Wednesday, May 30, 2012
HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN
Caught this last night on HBO, reluctantly. Martha Gellhorn is one of my all time favorite writers, and like any favorite creator whose work I relate to or become deeply involved with, I feel a proprietary sense of protection, like don't mess with this artist, and just the way the title puts her name second makes clear it's about the thing she hated most: being associated with Hemingway instead of standing on her own.
Some critics, including me think she was one of the greatest, perhaps even THE greatest, war correspondents of all time. She had an incredibly adventurous and independent and creative and successful life in many ways in the years before she met Hemingway and for many decades afterward.
But, she and Hemingway did fall for each other and did marry (she reluctantly though) and were "together" for several years. Together is in quotes because Gellhorn went off to various theaters of war to write about them even while they were married, sometimes with Hemingway. So I felt sorry for Gellhorn for having a film made about her that centers around her relationship with Hemingway.
I admire some of Hemingway's writing. IN OUR TIME is one of the most unique and uniquely original collection of stories ever written, and he wrote them when he was very young. They, along with his blockbuster first literary success, the novel THE SUN ALSO RISES, made Hemingway the Dylan (Bob) of his times in many ways. I.e. a hero to a younger generation who felt he expressed the truth of their experience and their world.
Then he went on to become almost a caricature of himself, which the movie definitely shows. But there have been tons of books about him, and movies made from his books that seem to be about him (A FAREWELL TO ARMS, THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, even FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, which the movie posits he wrote to and in many ways for Gellhorn). While Martha Gellhorn has only recently had a biography of her come out, and her letters (both pretty fascinating for my taste) and led a life infinitely more brave and varied and independent and obviously longer (she lived well into old age, still writing and chasing wars etc.).
I would have loved to have seen a film that centered on her and her life in which Hemingway was just one of the men in it. It almost seems sexist to make a movie about her that's basically about him (the film ends with her being interviewed as a "great war correspondent" and then being asked about Hemingway and her ending the interview, which seems like a cheap way for the filmmakers to excuse themselves for doing exactly what she accused many of doing, reducing her existence and accomplishments to sidekick of "the great man" jive).
Then there's the movie itself. It uses a lot of old newsreel and movie footage and uses computer editing techniques to place the actors in the scenes of real people and events and it looks exactly as cheesy as that sounds. It also turns the lives of the famous people in the flick, including the two leads (Hem played by Clive Owen as over the top as I've ever seen him, and Gellhorn by Nicole Kidman) into sound bites and tweets, as though they always talked the way they wrote (Woody Allen tweaked that so well in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS where Hemingway was a parody of himself but in a way that also obviously admired him and made him seem more human etc.).
There are some great cameos, but you almost miss them if you blink, like Parker Posey as Mary, or Peter Coyote doing an impressive job as the editor Maxwell Perkins (I didn't even recognize him until he spoke) or Robert Duvall as a boorish Soviet Russian general. Maybe the best performance, and a bigger role came from Tony Shalhoub as a Russian journalist. David Strathairn plays, or is directed to play, John Dos Passos as basically a big wuss. And so on.
All that talent and expertise doesn't add up to a great flick or even a great biography or docudrama. Just a kind of TV version of the lowest common denominator lives of famous people etc.