Sylvia: Discussion on the film
I saw the film Sylvia last week for the first time. The misrepresentations are ludicrous, even for the a popular film. Plath herself always acknowledged that Hughes shared the housework and the care of the children. He was determined that she would write. In the film, he is never seen doing a thing, and Plath is portrayed as being destroyed as a writer by her husband. The film also suggests that in America Plath taught to support Hughes. He taught as well, and had won major awards. They helped each other. The film is a travesty, as is much feminist interpretation of this most complicated and controversial of marriages. I am not surprised that Frieda Hughes has been so vocal in her condemnation.
This movie portrayed the talented, intellegent and multidementional mind of Sylvia as bland, apathetic, and nothing like the true genius she was. It is no surprise that her daughter refused the rights to Sylvia's poetry. I can think of nothing to say here but huge disappointment!!! It saddened me that Plath, a truly amazing human being, was reduced to a bored housewife type when there was so much potential for a biopic that accurately represented who she was. I would have liked to see Maggie Gyllenhal cast as Sylvia.
I just saw the film Sylvia and found it so compelling. I was immediately drawn to the whole story and I found myself suffering right along her as the movie developed. I also found myself wishing this wasn't a true story, her death is such a tragedy. I have only briefly heard of Sylvia Plath before this movie, so I don't know how much of it is really true to her life. It seemed that the movie portrayed her entire downfall and death to Ted Hughes. Is this really so? I want to read her works and find out more, but I'm sure many of you here already know a lot. I'm hoping to read some more messages to find out more about Sylvia. This movie, or rather the story, touched me more than I think any other film I've seen has. I'm not sure what it is but I just feel so upset when I think about her life and death. I haven't stopped thinking about her once all day long. Does anyone else find some strange obsession over her? This is quite odd, but either way I'm glad I found this website and I hope to learn more about Sylvia.
The film Sylvia was merely a sanitised version of the Hughe's suffering. It offered a simple reason for Plath's suicide, namely her husband's adultery. I think her state of mind that terrible winter is quite unimaginable. Her isolation no doubt contributed to her state of mind, but in actual fact she was being looked after just before her suicide by friends. Going back to her husband wouldn't have lessened her loss - he was not the man she believed him to be - a lesser man perhaps. Rather than use the film as reference better to read the biographies some of which are in favour of Ted Hughes and others who support Sylvia.
Any film which seeks to portray Sylvia Plath through the acting talents and persona of Gwyneth Paltrow can surely never even get near to a sincere and authentic portrayal of the tragic poet and writer. To depict the tragi-dramatic events of both Plath and Hughes' lives together (and apart), to my mind could never measure up to the urban myths and legends that emerged in the years after Hughes and Plath were fabled to passionately meet in a Oxbridge party one evening. I have never seen the film and probably never will. I would rather remember Plath through her poetry and writings than any other medium.
Mandy, Sylvia's children were in their cots in a bedroom where she'd left them bread and milk. She also did her best to protect them from the gas by sealing the door to the room. They saw nothing.
I am really new to Sylvia Plath and know very little about her work. I watched 'Sylvia' at the weekend and really enjoyed the film. I sobbed at the end, deep mournful sobs; it touched something within me. I found it quite haunting and feel compelled to find out more about Sylvia, not too bothered about Ted Hughes though. Can anyone tell me if her children were left in another room when she ended her life. This I found most disturbing. I have read a few of the reviews and feel that the film, as most biographical films, use a lot of poetic licence and one cannot expect all information to be accurate.
I saw the film last night and found no heart in it anywhere except for the astonishing prevailing spirit in Paltrow's eyes, which made me wonder if Sylvia Plath possessed the same demeanor. I felt the screenplay tried to be tasteful while avoiding a decided point of view. This haphazard artistic decision left the piece open to all the usual cliches. What can be more boring, though, than the cinematic archive of a character who almost extinguishes their own life over and over, only to eventually succeed? What sort of film could have successfully represented this woman? It is an interesting artistic question.
It is an undeniable fact that the film has minimalized the context of Sylvia Plath's life to the focus point of how her husband had used the weapon of the hegemonic structure exercised upon women on Sylvia Plath. The notions of the hierarchical lines can easily be seen in this movie. But the problem is that these lines, usually dependent upon the context of gender trouble are so obvious, that it is not so hard to infer the mess that Sylvia Plath went through, because this is the very part of our everyday lives. When you degrade the lives of the individuals into three pathetic stages; stumbling, resistance and suicide as last; you directly injure the lives of the ones that you actually want to uphold.
The facts of the matter of Ted and Sylvia are well known, this movie presents them soberly, there are no cranky theories on offer (she may be the only American celebrity the CIA did not murder). On the surface what happened is banal, a marriage which went quickly wrong, and her left with two little kids. If we glance back through time 40 years we will find Poor Cow tells the same story. That was fiction, this story is not. But the genre known as the biopic tends towards the cartoon (Ah, Wilde, let me introduce you to my friend Whistler. I'm sure you'll find him most amusing... So, Oliver Cromwell, we meet at last.) and this portrait of Sylvia Plath in pre-feminist, pre-swinging 60s, pre-rock, pre-nearly everything late 1950s England, trapped like a bird in a house flying bang into the windows time and again trying painfully to escape, veers close to pure caricature.
Sylvia : How was your walk?
Ted: Good. I got a poem. A good one.
Sylvia: I'm dried up.
Ted: Cause you've got nothing to say.
Sylvia: I'm no good.
Ted: You make great cakes.
