Thursday, January 17, 2008

The power of cinema: Robert Benton's "Feast of Love"

I have felt that some of my highmindedness might, in some way, have contributed to this blog's thus far near-nonexistent readership. Tonight Ashley and I returned from an outing with a fellow Fulbrighter and friend of ours, David Jackson. We saw Feast of Love, which was directed by Robert Benton. We had high hopes for the movie, since Robert Benton is such an important name in American film history. His Places in the Heart is a favorite among the BYU film crowds. And before we moved to Poland, I had recently read Richard Corliss's book on screenwriters that has a great deal to say about Robert Benton. In preparation for the movie, Ashley and I found a copy of The Human Stain from 2003. We enjoyed the movie despite the sometimes forced dialogue, the slight awkwardness in handling certain scenes, and the obvious racial absurdity that is at the narrative's core. Nonetheless all were disappointed by Feast of Love.

From the beginning, when the dialogue wasn't cliché, it was usually weak, unmotivated, or forced. More shocking than the dialogue was the gratuitous, oh so gratuitous, nudity. Perhaps the nudity would not have been so bad if we had known what motivated it. Likewise, the nudity served as a glaring reminder of how virtually without nuance each of these naked characters was. Not to mention the remaining dozen characters who likewise lacked nuance. The script told us who the characters were rather than showed us who they were, what their motivations were or why we should believe them at all.

Yet the movie, which was a meditation on the meaning and different manifestations of love, ended and, in some way, left me satisfied.

While we were in New York last fall, I had the opportunity to either go to a screening of Feast of Love, where Robert Benton would answer questions after, or a screening of My Brother's Wedding that Charles Burnett would introduce. I chose Charles Burnett, and every minute of this film reaffirmed that decision, but I still enjoyed seeing Morgan Freeman do the thing at the end of the movie that everyone knew he was going to do. His act was not profound, was not original, and was drenched in sentimentality. But I enjoyed it. I left the film thinking it would have been better to have read the screenplay than to have watched the movie, yet I don't believe that I would have enjoyed what happened if I had read it.

All I can do is attribute that to the power of cinema.

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