Bright Star, An Education, and the cult of the book
"As Garry Trudeau (who is not on Twitter) has his Washington “journotwit” Roland Hedley tweet at the end of “My Shorts R Bunching. Thoughts?,” “The time you spend reading this tweet is gone, lost forever, carrying you closer to death. Am trying not to abuse the privilege.”
1) One of the main things that struck me while watching Jane Campion's excellent Bright Star is just how undistracted the characters are in 1818 England. To occupy their time, Keats (Ben Whishaw), Fanny (Abbie Cornish), and Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) have books, letters, and nature to read (Fanny also has a strong interest in fashion). When they talk, no one is checking his or her cell phone, no screens call them away, and when they go buy a book, it is hard bound and carefully wrapped with paper and string. I never entirely believed that Ben Whishaw was really writing Keats' poetry, but I liked the technology-free milieu enhanced by Greig Fraser's impressive cinematography. The characters appear unencumbered, focused, and more aware as a result.
2) Then I watched An Education, and again I was surprised by the way the film ultimately privileged a bookish education. Even as Jenny (Carey Mulligan) enjoys breaking free from her prep school to experience night clubs, Paris, dog racing, and such with David (Peter Sarsgaard) and his gang of rogues, she ultimately (minor spoiler alert) returns to books and her English major interests. She criticizes her educators for being boring (she could also characterize the world of Bright Star as boring), but later she embraces Oxford. Does An Education ultimately pander to the conservative instincts of its audience after treating it to a fun subversive ride earlier on? Doesn't the cinematic form privilege the night life and adult transgressions even as it snaps back to the safe virtues of a bookish restraint?
3) Both films left me wondering about this increasing nostalgia for a former culture that celebrates longer texts amidst all of our fragmented technologically scattered forms of communication, a split nicely exemplified in Julie and Julia where Julie Powell's blog looks pitiful compared to the gravitas of Julia Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. With the proliferation of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. competing for my attention and splitting my concentration, I notice how I might link instead of write, skim instead of read, and absorb images instead of think. How much are the fetishizing of books in Bright Star and An Education symptomatic of this trend?