Monday, October 18, 2010

GREAT VIDEO MOMENTS: Pride and Prejudice

The following emerged from a blog series I proposed on the White Horse Tavern blog [RIP]. 

Since I have trouble keeping up with the daily Tavern talk, I thought I would exercise my seigniorial right by introducing a new series: GREAT VIDEO MOMENTS. Let me invite any who would wish to add their own GVM.

Since coming to Uganda, I have built up a video collection for the sake of ex-pats and also Friday Night shows for students. I usually order from Amazon.com and then haul them back in my suitcase (DVDs are mercifully light).

Introduction

Video is the medium of our age: it is to late 20th and early 21st century what novels were to the 19th century. Video is probably a step-down from the word to the image, but at its best it can combine both word and image powerfully. Needless to say, the video industry is secular and many of its products are profane and anti-religious. But there are a goodly number of videos which portray the human condition, with or without God, from which we can learn and be delighted.

Pride and Prejudice

Let me confess: I was a Janeite before I was a Christian. I began reading P&P in ninth grade and have never stopped rereading the Austen canon. Jane Austen is often thought of as a child of the Enlightenment, but actually I think she is a romantic of a refined sort. That is certainly how I read her.

Many videos are based closely or loosely on novels. The 1995 BBC production of P&P is a “literal” translation of the novel. (I have not yet seen the more recent film version, or Bride and Prejudice, and I couldn’t make it all the way through Bridget Jones’ Diary.) P&P lends itself to such literal adaptation because the book contains so much dialogue, and the BBC producer and screenwriter chose to reproduce large portions of Austen’s dialogue without change.

I wish to concentrate on two GREAT VIDEO MOMENTS in the film. The first GVM occurs about half way through the film when Elizabeth Bennet has visited the estate of her spurned suitor Mr. Darcy at Pemberley (actually Lyme Park just outside Manchester, where I used to go with the family on Sunday outings). Elizabeth’s accidental encounter with a kinder and gentler Darcy has begun to change her thinking about him. According to the book: “Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude – for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed… She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him; she felt a real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know how far she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how far it would be for the happiness of both that she should employ the power, which her fancy told her she still possessed, of bring on the renewal of his addresses.”

Now the video does not use a voice over to convey this inner reflection. Instead it uses music and visuals to the same effect. It’s a bit complicated to the scene explain if you do not know the story line, but suffice it to say that Mr. Darcy has recently rescued his younger sister Georgiana from the clutches of slick Mr. Wickham but only Elizabeth knows about it. Georgiana is very shy and expresses herself by playing the piano in the drawing room. As she plays, one of Elizabeth’s rivals makes a flippant remark aimed at Elizabeth about Mr. Wickham, and Georgiana stumbles in her playing. Seeing her distress, Elizabeth hurries to her side to hold the music in place. Now comes the GVM. Mr. Darcy has been observing all this and staring at her openly and pleasantly. Elizabeth looks back at him (more than a glance but less than a stare) and her pretty face softens into a slight smile. Her eyes seem to be saying: “Renew your attentions, please.” And that is exactly what Darcy picks up on. (Having said that, the story gets complicated for another half of the book/movie.)

In the Featurette, the Director explains how they timed the “look” and used music to accentuate the romantic moment (the piano playing is not mentioned in the book). It works. The big question about Elizabeth is whether she can love outside her comfort zone, whether she can overcome her wounded intellectual pride. There are encouraging signs in her family affection for her sister Jane and her uncle and aunt, but only at this point do we know that Elizabeth is willing to take the risk of love of one who is like and unlike herself, a man. With the look, she says Yes.

I shall return to one more GVM from this video, where love culminates in marriage.

Pride and Prejudice 2 

In an earlier post I referred to one GVM from the 1995 BBC A&E production (not to be confused with an earlier BBC production). This was the moment when Elizabeth Bennet expresses her openness to love through a "look" at Mr. Darcy.

