After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

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After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby jesleeall » Fri Feb 11, 2011 3:14 pm

I loved Bright Star when I first saw it, ran out and bought the DVD and watched it many times. But I found an odd thing happening as I re-watched it. I started being almost embarrassed by different parts of it. It was if I wanted very much to like the whole movie, but various scenes struck me as so badly done that I finally had to face up to the fact that I disliked them and that I thought the movie was actually very badly flawed. Especially in its portrayal of Keats.
Here are some examples: I have never liked the scene showing the first meeting between John and Fanny at the very beginning of the movie, where he asks her if she is spying on him. I don't understand the dialog. Mrs. Dilke has just said that John didn't join the others for tea because he was feeling low about Tom. But he greets Fanny with an odd bit of dialog that is supposed to be what? flirtatious? And what about the "spying"? I suppose he's joking but it seems to set the theme from the very beginning that here is a very odd and somewhat paranoid young man whose oddness and paranoia is never explained or understood. It always strikes me as an unnecessarily strange way to begin their relationship and it irritates every time I see it.
The dialog when Fanny joins John for her poetry lesson irritates me as well, and strikes me as simply preposterous. I can't for the life of me imagine John Keats sighing and confessing to this girl he hardly knows that he doesn't get along well with women, and then spewing out all sorts of complicated feelings. The complicated feelings were real enough, and he was willing enough to discuss them with people he knew well, in his letters, but I can't see him sharing them with a young female acquaintance he's beginning to have an interest in, and the scene strikes me as an unbelievably clumsy way of revealing his complicated nature to the movie viewer. The line "I'm attracted to you and I don't know why," makes him sound downright stupid. Surely John Keats understood attraction to the opposite sex well enough not to be confused when he felt it. When he says he yearns to be ruined by shrews and saved by angels, or that all women confuse him, even his mother, I cringe. Not only does it make him sound neurotic (which maybe he was) but it gives absolutely no context for his neuroses (like his mother's death) and it shows him pouring all of this out to a woman he barely knows. So he emerges as not only neurotic but also stupid and whiny. Not a pleasant combination.
I understand how difficult it must have been to try to present this story in all of its complexity, but I think, at so many points, it could have been done better. The movie implied that it was Brown's misogyny or dislike of Fanny that made him keep her and John apart after John's hemorrhage; it would have been fairer to Brown to show that virtually everyone thought emotional upset might have caused the TB. When John returns to Hampstead, is it really necessary to show him fainting and hauled up into the house by the women? When Fanny asks him at the end why he must go to Rome, what kind of passive and dopey answer is, "Because my friends have paid my way"? When she then goes on to tell him she would "do anything," implying that she's willing to have sex with him, and he answers with "I have a conscience," how priggish his refusal sounds against her robust willingness, when, in actuality, his care to treat her correctly according to the standards of the day was probably one of the more difficult and principled and selfless acts of his life. When Mrs. Brawne receives the letter from John, from Italy, and reads out loud the part about it "looking like a dream," the viewer is led to think that John is raving about the scenery, when, in fact, he was writing about his feeling that he was already half-dead and emotionally detached from the vivid scenery around him. Why was the movie careless with such a very poignant piece of John's biography? When I watched the movie with my daughter, I was led, again and again, to explain that John wasn't really as dumb or sexless or passive or weak as a particular scene might have implied.
Campion might have been trying to show that Fanny was in a difficult relationship with an odd young man, and that Fanny herself didn't understand why John was the way he was; Fanny had to accept him without fully understanding what had shaped him. So Campion designed it so her movie audience wouldn't understand him either. But I do think the movie failed to portray him as well as it could have, even given a desire to share Fanny's limited perspective.
I would have introduced him at the beginning as he returned to Hampstead, sick with a sore throat but still tough and strong and brown as a berry from his walking tour. I would have tried throughout to leave no doubt in anyone's mind that here was a strong young man, even a mentally tough young man, who was as gifted in relationships as he was flawed. I don't think Campion got the balance right.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Saturn » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:33 pm

Yeah well I've said it many times, and Campion has said as much herself that the film is not a biography or a wholehearted portrayal of Keats, and if you were looking for that you will be disappointed. It is Keats as seen through Fanny's eyes.

