Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins and November Movies

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins was one of the world's greatest opera singers - by her own reckoning, at any rate! She began her musical career as Little Miss Foster, and gave a piano recital for President Hayes before she even hit puberty. But, sadly, it just wasn't to be. When her father refused to let her study music she eloped with an older man who infected her with syphilis on her wedding night, and when she left him to support herself through piano tuition she injured her arm and had to move back in with her mother.

Things finally began to look up in 1909; her father died, leaving her a substantial sum of money, and she met the love of her life, St. Clair Bayfield, a mediocre Shakesperean actor played by Hugh Grant in the movie. Bayfield encouraged Florence to live her dreams when it came to music, becoming her manager, and supporting her in singing lessons. Lady Florence, as she liked to be known, became a fixture of wealthy New York society, helped along by her generous patronage of the musical arts and her lavish tableaux vivants. From 1912, already in her 40s, Florence began giving recitals - much to the astonishment of her audience.

Florence Foster Jenkins
The real life Florence - hear her sing on YouTube, I recommend Adele's Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus.

Because Florence really couldn't sing, at least not the operatic solos she favoured. Friends, critics and historians alike were (and are) divided on whether or not she realised it. Some argue that nobody could be that deluded, and point out that she did her utmost to regulate who attended her performances, others think that the side effects of the syphilis treatments - including hearing loss and nerve damage - may well have meant she simply didn't know how bad she was. The film goes with the latter interpretation and, dramatically speaking, this was absolutely the correct decision.

The inherent tragedy of it all is really hard hitting. Here we have this woman who seemingly has everything - position, money, loving husband - but beneath the outward facade she is an object of ridicule. People laugh through her concerts and behind her back, though they are happy enough to accept her money and the advantages of her influence. Her relationship with her husband is chaste, because of the syphilis, and he disappears each night to an apartment she pays for to have sex with his mistress. Even her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (played by a surprisingly brilliant Simon Helberg from The Big Bang Theory), doesn't want to appear in public performances with her for fear of what it will do to his reputation.

Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon
Although set in New York, the movie was filmed in the UK so the supporting cast is full of familiar faces, like David Haig and Thelma Barlow.

Of course, as the movie races towards its climax, it becomes a story about respect, friendship and loyalty. We learn that things aren't really so one-sided: Florence used to hide the bad theatre reviews from Bayfield, to spare his feelings, and when her singing hits the public domain it's because she wants to help the 'brave boys' in the war effort, and genuinely believes they're enjoying her records on the radio, not just laughing themselves sick at them. It culminates in a one night performance at Carnegie Hall, full of servicemen who have been given free tickets, and a really touching scene in which it seems McMoon has deserted Florence until it turns out he's been held up by some rather drunken sailors.

As much as Bayfield and McMoon try, this time it proves impossible to silence the critics. The New York Post publishes a scathing review - just as they, and other newspapers, did in real life - and when Florence finally sees it she collapses, insensible. She dies a few days later, though not before hallucinating herself back on stage, this time singing like an angel, and telling Bayfield wistfully:

People may say I couldn't sing, but no one can say I didn't sing.

I cried like a baby for at least the last quarter of the film, and for quite some time afterwards, so while you could argue that the film is heartstring pulling glurge, you certainly can't say it doesn't do its job effectively! If you like sentimentality with a helping of comedy, watch this. You won't be disappointed.

Film Review

I have been looking for a film version of Goodreads for ages, and this week I stumbled across Letterboxd. Apparently it's been around for years now, and has much of the same functionality as Goodreads, though it doesn't support embedding of reviews so I've just had to link to them. They say they're working on it, so fingers crossed I'll be able to embed like I do for my reading round-ups in the future.

Here are the other films I've seen for the first time this month, in the order I watched them:

 102 Dalmatians (2000). 3 / 5
 Batman (1966). 5 / 5
 Sausage Party (2016). 4 / 5
 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). 1 / 5
 Finding Dory (2016). 5 / 5
 Zootopia (2016). 5 / 5
 Bridget Jones' Baby (2016). 4 / 5
 Dad's Army (2016). 4 / 5
 The Intern (2015). 5 / 5
 Batman: The Killing Joke (2016). 3 / 5
 The Lady in the Van (2015). 3 / 5
 The Secret Life of Pets (2016). 4 / 5
 Dirty Grandpa (2016). 2 / 5
 Florence Foster Jenkins (2016). 5 / 5
 Big Hero 6 (2014). 4.5 / 5
 Bad Moms (2016). 4 / 5
 How To Be Single (2016). 3 / 5
 Eddie the Eagle (2016). 5 / 5
 The Boss (2016). 4 / 5


Finally, the obligatory round up giveaway. This month, fill out the Gleam form below to get up to five chances to win Jane Got A Gun on DVD. UK only, ends 27/12/2016.

Jane Got a Gun Giveaway

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