Cue great offstage feminist moaning and gnashing. Then Ted says some useful blokeish things - "There's no secret to it (writing poetry - they never talk about anything else), you just have to pick a subject and stick your head into it." Sylvia retorts : "You go out for a bike ride and come back with an epic in hexameters - I sit down to write, I get a bake sale." A little later, on their honeymoon, they're in a dinghy rowing in the sea when Ted suddenly realises - he's out of his depth! ("the tide's dragging us out - I can't get us back in... people drown like this...") Heavy handed metaphor? Yes, I think so! And so under waves of risible dialogue like that, the movie slowly sinks whilst the captain stands bravely on deck saluting to the last - that would be Gwyneth Paltrow, who gives a fine performance, but what can even she do?
Cue Sylvia smiling ironically. Cue audience rolling eyes and nudging each other - "I reckon there's Trouble Ahead!" Yes, we get it. Ted's a wow with the ladies. So it seems that these big name high toned poets have relationships which turn on exactly the same thing as Den and Angie - the tedious negotiations of sexual fidelity, or as Leonard Cohen gracefully put it, "the homicidal bitching that goes down in every kitchen to determine who shall serve and who shall eat". And this justifiable sexual and creative jealousy is given to us as the whole cause of Sylvia's misery. Her extremely disturbed adolescence is alluded to twice but never examined.
Sylvia Plath was a prisoner - of the 1950s and its common or garden sexism, of Ted Hughes, of her own ambition, of her marriage, of her children, and she was in an almost permanent rage. The only time she captured and channelled this rage was in the six month burst of energy in late '62 and early '63 when she wrote the Ariel poems, which collectively form one of the essential documents of the 20th century. This really unnecessary film cannot illuminate what happened. It peers at the photogenic surfaces. What was Ted thinking? What about Sylvia's friends - we only see one, Al Alvarez - had she scared them off? Why did she become suicidal? Was she born like that, as some people are born junkies? What the hell was she thinking, with her two little kids in the next room? This was no ordinary despair. Is this movie for those who haven't read Sylvia or those who have? Either group would have many complaints. They'd be better off reading Ariel and Janet Malcolm's book The Silent Woman.
On a visit to New York City I saw the film Sylvia. It was a very good experience for me because I am working on a play about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, looking at both sides of the story and the different points of view of both poets. The film is good and well done but, as in many biographies, plays and other literary work, there is no balance in the story and it seems always Sylvia is the victim and Hughes the bad guy. After reading and researching from different resources I think the story is much more complex, or much simpler, but both sides have to be taken.
Well, my play will be on stage next year in Mexico City. There is an English version of the play.
Why Sylvia Plath is always painted as this horribly grey and depressing human being is beyond me. Yeah, she killed herself and once attempted suicide before. So? Anyone who's read her journals and letters knows that she was cheery. In fact, most of her personal prose is cheery. And The Bell Jar is hilarious. She was a well-balanced human being who had a knack for discharging her emotions in poetry. So this makes her a basketcase? Regardless, I admired Paltrow's acting. The voice just hit the mark to the original. Too bad the happy times Ted and Sylvia had with each other and their children was clearly extinguished. Guess it's not exciting enough for the movies.
Bernadette - Firstly, you read in to the later work that Plath was angry at being a woman. This is plainly not so, as Plath herself asserts time and again through journals and through how she behaved in the company of others. She was no feminist and revelled in what she considered to be the Lawrentian, earthiness of Woman with 'Strong Male'. She was definitely angry that she had failed to secure the critical success of her husband, however. But how much this was a reasonable anger and disappointment and how much Plath's own perfectionism distorted the issue is questionable; she had, afterall, had a first collection published by the extremely well respected William Heinemann and had a novel published. Both had received reasonable notices in the dailies. Not bad for a woman only a few months past her 30th birthday.
Additionally, you observe that: 'The film captures Sylvia's intellectual and physical efforts to support her husband, continue developing her own gifts and caring for her babies without much help from her literary Poet Laureate "me-Tarzan-you Jane," genius husband.' Well, I have seen the film and that is not the impression that I got. The film very much highlights that Hughes fostered and encouraged Plath's unique voice and indeed helped to bring it into being - a midwife of sorts, you might say. How curious that a man reviled by these people was crucial to the art...
Hardly credible perhaps to you, but Hughes was actually something of a 'new man' for all his wandering, human eye...Such a perspective is hard for Plath diehards to accept but actually - and witnesses from both sides of the camp have testified to this - Hughes shared childcare with Plath 50/50 (usually Hughes taking the children in the morning, Plath taking over in the afternoon) and after they parted Hughes (who by that point was starting to earn proper money from writing for the first time in his life) financially supported Plath and the children - securing them a very nice flat in Fitzroy Road (which Plath insisted upon because of the Yeats connection despite the fact it was more expensive than other, more suitable properties) and maintaining her and the children to such extent that (again this comes from people on both sides of the fence) he was rendered penniless and spent nights on friends' settees. A married man who fell in love with another woman perhaps...but a Tarzan? This is simply false. And by the way, I am not a fan of Hughes's poetry but I am fond of the facts. Rant over.
May I make a correction to the fact that Hughes was not a Poet Laureate until 1985, following the death of John Betjeman who was no doubt, a bigger, better and more popular Laureate than Hughes was.
Also, that if all these facts of Plath's German-ness and her poetical situations (without being allowed to quote from her work)was incorporated into the film it would have been extremely long. Moreover, it would have risked alienation of the general viewing public, most of which is not familiar with her or Hughes' work.
I thought that the film really captured the mental fragility of this woman. It was quite intense at the end. I could sense her struggle to try and determine if she was losing her mind or if she might struggle through it. GP did a very nice job and so did the actor who played her emotionally absent husband. The whole movie provided a turgid, remorseful look at a life lived with too much pain, family judgement and without sufficient emotional grounding.
