I saw that this film, the first solo movie directing effort of Dustin Hoffman, was to be screened at the DGA’s excellent movie house in Hollywood, and that Dustin would be interviewed by Michael Apted (our last DGA president) for a Q & A after the screening.
If controversy was sought, they couldn’t have found a better place, or subject. Apted had been involved in directing Dustin in the movie Agatha, and as some of us remember, that movie was filled with litigious controversy, and my sister-in-law Vanessa costarred. . . but more about that later. What fun! I knew I had to be there.
I think that the L.A. Times review written with intelligence by the dependable Betsy Sharkey says it best, and I agree with her view, sometime xenophobe that she can be, so link on it here. Incidentally, I enjoyed seeing several of my old British actor friends of long ago working again.
This film is based upon the retired opera performers’ home in Milan, which was built by Verde over a hundred years ago. Casa di Riposo per Musicisti has been displaced to a village near the Thames countryside, and staged at Hedsor House, going now by the name of Beecham House. Most attractive it is, with lush English gardens and busy Victorian interiors.
There’s no such real opera performers’ home in England, sad to say, but we do have a real actors’ home, Denville Hall it’s called, which is where my mother-in-law Rachel Kempson spent some demented time. Here’s a brief documentary video from the priceless Pathé collection of ancient newsreels. (I’m being sneaky here as you’ll see if you watch it).
Dustin gets to direct with a sure hand, especially in his management of actors and crowds, and I hope he feels encouraged to continue with that occupation. It requires the willingness to learn a new skill-set, but there’s a great satisfaction in it, extending easily from the urge to act.
In the aftermath of the Newtown horrors, we may get to see the ascendancy of films like this; no violence, no guns, little exterior “action”, but much to think about in the recesses of the mind. I do believe that we seniors will be firmly planted in movie theatre seats once again, and face it, we have more time and spending money than the kids. But no way the big 4 (Universal, WB, Paramount, Disney) will favor the trend, and we’ll have to continue to depend upon the likes of Bob Weinstein, Sony, and Fox. Now that Ismael has gone from us, is Merchant Ivory still cooking, I wonder.