it could have been worse. it could have been like the film of The Basketball Diaries (the worst thing in that film being the basketball, and the best the appearance of the author himself). it was, nevertheless, shlock, if quite pretty costume design shlock. it is a hell of a great "date" movie, no doubt, and far superior to violence howsoever stylized, or most digital/computer-generated animation. but it was BORING. i kept thinking, oh get on with it, just get on with it, and i must admit, the last 30 minutes, when the uninitiated learn that he is dying, is decent enough cinema, and would have done fine as a half hour BBC TV (one of the film's producers) slice-of-life special. one of the problems is that it follows the Andrew Motion biography as source. that would have been fine for a Philip Larkin biopic, but for Keats, Tom Clark's JUNKETS ON A SAD PLANET would have been better, especially given Jane Campion's bent toward the impressionistic. what the film chose not to mention (beginning as it does when Keats moves into the house in Hampstead) was that he studied to be a doctor, and so he knew right from the first drop of blood that he was doomed. in fact, you can visit the old operating room at Guy's Hospital in London where Keats would have observed surgeons in action, and the sawdust, cutting instruments, and fake blood on sheets make a frightening exhibition. not for no reason were doctors called sawbones. i enjoyed Campion's THE PIANO years ago, and her breakout film, SWEETIE, prior to that, but even with the best intentions, you can't do Merchant-Ivory without a Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala. of course, i am jaded. due to increasing deafness, even with a hearing aid i strain to catch more than half of the dialogue at best in a movie-theater setting, so i don't go to english language films much these days, but knowing the sad, and yes, tragic, tale, and the poems, i don't reckon i missed much. i did miss which version of LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI was used; the one where he is "in thrall" or the one where she is.... if it encourages people going to Keats' poems, and encourages love and romance and compassion rather than hatred, one could still say it is better than 80% of the films which continue to be made. and the large crews give the UK and Australian workers an earned payday, and why not. to say nothing of the actors. i didn't, however, much catch a cockney accent, and his working-class roots were a quite small leitmotif indeed. but then, it wasn't just class distinctions which caused Byron to rail against Keats. Keats had attacked, in his early poetry, the "neo-classicism" of the 18th century poets, whom Byron venerated. Keats wrote: "they swayed back and forth upon a rocking horse/and called it Pegasus." even after Keats' death Byron felt the need to retaliate, and personally. very nasty stuff. i must admit to being irked as well by the comment in the after-film credits that although Keats died thinking he was a failure (i'm not so sure about that!) that he is now regarded as one of the greatest of the Romantic poets. i would have said one of the greatest poets of any time in any language. but let that be. Tom Clark, in his brief take on Keats on the Vanitas blog (Sept. 18th), titled "Jim Carroll and the Imaginal Particular", writes what in my opinion is the best short piece of what used to be called "lit. crit." i have read on a computer site. it not only illuminates, it is "an active engagement with what the work proposes" (Lawrence) - which is what great "criticism" is. if Keats had consummated with Fanny Brawne, however, i have no doubt he would have been more than capable of writing deeply of psycho-sexual matters perhaps in an even deeper way than his "purity" permitted. or was he? virginal, i mean. no biographer has addressed this, but many in London feel that as a regular Cockney lad, he would have had sexual experience prior to meeting his great love. is his "purity" a myth, like The Virgin Queen? but why should anyone care about this anymore than we should care if Zukofsky insisted on Lorine's aborting, or even whether their probable affair resulted in pregnancy..great bio-pics of poets? well, Glenda Jackson did an admirable job with Stevie. a long time ago. and who knows? maybe it WAS really like that in some respects. cetainly, without Keats' consciousness and his yearning love we wouldn't have the great Odes. although it was filmed in Rome and in London, i didn't recognize much of what purported to be the Heath. there's no moving water on Hampstead Heath, just old oak trees, ponds. and swans.
(written as a quick riff, margate, new jersey, october 3.)