Monday, August 09, 2010

A Few Things I Learned About Life as a Poet from Watching Bright Star

I approached this movie ready to be snarky and suspicious. No romantic frippery for this lady, in either senses of the word. However, with a deft cinematic hand, Jane Campion "trace[s] the comminglings and collisions of poetic creation and amatory passion" in this tale of young John Keats (Ben Wishaw) in love. 1. Her cinematography in Bright Star is at once gorgeous and lived in, brilliant fields of lavender heath and daffodils in a meadow, roughly hewn wooden door frames and sparse furnishings. And the costuming, especially on budding seamstress Miss Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish,) from whose point of view the movie is told, caused many a wanton cry to erupt from my mouth. (Wanton = I want one.) Cornish wears a series of empire-waisted jumpers in striped linen or brown satin with frilly blouses underneath. Ruffly bonnets or "triple mushroom collars" frame her face. And the most fantastic pair of multi-buckled shoes I have seen in any movie. Oh, it is to swoon!

Drawing by Bertie from Melbourne, Australia. She is Who lives in that teacup? and Victorian Tea Party online
Oh, right, the poetry. In any case, I was able to glean one or two kernels of insight as to what the Life of a Poet might comprise:
* Poets never did make much money from their endeavors.

*Art, on the other hand, is generally for the rich.
* Wait a minute, Fanny Brawne and her siblings spend their days on needlepoint, reading, ballet and French lessons, though their mother is a widow and their dead father was a farmer? Shouldn't young Miss Brawne be dispatched to the city to cook and clean for some other family? Who is financing this beautifully aesthetic life?

*Though the question of poverty does come up later in the film. In fact, it's such a problem that Keats' friends must chip in to send him off to Italy for the putatively better climate. But these dudes (Keats and friend Charles Brown) don't even try to get day jobs.
*Poets like cats.

*Girls need to be taught poetry by boys who write it. (Apparently they cannot read and figure it out for themselves.)

*"Poetic craft is a sham. If poetic craft does not come as naturally to leaves to a tree then it better not come at all." Which seems a bit disingenuous coming from one who wrote sonnets.

*Boy poets have mommy complexes. Or woman complexes. Or both.

*"Doing nothing is the musing of the poet." Interrupt at thy peril.

*Musing = making one's mind available to inspiration.

*Those who are not themselves poets will always remark, "Is it successful? It's selling well, then?"

*It dost helps one's infamy to die young
* A dead poet's lady love must wrap herself in black and walk the heath mournfully the rest of her days. (Only according to the film; the real Ms. Brawne married twelve years after her poet's death, and by some accounts came to consider her earlier estimation of Keats to be "overrated." 2)

Here is the poem on which the movie is titled. I find it a bit mawkish, but I am reading from a 2010 perspective.

Bright Star, by John Keats (1838)

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death

Nikki Reimer is the author of [sic] (Frontenac House, 2010). She lives in Vancouver, where she volunteers for the Kootenay School of Writing collective and chronicles the East Van Cats.


Anonymous said...

Funny, funny. I have to say I am not a fan of the movie. Not a fan of the wimpy poet genius we all must tip toe around...nor the over-blown camera work here. The gesture I appreciated but it didn't quite work did it?

nikki reimer said...

Did I mention how much I loved Fanny Brawne's outfits?

Kathleen said...

What fun! I haven't seen the film yet, but now I want to, to see the shoes & outfits! Plus, coincidentally, I played Fanny Brawne once in a short play done in Chicago.

Lemon Hound said...

I'm surprised you haven't had any raging anti-Bright Star responses. So many people seemed to dislike this movie with great intensity. But yes, great style.

nikki reimer said...

A few folks on Facebook mentioned their refusal to see it. Then Peter Culley said he wanted to make a remake of the "Romantics with punk rockers---Johnny Rotten as Shelley, Poly Styrene as Mary Shelley, Joe Strummer as Keats, Siouxie as Fanny Brawne, Ian Dury as Byron etc..."

I've also learned that Campion didn't bother to READ Keats, which is telling, but unsurprising for Hollywood.

Lemon Hound said...

Ha. I would like to see that version.

Campion was interested in Fanny, not Keats. Still....

I disliked it because it flattened the entire thing and made it a bit of fluff, really. Not quite enough about Fanny Brawne, certainly nothing new about Keats, just another Campion, but Campion light.

David Kosub said...

Despised the film myself, for all of the reasons noted above and more. The best moment in the film was Keats's friends huddled about his bedside at a loss as to how they might help him. That would have made a different, emotionally richer film, I think, though not much in the way of empire-waisted jumpers or bonnets, I'm afraid.

Diane said...

The film is beautiful to look at - there is one scene, of Keats lying in the branches of a tree - that is pure cinematic poetry.

A film that celebrates the life and loves of a poet is a nice change from the regular pap, I thought it would be celebrated by poets. Oh well.

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure why the film should be celebrated by poets necessarily. Is it a matter of having to be happy simply because one of the tribe is being represented? What if it is represented poorly? Simplistically? And so on.

The film is beautiful. And that's part of the problem. Poetry isn't simply beauty.