reflections on Films About The Secret Love Affairs of Famous People Who Couldn’t Be Together Because One of Them Died (ie. ‘diana’ was disappointing because it wasn’t ‘bright star’)

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see the awkwardness?!?! in this still alone, you can already tell, omg, this film (and i’m being vair vair generous in calling it that) is going to go places i do not want to go. and you would be right. because it goes there. slooooooooooooooooowly, but go it does.

so my friend and i rented diana a few weeks ago (renting = best.life.choice.ever. for the love of hasnat, DO NOT buy this movie!!!) as part of our tour de cinematique de londres.

DIANAcoming, as it did, on the heels of pride and prejudice (1995) and the cinematic MARVEL that is camilla & charles: whatever love means, diana– predictably- did not live up.

so what did it do?

well, firstly, it created the impression that people of the muslim faith only ever speak in direct quotes from rumi. for reals. i would not be surprised if the script-writer sat before a computer screen trolling this website to answer the question, what will hasnat say next? 

as a result, hasnat says a lot of things like love is a garden… i was dead, then alive… i cannot sleep in your presence… in your absence, tears prevent me. which is all lovely and beautiful when it is poetry and totally absurd when it is the only dialogue allowed a character we are supposed to like.

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this would be like me trying to seduce someone while only ever speaking in quotes from john donne. seriously, how sexy is it when someone quotes literature, like, A LOT? i ask that as an english major and tell you that- even as someone who memorized the poetry of cassius clay to impress boys- i know it is not.

so that’s not great. also not great? the fact that diana wishes it were directed by david lynch. there are these inexplicable silences throughout, spaces where we are, presumably, meant to find meaning. spaces that would be at home in a more serious movie, a movie that wouldn’t be so at home on the hallmark channel but which, because this movie is so empty, only serve to reenforce that emptiness and leave cavernous room for laughs.

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while i wouldn’t recommend you watch diana, it does have that car crash quality, much like valley of the dolls, where- just watching it- you can tell the people engaged in its making thought they were producing QUALITY work. the performers are visibly reaching into their souls to convince us that their love IS like a garden. it’s a rather tantalizing effort precisely because it’s an effort invisible in well-acted films.

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which, through my juxtaposition of the above photographs, brings us to bright star

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have you seen bright star???

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mind you, it is GUTTING. absolutely gutting. but it is also, i would argue, the most successful effort in this genre i’ll just call Films About The Secret Love Affairs of Famous People Who Couldn’t Be Together Because One of Them Died.

bright star is about the secret love affair of john keats and fanny brawne, who couldn’t be together because he died.

it’s got pretty in the form of fashions…

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COLLARS, omg.

and more pretty…

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in the form of my gay boyfriend ben whishaw, who is, as ever always, incandescently amaze here.

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would that MY hair were so resplendent. (having said that though i realize it has maybe gotten away from him in the above photo and veered dangerously towards bernstein territory…

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right?!?!)

bright star is beautiful and amazing and, did i mention?, GUTTING. but it also excels at those little spaces which failed so spectacularly in diana.

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quiet moments.

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which work, in part, because bright star, on the whole, is a quieter film. in diana, the noiselessness is imposed upon moments that are clearly not quiet (i think they nearly all occur in moving cars), as though the director couldn’t afford the sound engineer and so made strategic cuts.

but life is comprised of quiet moments. so the makers of diana, guilty of many many sins, weren’t wrong for including them. where they erred was in assuming that such an unreflective film could carry the burden of such introspective moments. it couldn’t. bright star can.

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is this a matter of subject? does the life of john keats automatically elicit more seriousness?

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is diana’s only option to be a chick flick? (srsly, watching it, i kept expecting the soundtrack of a sex and the city movie to come blaring along.)

naomi watts swore she gave her all to diana. so why is it so cheesy, so awful? i assume it’s because we’re in an awkward period: the events of 1997 are distant enough to be compelling and yet we’re too near to tell the story well.

throughout the film, i was distracted by diana’s pants. because they were the horribly ill-fitting pants i’d worn in 1997 and, in contemplating her life, i hadn’t expected to confront my own sartorial calamities of sophomore year.

tapered leg jeans. historically inaccurate because diana was wearing cropped pants by this point, but still…

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TOO SOON! which is maybe the problem with the whole thing. there are stories that cannot be told well until time has passed. until then, there’s primitive stabs at meaning-making, which are awkward, at best, and ugly, at worst. much like tapered leg jeans.

One thought on “reflections on Films About The Secret Love Affairs of Famous People Who Couldn’t Be Together Because One of Them Died (ie. ‘diana’ was disappointing because it wasn’t ‘bright star’)

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