Saving Mr. BanksPosted: December 19, 2013 Filed under: film, the California Condition 1 Comment
* Man, I thought this was a deeply, deeply interesting movie.
* Everybody in the movie does a great job. It is a well-made movie, the story’s really artfully told. I’s not like I remember Mary Poppins super well, but they lay that stuff in just right. I straight up enjoyed this movie.
* But: part of what I liked about it was the thrilling feeling that it was so unbelievably shameless. John Lee Hancock directed this movie, he directed The Blind Side, which was perfectly, amazingly shameless. Or was it not that shameless, is the world really like this and I’m just jaded/cynical and I need movies like this to bring me back to the fullness of humanity??
* What’s at the heart of this movie? What is this movie saying about cynicism, honesty, manipulation, entertainment? There’s Paul Giamatti talking about his handicapped daughter? Is this a play on being a shamelessly cornball movie? Does it matter? Isn’t the argument of this movie that putting something like that into your movie for the purpose of bending your emotions and giving you hope is ok? Is the moral that if you let down your cynicism for one second you’ll find yourself moved, and that feeling, that person, is your truer, better self? But how can the ends of that message come across if the means is truly shameless manipulation?
* How much is it on me, the audience, to agree to not be cynical, and how much is it on them, the storytellers, to not then manipulate me? What’s the deal we make when we suspend disbelief and what counts as a betrayal of that deal?
* At one point Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) looks at P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) but it’s shot so he’s nearly looking to camera, to the audience. “Trust me,” he says. What are we to make of a movie made by Disney (the company) where the story of the movie is Disney (the man) making the case for manipulative entertainment to a reluctant audience? Where there’s a scene of a cold, repressed woman reduced to tears in a movie theater by the power of a movie?
* Saving Mr. Banks exists at some intersection where cynicism and idealism cross over each other again. If Disney makes a movie that runs right at some of the issues that make cynics so knee-jerk scornful of “Disney,” isn’t that kind of interesting and cool? Even if (of course) the ultimate product is in the end pretty pro-Disney? Or is it just nth level propaganda? Does it matter, if it’s fun and moving to watch?
* now look I’m not comparing anyone to Nazis or anything: but a thing that has stuck with me since I learned it is the idea that Goebbels was continually stunned and amazed at how much better and more effective the American “propaganda” movies that were coming out of a non-state directed Hollywood were than the products of Germany’s completely controlled machine, big example being Mrs. Miniver.
* I don’t want to deal with the idea of possible sexism in Saving Mr. Banks, but I mean the story of this movie is an uptight old woman is seduced by a powerful and calming man and when she finally submits herself to him after a lengthy courtship she experiences an extreme emotional release (right?)
* MORE!: the moviemakers monkeyed with the history at least a little bit, but how much? This article, “Saving Mr. Banks Is A Corporate, Borderline Sexist Spoonful of Lies” from LA Weekly (which I only learned about when the co-screenwriter got in a Twitter spat with the reviewer) would suggest quite a bit. This New Yorker article from 2005, though, suggests it’s hard to know, that maybe P. L. Travers played it a lot of different ways depending on who she was talking to. (that article, btw, written by Caitlin Flanagan, whose thoughts on nanny issues are always good to stir up the Internet).
How much does this matter? Isn’t part of the argument of this movie something about “the goal of entertaining and creating hope through entertainment can supersede other concerns,” or something? I dunno. Surely the people who made this movie looked into it more than your average reviewer and made their own set of ethical choices about how faithful they had to be to reality. If the manipulation of reality for narrative makes us queasy why and at what point does it make us queasy? How far are you allowed to go on these kinds of things?
I mean, a movie is a lie, that’s not really Walt Disney and it’s not really 1961. How much are you allowed to lie, though? I mean we all agree some accuracy is important, see Wikipedia:
To accurately convey Walt Disney’s Midwestern dialect, Tom Hanks listened to archival recordings of Disney in his car and practised the voice while reading newspapers. Hanks also grew his own mustache for the role, which underwent heavy scrutiny—with the filmmakers going so far as to matching the same dimensions as Disney’s.
