“Saving Brinton” – a delight to watch

December 18, 2019 at 12:53 pm (entertainment, history) (, , , )

The film Saving Brinton ran last night (18 Dec 2019) on Vermont Public Television. I was clicking channel after channel, waiting for commercials to be done, when I came upon it – paused – and stayed. What a delight to watch!

At the heart are the Brintons – husband and wife Frank and Indiana Brinton – who were involved in a number of concerns, including early (late 19th and early 20th century) Silent-era FILM exhibition. At the heart, also, and what grabbed my attention, is the collector / saver of the Brinton treasure trove, Michael Zahs.

Saving Brinton

The vintage films are FASCINATING – and you can find more about them online, thanks to the University of Iowa Libraries. With their use of astonishing film techniques (no ‘CGI’) and stunningly-vivid hand-coloring (done, of course, frame-by-frame), the films are indeed treasures from the vaults of early cinematography.

A finding aid (same link, above) will help those interested in learning more about the overall collection. And the Brinton collection IS unique – as it includes original equipment, handbills, glass slides, memorabilia, diaries and press clippings. Estimated at 9,000 items, at one point in the documentary, a reporter (?) asks, How many items; and either mishears or doesn’t take in that Zahs says “thousands”. I found myself nodding in agreement when the reporter leaves, and Zahs mutters, Thought he’d stay longer. Me, too!

Which is why I want more about Michael Zahs, as well as the collection! His history with the items is touched upon very lightly, but what resonated with me is how many YEARS went by where he seemed the only one interested in what he was preserving. Saving Brinton shows how that became no longer the case, with visits to professors, preservationists, even the Library of Congress; and finally enthusiastic audience members sitting in Bologna’s city square and in the World’s Oldest Continuously Operating Movie Theater, “The State Theater,” in Washington, Iowa.

One should never discount the filmmakers – Tommy Haines, John Richard, and Andrew Sherburne. Their interest in bringing the Brintons & Zahses to a wider audience must be warmly applauded.

As someone with my own (minor, in comparison) project, it is the interest of others giving a tremendous BOOST to Zahs that offered the most compellingly-heartfelt moments. There are always cinephiles in awe over early films; but to have – finally – a home for this collection at the University of Iowa, felt like vindication of Zahs’ dedication over (now nearly) forty years. His wife, too, putting up with the saving and hoarding (let’s face it…) that goes along with collecting. The ‘secret history of cinema,’ as one review claimed for Saving Brinton, the documentary also touches upon the ‘secret history of saving’. Sometimes it only takes one person, picking up the baton from another one person in the past, to ignite a passion in others. “Doesn’t really interest anybody but me” is something we all can say about our “object” of a passion. It sure is nice to come across other like-minded people, isn’t it?

footnote: I’ve just realized (reading a review of the 2018 theatrical release) that Saving Brunton is 90-minutes in length. The PBS series, America Reframed, has evidently edited this down to 55 minutes. Cutting a third is a disservice to this film. It may explain why I thought I had “missed things” by momentary inattention. Vimeo (stream or download) or Amazon (disc or stream) offer the full “directors’ cut” of the documentary. Note the Amazon reviewer who says “it’s at least 30 minutes too long”… I’d like to be able to judge for myself.
An interesting read is the original Kickstarter campaign for Saving Brinton.

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Russborough House (county Wicklow)

June 5, 2016 at 5:02 pm (books, entertainment, estates, jane austen) (, , , )

If you attend Love & Friendship you’ll see RUSSBOROUGH House in several shots.

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Visiting their website allows for some peeks at the sumptuous interiors – there’s even a short video tour (click photo below).

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There’s actually a Smith & Gosling connection to ‘Rusborough’ through Emma Smith’s great Aunt, Mrs. Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge.

Mrs. Smith’s twin sister was Lady Mayo. She and the Mayos visited Ireland – Lord Mayo’s seat was Palmerstown – and often visited the Milltowns at ‘Rusborough’ (as she spelled it). I’ve no doubt that Mrs. Smith had many tales to tell her great-nieces and nephews, whenever she was newly returned from Ireland.

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Love & Friendship (the movie): a review

June 4, 2016 at 9:50 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen) (, )

Just back from an early evening showing of Love & Friendship, based mainly on Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan” – who is the title character (played with delicious archness by Kate Beckinsale). It is interesting (and I will get back to this point) that in adverts Chloë Sevigny shares top billing.

