The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Extraordinarily Ordinary - What Do Dreams Know of Boundaries?

A new movie about Amelia was released in October, 2009. I, of course, waited patiently for the film to be released on DVD so I could bring it home and enjoy it at my pace, with my own really cheap and lightly buttered popcorn. I had a hunch I was going to like this movie simply because the reviews that followed it’s opening gave insight regarding style and content that actually sounded great to me. I’m going to spend a moment or so with critics’ words, if I may, and defend a movie that has been brutally bashed since it opened. 

 Frustratingly old-school; Hollywood-style Entertainment Weekly:
Ok, I understand that today many people like fast-action-jerky film work, or weird experimentations from the ‘sundance’ crowd. Truth is, some of us completely enjoy still-camera cinematography; we like to build a story visually, piecing things like costumes, sets, and audio tracks together with a steady, and I mean steady, accumulation of information. Perhaps that is old school, but I’m old so who cares. I like it. In Amelia, it’s one of the most charming aspects of the film. I can watch it and not become nauseated, which is amazing because I hate to fly and there are a lot of shots that are way up there looking down.

• The movie is imprisoned in safety NPR:
The movie stays right on the truth the entire film. It ignores urban legends and myths and, instead, concentrates on a nine year span of Amelia’s life which is mostly shown as her personal reflection of events that brought her to that fateful flight in 1937. She is winging around the world while she remembers. What else would the woman have done? If I were in her shoes I would have been full of retrospect, and this point-of-view has to limit the story to an absolute and safe place. Amelia’s diaries and log-books were heavily quoted and the voice of the aviator comes across clearly, even ordinarily quaint some times.

• The script smoothes over the many controversies surrounding her life, including her open marriage to Putnam, her rumored bisexuality, and whether or not she was a spy. Jezebel
Oh, my ... um ... let’s start with the open marriage. Yes, Amelia and George had an open marriage, which was more than unusual during their day. The proof of that is the letter she wrote to Putnam when she finally accepted his sixth marriage proposal.

"You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means so much to me. . . .In our life together I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly . . . .I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all the confinements of even an attractive cage."

The movie showed her writing that letter and giving it to her husband to be, and the idea of an open marriage was covered pretty well in this script. The only things missing were wild sex shots and in your face social judgments and lecturing. Frankly, I don’t want to imagine Amelia doing that and, in my opinion, she never did. Listen closely to her letter and you may hear a gal who was concerned about being owned. Remember the year (1931); understand what was expected of women back then. Amelia was fiercely independent and wanted to remain that way. She wanted to fly.

As for bisexuality and being a spy? That is pure speculation not founded on any provable truth. For folks who want to see this sort of story, you ought to write a script and call it Stella ... base the story-line on Amelia but add your fantasies for fun. You could have your steamy Ewan McGregor sex-shots, sultry leads, wild explosions ... CGI the plane ripping apart as it bounces across the ocean, what the hell. Stella could parachute out in time (not the navigator, though ... a man would not think quickly enough) and land on an itty-bitty South Pacific island, be a castaway for a while surviving by her own American-heartland-wisdom, drinking cocoanut milk and eating killer crabs she wrestled with her bare hands before the Japanese found, imprisoned, then lastly shot her dead-by-firing-squad for being a spy.  Dammit! That is filmmaking -101 ...

But that’s a different story ... let’s get back to
Amelia and the critics.

I'm not suggesting that Mira Nair should have invented anything for Amelia. It is right that she resisted any temptation. It's just that there's a certain lack of drama in a generally happy life. Chicago Sun Times:
This movie is not about Amelia’s life. It’s about a nine year span that lead from the first woman to sit on a plane flying across the Atlantic to a woman who was piloting a plane while trying to circumnavigate the globe.  Yeeesh ....

