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Entries in Stephen Frears (8)

Monday
Dec 19 2016

The Furniture: The Exuberant Fandom of Florence Foster Jenkins

"The Furniture"is our weekly series on Production Design.Here'sDaniel Walber...

Florence's beloved Verdi sports her sensible chapeau.

Florence Foster Jenkins was a woman of grand exuberance.She's mostly remembered for her terrible voice,which I suppose is fair.It's worth noting,however,that she didn't exactly intend to make comedy albums.It was her irrepressible love of music that drove her to the stage,the recording studio and,by way of generations of blithe dinner parties,into the 21st century.

With that in mind,a Meryl Streep movie seems like an inevitable conclusion.Florence Foster Jenkins's director (Stephen Frears) and screenwriter (Nicholas Martin) clearly understand both pieces of the character,her fervent fandom and her wobbly voice.In fact,they so thoroughly embrace her passion for music that they suggest it's what killed her.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.Before Streep's version of Florence takes her final bow,she lives her musical commitment.The design team of production designer Alan Macdonald (The Queen),supervising art director Patrick Rolfe (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and art directors Gareth Cousins (BBC'sJane Eyre) and Christopher Wyatt (Wuthering Heights) craft for her the most musical spaces possible without a total break from realism...

Of course,Florence herself seems determined to push that very boundary.The tableaux presented to the Verdi Club are fulfillments of fantasy.Suspended from the ceiling,the socialite silently impersonates a muse.Later,she becomes Wagner's Brünnhilde.She stands in front of a bright and elemental backdrop,tastefully bloody corpses at her feet.The orchestra plays the Ride of the Valkyries with vigor,a musical endorsement of this charmingly absurd recreation.

After all,why should Florence obey the limits of reality?She's an opera fan.What matters is the rush of the orchestra,the feelings that gush from the notes of the vocal line.Accordingly,Streep's Florence is as larger-than-life as her Julia Child or her Anna Wintour.She is an icon of passion,not a citizen of the dull world that lurks outside the opera house,or the cinema.

The designers,therefore,elevate her period-appropriate decor with her fanatical devotion to music.Florence's Hotel Seymour suite is only slightly less ridiculous than the ersatz Valhalla at the Verdi Club.

There are pieces of devotional memorabilia everywhere.One wall is a showcases for Florence's collection of composer portraits.There's Wagner,of course,and what appear to be multiple images of Liszt.The central position is reserved for Verdi.

Out in the hall,the same composers bless the apartment with their busts.They are joined by a crowd of matryoshka dolls,an elaborate lamp,and even more portraits hanging above.

Not every relic is clear to the naked eye.The hallway also features a row of chairs in which,as husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) explains,various celebrities expired.They are,understandably,"not for practical use."


Not an inch of wallspace is bare,no corner empty.One wall of the yellow music room features picturesque depictions of ruins,small paintings of what might be nymphs and a still life of flowers.The colors are doubled by the fruit display beneath and echoed by the roses of the wallpaper.It seems reasonable to assume that Florence is a great believer in the emotion evoked by sublime depictions of the natural world.The hills,if you will,are alive with the sound of music.

It's easy to imagine Florence walking through her apartment,frequently stricken with sudden decorative inspirations.It's certainly a plausible explanation for the flower and feather bouquet next to the window below,as well as the ornate doll seated in a miniature chair on the back table.

Florence's is the exuberance of a fan who lives the art that she loves,the sumptuous musical excesses of opera.It's no accident that the impetus for her return to singing is the Bell Song from Lakmé,an aria so extravagant that it dispenses with lyrics entirely in favor of high-flying vocal acrobatics.That same spirit runs through Florence's apartment,her artistic career,and her joie de vivre.Every flight of fancy leads to a coloratura explosion of feathers or flowers.It's as clear in her bathtub of potato salad as it is in her Carnegie Hall triumph.

previously on The Furniture

Saturday
Aug 13 2016

Review: Meryl Streep as "Florence Foster Jenkins"

