Francisco has long offered Hollywood classical and magical movie
locations. It is also a city where experimental and independent
filmmaking, film festivals, and all around cinephilia thrive(s).
As an “experimental” filmmaker, I routinely sit in dark
theaters, genuflecting to the projected light. But after watching
many failed or less than fulfilling art house or alternative films
that assume because they exist outside of the mainstream they are
better than Hollywood movies, I often reexamine the value and even
the urgency of the Hollywood B movie. I believe in alternative filmmaking,
yet I’m equally uneasy writing off Hollywood. Perhaps if it
were the 1980s or even the 1990s, the Hollywood B movie, might fall
on my deaf ears. We reside in the early twentieth century—and
no rocket science observation—these are profoundly difficult
American times. While I’m not easy about grading a studio
system movie (let alone grading students), I use the term Hollywood
B movie, more as a marker of a film that would evade DVD release
in the international classic distributor, the Criterion Collection.
Neither do I believe an Academy award or nomination film automatically
deserves an A rating.
appealing about the Hollywood B movie, and in particular the romantic
comedy genre, is its ability to give a viewer a brief forget-about-everything-for-a
little-while vacation from a destroyed economy, a “post-war”
that feels more like renewed colonialism, a government daily whittling
away constitutional rights, an increasingly under-insured work force,
and egregiously reduced arts funding. I preach a little, but not
aimlessly. These circumstances beckon me into the movie theater
to see a work I might usually resist.
the Tuscan Sun, sheer 2-hour escapism under any circumstances,
becomes seductive as both a desperately needed holiday from American
patriotism and patriotic Hollywood, and a delightful stereotype
of San Franciscan counter-mainstream American demographics. Based
on the book by poet turned best selling memoirist, Frances Mayes,
the story recalls what transpires after Mayes’ divorce cum
writer’s blocked San Francisco existence that finds renewal
on a trip to Tuscany. On her vacation, Mayes (played by Diane Lane)
takes the money from her divorce settlement, and buys and renovates
a broken down home in Tuscany—the home being the story’s
obvious metaphor for her life.
Mayes is a straight divorcee, eagerly looking for love in all the
wrong places, her Tuscan home—like her San Franciscan non-biological
family—resists old-fashioned family values, in favor of expatriate
communing and Asian lesbian parenting. Of course, we expect these
views from a San Francisco poet and from a San Francisco native
writer/director of the film, Audrey Wells.
is nothing new under the sun of Under the Tuscan Sun. It
is formulaic with a touch of post-Ellen Degeneres hip. It is full
of full-bodied classical allegorical love storytelling (And what’s
not to love about love?). The Tuscan earth takes the breath away,
like a stock photographic landscape downloaded as a screensaver.
It is every lonely romantic’s Sunday afternoon cuddle.
a market formula rarely refracts through the 35 mm camera lens of
a women writer/director. In the Hollywood romantic comedy genre
we have come to recognize as predominantly Nora Ephron territory,
Wells offers a Hollywood-style alternative to the mainstream white
woman’s journey to happily ever after. Wells perhaps identifies
with her well-educated, frustrated writer protagonist. Diane Lane,
who plays Frances Mayes, carries what might easily be a traditionally
unappealing writer-character into the realm of adorable. Of course,
we could wage a serious class critique of the affluent white woman
writer—we have written this battle against Virginia Woolf—and
the luxury of being able to choose to leave America. We could easily
go there and say the film smacks of paternalistic liberalism.
really, a fleeing America idea seems so worth exploring at this
moment in history. The idea of choosing a seemingly idyllic Italian
countryside that has learned its lessons of fascism (complete with
weathered Federico Fellini actress played by Lindsay Duncan). Such
a delightful contrast against American obsession with war and technological
profit proves unexpectedly profound for a nice little romantic comedy.
In some way fulfilling her desire to make films that “change
the world,” Audrey Wells, by way of Frances Mayes, provides
a necessary post-present American expatriate dream temptation. Am
I stretching my interpretations?
Block is a writer/filmmaker who recently completed her
first novel, A Gesture Through Time. She has received numerous
awards for her writing, and recently exhibited her 16 mm film at
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in San Francisco. She is currently
writing a screenplay.
this article on the nextPix FORUM by going to its discussion
Copyright Web del Sol, 2003