Tag Archives: films

Kate Winslet 2: family, friends and lovers

Apart from noting that she’s played characters with the same name a few times, I also started to browse for themes among the relationships of the roles Kate Winslet plays. In the last post on her, I looked at whether she goes mad and dies in all her films. In this one I’m wondering: is she a mother often, a lover, a sister/daughter or a friend?

I note that the relationship that appears in nearly all her films is lover; only in small parts (such as Divergent/Insurgent and the Extras episode) does she not have romance – with the exception of The Life of David Gale, where the principal relationship is between her as journalist to condemned campaigner. In Steve Jobs, her relationship is again to the titular man in a professional sense and her own family is unmentioned. In Contagion she barely has a relationship at all, but is part of a much wider cast.

Kate has often played a mum, talking about this at great (and I have to say) cloying length in interviews. She was first a mum in 1998’s Hideous Kinky, when she was yet to be one herself. She spends her promotional material for Little Children saying what a bad mum her character Sarah is, unlike her, and how she found the scatty adventure loving mum roles hard. Kate’s very keen we know she’s not like that to her own children, dropping in anecdotes of how close and involved they are.

But as for being part of a family in her films, this is a rare scenario. The few times we see Kate’s character’s parents, it’s often dysfunctional – an easy word to slap on most of us – but Juliet of Heavenly Creatures is unhappy in the love triangled, emigrating Hulme family; in Holy Smoke, although there’s a strong link with her mum, she’s betrayed by her whole kooky family into being captured to be deprogrammed by an arrogant stranger. Rose’s so desperate to escape her snakily controlling mum that she allows her to think Rose is dead after Titanic sinks. In Quills, Madeleine bed shares with her mum whom she works with, and is one of her happiest mother daughter roles, putting a protective arm round her blind mum when they’re interrogated. I note she’s often got an absent father –  in Sense and Sensibility and Quills; and he leaves the family for an affair in Holy Smoke. The only time sisters are important is Sense and Sensibility and we see brothers in All the Kings Men and The Holiday. Quite often, her own birth family’s not mentioned.

Even rarer is friendship. Other than her debut film, where the friendship is seen by some as psychopathic and unhealthy, Kate is not really with any significant friends in her films. I’d like to make clear that I don’t consider the possibly gay or homo-romantic relationship in Heavenly Creatures as unhealthy, mad or anything to do with the crime they commit, except for the bigotry and paranoia which led to the attempt to separate them. But it’s notable that Kate’s never had much onscreen companionship since. Ruth’s got Prue in Holy Smoke, who tells on her, and there’s a girly posse who arrive and warmly greet her on her return from India. In Hideous Kinky, there’s the small part of Eva who appears as the veiled fellow Sufi-chaser, but little mention of friends at home; I’m not quite sure that the rich house Julia stays in could be called friends. Adele has only one friend by default in Labor Day (the neighbour with the disabled son Barrie). In other films, she’s got people round her – often workmates, such as Quills, or other mums she meets at the playground and her walking/book group older friend in Little Children, but she’s not really close or always happy. There’s friendship with other couples in Iris (although secondary to her lovers, which many of them also were) and Revolutionary Road. In The Holiday, she makes a friend with an older man, returned screenwriter.

Kate’s characters don’t always have a wide circle. Writers often have to choose a small bunch of characters round our protagonist that is not representative of the breadth of interactions we’d have in life. But Kate’s often working with one or two others (in Contagion and The Reader she seems mostly isolated), and sometimes it’s implied she doesn’t have unseen other friends. Did Rose have friends mentioned in Titanic, did Hester in Enigma seem to know anyone but house sharing Claire, on whom she has a crush? Clem in Eternal Sunshine has a pair of friends who are mutual with her ex.

The ten year anniversary of that film in Britain will be marked with a special post.

I’d like to come full circle and suggest that Kate’s characters’ repeating madness and demise (the topic of my previous post) is often because of her romantic relationships. It is almost ubiquitous in her 20 year career. I’ll explain more in another post.

I’d like to end with sharing my disappointment that Kate takes so few roles which embody strong friendships, and for all the many articles I’ve read about her, I have not heard her extol friendship in an interview either.

More thoughts on Ms Winslet anon.