However, the film lacked enough information to make the viewer understand the depth of her talent, the destructive power of her mental illness, and her efforts to get on top of these problems. Imagine the complete abandonement she must have felt and the desperation from which she acted out her last day! In many of Plath's later poems, you sense her isolation, and her intense anger at the cost of being female. She is so angry at her femininity and writes of her belief that being a woman deprived her of the kind of success and acceptance she would have received had she been male.
Another interesting thread in her life that would have made the film more interesting was her obsession with her German roots, Nazism, Facism and the Holocaust. She related her own life experience to the Holocaust in some of her poetry and had some major love/hate about her Germanness. In the film, there is no real reference to these themes. The film also does not illustrate the wealth of emotional power that Plath's and Hughes's family had over them. Plath's mother and Hughes's sister...there's a couple of movies right there!
I've read a few biographies about Plath, as well as her poems. I've also lumbered through some of the literary criticism that has been written about her, the best (personal opinion here) is The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, written by Jacqueline Rose, a professor in the UK. To those detractors of the film who are unhappy that it is about Sylvia and Ted, and not just Sylvia, their history was completely emotionally intertwined. It's difficult to separate them, at times, their support of each other's writing. I've read comments that Hughes and Plath wrote other poems and prose on the backs of their drafts, sometimes with ironic results. They almost seemed locked together in a deathlike ego-struggle over whom would survive.
The film captures Sylvia's intellectual and physical efforts to support her husband, continue developing her own gifts and caring for her babies without much help from her literary poet laureate "me-Tarzan-you Jane," genius husband. It would also have been interesting to explore why Ted's lover, (interestingly a German) committed suicide 5(?)years later in the same way that Sylvia did, along with their love child. Quite tragic. Something had to be going on here!
The movie illustrates the emotional abandonment that Ted Hughes creates in the relationship. Sylvia and her children were chronically ill with almost continual flu and sinusitis the winter before her death. It's especially difficult to understand why she had no emotional support from her family or his, and especially from him. The film gave you no understanding of these issues.
Too bad the BBC doesn't do 10 part series for Masterpiece Theatre about these two people. With good writers, the audience would be their's for the asking.
So rent the film. I'd call it a mood piece. It provides something but not really enough.
I thought the movie was tastefully done, which was a pleasant surprise. I was fully prepared for the movie to degenerate into pathos and that did not happen. I am not all that comfortable with the fault finding by the respective backers of Plath and Hughes. The truth is their story has no heroes or villains, no angels or saints. Their lives were simply a sad tragedy with plenty of blame to go around, as well as a significant amount of misfortune beyond either of their control.
My mother doesn't know Sylvia Plath from a hole in the ground. That?s a direct quote. She?s going to watch this movie tonight and someday someone will mention Plath's name and my mother will say 'oh, I know who you're talking about.. I watched a movie about her'. My parents (both in their 60s) will think her a poet who couldn't be happy with being happy and that couldn't keep her man. They will come away knowing little about her life- her life I have to agree with so many- this movie doesn't do Plath the justice she deserves. But of course it is Hollywood- what more could we possibly expect?
Could someone recommend a good biographical text on Plath or perhaps some analytical guides to her works? I haven't studied her since high school. I was slightly enamored with her then. I think I?d like to be more so now.
It was amazing. It's all that can be really said about the portrayal of Plath. Despite minor hiccups, such as eye colour (as pointed out before in the forum), I found the film to be an act of genuis. The film itself made me feel the pain she felt, and was very well directed.
I found the movie a quite haunting and fascinating piece of work. To not feel for Ms. Plath's ordeals would have been inhumane in my honest opinion. As for Mr. Hughes, his portrayal is not positive at all. But, to say the least, I would believe it may be quite earned.
I really recommend the film to others. I always heard of Ms. Plath and read some of her work. I didn't study her as closely as I should've in college and graduate school, but I definitely have the passion and interest to do so now. I guess it was meant for to see the film and read her works more in-depth now because I seriously doubt I would have the maturity and understanding level back in my college years.
I agree with everyone about scene 19. I think the producers threw it in to sort of tie up a few loose ends. The results were total crass, I'd say. I also object to the one dimensional portrayal of Ted. It practically made out the man was a saint, and the implicit message seemed to be "poor guy, look what he had to go through with this very artistic, but bananas, lady!" There was no reference to his smelliness or anything, and I got the distinct impression that it was suggesting that Sylvia drove him into the arms of Assia by her jealous behaviour.
I am not terribly familiar with Plath's work or the facts of her life- she has always been on my ever-growing list of authors to read/research but it seems so hard to do while juggling my work toward a developmental psychology degree and working so that I may fund the degree. Anyway, I recently noticed that Sylvia was showing on cable and couldn't deny my curriosity.
Not considering it's biographical accuracy, I found it to be a beautiful piece of work. I went into it expecting, of course, that much would be exagerated and romanticized, but in all I found it to be believable. The greatest fault that I find is in what is left out. Merely showing Plath's life in relation to Hughes left me a little empty. I find it hard to believe that the life of such an extraodinary woman/artist revolved only around a man, to whom she felt inferior and who caused her such pain. The few, brief references to her father left me confused, rather than offering insight. I also would have liked to see her life pre-Hughes. Finally, there seemed to be a quick jump from their life in America to returning to England. Suddenly she is giving birth and from what I understand from reading other comments, even that was very difficult for her.
The aspect of the film that I was particularly pleased with, was the way it dealt with her suicide. As somebody who has been inside the mind of a suicidal person many times and is devoting my life to studying the psyche in hopes of understanding the causes of and ways to prevent such a tragedy, I know that one would be hard pressed to show the process of suicide more accurately. While it is very doubtful that the loss of her husband was the direct cause, the emotions are true. Suicide is an act of passion and impulse. The fact that she was giving up and abandoning her children wouldn't have crossed her mind. Instead, she would have seen her death as a gift to her children, relieving them of the pain that she felt she would inevitably cause them by raising them. Most poigniant was the array of emotions that she obviously felt in those final hours. The clear, rapid switch from deep, hopeless depression to panic to a sort of absent euphoria (perfectly shown in her halucination of the light in the hall) to seeming normality (preparing food for her children) to panic, to finally the 'relief' of death. I have never seen this ordeal represented more tragically, acurately or painfully beautiful. It is neither idealized, nor too graphic.
