On Sylvia

After seeing Sylvia last week, I thought I wouldn't write about it again; I couldn't make it to interview Christine Jeffs, the director, and I posted in August about John Brownlow's extensive discussion of the challenges in writing the script (two crazy poets, one suicide, no rights to use the poetry itself in the film, etc etc.).

Besides, Anthony Lane used the best line, the only line I wrote down during the screening, in his New Yorker review: "'You must think Im a stupid American bitch,' she says to a kindly old neighbor in London. 'Not at all, my dear, he replies. 'I assumed you were Canadian.'"

But something's been on my mind. The characters and acting in Sylvia were as restrained as Brownlow sought, a tribute to him and Jeffs (as well as the actors, of course). If they were a paint, they'd be suitably matte-finish.

But they're in a super-high gloss movie. Literally. The film was production designed within an inch of its life. (Oops. Sorry.) Every dingy tenement wall has dazzling, limpid pools of light dancing across its mirror-like finish. Paltrow's wardrobe was as stylized and meticulous as Far From Heaven. And there were passages in the film where the classical soundtrack was simply overwhelming; it ranks right along the incessant jazz "background" music in The Thomas Crown Affair which finally rendered the movie unwatchable for me.

It's as if Jeffs was able to pare down some aspects of this wrenching story-- namely, the script and the acting-- but either lost confidence or was overruled on others. Or maybe the ultra-lush imagery and melodramatic music is meant to mitigate the utterly depressing story. Whatever it is, it doesn't stick together any better than Ted and Sylvia themselves.

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: October 14, 2003.

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