“Out of Africa” (1985)
d-Sydney Pollack w- Kurt Luedtke dp- David Watkin
“I mean, come on; when you have people writing these things, that you’re the greatest thing that ever ate scenery, you’re dead. You’re fucking dead. How can you even presume to begin a new character? It’s a killer.“
~ Meryl Streep
The novel “Out of Africa” was written by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) in 1935 and published in 1937 and recounts her life on a coffee plantation in British colonial Kenya from 1913 to 1931.
The movie version of Karen Blixen’s memoir was made in 1985 and starred Meryl Streep as Blixen and Robert Redford as big game hunter and naturalist Denys Finch-Hatton, with whom she had a passionate affair whilst estranged from her Danish husband of convenience, the Baron Brors Blixen(Klaus Maria Brandauer).
At least, that’s always been my reaction to the description of this film. I’d never seen it out of aversion to it’s subject matter. Also, Robert Redford kinda gives me the creeps. Or puts me to sleep. Not sure which. So, I netflixed it and forced myself to watch it, to enrich my film vocabulary, since it was an “important” film of the 1980’s
I’m very, very glad I did.
Karen Blixen was an amazing woman. She defies utterly any attempt to pigeon hole her. She was fiercely independent, yet possessive and grasping. She was unselfishly devoted to the Kikuyu natives who lived on her plantation, yet she could never perceive anyone else’s wants or needs. She was “liberated” ahead of her time, yet still naive about people’s motivations. Her romantic choices were unfortunate, choosing only flakes unable entirely to commit, and commitment and thus “ownership” of a man is what she (at least in the movie) craved most. Brors was pathologically incapable of being a decent husband in any way, and didn’t care much one way or the other. Denys, on the other hand, though he loved her dearly, suffered from what today is known as “commitment issues”.
Meryl Streep’s preformance is one of her very best, and only proves that the Academy is a very fallible judge of performance, as she lost the Oscar that year. Many people go on and on about the accents she uses and how well she does them, as though that is the hallmark of a great actor. Well, to my mind, that’s like saying that a writer is great because he can type well. It’s a tool of her profession, a means to and end for her. No, Meryl Streep’s brilliance lies in her amazing ability, a genius, of small character moments. She can say more with a pause and a look in her eye than most actors can say in a lifetime.
Now that we are eight years into the new century, we can safely look back and begin to make judgments about the last one. One I would make would be that Meryl Streep was the finest film actress of the 20th century. I know, I know. Hepburn. Davis. Stanwyck.
Still, I stand clear and firm on this. None of the others has (or had) her range. Ethel Barrymore, Helen Hayes…these were great actresses of the stage, whom I do not count as I have no personal way to judge their performances.
As to Robert Redford…well… he WAS charming and dashing as Finch-Hatton, but he wasn’t British and Denys Finch-Hatton was a Brit to the backbone. Redford was incapable of convincingly playing it so, and many of his lines were written with a British sensibility, and Redford just threw away the best lines, in my opinion.