Thursday, August 14, 2008

Minghella on Minghella

I never wrote an obituary for Anthony Minghella, and wasn’t meaning to. I thought recording his death here would be enough, but it isn’t. When he died I was working on my first screenplay, and I didn’t think I would write another. While writing this, I’m working on my second screenplay and there is nothing more I want to do than make movies, and live them; make them a profession like I’ve never wanted to make anything my profession before.

And so, despite the fact that I’m two thousand miles from home in a barely furnished apartment, I’m compelled to note down some reactions to Minghella on Minghella (Faber and Faber, 2005; Ed. Timothy Bricknell), which I ordered before leaving on my road trip and which graciously arrived a few days before I left. It’s a little past midnight and I’m sitting on the floor in a living room which has exactly one beat-up old cane chair and a TV table with a television and DVD player. I’ve been through a couple of vodkas (Fuel; smooth) and have read a little more of Minghella on his craft. He’s been my primary companion on this trip; I read him when I could, usually when the car wasn’t jolted around too much or the scenery wasn’t captivating enough to hold my attention. The book has preciously few pages (barely around two hundred), and I want to make it last as long as possible.

Minghella’s films have entranced me like few other things have done. The last time I was this elated was when I discovered Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry five years ago, and knew with unequivocal certainty that I could do my doctoral research on no writer but him. Good things about Mr Minghella? That could take me some time, as Peter Smith-Kingsley would say. Maybe one of the reasons I love Peter’s character so much is that Minghella brazenly stole him from Patricia Highsmith and made him completely his own, in a way that I have never seen a character being highjacked in a film adaptation of a book.

Anyway. Good things about Mr Minghella. Mr Minghella is talented, and I may say so although I am hardly qualified to comment on someone of his calibre. Mr Minghella says things that I feel he has taken right out of my mind. Mr Minghella has an unparalleled way with words. Case in point:

So much of the pleasure in reading a novel is the creating of an inner landscape in which the book plays out, with each reader providing face and voice to a character, dramatizing events in the mind’s eye, placing emphasis and finding in memory visual correlatives for scenes set in places beyond our own experience. Movies make prosaic the poetic, flatten everything out and cast movie stars whose age is rarely within ten years of the stated age of the fictional character. Tragedies become comedies, endings change, equivocations yield to certainties. It’s shameless.

And yet, Mr Minghella has made the prosaic poetic; given simple gestures and words a wealth of meaning and subtext; and presented what would otherwise be certainties in ways that make them wonderfully equivocal. Whatever else you may think of Mr Minghella’s work, you cannot ignore it or get the images he creates out of your mind. You cannot forget how Almasy carries Catherine to the cave where she is to die waiting for him; how Hana swings in the cathedral in a perfect moment with Kip; how Ada leans over Inman’s body in the snow; how the unsuspecting Peter makes his last endearing speech as Tom leans on him, twisting the noose in his hands; the list is unending. Minghella is a perfectionist. Minghella makes the world his playground and his study. Minghella transforms actors into characters one wants to know and understand and explore. Minghella is unforgettable.


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