28 December 2015

Monuments of Future's Past

In the midst of Icepocalypse 2015: Midwest Edition - a lazy day and evening, featuring some bad-TV watching, some less-bad TV-watching, some reading, and a movie - some deep thinking about bad art has ensued.

There's evidently a movie called A Little Chaos - I think it's the 2nd in the Alan Rickman Rose Trilogy* (first was Blow Dry {dir. Paddy Breathnach}, unless I missed something).  On this new film (came out in 2015, who knew!?), Rickman takes the directorial reigns himself, and crowns himself king (Louis XIV).  My general rule regarding movies that pop up on premium cable, Netflix, or On-Demand, is that if you haven't heard of it, you can probably stay away.

In this case, I will say Chaos is worth an exception to my rule.  The premise of the movie centers on the construction of the Gardens at Versailles.  The silly premise has to do with a lady gardener (imagine that! in France, in the 15th Century!) who challenges the status quo at court.

I have not been to the Gardens (perhaps I will visit soon on my fancy new treadmill!), but the film had some anachronistic elements (and I apologize, i'm going from memory and sense here, not from rewatching) not in the plot but in the filming.  In the shots and composition. 

And those shots and that composition gets one thinking, not so much 500 or 600 years, but 500 or 600 years into the future, and legacy, namely, what we leave behind.  That is what A Little Chaos is really about.  Sometimes weather, and natural phenomenon give us a glimpse into this thinking.  Major events (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunami) can give us immediate and obvious examples of what the future may well hold.  300 years of "time equivalences" pass by in a matter of minutes or seconds or hours of destructive power. 

So too, even a bit of odd or strong weather, can offer us smaller glimpses if we know how to look.  Take a walk outside after there's been a sizeable blizzard or during a rain storm, or walk around on an extremely cold day for your area.  Watch the corners of your perception and see things (for it's mostly things you'll see, few people) anew.  There's an abandoned, moved on quality to them.  What folks you do encounter (not in your own neighborhood, mind you) will be over-warm or over-cold.  Warm because they're lost, and feel desperate lucky to have found ye (for some reason, this blog post is coming through in my head in Calla-speak, say thankya); cold because they feel desperate, and fear (oddly) that you plan to take what's his.

These are moments - interstices - when time has grown thin, and we can glimpse what this space might be like in 200, 500, 1,000 years.  We, in the U.S.A. are 10 years away from living in a country that is a quarter millennium old.  To us, this seems a surprising development, and quite a very long amount of time, and it feels natural, to us, to assume that while the USA of 500 or 600 years from now, may look very different, and be very different, the USA will be, naturally. 

We always build, always create, as if we are permanent.  What Rickman's little film helps us see through to, is imagining what these spaces of ours will feel like when they are existing in another world.  His King Louis was building a grand garden for a history of perpetual royalty.  Half way between that construction and where we stand today is the Age of Revolution, and the world changed unexpectedly. 

Just imagine what will be halfway to that next era, looking back at us... Or mayhap, we are that halfway point.

* The Rose Trilogy is an as-yet-completed (and unacknowledged) trio of movies starring (or possibly involving, depending on what we decide the 3rd movie is) Alan Rickman, where the image of the rose is invoked.  The 1st (again, unless someone has one I missed, and we can be done with searching) was the hairdressing competition movie, Blow Dry, in which Rickman reveals a long-hidden tattoo of a rose on the bottom of his foot.  In A Little Chaos, King Louis is sneaking about out of disguise, and runs into his gardener (Kate Winslet) - they discuss roses, and Kate later uses the Four Seasons Rose as a tet-a-tet to put the king in his place.

* * *

In a strange oddity of coincidence, I started this post in late December - when was actually holed up in blizzard! - and since, sadly, dear Alan Rickman has died.

For someone my age and filmic disposition, I doubt Rickman was a favorite actor**... But he was for certain a known actor, and perhaps even a well loved (or well despised) one.  He was Hans Gruber, the first fun terrorist of the 80s.  And he played the Sheriff of Nottingham in a Bryan Adams video vehicle film (but truly a coming of age piece for us cuspers). 

Rickman was a wonderful villain actor - later embodying all that we loved to hate about Snape - but it was in his smaller, simpler roles that I think he really demonstrated why he was truly great at what he did (he was an actor...).  The doofus husband that he plays in Love Actually is a perfect example - he's not a bad guy... he's just a schlub.  And when a schlub is offered the chance to be a stud, inevitably, he takes it. 

Rickman is an actor who embodies the (possibly apocryphal, and possible entirely made up by me) story that Harrison Ford tells about his early days in the business.  A big-shot (director? producer?) allegedly told Ford that he would never be a movie star, because he didn't have that star quality.  The big shot tells Ford that when Cary Grant (this name is grabbed at random, but it stands in for some household name actor from days of yore) first walked onto screen, even though it was just a small role as a waiter, Big Shot says, "you saw him walk onto screen, and you knew! right there, that There!, there is a movie star".  For deadpan (in my memory of this telling), "I thought the point was that when he walks on to screen you're supposed to say, 'there is a waiter'".

It is a good story, and characterizes Rickman's acting perfectly I think.  He wasn't always likeable, nor always laughable, nor always anything.  He was what he was meant to be.  And it's a shame to have lost his craft.  I am sorry for it.

** Since the dawn of J, I have felt that the concept of "favorite" was fraught.  I have never really thought that I have what I would call a favorite actor.  Although, JP once told me that Paul Bettany was his favorite actor, which struck me as an odd choice at the time, but the more I learn about Paul Bettany, and the more I encounter  him, I find it to be an inspired choice. 

1 comment:

joel said...

As i'm (re)-watching Rickman in is most recent famous role - Professor Snape - in the last few Harry Potter movies, i am reminded of what a talent we lost...

Snape is in a lot of ways a perfectly acted character in these films. He's dislikeable, but he's a teacher of children and children are of course, by nature, dislikeable. So he's also a suffering educator, but the annoying kind we all knew (except for those of us who were evil when we were young and allied ourselves with those locus of power). He kills Dumbledore, believably, but he is also an ally to the Order in the end (right?, sorry - it's been a long time since i've re-watched or read the Deathly Hallows).

Rickman thrives on both sides of this divide.

It's funny, the awards for acting (of which there are many - and some much less famous than the Oscars) are handed out fairly arbitrarily. The full feature award of "best actor/actress" is fine, but finding an award for "Best Moment" - a brief scene, where acting is highly affecting - seems like an unexplored option. Also, sustaining and developing a character over many films perhaps through many years seems also worthy of attention.