I watched an annoying movie; Reflections in a Golden Eye.
I had such high hopes.
It’s based on a novel by Carson McCullers. Ms. McCullers is one of my favorite writers. Her characters are quite “of the South”, even when she writes of New York City. Her characters are literate in their self-selected, tightly-bordered turfs. They are flawed, usually fatally, if not to themselves, then to the other people in their lives. The lands and times outside their intellectual stomping-ground plumb evade them…and they don’t care. This pococurante about foreign places and people and doin’s has evaporated in today’s wi-fi oversoul. Someone’s grandmother on a plagued ocean liner in Japan is our grandmother and we care deeply about her and forget to check in on our own. This is not a wicked thing, but I wonder how Ms. McCullers, if she were writing today, could keep her characters (and her readers) focused on the problems of a blind, small-town jeweler while Princess Meg is shopping for a wedding ring in Vancouver.
Ms. McCullers’ southern tales range from warm to hot in any way you’d like to take that. If you have not read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of Sad Café, or Reflections in a Golden Eye, I would urge you mosey with dispatch (no need to run, we’re in the South here) and do so.
This film is directed by John Huston. That should be guarantee enough for real good time. Depending on what day you ask me, his The Maltese Falcon might be my favorite movie. As far as establishing Mr. Huston’s greatness as a director, he could have stopped right there…but I’m glad he didn’t. The Man Who Would Be King, Key Largo, Night of the Iguana, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and The African Queen all bring my channel-surfing to a complete and completely happy halt.
The cast of Reflections features Julie Harris, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brian Keith.
So, with all this going for it, what’s so annoying?
Each scene in the film is shot in a golden haze except for one element of color in each scene. Essentially, that makes it a black and white film. I don’t mind black and white, but dark gold and light gold? Annoying.
Every shot seemed stretched beyond its value. At first, I thought the director was going for “languid”. S’okay, we’re in the South and it’s a McCullers tale. But soon the pacing became rhythmic and lugubrious to no redeeming benefit I could discern.
I had steeled myself for the horse-beating scene, but not adequately. It was more and longer than I was comfortable with (my problem perhaps, not the director’s).
Marlon Brando mumbled and whined incoherently. To be incoherent with words of Carson McCullers is a mighty waste in my world. I found this rivaling Brando’s worst performances and though I am a Brando fan, Lord knows he has a well-stocked swamp of stinkers.
The story is set in the 1940’s. Ms. Taylor caught the intent of her character with buxom gusto, but she looked as though she had just stepped over from a TV taping of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” (now there’s a cogent geezer reference).
So…what did I like about the film?
Brian Keith is really interesting and complex. He loudly and drunkenly man-splains to his fellow officers that polo produces better military men than the fields of Eton. He sits his horse well and rides with the wife (Taylor) of his fellow officer and friend (Brando) each afternoon through the woods to the blackberry bushes where he then is ridden by said wife. He is exasperated by the nervous frailty of his own wife (Harris) and is brought to blue lethargy by her death. It’s a load for an actor to bear and Mr. Keith handles it with aplomb.
Ditto for Julie Harris. Ms. Harris has an advantage here. She was born to speak Carson McCullers’ words. We want to root for her character, but when she’s given more visual evidence of the shenanigans of this military community than anyone else, Ms. Harris’ character draws one egregiously wrong conclusion after another and is as much to blame for the final debacle as anyone.
Elizabeth Taylor has a scene in which she describes the food she’s providing for her garden party. She does so with a childish relish (see what I did there?) Martha Stewart only wishes she could generate. It was delicious.
But I expected so much of the flick and it was overall…not so much.