Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keats much?

I’ve been a fan of Jane Campion’s work since The Piano hit the scene in 1993, when I was in college for the first time. Friends who knew me well insisted that I view that film; I think they wanted to see my reaction to the mixture of violence against a woman and her emergent sexuality. Campion’s Holy Smoke (1999), another favorite of mine, contained all sorts of psychological violence, that perpetrated against the character known as "Post-colonial India” through cultural appropriation, and that between the characters of the two main players, Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet. The only apparent violence in Bright Star seems to be the bizarre collars the heroine pleats for herself and wears to the military balls. In the opening credits, the filmography gives the pushing of a needle through thread an exquisite erotic tension. Overall, it’s pretty, but not achingly so. And slow. Still, eventually, like their love, it is absorbing.

An hour into the film, the butterfly scene beautifully captures what it might have been like as a genteel lady in the Regency period. John is in London and he writes Fanny a short love letter. Fanny responds, “I’ve begun a butterfly farm in my bedroom in honor of us.” Imagine: one minute you’re flying in a field, and then you’re stunned, and suddenly you wake up to discover yourself in a glass jar covered with cheese cloth tied over where the lid should be. Let out to fly around the bedroom, the butterflies are beautiful and panicked, and they stick to the ladies’ décolletage, when they do alight on anything in that shuttered, motionless, stifling bedroom. The scene ends with Fanny crouched on the floor, weeping, a cat chasing the fading butterflies. And finally, they expire en masse. Disembodied hands are seen sweeping their carcasses into a dustpan, and the glass jars are carted downstairs again, restored to the kitchen where they belong.

A little hagiography and the sonnet after which the film is named.

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,
Pillow'd 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 to death.