When are biographers and/or filmmakers going to learn that they simply don't have artistic license when writing a biography/shooting a biopic? I know this is a well known quote, and one I've used before in relation to this movie; but, to again invoke Voltaire, "one owes respect to the living; to the dead only truth." I find it simply astonishing that anyone responsible for publicly documenting the life of a living person could be capable of such a transgression. It is fully possible to render events that actually did occur in a profound and enigmatic way; ditto for those that happened beyond a reasonable doubt. It's called artistry. There is no excuse for invention in this genre; and "speculation" is a fine line that needs to needs to be observed very carefully. There's no better example of this than Oliver Stone; in Sylvia, Christine Jeffs aint far behind him (don't get me wrong Morney...I'm agreeing with you).
Though it seems like a petty detail, the movie poster for "Sylvia" was a red flag in itself. Gwyneth Paltrow's eyes are so blue they seem almost colorized...stunning; the focus of the picture. We know that Plath had brown eyes; it's been alluded to in memoirs, Ted's poems, and her own journals; and can be seen in photographs of her. By refusing to put contacts on Paltrow, Christine Jeffs is telling us that her film is going to be as she likes it; that attention to the life and death of a very real, very public figure is only incidental...and secondary...to high art. The probelm is, this isn't true when you're filming a biopic; and Sylvia is about as far from high art as Paltrow's eyes...and the long blond hair of her fictional death scene...is from Plath.
Lisa A. Flowers
I must be the only person in the world that would rave about the film for many reasons, if I were to start saying what I thought of it!
But, anyway....Ciara, I totally agree about scene 19. It is artistic licence. Nobody knows for sure whether that happened or not. I know some people think it did, but I have never come across any actual evidence for it. The only thing I've read that gives even a closer idea of what might have happened that weekend is Jillian Becker's book Giving Up (which..I'm sure most of you know about anyway, but if you don't - it is a very interesting read, though very short...the Beckers were the friends that Sylvia stayed with over the last weekend before she died.) From this book, if it's accurate of course, the most one can really be sure of is that Sylvia went out on the Saturday night and met someone somewhere for some reason! Nobody knows for sure who that person was, although most people assume it was Ted. Even if that were true, though, what they actually did and what was said could surely only be known by the two of them, so...
Although I did like the film, I really objected to this particular scene because it wasn't just an inaccuracy, it was pure speculation. To make it worse, coming at the point in the film where it does, it then makes it look as if Sylvia killed herself purely because Ted 'couldn't' come back to her because Assia was pregnant. I have to say that really enraged me.
Although I also don't go along with the 'romanticising' of their relationship, I don't think that how long it lasted really has much to do with it....the number of years doesn't seem as significant as what happened in those years - and considering how young she was when she died, those years were really quite a large part of Sylvia's life overall.
Finally bought the DVD of Sylvia having resisted any faint urge to go and see at the cinema what I could only imagine would be a travesty. The DVD sat there for two weeks and finally last night I curled up on the sofa with a couple of hours to spare and ready to give it the benefit of the doubt. After 15 minutes of sheer torture I switched it off, put it up for sale on Amazon Marketplace and had sold it by this evening to my great relief...I don't even want to have this in the house!
I thought that this movie lacked a lot of depth. This movie misleads the audience that is not exactly Plath familiar focusing on her relationship as if it was the direct cause of her suicide. Ted Hughes is given too much power. I wanted more. The prior suicide attempts are only mentioned a couple times-and her father issues are rarely mentioned. I think Paltrow did a wonderful job portraying her, maybe just a little over-acted.
Amanda S. Halm
I thought Paltrow was superficially a good likeness for SP. I couldn't really say whether she acted like Sylvia did, because obviously, I didn't know the lady personally. I was disappointed that it started about three years after her breakdown ~ no attempt at portraying any childhood experiences or the lead up to her crisis. (This crisis, I believe is of crucial importance to all who are interested in SP. We know we can never come anywhere near "understanding" the lady, but I think we have to try!")
And what I can't for the life of me understand is why they didn't just go the whole hog and call it Ted and Sylvia. It basically started with their meeting, and the whole film concentrated on a very watered down (or so I believe) account of their relationship. Needless to say, important facts such as Sylvia's worries over difficulties conceiving, were either omitted altogether or glossed over. Finally, there was no mention of Assia's fate, which I would have assumed, does have a slight relevance here. No wonder no one seems to be raving over this film!
I am so grateful that I read a lot of reviews on the internet before seeing Sylvia at the movies. I saw so many women filing excitedly into the cinema ~ at a glance, I hoped they'd read reviews also. Some were alone, looking like they'd been anticipating this night of nights for a long time; finally, Sylvia Plath: the movie! (As my mother wryly observed, "Some people who like Sylvia Plath like her a lot They're a bit like Elvis Presley fans.")
I didn't think it was a terrible film, but it certainly was disappointing. Particularly grating was that who-ever wrote the script clearly was familiar with the particulars of Plath's life and death, but didn't bother including "reenactments" of so many scenes, incidents involving other people. Sylvia's life has been described in memoirs, biographies and by Sylvia herself - and so much was more interesting, or as interesting, as her relationship with Ted Hughes. Ciara Smyth (nice location, by the way): I agree with a lot of what you wrote. I once watched an eminent literary scholar nattering on tv that the Plath/Hughes "union" was "just like a fairy-tale!" Yes, she was serious.
