". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, November 12, 2011

*Angel*, Elizabeth Taylor: "Fashions Change. Time Is Cruel"

Angel (2007) a Francois Ozon film, adapted from the same-titled 1947 novel by English novelist Elizabeth Taylor (1912 - 1972).

“Fashions change.  Time is cruel.”  This is the epitaph pronounced by the publisher upon melodramatic Romance novelist Angel Deverill’s vast bibliography. When Angel begins to publish, around the turn of the 20th century she supposedly is 15 or 16 or 17. This, like much else is unclear as this is a Romance; such specific and mundane details are expected to be glossed over. She dies in the inter WW era, supposedly as in her old age but she looks the same, except frail and ill as she fades away regretted by no one but her faithful, aristocratic, perhaps lesbian retainer.

Trembling, exquisite hand of expiring Angel reaches tenderly up, the whisper in the ear, "You are the only one who truly loved me." How often had Angel finished her novels with those words and that scene! But o, the difference in what the scene meant in Angel's life.  Yet, they are true, for no one loved her truly and so passionately as Nora did all her life.

The Modern had nothing whatsoever to do with Angel, though the art produced by her aristocrat of a husband, a painter  and bohemian, exemplars of the Modern in art.  Angel, however, remains true to her vision of Romance all her life, in her novels, which no longer sell, and in her death.  This romantic vision not only lost Angel her husband, but kills her too, but not before wild success, the adulation of millions, millions in revenue, and wild passionate love.

This film presents on screen all the conventions of Romantic Fiction and the fantasy imagined by the readers of the author who writes such works, without changing a thing from the pages of such books.  Rather it presents all of it in concrete detail: this is a film that is about fabulous clothes, precious jewelry, lush, opulent interiors and settings that are as full of bad art, hangings, bibelots, pets, unlikely devotion of inferiors as the reader wishes for his / her own life. (Not to mention revenge upon the mandatory Mean Girls.) 

This Romance unavoidably falls into camp when presented on the screen, because the screen is lacking the passionate convictions of the writer, Angel, who marshals all these elements out of her own passionate imagination of desire. This is even more interesting because this highly reputed director marshaled a stellar cast that includes, but is not limited to, Sam Neil, Charlotte Rampling, with Michael Fassbinder as the Romantic Aristocratic lead. Unfortunately the Romantic Writer lead was given to the ever-grimacing and constantly unconvincing Romola Gerais.

This is a novel-to-screen adaptation that fiction writers of any kind should not be able to resist watching. More information about the author, from whose satiric book this film was made – the classic Virago author -- can be found here. 

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence then, that I watched this movie while waiting for the last installment of Paradise Postponed, since both are mostly shot in Buckinghamshire County, and neither of them have likeable characters that lend themselves to comfortable submergence of watcher's self into their bigger than life representations.  Indeed, Angel is so unlikable from start to finish that you believe in her, but not the way Angel herself believes in herself.  She is so selfish and self-centered you do not fault her mother for slapping her, and indeed, you really can't understand how her mother then comes and begs for her forgiveness for doing so.  But then, this is Romantic fiction, in which all who come in contact with the protagonist, for better or worse, fall under her spell, can never forget her and will always stand by her, no matter what.  It's those moments when we see outside of Angel's own vision that we can see truly, and see her for the monster she is -- one of those Magnificent Monsters of which Hollywood is so fond ... As I say, this is a very interesting film, which among other things is about the difference between how we, whether writers and artists or anyone else, see ourselves and our work,  and how others may or may not see us.

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