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Bright Star, Three Star, Four Star, Five Star

Thursday 26th November, clear skies right now, after rain and wind.

We saw Jane Campion's Bright Star at the Dukes's, it's such a beautiful picture. Campion is a Chardin of film-makers (that's Jean-Batiste-Simeon Chardin's market girl making a guest appearence in the thumbnail, click through for the Paris WebMuseum). She recreates domestic details with such passionate, faithful intensity that every soundscape, every scene, brims with the stillness of great art, that makes you look and look, listen and listen. I liked Bright Star a lot more than I liked The Piano, which I admired with reservations years ago. I could see that the story of John Keats and Fanny Bawne was a gift to her style, period, poignant, contained and so well-documented too, and I wonder slightly if she'll ever pull off her Chardin trick in a contemporary setting. Now that would be something. But it was inspired to place the point of view in the heart of Fanny's loving family, looking outward: a subtly different trick from just making Fanny, this confident, grounded, innocent young girl, the viewpoint character. And the principals were great, and so were Fanny's family, and the jealous bounder Brown. And I loved the way Campion conveyed the cruelty of the young lovers' fate through coldness, physical cold: the saturating rain, the chill, saturated colours of spring flowers, the bitter weather of those years around the Year Without A Summer. Keats was always talking about being cold, and telling Fanny she better wrap up warmly, in his letters.

Why revert to a movie I saw weeks ago? Well, partly my blog was still missing back then, and partly I saw a review in Grazia yesterday, (high-priced classy type women's glossy), and Bright Star only got a measly three stars. Not exciting enough. The reviewer "couldn't believe" in the passion between the principals. Tuh, thinks I. Some people wouldn't know true love, young love, if it jumped up and bit them. And it's not because that lovely, touching phenomenon has vanished from the modern world, either. Far from it (young love endures, the poor nightingales have proved ephemeral). Reviewer probably doesn't know any teenagers, that's all. . . Anyway, then I started thinking about stars, because I remembered the posters and I knew that stacks of eminent movie reviewers had absolutely adored Bright Star, thought it was wonderful. A whole page of four stars, full house of all the best venues.

So why not five stars in all those little rows, to match the adjectives? Does Jane Campion just automatically get a star knocked off for being female? Surely not. Well, obviously you will tell me that there are five star movies the way there are Oscar movies, and it isn't exactly to do with quality, it's to do with star quality (to coin a phrase). It's the subject matter, the gravitas (as Movie people understand gravitas). Okay, so here's A Serious Man, the Coen brothers. A period piece, a chamber piece, a contained little drama by a duo renowned for being obsessive about their art. Five starred all over the place. What's the difference? As far as I can make out (and I'm not going to see the movie. I admired Blood Simple very much when it came out, still admire it now. I like Fargo and I liked that crazy one about the scriptwriter too. But Burn After Reading finished me. Super-rich Hollywood luvvies playing their deeply unattractive real selves and thinking they are funny. Go away) Anyway, as I was saying, far as I can work out, judging by the reviews, A Serious Man gets five stars because it bullies people. It bullies the audience into believing they have to laugh at some poor shmuck getting bullied up down and sideways, it beats them into submission and makes them do something unpleasant.

Is that the way contemporary taste works? The public and the mediafolk hand over their top admiration to playground bullies? When you look around you, you have to admit it's a point of view.


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