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Bookish wonder

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“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold. ” These words are indelibly etched on my memory spoken in a weird accent by actress Meryl Streep as the opening monologue of Out of Africa, a film by Sydney Pollack.

Despite Meryl’s accent this is one of my favourite films as is The English Patient by Anthony Minghella. Both Mr. Pollack and Mr. Minghella died this year, a loss to the film making world. While both films featured good acting, my admiration is for the technical aspects, the quality of the shots, the well planned, well blocked shots. Both films have a haunting quality and they aptly capture the mystique of the African landscape written so lovingly by both Baroness Blixen and Michael Ondaatje.

I’d read Out of Africa years before the movie was made having plundered my future in-laws bookshelves one August vacation. It is an extremely beautifully written book, the descriptions so vivid that I could see them in my mind’s eye, in a sepia tinted wash of course. The Baroness’ life was exotic enough that as a young woman who thirsted for something different, I could wish to be like her. Maybe without the venereal disease imparted by an unfaithful husband but glamourous huntress capably running my six thousand acre farm.

Years later the English Patient similarly captured my restless imagination. Similarly sweeping in the storytelling it is a book that I have read time and time again. Anthony Minghella’s film was also beautifully shot. The opening sequence of the shadow of a biplane traversing miles and miles of ochre sand dunes against a red sky, breathtaking.

When you think about it, some of the best films were not the ones with the pretty boys and girls but those where the technical crew laboured to produce something spectacular, Lord of the Rings and the New Zealand landscape, The Last Samaurai, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Painted Veil, all good novels fortunately translated into good films by the power of a really good shot, fine editing etc. Now you know why the Academy Awards such excellence, for it is truly valuable.


Written by coffeewallah

June 10, 2008 at 11:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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