Thursday, May 31, 2012

'Hemingway & Gellhorn'

'Hemingway & Gellhorn' is a study in the art of machismo . . . just as much
from a woman as from a man. This film, which premiered on HBO, dramatizes
the volatile coming together and falling apart of the famous novelist and his
third wife. Martha Gellhorn, a renowned war correspondent and the only one
of his brides who was also a fiction writer. The film is a big-name affair,
with Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman in the leads and Philip Kaufman directing
a screenplay by Barbara Turner ('Pollock') and Jerry Stahl ('Bad Boys II').
It is based on Martha Gellhorn's memoirs, and researched with dialogue that
scavenges the principals' own writing, either as history or drama. At the
outset of this explosive new film an aged but still feisty Gellhorn recalls
how she was more interested in chasing battle action around the planet
than in pleasing her man in the boudoir.

'Of course,' she adds, 'there are wars and there are wars.'

Especially when one is involved with the ever-mercurial Ernest Hemingway,
as Gellhorn was to learn over her intense romance and subsequent four-year
marriage to the man. Really hard to say what was more life-threatening for
Gellhorn: the Spanish Civil War or grappling with the demons of Papa Hemingway.
To be sure, it's practically impossible to re-create with complete any accuracy
an actual person, and biopics are typically deformed by the need to cover a lot
of ground in short order . . .As one crisis follows quickly upon another, characters
can seem both abnormally intense and insufficiently motivated. Kidman benefits
from Gellhorn's relative obscurity in creating her, of course; the original person
matters less. And yet given the unknowability of even as public a figure as
Hemingway, there are as many plausible ways to play him as to play Hamlet,
but Clive Owen delivers a stellar performance... down to the extra pounds he
packed on, apparent in all those sex scenes. One doesn't need to feel that, yes,
it was really like this, only that it might have been.

From the moment the young writer Martha, 28, sidles up to the celebrated
Ernest, a decade older and covered in marlin blood, at a Key West bar -- Sloppy
Joe's -- 'Friend or foe?' asks Hemingway. 'Or faux friend. You never know',
answers Gellhorn, who might be Lauren Bacall teaching Humphrey Bogart to
whistle. ('To Have and Have Not' 1944)

And they're off, from Florida to the Spanish Civil War to Cuba and China
and D-day, as competitors and collaborators. They meet other famous faces
(the starry supporting cast includes David Strathairn as a rather too pathetic
John Dos Passos and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, as documentary filmmaker
Joris Ivens, Molly Parker as Hemingway's second bride, Pauline, Parker Posey
as Hemingway's fourth wife, Mary, Joan Chen as Madame Chiang and Robert
Duvall as an unhinged Soviet general); enact passages from future memoirs
and biographies rejiggered for dramatic effect; dodge bullets and down
cocktails . . . 'You're more of a man than most men I've met,' he says admiringly,
as he fails to drink her under the table.

Kaufman, who also directed the erotic period pieces 'The Unbearable Lightness
of Being' and 'Henry & June', puts a lot of energy into sex scenes that make
Gellhorn (Kidman) seem like a goddess of the literay world. In a particular scene,
one of my favorites, they go at while bombs rain down on their Madrid hotel,
covering their naked bodies in plaster dust.

The other scene I truly appreciated was in Cuba at the Copacabana in the
dressing room. They sauntered in while the ladies were dancing … he practically
dragged her, while both very intoxicated, until they found a spot hidden behind
costumes and other paraphernalia . . . he turned her around and raised her
dress … just as she was swaying to his thrusts a group of cancan girls stormed
in to change. He placed his hand over her mouth and continued pressing on… and
they pulsated together in a harmonious rhythm…Kidman had this look of such
utter ecstasy. Delicious!
Integrating the actors 'Zelig' style into old newsreel footage, sliding from
color into monochrome and back again. Sometimes, you don't notice the trick at
all, but even when you do, it can be sort of charming: It gives the film a kind
of picture-book quality not out of step with its self-dramatizing subjects.

