Saturday 03 January 1998
Director: Iain Softley
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache
There needs to be another term by which we might describe film adaptations of novels which mould, or reinterpret, the source text. With a picture like The Wings of the Dove, the credit "based on the novel by Henry James" just isn't appropriate - it suggests an almost logical progression, as though the ideas and themes contained within the novel were being taken up by the screenwriter in a kind of literary relay race, which isn't the case. You couldn't argue that The Wings of the Dove was faithful to its source in any conventional sense, though it displays another sort of loyalty; it feels like a dream about James's novel, rather than an adaptation of it, which is perhaps the only sensible way for a film-maker to approach this most famously interior of writers.
The picture shifts the action of the novel forward by eight years to 1910, which gives the director, Iain Softley, the chance to pull off some key scenes whose visual potency rests on locations and props specific to the era. The film opens in a seedy London Underground carriage, where the cluster of murky brown suits and bowlers is interrupted by the blue plumage on the hat worn by Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter). It may be that this bold effect is only a whisker away from having Kate trot in wearing a platinum wig and a badge proclaiming "Femme fatales do it in stilettos", but the brashness feels rude and devilish.
If Kate's entrance doubles for a statement of intent from Softley, then what follows feels like he and his screenwriter, Hossein Amini, are scribbling graffiti in the margins of the novel. Kate tempts her lover, the journalist Merton Densher (Linus Roache), into an elevator, where their clinch immediately punctures the taut sexual tension that is characteristic of James. As you watch Kate and Merton writhing behind the lift's iron shutters, it becomes clear that Softley and Amini are not prepared to be coy about the extent to which these characters are trapped by passion.
The film is full of images of imprisonment, self-imposed or otherwise. There are repeated shots of Merton being denied access to a woman who remains ensconced in her chamber. At the beginning of the picture, he is turned away from Kate's door, on the orders of her aunt, who wishes her to wed a more respectable suitor, as Kate watches from her window. Later, he receives the same treatment when he arrives to visit Milly (Alison Elliott), the dying American heiress with whom he has travelled to Venice as an unwitting pawn in Kate's get-rich-quick scheme. One of the final shots in the film is of Kate curled naked on Merton's bed, an image which might suggest rebirth if it were not filmed through the bars of the bedstead, transforming Kate's sanctuary into her prison.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Casper Van Dien
I giggled my way through Starship Troopers and, at the end, I still wasn't sure exactly what I had been laughing at. It's a broad spoof of war propaganda - an exercise in gung-ho-ho. It would be incorrect to say that the film works on many different levels, since it rarely works at all, though you might say that it is open to a baffling number of different interpretations. It appears to both celebrate and satirise the blond- haired, blue-eyed space cadets who are despatched from their futuristic fascist homeland to battle the Bugs - giant-killer arachnids bent on universal domination. The director, Paul Verhoeven, devotes much of the film to these cadets and their boring, competitive lives, ticking off a check-list of the components of teenage soap opera: the love triangles, the parental conflict, even the bland colours and prosaic camerawork. You don't care when most of the characters get sliced to ribbons in the second half, and Verhoeven doesn't want you to - it's just a big, perverse joke. You either go with it or you don't. And, even if you do, the movie can still leave you feeling lousy, like the worst sitcoms or fast food.
The Bugs themselves are agreeably nasty, lunging and jabbing with their scissor-blade limbs, swarming over the horizon like a platoon of Swiss Army knives. The battle scenes provide flashes of pure, vicious slapstick - when a Bug swallows a grenade, there's even a cartoon gulping noise on the soundtrack before the creature erupts, covering innocent bystanders in a mucous of bolognaise chowder. It's like hard-core pornography for Rentokil men.
WRITTEN ON THE WIND
Director: Douglas Sirk
Starring: Rock Hudson
If you are looking for something soothing after Starship Troopers, don't turn to the re-release of Douglas Sirk's intoxicating 1956 melodrama for comfort. It's something of a relief that they don't make 'em like this any more - if they did, we would all be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Robert Stack, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone and Rock Hudson are caught up in a tornado of rampant sexuality and scorching jealousy.
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