Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in February 1848, comes a new film from celebrated director Raoul Peck. His previous film, the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, was a powerful look at the life of James Baldwin, the Civil Rights Movement and black representation in media (read my review here). Peck’s new film The Young Karl Marx premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and is coming to theaters soon.
“At the age of 26, Karl Marx (August Diehl) embarks with his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) on the road to exile. In 1844 Paris they meet young Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), son of a factory owner and an astute student of the English proletariat class. Engels brings Marx the missing piece to the puzzle that composes his new vision of the world. Together, between censorship and police raids, riots and political upheavals, they will preside over the birth of the labor movement, which until then had been mostly makeshift and unorganized. This will grow into the most complete theoretical and political transformation of the world since the Renaissance – driven, against all expectations, by two brilliant, insolent and sharp-witted young men.”
The Young Karl Marx premieres on February 23rd at the Metograph in New York City and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. National release to follow.
Time Travel Destination: 1840s-1880s
Stations: Literary Biopic, Costume Drama
Conductor: Terence Davies
“Poems are my solace for the eternity which surrounds us all.”
A motion picture about the life about poet Emily Dickinson has never been made until now. How does one make a captivating biopic about a recluse? Director Terence Davies took on the task brilliantly with his feature film A Quiet Passion (2017).
The movie stars Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson, a rebellious poet who forsakes the prospect of love to focus on her art and family. Her world centers around her home in Amherst, MA and as the years progress she retreats further and further into her home sometimes not even venturing down stairs. We watch her progress from a feisty outspoken teenager to a deeply sentient genius who translates emotions and ideas into beautiful poetry.
“My soul is my own.”
The viewer steps into the intimate space of Dickinson’s life and the players who inhabit her world. Her father (Keith Carradine), the stern patriarch who never understood his daughter’s rebellious spirit. Her mother (Joanna Bacon) who retreats more and more from life with each passing day. Then there is her sweet sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) who cares for Emily even when she doesn’t quite understand her motivations. Her brother Austin (Duncan Duff), the pride of the family who loses Emily’s trust when he betrays his wife Susan (Jodhi May), one of Emily’s closest confidantes. And one of the few outsiders able to break through Dickinson’s small world is the Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey) whose larger-than-life personality threatens to be contained by societal expectations.
The film wonderfully captures the many aspects of Dickinson’s era: the religiosity, deprivation, isolation, deep brooding, heightened emotions especially sadness and the almost painful simplicity of life and death. Terence Davies read numerous biographies on Emily Dickinson and steeped himself in the era and it shows. The attention to detail is astounding. A replica of Dickinson’s home in Amherst, MA was recreated in a studio in Belgium. Exteriors were shot on location in Amherst. The viewer will feel like they traveled to the era and not just a representation of it. Davies selected Nixon for the role of Emily Dickinson because of her remarkable resemblance to the poet. In one of the scenes of the film we watch as the family members have their portraits taken. Age progression shows the passing of 20+ years. Emma Bell, who plays young Emily, and Cynthia Nixon pose in the style of the famous portrait of Dickinson.
“My life has passed as if in a dream. As if I had never been part of it.”
I connected with this movie on a deeply personal level. As a lonely and angst ridden teenager I clung to writers such as Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, etc. With Dickinson especially I was drawn by her deep sense of isolation and how desperately she tried to make sense of the world.
Besides the incredible attention to historical accuracy and setting, I love how Davies and his crew imbibe the film with so much color. Many of us think of this era in American history as drab, steeped in sepia. There is so much color and vibrancy in this movie. It makes us understand a bit how overwhelming and heartbreaking beautiful the world was to Dickinson. In addition to the age progression scene, another element that stood out was the Civil War slideshow which featured colorized photos of Lincoln, soldiers, the battlefields, etc.
Cynthia Nixon delivers a heartbreakingly beautiful performance as Emily Dickinson. When she uttered these words, I felt like someone had just punched me in my gut:
“For those of us who live minor lives and are deprived of a particular kind of love, we know best how to starve. We deceive ourselves and others. It is the worst kind of lie.”
There are many great performances in this film but I was particularly drawn to Keith Carradine as Edward Dickinson. He perfectly captures exactly what I would have imagined a stern, religious father of the 19th Century to be. I was also drawn by Catherine Bailey whose performance as Vryling Buffam imbues life into the story. I definitely want to see more of her work.
A Quiet Passion (2017) stirs up a lot of emotion. Davies delivers a powerful biopic about an elusive figure whose poetry has transcended many generations.
Station: Historical Crime Drama
Destination: 1896, New York City
In December of 1994, Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist hit bookstores and would spend six months on The New York Times bestseller list. In my bookstore days circa 1998-2002, I remember selling many paperback copies of Carr’s novel to eager readers. The book was so popular Carr went on to write a sequel The Angel of Darkness and a third book is in the works.
“In the 19th Century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be alienated from their own true natures. Experts who studied them were therefore know as alienists.”
Despite its popularity with readers, The Alienist faced a long road to adaptation. In 1993, the year before the book’s publication, Paramount Studios optioned the rights for the novel. It languished over the next couple of decades and went through various scripts and possible directors. Paramount was concerned about the budget and it seemed destined to never become a movie. Fast forward to 2015, when Paramount Studios revived an old branch of its business, Paramount Television. Looking for properties already at hand, they picked out The Alienist. Working with the production company Anonymous Content, they started on adapting Carr’s novel into a mini-series for TV.
Carr’s story, set in the Gilded Age in 1890s New York City, is a mixture of forensic science and psychology. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) is an alienist. In other words, he’s a psychologist who helps his clients with various emotional or mental problems. He mets New York Times illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) who was on scene to sketch a murder victim. The young boy, dressed in girl’s clothes, was brutally dismembered. His mystery behind his death reveals the seedy underbelly of New York City where young boys dress as girls at underground brothels to serve male clientele. And there is a serial killer on the loose targeting these young boys. Kreizler and Moore enlist the help of Miss Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the assistant to police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. The headstrong young woman is the key to connect Kreizler and Moore to police records that are just out of reach.
Episode 1: The Boy on the Bridge – Kreizler meets Moore to discuss the murder of the boy on the bridge. Moore introduced Kreizler to Howard. Not satisfied with Moore’s illustrations, Kreizler orders the murder victim exhumed. They meet with forensic experts the Isaacson twins, Lucius (Matthew Shear) and Marcus (Douglas Smith) to discover what they can about how the
Episode 2: A Fruitful Partnership – The Isaacson brothers discover the type of knife used by the killer and Kreizler and Moore learn of a new victim. Howard proves to be a powerful ally for Kreziler and Moore giving them access to Roosevelt’s office and his records. The main players meet to discuss findings and Moore dives into the dangerous world of these boy brothels.
For the most part The Alienist is very true to the era. I love the attention to setting and costume. I did have some reservations with the dialogue, especially a line uttered by Fanning “Are you out of your mind? I mean, honestly” which smacks of modern speak.
I was pleased to see such a strong female protagonist in Dakota Fanning’s Sara Howard. In what could have been a very male dominated story, her character brings a lot of balance to the story. Bruhl and Evans balance each other out with their adept performances.
The Alienist is a gripping psychological thriller that will shake viewers to their core. It blends crime, sexuality, psychology and mystery into a powerful drama. Some viewers, myself included, will be deeply disturbed by the sexualization of children and murder of young boys. If viewers could stomach Carr’s novel, they will find much in the TV adaptation.
The Alienist premieres tonight at 9PM EST on TNT. The limited series will go on for a total of 10 episodes.