GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRINGLOOK MA, NO EYEBROWS! | Dec 19, 2003
In theatres Dec 26, 2003
An odd little fact, while Holland did provide the world with some of the greatest painters ever known to man, it is now the number one producer of child pornography on the globe. Funny, to go from producing such high art, to producing the most abhorrent form of entertainment this side of snuff films.
But I digress. We’re here to talk about The Girl with a Pearl Earring, the story of Vermeer, the world’s greatest painter, and the pasty-maid who inspired his most well known creation.
I seem to remember an interview with the director for this film. He said the story was restructured to please its target audience, namely thirty-something suburban white females. They want romance, rather than historical fact. That’s why he decided to play down the Vermeer aspect and up the romance. Welp, the middle aged suburban prescription drug abusers will be happy. The Girl with a Pearl Earring is this year’s beautifully shot bodice ripper in art house trappings.
In light of it’s new found target audience, Vermeer (Colin Firth) takes the back seat of the short-bus, as the story mainly focuses on Vermeer’s Maid, Greite (Scarlett Johansson), the Girl in the Pearl Earring. Sure, he makes a few appearances, complete with his camera obscura, but I would estimate Vermeer is only onscreen for a good half hour of the film. For all you comic fans, this was about as effective as trying to learn about what makes the Batman tick by following around some chick he dated his Junior year of high school.
But that is just the first of my list of problems with this film. While Vermeer infused his paintings with religious symbolism, this film features symbolism of the most blatantly Freudian kind. For example, the scene featuring Greite’s ear piercing before the painting of the picture the film takes its title, was nothing more than a symbolic deflowering complete with post-coital bleeding. As the drop of blood from the newly made hole is dabbed away she breathes heavily in a sort of post-orgasmic bliss. This ever so un-subtle “innuendo” is compounded further: a single tear flows down her cheek, as Vermeer adorns her with a matching tear shaped, semen-drop, pearl earring. If that wasn’t blatant enough, then Greite goes straight out, now aware of the carnal hunger wakened in her loins, and immediately screws her butcher-beau in the streets. It’s all about as subtle as a sledgehammer smash across the face. You’d have to have lived in a box your whole life to miss it.
But if you think Freudian symbolism sucks because of its over-simplification, just wait till you see the characters. Most of them are reduced to stereotypical cutouts. Vermeer is the passionate, mysterious, womanizing artist. His boss is the dirty old rich man. Greite is the naïve, yet nubile young maid who happens to be Vermeer’s greatest muse. Vermeer’s wife is a crotchety, frigid old bitch, jealous of her maids and of everyone else Vermeer chooses to paint. Then you have Cillian Murphy rounding out the bunch as the sweet butcher boy who provides Greite a place to run whenever times are tough, as well as providing the third leg in the ever so important love triangle needed to please the target audience. There’s really not much more to these characters as far as personality, or character development goes. The score itself is profoundly mediocre, only serving to elicit emotions from the audience that the actor’s performances, themselves, could not.
But that’s not to say it’s all bad. The film is beautiful, and you do get to see quite a few of Vermeer’s paintings recreated in the shots. You have Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, Girl with a Pearl Earring (of course), The Concert, View of Delft, The Kitchen Maid, The Music Lesson, Woman with a Pearl Necklace, and The Girl with a Wine Glass, to name a few. But beautiful cinematography and references to Vermeer’s paintings are not enough to earn a recommendation for a movie with such amazing material to draw from.
Alas, I’ve rambled too much. It’s time for Kris.
Yo. I feel almost compelled to state the positive, so here goes. There are many instances that you can’t help but be enamored with. The painstakingly accurate set design and Vermeer recreations and lush costume design clued directly from paintings such as Woman in Blue Reading a Letter and The Milkmaid are amazing. Plus, it starts off with an sharp anti-Catholic message (which is exemplified only in actions later on-- when the mad humping ensues). Almost every shot is punctuated with a gorgeous Caravaggio-by-day, Georges de la Tour-by-night sun (or candle) wash. The actors are tremendous. Pairing Scarlet Johansen with Cillian Murphy is pure genius. You get two-for-one: the lilting looks from their humongous doe eyes, and a piqued androgyny where you almost feel as if their romance is laced with incest. But it’s just that sick twist where people expect lovers to physiognomically “match up” as if they were related, or else really, really narcissistic.
You also get a welcoming feel of spatial relationships and of the time period. Artists didn’t just go down to the ArtMart in the 17th Century. They had to crush (i.e.: gemstones), mix, refine and create established colours. Recognisable colours. The reference to “Indian Yellow” --a medium created from dried urine of cattle fed only mango leaves --was delightful even to the wealthy bastard who commissioned the painting it was used for, which bathed his daughter in “cow piss”. (TRIVIA TIME: By 1890 legislation enough anti-cruelty legislation had been passed to make the practise illegal and by 1908 the colour was no longer available). The excavation into commonplace adultery, hand-to-mouth hardships (or jewelry to pawnshop, rather) endured even by the rich, and how most paintings served as porno for those who could afford it, were slight but still enjoyable. The caste system clash waivered from intense oppression to an unforgivable shift in power. Greite soon became the unwilling, unassuming tart-in-charge.
All this said, if you possess any knowledge of Vermeer, you will walk away feeling cheated. The manipulative musical score, heavy predictability, soap-opera sexual tension, and droll dialogue dragged at times. It was like, keep bopping us over the head with the emotional plug-ins and innuendoes and maybe, just maaaybe everyone in the audience will finally get it. The passage of time was cliché, but terribly effective since nothing every really changes in Delft except for the weather. Not to mention that a pearl is the overpriced ulcer from an irritated oyster.
If you’d like a movie that will entice your intellect and investigation into Vermeer’s almost sadistic realm of countenance (where things are not as they appear superficially, even though they are portrayed in the same room, i.e.: the constant, the studio), you’d be better off with the selected scenes from Peter Greenaway’s A Zed and Two Noughts. If you want to just see an artist objectify his subject matter and/or a mind stunting yet visually stunning grand artiste film that doesn’t involve homoeroticism, this one’s for you.
Oh yeah, and Happy Holidays!