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There are several decisive scenes in which the two ladies don’t so much as scheme, but rely upon the other to bolster flagging spirits when schemes don’t seem to be going as well as hoped. For instance Mrs. Johnson (Sevigny) has an older husband (Stephen Fry) who just isn’t giving in to gout and the grave as quickly as his young wife might wish.

There’s an obvious backstory that we never quite learn – the dreadful treatment Lady Susan has given her (obligingly dead) husband may include infidelity or simply ‘neglect’, but nothing is specifically mentioned. That her daughter is named Frederica and her in-laws have a son Frederick leads one to believe the two were named for the not-too-lamented Mr. Vernon.

Also referred to time and again – and, to the film’s detriment, hardly seen and not at all heard – is the “dashing” Lord Mainwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin). An additional ten or fifteen minutes, at the Mainwaring estate, laying out the events that caused the eventual ejection of Lady Susan would have been most welcome. More especially to allow viewers to see what Lady Susan saw: a lover worth scheming for although he was a married man.

Perhaps when it comes out on streaming video (a main title is emblazoned with the Amazon logo), a “director’s cut” will give a bit more. The mutual attraction of Lord and Lady would have helped the audience in rooting for the success of the Lady’s plan. Everyone loves a villainess.

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The machinations of Lady Susan are not quite as blatantly devilish as those of the Marquise de Merteuil. Austen may have had a passing familiarity with Les liaisons dangereuses (published in 1782) thanks to cousin Eliza de Feuillide, who, with her impeccable French, could have come across the novel. Whit Stillman, the film’s writer/director seems to have lent the film a French texture (especially in some costumes) but could have pushed the edge in order to give the film and its (anti-) heroine that tad more sharpness. Like Jane Austen, Stillman kept sex behind the scenes, but a little smoldering attraction would have been welcomed.

The sexual rivalry of Valmont and Merteuil allowed for letters of confession and letters tipping their hands regarding future schemes. In Love & Friendship those confidences are given to two women who esteem each other – though we never quite learn why. Mrs. Johnson’s husband keeps threatening to ship his American wife back to America if she continues to see Lady Susan; still, even at the film’s end, he hasn’t moved her out of England and she hasn’t cut ties with Lady Susan.

Given the convoluted emotional ties between Lady Susan and Lord Mainwaring, which (spoiler alert:) evidently becomes a menage a trois, I began to embellish Lady Susan’s fictional story with one only too well-known: the menage in the Duke of Devonshire’s household. A husband with two wives; here, a wife with two husbands.

Speculation as to whether there is meant to be some “chemistry” between Lady Susan and her confidant Mrs. Johnson is an undertone that may be just me reading a bit of “history” into Stillman’s film (the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster). But the ladies rather relish the idea of being together once Mr. Johnson kicks the bucket. Perhaps she would be allowed in to the Mainwaring menage. And remember that double-billing I mentioned at the top of this blog post.

Viewers are also left to wonder if Frederica Vernon (Morfydd Clark) just happened to capture her mother’s ex, Reginald deCourcey (Xavier Samuel) – or, if she has a bit more of her mother in her than either would care to admit. I, for one, would like to think that young Frederica saw and got the man she wanted. She does succeed, like her mother, by moving into the household of her future lover.

End credits gave the clue that a behind the scenes featurette was made – so maybe some of the intentions will be made clearer. (I found a short one on youtube.)

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Watching Love & Friendship was like spending the evening at the theater. The ‘feel’ of the film is highly theatrical (though not nearly as stylized as it could have been; viz, The Draftsman’s Contract, another film about sexual connivers). The movement of the actors across a room, down a passage, or up a staircase is slow and deliberate, providing time to show off gowns and location shots. The many footmen and maids seemed like so many stagehands, closing doors or removing clothes. Some viewers complained of the rapid conversational style, but I did not find it to be unintelligible – just in contrast to everyone’s slow pace, as if confined to a stage. The “introductions” to the characters, like a period handbill, were quite funny, as in “Sir James Martin: Her unintended”.

