“Quills” (2000) Revisited

branches&creaturesI’m still writing through my phone. I would say I’m sorry but…I’m just not sorry. Ya know? It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen “Quills”, I was waiting until I finally had something to say about it. And now that I do…it’s simply not a good film. Even after thinking about it for awhile. This is one of those rare times where I went into watching a movie that I knew next to nothing about. I mean, I DID know that it was about Marquis De Sade. I remember when when it caught some buzz around awards season in 2000. But that was it. I didn’t even know (or it completely slipped my mind) that Philip Kaufman directed it. This should have been a film that I liked. It started off promising enough: a closeup of a woman’s face with some narration by De Sade. It appears as though she’s having a pleasurable experience, but the camera reveals that she’s actually about to be beheaded during the French Revolution. Not a bad way to start a film. But then it descends into standard 90s fare. I mean seriously….aesthetically…It felt a little too 90s…the music, the cinematography….which I wasn’t expecting. Maybe if the film was made in a far more cynical era, like after 2001, I might’ve actually enjoyed it. I know that’s not the movie’s fault, but the relatively safe method of filming that relished in the 90s didn’t mesh well with the some of the more shocking scenes. It wasn’t jarring, just some of the cutesy and shocking scenes cancelled each other out to create a bland film. I was also disappointed to find out it was based on a play. “So what?”, you might ask. You’re right, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal had the movie not FELT like watching a play. Again, this is personal taste and you have every right to judge me…but I’m not a fan of theater. “How dare you!”, I know I know. I’ve done theater, at one time I wanted to be an actor. But come to find out, I didn’t have the flair for dramatics. Yet there’s one thing that I don’t believe gets enough attention…and that is there’s a HUGE distinction between film acting and stage acting. I believe in the art of subtlety. In my view, what makes a film actor or actress great is how well they master that art. I suppose the same could be said about stage actors, but I believe that when they engage in subtlety…it’s not so subtle. And that’s fine. On stage, one has to be larger than life. On film, however, that has to be toned down, thus subtlety becomes far more important. In order to make a successful transition to film, theater actors MUST be a student of that art or else I will see right through their performance. On film, I don’t want to feel as though I’m watching actors ACT…I want to see them BEING. And unfortunately, in this film at least, Geoffery Rush acts like a stage actor gunning for an Oscar nod. Not for one minute did I believe him as Marquis De Sade. He WAS acting his ass off, but that was the problem. Rush’s performance stood in direct contrast to Michael Caine’s, a veteran of film acting. I believed HIS performance. But I was also underwhelmed by the story. At first I was excited to see it was about an incarcerated De Sade and his interactions with a priest, played by Joaquin Phoenix. I thought “oh, so is this going to be like De Sade’s work “Dialogue between a priest and a dying man” (which I covered in my defunct podcast…and you can read on this website)”. Unfortunately the story was essentially “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” with Marquis De Sade. Don’t get me wrong though…I LOVE “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”. It’s just that Jack Nicholson, Milos Foreman, and Ken Kesey did a much better job. However, to say something nice about “Quills”, the movie (and presumably the play as well) ended up flipping the moral of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s” story. The power struggle between Jack Nicholson and Nurse Ratchet ends with the nurse claiming victory…you can’t beat the system, it will only make you crazy. In Quills however, in the struggle with Michael Caine, De Sade claims victory despite it resulting in his death….under Caine’s guidance, the asylum starts printing De Sade’s work and the Priest goes mad. In “Cuckoo’s Nest”, the system infects Nicholson. In “Quills”, De Sade infects the system. From that perspective, I like the film a little bit better. But, had the movie been produced in another set of hands, I might’ve liked it. Is it a film worth re-visiting? Eh, I guess.

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