Apr. 28th, 2016

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It has been a culturally enriching week so far. Sunday night, I went with friends to see Lasso of Truth, a play about Wonder Woman's origins staged by Walking Shadow Theater Company and the Workhaus Collective. Interesting staging and excellent performances, though some of the scenes went on a bit too long – it switched from Marston’s BDSM ménage a trois relationship with the women in his life who inspired Wonder Woman to a contemporary woman inspired by Wonder Woman to a series of cartoons about Gloria Steinem’s successful efforts to force comics publishers to make Wonder Woman super again in the 1970s. It made for some really interesting, if somewhat overlong, theater, but I’m glad I got to see it.

Insert a couple of and evenings of mad work scramble, plus editing project and a bursitis flare-up and we arrive on Wednesday’s expedition to the Walker Arts Center for a free screening of “Love and Friendship” which is based, not on the actual story written by Jane Austen in her early teens, but on her epistolary novel, Lady Susan, written in her later teens.

So how was the movie? A tad uneven. I take my Austen pretty damn seriously (by which we mean that I find her wildly amusing and brilliant and have read all her available work, a lot of the critical analyses, multiple histories of the time period, a bunch of her contemporaries and so forth. Basically, I know more about Austen than most folks who haven’t made a career out of her work). The movie adapts the original epistolary form of the story and keeps some of Austen’s wording, which is a very good idea. Kate Beckinsale, on her third Austen-related film (including  Emma and Cold Comfort Farm, which is also Emma- adjacent), is terrific as Lady Susan, but other cast members range widely in their comfort with their roles. Chloe Sevigny is not terribly good and seems lost, Stephen Fry is wasted, as is Jemma Redgrave in part because it’s a short film so there’s not much to work with and they’re on too briefly. Costumes and settings are quite good. Pacing is a bit off and it dragged at the beginning and in the middle to a greater degree than an hour and a half long movie should have. But overall, the good parts were strong enough that I would give it a 6.5 or 7 on the scale of 10, 10 being outstandingly good (A&E/BBC Pride and Prejudice or Now I Have Found It, the Tamil version of Sense and Sensibility). 1 is the epically awful adaptation, such as PBS’ fairly recent Mansfield Park (known as “Jogging Fanny” in our household because she runs everywhere when not giggling or talking horse racing with Tom) or the Guthrie Theater’s dreadful Pride and Prejudice, in which Lydia frequently broke the fourth wall to explain the terrible complicated humor and plot to the presumably dull elves in attendance. The latter also featured rewritten dialogue by the artistic director and the playwright, because you know, any random dude can write better dialogue than Austen, amiright? Cue scathing sarcasm.

This film does a swell job of contrasting Austen’s dialogue with that of a contemporary writer who thinks he’s every bit as funny as she was, fair warning. This has mixed success.

Which leads me to the part where it was a free screening and we decided to stick around for the chat with the Producer/Writer Whit Stillman, in part to ask about the title. So we get two older dudes sitting around discussing Austen, which in my experience, doesn’t bode well. There are exceptions, but it’s very rare. This was definitely a mixed bag. Stillman is also getting a novel published this fall, that novel being a sequel to Lady Susan from the perspective of a male character who he invented. I mention this because Austen wrote entirely from women’s perspectives and you only see the male characters through their eyes. If it feels like I’m suggesting that one reason having a couple of middle-aged white guys sit around talking Austen unsupervised by more knowledgeable parties is that one generally gets a lot of a. trashing of romance elements, b. missed points and humor and c. a desperate desire to insert themselves or someone like them into the text because it’s not about them, I am, in fact, suggesting this. And that pretty much describes most of the talk.

 It wasn’t  the worst I’d sat through, but Stillman managed to insert several factual errors about Austen’s life and glossed over all the juvenilia…including Love and Freindship (her original spelling). I did ask what he was thinking re: the title change at the Q&A and pointed out that folks familiar with Jane’s work found the title change confusing, which got me a lengthy defensive answer about why the original story was shit and why he hated name titles, but hey, he did find the current title “Austeninian.” Well yes, that would be because it was HER title. At any rate, my friend and I had a good laugh and will probably go see the film again to see if it improves on further acquaintance.  It opens in theaters in a couple of weeks but my advice would be to skip the Q&As or any talks by the producer unless there’s something specific you’d like to rile him up about or have a question only he can reasonably answer.

Tonight’s adventure is a continuation of our annual dine out all day for Dine Out for Life, a national benefit for organizations working with people with HIV/AIDS.  Breakfast was at the Colossal Café in Minneapolis, lunch is elsewhere and dinner tonight will be at The Pourhouse where they are doing a burlesque extravaganza fundraiser. Should finish out the week nicely!


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