Movies – The seams of society

2011-10-07 12:30

Film: The Help (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Tate Taylor
Featuring: Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer
Rating: 9/10

You will find this Disney film on your Oscar watch list for next year.

If I were a betting woman I’d put money on Bryce Dallas Howard – actress daughter of Oscar-winning director Ron Howard – getting a nod.

Viola Davis will more than likely get her second nomination, her first being for the drama Doubt two years ago.

It might well get nominations for a whole lot of other things too, such as script and design to name but two.

The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s debut 2009 novel set in the 1960s in the US deep south.

After being rejected by 60-odd agents it has, since publication, sold five million copies.

In the film, the civil-rights movement is gaining momentum, John F Kennedy is in power and change is coming, but not in the south where these characters live.

This peculiarly domestic story is about women, as a function of the time it is set in, but also because then (and still) matters of the home fall on the shoulders of women.

It is also a story that could as easily have been told in South Africa, and not only in the 1960s.

Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) comes home from college to find her all-white, privileged, school friends following in their mothers’ footsteps.

Marriage, babies, charity drives and abusing or, at best, ignoring the black help – the very women who helped raise them.

The queen bee of the home scene is Hilly Holbrook (Dallas Bryce Howard), a woman so odious and full of a sense of her own self-importance, it’s revolting to watch. And it’s what will get Howard a shot at that Oscar.

After getting a job at the local paper answering housekeeping questions, Skeeter asks her friends if she can get help with the answers from “the help” – particularly Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis).

But what begins as a few innocent discussions about stain removal becomes much more as Skeeter starts to see the real stories of her hometown, and then she wants to tell them.

The stories of the women who are the seams of society’s fabric, but who are systematically disregarded, who have their dignity denied every day.
Before long, Skeeter is collecting stories and has Aibileen and her friends telling some shockers.

South Africans will find this film particularly meaningful. It is about the woman who watched you after school, the woman who had to leave you with your aunt so she could watch some other woman’s child and the woman who spends all day with your child today.

The film might be about a unique set of relationships, but ultimately it is a story about humanity and about how we care for each other, especially those who are more vulnerable than we are.

Hilly represents the very worst of the worst, a person with no empathy who couldn’t be bothered to walk in another person’s shoes.

She is a narcissist and while she might be an extreme character, I think everyone knows at least one.

As for Spencer’s character, she is the kind of woman you would want on your side whatever the fight, while Davis portrays the dignified and long-suffering Aibileen with great sensitivity.

Look out for a cameo by the great Cicely Tyson as Skeeter’s childhood carer Constantine. Some of the film’s most touching moments are between these two, the child and her “other mother”.

The Help is beautifully styled, compassionately acted, uproariously funny and deeply moving. There is no one who won’t enjoy this film and with our country’s history and socioeconomic realities, there isn’t a character you won’t recognise as someone you know or have gossiped about.

Oscar to finally have a home

The movies may finally get their museum, but it won’t be as flashy as originally planned.

Scaling back a proposal to build a landmark building in Los Angeles’ Hollywood district, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said this week that it would join with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to develop a museum for the movies.

In a joint statement, They did not disclose the expected cost of the new museum or the amount of the academy’s expected contribution.

The new site would require much less than the anticipated $400 million (about R3.3 billion) cost of the Hollywood project, though it would have more exhibition space.

The new plan follows the collapse of an ambitious effort by the academy, which has about 6 000 members drawn from Hollywood’s professional ranks, to build a huge, free-standing museum as a showcase for the history and craftsmanship of film.

That structure was to have been adjoined to its existing Mary Pickford Centercorrect for Motion Picture Study, where the academy preserves and stores film prints.

But that plan fell apart, as a long writers strike in 2007 and then the 2008 financial crisis diminished fundraising prospects.

Under the arrangement agreed on this week, the county museum will lease space and provide guidance for the movie museum, but the academy will own and control the project and will establish an endowment for its support.

The academy’s chief executive Dawn Hudson said the proposed museum would include newly gathered collections and material drawn from 42 000 movie posters and 10 million movie photographs that are mostly locked away in the academy’s archives. – New York Times

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