peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2014 12 25 MrTurner

Mr Turner

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$12, Landmark at 2828 Clark, 4.45pm. There's nowhere to wait near where they check your tickets, so I sat on the floor next to the cleaning equipment and chugged some n+1 triumphalism. The cycle up was OK (the weather is quite mild), back not so much (stiff southerly, a tad cold). I'd guess this session was half-full on their busiest day of the year.

The pull of this long movie is director/writer Mike Leigh. I knew this wasn't going to be Naked, and I always have my doubts about artist biopics. They make some sense for people like Oscar Wilde, whose art and life were continguous, and not much at all for visual artists, where artifact and individual can be quite disjoint. I'd make an exception for Brett Whiteley though, and along the same lines, writers Patrick White (no thanks) and Tim Winton. I went in cold about J.M.W. Turner, who was born around the time Australia was getting started as a replacement for the restive America. Timothy Spall makes him into a low-class man who takes his pleasure by sketching the extreme, ribbing the pretentious, and never being in any doubt as to his abilities and stature. I don't know how this squares with his apparent wealth; his father was a barber, deepening the mystery. Spall is totally natural and excellent if that is what he set out to achieve, and Dorothy Atkinson as his long-suffering servant is perfect. I enjoyed the science experiment in the middle, featuring a luminous Lesley Manville with a Scots accent as Mary Somerville. The emphasis on the mysteries of light is wonderful, and the cinematography glorious. Ditto for when Robert Stephenson's locomotive steams into view, and the skepticism about art surviving the new technology (daguerreotypes). Dick Pope has photographed much of Leigh's work, including Naked. I can't recall having seen Leigh express wonder about natural philosophy before; dare I hope for an Isaac Newtown biopic from him?

A bloke at the Guardian gestures at more scenes and found it a bit dull. Dana Stevens loved it; I concur with her that this is a homage from one great English artist to another. She reminds me that Leigh always makes period films, that the entire cast was excellent, and that Turner is shown to have a broad appreciation of beauty including music and poetry. A. O. Scott must have been relieved that he (finally) had something worth writing about. ("Lust for life" indeed.) One could go on.