Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Deafness and silent movies converge in lyrical Wonderstruck

Filmmaker Todd Haynes is a master visual stylist. Just look at his swoony period aesthetic in Far From Heaven, or Carol.

He has plenty to visualize and to style for the screen in his new movie, Wonderstruck.

With its parallel storylines set in the 1920s and the 1970s, child protagonists, and kids-eye-view of the world, this rare PG-rated experiment from Haynes may be less filling, plotwise, than his grown-up movies, but it still looks great.

It's adapted from his own novel by Brian Selznick, whose very first book was made into the rapturous movie Hugo.

Selznick's books are a genre unto themselves, combining a certain amount of prose storytelling with extravagantly detailed pencil illustrations that sprawl across the pages.
She loves New York: Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck

Presenting his stories in visual terms must come naturally to the author related through his grandfather to Hollywood Golden Age producer David O. Selznick.

So it's no wonder that Selznick's stories so often reference movie lore and history. The life and exuberantly eccentric work of silent movie pioneer Georges Melies was the inspiration for the book that became Hugo.

The silent movie era also figures in this plot: the industry facing the advent of sound film provides a counterpoint to the story of two deaf children on separate quests coping with a hearing world.

Cabinet of Curiosities: Selznick version

Oakes Fegley and the newcomer Millicent Simmonds (a wonderful young deaf actress making her feature debut) play the kids in search of family, love, and tolerance, whose stories finally converge in New York City.

The Museum of Natural History figures prominently in both stories. But the most interesting set, a 19th Century Cabinet of Curiosities preserved at the museum, is underused.

It's gorgeously rendered in an old book that Ben finds (an illustration straight out of Selznick's novel), but the big reveal of how it relates to the modern story lacks, well, a sense of wonder — and then we never see it again.

Still, Haynes rocks the scenes set in 1927, shooting in black-and-white, without dialogue (just as Simmonds' character perceives the world), like a silent movie.

But this movie is far from silent, percolating along with a marvelously inventive, often percussive score by Carter Burwell that informs and reflects the action in every frame.

Cabinet of Curiosities onscreen: Let's spend more time here!
In honor of the non-hearing community that inspires it, Wonderstruck features open-caption subtitles throughout.

It's a thoughtful touch for a lyrical movie whose message of family, friendship, and tolerance strikes a particular chord these days.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)

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