Love & Friendship brings out anything but

Whit Stillman’s stillborn wit?

Lickona thinks Stillman is still the man. But Love & Friendship was not Marks’s cup of tea.
  • Lickona thinks Stillman is still the man. But Love & Friendship was not Marks’s cup of tea.

One film, two critics and a world of disagreement. Lickona hung on every turn of the page in Whit Stillman’s variation on Jane Austen, Love & Friendship, while Marks wanted to tear out a row of seats in front of him, anything for a distraction. Here’s the tale of the tape. And may the best critic win!


Love & Friendship

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Marks: Call me downturned crabby, but I can’t bear 90% of the current spate of British costumers. Restless leg syndrome began tapping out an SOS just moments after the condescendingly captioned photoplay credits hit the screen. Pictures of fancied up actors reciting Jane Austen’s prose, lit by a team of Allied Vans, and set to the beat of Whit Stillman’s snarky metronome made for the longest 92 minutes of the year. Though shot in Dublin and directed by a Yank, the film somehow managed to renew in me a desire to dig Francois Truffaut out of the grave and give the critic-turned-New-Wave-architect a big French kiss for having once arrived at the perspicacious conclusion, “British cinema is an oxymoron.” Yes, there’s plenty of good acting at its finest to go around, but please don’t gush on about “beautiful cinematography” when the reverse angle lighting doesn’t match during intimate two-character dialogue scenes. Give this one four D’s for being dry, droll, dreary, and drained of romance. You’re gonna love it!

Lickona: Once upon a time, there was an Angry Young Woman named Jane Austen, who savaged English society — in particular, the impossible situation it often presented to the fair sex — by creating Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale, making the absolute most of things), a widow who operates in social circles the way a good general operates in war: playing to one’s own strengths while exploiting the enemy’s weaknesses, turning every setback into a new opportunity for attack, and never betraying a moment’s vulnerability. And who is the enemy? Pretty much everyone involved in the aristocratic experiment, but especially those who stand between her and the triune goods of pleasure, ease, and security. She’s so good at her work that only a few suspect it goes on, and even they seem powerless to stop it. Adapter-director Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) gives a nod to Austen’s novel-in-letters format by serving up a steady succession of short-missive scenes and indulges in some broad comedy along the way, courtesy of a gentleman who is especially rich and even more especially stupid. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to encounter in a master’s early work, its rough charms magnified by the knowledge of what’s to come.

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I side with Mr. Lickona. Good story and good acting trump bad lighting, do they not, Mr. Marks?

Bad lighting = bad storytelling as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, come now, Marks. There is a hierarchy among the aspects of movie making. You may argue with this, but I would offer this as a working list:

1) Story 2) writing/adaptation of that story 3) acting 4) direction 5) photography 6) lighting 7) costumes/sets 8) music 9) effects

Story is the sine qua non. Without it, no amount of the other items on the list can redeem the film. But good story, can make up for a lot of deficiencies in the items lower on the list. All of those items serve the story, not the other way around.

First off, I'm betting the farm that you've not even seen the movie you so passionately debate.

1) Directing 2) Cinematography/Lighting 3) Production design 4) Writing 5) Editing 6) Acting 7) Story

There have been masterpieces made without a story ("Un Chien Andalou," "The Limits of Control" "Yolanda and the Thief"), actors (Walt Disney, Looney Tunes, etc.), good acting ("Written on the Wind," John Gavin in "Psycho"), spoken dialog (anything made prior to 1927), music ("The Birds," "His Girl Friday"), and cinematography ("Pink Flamingos"). Every one of the films I mentioned have one thing in common: a vision. It's usually the director's, but I can think of examples where the cinematographer is the auteur ("Divine Madness," the original version of "The In-Laws"). Same for the screenwriter ("The Best of Times"), the editor ("High Noon") and the production designer (anything by William Cameron Menzies). Other than comedies, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a great film that's badly directed.

Acting and story are the least of my worries. I know exactly what Mr. Hitchcock meant when he famously referred to all actors as "cattle." Sure, a great performance will always add to the overall power of a film, but it's how the director moves them around the screen that excites me. And aren't there only 7 basic plots? Story be damned! I'm in it for storytelling, not taking pictures of people talking, something Whit Stillman excels at.

"Story be damned! I'm in it for storytelling" That's like looking at Michelangelo's Pieta only to admire the chisel work and polishing, which would be to grossly miss the point of the sculpture, specifically to capture the poignant moment of a mother holding the body of her dead son.

Storytelling is the craft, the point of which -- as the compound word suggests -- is the story.

House building is a noble craft, but the completed house is the point, right? A lot of masterful skill could go into the carpentry, plastering, tiling, etc, but if it's a poorly designed house, it's all for naught.

I've got more analogies, if necessary. : )

Mel Brooks' "To Be Or Not To Be" is a virtual shot-by-shot, word-for-word remake of the Lubitsch original. One is a masterpiece, the other a snooze. Why? Because one was the work of a master storyteller, the other a Mel Brooks comedy. It's all about the storytelling. And as Jean-Luc Godard said, "If you want craft, make a chair." ;)

When you ask a serious actor what's important in a film, it's usually: the writing. The superb actor Richard Burton had the highest praise and admiration for writers. He thought acting was inferior to writing.

Burton thought drinking was superior to everything.


by Colonna

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