Wednesday, September 04, 2013

"The Bostonians": 1984 film of Henry James novel will keep high school "kids" busy

It’s “back to school” in northern Virginia (and everywhere), and the Merchant Ivory 1984 period drama “The Bostonians” made me imagine I was subbing again for a long block period, perhaps in front of an AP English (junior year, American literature), or American History class.  A teacher could ask the “kids” to compare the Henry James novel to the movie.  Remember all those reading quizzes and video worksheets?
In the 1870’s, Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve, outside his Superman role and long before his injury), a conservative lawyer from Mississippi, meets feminist speaker Verena Tarrant (Madelaine Potter), when his cousin Olive (Vanessa Redgrave) takes him to a political meeting.  Basil gradually falls in love with Verena, to the dismay of Olive, who mentors Verena. 
The various speeches and discussions do brush against the way men feared women’s suffrage – their fear that women would not “need” them.

The music score is glorious.  The film opens with a pipe organ playing “America the Beautiful” and “God of our Fathers”.  (It reminds me of the conclusion of “A Canterbury Tale”.)  Music from the Brahms German Requiem appears, as does a prelude from Wagner’s Lohengrin, and a Mendelssohn Song Without Words.  In the climax sequence, another lecture, the organist plays a transcription of Von Suppe's "Poet and Peasant Overture", which does sound strange on the organ.  It was a favorite record early in my life.  

Wallace Shawn (“My Dinner with Andre”), Linda Hunt (“The Year of Living Dangerously”) and Jessica Tandy also star.

James Ivory also gives a brief talk on the DVD (Criterion), about going independent, and he mentions the subtle possible lesbianism in a couple of scenes.

The film is a nice one to watch soon after "The Butler".     

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