And no,from the biographies/memoirs I've read, I don't believe that the "reunion" scene at the end happened - and if it did, it's highly unlikely it happened on the very night of Sylvia's suicide. I agree it is a disservice to Plath.
The movie did seem to spring to life here and there ~ but if art imitates life, the artists could have done such a better job of it.
I finally saw the film last night. I wasn't disappointed because I expected it to be terrible. Gwyneth who is a very limited actress does do her best with the material and is perfect for and excellent as the scriptwriter's interpretation of Sylvia Plath. It does not coincide with my view of the poet from her poetry, prose or journal. It portrays her as a jealous housewife and nothing more. I have always despised the romantic notion of Ted and Sylvia, they had a passionate relationship, I don't care to dispute this but it was a relationship with many problems and it did only last six years or so, to make it more than that, which is what the film does, is artistic licience. What I would like to know pertains to the truth of scene 19 where Ted and Sylvia reunite for one night and she asks him to come back to her, did this happen? The movie is grossly unfair to Sylvia suggesting she committed suicide because she was abandoned by her husband.
I've just seen the film last night and need to watch it again. Impulsively I write here. GP gives an excellent performance. I believe she has a rich internal life as does the man who plays TH. The scene that especially convinced me with the TH character is near the end when she's just made love with him and how his body, face alone register his reaction in the minutest way. I have known SP's story for a long time so I came to the film with my own movie in my head but the apt etc were as I pictured them. I didn't see SP as so venomously jealous but I'm sure that was factual. And who wouldn't be? I too, had three small children by the age of 27, two of whom were twins and an inattentive husband - it's a miracle I write this.:
As an aspiring writer who has lived abroad (In Somerset actually not too far from Devon), and married to a Brit I can understand the loneliness that could have driven Sylvia to the depths of despair. Writing, having 2 babies, a miscarriage and an appendectomy in the span of 3 years is hard enough, without adding that your "Adam" is carrying on with another and then proceeds to leave you to "get on with it". When she says in the film something along the lines of "you must think me an American Bitch..." I smiled as it sounded like something that may have have crossed my mind on quite a few occasions. I thought the film was okay, I would have loved to have seen more of Sylvia as a child and her actual relationship to Otto - it is mentioned in the film but never really explored.
\ I have, finally seen Sylvia Despite all the nasty reviews it got, I don't see how the film could have been any better! I thought it was pretty good actually, and Paltrow played the part pretty well! Though I still think she doesn't look much like Plath in the film except for when she has her hair done up into a french bun.
Sylvia had a past history of being depressed, that is true, but what pushed her over the edge for the final time was her sinus infection which she could not get rid of and a record breaking winter that looked like it would never end but during which she had to care for her two babies all by herself. At least, those are the facts so noted in the biographies of this woman.
Considering that the movie announced right off the bat that it was going to deal with her death (and, say, not the New York City fling and the famous suicide attempt that she fictionalized in The Bell Jar, her rigorous college years at Smith and the years before of methodical writing, or even the infamous Ted Hughes and her marriage with him), no amount of editing should have necessitated leaving out those physical factors, however common and dull.
It is said that, under the right circumstances and they are grand passions indeed, we can all be driven to the edge. Yet, the final things that will push us over and into the abyss are usually petty, repetitive, chronic, and very, very physical. What's sad is that those very drivers by their nature are transient.
According to www.play.com, the release date in the UK for Sylvia on DVD is 26.07.2003, and is available for the great price of ?11.99. Whether we liked the film or not, I thought it was an important exploration of the relationship between Hughes and Plath, and I am looking forward to the possible film adaptation of The Bell Jarwhich will hopefully be a more insightful cinematic version than the 1979 adaptation.
Roberto, the poem you are seeking is called 'The Arrival of the Bee Box', written by Sylvia Plath on 4 October 1962.
I thought the film was well done. The ending was done great as well, but the begining of the film where they open with her body on the floor and you hear: "Dying, Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. / I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I've a call." (from "Lady Lazarus"). And then she opens her eye...its just a powerful scene to me and it's the one I like best. I do wonder though, what poem was that, that was quoted in the end as (Plath) shuts the kitchen door? the line went something like "the box is locked, there is only a little grid" does anyone what poem this was?
I've still not seen the film, much to my dismay. I think I was one of the first people to bring it to the site's notice. Anyone know when it's coming out on DVD or VHS?
As a mother, wife, writer, and person experienced with marital breakup and depression, I agree with Joan Phillips that Sylvia's suicide seems incomprehensible, particularly in light of her children. I must respectfully counter, however, that we have to remember that severe depression, even when it stems from external life events, is often biochemical. The brain chemistry is awry and therefore what one might call "lack of hope" or "inability to prevail" really does not apply. Some, I believe, really are more fragile in the face of circumstance than others.
The film Sylvia harmed Sylvia Plath's memory by failing to include her infant son, Nicholas, and Ted Hughes' well-known indifference to him from birth. "Many children grow up without fathers," he coldly told Sylvia Plath, refusing even to touch the baby, as Plath confided to her journals. Far from indicating an inability to give a mother's love to her children, Sylvia Plath's suicide showed the greatest love possible by voluntarily laying down her disintegrating mind in the knowledge that it would unavoidably separated her from her children, at least temporarily" thereby depriving them of both parents. Sylvia Plath was a courageous woman who took charge of her and her children's lives in the only way she knew how. The inaccuracies in Sylvia were foreshadowed early in the film, as when Ted, known to be a giant in physical stature, was depicted at a party as the shortest man in the room, and Sylvia's modest family home in Wellesley was presented as a mansion amidst tended gardens. None of Sylvia's physical decline from lingering flu or the frigid temperatures of her apartment were shown, despite her having written of them to her mother in Letters Home. Sylvia Plath chose death in the face of impending insanity in order to give her two children a stable future with at least one sane parent. The situation was made clear in her archives. One hopes now for a more even handed and inclusive presentation of her life and how it ended
I just read Sylvia: The Shooting Script and I must say that it's really worth reading to see how the screenwriter, John Brownlow, tried to make a unified whole out of Plath and Hughes's relationship; there are scenes, good ones, included here that were cut from the final movie that would have expanded the audience's awareness of Plath's state of mind, so she doesn't seem so mysterious (to those who don't know very much about her life). There's one scene taken directly from one of Hughes's Birthday Letters poems, where a man tries to sell him a fox cub, for instance, or an earlier scene with a ouija board, that wouldn't have taken too much time on screen (I think - I'm not a director!) and would have balanced out the strangeness in their relationship, if I can put it that way. In the finished product, besides the shaman-poet speech, Hughes is a bit normalized - his great interest in animals & the occult aren't there at all.
