Movie Monday: An Angel At My Table

By Alexandria Harris

 This movie was a soap opera gone wrong. It was an emotional roller coaster of awkwardness, pain, and sadness. It was also a bit abrupt and choppy, which could be because it was meant to be viewed as a miniseries instead of a very long movie.

The premise of this movie is the life of New Zealand writer Janet Frame who looks like the could be the twin sister of Orphan Annie. Her love of reading is shone at an early age when she reads books to her siblings and her teacher assigns their class to write poems. After this, her dad gives her a notebook for more poems.

Fast forward into her teen years, Janet is still reading to her younger siblings and the oldest child has died in the river. At the ripe of age of twelve, Janet decided she wanted to be a poet instead of a teacher.

Part two begins with Janet going to college to study teaching at the wishes of her parents. Apparently college-age Jane liked to spend time in cemeteries waxing and waning about poetry and the meaning of life. Jane found herself teaching and pretending that it was what she wanted to do.

She has a series of breakdowns and is admitted to the psychiatric ward of a hospital at the prodding of three of her professors. Her favorite professor Mr. Forrest tells her that she has a real talent for writing and I think this is when her talent truly comes alive.

Then she suddenly comes home to her family and announces that she has schizophrenia. Mr. Forrest visits her and says that he’s submitted her stories to some big name people and they’re impressed. He tells Janet that when he looks at her, he thinks of Van Gogh (which I’m not sure is really a compliment) and says that lots of great artists have schizophrenia.

Someone tells her they have a treatment for her decaying teeth at a hospital, and before long I realized that they weren’t talking about her teeth because she ended up back in the loony bin and they gave her electric shock treatment.

Shortly after that Janet gets told that she has to have a lobotomy and that her mother approved it. Then one of the doctors comes in and says that he likes her book of short stories and she’s not having the operation, but she needs to stay in the hospital for a little while longer.

Then she finally gets out of the nuthouse and ends up back home again where her brother and sister take her to see this random author named Frank who apparently arranged her release, and she  stays with him. He eventually organizes a literary grant for her to travel overseas and get more experience.

Part three begins with Jane arriving to London and panicking because they have no record of her staying there. She eventually finds a shady part of town with old, run down apartments where the landlord tells her he hopes she isn’t staying long through the winter because one of the women staying there died and got pneumonia.

Jane visits writers and poets who are impressed that she has her short stories and novel published in a book. They volunteer to show her around. She returns to her landlord, who is way too invested in her life and angry that she’s keeping the company of poets and writers.
Jane travels all throughout the world and experiences many different cultures. They influence her and her writing, but she is very awkward with them.

Jane finally returns to England, where her busybody landlord tells her she needs to find work. She tries to apply for a job as a nurse, but is rejected because she tells them she’s had psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia. She voluntarily admits herself into a hospital where they conclude that she’s never had schizophrenia.

She gets money to write about her time in hospitals and the new book gets favorable reviews. She meets her publisher and he offers her an apartment to write the next bestseller in. Jane returns home and continues writing.

Overall I would give this movie a 5/10. At times when I watched it, I was confused because things abruptly happened and the audience was expected to go with the flow with little to no explanation. I sympathized a lot with Janet being institutionalized and that part of the film was very dark. To think that this literary genius could have been lobotomized just because she was freaking out about wanting to write instead of teach? That was very chilling.

 Another part of the movie that impacted me was her wanting to be a writer at twelve and knowing in her being that it was what she wanted to do. Though all the deaths, institutionalization, living poor, and people ignoring her because of her awkwardness, her fame slowly grew and she ended up doing exactly what she wanted to: writing in peace.

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Movie Monday: Anonymous

By Alexandria Harris

 Premise: Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays, a nobleman named Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford wrote them. How Shakespeare came to be known for them is the whole mystery of the story.

