Thursday, February 2, 2012

Out of Africa (1985) Chat

Natalie:  After I marry Paul Newman, I'm going to marry Robert Redford
Tracy:  A solid plan. While young Paul Newman is busy walking around in a wife-beater, young Robert Redford can recite "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" whilst shampooing your hair. Swoon.
Natalie:  Best day ever.
Tracy:  In my mind that hair-washing scene was like twenty minutes long. It was one of the two things I remembered about the movie. The other was the end. I was surprised this time around at how much it reminded me of The English Patient--an ex-pat living in Africa who has all these issues with ownership, impending war, even a bi-plane, for God's sake.
Natalie:  I was SO surprised that the hair-washing scene was so short! That's really all I'd heard about the film--how wonderful and sexy that is but it's like 2 seconds long. I guess women have better imaginations. Yes! It did resemble EP a bit. I love how beautiful everything was. I don't have any desire to go to Africa but I could see film of it's nature all day.
Tracy:  It was gorgeously shot. And unlike other epics famous for their scenery (ahem, Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia), the landscape shots didn't feel self-indulgent. What did you think of the way the Western influence on Africa was metaphorized? I liked the way that on the one hand there's this seamless connection between Denys and the land, but on the other, he's constantly interrupting it with his guns, his plane that scatters the flamingos, his gramophone on the savannah, etc.
Natalie:  Right--there was a good reason for the scenery (Good god, Dr. Zhivago. THAT's one I'm not watching again). I liked the way it was handled. It seemed thoughtful but realistic. This is not a "white people solve racism" film and it doesn't shy away from the way some of the colonizers are racist, sexist, raging womanizers, entitled idiots, etc. So, while we're talking about that, the book brings up a point that we should chat about. It says, “[p]roduced as a memoir’s translation to big screen, Out of Africa also sidesteps charges of racism with fidelity to its source.” I’m not completely sure what that sentence means. 1. Yes, it’s an adapted screenplay (won an Oscar for that before that was the category’s name) but what does “produced as” mean? 2. The film would be racist if it were racist regardless of the source material and fidelity to it . . . . But I don’t think the movie is racist. I’ve not read the book but the movie seems to engage the complicated questions of race, ownership of people and things, imperialism, etc.
Tracy:  That's interesting. Yeah, I think the book seems to be suggesting that Pollack sidestepped any possible racism charges by saying he was just putting the words on the screen. But agreed--that doesn't excuse anything if it were racist. And I don't think it's racist either, but not quite for the same reason. For me, the movie didn't seem terribly interested in widening its scope beyond this woman's story, and her relationship with this man and this particular space. I agree that ownership is definitely at issue, but it seems the Africans themselves seemed largely unknowable, because they didn't want to be known completely by the colonizers. And the movie seemed respectful of that distance. Karen (never read the memoir, but movie Karen) definitely has for-real relationships with some of the Africans surrounding her, but I guess I thought the movie was smart not to try to be more progressive than the material or the people were. I mean, they weren't anti-racist crusaders, nor were they oppressors, so making them that way would be inauthentic and counterproductive. Does that make any sense?
Natalie:  It does make sense. And the issue of ownership is complicated and tied up with more than race because Karen owns all of this stuff and wants to marry Denys so she'll have someone "of her own" so the ideas presented in the film aren't solely tied to race, or gender, or any other multi-culti buzz word. It seems there may have been some charge of racism against the film and the book has failed to actually engage the argument. But, I think this is one of the most poorly written entries we've had to deal with.
Tracy:  They should have just stuck to writing about the shampoo scene. In any case, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a really  cool origin story for a writer--I loved the scene where she took that first sentence and ran with it.
Natalie:  Ha! They should have stuck with that. Instead, they fail to mention it altogether. I really enjoyed it, too. I liked the story and how it unfolded; I liked the scenery and the animals; I liked the story-telling aspect; I liked the romance. I did not like that Denys died. Why does no one ever tell me when people die?! I did like that the lions liked his grave spot and that someone wrote her a letter to tell her that.
Tracy:  And it kills me when she reads "To an Athlete Dying Young" at his funeral. It's a great romance. I love how it's totally clear why these two people would be into each other. Other than the whole young Robert Redford factor. Oh, I also want a little fuzzy owl as a pet.
Natalie:  Yeah, I was done at that point. But I didn't see him dying coming at all. Of course! It's clear from the first minute she picks up his books in his room while thinking she's flirting with the other guy. Um, yeah! That was a super cute fuzzy owl! I also liked the last scenes with the African who was closest to her--Farah? That she was going ahead to light a fire for him to follow.
Tracy:  Ouch. And of course it's right after his "you've ruined solitude for me" speech. Stupid movie. Stupid bi-plane. I loved that metaphor as well. I wonder if anything happened. It seemed fairly ominous that the last line of the movie was "Karen never returned to Africa again." Do you think we're meant to feel it was because that place was too tied up with Denys for her?
Natalie:  Of course! The "you've ruined solitude" speech has to be one of the most romantic things ever. Mmmmm. I didn't think about that--I was too busy trying not to cry about the damned lions on his grave. I think too tied up with Denys and too much upcoming change. With it being an actual colony, there would be more British influence and less of the Africans she loved and fought to get land for before she left and that's not the Africa she loves.
Tracy:  That's true. I've never read anything by her. I kind of want to now. Freaking lions on the freaking grave.
Natalie:  I was looking to see if I could find anything in her bio about why she never returned but couldn't. I've never read anything by her either.
Tracy:  So are we both on board the "keep Out of Africa" train? Though that sounds like some sort of command.
Natalie:  Ha! Yes! I'm on that train as long as I don't have to go from Denmark to Africa on a train.
Tracy:  Hah! No kidding!
Natalie:  With ALL of your possessions.
Tracy:  Knowing me, they'd still be in the Pod back in Denmark.
Natalie:  HA!
Mine, too
Tracy:   I'm excited about our Occupy 1001 Movies Book installment next week.
Natalie:  Yay yay yay! That's a funny name for it.

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