As for the portrayal of Brown, it was a bit over the top, emphasising his

Perhaps one day there will be a more accurate, and fuller treatment of Keats life and work on film, but until then this as good as it gets. I have been harsh, and was harsh about Campion's choices before and after I first saw the film, but it is in itself, a beautiful piece of film making, just a disappointment in it's portrayal of Keats but a great film make no mistake nonetheless.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Ennis » Sat Feb 12, 2011 5:55 pm

I enjoy that film more and more every time I watch it. I agree with Saturn about the film taking Fanny's perspective -- that John is really a minor character. I, too, hope that sometime in the future someone, preferably Campion because I think she did a great job all - the - way around, completes a biopic of Keats himself. Then we'll have screen time to see all the "personas" of this great young man. But you know, at the time he met Fanny he was already sick, and despite his possible refusal to admit it to himself, he had to have known subconsciously he was suffering the early stages of consumption. Shoot, a continual ulcerated sore throat bodes no good, even in spite of the unenlightened medical situation.
I think in the opening scene, when Keats and Fanny meet and he asks her "What do you spy?," my interpretation was he was, in a roundabout way asking her what she thinks of him as a man -- you know, sort of along the lines of "what do you make of me, as a person?"
Campion could not have chosen a better Keats than Ben Whishaw. He had the look, pulled off the intensity (which is evident in at least 2 scenes), and probably is a much more gifted actour than any of the other young British men who would have been up for the part.

Got to go, kids coming to class -- finish later (excuse any typos, don't have time to proof.)
Last edited by Ennis on Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby jesleeall » Sat Feb 12, 2011 6:26 pm

Oh, I hope Campion never gets her hands on Keats again.
I know the movie was told from Fanny's perspective but I still think if it had been done more skillfully Keats would have come across more robustly--at least in spirit--in spite of his illness. I think some sense of his strength would have shown through.
I agree Wishaw was a great Keats, and did a very good job, especially considering some of the appalling dialog he had to deal with. I think he understood Keats. I remember reading that he read a number of biographies and became the cast expert on Keats. I also remember reading that he had wanted Campion to retain a scene which would have shown Keats in a more energetic and feisty light. But for some reason she didn't. I think she made repeated choices to weaken Keats and show Fanny's strength. Had she been more skilled, I think she would have told the story from Fanny's perspective without making Keats seem so passive and priggish. And without giving the characters such silly stuff to work with. Fanny cutting her arm when she gets upset? Didn't that jar and mar the tone a little? Seem a little too 21st century?
Having said all this, there was much about the movie that I loved. But that is why I have so much trouble watching it now. I want to love it...in the same way that Fanny says in the movie that she wanted to love Keat's Endymion. But I sit down to watch it and get annoyed all over again that there are so many silly, misleading bits in it.
I hope very much that we might see a great movie about Keats in our lifetime (has anyone seen the wonderful movie about Byron with Jonny Lee Miller?) But I don't think it's going to come from Campion.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Saturn » Sat Feb 12, 2011 6:44 pm

jesleeall wrote: (has anyone seen the wonderful movie about Byron with Jonny Lee Miller?)


I have, it's great fun, but very superficial
. I like it but like most looks at Byron it focuses almost entirely on the scandal and the outrageous behaviour and doesn't do justice to his work. Johnny Lee Miller was perfectly cast though but he deserved a much better, more serious script.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby jesleeall » Sat Feb 12, 2011 6:50 pm

Oh, how terrible that I can't seem to agree with anyone here about movies!!
Saturn, didn't you feel the pathos in the movie about Byron underneath the scandal and the glitz and the sex? You didn't sense that underneath the wild surface this was, indeed, a very serious and sad movie, just like the life it was portraying? Yes, it was often light and it was greatly entertaining, but "not serious"? I think it was a very serious and a sad movie, and I think it brought the troubled man to magnificent life.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Saturn » Sat Feb 12, 2011 8:27 pm

There was an undercurrent of that but on the whole it didn't really get under the skin of who Byron was for me; don't get me wrong I think it's very good, and I enjoy it immensely but I think it just reinforced all the usual cliches about Byron, but it is the best film, or portrayal of him to date. The best Byron biography by far, which is the most insightful and balanced is by Benita Eisler, and I wish the film had been based on that and that more people would read it and really get a sense of Byron as the poet and as the man as he was, behind all the headlines.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Raphael » Fri Mar 18, 2011 4:21 pm

