Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bright Star, Romantic Posters, Mad Men

Despite the title of this post, I have done a reasonably good job of keeping my own internal hype down to manageable levels when it comes to Bright Star : The Return of Jane Campion. Maybe it's because I don't know a lot about John Keats (Ben Whishaw) the poet and I know nothing about Fannie Brawn (Abbie Cornish) his lover. But the poster is not helping me with expectations because I'm a sucker for a good doomed romance.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art---
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors---
No---yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever---or else swoon in death.
-John Keats.
If I know my Jane Campion films I also think it's fitting/clever that Abbie Cornish is the top in this relationship (visually speaking). If you look at the general iconography of romantic movie posters, this poster is fairly unusual. There are only a handful of templates, with three popular options: the lovers are separated by lines or boxes, the lovers are paired somehow as equals and the most popular which is that the lovers are pictured in some sort of embrace with the man on top or higher in your field of view. Some of this is merely due to size, men being taller. Some of this is due to billing, men often getting top placement even if they aren't as famous (for example: James McAvoy's higher billing than Keira Knightley for Atonement before he ever had a hit of his own -- she'd had a few)...

...but since everything involved with movie marketing is a carefully considered choice, some of it has to be a matter of decades of subtly ingrained and probably unconscious sexism about whose in charge of relationships. For instance, I love that even when movie posters leave reality out of the picture altogether (faces floating in clouds like Up Close and Personal) -- the lovers are still obviously in missionary position. Ha!

My favorite man on top poster is an old classic Splendor in the Grass (1961). I love how hysterical the text is and how it foregrounds the fear/danger of female sexuality that's totally obvious in so much of cinema (an artform that's still mostly a man's domain). But, then again, I've been rewatching Mad Men Season 1 in marathon form so gender roles, social expectations and gross inequalities are totally foregrounded at the moment. I'm seeing them everywhere! That show is so, so brilliant. And, TA-DA! it's totally Splendor in the Grass's contemporary. It's easy to see why Deanie (Natalie Wood) went so crazy in that film. It wasn't just small town Bud (Warren Beatty) she had to worry about. Plop her down into the big city and the swarming mad men would have broken her, too.

I bet this would make a great double feature

P.S. The Bright Star website is quite ethereal and interesting

P.S. 2 Though I have this film pretty high in my current Oscar charts I waver continually about my confidence in that projection. I'm far more interested in this film for cinematic reasons (Campion) than for Oscar ones (biopic/romance). Bright Star is currently expected to open in limited release in mid September.


Mikadzuki said...

You don't think this recurring poster motif is merely a representation of who's "physically" (rather than actually) in charge? I can't speak for the girls here, but isn't it the traditional fantasy preference of women to have an imposing presence of a leading man who sweeps the girl off her feet, rather than someone femininely recoiled? Just a theory.


femininely recoiled? those are the options!?!!?

DJ said...

Bright Star is my most anticipated of the year... for Keats (his life is tragic and his poetry amazing.. some say he could have been better than Shakespeare)... and for the romance. I think I'm anticipating this more than you, Nathaniel. :)

Mikadzuki said...

I meant that the "man on top" motif might give the impression of the first, and "woman on top" might five the impression of the second. And if it's a passionate kiss/embrace, well aren't those the only options?


i suppose. but that's why i found the poster so immediately interesting. you just don't see actors paired that way very often.

this just in Abbie Cornish is nearly as tall as Ben Whishaw! i just looked it up ;)

mrripley said...

i think this will be forgotten come awards season.

MB said...

James McAvoy got higher billing on Atonement because Keira Knightley specifically requested it. Her contract gave her top billing, but she thought it would be wrong.


EricY said...

I saw this movie at the NZ Film Festival (Auckland) and I must disagree with mrripley that the movie will be forgotten come Oscar season. Sure, it's Sept. release date does not help things, but I assure you that there will be at least nominations for cinematography, artistic direction, and costume design. Abby Cornish really is a surprise for me, as I was not a fan of hers before this movie. Her performance is subtle and quiet throughout the movie until the end and what an emotional ending it is. However, judging from the buzz that Carey Mulligan has gotten for An Education, I think Mulligan will end up killing Cornish's chances, as I don't think the Academy will nominate more than one young, non-American actress. Going back to the original topic of this discussion though, I think the poster is quite lame, almost Twilight-esque, and really does not do the movie justice.