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And “the stage” is the parting thought I’ll leave with. Late in the film the sound track introduces the exquisite trio from Così fan tutte, Soave sia il vento (though a short piece, the film abruptly truncates it by cutting out the middle)  – Mozart’s moment of tranquility in an opera about shifting partners and the testing of (untrue) lovers. The trio reappears in the end credits. Knowledge of the opera, and performance ambiguities, added to the intrigue of this quiet film, leaving me with the impression that there’s more going on beneath its shiny surface. One almost wishes Stillman choose instead the subtitle of Austen’s juvenile “Love and Freindship” and called his film “Deceived in Freindship and Betrayed in Love”. (And, yes, Austen had “ie” and “ei” spelling problems.) It would be interesting to pick up Stillman’s novel, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon is Vindicated but I’ll have to settle for Austen’s original (which I deliberately did NOT read before seeing the film).

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Janney’s Jane Austen scholar

February 14, 2015 at 8:47 pm (entertainment) (, , , )

Caught Allison Janney on THE TALK, and could not believe my ears when I heard her say that she had a role – against Hugh Grant (Edward Farrars, Sense and Sensibility) – playing a professor whose main interest is JANE AUSTEN!

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Or, as the Boston Herald calls her in a review of the film, “a prissy, uptight and emasculating Jane Austen scholar” (Hmmm….; Janney herself uses the pleasanter phrase Austen aficionado), meeting up with Grant who’s come to teach in UPSTATE New York (ie, not far from me).

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Notable Quotes:

  • “You don’t LIKE Jane Austen?”
  • “Teaching is an absurd profession…”

LINKS:

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No, But I’ve seen the movie…

November 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm (books) (, , , , , , , , , )

R.H. Culp wrote an intriguing post that touches on books-made-into-films:

“Every time another book-derived movie comes out it feels like it is condemning the book to obscurity.  Too many times I’ve asked someone if they’ve read Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings and they say, “No, but I’ve seen the movies.”  Why can’t people who want to experience these worlds sit down for a few hours and read?”

I, too, dream of what Culp terms “the ultimate authorial achievement” = a MOVIE DEAL! I have long picked out a movie cast for a film based on a certain key “moment” behind Smith and Gosling history: the romantic triangle of Charles, his first wife Belinda, and his sister Emma’s best friend Mary — who eventually becomes his second wife. Would I be giving too much away to say that I’ve long thought James McEvoy the perfect Sir Charles Joshua Smith. For the others, I can’t help but confess, I’ve got a little list…

Yet, while I could easily down boil the story to something that takes two hours to tell about 12 years’ worth of tale — and make it visually arresting with scenic estates and cityscapes, my ultimate goal would be to gain publicity to drive movie-goers to my books –> where the Smiths & Goslings will (someday…) live again through their own words.

I’ve a closet-full of “tie-ins” and even “classics” that were purchased because I’d seen some TV or film adaptation. The “tie-ins” sometimes suffered if the story had been drastically changed for the film; I mean there is some expectation of a bit of the same story, and the denouement shouldn’t be totally different.

A good writer tells a story, while a great writer invents a world you want to inhabit — again and again.

I’ve seen way too many adaptations of Jane Eyre – the story too-well-known to be “fresh” (rather like A Christmas Carol – please, not another film or sitcom sketch!). Yet a number of years ago I picked up a copy of the book while on vacation. What a wealth of wonderful language!

Austen’s novels are like that, too.  Her prose gives different layers to all the novels beyond boy meets girl premise. That’s what keeps JASNA members revisiting the novels — again and again and again.

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Living In: Emma

July 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm (books, fashion) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Happy July! and to celebrate today (Canada Day for those north of the Border from me in VT), I post this link to a fabulous “continuing” series of LIVING IN found on Design*Sponge, and written by Amy Merrick. This one was posted for the First Day of Summer, and particularly targets the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and its picnic scenes:

LIVING IN: Emma

Reading through the comments, it is AMAZING how many people just love Austen’s novel and her heroine! (Must admit, at least at present, Emma is my favorite.)

Amy has included a “shopping list” of items you might like for your own picnic: English Willow Picnic Basket and Cheshire Cheese, to Floppy Straw Hat and Chloe Ballet Flats (expensive!!)

Amy confesses that her “all-time favorite Austen adaptation” is Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility — and you can find that film’s LIVING IN here.

Be sure to check out other films based on books; among my favorites are DANGEROUS LIAISONS and JANE EYRE. And having just talked of AMELIE with a Montreal friend, I include the link to that one also!

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