Thursday, April 3, 2008

Deceased Artiste Anthony Minghella, a true film fan

The news that director Anthony Minghella died last week brought one film and one film only to mind: his brilliantly written big-screen debut Truly Madly Deeply(1990). Minghella of course came out of British television, and had acquired quite a nice resume before making the film, and went on to do a series of big-budget prestige theatrical features that didn’t inspire me to see them, adaptations of period romances like his Oscar pic The English Patient and the Civil War “chick flick” (let’s be honest, that’s what the talented Mr. Minghella wound up making) Cold Mountain. He did a redo of Purple Noon (The Talented Mr. Ripley), which I will get around to some day, but since Truly Madly, he only made one film as a scripter-director that was not taken from a major novel, Breaking and Entering.

But let me get to the point here, and rhapsodize about Truly Madly Deeply. The film received a damning-by-faint-praise label as “the thinking man’s Ghost” because the plots of both films were based around the same premise (woman is visited by the ghost of her dead boyfriend). Putting it plainly, Ghost is a pathetic sentiment-grab (with hokey plot twists and a positively painful cast), whereas Truly Madly is a well-written character study that really does boast a brain and a heart. Its plot is simple: its ghost character, a cranky but charming left-winger (Alan Rickman), comes back to this mortal plane to visit his living girlfriend (Juliet Stevenson, who is perfect in the starring role); she then, in turn, must decide if she'll "continue," so to speak, nursing her love for the spirit of Rickman or move on to a new, seemingly nice and genuine (but I felt way too cutesy) guy. The film presents a beautifully three-dimensional portrait of romantic love (with a whimsical supernatural element informing the whole scenario, of course). It is mostly set indoors and does have the feel of a BBC teleplay, but its writing and acting are incredibly good, so who cares? And when lovers are depicted professing their affection through The Walker Brothers’ gorgeously evocative Spector-esque hit “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” little more need be said.

Of course, there is one aspect of the film that demonstrated Mingehella’s fanboy love of the medium. Rickman’s character is primarily journeying back from the afterlife to love Stevenson once more (and complain, my man!), but he also returns to… watch movies with his pals! Minghella, who scripted and directed, came up with a filmfan’s worst nightmare: an afterlife that doesn’t have movies (or if it does, you can’t have a good old “video night” with friends up there). Thus, Rickman begins to bring his buddies back from the “other side” to check out his video collection… which his girlfriend has not been a perfect caretaker for (for shame!). When I saw the film, I was touched on a number of levels (and had been hoping to see a lot more of this kind of work from Minghella, but alas….). This inclusion of dudes journeying back from Heaven to check out their favorite movies was just too perfect, though, because I and most of my comrades all know we’d pass an astral plane or two to get back to some serious movie-watching.

Stevenson’s character quizzes Rickman about this at one point, asking why he only brings men back from the other side for his post-mortem video nights, and if I remember correctly he doesn’t have a response. We all know the answer, though, don’t we? As much as women can truly, madly, deeply fall in love with a pop phenomenon, more guys per capita can keep that fixation up for the rest of their lives (I can point to no more moving phenom than seeing our Funhouse hero Uncle Forry Ackerman meet up with his old buds Rays Bradbury and Harryhausen to discuss science fiction and the Mighty Kong — never ever were three seniors as young at heart as this inspirational trio of octagenarians). Minghella tapped into something really beautiful about cinemaddiction in Truly Madly…, in addition to all his other conclusions about the eternal power of love, and the need to every so often move on. I salute him for his connection to the fanboy experience, and for the choices thrown out by his back-from-beyond cinephiles (Chaplin, Woody, Rafelson, Herzog, not bad; I’m not a David Lean fan myself, but guys do indeed watch romances, yes they do — esp. if they’re in black and white). I present the clips below with a few stray video-rolls — but that is entirely appropriate.

I can honestly say that Minghella’s depiction of the afterlife was scarier to me than Our Town. Sitting on a chair on a hill (I know, I know, they’re in their graves, symbolically) being bored out of your gourd is one thing, but an afterlife without movies? That truly is a horrifying prospect. I do trust that Anthony was only teasing us movie buffs, presenting a very smart and witty comment on male fandom. If not, I hope he’s prepping a bunch of lads to come back down and commandeer someone’s video collection. I’m up for it. I say Five Easy Pieces first, then Fitzcarraldo, whaddya think?

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