Now I move from love to marriage. The final two scenes in the film are truly amazing. The first of these scenes involves Lizzy's announcement of her engagement to her incredulous father. The words are straight out of the book. He says: "We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him." Elizabeth is forced to confess: "I do, I do like him. I love him. He has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable." Her father is still not fully convinced: "My child, let me not have the grief  of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life" [as he has done]. She assures him again and he concludes: "Well, my dear, I have no more to say. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy." Mr. Bennet is a flawed husband and flawed father, but his love for Elizabeth covers a multitude of flaws. He kisses her on the forehead (not in the book), and as he does so the voice of the vicar bleeds in. Suddenly we are in the parish church with both sisters in white (being a period flick, this is not a Civil Partnership ceremony). The church scene begins and ends with the solemn intonation of the Preface to the Marriage Service, the whole thing! And as we go through the causes for which God has instituted Holy Estate of Matrimony, the camera pans all the major participants in the story, some good, some weak, twice jumping to characters who by their behavior have absented themselves. All participate in the same institution and are thereby made a community, except for those who willfully exclude themselves.

Then we see the happy couples hurrying to their carriages with the well-wishes of their friends. As the father and mother wave goodbye, Mrs. Bennet says: "Three girls married! Mr. Bennet, God has been very good to us!" "Yes, so it would seem," is his reply. These words are an interesting inclusio from the famous opening words of the book: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." In the book these words come rom the implied author, but in the movie they come Lizzy as the family walks out of church, with her mother buzzing about the new eligible occupant of Netherfield hall. For all her buffonery, Mrs. Bennet knows a good deal more about God's design from the time of man's innocency than a certain House of Bishops.

Final shot, Darcy, who for the first time in the film is smiling broadly, bends over to kiss Elizabeth, awkwardly, as if for the first time.

Folks, I get choked up every time I see this GVM. And the amazing thing is, the scene is not in the book! The producer has added a visual with no other words than from Book of Common Prayer, and the terse exchange of mother and father. But surely it conveys Jane Austen's vision of an Anglican society. In her way, she tries to revive the vision of a Christian community much as Nicholas Ferrar's Little Gidding or George Herbert's Bemerton. These final two scenes can be understood as cameo of Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh."

Bride and Prejudice

A month ago I posted a couple reviews of the great BBC/A&E dramatization of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In my recent air travels, I had a chance to see the new 2-hour P&P. Frankly, the only place it shines is where it mimics its predecessor. However, I also had a chance to view the recent Bride and Prejudice, and that’s quite another story. It is a wonderful movie.

I am just becoming acquainted with “Bollywood” films, i.e., films produced in Mumbai (Bombay). Some of these films, e.g., “Lagaan,” are really fine films. Now B&P is a crossover between Indian and Western genres (e.g., all in English, no subtitles). However, it exemplifies some positive cross-fertilization between the West and traditional cultures.

The story line is similar to P&P, with even similar names, e.g., “Will Darcy.” However, the script is not enslaved to the Austen text, and in particular adds catchy musical and dance numbers.

What I find most interesting is its examination of marriage, in the spirit of JA. There are three kinds of marriage in the film. The first is an arranged marriage, and the heroine (Lalita/Elizabeth) defends this traditional way to the Western skeptic Darcy. The second wedding occurs when a wealthy but buffoonish expatriate from LA-land (Mr. Kholi/Collins) to find a traditional Indian wife to serve him back in the States. At dinner, as he eyes Lalita, he comments on the reason for his visit, saying: “No life without wife.”

This comment then becomes the occasion for a really wonderful song, my GVM. We see the four Bakshi/Collins daughters in their pyjamas upstairs joking about Mr. Kholi and teasing Lalita about her future husband. The chorus is “No life without wife.” The antiphon is her statement “I want a man who…” It is clear that she is looking to choose her husband according to his merits, someone who will regard her as an equal partner. And indeed, as in the novel, she refuses two marriage proposals in hope of a better offer.

The whole song and dance routine is amazingly fresh and humorous and romantic. Indeed the whole movie manages to be incredibly joyful and erotic without showing any flesh (you may check out the star Aishwarya Rai at see www.aishwaryaworld.com).


The older Bakshi girls get their men at the end, but interestingly in India. Compare the final wedding sequence of the BBC/A&E P&P, with that of B&P, with the couples departing on elephants. Both scenes are wonderful, and in both cases, marriage is held up as highly desirable. In Austen’s original and in the Indian version, the highest form of that marriage may be that which is freely chosen, but lesser forms are not despised.

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