Archive for the Sam Mendes’s film Category

Time to consider Leo

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on February 3, 2009 by kateonyates

‘Winslet is let down by her sparring partner, DiCaprio, who is badly miscast in this role. With that podgy babyface of his, he looks like a little boy dressed up in daddy’s suit. And when the Wheelers go into battle, the film displays a stiff theatricality that betrays Mendes’s roots in the stage.’ (

So says Cosmo Landesman in last w/e’s Sunday Times. Hmmm…….

I think this is unfair although I have to admit to thinking along similar lines all last year before I’d seen him as Frank Wheeler.  However, I think I was wrong. DiCaprio plays a difficult role extraordinarily well and in his rage there is none of the ‘stiff theatricality’ that Landesman is so ready to scorn at. In their major row – a row where everything is hurled and spirits are broken – DiCaprio is Winslet’s equal. In the office scenes Frank looks like a young buck next to the others: that’s because he’s supposed to. We have to be convinced that he could play this work game and win; he could make a choice to stay up there on the fifteenth floor and write memos and brochures. He could use his youthful energy to ‘good’ effect for the company if he chose to do so. The others are there because they’ve grown up there and have no choices left and Mendes uses the visual contrasts between the ravaged, hard-drinking men, and Leonardo’s younger face and body to illustrate that. He is after all, supposed to have ‘the unemphatic good looks that an advertising photographer might use to portray the discerning consumer of well-made but inexpensive merchandise (Why Pay More?).’ Just about perfect I’d have thought.

Ryan Gilbey, in the New Statesman ( writes the following:

It’s a standard gripe that DiCaprio is too boyish to play anyone not wearing short trousers and brandishing a slingshot, but like the complaint that policemen are getting younger these days, it tends to say more about the observer than the observed. DiCaprio looks as he should: like he just hit 30 and realised that he’s neither a kid nor the adult he always hoped to be. He wears defeat well.

I think this accords more with my view. What I would say is that this is not a film to see once, especially not if you are a Yates fan. You have to shed your preconceptions (first viewing) and then you notice so much more about how  successful Mendes is in conveying some of the book’s subtleties. Not all. But some…


A poor show in The Daily Telegraph

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 28, 2009 by kateonyates

This article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 27th January. I thought it was interesting that such a well-known figure in media circles took it upon himself to share such a gross mis-reading of both the text and the film. My response, which I sent to the paper, follows the article. They didn’t publish it I think because I should have sent it to his blog.

Charles Moore:

Revolutionary Road: It’s just snobbery to say the suburbs lack passion

It has long been considered the mark of a clever person, particularly a clever young person, to despise suburbia. Frank Wheeler, excellently played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a clever young man. He says that he wants “to feel things, really feel them”, and talks of “the whole idea of suburbia being to keep reality at bay”.

This makes life difficult for Frank and his beautiful, even more restless wife April (Kate Winslet), because they live in New York suburbia, in a road called, piquantly, Revolutionary Road. It is the early 1950s, and Frank commutes to the city for a salesman/head-office job which he endures only by turning it into a sort of joke. The couple have two little children, who very rarely cross their minds.

In the novel by Richard Yates from which the film derives, the suburban setting makes a deliberately uneasy contrast with the life of passion and truth which the couple seek, or think they seek: “The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy. Even at night, as if on purpose, the development held no looming shadows and no gaunt silhouettes. It was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves”. At the end of the film, when a tragedy has just occurred, a distraught Frank runs through the darkening streets, full of a drama to which they do not awake.

Unfortunately, though, films have a way of glamourising everything, and so, when DiCaprio is filmed on his daily commute and you see him and his behatted male commuters emerging in Grand Central Station, they look as exciting breasting the horizon as the Magnificent Seven. And the white-boarded house in Revolutionary Road looks so pleasant that one finds oneself agreeing with Mrs Givings, the loquacious, supposedly despicable bourgeois woman who sold it to the Wheelers, that it is an ideal home for a lovely young family. One just wants Kate and Leonard to stop fussing and settle down and have baby number three which, at a key, decisive moment, is discovered to be on the way.

April gets it into her head that Frank’s originality would blossom if he threw up his job and they went to Paris, where she could earn enough money by working as a secretary for Nato or something, and he could do nothing but “really feel”. Silly girl, I felt, can’t she see that this banal escape would achieve nothing, and that Frank would do much better to accept the promotion at work promised by charismatic Bart Pollock? It is hard to sympathise with the message of the film, which seems to be that April, more than anyone else, is brave, and seeks truth.

The novel, which is beautifully written, is rather cruel and condescending to the world it depicts, but at least it makes it clear that the true enemy is not suburbia in itself, but the tragic fact of life that the search for truth and authenticity can itself be untrue and inauthentic. For Yates, April, the one who searches the hardest, is the most unreal. She is always acting a part – being in love, feeling hatred, even being alive.

