New York on Film: Sleepless in Seattle

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New York City is probably the most famous city in the entire world, and the amount of films that are either set in the city, pass through the city or depict aspirations to visit the city would form a list longer than your average human arm.

Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle  manages to use the romantic notion of a meeting on top of the Empire State Building, as seen in An Affair to Remember  as the driving force behind the films eventual conclusion where the two protagonists finally meet and fall in love at the top of the same iconic building.

The film itself spends very little time in New York, but the time spent there has such a great impact that a lovers meeting on the top of the Empire State building was refreshed as the most romantic scene for an entirely new generation, exposing even more viewers (beyond those who had experienced Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in Affair to Remember almost 40 years prior) to a city that held this majestic power to change lives, romantic trajectories and unite kindred spirits.

I first saw this film as an impressionable teenager, in the midst of a Tom Hanks crush.  And it quickly became a high rotation film in my household (much to my poor mothers chagrin) I was captivated by the idea of the magic that could be created by this amazing place, New York City. And from there grew a borderline-unhealthy obsession with New York, be it in films like Fame, Annie Hall, Saturday Night Fever, Tootsie, When Harry Met Sally (I love you Meg Ryan!), Fatal Attraction  The Muppets Take Manhattan,  Shame, American Psycho, and perhaps the most iconic of all, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No matter the genre, the city became almost a part of me through my relationships with these films.

In 2012 I was finally able to visit New York City for the first time, and you know what? I was a bit let down; the magic of my impressionable teenage years was dulled. I spent 5 weeks searching for that elusive rush I got as a 12 year old girl watching Meg meet Tom for the first time, and the only time I truly felt it? With my own two feet planted firmly on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Clueless: Adapting Jane Austen for a new audience.

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Adaptations are a beautiful thing – they bring new audiences to old content, sometimes even without their knowledge. Ask anyone growing up in the 90s and they’ll tell you about Clueless, the 1995 teen comedy which chronicles the life and times of protagonist Cher Horowitz. But what if I told you that Cher is simply Jane Austen’s famously naive heroine Emma Woodhouse (circa 1815) with a credit card? Allow me to demonstrate…

In Jane Austen’s Emma , The focus is on the determination of the protagonist to prove herself to the ‘older, wiser, more knowledgeable’ Mr Knightley. This is driven by Emma’s development of the societally challenged, Harriet Smith

In Heckerling’s Clueless, the Focus shifts slightly to the nature of Cher’s relationship with her peers and eventually herself. This charts her personal growth and journey to self-discovery.

In Emma, the story is told by Jane Austen, in a third person style, this allows the author to satirise the society she is commenting on as well as the supporting characters and especially the heroine herself.

In Clueless, the story is told from a first person perspective through voice-over and self-reflective monologues – the same satire is present, but explored in a visual way – by using exaggerated costuming and outrageously ‘perfect’ stereotypes juxtaposed by a contrasting voice over – for example, we see Cher and her friends frolicking in bikinis while her voiceover says ‘my life is way normal’

Included in both versions is the importance of appearance. In Emma this is characterised by manners, respect, gentility, propriety and elegance. While in Clueless, this is characterised by image, materialism, fashion, possessions and popularity

Left out of the adaptation is the novels focus on an intractable social hierarchy. In Clueless, Tai is able to stand up to Cher in an attempt to take over the ‘queen bee’ position in their social structure. She does this in a way that Harriet in Emma would never have been likely to display.

The more obvious omission is that of an entire character, Jane Fairfax – in Emma this character is a romantic rival, who, as it turns out, has already won the affections of the charming Frank Churchill – who has been naive Emma’s main romantic focus for the bulk of the novel – although focus is probably a generous term – she spends the majority of her time trying to fix up Harriet and Mr Elton.

In Clueless, Jane doesn’t exist – but it is the very obviously flamboyantly homosexual Christian who becomes the object of naïve Cher’s affections. Jane Fairfax does not figure at all.

So there you have it – does it make you look at the entire film differently? For me, I can’t see or read one without thinking of the other now. Forever inextricably linked, I wonder what Jane Austen would think….

Silence: Scorsese’s latest Christian epic fails to fire.

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Martin Scorsese’s latest passion project, Silence follows Portugese Christian missionaries as they attempt to bring their beliefs to a reluctant 1600’s Japan. The story is based on a heavily admired 1966 novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, it has taken Scorsese years to get it to the big screen and it’s obvious. The film has a run time of 2 hours and 41 minutes but felt far far longer.

The most appealing aspect of the film is its immersive sound track. Entirely diegetic, the audience is plunged into the isolation of a world far removed from the characters’ comfort zones. Kim Allen Kluge & Kathryn Kluge composed the unusual soundtrack, which melds birdsong and other ambient noise into the kind of textural soundscape that blends into the background. The audience truly is transported to the world of the characters, and this is not necessarily a good thing.

Some performances were incredibly dynamic, the Japanese cast in particular were fantastic. Unfortunately Andrew Garfield, while suitable scruffy, does not yet have the prowess to pull off his role. The Character of Rodrigues spends almost the entire film on screen, and a large chunk of that time, on his own. It’s a real shame that Garfield seems rudderless the second he’s left alone on screen. Scenes where the audience witnesses Rodrigues’ solo rumination on all things Christian are laborious, and the film is weighed down as a result.

I’m not sure how I feel about representations of proselytism on film, but challenging subject matter has never deterred me before so why stop now.  As someone who walks the line between atheism and agnosticism I struggled to comprehend how anyone could maintain an unrelenting faith in God while witnessing firsthand the avoidable deaths of innocent people. When I combine my own feelings about religion with overwhelming feeling I got from the film, which was that Christianity wasn’t something the Japanese people seemed to show any meaningful interest in (Fun fact, in modern Japan, Christians account for less than 2% of the population). Overall the film felt like a waste of my energy in working so hard to relate to its characters. The beautiful landscapes, and the way the diegetic soundscape complements but never overwhelms the story are the only things that really go any way to me recommending the film to others.