Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mr. Turner

Year 8, Day 258 - 9/14/16 - Movie #2,450   

BEFORE: I forgot to mention I was going to Atlantic City for a couple of days - and it's not that I couldn't have watched movies while I was there, I probably could have, but on the last trip I watched one film on my wife's laptop, and then the 2nd night I got locked out and didn't know her password.  It was easier at that point just to skip a night, and with 107 days left in this year and just 50 more films to watch, I'm fairly confident I can finish on time, and I can take days off here and there if I want to.  I've only got 6 films left in my September schedule anyway, before I take a break and wait for October 1.  

Timothy Spall carries over from "From Time to Time", and my euro-trend chain continues.  And I'm back on the topic of fine art, following films this year about Klimt paintings, Monet forgeries, Crumb illustrations and New Yorker cartoons.

THE PLOT:  An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life.

AFTER: I had this on a DVD with "The Invisible Woman", that film about Charles Dickens' secret love life - but that other film made it into the February romance chain, and this one didn't, and it was definitely the right call.  Because Dickens and Turner were two very different British people, with two very different approaches to life and love.  Both men were married and carried on secret affairs, but if the films are to be believed, it seemed like Dickens had some understanding of what love was all about, but Turner had a lot of issues, and settled for just getting it on.  All in all, he seemed like a big grump - a talented grump, but a grump nonetheless.

I wish there had been more about Turner's art here, maybe an explanation of his techniques, something that could help me place him between landscapes and the start of impressionism, a reasoning for working snuff or coffee grounds or other food-based items into his art (a fact which he was apparently maligned for by a local theater troupe) or why he felt that another artist's seascape needed a bright red buoy just THERE (which he was happy to provide, without the other artist's approval...).  Heck, I'd settle for just learning the politics of the art academy he presented his work at, how his paintings ended up in the back room during shows (gee, maybe it had something to do with his temperment...).  

But no, this film would rather depict how annoying and overbearing Turner's wife was, by way of explaining why he chose to live apart from her and their daughters, with a housekeeper who happened to be his wife's niece, but who he was also having relations with, from time to time.  Plus he frequently took the steamboat down to Chelsea, presumably to get inspired to paint more seascapes, but after renting a room there under a fake name, eventually had another long-term affair with the woman who ran the boarding house.  Oh, and he liked going to brothels, too.  

There's part of me that despises a character who has a lot of affairs, yet won't leave his or her marriage. But divorce was probably frowned upon back then - that doesn't justify the affairs, but it does help explain them.  (as does the wife's personality...)  Then there's another part of me that says, hey, this guy was a creative type.  Whatever he needs to do to keep his creativity alive, that's part of the process.  To feel the art, he's got to experience life, and that means being as alive as possible.  That doesn't really justify the affairs either, but it's something.  I think I go back and forth on this point a lot.  

Look at the celebrities of today, at a time when divorce is more acceptable, and after the "free love" era, as a species, we're more confused than ever.  It's rare when high-profile marriages last for a long time, heck, it's probably rare for any marriage to last for a long time.  But people still get married, because so many people believe that it's the best way to be happy, or at least content.  But others have come to terms with never getting married - hey, if you never get married, you never have to get divorced - and other people get married five or six times before they're done.  Keep trying until you get it right, I guess.

EDIT: Ah, a little research informs me that J.M.W. Turner never married - the woman seen in this film was his friend's wife, who claimed that he was the father of her daughters.  Whether she did this just to get money out of him is unclear, but the fact that he allowed them to visit clearly suggests the possibility that they might have been his daughters - in other words, he slept with his friend's wife.  And he was also sleeping with his friend's wife's niece, who was his housekeeper.  The movie didn't really make all of this clear, but at least this explains why Turner said to another character that he was not married and had no children.    

But this film unfortunately never rises above being a series of (mostly) disconnected vignettes, without a consistent narrative or a coherent point to me made.  So Turner did this, Turner went here, Turner slept with these women.  So what?  It feels like someone forgot to tell me why any of this is important, or why I should bring myself to care. 

Also starring Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johnson (last seen in "Copying Beethoven"), Ruth Sheen (last seen in "Vanity Fair"), Lesley Manville (last seen in "The Theory of Everything") Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Martin Savage, Richard Bremmer (last seen in "Les Miserables"), Mark Stanley (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Jamie Thomas King (last seen in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), James Fleet (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (last seen in "Shadowlands"), Clive Francis, Robert Portal (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), Simon Chandler (also last seen in "The Theory of Everything"), Edward de Souza (last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me"), Patrick Godfrey (last seen in "The Importance of Being Earnest"), Karina Fernandez, Kate O'Flynn, Joshua McGuire (last seen in "About Time"), Peter Wight (last seen in "Pride & Prejudice"), Sinead Matthews (ditto), David Horovitch.

RATING:  4 out of 10 pig heads

1 comment:

  1. I saw this one when it was in theaters. About ten or fifteen minutes in, I couldn't help myself any more and started to laugh. Every line of Spall's dialogue, and every exchange:

    "Mbwaw hr. Rwmmmm mfff HAWlrmmnn?"

    "Nawww. Chff browmbrrrmm."


    Between the thick British accents and the persistent mumbling, I thought this movie had a shot at the Best Feature Film In A Foreign Language.

    "A series of disconnected vignettes" is a good way to describe "Topsy-Turvy," also by Mike Leigh. He's famous for utterly immersing himself and his cast in the lives of these figures and what the world was like during those times. Subsequently, I often feel like the story can only be understood by the people who made the film. They're the only people who did all of the required reading. I liked "Turner" and loved "Topsy-Turvy," but I needed to see these movies a few times before I understood what the hell these people were talking about.

    Re: marriages Back Then. I don't know if creative types, particularly, just were On The Go and Ready For It at all times or if the 1800s were just the Century Of Free Love. It seems like whenever I read a little more about an 19th century artist, I inevitably get to the part where he has the affair or affairs.

    I get the impression that marriage had a couple of different levels back then. There were marriages in which the wife accepts that her husband is going to sleep around, and only demands that he be discreet enough that he's not humiliating her in the eyes of society. Also, in an era where women had almost no power and divorce was stigmatized, a wife was well-motivated to settle. The relationship is downgraded to "friendly companionship" and the two might even live separate lives most of the year.