Movie Diary, 2/13.

I've decided to start posting the movie diary entries individually, as I write them. Collecting the posts from their various locations on my computer and the internet is always kind of a pain in the ass by the time I get around to doing it, and it results in huge infodump posts that probably get skipped by at least some of you. If I post them individually, not only will I have more posts, it will keep them to a reasonable length. Well, some of them. Not really this one, but some of them.

So uh, I finally saw "Gosford Park" the night before last. I say "finally" because I originally intended to watch it about a week before that. I had seen that it was coming on one of the cable networks and DVR-ed it, only to find, when I sat down to watch it, that the accents were nigh-impenetrable for me. Most of the characters (and the actors who played them) were British, and a few were Scottish, so no matter how many times I rewound and relistened to a line, and no matter how high I turned up the volume on my TV, I was just not getting about 25% of the dialogue. There's a lot of dialogue in this movie, too, and I could tell that I was going to miss something crucially important if I tried to push on through the entire film. So I deleted it from my DVR, bumped it to the top of my Netflix queue, and finally got a chance to watch it the night before last. The subtitles, it turned out, were absolutely essential. I'd guess that I was reading the dialogue, rather than hearing and understanding it, between 40% and 50% of the time. If I'd gone to see this movie in a theatre back when it was first released, I probably would have torn my hair out in frustration. But hey, all's well that ends well, right?

I am happy to report that, once I was able to understand this movie, I enjoyed it very much. It's a period drama that takes place at a country estate in England in the 1930s, directed by Robert Altman and featuring the acting talents of such luminaries as Clive Owen, Bob Balaban, Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, and uhhh, Ryan Phillippe. Among many others. There are somewhere around three dozen important characters in this movie--it takes "ensemble picture" to a whole new level. It's about two and a half hours long, and I swear, I wasn't sure who everyone was and what their relationships to each other were until at least an hour into the movie. It doesn't help that the story is just as much about the activities of the servants belowstairs as it is about the rich nobles and socialites abovestairs. Any advertising about this movie will tell you that a murder takes place during the gathering that frames the movie, and that's true, but the sad thing is that the murder takes place over halfway through the movie, and it's kind of a bummer that you are even aware it's going to happen, because the movie is constructed in a way that could easily trick you into thinking it's just a detailed study of the relations between people of different classes and economic strata. That's more what it's about than the murder, in fact, and it's a fascinating example of such a thing. I think I would have enjoyed it as much even if it didn't have the murder to act as a lynchpin for the overarching plot. In one of the special features on the DVD, Robert Altman talks about how he didn't consider the movie so much as a "whodunit" as a documentation of the fact that it was done. In fact, and this is sorta kinda a spoiler (though not completely), so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid such a thing: we, the viewers, eventually learn who committed the murder, but most of the characters, including the detectives brought in to solve the crime, don't know the solution by the end of the movie, and seem like they probably never will. It's only the servants who know the whole truth of the situation.

Altman said in the DVD special feature that his main goal was to tell the story from the point of view of the servants, which it seemed like Agatha Christie and people like her never did, and he succeeds in doing this, as well as in making clear what the behind the scenes activities of the servants are like. However, there's plenty of interesting activity and below the surface intrigue where the rich socialites in the story are concerned as well, and in the end, the activities of both groups of people are of equal interest. This is quite a long movie, but I never found myself getting bored or wanting it to hurry up and end. In fact, I was captivated throughout, and I highly recommend this movie.



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