One theme I did like in Sylvia script was the alternating of the 'red' book - Hughes's famous Oxford Shakespeare - and the 'green' book, Otto Plath's Bumblebees and Their Ways - as if these were the two symbols of Plath's own polarization. In the movie, we only see Hughes handling Otto's book, which is too bad.
I watched the movie, Sylvia, tonight, gripped by the depth of her pain, sickened by her dependent obsession with her husband, angered by her inability to overcome for the sake of herself and her children.
I, too, am a writer who has gone through this much and more, even toying with the concept of death as a release from the pain. Yet there is no pain within me that would lead to such a selfish act as to leave loved ones who would spend the rest of their lives wondering what they did wrong or what they could have done to prevent such a tragedy.
Even Ted and his mistress, although contributing to her despair, can not be blamed as Sylvia had a choice. She made her choice. My heart aches for her, for she never allowed herself the chance to see her children grow. My heart breaks for her as she was so self-absorbed that she was unable to give. Her life, though tragic, was not a sacrifice. The greater tragedy was the unknowing sacrifice of the innocent children whose mother voluntarily abidicated her God-given gift of motherhood. The sadness stems from the hopelessness of Sylvia and those like her who seemingly just give up. I say they give up because they refuse to accept the fact that there is hope, just not in the form of which they are obsessed. Forgiveness - elusive, indeed, yet imperative in order to understand the desperateness of the human heart that is without hope.
The poem you're enquiring about is called "Pursuit" and is the third one printed in my 1981 edition of Plath's Collected Poem. I can remember how it took my breath away when I first read it too, Jayne.Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge , UK
Monday, March 15, 2004
As a whole, I really enjoyed the film. Whatever attention or light that can be directed towards Sylvia is always good. Now maybe high schools and other people will become interested in her work. But I didn't like how it made her out to be extremely paranoid. Now I don't know if the director's artistic licence allowed him to change certain situations (like the one at the house where she erupts at Ted and Assia) to give the audience a certain opinion of her or Ted. But for the life of me I can't find the poem (or if it really is a poem) that Sylvia writes about Ted. It is in the scene where she first meets him and goes back and writes 'I will have my death of him' WOW! I think that is beautiful. If anyone knows where I can find this poem, or could tell me that is isn't a poem I would be appreciative.Jayne Thomas
Lawrence , USA
Monday, March 15, 2004
Glad you mentioned the poor quality of Craig's voice Stephanie as that jarred with me too. I found it hard to understand at times and I actually live in the part of Yorkshire Hughes was born in. Craig was using what's become known as the "stage" Yorkshire accent, a southerner's exaggeration of some of the features of Northern speech which often does render it incomprehensible. Very irritating especially when you've heard Hughes speak in person as I did in a couple of poetry readings in 1979 and 1980. He really did have an eloquent "voice like the thunder of God" whereas Craig made him sound like some Neanderthal yokel.
Of all the parts of the film I thought that the suicide scene was the one which was the best handled. Very understated but so poignant and moving. Although I liked the way it was shown in complete silence as the stretcher was carried into the ambulance the last line of "Munich Mannequins" went through my mind: "Voicelessness. The snow has no voice." It would have added to the final effect to have quoted this line or another of Plath's many references to death. They managed to use a couple of other lines of her poetry in the film so why didn't they have a final stress on it in the final shot?Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge , UK
Friday, March 12, 2004
I have to agree with Elaine about Sylvia. I was extremely optimistic about how the film would turn out and have to say that the twisting of facts was incredibly jarring to me. I found it disappointing that Paltrow as Plath was constantly shown sitting alone in a dark room looking depressed....as far as I know, Plath was a much more vibrant person than that.
Interestingly, at the beginning, I had a terribly hard time understanding what Craig was supposed to be saying! Having grown up with a British father, having visited England on an extended trip and having grandparents, an uncle, aunt and cousins with with English accents I certainly don't have a problem with understanding it....but Craig's version of Hughes took some getting used to (and I've listened to recordings of Hughes and not had a problem figuring out what he's saying).
Also, the settings were a little incredible. For one thing, I don't ever recall that Aurelia Plath lived in a mansion (practically, in the movie) with servants to do most of her bidding...nor do I recall Court Green being completely wind-blown and isolated as portrayed in the film.
Ultimately, the film-makers did make an effort to make a a well-rounded biopic of Plath (and Hughes, I suppose, although he remains sort of one dimensional) but fell flat. I do believe that the research was done, at least by the screenwriter, however, we must remember that the script is often edited and altered a number of times from the writer's original script. Basically, you just have to take the film for what it is and leave it at that. Obviously, everything is not going to be portrayed as everyone would like but hopefully, in the end, it will inspire people to branch out on their own and discover Plath and Hughes' works for themselves.