Perhaps because Kate Winslet is married to the director, Sam Mendes, the film misses this. With her lovely, neurotic looks, she is somehow in the right even if she seems in the wrong. The film reduces to the essentially snobbish point that the suburbs are full of boring people and we must all side with the beautiful and the damned against their nice neighbours, the stolid men and their desperately chattering wives.

So, when Frank uses April’s third pregnancy as an excuse for not going to Paris after all, and she rebels by illicitly and illegally aborting the child, the audience is encouraged to think that she is doing the authentic thing. If you live in Revolutionary Road, it seems to say, you aren’t really living, so it is braver to die.

My own bourgeois sensibility rose up against this. Why wasn’t April thinking about the children she was leaving and the child she was bearing? Why couldn’t she involve herself in some useful local activity? Was it really necessary to be so moody at parties? After the drama is over, Mrs Givings says that the Wheelers were “a bit whimsical” for the neighbourhood, and left “filthy smudges all around the doorknobs”. Hear, hear.

Why are creative people so down on the suburbs? We must all live somewhere, and the combination of urban convenience with rural verdure is what a great many people like. What a narrow view it is to think that life can only be free if you live in Paris, or Hampstead (very much a suburb when first patronised by artists) or a tumbledown cottage in the middle of nowhere. A great artist like Chekhov wrote superbly about how bourgeois people can feel stifled in their lives, but he was much too subtle and sympathetic to attribute this merely to their postcode.

Having lived only in London and in the country, perhaps I am taking an over-romantic view, but when I pass places like Croydon or Chislehurst on the train, I think of them as pullulating with interesting, secret life. Oh for a cinematic Betjeman to reveal this, and celebrate it.

This is my response:

I have to take issue with Charles Moore’s reading of Revolutionary Road, both the novel and the film. My ‘bourgeois sensibility’ also rises up when faced with an article which reveals the ending of a film not yet released in this country. Mr Moore’s piece in today’s Telegraph (January 27th) includes several mis-readings and one glaring contradiction. He correctly states that the novel makes it clear that ‘the true enemy is not suburbia’ and then devotes his last two paragraphs to addressing the question ‘Why are creative people so down on suburbia?’ It is also incorrect to say that ‘For Yates, April…is the most unreal.’ Has Mr Moore not noticed that our impressions of April are, by and large, filtered through Frank’s perspective? It is Frank Wheeler, and his self-delusions, that Yates works hardest to expose. Finally, both Sam Mendes and Richard Yates are at pains to show, in the character of Shep and Milly Campbell, that there are people who live happily in suburbia; they may not set the world alight but they are kind, full of neighbourly concern and keen to do the right thing.

So what do you all think?

The Premiere in London Town

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 21, 2009 by kateonyates

As promised but I’ll keep it short…. Just as I was warned by my mate in LA, it was all a little disappointing, the glamour bit I mean. You hang about, you talk to each other because you have no idea who anyone is and they clearly haven’t discovered you, so that bit’s all a bit irksome. There was nice wine though at the pre-party in the St Martin’s Lane Hotel. Lots of buzz and noise and candles and cameras but no substance…..for me.

Then came the fun bit as we walked in the chill January air through the alleyways to Leicester Square. The place was just seething with people and with noise; I’ve never seen anything like it. All the trees in the square were lit up from below by white lights that swirled around making the trees look as if they were dancing in frost. The noise was extraordinary. We had to walk round the far side of the square to have our tickets checked and then up the red carpet. Now that was good fun; I can’t pretend three hundred (more? yes, much more) flashbulbs going off in my general direction is an every day occurance. It was even more extraordinary that everyone was screaming my name!

Kate and Leo both made short speeches before hand and then they rolled the film (perhaps people don’t ‘roll’ film anymore). The film was truly great. I enjoyed it so much more this time round mainly, I think, because I wasn’t nervously waiting to see whether criminal damage had been done to Yates’s work. I knew it hadn’t. It’s different, in places very different, but it’s good and Kate Winslet is really fantastic.

So there you are. That was it. Off to a bar with my husband to hear his views and they were all good. He was waxing lyrical about Sam Mendes for hours…..oh and one other thing, Yates’s name is in the credits. A friend had thought it wasn’t. It’s there!

Losing the Laurel Players

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 16, 2009 by kateonyates

I just can’t hold off any longer but am restraining myself to the beginning of the film and book. Apologies if you haven’t seen the film yet but go and judge for yourself how this ‘absence’ affects the story we receive.

The most glaring omission in the film is the play at the beginning. Every time I re-read Revolutionary Road I am struck anew by the brilliance, and in terms of the subsequent narrative, the importance of the writing in this chapter. Yates creates a marvellous piece of work here: it’s self-contained, would work as a short story and it informs us, quietly informs us, as to what he wants to say. The whole focus on theatricality is a prelude to his examination of social performance; the posing that he highlights with real humour but which he was, in all earnestness, keen to expose and hold up for a proper examination, is central to the narrative from the off. So, of course, the book is framed by two tragic performances from April (albeit two performances of a very different kind) and filled with so many performances from Frank and they begin, for us, that night as he arrives at the school hall/theatre ready to play his role as the husband of the beautiful, successful April Wheeler….only it doesn’t work out like that.

