Monday, June 30, 2008

Give us a smile, love

The Edge of Love is a valuable insight into what all the clever and important people were up to in the nineteen-forties while the ordinary, boring folk were risking their lives to defend an ideal.
It's that reassuring mix of navel-gazing, arrogance, solipsism, drunkenness, whining, joyless sexual experimentation, abortions, the occasional poem and lots more whining that characterises the British intellectual at his sparkiest and most vital.
Meanwhile, elsewhere: World War II.
It’s ostensibly about Dylan Thomas ("the other Dylan" according to the Rio Cinemas brochure, and "equally legendary", apparently) but come in late and you’ll soon forget that, since as usual the cast is made up mainly of youngsters done up like forties people, whose faces yell their complete inexperience and remoteness from anything like the kinds of situations enacted. The effect is a bit like when drama students dress up as Tudors at stately homes.
Whether it is factually accurate I have no idea, but I’ve heard little complaint about it on the grounds of inaccuracy and distortion, so we are left to assume that Dylan Thomas really was the ass he seems here, his ghastly wife even more so.
So let's start again. I went to see The Edge of Love because I am always interested in any film where Steve Wentworth is the floor runner. Then when I saw that, in addition, this one boasts the talents of Erin Graham as second assistant production accountant I knew it was a must.
Okay, you win. I give up.
It's got Keira Knightley in it.

Despite whatever anyone may say, we approve of Keira at this address. Why? Well yes, that too, but she does also have a proper movie star’s face and bearing, so (unlike for her desperate co-stars here) the usual rules about inhabiting characters simply do not apply. Just as it used to be, just as it should be, the star comes first, the character is merely the excuse to celebrate that face again, hear that voice again. It's the difference between actresses and stars. The point is that it's Keira. It's not a role played by Keira, it's Keira playing a role.

Why people seem to dislike her so much I haven't the first clue. I know so many women who hate her, and for so many weird, women-type reasons: too thin, never smiles, too arrogant-seeming, jagged teeth, thick eyebrows, sullen face you just want to slap... One of the reviews of this film likened her smile to a grinning pumpkin, another considered her a cross between Bambi and Tony Blair.
Even among men, you are as likely to get ‘too boyish’ or ‘too miserable’ as you are that grunt with accompanying hand gestures, unchanged since the days of mammoth hunting, by which the male of the species indicates approval. (And which I am trying to conceal within my sober prose.) Scarlett Johansson elicits this to a man; Keira often does not.
But I adore her; what can I say? I like her even when nobody else does. I thought she was great in Pride and Prejudice, great in King Arthur. I love those jagged teeth. I even sat through Atonement.
So this is all you really need to know about The Edge of Love: she is magnificently photographed, in hues that occasionally (and deliberately) resemble forties Technicolor. Her entire role seems to be a series of lush close-ups. She looks amazing. (Boring Dylan doesn’t even get a look-in for whole stretches, and the film drops dead every time it remembers it is supposed to be about him.) She speaks in a Welsh accent.
And she sings!
Blue Tahitian Moon, Maybe It's Because I Love You Too Much, Drifting And Dreaming... it all sounded pretty good from my seat, certainly good enough to justify her own vanity project album. (Few things are as delightful as a movie star's vanity LP, especially when the star in question has the audacity to really mess about, as Scarlett Johansson has just done: of all the things she could have made of that opportunity, a dozen Tom Waits covers delivered in a monotonal growl was not one I saw coming.)
Keira's own verdict: "I can't really sing... but once I started doing it, a sound emerged that wasn't too disagreeable."
I can confirm that not too disagreeable is exactly what it is. I know too disagreeable when I hear it. This is not it. This is Keira. Oh, throw a bucket of water over me, someone.