Well, I loved both films despite them not being perfect. Johnny Lee Miller really looked like Byron! But, back to Bright Star- just watched a few clips on you tube- at the web place as my PC is being repaired(don't ask... :x )- not been able to see it for ages as my DVd wasn't working on the pc. The cry scene- shouldn't have watched that, nearly sniffled in public! That scene is very real. I didn't like the cutting thing either- very c.21st- and not like the Fanny who comes through the letters to Miss Keats.
John....you did not live to see-
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Dolores » Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:22 am

I watched Bright Star for the first time yesterday and although I do think it's a really beautiful and powerfully emotional film, I felt like there was some sort of craving that wasn't satisfied...if that makes sense? It was in the portrayal of Keats that I felt there just wasn't enough and even though I think Ben Whishaw does a really fantastic job, I think there could have been room for him to do even better if he had been allowed to do so. I'm not a scholar of Keats but I really love his works and I feel there's so much that the movie didn't grasp. I guess what I mean is that Keats in the movie didn't live up to my expectations of Keats in real life, but then I guess that was inevitable :)

Another comment that I completely agree with was Fanny cutting her arm...it made her look so emotionally immature and made me question how somebody like Keats could fall in love with a woman like that and why Campion had to portray that to us???
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Raphael » Fri Mar 25, 2011 2:58 pm

Dolores wrote:.... I completely agree with was Fanny cutting her arm...it made her look so emotionally immature and made me question how somebody like Keats could fall in love with a woman like that and why Campion had to portray that to us???



I am at a loss as to why Jane Campion put this in the film. I would not have any objection if this was a proven incident and true to Miss Brawne's chracter but the opposite is true. Jane had read her letters to Miss Keats many times so she knows something of Miss Brawne's character- which in the letters comes across as very emotionally strong, self contained, intelligent, knowledgable and not given to emotional outbursts.
John....you did not live to see-
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Ennis » Fri Mar 25, 2011 4:36 pm

Raphael wrote:
Dolores wrote:.... I completely agree with was Fanny cutting her arm...it made her look so emotionally immature and made me question how somebody like Keats could fall in love with a woman like that and why Campion had to portray that to us???



I am at a loss as to why Jane Campion put this in the film. I would not have any objection if this was a proven incident and true to Miss Brawne's chracter but the opposite is true. Jane had read her letters to Miss Keats many times so she knows something of Miss Brawne's character- which in the letters comes across as very emotionally strong, self contained, intelligent, knowledgable and not given to emotional outbursts.


Most of what you all say is true, to a certain point; however, I beg to differ with the cutting scene: first, was it not a very slight, half-hearted attempt on Fanny's part "to do herself in"? It's not a "cut," it's a "poke," and yes, I agree whole-heartedly with Fanny's strength of charafter -- only after Keats has died. We know absolutely nothing (from her "mouth") about her as a teen-ager. The actions of children that age are exaggerated to begin with; they, at times, see themselves as the only individuals of significance on the planet. We have no idea how Fanny actually responded to that dreadful letter from her love; is it not possible that she reacted in an "over-the-top" manner? I work on a daily basis with kids not much younger than Fanny and I know how hyperbolic (word??) they can be over the most mundane situtaions/events. Can we not allow Campion's Fanny the same prerogative? The letter she had received in the film that caused her eighteen-nineteen-year old heart such distress came right after the "butterflies" letter: two distinctly opposite letters from an emotional and "my heart is yours" perspective from a difficult and intense young man, and a first love at that (for them both). Besides, I believe the "cutting" incident could have had some symbolic message. . .
These are my opinions only, obviously -- probably not worth much from anyone's point of view but my own. I loved the movie; I love all things Keatsian.
Good day to you all.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Cybele » Sat Mar 26, 2011 3:26 am

I agree with Ennis. (I, too, have dealt with adolescent angst, up close and in person!)

I view a film as a commentary, a re-telling, of the story of Fanny and Keats.

(I view art as a commentary on being human. I view a good movie as art.)

