Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pretty But Vacant


"If [Coppola's Marie Antoinette] does drop larger hints, they have less to do with the vanished culture of Versailles than with the fretful stasis of our own. The movie's approach to the world beyond, to everything that one doesn't know or wouldn't care to buy, is like the look on Kristen Dunst's face: a beautiful blankness, forever on the brink of drifting, with a smile, into sleep." - Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

When I was younger, I prided myself on being "real." I thought my overly emotional, artistic personality which made crying, smiling and feeling come so easily was a sign of my superior sensitivity. Over time, this cockiness has been replaced with a realization that feeling things intensely is not really all it is cracked up to be. Perhaps Sofia Coppola is on to something, perhaps feeling less is where it is at. I mean, why bother to struggle with things, that is just, like, so tacky.

I make no bones about my dislike of Sofia (see video full o'hate here). I found The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation to be beautiful but empty (although I have to hand it to Bill Murray - he gave me something real to munch on).

But maybe, more than anything, I am just jealous of people like Sofia who can take their emotions, bottle them up and bury them deep down inside their perfectly coiffed selves. This sounds far preferable to my mood of late which can be likened to having your heart tenderly massaged by a cheese grater. Maybe Sofia and her too-cool-for-school ilk are onto something?

"Coppola films Versailles with a flat acceptance, quickening at times into eager montage, and declares, in her notes on the film, that she sought to capture her heroine's "inner experience." Her what? This is like a manicurist claiming to capture the inner experience of your pinkie." - Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

I tried to go into Marie Antoinette with an open mind, hers is a story that I find scintillating. I love the book it was based on, Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey. I am fascinated with the time period and even enjoyed a trip to Versailles when I was 17.

I recall that cold, sunny winter afternoon well, when I stood in the magnificently gold-coated, marble-floored court yard (which also shows up in the film) and soaked up the grandeur of Versailles.

It is impossible not to get emotional as you come face to face with so much oppulence and beauty. Such an excess of decadence and immensity overwhelm the senses and blind the eye until they combine and turn to mud: hyper-manicured and pointy gardens, magnetic and powerful sculptures, detailed wallpaper, embroidered bedsheets, gold encrusted hallways, magnificent chandeliers, tree-lined pathways, and startlingly entrancing vistas everyway you turn.

It is almost too much, I don't blame Sofia for getting overwhelmed and churning out such an underwhelming film.

I still have my journal entry from that day. It is sad and melancholic (ahh, the joys of being an overly dramatic teen/30-something). For all that intense beauty and oppulence, I recall feeling very much alone. And the loneliness mixed with the massiveness of Versailles was overwhelming.

If nothing else, this pretty movie made me think of that day and sparked a brief, almost faded, moment of sentiment.

Needless to say, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette was beautiful. I knew it would be. Amazing set design, costumes, hair and make-up and haunting sound design. The music was perfect, the montages were spectacular, Kristen Dunst's heaving bosom was lovely - all this and I felt nary a thing the entire movie (save for that spark of a memory I mentioned earlier).

In fact, I recall thinking, "How much longer can this thing stretch on? They haven't even had sex yet?! I will die of boredom...oooh goody, another montage sequence!"

"The one, transfixing virtue of "Marie Antoinette" is its unembarrassed devotion to the superficial. There is no morality at play here, no agony other than boredom, and, until the last half hour, not a shred of political sense." - Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

Where Fraser's book was rich with details and intimate moments of Antoinette's rich life, Coppola's film skimmed the surface so quickly I think I got rug burn. It was a pretty ride but, nonetheless, I felt not a thing the entire journey.

Good actors such as Steve Coogan, Molly Shannon, Judy Davis, Jason Schwartzman, Shirley Henderson, Rip Torn and Asia Argento were frittered away. They hung like stiff costumes in the background of a museum, impressive and nice to look at, but empty and meaningless all the same.