This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column atTowleroad

It takes a gifted singer to sing this horribly.Every other note is wrong.No phrasing goes unmangled by shortness of breath.No lovely moment meant to soar cannot be shattered by a flat ear-piercing decibel.The central conceit of Stephen Frears new comedyFlorence Foster Jenkinsis that Florence,a considerably wealthy patron of the arts played by Meryl Streep,lives for music but is ghastly at it.The inside joke,given the casting,is that we all know La Streep can sing with the best of them.She followed the "is there nothing she can't do?"revelation ofIronweed's tragic showstopper "He's Me Pal"(1987,Oscar-Nominated) with transcendent country crooner feeling inPostcards From the Edge(1990,Oscar-Nominated),and just kept on singing whenever a movie gave her the opportunity all the way up through last year'sRicki and the Flashwhich was practically a concert film there were so many scenes of Streep at the mic,rocking out.

Florence Foster Jenkinsdoesn'trock out.Florence is not that kind of girl andFlorence,also,is not the kind of movie...

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Friday
Aug 12 2016

Posterized: Director Stephen Frears

Streep & StephenThe "Posterized"series has fallen into a 'totally inconsistent director' zone.Last weekwe looked at Woody Allen's filmography,full of impossible peaks and embarrassing valleys and everything inbetween.The 75 year old British director Stephen Frears hasn't had peaks that are quite as dizzy from the genius altitude but his valleys aren't as cringeworthy as Allen's,either.He's a safe middle distance director that critics and audiences and Oscar can all love,albeit not stay married to.He's made 22 features over the course of his long career which began with 1971'sGumshoeafter which he disappeared into epidodic British TV for a decade or so until his movie career really started to sizzle;My Beautiful Laundretteput him on the global map.But did he ever really top that breakthrough?

For all the ups and downs that followed,the consistency is his love for actresses: he famously directed Helen Mirren to her Oscar,and he's worked with Glenn Close,Judi Dench,and Michelle Pfeiffer twice each.

It's a busy summer for Frears.He's prepping a third feature with Judi DenchcalledVictoria and Abdul,he's added Meryl Streep to his grande dame arsenal viaFlorence Foster Jenkins,and he'll receivethe Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Awardat the 22nd Annual Sarajevo Film Festival which starts today.

All the Frears theatrical posters are after the jump.How many of his films have you seen?

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Thursday
Mar 10 2016

YNMS: Florence Foster Jenkins

Murtadahere.Stephen Frears recent output has been uneven.This month,his Lance Armstrong biopicThe Programwas met with lukewarm reviews and a VOD purgatory release,whileLay the Favorite(2012) andTamara Drewe(2010) were both immediately forgotten.However he does well when teamed with grand actresses in intimate dramas (The Queen,Philomena).So we are cautiously optimistic about his collaboration with Meryl Streep inFlorence Foster Jenkins.The story,of an amateur opera singer,known and ridiculed for her very bad singing and her complete delusion about her abilities,is intriguing.

Let's break down the newly released trailer.....after the jump.

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Friday
Feb 12 2016

It's May for Meryl

As Meryl Streep starts her jury duties at the Berlinale,Murtadahas news about her next film.

Streep at the Berlinale Jury Press Conference

Gird your loins!There must be a rupture in the movie universe because we might not get the new Meryl Streep movie when we usually do.Since 2008'sMamma Mia,movies led by Streep have had only 2 release dates.The December prestige slot (Doubt,The Iron Lady,August Osage County,Into the Woods).Or late summer blockbuster comedy counter programming (Julie and Julia,Hope Springs,Ricki and the Flash).Plus one anomaly with the comedyIt's Complicatedinexplicably slotted into the December prestige date.Yes comedies get released year round,but not Meryl comedies!

2016 is changing all that.Pathe have announced a May 6 UK release of Streep's latest,Florence Foster Jenkins.Directed by Stephen Frears and also starring Hugh Grant and Rebecca Ferguson,the film is based on the true life story of the titular character,who was an amateur opera singer,known and ridiculed for her very bad singing and her complete delusion about her abilities.A US release date is expected soon and will probably be around the same time.AterRickifizzled at the box office,it looks like Spring is now the best time for adult oriented female driven counter programming.Specially with the success last year ofWoman in GoldandFar From the Madding Crowd.

