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Monday, March 13, 2006


Prior to securing my big fat and fabulous gay job I was selling things right and left. This included much of my vast collection of DVD's -- of which I still have far too many. Anyway, it was kind of funny because I would discover that I had DVD's I didn't even know I had. One of them was THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE which is now considered Maggie Smith's shining cinematic moment. I think she won the OSCAR for it either the year before Barbra or the year after. It makes no never mind. Anyway, I am not even sure why I have it, but I do. And, no one wanted to buy it. So, I sat down and watched it this weekend. ...twice.

I watched it twice because I could not decide what I thought of it.

This sometimes happens to me. I will see a film, hear a song or read a book and it will make some sort of impression on me that leaves me confused. I find myself asking, "Hey! What in the hell did I just watch?" or "Hey! What was the point of that?" or "Hey! Did I love that movie or really hate it?" or "Hey! Why are you talking to yourself?" ...well, as long as one doesn't answer the questions out loud sanity is probably safe.

Anyway, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE left me totally conflicted about how I felt. The acting is exceptional -- particularly Dame Maggie Smith who rocks the mike. However, I kept thinking that both Quintin Crisp and the lead actress in the BBC series "Keeping Up Appearances" must have both been inspired by her mannerisms in this film. The script is sort of non-committed. By that I mean it is not clear to me if Jay P Allen was trying to create a political film, a sexual melodrama or sort of over-the-top mixture of both. Like many films of the late 60's the film is conflicted between old Hollywood cinema and the new realism that was sweeping into motion pictures. This was one of the first film to carry the notorious "M" rating which would later become the "R" rating. ...I think Liz Taylor/Richard Burton scored the first "M" rating with VIRGINIA WOLF, but this film was not far behind.

I won't offer up any spoilers in case one of you might decide to view it. I am going to give my copy to Ing so that she might let me know her thoughts on it. However, the film (based on both a novel and a play of the same name) takes place in from 1932 to approx 1935 in England. The setting is a conservative/upper class all girls school where Miss Brodie (fast approaching 50) is the off-center/eccentric teacher who prefers to "groom" her "gaaahls" than actually teach them. She is a teacher of life. Much more concerned with art and the positives of Italian fascism than literature or history. Oh, and she believes that she is in her absolute glowing prime. She has the habit of selecting four girls from each glass upon whom she devotes all of her attention. One is picked because she is sensible. The other because she is stupid and can be made to do whatever Miss B decides is best. The other is selected because she is friends with the other three, but the forth is picked because she represents the "virtues" that matter most to this odd teacher ---- beauty, primal sex and grace. Essentially, Miss Brodie gets off on pimping the hot girl to the art teacher with whom she once had a torrid affair.

Now, the film never explains why Miss. Brodie is the way she is or why she does the things she does. Nor does the film ever really explore her devotion to the rise of fascism or her disdain for the French and Americans. I would love to see what a filmmaker today would do with the source material. "...do as I say not as I do, gaaaahls"

After I watched the film for the second time I came to the conclusion that this beautifully photographed film is just a mess of ideas all trapped within the context of filmed play. Is it a comedy? I'm not sure. Do I care about the characters? No, I don't. Is it a good film? I really am not sure. Did I like it? Yeah, I think I did sort of love it but I am unable to defend my opinion. I could easily understand someone not liking it. Oh, and did I mention Rod McKuen wrote the musical score??!?!?

60's oddness. But, the thing is --- I don't think I will ever forget this film.

And the final shot of a mean-spirited young woman who has esstenially slapped a bit of reality into the face of Miss Brodie by calling her down for selfish actions and reducing her to what the viewer knows she is all along -- "a ridiculous woman" is so strange as we see her back walking away from the camera and Miss Brodie screaming, "Assassin! Assassin! Assassin!"

I am going to re-write it. I am going to call it THE PRIME OF MISTER STANFIELD. I just need to decide who I want to corrupt and ruin. Too bad I don't teach. Damn!


Blogger Me said...

This. Is. Creepy.
I just picked up this movie from the library. I ordered it in a few weeks ago because I had a memory of having watched it years ago. Can't tell you what it was that compelled me to get it again but something stuck with me and felt like I needed to watch it again. I love Maggie Smith. Maybe that's why. Anyway. How bizarre that you posted about it. I'm going to make some tea, curl up on the couch and watch.

10:54 PM  
Blogger matty said...

Meredith! Wow! This is strange! What are the chances?!?!? I can't wait to hear what you think of it! I am thinking of trying to find the book. I just feel like the film is missing a whole lot that must have been in the original source material. Tho, I think the book was popular British ficition. ...not high or political art. ...but the movie keeps trying to be something that it never can seem quite to be...

11:19 PM  
Blogger k said...

When I read Muriel Spark's book many years ago, I had no idea there was a movie out that starred Maggie Smith. And I am happy I didn't know because I hate it when a good book gets reduced to 'the book an XYZ movie is based on'. It is a good book in its own right, Maggie Smith starring in the movie is a bonus.

