Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Out of Africa

So yesterday I watched a movie I'd DVR'd over the weekend "Out of Africa".

It was a movie I was pretty sure I'd seen before, but realized I'd only seen a few bits, and running at 2 hours, 45 minutes, I had seen only a snippet.

The story is based on the book and, roughly, life of Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Denisen), and her years living on and running a farm in Kenya from the mid 1910's to 1931.

The cast is led by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, who were revered (for right or wrong) during the 1980's in a way that is no longer in practice for a mass audience, although internet noise may be giving me a false impression, what with how many sites insist I love Megan Fox of Transformers fame. And it's not hard to see how Streep gained the reputation she's still riding, even when she partakes in more whimsical movies like "Mamma Mia!" these days.

The pacing is glacial, but still engaging. Director Sydney Pollack (whose only other work I've seen is "Tootsie" and "Jeremiah Johnson"), doesn't quite insist on the dreamlike state of a Terrence Malick movie, but lets the wide open setting of the African foothills and the years in which the story occurs dictate the pacing of the story.

The story shouldn't have been the sort of thing I would normally get wrapped up in. In many ways, its a domestic melodrama that happens to stretch over years among aristocrats acting as lords of the manor, pushing back against the march of progress. And, were I thinking of a paper to write in film school, most certainly one could have a field day comparing and contrasting Scarlett from "Gone with the Wind" and Karen Blixen.

Streep's Blixen, accurate or not, is a powerful character, and is most likely the sort of role actresses are seeking when they complain that there are no good roles written for women. What's daunting in our post-PC era is guessing how the relationships actually worked with the colonists and the folks already living on the land which they carved up. But the messy relations of the colonists, and especially Blixen's relationship with Denys Hatton are easy enough to buy into without the usual eye-rolling moments of romantic plots.

While watching the movie it struck me how seldom I take time for movies that don't star superheroes, robots, aliens and/ or gorillas. Maybe a good part of that is my intolerance for the movie crowds that I recall putting up with at the multiplex in Gilbert, Arizona when we'd go see movies like "The Aviator" (which I really wanted to see), or even a flashier movie like "Chicago".

I also made a comment to Jamie, as the movie was wrapping, that they really don't make movies like "Out of Africa" anymore. Jamie disagreed, and in retrospect, I have to agree with her. I just don't go see a wide variety of movies anymore.

I sent Jamie with Nicole to go see "Atonement" without me, but I honestly don't know how it stacks up. Sometimes its better to let the "epics" stand some test of time rather than walking into a movie that is desperately trying to emulate greater movies, and just doesn't really pull it off.

I was burned out by the "Upstairs, Downstairs" type films, and movies about crossing over class lines in British society that, really... Until someone has something new to say about the caste system of early 20th Century Britain, don't call me, I'll call you, "Gosford Park".

Your mileage may vary for "There Will be Blood" (Steven), but at least the movie unapologetically set its own pacing and wasn't afraid to tell a multi-year story. Curious that movies that are so formal in so many other ways from a technical standpoint are most often the ones that bend the rules of hard pacing Hollywood so adores.

And I'm not one to usually buy into epic love stories. Because I get terribly impatient with people I actually know in romantic entanglements, I really don't want to see two people pine for each other for 2 hours on screen. And maybe Blixen's direct approach to the romance in her story won me over for that exact reason. It makes the arc of the whole thing feel that much less like Hollywood machinery.

Perhaps as the fall begins to roll out "serious" movies, I might quit being The Grinch and try something a bit out of my comfort zone.

Jason will be delighted to hear lions appear several times in the course of the movie.


J.S. said...

I've actually watched this movie before, although it was quite awhile ago. And I DO like lions (which brings up the point that, as memory serves, you have to watch lions get shot in this movie, and I would have much rather seen the lions devour Redford and/or Streep).

The League said...

That would have made the movie about 2 hour shorter...

Meredith said...

Okay, so I admit, I LOVED, LOVED this movie....thanks for the trip down memory lane. Been too long since I have seen it. You're on a retro movie kick, League....this and Pump Up the Volume within a week? Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

You have restored my faith in your movie-going tastes (teasingly written).

But I completely agree with you about waiting to see how these modern "epics" shake out over time before plunking down cash. With kids, I have to choose my movies to see at the theater very carefully, since opportunities for Renata and me come rarely.

NTT said...

Out of Africa was an excellent movie. I don't think it was slow paced but more inclined to delve into showing the natural beauty of Africa.

Anyway, for the point that they don't make movies like Out of Africa anymore, Baz Luhrmann's "Australia" is coming out soon and it looks like it was carved with Out of Africa's script shell.

The League said...

yeah, NTT, its tough to express the sort of melancholic pacing of the movie, which, from what I read, is very much a part of the book. In the context of this movie, it was the best way to tell the story. Just let it unfold and let Africa settle in with the viewer.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for info on "Australia".

Michael Corley said...


I especially liked the comment "While watching the movie it struck me how seldom I take time for movies that don't star superheroes, robots, aliens and/ or gorillas" It is one I have often thought for myself. Were it not for JAL, I would not have seen 90% of the "cultural" movies I have viewed.

Anonymous said...

I'll be curious to see if Baz tones down his hyper-kinetic style for Australia.