Meanwhile in Berlin,Streep startedher jury dutieswith a bit of a controversy.At a press conference on Thursday,she began her remarks well talking about how she would give each film careful consideration because she's been on the other side,"a compassionate heart is important as an actress".When she was asked about diversity,Streep applauded the gender diversity within her jury group.

"This jury is evidence that at least women are included and in fact dominate this jury,and that's an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions.So I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game."

But then she delved into murkier depths when addressing the lack of racial diversity within the same group:

"There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture,and after all we're all from Africa originally.Berliners,we're all Africans really."

The quote sounds like a riff on JFK's famous"Ich bin ein Berliner"speech but when taken out of context reads clueless and clumsy.Maybe first acknowledge the omission of people of color before deflecting the question with humor.

How excited are you forFlorence?Do you think the May release date is significant in anyway?

Wednesday
Oct 22 2014

Meryl Streep's Set to Sing Off-Key (& Other News)

Manuelhere with some Streeptastic news.

Meryl Streephas just signed onto play Florence Foster Jenkins in an upcoming Stephen Frears film.Florencewill follow the eponymous protagonist,a New York heiress whose lack of musical talent didn't stop her from pursuing a career in opera in the early twentieth century.This should be good news for us Streep fans because it means we may get three back-to-back-to-back musically-centered Meryl films in a row.Remember she's set to play Maria Callas for Mike Nichols' HBO adaptation of Terence McNally'sMaster Classwhile she's currently filmingRicky and the Flash,the Diablo Cody-penned Jonathan Demme film about an aging rock-star.More thrillingly,the Frears/Demme/Nichols triple punch is the closest we've gotten in a while to Streep committing to working with top-tier directing talent (no offense to David Frankel,Philippa Lloyd and Philip Noyce).

It's as if she's been secretly reading TFE where Nat has constantly pointed out Streep's aversion to working with high calibre directors (give or take a Jonze or an Anderson detour).It's thrilling stuff even if it'll continue the "Meryl gets all the roles"narrative that's both inescapable and inevitable;she is a bankable actress after all.

I didn't want to just share Meryl's news (lest we faulted for playing favorites),so let's play a game of Six Degrees and offer some more news tidbits in the process:

Frears directedMrs Henderson Presentswhich is beingturned into a musicalat the Theatre Royal Bath next summer.That film starred Judi Dench,who is currentlyfilming the Sam Mendes producedThe Hollow Crown,a BBC drama that's been adapting Shakespeare's history plays.Her co-stars for this concluding entry include Benedict Cumberbatch,Sophie Okonedo (!!) and Sally Hawkins.

Dench starred in another Shakespeare property back in 1968 (A Midsummer Night's Dream) with the Queen herself,Helen Mirren.It has just been announced that Mirren's Stephen Daldry-directed playThe Audience,a sequel of sorts to her Oscar-winning role,ismaking its way to Broadwaynext Spring.

Daldry directed not only Streep but Julianne Moore inThe Hours;Moore is currently filmingFreeheldalongside Ellen Page. The film,focused as it is on a lesbian couple's struggle to apply for domestic partnership,just found itselffrozen out of a filming location(a Catholic school),presumably because of its subject matter.

Moore starred with inCrazy,Stupid,Lovewith Ryan Gosling,whose new 1970s thriller,The Nice Guys,directed by Shane Black,just added Kim Basingerto its cast.Basinger,who we haven't seen a while,starred in Robert Altman'sPrêt-à-Porterin 1994 with none other than Julia Roberts.Once the reigning queen of romantic comedies,Roberts famously starred inNotting Hillopposite Hugh Grant...who'll be Meryl's co-star inFlorence.

Phew!That was slightly harder than I thought.

What other renowned film directors would you like to see Streep work with?What other connections between Streep,Mirren,Dench,Moore and Basinger did I miss as I attempted to thread them all together?Are you hoping that in a couple of month's time we'll be able to group these women together because they're all Oscar winners?