In 1977 Sidney Lumet gave audiences his film version of the superb, award-winning stage play Equus (1977) about a boy who blinds six horses with a hoof pick. Superbly staged with actors wearing massive horse head crowns that towered over the actors, their height increased by the “hooves” they stood on, the effect was blindingly theatrical and sensational. Surrealistic, expressionistic, and somehow mythological all at once, the play explored man’s relationship to God, to horses, to worship and to one another. On film of course they made the decision to use real horses, and opened the play up to the world, with busy streets and grassy meadows visible for all to see. It was exactly the wrong thing to do. Had Lumet, a gifted director had the courage to allow Equus to remain in the theatre; we might have had a film similar to Joe Wright’s uneven adaptation of the Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina. In a bold move the director sets almost the entire film within a theater, on a stage with sets that move in and out from the behind the actors, fly in and out, and give the film an expressionistic feel throughout. When we do move away from the theater the scenes are jarring because of what has come before, and I worry that the director should have confined the entire work to a theater. I mean if you are going to do it, go all the way. Does it work? Not entirely. The book was written in the late 1880′s in Czarist Russia, forty years before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and most directors would have jumped at the chance to recreate this period of history. What Wright does is bold, creative and often magical, but his own sense of daring is his eventual undoing. He becomes handcuffed by the very setting that is so interesting, because the theatre does not allow for some of the sweep and size the film needs, nor even the isolation that Anna will feel. Theatre can be an intimate medium, but on film, theater is huge, seen on the big screen, the only real intimacy being the actors faces in close up. So often that is all Wright really has to work with are the landscapes of his actors faces. Has Wright done this, placed the setting in a theatre to suggest that the actors are playing characters that are also playing roles in society? I don’t know. Gifted actors all are sort of undone but the stylistic approach to the film.
It is not that they are unable to meet the challenge, in many ways they are, Jude Law in particular as Anna’s cuckolded husband, a Russian high up in the social pecking order that enjoys his position and all that comes with it. When he discovers Anna’s affair with Vronsky he gives her two very clear choices, end it and come home to him and live with her son, or be banished with her lover out of the society she holds in such esteem. Foolishly Anna believes she can have both, and is the engineer of her own tragedy.
Keira Knightley is often very good as Anna, and writing the next sentence hurt me. Is she too young for the part?? I know, I know, but let me go on before the knives are plunged. A great deal of acting is life experience as they bring that to each role they play, drawing on their experiences moving through life. I once directed a production of The Crucible and made the terrible mistake of casting an actor struggling with coming out of the closet, a hard-core Catholic still a virgin at forty, who had never experienced sex. So much of the relationship between John Proctor and Abigail Williams is lust, pure carnal lust and the actor could not find it in his performance. Has Knightley experienced true lust?? Has she experienced that sense of being willing to throw away everything in her life for sex?? Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know the girl. She could be a most loyal girl who would never do what Anna does in the film, and I do not think an actress has to cheat on her husband to play the role, but they do have to have experienced this kind of dangerous lust. We understand why Vronsky falls for her, but I did not feel her lust for him. It’s a fine technical performance, but lacks soul, lacks longing.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson cuts a dashing figure as Vronsky but does not bring a great deal of depth to the character; sadly he is 1880′s beefcake. While the character is described from time to time as callow, that is true of the manner in which the actor portrays him.
In the end Wright’s directorial decisions bring the film a degree of artificiality that I do not think was intended. When one attempts something like this, they want it to be as real as anything else they have committed to film. There is a sense of grand sweep from time to time, but in the end of the style chosen cannot sustain the story.
I was excited to hear about this film, but it was nothing like I had hoped. What I wanted (and this is my mistake) was an in-depth making of and study of the cultural impact of The Shining (1980), Stanley Kubrick’s seminal horror film which polarized critics when released in 1980. Instead, the creator has made a film that explores the hidden clues given throughout The Shining (1980) that attest to Kubrick’s involvement in working with NASA in faking the 1969 moon landing.
Yep…I kid you not.
I guess because NASA loaned Kubrick camera lenses to capture candle light as natural as possible in Barry Lyndon (1975) he has some unique relationship with them? Seriously, the laughs in the cinema were not out of kindness, but rather the laughter of people laughing at the premise and very idea!! Because Danny wears an Apollo 11 shirt this is connected to the moon landing. Because the numbers coincide with the stage used to shoot the supposed moon landing sequence the film is connected to the moon landing. Because Jack Nicholson delivers a line a certain way, or scowls in a certain manner, the connection to the moon landing is there.
First of all I believe, and I think I am right that Kubrick was an honorable man dedicated to the art of film, I mean just look at his films. Second, when would he have had the time considering the preparation that went into each of his films? Third, Kubrick was an honest artist so why would he take part in a worldwide lie that would forever impact world history?? I mean come on man. And there is more…because Dick (Scatman Crowthers) sees a demolished red Volkswagen as he rides up the mountain we are to understand that the director is thumbing his nose at Stephen King because in the book, Jack Torrance drove a red VW. Now I do not believe Kubrick did anything by accident, but he was not according to just about who ever met or worked with him a mean-spirited man.
About the only redeeming quality in the documentary was the fact they made clear that the film was not a success when it opened but built respect through the years and is now considered one of the greatest horror films ever made.
I especially liked the part when they show the wall of blood bursting through the elevator door in the Hotel and the narrator announces the door never opens when we can clearly see the blood pushing that very door…open. Geez Louise…What a waste of time.
Tags: Anna Karenina, Cinema of the United States, Entertainment/Culture, Film, Jack Nicholson, Joe Wright, Jude Law, Keira Knightley, Sidney Lumet, The Shining, TIFF, TIFF 2012, Toronto Film Festival
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