A few months ago I caught Jackie (2016) which for a prolonged scene/montage we saw Jacqueline Kennedy beginning to grieve, preparing for her late husbands funeral. Playing throughout the scene and on the soundtrack is the stage version of Camelot as performed by Richard Burton. We learn later on that JFK saw himself as Camelot, clearly inspiration for him politically and ideology. The track – Camelot stayed with me for sometime after I came out of the cinema. I had to download it to satisfy the ear-worm that was now taking up residence in my head. It’s been about 6 months since I saw both the film and first listened again to the track. It’s been on a number of times in the car. Listening to the track out of context of the musical which I knew still nothing about. I find myself singing along to the track, picking up odd lines, still not ready to take it to karaoke yet – I will be one day. Listening to the lyrics I began to understand part of what the world that Richard Burton was trying to paint to his Guenevere, as if he was selling her his form of paradise. The climate in the kingdom of Camelot is ideal throughout the year. It’s all in decree by the king himself, making sure its all orderly, very British, allowing us to get one with the more important things – like afternoon tea.
Translating this back to the later film I have already got a better understanding of the film and the short-lived presidency of JFK, who dreamed of a utopian new America, which a large number bought into during the cold war, that’s ignoring his many critics who would rather him be out off office. Still that leads into the realm of conspiracies which I’m not going into/entertain. Anyway moving away from the more recent film connection, I first attempted to watch this musical over a year ago. It didn’t go well if I’m honest, it lasted less than 5 minutes before I gave up. The idea of Richard Harris singing it didn’t sit with me beyond the description in the listings. Then somewhere down the line I saw Paint Your Wagon (1969) where again I found actors who aren’t really suited to this world of the all singing and dancing numbers. But I stayed with it due to my curiosity for the film. Both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood would never have claimed to be singers. They were passable with a lot of training to put it politely, they were having a ball making the film. The much can be said for Camelot, a cast that is not really known for their singing abilities.
I think this time around with Camelot (1967), with the later film and the curiosity again I actually told myself to sit through it, plus wanting to see Camelot and sing along to the number above. It’s not really a song that on the surface is too hard to sing (not suggesting training went into the performance) however it has that William Shatner sound of talking the words which he aced with his rendition of Rocket Man. Could this be a speaking musical – if such a term exists? The main casting of this film is rather unusual yet I stuck with it. I found Harris to be a decent King Arthur without chewing up the set. Vanessa Redgrave‘s Guenevere wasn’t such as easy fit, more suited to drama’s I guess this was a finding her style role, seeing if she could, which to a certain extent she does. The musical numbers aren’t the grandest songs in musical history.
I did find myself still drawn to the Jackie connection, how did the Kennedy’s connect to the musical? For me it was the idea of uniting all the counties, each fighting among themselves. Arthur decides to unite the fighting knights to fight for right. Inviting all the knights of the realm/country to join him, lay down their arms and join him around the famous round table. One that I saw a recreation in Winchester a few years ago, hanging up and looking like a precursor to a dart board. Flyers go out across the country and before too long we see men riding in full armour towards the kingdom. Thats not before one of the flyers reaches France into the hands of Lancelot Du Lac (Franco Nero) yes a french knight played by an Italian whose not even trying to do the accent, probably because it would have sounded worse. I for one was constantly thinking about him dragging a coffin through a town in Django (1966). He just was poorly cast for a Frenchmen, probably seen as way to boost his international profile Hollywood. Better working with Sergio Corbucci, the role would have been better served by Omar Sharif in terms of accent – maybe. However Nero did bring an air of mystery, the practically unknown to everyone until Arthur remembers what Merlin Laurence Naismith predicted that he would sit with him around a table (not knowing it was round). This is naughty love interest for Guenevere that soon takes hold as she starts to pit others against him in hopes of driving him away or to prove to herself if he’s worthy of her affections, that were too quickly won by Arthur and his selling of paradise.
It’s this idea of paradise that he wants to spread across the country, the start of modern Britain, lawmakers and government not just by one monarch which is essentially a dictatorship without the advisors. Bringing all these knights likes Senators of the 50 states of America together in Washington for greater good than they’d been doing before obviously inspired. Was JFK essentially dreaming of a better world that was now entering the 2nd decade of the Cold War. He oversaw the Cuban missile crisis, encouraged the space programme among other things. Now the use of Camelot in Jackie makes a lot more sense, enriching the film in terms of the relationship that’s now being grieved for. It’s a reminder of what’s essentially a reminder, a memento of stage production, and inspiration for a man. I come away with all of this after a film that is definitely watchable, lots if a fun and songs you don’t really need to have a great voice to have fun with.