To Jennifer, I have to say that I'm glad they didn't show Plath's body hanging lifelessly out of the oven....I think the film-makers chose to handle the suicide in a tasteful manner without having to be overly graphic about the whole thing. I'm sure anyone with any imagination (however morbid) can image what the aftermath of the suicide must have looked like.Stephanie
Ottawa , Canada
Friday, March 12, 2004
Jennifer, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I have to say the idea of the pale, dead body hanging half out of the oven is really poor taste. I don't think it's necessary, and I'm glad that nothing like this was portrayed. A good filmmaker can can evoke the type contrast and emotion you're speaking of without being gruesome or insensitive. As for Assia's suicide being a cheap bid to "outdo" Sylvia, I can't help but think you misunderstand her suicide and suicide in general. Suicide is a complex and personal act, and there are often no "reasons" at all that can be understood by other people. I think there were probably many reasons why Assia took her own life and the life of her daughter, but I don't think the main reason was to trump Sylvia Plath. Assia and Shura were people in their own right, and they had legitimate lives outside the shadow of Sylvia Plath.Kim
Detroit , USA
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
I watched the first hour of the move and finally finished watching it two weeks later. I suppose it's a bit like Titanic or The Passion - you know how it's going to end. I suppose I wasn't ready to watch her do it.
I did the feel that the film very accurately depicted the nature of Bipolar Depression II. The depressive swing is more akin to psychosis and disattachment than sadness. I know.
My two faults with the film, which is probably nitpicking, are: 1) in the end, we see how the character may have experienced the end, but personally I think we could have used a "pale dead body hanging out of the oven" shot to juxtapose her delusional state with the external reality of the act; and 2) I was a little disappointed that the end notes did not mention Assia's homicide/suicide, the utterly gruesome and desperate attempt to steal the spotlight back from Sylvia by surpassing her misdeeds. Although I don't think Plath would have cared for it, I sense that Ted's relationship with Assia was probably never the same after Sylvia's death. It's rather difficult to compete with a ghost.Jennifer
Cincinnati , USA
Friday, March 5, 2004
I finally got to see Sylvia last Friday when it reached Hebden Bridge where it played to a crowded cinema. It wasn't quite the drivel I had feared either from reading most of the reviews by film critics or from the responses of some people who've posted on this Forum. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear some (though not enough) of Plath's poetry. On those few occasions the film actually had some depth and sparkle to it, as Plath's words transformed the script into something more nearly resembling her life and demonstrating the power of her art. But we heard none of Hughes's words which were also needed to convey the sense of his status as a major poet.
I knew I was going to be irritated by the factual inaccuracies and appreciated the difficulties the film makers must have had in reducing two complex geniuses' lives into the space of a biopic. With this in mind I did my best to leave my extensive knowledge of Plath at the cinema door and tried to judge it as a film, rather than as a "true" account of Sylvia's life and art. I found it wanting in both respects.
The film was episodic and lacked a unifying narrative. No sooner had Sylvia met Ted at the St. Botolph's Review party than they were being married. It seemed as if this occurred almost immediately after their first love making session
To anyone unfamiliar with their lives, the shouting of Chaucer's poetry to the poor bemused cows as the couple punted down the River Cam gives the impression of a couple of lunatics on the loose. I couldn't help at this point but recall a poem by Vernon Scannell who wrote about a cow in a field who is thinking of writing a poem about Ted Hughes. There was no attempt to provide the audience with an explanation of the importance in which Hughes held the memorising of poetry in his whole philosophy of art.
Cut to the USA where there is a quick gallop through some of the major incidents that we all know, but which I believe the "average" film goer would have found very confusing. Then whoosh, we're back in London again with no real reason given for the transfer except a vague suggestion that Plath felt Hughes might be less susceptible to the temptation of other women on British soil. Plath is quite suddenly shown delivering Frieda but no images are given of the later arrival of Nicholas.
A couple of elderly women who were sitting near me kept asking each other what was happening and why. I found myself sympathising with their confusion, rather than being irritated by their constant questioning as I might have been in a more gripping film. In fact, if I hadn't been able to fill in the missing blanks for myself I might well have left before the film's end as the plot just seemed like a rather tawdry and somewhat tedious love story. The old, old story of the husband with a wandering eye and his neurotic, jealous wife's over reactions to his supposed and actual infidelities.
As I couldn't value it much as a film, the inaccuracies and omissions became even more dominant than they might otherwise have been. Whoever did the research hadn't even been bothered to find out how to pronounce the name Mytholmroyd correctly. A fact which drowned out a minute or so of dialogue when Daniel Craig's mispronounciation caused a loud ripple of laughter to circulate around the cinema in Hebden Bridge. Landscape and seascape were vital factors affecting both of the poets' work and yet nothing was shown of either Yorkshire or the Eastern seaboard of the USA.
The beautiful spacious, thatched former rectory of Court Green in North Tawton which Hughes and Plath bought in 1961, was reduced to a pokey, rain and wind swept dismal hillbilly type dwelling more representative of a farm labourer's cottage than the beautiful home it became.
Yes, most English houses in the 50's and early 60's were rather drab and dull (I was a child then and I can remember them) but they weren't as uniformly dark green and black as the film portrays. Also writers, artists and "Bohemians" were creating a different style of plain, light coloured walls, stripped floorboards with bright rugs and posters on the wall which we know from Plath's journals and Letters Home that she was trying to emulate.
But whilst the film makers over did the drabness of the decor they did not seem have any grasp of just how awful and demoralising the winter of 1963 was. The film's snow just acted as a picturesque, Disneyland backdrop to Sylvia's final days in London rather than being presented as the relentless foe that it became, not only for Sylvia but the whole British population at the time.
