Thursday, August 4, 2011

Growing Up in Public

The following column is reprinted from the April issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

Over a decade, the Harry Potter film series has achieved the unusual, particularly in the light of the vast majority of film franchises. The Potter series, handed off from director to director, peopled with seemingly nearly every other high spangled thespian that Britain has to offer, featuring child actors who’ve grown up in the public and imaginative eye, has somehow maintained an unrelenting quality and no discernable softening of its collective imagery, mythology, or storytelling arc. In short, it will stand out as a notably well-stitched and irrefutably resounding example of commercial cinema at its best, underlined by the long awaited release of the final chapter of the Potter fable, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, an eminently satisfying and actually soul-stirring denouement.

Superbly helmed by David Yates, and well scripted by Steven Kloves, the final installment of the Potter epic is as much a culmination of all things Harry as it is a vivid fulmination on morality and the inevitable end of childhood, with its bespectacled central figure eschewing the tenets of the heroes journey that Joseph Campbell delineated in his seminal The Hero with a Thousand Faces. More importantly, the Potter series, and particularly its final offering, did all this with sumptuous (and consciousness pervading) set pieces, a wonderful sense of scale, and an overall tone of expressiveness mixed with increasing emotion. Daniel Radcliffe, who glided from cherubic charm to enigmatic intensity, will certainly go down, no matter what his on screen future holds, as a formidable film icon, forever held on some exalted higher cinematic plain with the likes of Sean Connery’s James Bond, Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name, or Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp. (Now that’s one weirdly absurd declaration—but one difficult to debate.)

While the Potter films certainly followed and fed from an obvious formula (as all film franchises do), their overall stature grows from the fact that movies, while quite easily seducing both children and adults and both J.K. Rowling readers and those who never picked up the books the films were based on, remained free of voguishness and easy contempo irony, they utilized snappy action and an array of CGI effects yet always kept character and plot as the central fulcrum, and they essentially painted a burnished narrative that was continually speckled with darkness and the intertwined accents of moral obligation and impending devastation of innocence. Yet, the movies twinkled with fabulist gewgaws and magical landscapes, and they fit together like an elaborate but addictive puzzle, always inching towards a collective emotional fission that I simply would never have guessed at upon viewing the first of the series in 2001.

As Potter directors have come and gone—Christopher Columbus, Mike Newell, Alfonso Cauron, David Yates—each with quite distinct styles and sensibilities, the acting troupe has remained steadfast, and anchored by the growing-up-in-public principles, Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Gint. In the crazy quilt of supporting roles many stood out—Gary Oldham, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, but none so much as Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, the embodiment of mythological evil and, by large, a classic movie villain,, and Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, eschewing subtle expressiveness throughout the course of the eight movies.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is purposefully somber, with a well-crafted grainy and drained color scheme, blips of fascistic ominousness, and the oh-so-familiar central setting of Hogwarts devoid of magic and wonderment and weighed down with sorrow and bleakness. It’s a hugely satisfying end to it all, richly textured and intimate, enriched and poignant. Every once in a while popular art can entertain and imbue, and virtuosity can become part of an integrated and well-conceived vision. It just doesn’t occur nearly often enough.

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