Hayden said...

In response to the Comment du Jour:

Wasn't it only about two years ago that everyone was applauding the quality of Best Actress in a Drama Series and how, give or take Mariska Hargitay, the lineup was a solid list of acclaimed women in tailor-made roles promoting strong female characters? Can you really blame Emmy for adoring those "usual suspects"? (or SAG, or HFPA?) I must be the only person who still lets out a little "hee" when I see Close, Field, Hunter, and Sedgwick in the same category for such stellar work. It wasn't long ago that EVERYONE was thrilled by this category. Hmph.

Stella said...

What can I say, Nathaniel, my heart leaped when I entered your blog to see the Bright Star poster. Being a huge fan of Ben Whishaw and Jane Campion (haven't seen Abbie Cornish in much but I've heard that her performance in the film is award-worthy) I am absolutely psyched for this film. Bright Star people, TRAILER PLEASE!

Arkaan said...

I don't think the Academy will nominate more than one young, non-American actress.

How are you defining young?

2003: Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, Kiesha Castle Hughes
2004: Kate Winslet, Catalina Sandina Moreno
2005: Kiera Knightley, Charlize Theron
2006: Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz
2007: Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page (yes, I'm cheating here)


I'm not a fan of Campion so much, so the reasons I'm looking forward to this are Ben Whishaw and Paul Schneider(terrific actors).

That poster is entirely too typical, though I do like how lush it is. Doesn't come close to the English Patient poster Nate included, though.

EricY said...

Arkaan, I think you've made a good point. I guess to be more specific, I feel that both Cornish and Mulligan would be deemed as "newcomers," by the academy, even though Cornish has been around for a few years. I just feel it's less likely that the Academy would honor foreigners who have yet to really make a name for themselves in the "industry." Charlize, Naomi, Kiera, Penelope all had "paid their dues" before they got their nominations. Keisha and Catalina would be the only ones out of the names you mentioned that could be considered as surprise, non-American newcomer nominees. But notice how in their respective years, Keisha and Catalina were the only young non-American newcomers among all the nominees?

Anonymous said...

Arkaan has all the right. Eric thank you for your review and I still waiting for the release of the film, especially because I love Jane Campion, but I think you understimate Cornish chances. ;)

AMPAS LOVES young actresses, even there're years where all the actresses had less than 35 years old!!! (Or at least in the media age). I remember 1965 (Julie Christie) *Four of the nominees were non-American (Three British and one French), 1970 (Glenda Jackson) 1993 (Anna Paquin), 1999 (Angelina Jolie / Ex: Keener) and 2003 (Charlize Theron / Ex: Diane Keaton) *Again Four are non-American, including Samantha Morton*

mrripley, why did you said this film will be forgotten at the end of the season, especially when the film has the perfect Oscarable qualities? Tragic love, Epic production, Biopic element and Raves since Cannes. I think this would be this year's Atonement

Anonymous said...

Ups, sorry Eric I didn't read your last post :P

Hugh said...

I saw it at the NZIFF here in Auckland too, and didn't think much of it apart from Abbie Cornish's performance--she was as great here as she was in "Candy".

I'm not sure I like the poster that much, it seems too much like a DVD cover for my liking, too... simplified? The website's cool though. I certainly don't expect it to be forgotten come awards season; as EricY said, it'll get cinematography, artistic direction, and costume design noms at least.

Emma said...

The Mad Men posters are all BRILLIANT. I need to watch the show.

cal roth said...

This movie is so The Wings of The Dove Oscar-wise.

TheMedwenitsch said...

Oh, I just saw Splendor in the Grass the first time yesterday. What a great and interesting (though uneven) film!
And Natalie Wood! Oh, Natalie Wood!

Sam Brooks said...

I saw this at the NZFF as well, and really liked it. It's definitely a shoe-in for a Costume win for the 'most costumes = best costumes' award. Fanny changes costumes literally EVERY scene.


Brooke -- good to hear. I like a clotheshorse film.

and lord knows Campion's most famous heroine Ada (The Piano) didn't really get to indulge in the fashions.

lynnP said...

Really looking forward to Campion's Bright Star when it hits theaters this fall. It's great to see her back in the director's chair, and the visuals of the film look stunning. If you haven't seen the official trailer, you can find it here: