Saturday, January 31, 2015


(December 1985, U.S.)

Sidney Pollack's OUT OF AFRICA may be one of the most challenging films I've ever had to write about because, to be perfectly honest, I'm not absolutely, one hundred percent sure I even like the film that much. Okay, so you're thinking, "Why waste time blogging it?" Well, here's a little back story to try and explain myself...

At the beginning of the year 1986, I went to see OUT OF AFRICA with my parents while on Christmas break from my first year of college. I went to see it eagerly because I was willing to see anything that director Sidney Pollack was doing back then, having been totally blown away by TOOTSIE three years prior. So I'm watching it and my feeling toward the film is only, well...lukewarm. Not a bad movie, but not that great, either. So the film ends and then I generally forget I ever saw it. Clearly, not a very lasting impression. Then, on March 24, 1986, what I considered to be the absolutely unthinkable, happened...the 58th Academy Awards! OUT OF AFRICA, in my humble and angry opinion, quite literally raped what I considered to be (and still do!) a far superior film, THE COLOR PURPLE, by taking home every worthwhile Oscar and leaving Steven Spielberg's film twisting in the wind with nothing but its balls hanging out! To say I was really pissed off would be a gross understatement! I not only blamed the Academy for being totally brainless morons (oh hell, they still are!) but I also chose to blame OUT OF AFRICA itself for its part in things! I chose to literally veto that film for the rest of my life because my young and inexperienced brain (at the time) concluded that would be the best solution for such a cinematic injustice! Real mature, right??

Okay, so now let's jump ahead to the present day. OUT OF AFRICA is part of my DVD collection, but the disc really belongs to my wife because she loves the film. Because the title was next in the letter 'O' series, I decided to try and be fair and impartial toward the film nearly thirty years later and give it another look. So what's the verdict? I'm really not sure. Let's start with the positive, though. The film is quite literally a camera's dream come true! This is some of the most stunning and spectacular cinematography of the great continent of Africa that I'm ever likely to see on film! Pollack's work here can easily rival some of the visual content we've ever seen in some of David Lean's greatest motion pictures. We don't just watch OUT OF AFRICA, but are rather transported to a world of imagery and beauty, both on land and up in the sky through the eyes of a World War I biplane. As friends and lovers during a time of the turn of the 20th Century, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep give their own winning performances, as we'd expect such veteran actors to. There's also a very moving score by John Barry that's just as signature as DANCES WITH WOLVES (as an example). Now to the negative - this true story of Danish aristocrat Karen Dinesen (Streep) entering into a marriage of convenience in East Africa and starting a coffee farm while falling in love with big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Redford) is, how shall I put it, BORING, to say the least! Not to say that very slow moving stories are bad stories (some of the best films ever made are slow movers), it's just that the predicaments and circumstances of OUT OF AFRICA truly fail to inspire my emotions and my connections with the film's characters. Even still, Karen exist to discover Africa and its marvelous wonders and that is what enthralls my attention because we get to experience everything she does through the above mentioned visuals and cinematography.

So, again, what's the verdict here? Does a slow moving, boring story mean I don't like OUT OF AFRICA? Well, consider some classics sci-fi films like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) and BLADE RUNNER (1982) - slow moving stories with incredible visual images that have made them worthwhile (though I suppose the first STAR TREK film is debatable!) and worth experiencing every once in a while. Perhaps that's the simple legacy OUT OF AFRICA will have with me in that I can take some time to experience it every so often for it's visual beauty, which I would consider enough of a reason to show it some simple appreciation and even a little respect. Still, even thirty years later, how in all that is sane, reasonable and rational, could that film have beat out THE COLOR PURPLE??? Perhaps I just need to get over it and stop being such a fucking baby! I'm working on it.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Denys: "I'm with you because I choose to be with you. I don't want to live someone else's idea of how to live. Don't ask me to do that. I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life."

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