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Mastery of Merchant Ivory

In an attempt to blog more, I’m looking back at a blog post that I startedΒ just over a year ago.Β A bit embarrassing to realize that I never posted it, but why not do so now, with some more context added?

A year ago, the Merchant-Ivory classic filmΒ Howard’s End appeared at The Maple Theatre in Bloomfield, Michigan, for a one week re-release celebrating an impending 25th anniversary and digital restoration. Somehow I learned of the screenings, probably thanks to my regular scouting of film listings and moviegoing itself serving as a stress relief at that particular time.

I recall being retrospectively impressed by the film’s use of scale, most notably seen in the lush cinematography and music score. Most of the central cast – Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter and others – felt like they are not as active in the present day, or more selective about their projects (probably a mixture of both) and so looking back at their previous work felt especially revelatory.

The theatre itself – one of my favorites in the metro Detroit area – contributed to my enjoyment as well, where it only has three screens with carefully crafted film choices and isn’t oriented towards mass market entertainment.

Howards End

It feels a bit funny to say that The Remains of The Day was one of my favorite films as a kid … but it was. Somehow I never got to see its immediate Merchant Ivory cinematic universe predecessor Howard’s End all the way through as a whole film … until today at The Maple Theater, which is screening it as part of a special limited run re-release.

I’d forgotten how intricate the Merchant Ivory world was, with elements bursting out of the frame and suggesting a wider visual and active world beyond the story. Such depth was particularly apparent in this narrative, with three parallel stories intertwining, intersecting and then branching out into their own narratives.

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Theatrical Throwback: The Year Of Magical Thinking

For this now – erratic series, this week I recall a play that attracted attention near the end of the 2000’s, but currently seems like it had its moment and will be “rediscovered” at some point down the road.

I came across Joan Didion’sΒ The Year of Magical Thinking book in San Luis Obispo at some point in 2008, and can’t recall exactly what drew me to the story. Perhaps some wry acknowledgement of the New Yorker – Angleno’s observations from coast to coast while I was developing my own. Or an awareness of the then in – development (or recently opened?) stage version starring Vanessa Redgrave. I recall being taken with Didion’s prose and the intense story of losing both her husband (suddenly) and her daughter (gradually) over the course of a year.

I had the chance to see the stage version for myself sooner than I might have expected, at the end of a holiday trip home to Massachusetts in early 2009. A family friend and I met up at Boston’s Lyric Stage Company to catch their version of the production, starring North Shore local actress Nancy E. Carroll.

I don’t recall being especially enthralled by the production, given the downer subject matter, but I do think it was a rare example of monologue – based theatre, and a great opportunity for an actress to dive into sensitive, rich material.

Indeed, Redgrave suffered an unfortunate parallel of losing her daughter Natasha Richardson either while or soon after she was working on the play.