"Bright Star" is a movie. It's not a documentary. I would expect a 1 1/2 or 2 hour movie to take liberties with the facts.

Can I draw a parallel here? Remember the wonderful movie "Amadeus"? I actually heard people criticizing it because modern, not period, instruments were used, that Mozart and his wife had many children, not just one little boy, that Salierei didn't cause Mozart's death. Et cetera.

Another (sort of) parallel: Seamus Heaney produced his outstanding translation of "Beowulf." Neil Gaiman wrote his (IMO) fabulous screenplay for the movie "Beowulf." Both of these works were different versions of the same story. Was one better than the other? Again, in my opinion -- Nope. That's like asking if cricket is better than ice hockey.

"Bright Star" is a movie. It's not a biopic, or a scholarly bio. It's a movie.
And I still love it as a movie
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Raphael » Tue Mar 29, 2011 3:57 pm

Most of what you all say is true, to a certain point; however, I beg to differ with the cutting scene: first, was it not a very slight, half-hearted attempt on Fanny's part "to do herself in"? It's not a "cut," it's a "poke," and yes, I agree whole-heartedly with Fanny's strength of charafter -- only after Keats has died. We know absolutely nothing (from her "mouth") about her as a teen-ager.


I found it silly and c.2st century Ennis. It makes me cringe. We can glean some thing about her character from reading between the lines in John's letters- his comments on what she had written to him. A few times she had told him off for being a bit too intense for her liking- the talk of death and love etc. She would have no more letters like this off him she wrote to him! She comes across as strong, no nonsense and grounded. I am certain she would not have been crying and moping like the scenes in Bright Star when John was on his writing trips.Of course she must have missed him, but I get the impression she found plenty to occupy herself with whilst he was writing his poems. In fact, this rather irked him at times! :lol:


The actions of children that age are exaggerated to begin with; they, at times, see themselves as the only individuals of significance on the planet. We have no idea how Fanny actually responded to that dreadful letter from her love; is it not possible that she reacted in an "over-the-top" manner?


She was 18 and a young adult- they were far more mature back then- life was shorter and people grew to maturity faster. Women of her age were getting married and starting families.
Teenage is a modern phemomenon. Which "dreadful" letter do you mean? I think she took a lot of what he wrote with a pinch of salt. :wink:


The letter she had received in the film that caused her eighteen-nineteen-year old heart such distress came right after the "butterflies" letter: two distinctly opposite letters from an emotional and "my heart is yours" perspective from a difficult and intense young man, and a first love at that (for them both). Besides, I believe the "cutting" incident could have had some symbolic message. . .


I will have to re- read his letters again tonight- not sure which one you mean. (Still at the library for internet (letters at home)- my PC has decided that it doesn't want to hook up to the house wi fi... :x )
Fanny by this point was well aware of his intensity and must have been able to accept it about him- perhaps she mostly didn't react too much to it but let it go over her head until he demanded some sort of response. He must have at some point told her about his earlier problems because he alludes to them a lot in his letters to her- so she must have made allowances. After all, he was a lovely person and had a big heart.She could have found another man at any time to court her, but she did not- they obviously had a strong bond.
What symbolic message do you refer to Ennis? I myself saw some symbolism in her having difficulty breathing when sobbing at learning of his passing.

These are my opinions only, obviously -- probably not worth much from anyone's point of view but my own. I loved the movie; I love all things Keatsian.
Good day to you all.


I love the movie too (despite some dislike of some scenes) - now my DVD works on the PC again I might watch it tonight.

PS- Dolores- the rabbit is beyond gorgeous! Those ears and that cute little face! Is the little darling yours?
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Dolores » Tue Mar 29, 2011 11:32 pm

I know, it's lovely isn't it?! Sadly no, it's not mine, found it online. I do love bunnies though, I'm going to have my own little rabbit farm when I leave uni :lol:
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Re: After numerous viewings...like it? or dislike it?

Postby Raphael » Wed Mar 30, 2011 12:52 am

It is adorable! I love rabbits too- I'm hoping to home a female called Coco from a rescue place when I get a flat in the next few months hopefully- I have been to see her- she doesn't like other rabbits so has to be a house rabbit where she will be pampered!
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

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