Missing out the play, as Mendes does, skews the story. We don’t get the nuances about ‘performance’ correctly, deeply….we only get suggestions and snippets….and it isn’t enough. Another thing that is missing is Yates’s brilliantly interwoven commentary on the individual versus the community. This was Eisenhower’s America and they were being fed a regular diet of ‘Let’s pull together now’ and Eisenhower’s own version of ‘Yes We Can’ (am I right?) so it is not incidental that Yates weaves in his own version of this. Look at the words of the director of the play – it’s all there: “Remember this. We’re not just putting on a play here. We’re establishing a community theater, and that’s a pretty important thing to be doing.” And then later we are given this: ‘The main thing, though, was not the play itself but the company – the brave idea of it, the healthy, hopeful sound of it: the birth of a really good community theater right here, among themselves.’ At this point, Yates seems to be drawing an ironic parallel with all that America wanted to be; the community theatre is America – just for a moment. It’s not heavy-handed or overworked but I think it’s there. So again, by removing the play, and all its permutations, you miss this.

In tandem with this emphasis on the hopefulness of community spirit and the stress on ‘it’ not being about individuals, you have a description of each of our protagonists which makes it clear that it is all about individuals: they can’t leave their egos behind/aside. Frank’s ego is writ large and so is the director’s. For a brief moment, at the dress-rehearsal, those poor players manage it. They experience a coming together, listening to each other, taking their cues, and they get it right. But Yates’s ironic description of how they felt so good afterwards warns us that this is somehow temporary and unsustainable: ‘”See you tomorrow!” they called, as happy as children, and riding home under the moon they found they could roll down their windows of their cars and let the air in, with its health-giving smells of loam and young flowers. It was the first time many of the Laurel Players had allowed themselves to acknowledge the coming of spring.’ It’s romantic; they are like children; its eager and that eagerness is somehow dangerous.

And then the director….the play falls apart because someone is ill and the director takes his part. The director, the one who stressed with such emphasis (wonderfully described by our Dick), is the one who lets them down. Why? Because he is too vain to go on stage without his glasses. So for all that talk about coming together and community it is this individual who creates the domino effect of collapse. He knocks the glass of water over and then all the timing goes. It is just so beautifully described. By taking that out we don’t pick up all Yates’s points about the struggle to be an individual and how to live in a [suburban] community.

The question is, could Mendes and Haythe have done it and not suffered for it? Monica (Yates) Shapiro was also sad about the absence of this iconic beginning. I interviewed her recently and, although she is very, very enthusiastic about the film, she acknowledged how she felt. (NB. these are her words; she is not quoting Sam Mendes and Scott Rudin):

Ohhh that’s such a sadness…. You know what they say about that, right? No,who? Scott and Mendes…about not having the play at the beginning? No. What do they say? They say that they had it, and they had it in there, but… that if you leave it there it makes it about a girl who wanted to be an actress and failed. If you put too much focus on something it takes the balance away from the forward direction of the story. Any reader is in love with that scene and would have loved to see it animated, up there. That’s the heartbreak because all the scenes you love don’t get to be animated but everyone that’s in there is basically animated just how you pictured it.

And this makes sense to me. However, I’ve been thinking about it a lot since and playing, ‘What if…’ with the whole thing. If Mendes had begun the film with play, maybe the end of the dress-rehearsal, including the director’s speech, then cut to the performance with emphasis on Frank’s face as it changes from pride and smugness to bewilderment and horror, then to the curtain call that we do see, the bit in the dressing room and them (so beautifully filmed), leaving the hall together but so apart and then, only then, roles the credits….then there is something self-contained and prologuish about this start. The film could, after the credits, begin in the present, weaving in the back story of their meeting later on, as a flashback. Admittedly, there would be ten minutes of film before the credits but that’s been done before hasn’t it?

I know it’s extraordinarily arrogant of me to suggest how Mendes might have done it better when I don’t know the first thing about film but, as you all know, I did dare to criticise his ending, to his face and he accepted that – I think!

Not a review of the film…..yet!

Posted in Sam Mendes's film on January 13, 2009 by kateonyates

In England Revolutionary Road, the film, has not yet been released so I am holding fire until after the 30th January before expressing my opinion. I thought I should explain my silence. Meanwhile, over on zhiv, there is a fantastic, long, detailed analysis worth pondering and responding to if you are keen to get going on this.

I am off to the London Premiere on Sunday; now there’s a treat in store. I’ll let you know how it goes. ‘Frankly, it’s analysis, not glamour pieces we want now!’ I hear you shouting. Tough.