Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hemingway and Gellhorn (HBO, 2012)

Good morning!

Well, I've been through another movie watching binge this week. Lately, it has occurred to me that though I work in a public library with thousands, upon thousands, of free movies at my command, I have been frittering my hard earned money away on Amazon Instant Rentals and a Hulu plus subscription! As much as I love the convenience of just clicking a button and having the latest Ethan Hawke horror movie right there at my fingertips, I'm endeavoring to do better and am checking out DVDs I've meant to watch from the (free! free! free!) NPL system. Monday, I watched the HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as the titular characters.

I love these expressions like "She said WHAT? ABOUT WHO?" (source)
It's funny because I waited something like a month to get this popular title to show up on the hold shelf, and then once it had arrived, had lost all interest in actually watching it. I AM SO BAD ABOUT THIS, and I think it's a uniquely modern problem. Do you know what I mean? Ten years ago, pre-Youtube, pre-Netflix, pre-Hulu, I would have been so grateful to have the physical media in my hands and at my disposal that I would have cancelled plans in order to have free time to watch it! Call people up and have them over, "Hey! I've got that new Hemingway movie on DVD, get over here!" Now, nine times out of ten, unless it's something extraordinary, I've usually lost interest between ordering a movie and a week plus's worth of waiting for it. However, as I said, I'm turning over a new leaf, and I popped the movie in on Monday to watch it in its entirety.

The story centers around the romance of machismo-on-legs, Great American Writer Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, war correspondent  Martha Gellhorn. It's a real life love story that must have as complicated and torturous as anything Hemingway wrote, but the movie knocks it down into a few key thematic elements and a 154 minute run time. They drink in sweaty Cuban bars. They trade quips over the Spanish Civil War. They have moments of life-changing revelations about the hell of war. They have LOTS of almost late-night Cinemax caliber sex. Hemingway gets drunk a lot, Gellhorn gets wanderlust a lot. I initially thought British Clive Owen was struggling with Hemingway's American accent, but apparently, in light of this clip of the great author recorded in the 1950's, that's just how Papa talked!!

It's always interesting to me to watch biopics of famous people because even when they're bad (cough: Elvis and Me, cough), they're kind of good. Kind of good in the sense that I will watch them and enjoy them regardless of the quality, as long as it's just above godawful. In this one, Hemingway landing a marlin the size of Texas on his fishing boat in the first fifteen minutes of screentime, and Gellhorn parading around both Havana and war torn Spain in iconically derriere-clinging slacks, kind of sets the quasi-serious, quasi-shorthand tone of the movie, and I can't say I wasn't happy to watch the whole thing.

I was ready to just hate-hate it, as there's a lot of dialogue stripped straight from Hemingway books, which stands naked and awkward as words actually coming out of people's mouths in the movie, and there's a lot of really bad "What do you think about that, Hemingway?" "Well, I don't know, Gellhorn" last-name-calling banter that makes my skin crawl. However! Reading this FABULOUS review in Vulture about the movie, made me think twice or three times over what I had seen. It's not fabulous in that the reviewer loves, loves the movie (he doesn't), but in how nuanced a look he takes at elements of what seems offhandedly to be a pretty terrible movie. I might actually go back and watch it again to hear director Phillip Kaufman (who is certainly no slouch; he made one of my favorite horror movies of all time, the only decent film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in 1978) audio commentary and rethink some of the points Seitz brought up in his review.

For an example of "what they got right", one of the neatest parts of the movie is Kaufman's choice to blend made-to-match new footage with of-the-time newsreel footage of the wars Hemingway and Gellhorn saw first hand, to embed the characters in pre-existing archival footage. I know it could have been a goofy, Forrest Gump-esque special effect, but it really works. I'd never noticed how static and impersonal historical newsreel footage looked to me until you're watching, say, this bombed out building and all these people milling around in the aftermath, and you see Nicole Kidman walking through it. You recognize her as being an actual person who you are personally invested in, and that makes the whole scene more meaningful. Isn't that weird? You can read more about how they accomplished these effects here (PS can I please be green screened into some movie premiere on the arm of Dana Andrews or Cary Grant? Ok, thanks).

Real footage all around her, and Kidman in the center. Isn't that kind of magical? (source)
Another high point was definitely the costumes. Ruth Meyers was nominated for an Emmy for the production, and I think she should have won-- it's hard to make war correspondents look both natural and glamorous, but there was an effortless dazzle to the clothes in every single scene of the movie. Clive Owen is wearing a beret AND a cape for a goodly part of his Spanish screen time, and he looks like a million dollars! Also, who knew I wanted a fur coat like that until now? I WANT A COAT LIKE THAT SO BADLY.


Are you a Hemingway fan? Do you watch a lot of Hollywood biopics? If you saw the movie, what did you think about Owen and Kidman's performances? Seen any good recent releases lately? Am I dumb enough to watch a two and a half movie I didn't like much in the first place a SECOND time? Let's talk!

That's all for today kids! Get a gander at the trailer for this movie if you haven't seen it yet below. I'll see you all tomorrow!


  1. Hmm! I DVRed it and then lost interest, like you! I went through a pretty serious Hemingway phase in high school but don't remember much about it, unfortunately. I love Hemingway in "Midnight In Paris" but I imagine it's the not same in this movie! :) I want to check it out but hmmm... just not so sure! I am intrigued by the newsreel footage you mentioned though!

    1. Again, it's not good, but I really kind of guiltily enjoyed watching it. Midnight in Paris was THE BEST, I secretly wish Woody Allen would collaborate with some other director to make a movie about just-the-twenties' parts of that movie-- I think he's the only director who's "gotten it right" instead of painting broad caricatures of the authors in a movie. It was comical, at the same time as it felt accurate.

      If it's on your DVR, though, definitely check it out! You can fast forward through the lame parts. :)

  2. I go to our local library regularly for DVDs as they're either cheap or free from there, but I don't know many other people who do it, I try to spread the word though, as a great supporter of the library system should! I know what you mean about how spoilt we've become when it comes to being able to watch whatever we want. Maybe it's necessary though, when we first got the internet I really was addicted, I could have sat there literally all day every day watching old Smiths clips on YouTube and countless other subjects that interested me, so I had to learn to let go! This film does sound good, sometimes you can really wallow in a not particularly great film and still really get into it. I do like biopics, the last one I saw was about Zelda Fitzgerald, it wasn't particularly great and had some cringy bits, I hate it when you suddenly remember you're atching actors, I like to get sucked right into believing it all, but I still enjoyed it. Sorry if this comment is a bit all over the place, I have a horrible hangover this morning and can't think straight, but I really liked this post Lisa. xx



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