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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

JANE EYRE (2011)

Charlotte Brontë’s chef-d’oeuvre has had an unusually happy second-life on screen, and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s new adaptation continues the tradition. Scripter Moira Buffini adopts the stormy night/flashback structure Ben Hecht used on Emily Brontë’s more intractable WUTHERING HEIGHTS/’39 for William Wyler, and it works even better on this more straightforward story. Pitch-perfect casting (Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench & Jamie Bell) and pin-point location scouting aid the cause; and no one’s trying to reinvent anything: Jane’s still the wronged orphan who’d be too good to be true if she weren’t so obstinately honest; and Rochester’s still the forbidding Lord of the Manor, a disruptive romantic with a secret past he keeps locked up . . . literally. Still, next to the spellbinding panoramas of rough countryside, the realistically played drama comes off a little too safe & gray, disconnected from the real Brontë wildness.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Lenser Adriano Goldman turns out a darkly handsome image. Maybe too dark. Ever since Stanley Kubrick & lenser John Alcott used actual candlelight to shoot those BARRY LYNDON/’75 interiors, cinematographers have been having a major peeing contest testing film stocks against dimmer & dimmer light sources. But just how truthful are these period pools of illumination? Light three or four candles in your study, turn off the lamps, wait half a minute and . . . hey!, it doesn’t look at all like what you see in the movies. With film or digital equipment, the camera lens loses mid-range unless you ‘cheat’ with some ‘fill’ light. In this case, ‘honesty’ might do a better job at capturing awards than truth.

DOUBLE-BILL: Just about all the JANE EYRE adaptations have something to recommend them, but only the old, rather brusque Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles version (from ‘43) has a lineup of kids that includes Peggy Ann Garner (of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN/’45) as young Jane, the unbelievably exquisite 11 yr-old Liz Taylor (uncredited!) as her doomed little friend, and Margaret O’Brien as the ward, Adele. Plus a score from Anglophile Bernard Hermann who’d go on to write an operatic WUTHERING HEIGHTS. But, if you’ve had enough real Brontë, you could stay with Joan Fontaine in REBECCA/'40, Daphne du Maurier’s fake Brontë. The connection is particularly clear here since this film’s Michael Fassbender doesn’t play the usual scary, brooding, sardonic or cruel Rochester. He's haughty, remarkably like Larry Olivier as that Rochester rip-off, Max De Winter in . . .REBECCA.

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