Do we like hearing these things because it suggests the moviemakers are showing respect for the truth, and respect for us the audience by doing this work? Does it matter only when the real-life person is as famous/sacred at Walt Disney? Are critics like Amy Nicholson in LA Weekly mad the way we’re mad when we catch someone lying to us? Because it suggests the liar doesn’t respect us and thinks they can get away with it?
* An Australian person once claimed to me that it’s a well-known thing among Australians that Australians are known to get emotional when they come to Los Angeles. The person who claimed this to me said it was a combination of the flora, eucalypts and stuff, reminding them of home, plus Los Angeles is often the last stop on a long trip and they’re tired and on their way home. An odd claim maybe but then it was spontaneously confirmed to me by a whole other Australian. Saving Mr. Banks hints at this theme a little bit, I guess, but even that gets weirder when you learn the Australian scenes were shot in California.
* Real-life P. L. Travers is pretty interesting. Here’s some teasers from her Paris Review interview:
Does Mary Poppins’s teaching—if one can call it that—resemble that of Christ in his parables?
My Zen master, because I’ve studied Zen for a long time, told me that every one (and all the stories weren’t written then) of the Mary Poppins stories is in essence a Zen story. And someone else, who is a bit of a Don Juan, told me that every one of the stories is a moment of tremendous sexual passion, because it begins with such tension and then it is reconciled and resolved in a way that is gloriously sensual.
or here she is talking about her time with the Navajo:
I’d never been out West and I went to stay on the Navajo reservation at Administration House, which is at Window Rock beyond Gallup…
One day the head of Administration House asked me if I would give a talk to the Indians. And I said, “How could I talk to them, these ancient people? It is they who could tell me things.” He said, “Try.” So they came into what I suppose was a clubhouse, a big place with a stage, and I stood on the stage and the place was full of Indians. I told them about England, because she was at war then, and all that was happening. I said that for me England was the place “Where the Sun Rises” because, you see, England is east of where I was. I said, “Over large water.” And I told them about the children who were being evacuated from the cities and some of the experiences of the children. I put it as mythologically as I could, just very simple sayings.
At the end there was dead silence. I turned to the man who had introduced me and said, “I’m sorry. I failed, I haven’t got across.” And he said, “You wait. You don’t know them as well as I do.” And every Indian in that big hall came up and took me silently by the hand, one after another. That was their way of expressing feeling with me.
I never knew such depths of silence, internally and externally, as I experienced in the Navajo desert. One night I was taken at full moon away into the desert where they were having a meeting before they had their dancing. There were crowds of Indians there, about two thousand under the moon. And before the proceedings began there was no sound in the desert amongst those people except the occasional cry of a baby or the rattle of a horse’s harness or the crackling of fire under a pot—those natural sounds that really don’t take anything from the silence.
They waited it seemed to me hours before the first man got up to speak. Naturally, I didn’t understand what they were saying. But I listened to the speeches and I enjoyed the silences all night long. And when the night was far spent, they began to dance. Not in the usual dances of the corn dance; they had their ordinary clothes on and were dancing two-and-two, going around and around a fire, a man and a woman. And I was told that if you’re asked to dance by a man and you don’t want to dance, you give him a silver coin. So one Indian did come up, but I went with him. I couldn’t do the dance, even though it wasn’t a very intricate dance; it was more a little short step round and round, just these two people together. So we two strangers danced around the fire. It was very moving to me. And we came back to the House in the early morning.
* Oh! What about the part in the movie where P. L. Travers’ dad says of her poetry “it’s not exactly Yeats, is it?” Well real-life P.L. grew up to know Yeats. Is that anything? I dunno, probably not.
* What if this is a story about a pretty good con artist/manipulator (Travers) going up against the best who ever lived (Disney), and when she realizes how meagre her gifts are compared to his she becomes spiteful and petulant (Salieri-in-Amadeus style)?
* They mention in the movie that Robert Sherman got shot. Apparently he was in on the liberation of Dachau. A Jewish guy liberates a death camp and comes home and writes the cheeriest songs anyone’s ever heard? I mean, that’s a whole other interesting movie.
P. L. Travers as a young actress:
Very good write up.