BTW, it is a pity that Muriel Spark's novels are so underrated and all but forgotten.


12:54 AM  
Blogger ginab said...

Maybe Maggie Smith is responsible for the disappearance of Ing.

What the hell has happened to my friend's blog? I'm about to nix mine...so perhaps it's the season.

Maybe it's her asteriks.

8:59 AM  
Blogger josh williams said...

Hey, I've been out of the loop for a bit but where in the hell is ing? I hit her link and its all white, do I go to the light? Is I dead? Where is ing? nice post by the way...Kind Regards JW, now I turn in, its time to snooze on this side of the globe.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

So Patricia Routledge (spelling) is in this? I heart her, especially as Hetty Wainthrop

8:15 PM  
Blogger matty said...

Kai -- I would like to read this book...

Gina -- I am at a loss as to what's going on with blogger and Ingrid's blog?!?!? But, hey! Please don't nix your blog! It is one of the highlights of my day!!!

Josh -- Ing is fine and well. I was just bothering her with my life worries on the phone tonight -- and she listened with a kind ear! Don't know what's up with her blog, tho! Blogger issues I suspect! Hope you had sweet dreams over there, Commander!

Jon -- No, I just can't help but think she took some inspiration from this performance by Maggie Smith.

9:33 PM  
Blogger ing said...

My blaaaaagh is back, gaaaaahls.

Hey, I can't wait to see this movie! I know you have mixed feelings, but the more I hear about it, the more I think I'm going to love it! (We'll see, though.)

I just got a nice used copy of the book -- would you like me to snag it for you, or are you in the midst of Alice Munro? Which reminds me, I really have to get going on my reading! Aaaaaaaahhhhh!

See you at Barbra's tonight!

12:50 PM  
Blogger Chris Capp said...

"I do not believe I have ever fully appreciated the taxing load of trivia with which a headmistress must concern herself."

My favorite line from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie -- aside from, of course, "I'm in my priiiiime!"

11:48 PM  
Blogger Lubin said...

Prime is one of my fave films! Jean Brodie kicks ass.

1:53 PM  
Blogger ginab said...

Outside of me being a new member of Netflix, I am way way way way behind on movies. I'm looking forward to seeing "City Lights" I'm that behind.

But what am I doing coming on here posting about my bunk because although I like Maggie Smith very much I have never seen this creepy movie. I am putting off studying one last time for tomorrow. I cannot wait to finish reading Harper Lee, and actually on Tuesday I am sitting in on a craft talk with Tim O'Brien. There's like 80 of us so it won't be too intimate, related to craft. Still, in my town. wow.

3:21 PM  
Blogger matty said...

Ing -- we saw it! Thank you!!!!

Chris -- That was a great line! Actually, there were many great lines!

Lubin -- Does she kick ass or is she evil? I couldn't decide. However, I do think I loved the movie. Just not sure I can defend my love of it.

Gina - That is so cool!!!!!

8:38 PM  
Blogger Me said...

Nope. This wasn't the Maggie Smith movie I thought I wanted to watch. What I thought I was ordering was something I saw M.S in once where it was her head doing a monologue. Sounds dreary but I remember being mesmerized. Now I'm going to go crazy trying to figure out what it was.
Anyway... As for The Prime of Miss Jean Brody.... The book is good. As with most movies the character has the depth dredged out of her. You feel like you need more information and there's always something great just out of reach. Also, Miss Brodie and I had a little bit too much in common for me to be comfortable. About 3/4 into it I felt kind of lost and started wondering how much longer it was going to go on. That's not good.
My verdict is Maggie Smith is always wonderful but the movie was missing too much to really snag me.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Me said...

and furthermore, when the heck is my prime? Am I there yet? Can I book a seat?

10:28 PM  
Blogger ing said...

Uh-oh, I think I loved this movie. No, I didn't "care" about the characters -- but I think that's because each character was so immersed in her own Camelot. Which can happen in school, or at least the kind of school depicted in the movie, a sort of finishing school as well as a place of regular old learnin'. In other words, this seemed to be a story about ideas, not about characters.

I liked the word "assassin" in this movie, the distinction between killing and assassinating. Fascists fall because they inspire new fascists -- this was sort of the conundrum of Brodie's teaching, I guess. By providing guidance and refusing to also provide direction (?), Brodie herself became the direction. A teacher fascinated with herself becomes the object of others' fascination, though she never allowed herself to actually consummate what she'd started with anyone. Her prime was this tenuous place where she could cling to the ideals of her self-as-a-young-lover and still be in her "priiiiiime," still enjoy her power and her influence.

The odd thing about this to me is (of course) the spinster aspect -- that the story appears to hold Miss Brodie in contempt. But I think the "spinster" is a stand-in for anyone who has brave ideas or fantasies but is too terrified to actually realize them. Sort of like the priest in that Tobias Wolff story, The Missing Person.

Nighty night.

1:26 AM  
Blogger ing said...


I loved the scene at the beginning when the two girls are dancing. I loved the blocking while they talked. Super neato.

1:28 AM  

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