Kristen Dunst tried admirably to convey some emotion but, as usual, her sunny valley girl personality (sort of fitting for Marie Antoinette in a strange sort of way) shone through and it was impossible to buy her one sad, crying fit. Sure, the King sleeps night after night with this hot little number and doesn't get around to tapping that shit till 7 years later, yeah right, I buy that Kristen. It isn't her fault she is sizzling!

Perhaps it all boils down to the fact that, despite my better judgement, I am an emotion junky and this movie felt like a long, painful withdrawl from a beloved drug. What a waste of actors, what a waste of beauty and good music.

"Is the movie somehow contending that the Queen was, with her gang of cronies and her witless overspends, the Paris Hilton of the late eighteenth century? ... On the other hand, I spent long periods of "Marie Antoinette" under the growing illusion that it was actually made by Paris Hilton...Snuff is snorted like coke. There are hilarious attempts at landscape, but the fountains and parterres of Versailles are grabbed by the camera and pasted into the action, as if the whole thing were being shot on a cell phone and sent to friends." - Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

All that said, I admit that Sofia did an admirable job with this movie. She had to cover a lot of ground and there were some nice moments when the 80s new wave soundtrack faded out and the sound of wind chimes could be heard (at the coronation) and of course, the beautiful shots of Kristen Dunst frolicking in Antoinette's meadow which were reminiscent of a similar scene in The Virgin Suicides.

Sofia has an artistic eye which I admire. She manages to stay calm, cool and collected in the face of a dramatic, highly emotionally charged episode in French history. I envy her cool detachment, I wish I had a hefty dose of it myself these days.

I was also disappointed by this film because I find the plot of Marie Antoinette's life to be so interesting and this movie's plot to be so uninteresting. It would be nice to see another director take on this subject matter and perhaps give less time to the fabulous montages, costumes and the excess of Versailles and more time to the dramatic end which left Marie Antoinette's family and court violently beheaded.

This is a tale full of fun gorey details, melodrama, suffering and pain! Maybe this film could be like a Part Two to Coppola's Marie Antoinette, perhaps like a VHI: Driven or an E! True Hollywood Story. It could be called, "Marie Antoinette: Some Heavy Shit Man."

There is a lot of dirt and grime in Marie Antoinette's story to be examined once you peel back the pretty layers of chiffon and bon bons (why so many cakes and sweets Sofia?). And being the emotional vampire that I am, I for one, would like to watch this Part 2 of Marie Antoinette's life.

The lonely time she spent in prison where she had to watch her best friend's decapitated head being paraded outside her window for her delight. The agony of having her young children ripped from her side and slowly turned against her. Her humiliating trial in court during which the revolutionaries dragged her character through the mud and convicted her as a child molester after convincing her son to testify against his own mother. And yet, through it all, Marie Antoinette remained a pretty level-headed Queen.

They did their best to beat her down and kill her spirit. They stripped her of all that was dear to her, tortured her for months and then tied her hands behind her back and made her ride in a rickety old carriage on her long journey to the guillitoine as angry mobs hurled insults in her wake. And even still, she had nothing but kind words as she apologized to the executioner for stepping on his foot. Even in the end, Marie Antoinette was a lady, if only we could all be so lucky:

She stepped lightly down from the cart and stared up at the guillotine. The priest who had accompanied her whispered, "This is the moment, Madame, to arm yourself with courage."

Marie Antoinette turned to look at him and smiled, "Courage? The moment when my troubles are going to end is not the moment when my courage is going to fail me." Legend states that her last words were, "Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not do it on purpose," spoken after she had stepped on the executioner's foot.

2 comments:

emilybot said...

I saw it over the weekend. It was alright. The costumes were very nice though. I was kind of wondering if they'd examine anything more political in the film, like the class wars that led up to the Revolution. I guess not...

Eva the Deadbeat said...

yeah, it would have been interesting to have more political content but i guess that would have made it a totally different film. the costumes and set design and sound design were spectacular though...that was worth the price of admission for sure.