I’ve had a day to really process Jackie (2016) a film I have really been looking forward to. If only to gauge into more into the history of American history, it’s a glimpse into the life of Jacqueline Kennedy around the events of her husband John F. Kennedy, which really need little explaining really. It’s the first time that any First Lady has really been given the feature-length treatment which makes for another strong reason to check out this bold film that could open up for further first lady biopic’s.
Anyways enough of the introductions to first look at Natalie Portman‘s performance which really is her best, I know the trailer gave me a glimpse of what was to be seen. It’s a role that she has completely lost herself to, becoming absorbed into a public figure who has reached legendary status, short of what her husband reached. We meet her weeks what’s thought to be a few weeks after the state funeral for President Kennedy, giving her account of events to a journalist, believed to Theodore H. White of LIFE magazine played by Billy Crudup whose faced with the most challenging interview of his career. Jackie from the outset tells him that it’s her story, which she will personally edit before being published. Throughout the film we cut back to the interview for her to tell him not to write this or that. It’s too private to be released to the public, something that has not stopped the public’s imagination and countless biographies that have since pieced together her life and events around J.F.K’s assassination. Looking at Portman which she is not for the course of the film, she is so poised that you accept her as Jackie.
Where do I start with these events that slowly move forward from the assassination through to the funeral. The process of grieving on-screen allows us to get inside the still raw and fragmented memories that are still fresh for Jackie. An approach which I had prepared myself for. These memories make up a film that feels raw and very personal, whilst also putting in the necessary fact such as the rushed inauguration of J.B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) which can only reminded and reinforce the fact she is no longer the first lady. Everything is happening so fast for her, whilst for us its slowed down.
I have to mention the soundtrack by Mica Levi who last provided the disturbing atmosphere to Under the Skin (2013). Here the music is more traditional with an unnerving edge that gets again under the skin of the audience. It stops you from getting to comfortable as we see a woman’s life change over the space of a few days, her position, status and situation all changed.
Portman allows us into raw and vulnerable of times in Jacqueline Kennedy’s life as we see her having to deal with the change in not only her position to having to deal with the funeral arrangements, those suitable for a man of J.F.Ks standing, wanting the same level of ceremony that’s attached to Abraham Lincoln. There is a bit of history within the film in this respect as she starts to see his own position in American history, the 3rd President to be assassinated and unique, becoming the 4th and last to date. The unfolding events in connection to Lee Harvey Oswald who was later killed. All this history packed into this heavy film.
We see touch upon a single parent having to explain to the children of their fathers death, not an easy task for any spouse that has been left behind. However we hardly see the kids, its all about her and her grief, the kids are just too young to really understand. In concentrating on the wife we see a side of the marriage and Presidency that was unknown to me – Camelot the musical, having compared him to the a few times, we hear the final track as recorded by Richard Burton blasting through the White house as she begins to really process and grieve for her husband. A montage of that time which could have been hours, a night or a few days, preparing to leave and for the funeral, still playing the role of First Lady it will take one last appearance to bring her role to a close. I’m amazed how Portman could turn on the tears with and well the eyes up, she must have been tapping into personal events to deliver the emotion on-screen.
Away from her we have reality in the White House carrying on, L.B. Johnson wanting to move in and set up in the Oval office. Whilst Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) is left with the task of looking after Jackie who needs to be handled delicately, we see him on the defensive against the new administration as he tries to grieve for his brother which takes the form of swearing. He’s guiding her through, protecting her from potential danger and reality as it happens around her.
So coming to the film as a practical novice as far as Jackie Kennedy is concerned I have gained an insight into the events which combine recreations of events, if only in part to build up an image of who she was during that tragic time in her life. What caught me was the recreation of the White House tour, putting herself on display for the world, opening up the house to the nation. Staying true as possible to the original piece. From director Pablo Larraín who created the authentic (as possible) look for the recreation comes from a much effect used for No (2012) which converted footage from an old film camera – producing a very authentic polarising and washed out SD image.
Obviously this film has been held back for the good ol’ Oscar bait, it’s not a film you’ll remember for the events depicted within, if anything its that one performance which makes it worth watch. Also one of John Hurt’s last performances, you can see a lifetime of work is on display in his role as the unnamed priest, you can see a life of experience in his face, the Irish accent is forgivable and almost natural. bring with him his natural grandeur and that little nod that raises the film further up. I hope that Portman wins best Actress, although she has stiff competition from France with Isabelle Huppert who I would like to see in Elle (2016)