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Forever young

Keatsfilm 

I have finally fulfilled my dream of seeing the movie "Bright Star," about the English poet John Keats. A few things about the movie disappointed me. For one thing the actor playing Keats, above, does not have the dreamy quality of the Keats we know from portraits, below.

KeatsI was thinking about that and I do not know if I can blame the movie. Probably the actor who played Keats -- his name is Ben Whishaw -- did as well as anyone would. I can not imagine an actor playing Keats and getting it right.  Just as I cannot imagine an actor playing Mozart or Schubert and getting it right. You can say what you want, these people just were not like the rest of us.

I tend to come at things from a music perspective but when I think of Keats I equate him with Franz Schubert. They lived at just about the same time. Keats' dates are 1695-1821. Schubert, slightly younger, lived from 1797 to 1828.

Both were of course tragically short-lived. Keats died at 25, Schubert at 31. And in retrospect it seems meant to be that they died so young. Both of them seemed to have one foot in the other world. It has always seemed to me that their work has an otherworldly sorrow and beauty.

Here is a lighter thought. It is touching that both artists died before they were able to work out getting married, and neither ever outgrew that funny bohemian phase you are in when you are young. Neither Schubert nor Keats had any money. Their friends supported them, took up collections for them, consoled them in heartbreak, looked after them. And they were young and dreamy. I thought the movie nailed that. You saw Keats woolgathering at his desk. Schubert's friends said they would show up in the middle of the afternoon and he would still be lolling around in bed with his guitar. The guitar was in fashion then and Schubert would use the guitar to work out his songs.

It is also funny that neither ever outgrew the things you love when you're young -- knights and ladies, Arthurian legend, mythology, torrid romance. In high school my friends and I swooned over Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes." We actually got obsessed over that poem. I also had this passion for Schubert songs, like this song that I loved when I was 15 or 16. It was a translation of a poem from Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake" and you could see the knight and feel the horse galloping. I loved that song. (Who am I kidding, I still do. I just sat and watched that link all the way through thinking, that is a great song. And the video isn't bad either.)

One last word about music and this movie. The main theme was a clever vocal arrangement of the heartbreaking Adagio from Mozart's B flat wind serenade. They should have given Mozart more credit -- his name appeared, unforgivably, only at the tail end of the credits, among a bunch of other selections used here and there in the film. But it was a good idea to use this music -- another masterpiece that twists your heart, by an artist gone too soon.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


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