Saturday, February 26, 2011

Colin Firth or Clive Owen?

Bette Davis in the Letter.

Hmm. I'm watching The Letter, the 1940 Bette Davis vehicle based on the Somerset Maugham short story.

I've been reading a lot about this year's 2011 Academy Awards and the key media controversy: whether the King's Speech (a throwback to Old Hollywood kind of movie and a revisionist view of history with respect to the Royal Family) will win over The Social Network - a movie for our times - but also a rewriting 'history'- if you can call it that.

Both the King's Speech and the Social Network are examples of great storytelling and all great storytelling entails stretching, varnishing, embellishing the truth.

This Letter movie is part of Turner Classic Movie's 30 days of Oscar, it was nominated for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture.

This movie is an entirely forgettable venture (it ain't no Wuthering Heights, although it is William Wyler's signature flourishes and much like the King's Speech, it has only indoor sets: CHEAP to make, I guess). I'm also guessing that I am one of the few people who purchased it over Amazon this year. Me and a bunch of Bette Davis fans.

It's about the wife of a Malayan rubber planter who shoots her lover and tries to cover it up. It is based on a true story. And the real story (as least as printed in the local press, can be found in the Malaya Straits Times archives.)

I bought The Letter on DVD because I recently wrote a play about my own British grandmother's experiences as the wife of a planter in Malaya in the 20's and 30's and her internment at Changi Prison in Singapore in late 1941, when the Japanese overran Malaya on bicycles after Pearl Harbour.

First thing I noticed today, upon a second viewing: there's a problem with the dialogue. In one of the first scenes Davis's character tells the police that as a planter's wife, she is used to being alone. But then a little later the husband claims he has never spent more than one day away from her.

Apart from that... well, today, I found one point most interesting with respect to my grandmother's Changi experience. The lawyer defending Davis's character says at one point 'any respectable woman would have shot a man who was making advances..' they don't mention the word "rape".

I believe this really does reflect the thinking of the times. (And I guess that is all you can ask from historical fiction, some umbrella truths.) In the Double Tenth Trial, when the Japanese Kempetai is put on trial for torturing and sometimes killing certain European civilians, the real-life prosecutor for this trial suggests that the worse my grandmother suffered was having to sleep and go potty in front of men.

She was kicked and punched, threatened daily with beheading, and starved to within inches of death, and forced to sit cross-legged for 5 months in solitary confinement, but the worse thing she suffered was the indignity of having her feminity compromised by farting in front of members of the male sex.

The Prosecutor for this Double Tenth trial comes off as sexist. He suggests my grandmother has a good memory because married women are always vindictive.

(Of course, just recently in Canada, a Manitoba judge let a man get off with rape because the woman who was taken to the woods for the attack was wearing skanky clothing, a tube top and lots of makeup... (unlike the rest of us respectable gals who wear shirtwaist suits and corsets and niqabs.)

Ps. I saw a woman in a niqab in the Bellagio casino in Vegas. Why would a husband who believes that a woman should be shrouded in public go to Vegas? It's like my husband forcing me to go to Hooters, which he joked about going to, until I set him straight.

My play, Looking for Mrs. Peel, tries to stay close to the 'truth' which, of course, is always point of view. I 'm trying to do the same with Flo in the City. But it's probably not the way to go, as the King's Speech and the Social Network show.

This The Letter movie has the woman pronounced not guilty at trial, but I believe the woman in question was convicted, but the local Europeans raised such a ruckus she was allowed to leave. And that TRUTH tells alot about their clique back then.

Indeed, when I first found this stash of Nicholson letters I tracked down Canada's best selling author of YA history novels. She told me flat out: Forget the History. Go for the Story.

Hmm the elements of this post would make for a good essay, but I'm too lazy to plot it out, today.

And even I have been saturated with Colin Firth media stories. They all contradict each other anyway. That's the Hollywood publicity machine, I guess. The 60 Minutes King's Speech story was obsequious and not investigative in any way and didn't touch on the issue of the Royals and their iffy politics pre-1940, nor did it touch on Colin Firth's left wing advocacy, widely-publicized in England, his recent endeavor for the History Channel: Democracy is not a Spectator Sport. I wonder why? But it did reveal that he liked to play-act in kindergarten. Now THAT won't offend anyone in the US, will it?

I guess they are trying to get non urbanite, right wingers to go see the King's Speech. They are even taking out the swear words as if no one ever swears in front of kids.

I think I have to find someone else to adore. James McAvoy is just SOOOO young, although he clearly likes older women...So Clive Owen it is!