There are aspects about Amelia’s early life that are very interesting to ponder, and they follow a trend most surely. For example, Amelia did not grow up in a normal home with mother and father. She was sent to live with her grandmother, then on to finishing school. Dad was an alcoholic and that unsettled Amelia’s world on many levels. The same kind of thing was true for the other strong ladies I wrote about earlier in
There’s No Crying in Baseball. Dottie (Dorothy Kamenshek) went off to play baseball at 17 years old. I can’t find any information about her childhood or family relations, but how many 17 year old girls would have been allowed to go alone to Wriggley’s Field to play baseball during WWII? And then there’s Donna Hillman-Walsh, who grew-up the daughter of a Hollywood starlet and was sent away to finishing school at 14, then headed out to New York to learn how to race thoroughbreds. Research either of these ladies and you’ll find very little information about early family life and relationships. Truth be told, all these girls were extremely independent tomboys who’s goal in life was to be the very best that they could be, doing what only men were allowed to do. All were highly motivated, and all were very good. I would be interested in watching a film or documentary about this sort of stuff. But not in a film about a nine year span that lead to Amelia’s final flight. For now, let us focus on this movie and understand that Amelia was generally happy to be flying. Ok. What’s wrong with that?

•  Amelia is a by-the-book bio-pic. By following the template, it's as safe and straightforward as one could possibly get, without narrative flourishes and with minimal exaggeration to satisfy Hollywood's appetite for fictionalization. Reel Views


•  When it comes to some of the wild speculation that has arisen over the years about what happened to Earhart during that final flight, the movie doesn't even go out on a limb, opting instead for the sort of vague, open ending that, is historically safe and cinematically dull. The Washington Post:
It is true, this movie does not dare to try to answer what happened at the end. Amelia simply flies away. This movie is true on fact and as such, how could it speculate an ending?

•  ... old-fashioned, star-powered bio-mush Variety:

•  ... an object lesson in the follies of the conventional biopic, which puts mindless recapitulation of historical data above analysis or insight.  A.V. Club:
Did this critic just say that opinion should rise above historical data? I say, save the imagination for fantasy scripts. A film like Amelia should be held to standards of accuracy just in case some young person who knows nothing about Amelia sees it! Entertainment can teach and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, wouldn't we be prudent if more films aimed to educate?

I could go on and on with these reviews, but you get the point. How about we simply consider the film without the disappointed critics’ ramblings about what they wish it had been. True, anyone who ever researched Amelia knows the story going in, and comes away with no new information. The tale is what it is, why expect more? If you can’t handle that sort of thing don’t bother watching this movie. You would miss a beautiful film if you opted out, though, and just seeing the old-time news reels morph into modern day, full colour actors is a truly sweet effect.

Hilary Swank does a marvelous job becoming Amelia, though at times I could swear I heard Katherine Hepburn dialoging in aviator costume. As a girl I had a vision in my head that was Amelia and Swank nailed it for me; her big goofy grin, the confident swagger, the midwestern speech-halting accent, the kind of shy yet public figure, the in-love with her man though not publicly showing it woman.

In truth, there was only one person cast in this film that I wish had been just about anyone else. Whenever I see Richard Gere (he plays Putnam) in a film I see only Richard Gere, never the character he’s trying to play. The sets, costume, and filming technique all took me back to another time and I loved that. Richard Gere would rip me right back to my time and I hated that. George Putnam was a ground breaking fellow who, with Amelia, presented the very first public relation/image building situation and made her a star. He had a certain charisma and style. Richard Gere is frumpy (I thought so back when I first saw him in American Gigolo, I’m just sayin’). And, not even considering his acting, the guy is just too old for this one and does not look good in 1930s costume. Still, even with that, I like this film very much and would recommend it to anyone who wants to know about, or simply remember, Amelia.

As for her fate and the open-ended conclusion of the film, I think it’s our job to research and dig and learn. For sure, the truth is not settled yet, though many people think they know what happened. Some still cling to spy notion, others to the drowning theory, and some (like me) are convinced that Nikumaroro (Gardner Island) will prove once and for all that Amelia Earhart was a damn good pilot who didn’t survive because the United States Navy failed her.

Consider all the evidence I mentioned in part one of this story, and add to them this:

• Amelia’s last radio contacts where strong and clear, which indicated she was very near Howland Island and had the seaman on duty the night before not left certain tracking equipment powered on, the battery would not have been dead and the Navy could have pinpointed exactly where she was during every last moment of her flight. (yes, this is shown in the movie)

• Amelia’s very last transmission said   "We are on the line of position 157 337. Will repeat this message on 6210. We are running North and South." That put the Electra on a navigational line that coincides with the Phoenix Islands, with Nikumaroro (Gardner Island) specifically. The plane had more than enough fuel to get there, and the tide was low and the island’s reef was dry during the time they would have arrived, and that island is much easier to see from air than Howland. The reef is big and smooth enough in places to permit a bumpy, yet safe landing. As far as Amelia knew, the navy could track her. Landing was a smart thing to do.

