • Other Jane Austen film adaptations are available for rent or purchase at Amazon.
I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice excreble. While the actors are fabulous, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (Every hottentot can dance, instead of every savage can dance) and the ending is downright criminal (Lady CdeB acts as a willing instrument to get Elizabeth and Darcy together. I have a running hate-hate debate with a reader, who is apoplectic with the idea that I don't love this film. She keeps coming back to heap insults. Heap away! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will honor anyone's positive opinion about it.

I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice execrable. While many of the supporting actors are fabulous, even brilliant in parts, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (every “hottentot can dance”, instead of “every savage can dance”), and the ending is downright criminal. I have a running almost 2-year debate with a sometime visitor to this blog who is apoplectic at the idea that I don’t love or respect this film. She keeps coming back every once in a while to inform me that I don’t know sh*t from Shinola when it comes to the fine art of 1940s  film making, and that I wouldn’t be able to discern a donkey’s ass from that of a thoroughbred’s. (My terminology, not hers, but you get the idea.) Insult away, my dear! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will respect anyone’s positive opinion about P&P 1940, it simply isn’t mine.

My rant about P&P 1940 brings to mind some of the worst moments in Jane Austen film adaptations. Here they are in no particular order:

The incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, co-conspirator and romantic at heart

The stellar Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, a softie romantic at heart

1.) Pride and Prejudice 1940: Laurence Olivier (not yet a Sir) as Darcy persuades the incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB to become his accomplice in winning Elizabeth Bennet over. In other words, Lady CdeB turns out to be crotchety but NICE. The writers and producers of this film should have been made to apologize to every student who watched this film to write a book report and who received an F for getting the ending so dreadfully wrong. They subverted the students’ rights to NOT read the book and opt for a C or a D by watching the movie instead. In addition, 35-year-old Greer Garson was closer to Mrs. Bennet’s age of 41 or so than Elizabeth’s age of 19. And throughout the film good old Larry O resembled a wood mannequin in posture and facial expressions. In my humble opinion, our pinch-faced Larry and his near geriatric Greer had almost no chemistry between them. Let’s not even discuss the costumes.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill.

2. ) Mansfield Park 2007: Billie Piper as Fannie Price. *Hahahahah*. Fanny exhibiting ample cleavage in her day gown. *Loud guffaws*. Fanny athletic and running around with wild hair. *Snorts and sniggers*. Lady Bertram rising from her couch in the last scenes and showing spirit and gumption in uniting Fanny with Edmund. *WTF!?* An energized Lady Bertram is as egregious a change in character as a nice Lady CdeB. The reviews for this film in Rotten Tomatoes are so tepid that it has yet to acquire a ratings score. One wonders why the folks at ITV bothered to adapt this very thick JA novel and compress its tale to a bare 90 minutes. Might as well read a comic book version of MP.  ‘Nuff said.

The gorgeous Frances O'Conner as retiring and shyly pretty FP.

Tall, gorgeous, statuesque Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price.

3.) Mansfield Park 1999: In this adaptation, Frances O’Connor as Fanny is more beautiful and intriguing than Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford. In fact, one begins to wonder why Edmund is so drawn to Mary when the lovely, worshiping and nubile Fanny is his for the taking. I won’t go into detail about director and writer Patricia Rozema’s social stance on slavery and British empire exploitation in this film, since my observations in this post are meant to be tongue in cheek and light-hearted. Let’s just say that 1999 audiences were surprised to learn that somehow our dear departed Jane had quite clearly expressed her strong feelings on the topic to Patricia.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, poor Anne hies after her man.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, Annie goes after her man.

4.) Persuasion 2007: (Set to the theme of Rocky.) How I pitied poor Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. I hope that she only had to run through Bath for a few takes. Imagine if the director hadn’t been  pleased with her stride, or if a jet’s drone ruined the scene, or if … whatever. It could not have been easy for her to race over stone sidewalks and streets in those delicate slipper and in full Regency regalia, with her hair pulled back so tightly that her ears and cheeks practically met in the back of her head. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would NEVER have run through town like a hoyden and debased herself for a man, not even the delectable Captain W. To quote Jeremy Northam in 1996s Emma when she made a joke at poor Miss Bates’s expense, “badly done.” Badly done, indeed.

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

5.) Pride and Prejudice 2005: Or the muddy hem edition. Good old Joe Wright wanted to put a different spin on P&P, so he set Longbourn House in the middle of a mud field, surrounded by a moat, and overrun by pigs, geese, and all manner of dirty, smelly farm animals. Then there’s Mr. Bennet (played by 70-something Donald Sutherland) rutting after Mrs. Bennet even though his respect for her intellect is less than zero. And who can forget the film’s breathy, candle lit American ending? – “Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy.” I don’t know which altered ending was worse – the one in which the co-conspirator in happiness and harmony is  Lady CdeB, or all that post-coital face licking at the end of this adaptation. This film should have been titled: Pride and Prejudice: back to nature.

P Firth is no Colin.

P Firth is no Colin.

6.) Northanger Abbey 1986: Visually, this JA adaptation is quite lovely and interesting. But the music…Gawdalmity! It is so awful that this film should be seen with the sound muted. During the 70s and 80s, the male actor flavor du jour was Peter Firth. He played Angel in Tess and Henry Tilney in NA. Why? Just because he was good in Equus and for two milliseconds, when very young, looked somewhat leading mannish? I found him so off putting as Angel and Henry that P Firth single-handedly ruined those films for me. He could have played a Mr. Collins, Mr. Elton, or John Thorpe quite excellently. As he aged, P Firth began to portray villains, which is how I always saw him. But what I can least forgive this film for are those horrid gothic scenes (which the 2007 NA adaptation picked up.) I read NA and reread it, but, other than telling us about Catherine’s lively imagination and penchant for reading Gothic novels, JA included none of those scenes. To this day, I am still waiting for a decent Northanger Abbey (and Mansfield Park) film adaptation.

Can you recall scenes in JA films that made you cringe? Do share. As always, feel free to disagree with my humble opinions, but politely, please.

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