As you can see, I couldn’t stomach the idea of Black Christmas, which must come as no surprise to my dozen or so loyal readers. So it was a blast from the past today, in more ways than one, as I went to the second run theatre to check out this film. On the plus side, with only six other people in the theatre, I have absolutely nothing to complain about there. On the other hand, the movie has been out for some time. Instead of a very late theatre review, though, how about we call this a very early DVD review? Okay, I can’t really discuss the extras, but the word is that there’ll be deleted scenes, a making of documentary, and something called “Cribs with Louis XVI”. Sounds opulent.
I try to avoid reading too much hype before a film, especially a historically based one like this. I like history a lot, so I generally have a good idea of what’s going to happen anyway. In this case, I even read the book the film was based on (Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser), not to mention several others on the ill-fated queen as well. So I thought I knew what I was in for.
Then the credits started — hot pink credits on a black background, showed to the strains of “Natural’s Not In It” by Gang of Four– and I realized that I was in fact watching A Knight’s Tale: 400 Years Later. The title itself was in a banner style that would have looked more at home on the cover of a 1930’s pulp crime novel. During a scene featuring extravagant clothes, cakes and dainties, “I Want Candy” was played. Just as I was starting to be relieved that at least no one was dancing to the anachronistic music like in A Knight’s Tale, there was a ballroom scene with Marie spinning around giddily to the strains of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
And yet the movie was, strangely, more accurate than not. Events were skipped over and smoothed out for the sake of drama, as always happens in historical films, but for the most part, everything was there. (The only anachronisms that kept bothering me were the constant appearance of boom mikes at the top of the screen.) Granted, had they showed a little less of Marie frolicking in her country retreat and playing at being a peasant, they could have fit in more actual history, but whatever. It was only a two hour movie, but during the frolicking, I started thinking I must have misread the length and it was actually three hours. Not a good sign.
|Marie Antoinette after eating one too many of those suspiciously pink bonbons.|
Don’t get me wrong, Kirsten Dunst was great in the part. I think had it been anyone else, I might have gotten extremely annoyed with the character at times. But historically, poor Marie really was in completely over her head (sorry), and Kirsten did a good job portraying that. She got the same look on her face that I get whenever anyone starts discussing politics. And, sadly, she was allowed to ignore all the problems until they were completely out of hand.
Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer from Rushmore, though he looks much better here) showed King Louis XVI as being equally out of his depth; a quiet, well-meaning, but ultimately helpless sort of man. He was pretty helpless in the marriage bed, too, which caused even more problems all around — he was sort of an eighteenth century nerd, I guess. It wasn’t too surprising, though; the scrutiny undergone by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt today pales in comparison to the observation Marie and Louis went through. After a ten-second wedding and a rather longer bedding ceremony, he was expected to perform with a complete stranger, and the poor guy was just too shy for that.
The opulence and formality of the court was wonderfully portrayed; all the rituals were incredibly detailed and complicated — and completely ridiculous, as Marie herself pointed out. The rooms dripped with gold trim, and Marie and her ladies filled them with rich fabrics, wigs, and some of the most ridiculous shoes you can imagine. Speaking of wigs, there were, unsurprisingly, a great many people listed as hair stylists and wig makers. There was even one person listed as a “hair driver”, which is the most fascinating job description I’ve seen for a while. I can’t find anything on the net about it, though. I’ll just have to picture someone ferrying wigs around in a little wooden cart.
By the end of the film, I was starting to think that maybe Versailles really had been like that — full of overbright colors and impossible looking food, maybe even the sounds of the eighteenth century equivalent of Bow Wow Wow and The Cure. I guess what I mean to say is that whatever its historical flaws might have been, it gave an excellent sense of the feel of that place and time. Marie became a friend of yours, struggling to fit in, and Louis was the boy next door, playing very seriously at being King. I give this one three idols, though that’s mainly for Kirsten and Jason’s acting, and those wonderfully rich sets — totally over the top, but glittering and gorgeous. Overall, the pacing was uneven, and the flash overwhelmed the substance so much, it was like eating one of those infamous cakes: sweet, delicious, but ultimately a lot of empty calories.