• Credible radio distress calls were heard over the next four nights. Those transmissions coincided with times when the tides were low enough to allow prop clearance for an Electra’s engine to run. Why is that significant? The engines running at a certain speed would charge the batteries needed to send out signals. And, if the plane ditched into the ocean no signals could ever have been sent. All electrical systems would have failed if the plane did not sit on land, with undamaged landing gear beneath her.

Directional bearings of nearly 200 distress calls, taken by Pan American and the US Coast Guard, pinpointed those distress signals in the vicinity of Nikumaroro (Gardner Island).

• US Navy search planes did not fly over that island until a week after the plane disappeared. By then, distress signals had stopped. The pilots of the search planes noted “signs of recent habitation” on this officially uninhabited island. They saw no aircraft, but a photo of the island taken during the search shows the tide was very high with rough surf on the edge of the reef. If there were an aircraft on that reef, it would have been hidden by the surf.

• A colony was established on Nikumaroro (Gardner Island) in December, 1939 and residents from there report that aircraft wreckage was on the reef, as well as in the lagoon, when they came. They, apparently, stripped many parts from the crash and used them to fabricate things for themselves. A US Navy pilot saw island locals using an airplane control cable as lead fishing line. He asked them where they got the cable, they said from the plane wreckage that was there when they arrived.

One part of the Amelia story that truly annoys me are the words repeated by the fellows who let the lady down. They were very quick to point fingers at her, claiming she was a terrible pilot without the skills needed to complete her mission. Truth is, some fellows simply could not take orders from a girl, nor would they ever accept that a female out-performed them. Amelia was an amazing pilot during the time when aviation was new and extremely dangerous. She did things men died trying to do, and I believe she landed that plane on a small island out in the middle of nowhere, and the Navy did not heed reports of distress signals or take the Gardner Island theory serious in the days following her disappearance. She is my hero, as most strong and independent women are, and I am grateful for sky trails she blazed all those years ago. I encourage you to watch Amelia with those sort of thoughts in mind. 

And we'll leave this post with her words ...

"[Women] must pay for everything .... They do get more glory than men for comparable feats. But, also, women get more notoriety when they crash."


Shannon said...

Excellent, thoroughly-researched article on Amelia and the newest movie (which I loved, by the way). I'd done lots of reading about her life and you've hit on all the most important points. Great reading and very informative. Amelia was an amazing woman and worth researching. Thanks, Olivia!

Irelock said...

Thanks, Shannon! It was tough not including more information about Amelia's fate, especially regarding the Gardner Island search. I know I'll continue to follow TIGHAR as they evaluate new artifacts found this year, and then prepare for the next expedition. It's always fascinating ... and a life like Amelia's really is what dreams are made of.

Thanks again, and glad to hear you enjoyed the movie, too!
Olivia (Irelock)

courdeleon said...

Great review! I am glad you wrote this because when the movie first came out, I decided not to see it because I thought they "hollywoodized" her life. Especially when I saw the posters of she and her husand, George. I never felt that was a priority in her life.
Also I was disappointed that they didn't use some of the evidence you have researched and made the ending that possibility, that she did land the plane.
But now it looks like the movie stayed true enough to her that it is worth seeing:)
Another movie I KNOW you would enjoy, "My Brilliant Career" I think this was Judy Davis' first movie. It is an oldie (1979) but about a very strong independant young woman. Based on the life of the author.

Irelock said...

It is worth seeing, for sure. And, I didn't mind that they left the ending open ... until it's absolutely proven it's probably better to stay as is. For me, I felt like we were flying with her, thinking about all the steps that lead to a dream coming true. If she really did land on that island and suffer through at least 4 days and nights ... that's another movie in itself. Imagine ... one day we will know and then we'll have the movie we'd really like to see!

Thanks for the My Brillian Career lead. I will surely have to find that and learn some new things! I LIKE that!

savagegoldie said...

I'd almost bet money that you're "hollywood" version of "Stella" will be a movie in a year or two.....some producer somewhere just read that and said "Why didn't I think of that!!??"

Hummingbird Arts said...

