Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Beguiled: Revisited

Come all you young fellows take warning by me
Don't go for a soldier, don't join no army
For the dove she will leave you, the raven will come
And death will come marching at the beat of a drum

~~ “Dove She Is A Pretty Bird” Unknown (sung by Clint Eastwood in the 1971 movie)

As soon as I heard that there was going to be a remake of “The Beguiled,” I knew I had to see it. I hadn’t even heard who was going to be in it, let alone seen a trailer, but since the original movie from 1971 is one of my all-time favorite movies, this was a must-see for me.

Unfortunately, despite over 50 screens in our area, not a single one of them was showing the movie! What the hell?? But there is a happy ending. We just happened to have a week in Kansas City planned, so last night was our chance to see it. We even got to see it at a classic theater in the Westport area, the Tivoli!

When a favorite movie is remade, dangers abound. Some of the portrayals of characters are so iconic that you can’t imagine anyone else in the role. (This is why I have never seen the remake of “Psycho.” My favorite movie EVER. Vince Effin’ Vaughn as Norman Bates? After Anthony Perkins? Are you KIDDING ME?? ARGH! Oddly enough, I loved Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Norman in the TV series “Bates Motel,” but I’ve written about that before.) Sometimes something is just so right the first time that you don’t see why a remake is necessary. (For me, that would be the remake of “Carrie.” Brian De Palma’s version was perfect.)

So I was trepidatious about the remake of “The Beguiled.” I loved it from the first time I saw it on late-night TV. I was probably in junior high, and here was a young, absolutely gorgeous Clint Eastwood as a wounded Union soldier taken in by a Southern girls’ school. It’s been quite some time since the ladies of the school have enjoyed male company (said in my best Southern drawl), so you can imagine how things go. One of the teachers falls in love with him; the headmistress of the school is reminded of her brother and their relationship which was a little more than brother and sister, if you get my drift; one of the older students wants merely to bed him and learn about a man’s body; and then young, sweet Amy, the girl who finds him in the woods, sees him as a rather romantic figure, someone she has a bit of a crush on...but she isn’t quite old enough yet to understand why she loves “Mr. McB.”

Yowza! What’s not to love? Southern Gothic at its absolute best. It is dark and twisted and sexy and occasionally funny and so much fun.

I was happy when I saw the trailer for the remake. It looked like they had the general atmosphere right. When it finally came out, I started hearing great things about it, that Sofia Coppola had directed it perfectly. So I started feeling a little less trepidatious. Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney (Clint Eastwood’s role)? I can work with that. Nicole Kidman as Miss Martha Farnsworth, the headmistress? Not a huge fan of Nicole, but okay. Kirsten Dunst as the young teacher Edwina? Yes! I like Kirsten Dunst. Elle Fanning as the nubile student? (Carol in the original, Alicia in the remake.) Okay, I’m game.

The new cast did an absolutely fantastic job. Kidman was wonderful, playing Miss Martha with a mixture of strength and desire and determination. There’s a great scene where she gives McBurney a sponge bath and gets all het up and sweaty. The simmering sexuality of this handsome man in a girls' school is a perfectly delicious tension. Colin Farrell was very good, with the extra added bonus of an Irish accent. His McBurney came over from Dublin and went right into the Union army. But I have to say that Clint Eastwood is still THE John McBurney for me. Eastwood wins this battle.

*Mild spoilers ahead*

They make a few minor changes, like leaving out Miss Martha’s incestuous relationship with her brother. That’s a shame, because it added a layer of gothic creepiness to the story. I also missed the presence of Hallie, the slave in the original. I think that was an important part of the story, to show why the war was being fought. But other than that, it adhered fairly closely to the original.

The true star for me was the plantation house that served as the school as well as the land itself. I spent a few summers when I was in college in Georgia when my folks had a place there. Coppola captures perfectly the sluggish heat of a Southern summer. The humidity, the angle of the sun through the trees, the buzzing of the cicadas. There are gorgeous shots of pathways turned into tunnels by overhanging trees dripping with Spanish moss. The girls work in the garden, Alicia (AKA Carol) leaning lazily on her hoe, just feeling too damned hot to work anymore and she’s not cut out for this kind of work, anyway. The flickering candlelight in the columned house and the knock on the door of passing troops. Will it be friend or foe? Amy wandering barefoot in the woods, picking mushrooms and finding wounded Yanks. (I never found a Yank in the woods in Georgia...we were the Yanks!)

It has to be very difficult to capture a particular ambiance on screen. Coppola managed to do it so perfectly that I could almost feel the heat and humidity of my long-ago Georgia summers.

I absolutely loved this movie. I still love the original and will happily watch both many times in the coming years.

Thank you, Sofia Coppola, for not ruining one of “my” movies!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Towards a more perfect union

When a Nation cries
His tears fall down like missiles from the skies
Justice looked into Independence's eyes
Can you make everything alright?
And can you keep your old Nation warm tonight?

~~ “Justice and Independence ‘85” by John Mellencamp

This morning, an article popped up in my feed. It was titled “Is Patriotism Possible in Trump’s America?”, written by Jesse Berney for Rolling Stone. I highly recommend reading it. I was so struck by it that I posted it on Twitter and Facebook, and judging by the likes and retweets (including from the author), it struck a chord in others, too.

The premise is that many of us are feeling demoralized at what is happening in our country right now. We feel we have someone holding the highest office in the land who is neither qualified or intelligent or stable enough to hold that office. It’s kind of hard to be patriotic when you feel like an Ugly American, you know?

But the article states exactly WHY it is important for us to love our country. We want to see it do well, but we also want to make sure that we continue to work towards equality and justice for all. We want to see people get a hand up when they need it, and we want to see people held accountable when they do harm to others or to our country, no matter their status.

I’ve never been the type who was “my country right or wrong.” We’ve done plenty of horrible shit in our time and there was nothing ‘right’ about it at all. Because we care, we work towards progress. We work for fairness and we work for justice. We are and always have been a work in effort towards a “more perfect union.”

I’m tired of being labeled as unpatriotic because of my criticisms of the current occupant of the White House. Or of the Bush administration, which misled the American people and got us into a stupid war. (All wars are stupid, although some are justified, but that is one of the stupidest.) I’m tired of being told that I need to “respect the office.” How about this? I’ll start respecting the office again when HE does. This guy is one of the worst things to happen to the office, to the presidency, and to the world. I will never stop saying that.

I am a patriot. I love my country for the good it has done and can do in the world. I love it for our great achievements, our innovation, and our innate sense of goodness. (I still believe that.) We are experiencing a pretty serious glitch right now, but I am confident that we will fix it. 

Happy birthday, America. If I criticize you, it is only because I want to keep fighting to make you better for everyone and to make you continue to show the world that we are a force for good, not for ill. I haven’t given up on us yet and I hope the rest of the world won’t, either.