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DVD extras

 I love to watch these. Having them must enhance DVD saleability. If you are not interested, you don’t have to see them and rarely pay more for them, unless it is a deluxe edition. But it means that for those wanting to learn more about the film, that there is something in the DVD that is not to be had in the cinematic experience. A DVD without extras is, to paraphrase the musical Annie, a night without a star. It is not something I will buy or even borrow.

I often find these extras disappointing and frustrating. I wish I could feed this back to film distributors so I am writing it here.

I guess that like other viewers, I watch extras right after I’ve seen the film, or perhaps the next day. When you’ve seen a film you are then in the mood to hear more. Perhaps you have to take it back to a video shop or library soon. I’m not going to load up a DVD to see a few minutes of a featurette on its own, especially as getting the DVD player warmed up and sitting through the pre menu screen adverts takes 5 mins. Having sat through trailers at the cinema, I do not expect to do so again at home – it’s what a DVD (as opposed to watching it broadcast on television) is about. These actually serve to annoy audiences into not watching DVDs. Although this is not a personal admission of it, I wonder if this fuels piracy, where presumably adverts and trailers are absent.

So why do DVD extras have so much of the film in and why do they share so much of the same material? This is not the synoptic problem of the gospels – we are not hypothesising about the existence of Q source here. I’m simply asking, why bother your audience with extended sequences that they have just seen, and have three featurettes using the same quotes and clips? It assumes we’ve forgotten the film or the previous featurette and it assumes we must watch them over an interval of time, which is unlikely.

Perhaps most viewers have not been on a film set, but we have all seen these action behind the scene shots of people rushing round with cameras and fluffy booms. We also know that this is not a real fly on the wall insight into how a film is made or what working on that particular set was like. Such images take up valuable space and time and add nothing to our understanding of the film or TV series. What I like to see is a coherent explanation of the film’s genesis. Featurettes are often jumbled, not really explaining where the idea came from. I am interested in the historical research behind films and why choices have been made to depict in that way.

I’ve listened to many commentaries and been impressed by few, often giving up. There seems two kinds of commentary. The first is a group of cast and crew being silly together, talking over each other and praising each other. There is little value in these. Then there is the solo commentary. But this has the danger of being a monotone. Lectures and speeches are usually shorter than a feature, and the speaker on DVD extras often aren’t gifted at engaging us with a monologue. Often it’s the director giving the one person commentary, and there’s often self indulgence there which is chief reason I’ve heard that people switch off. Directors often say inaccurate statements – eg the King’s Speech’s Tom Hooper speaks of a major location being in a Georgian building, which for anyone who knows about architecture, is blatantly not. We come to what is the function of a commentary, and there may be at least two answers. Perhaps there needs to be two on a DVD: the anecdotal or technical one, and one which is more a commentary in the scriptural or literary sense. I want to know what’s really going on in the scene – what’s the subtext I missed? How does all the elements of the scene (known as mis en scene) help build up an image or message? Like a good cryptic crossword nothing should be wasted and the choices of clothes, framing, music and set design will all enhance the mood, character, emphasis and perhaps even plot. Partly, I want to make sure I don’t miss anything, and also I like to fully appreciate the work of all the departments.

 In film, too much is made of the director. Producers are very keen to appear in DVD extras as their role is less recognised to the audience. It feels they are desperate to come to the camera and make their efforts known. Harshly, I don’t often share that, especially as they take screen time away from other departments. Film is collaboration and it is what each person brings that has made that film what it is. I like it when each team or head of department can introduce themselves and their vision. But it would be better to have documentaries broken down into chapters, or just have shorter ones. I hate starting a featurette, unsure if this is six minutes or an hour, and having no idea what it will cover. The most important person of the crew is the one that most gets overlooked. The King’s Speech is an example of how the writer was featured so little that I couldn’t work out his accent. It’s the script that attracts the talent and money to make a film. Although the final product will be down to all those contributing and ultimately overseen by the director, the script is the basis of all they do. It is also likely to be the part that has taken the longest, being written rewritten and developed long before the preproduction starts, having been fought to be made perhaps over many years, and then rewritten again, even to the last minute. And yet the scriptwriter is not the name attached to the film we as an audience will know.

So I would like:

no trailers at the start

clear timings of each extra and what it includes, breaking long ones down; no clips unless it illustrates a point

no footage of filming unless it clearly shows something particular and informative to allow all departments to speak, especially the writer

Commentaries with different purposes, and an awareness that silly repartee has little interest to those outside

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