Wow! You did it again Olivia. Another great post and now I want to rent the movie which I will in the near future. The only thing I disagree with is I love Richard Gere and think I would like him in Putnam's role. Your writing is so inspiring and affirming to women who want to break the mold. I do believe that the navy men just might have sabatoged her safe rescue, probably on an unconscious level. Thanks so much for your thoughtful writing and the subjects you cover.

Irelock said...

Savagegoldie - you are probably correct about Hollywood making a version of my Stella story. It'll probably end up like one of those really bad chick-in-prison movies and I'll be happy to not have my name involved! If they were smart ... they'd hire me as the writer ;o)

Irelock said...

Thanks, Hummingbird!! It's ok that you like Richard Gere ... lots of people do. I think if you like him, personally, you'll enjoy his movies fine enough. For me, I've always liked a good character actor more than a 'star'. I'm sure you will LOVE him in this film.

Actually, there is a lot of evidence that I did not include in my post (it's pretty long with what I've added ... I could easily double the size of the story). The sabotage of Amelia wasn't unconscious at all ... it's stunning once you dig into the paper trail and put the pieces together. Like I said ... we are on the edge of knowing and proving a very interesting theory ... I can hardly wait.

Thanks again, your compliments are truly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Wow!What an interesting story. So many questions unanswered. I did not see the film, and now I wish I had. As for Richard Gere, he can do no wrong in my book. Good looking, good actor, etc.,but he dominates a picture, and perhaps the part of Amelia's husband would have been better cast with an unknown. But you know Hollywood...I'll never forgive them for casting Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady", when they could have had Julie Andrews who was English, sang up a storm, and was lovely to look at. Rex Harrison begged the studio to cast her, but the powers to be felt they had to have a "star" to sell tickets.

Irelock said...

Amelia's story is interesting. I am truly hoping solid answers will come in the near future just so the world knows how amazing this lady was. You should rent Amelia and enjoy it, especially since you like Richard Gere. He's a dominant character and is typical Gere on the screen. Even I, who doesn't care much for him, still enjoyed the film quite a lot. If I liked Gere, this movie would perhaps be one of my favorites. It's beautifully filmed and a good tale to remember.

You are so right about 'My Fair Lady'. Casting is critical in the success of a film and I really hate when all that is sacrificed for simple 'star' power. If one wants a movie to stand the test of time, they ought to pick the very best player for the part, star or not. I enjoy movies where I don't know the players ... it's easier to fall into the story that way. But, Hollywood makes billions of dollars so what do I Know?

aussie05 said...

Very well written! (this is 'Jess' by the way...I'm just using my google account now.)

I only just got around to reading your post today, but I really appreciate the way you portrayed Amelia in such a positive (and I believe "accurate") light.
She's one of those people that makes you look around and go "damn,...they just don't make em' like they used to!" She is a heroine of mine as well.
I have not seen the movie yet but I certainly plan to now. You're right in saying that she was "extraordinarily ordinary" as she grew up in such humble surroundings...(Atchison Kansas, an old backwater town that part of my family lives in). I have been inside the house she grew up in and it is very modest, but she took what little bit she had and really made something of herself in life.

Here in Australia, Jessica Watson (age 16) just became the youngest person to sail solo around the world. She encountered many difficulties and even had to turn back once, but was undeterred by all of that.
I admire people like that,... people who begin with a thought, a goal, a dream, and see it through to fruition.
I've heard it said that we write our own stories in life. Our thoughts, whether positive or negative, become reality for us and shape our destinies.
I have always believed in that, as I'm sure Amelia did, and hopefully we haven't seen the last of the 'Amelia's' in this world.

Irelock said...

Great comment, Jess. And funny you mention Jessica Watson here. I've been planing on writing about young girls sailing around the world, but controversy is riding high here in America and I have a notion to hold off a little bit. I don't want to deal with false information and I think the media began feeding that to us recently. The story will come, when everyone else is tired of it, probably!

Jessica and Abby are much like Amelia to me and I smile when I think long and hard about that. Amelia has influenced so many females. That's what it's all about ... we know very well we have not seen the last of the Amelia's in this world.

By the way, thank you for sharing your experience of visiting Amelia's childhood home ... it's great you understood my title for this story ... Extraordinarily Ordinary. I'm not sure anyone else has gotten it.

Anyway, until my next post, thank you for reading and spending time thinking about these amazing things.

Olivia (Irelock)