Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey Day

Thanksgiving in my house is kind of a big event. Don't get me wrong: I understand the sore spot Thanksgiving represents to Native Americans and I'm under no illusions about to whom most Americans give thanks. I'm uneasy with both of those elements of the holiday. Still, Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday on the calendar after Halloween because it's an opportunity to gather with friends and cook and eat a whole bunch of food. We usually watch a movie afterward in my house. This year, I went a little bit overboard with the food. I did the turkey, which for me is a week-long production involving brine, wine, and a food injector. This year, I took advantage of the rosemary bush growing in my sun room and stuck a couple of rosemary branches into the cavity with the stuffing. The end result was terrific. The pumpkin I got at the farmer's market a couple of weeks ago made two pies and a loaf of pumpkin bread. I've never made pumpkin pie before, so the resulting pies were a huge crapshoot. Fortunately, they came up sevens. They were awesome. There were roasted root veggies, garlic mashers, cranberry stuffing, plus the various dishes brought to the table by my guests. A splendid time was had by all.

This year's movie was Anne of the Thousand Days (1969, directed by Charles Jarrott), a film I remember watching with my mother when I was a teenager. We used to watch a lot of these kinds of historical friezes, and I'm not sure if my fond memories of these kinds of films are due to the quality of the films or the experience of watching them with mom. On the evidence, I suspect the latter, because it's not nearly as good a film as I remembered. Anyone who read my review of Becket a few years ago may recall that I have a problem with these kinds of church and state showdowns, because you're choosing between the absolute authority of the Catholic Church and the absolute power of a secular despot, both equally illegitimate if we start from the proposition that authority to govern derives from the consent of the governed. This film compounds the issue by suggesting that Henry VIII of England put aside his wife, Catherine of Aragon, solely because he wanted to fuck Anne Boleyn and damn the consequences. Those crazy Tudors, eh?

Anne Boleyn has the title role of the movie, and I suppose the film is as much hers as it is Henry's. This makes the movie a bit more interesting than Becket or A Man For All Seasons, because it sidesteps the whole Church/State conflict and focuses, instead, on the role of women in Tudor England, and their means of ascending to power (and falling from it). Anne, for her part, has no desire to be a King's mistress and mother bastards for him. She's seen how that plays out with her sister, who was herself one of Henry's discarded mistresses. She'd much rather marry Harry Percy, who she actually loves. Blocked from doing so, she games the system with Henry and won't give it up until she's a queen. And then the movie does an about face, much to its detriment, by making Anne actually fall in love with King Henry and suffer the pain of losing him to indifference once he tires of her. This might have worked on the stage--this film is based on a play by Maxwell Anderson--but it's bad cinema.

Hell, most of the movie is bad cinema. Oh, the actors are good, though Richard Burton's Henry is entirely outshined by Genevieve Bujold's Anne and Irene Pappas's Catherine, and the supporting cast is mostly nondescript. For that matter, the palace intrigue is fun for a while and the costumes are gorgeous. But as cinema, this is dead on the screen. Embalmed, no less. It might as well be a filmed play. What should be glittering and ornate seems drab and utilitarian. And for a film that's chiefly concerned with sex, it's surprisingly sexless.

Bleh. In retrospect, I wish we had gone with the Kurosawa film, instead.

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