 Best quotes: “The voices, Anne. The voices, I can’t stop them, they come to me. When I sleep, when I wake, when I sup, when I walk down the hall. The sweet longings of a maiden, the surging ambitions of a courtier, the foul designs of a murderer, the wretched pleas of his victims, only when I put their words, their voices, to parchment, are they cast loose, freed. Only then is my mind quieted. At peace. I would go mad if I did not write down the voices-” Lord Oxford

 “All art is political–otherwise it would just be decoration-” Lord Oxford

 If I were to give you a summary of Anonymous it would be that the movie is basically a few of Shakespeare’s plays entwined with flashbacks. The plays are as theatrical as you can get and span from Hamlet to Romeo and Juliet to Julius Caesar with the “fake” playwright Shakespeare coming out and collecting his due praise at the end of each play.

 However, the manner in which they bring these plays to life and the director weaves in political intrigue into the plot is what draws you in. It’s all based on a power triangle. You could say “a love for plays” triangle, but one of the characters in the triangle doesn’t have enough heart vested in it to call it that.

 The movie starts in the present with an onstage dramatic monologue basically explaining the premise of the movie, like I did above only this was three minutes long with rain falling on the speaker’s umbrella.Then the rain onstage turns into rain on sixteenth century London streets.

 There is a lot of plotting and secrecy surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s court. To understand it the audience is flashed back five years and then forty years to catch up, showing De Vere when he is younger, and younger still.

 Poetry at that time was apparently the work of the devil, blasphemous, and after fifteen minutes of constant “poetry is a sin” even I felt like I was going to have my head cut off with a one way ticket down under (and not Australia with the cute kangaroos).

 Throughout the entire movie there was tone of writing and creativity equals humiliation and brings ruin on the important people. Whims and notions were for the common people. You were not allowed to have a mind of your own, that was dangerous. Your mind belonged to the queen.

 I think all of us can relate to having a passion for writing and trying to do it no matter what obstacles we may face. We carry that imagination and passion even when someone is telling us no, we find someway to tell ourselves yes. And that passion, that fight to do something inside Lord Oxford held me entranced the entire movie. To watch him struggle with his craft, to be accepted–this is what I hungered for more than the petty court battles.

 My favorite part is when De Vere’s wife comes to talk to him and ends up horrified that he’s writing and scolds him to which he answers something to the effect of “The voices in my head don’t stop until I write them down.” He made it seem so potent, these voices he had to breathe life into with his pen. And of course the obvious (and correct) response of his wife was “You are mad.”

 I loved it.

 However I did feel like I was in the middle of a Maury episode towards the middle of the movie and that English nobles needed to keep better tabs on paternity.

 There were plot points that I rolled my eyes at: the idea of Christopher Marlowe being a spy? Awkward…

 And there was a hunchback, only he was no Quasimodo, more like Gollum

 But plays with characters representing government officials should definitely be brought back in case we get tired of cartoons, Colbert, and Jon Stewart.

 Another large theme was encountering failure to write, the fear of greatness, and what happens when we watch those who might not deserve success receive a boatload of it while we watch. (Think of five New York Times Bestsellers you read and were irritated that they were best sellers. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…)

 Looking at our failures is painful because when we look at them too long, we find the darkest parts of ourselves–there is madness, despair, and degradation. Reading and writing can give us nostalgia, take us back to places of memory. And the memories be sweet candy for our souls or as acrid as garlic.

 Overall, the plot was so convoluted that it basically ruined the argument it was trying to make. I didn’t leave with the impression that Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays because there were too many people involved in that subplot. Tying it in with Queen Elizabeth and inventing a weird backstory for her while weaving Shakespeare’s story into it left something to be desired for me. However, costuming and cinematography was great. I enjoyed the plotting and drama, but I was never really convinced that it could happen. The movie was entertaining, but definitely not historically accurate. Even so, with all this (and Vanessa Redgrave’s amazing acting as the queen) I would give it a 7/10.

 Plus, it really made me want a quill pen and some ink.

 Stay tuned for next Movie Monday when I’ll be reviewing An Angel At My Table which is based on autobiographies about New Zealand writer Janet Frame.

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin