Wednesday, April 10, 2013
"Amelia" film has weight of knowing the outcome
We have historical novels in the field of literature. They can take license in the handling of facts. "Artistic license" ensures there's a captivating story line and interesting characters. The fundamental facts are left intact. A story that strives to follow history literally can be interesting too. As they say, "truth is stranger than fiction" (or can be).
The movie "Amelia" strives to be true to history. The 2009 release reminds us that "aviatrix" is a term.
I'm not sure the movie was necessary. At least, not in the way it was made. The movie could have told us more about what was happening in the 1930s, not just in America but the world. Amelia Earhart died in 1937 as the world was hurtling toward war. That's bad enough but keep in mind America had its own calamity to deal with, that being our teetering economy. It was of course the decade of the Great Depression.
David Stockman is telling us we could be hurtling toward the same crisis today. He's out with a book called "The Great Deformation." We'll see.
In the 1930s we had the "America First" movement which asserted we'd be just fine if we kept our distance from the world's problems. Aviator Charles Lindbergh was very high-profile with the "Firsters." American history has learned to soft-pedal the Firsters and the sentiment they represented. It seems laudable, really, wanting to avoid conflict. But Japan poured gasoline on things. Finally we were in World War II with both feet.
Amelia Earhart's prime was when issues of gravity were felt around the globe. The Japan-China War started in July of 1937. The movie "Amelia" might have been illuminating in many ways. Instead it rather obsesses on the individual Amelia Earhart with an actress who I guess was supposed to fascinate us with her physical resemblance. The novelty of that was exhausted after a few minutes. I could never look at Hilary Swank without seeing Hilary Swank - know what I mean? I wanted to see Amelia Earhart. I guess this means I had a hard time suspending reality. It just seemed like a formulaic biopic.
Earhart is of course famous for having vanished at the end. Thus we have the endless speculation, conspiracy theories etc. Watching a movie about Earhart is exactly like watching any of the Titanic or King Kong movies. Critics needn't worry about plot spoilers. Everyone knows the profound tragedy that is felt at the end. Thus there are limits for how much we can enjoy such a movie.
The biopic about bandleader Glenn Miller - remember Harry Morgan as the pianist? - avoided much of the pain at the conclusion. That's because we saw Miller's plane at takeoff only. He shoots a wave out the window, smiling. We know the rest of the story. We don't see it. (CW today suggests it was friendly fire: an abortive bombing raid.)
With "Amelia" we're dragged through the extended time as the aviatrix and her floundering "navigator," an alcoholic, soar over the Pacific Ocean, no destination in sight. We know there's no hope for them. We're forced to visualize the grim facts of their end.
The movie could have ended at takeoff, not just for this leg of the flight but the whole thing, when optimism and joy were high, never mind there was a reckless element that actually was present in much of Earhart's flying.
The end of the movie could have been a collection of scenes showing how adventurous and pioneering her life was. It was a time when women didn't have a lot of latitude. Society had narrow parameters. Major league baseball was still all-white. World War II would showcase the Tuskegee Airmen. Alas, the movie "Red Tails" didn't get much better reviews than "Amelia."
Roger Ebert's review of "Amelia" was actually more favorable than most. Ebert died just days ago. His review of "Amelia" reminds us that the aviatrix was the first person after Lindbergh to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean. He felt the "period detail" was good. He reminds us that Earhart didn't carry the kind of baggage that "Lucky Lindy" did, as the male hero was "chummy with the Nazis." Yes, this was in the time leading up to the war.
Ebert reminds us that the major biopic about Lindbergh, made in 1957 and starring Jimmy Stewart, was flawed. This movie was "The Spirit of St. Louis." Frankly I couldn't buy Stewart as Lindbergh. The movie focused too much on the long flight when it could have revealed more about "Lindy" the man, Ebert felt.
Filmmakers might have had a problem with Earhart in that her life was "generally happy," according to ol' Roger. Thus there is a "lack of drama." Her final flight might be seen as dripping with drama except for one thing: We all know how it turns out. Earhart was attempting a circumnavigational flight. She was aboard her Lockheed Model 10 Elektra. She and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific near Howland Island.
I was fascinated to learn (through Wikipedia, not the movie) that her mother, Amelia "Amy" Otis Earhart, lived until 1962.
One movie critic employed some lame cleverness in saying "I wish biopics like this would get lost at sea." I share the sentiment but don't endorse the word choice. It's ditto with the movie "Pollock" (about artist Jackson Pollock) which I have also written about. Pollock like Earhart dies in a tragic incident. With Pollock, much of the general public wouldn't know about that. But Earhart's disappearance may truly be the most celebrated (as in focused-on) mystery of U.S. history.
"Amelia" suggested that the heroine sort of stumbled through her commercial obligations, as she built her profile in part to get the funding she needed. Reality suggests she took like a duck to water with the commercial and self-promotional stuff. She wasn't so innocent. She was married to a professional promoter.
The movie teases us with two rather oblique scenes that make us wonder if she's a lesbian - who cares? Today we accept such facts in stride. No titillation. It's really none of my business.
I see Swank reciting lines that seem stiff and contrived. It's as if such lines might have been written in a high school drama class. "Let's make Amelia look independent and free-spirited." The image could have been presented in a more understated way, through her actions as much as through her script lines.
A reviewer with "News Blaze" pointed out this shortcoming nicely, asserting that Swank seemed to "self-consciously channel the stilted speech of Katherine Hepburn." This reviewer's name is Prairie Miller. He further states that this movie "barely skims the surface of her life and time." This reiterates what I was asserting early-on in this post, that a panorama of disturbing history could have been shared and been instructive. Like me, Mr. Miller cites "world wars and the Depression."
Reviewer Dennis Schwartz summed up the flick as a "formulaic star-power biopic."
I might be the only reviewer who suggests that Christopher Eccleston as Noonan might have given the most genuine performance. He's an ordinary Joe who shows up with a job to do. Unlike all the other actors in the movie, he doesn't have to put on any special airs. All the other actors have to project such gravity. I'm sure all those other people (as portrayed) felt the usual combination of fears and thrills in their lives. They should have let their hair down.
The dirigible "Hindenburg" exploded in 1937. The Glenn Miller swing band debuted in New York. (Stewart and June Allyson starred in the spot-on biopic.) Social Security was getting formed in 1937. The clouds of war were horribly ominous. Shirley Temple was captivating America.
It's too bad we didnt' get a better flavor of the decade from "Amelia."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org