Yet in spite of his wild chauvinistic ways, something about the freethinking
and alluring Gellhorn charms him. Hemingway is smitten, for a spell, until
Gellhorn proves to be a tad too independent and not so subservient. Then Ernie
gets angry, and you won't much like Ernie when he's angry. He gets really
blitzed . . . ornery . . . and self-centred, and declares,

'John Dos Passos is the greatest writer in America ... not named Hemingway'.

Papa is no one's notion of politically correct. But it isn't just self-
aggrandizing bravado when he declares himself to be the greatest wordsmith
in America... Hard to take that away from him.

The returns in their relationship eventually diminish: The student outlives
her need for the teacher, who derides her as 'Little Miss Human Interest'.
It turns out that he's the conventional one who needs a base and a gang;
she's the footloose free spirit who wants to be where the action is.

Kidman's Gellhorn and Owen's Hemingway, as well as the others, are mostly
on fire, and under fire. And when not dodging gunshots during the Spanish
Civil War and the Japanese invasion of China, Gellhorn and Hemingway are
mostly engaged in personal combat – physically and mentally. But the two
have something in common: a romanticized idealism. They are rebels with
a cause, eager to quash fast-rising fascism, be it in Franco's Spain or
Hitler's Germany. Hemingway prevails upon Gellhorn to chuck objectivity
in her dispatches for Collier's Weekly.

They are also fearless, bordering on foolhardy. What else to make of their
desire for some nookie while their hotel is being blitzkrieged by Franco's
bombers … Or Hemingway's challenge to play Russian roulette with an equally
unravelled and real Russian General (Robert Duvall). The two are also
world-class tipplers. But even Gellhorn marvels how Hemingway could put
away bottles of scotch, absinthe and wine at night and still take his post
at the typewriter the following morning.

'Writing is like Mass. God gets mad when you miss it,' explains
Hemingway, whose second bride convinced him to convert to Catholicism.

While the film focuses on the passion between Hemingway and Gellhorn, it
also addresses prevailing patronizing attitudes toward women with ambition
back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, which is when the film is set.

Despite finding religion as well as adventure, causes, acclaim and women,
Hemingway, a senior Gellhorn contends in retrospect, was rarely at peace
with himself . . . 'He tortured no one so much as he is tortured himself.'
Such was the price Papa Hemingway was willing to pay for his place in the
writers' pantheon. As is abundantly made clear here.

The movie, which has concentrated more on her journey than his, gives
her a kind of payback: It jumps from their final breakup, in 1945, to
a diminished Hemingway's suicide some 16 years later. Gellhorn exits on
two feet, as the older woman who has remembered this tale, grabbing her
backpack and heading out the door.

* From Where I Sit!
May 31, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Gripped by Passion

'It is realized that experiential freedom is not in rejecting
our humanness - but accepting it more and more fully.
One is then free to experience life with a vulnerability like
never before.
Through simply seeing through fixed ideas / assumed
'truths' by a relaxed vigilance, one is gripped more and more
tightly by the embrace of life itself - until only experiential
union remains' ~ Karen Richards

Monday, May 14, 2012

Life According to Marilyn‏

'This life is what you make it. Not matter what. . you're
going to mess up sometimes, it's a universal truth. But the
good part is you get to decide how you're going to mess it
up. Girls will be your friends - they'll act like it anyway.
But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay
with you through everything - they're your true best friends.
Don't let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best
friends in the world.
As for lovers, well, they'll come and go too. And babe,
I hate to say it, most of them - actually pretty much all
of them are going to break your heart, but you can't give
up because if you give up, you'll never find your soul mate.
You'll never find that half who makes you whole and that
goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn't
mean you're gonna fail at everything.
Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe
in yourself, because if you don't, then who will, sweetie?
So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most
importantly, keep smiling, because life's a beautiful
thing and there's so much to smile about.'