As the camera gazed mistily through the window panes on to the soft snow outside I kept wondering where the frost on the inside of the windows had gone? Also, as one of the friends who I saw it with commented, "Where were all the parrafin heaters?" Most homes in the UK at that time were without central heating and festooned with heaters which provided little relief from the bone aching cold. And yet Hughes and Plath managed to make love, completely naked on a sofa without blankets! I have it on good authority that no one removed all their clothes in such circumstances at that time!
There seemed to be little real sympathy for Plath who seemed like a rather egocentric, jealous and at times downright rude woman. There were references to her previous suicide attempt but no portrayal of the illnesses both she and the children suffered in her final weeks. In many ways Paltrow's Plath seemed as flat and without any magnetism as did Daniel Craig's Ted Hughes who seemed incapable of conveying the charisma and sheer power which was apparent to anyone who was ever in the same room as the poet.
The "explanation" given for Plath's suicide that she had made love with Hughes the previous evening and had been told that Assia was pregnant was based on supposition, rather than fact and just seemed a too simplistic device to move the action along.
However, I do believe that the film may well encourage people to read both Plath's and Hughes's poetry so perhaps it has not been a complete travesty.Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
Thursday, March 4, 2004
Prior to watching Sylvia,I had little knowledge of Plath's life or work - I had heard of The Bell Jar,and considered reading it, but had not got round to it. Perhaps it is due to this relative unawareness that I enjoyed the film so much, while others more familar with Plath's story found it mediocre. I was very impressed with the acting talents of all those involved in the production, especially those of Gwenyth Paltrow, who perhaps gives a career best performance as the troubled poet. The film was beautifully shot, and although a little emotionally detached, managed to move me enough to spend hours on the internet familiarisng myself with the real Plath's work and life. In fact, upon my next visit to my local Borders (which happened to be yesterday), I immediately picked up copies of both Ariel and The Bell Jar and am thoroughly looking forward to reading them.
While not all Plath fans may feel the film justified, or necessary, I believe it will play an important role in introducing more and more people to Sylvia's work. I may only be a teenager (16), but I would have otherwise had little chance to discover Plath's work so early, as my A Level English Literature syllabus does not cover any of her poetry or novels.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask whether I would be able to appreciate Plath's Journals at such an early stage in discovering her career. Any answers on this would be much appreciated.Vass Karadakova
North Yorkshire, UK
Saturday, February 20, 2004
I rented the DVD the other night, just to see if I had a different reaction on the 2nd viewing and to clarify some points in my mind.
Claire, I presume many details were left out or changed for several reasons of time, money, story clarity. I think it?s important to realize that a bio-pic is not meant to be a completely letter perfect recreation of details. The story would suffer and the director would really be directing.
Wexford, I see your point, but I do think it?s possible to critique the film as a film, even if you do know Plath's work and about her life.
I admit, my own theories about Plath?s mental state certainly color my expectations of what I see on the screen. Since I have a copy of the shooting script (available from Amazon.com I highly recommend getting a hold of a copy), I watched the film with script in hand to see where the actual film differs from the script. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are numerous scenes "deleted" from the finished film (alas, there are no deleted scenes included in the DVD - no extras at all, which is really disappointing, as there could have been some material on the 'real' Sylvia Plath which would have been interesting and informative.) Some of these scenes certainly didn't need to be in the final film, and it's probably good that they were cut. However, there are some cuts that seem to only muddle the film.
Left in, certain scenes would have helped explicate some of what was happening in the story (like the Ouija board scene). There are certain scenes written one way in the shooting script and then played another in the finished film (either dialogue having been changed or cut, or directions on how a line should be played, or a look) - notably, some scenes with Assia behaving in a rather predatory way. If you were to view the "dinner party from hell" scene after having read some of what was in the shooting script but 'cut', you would have a far different picture of why "Sylvia" is behaving so rudely to David, Assia and Ted. It's obvious that the director preferred to play the infidelity theme very ambiguously, and I understand from articles I've read that this was a deliberate choice.
It's not necessarily a wrong choice. But the film (to me) reads less ambiguous and more as if Plath were just a pain in the ass. There were certain scenes left out that showed the writer's knowledge of the Birthday Letters poems - such as a scene with Ted encountering a man with a fox cub in London. It's an interesting scene, but it doesn't contribute much to the film itself and the film loses nothing by cutting it - indeed, only viewers that have read Birthday Letters would understand the significance.
Production design overall was very good, but as others have mentioned, did everyone in England have glossy gray or dark green walls? The score was overwhelming and used more to cue the viewer's emotions than to enhance the actual film, in my opinion.
The end cards - with the information about Plath's posthumous fame and Ted writing Birthday Letters - I don't understand how they got the facts wrong. Ariel wasn't published a year after Plath's death, it was published in 1965. Ted didn't die a few weeks after Birthday Letters was published; he died several months after the book came out. It's one thing to leave out or change details in the basic story, but it's altogether different to alter the "facts" you are presenting at the end.
The shooting script actually has the correct information. Why it was changed is inexplicable. And the information on SP and TH's lives is a rather lackluster ending. For example, since most of the people seeing the film will be unfamiliar with Plath's work and life, why not mention that Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1982? Most people are familiar with the Pulitzer and it would help to put her eventual achievement in context.
Plath struggled through the entire film trying to write poetry that would make her name and bring her out from under the shadow of her husband. She died without knowing the kind of recognition and fame she would eventually achieve. There's no sense of that kind of triumph in Sylvia the film. I know the story is tragic and sad, but her work stands as a testament to her genius as a writer. For a somewhat similar comparison, see the film Vincent and Theo with Tim Roth. The opening is brilliant, inter-cutting scenes of Van Gogh languishing in poverty in the late 19th century with a contemporary (1990's) Christie's auction of one of his paintings that is selling for 8 or 9 figures. Like Plath, Van Gogh had no idea at the time of his death what his posthumous fame would be, or how important his work would be considered in the future. I think I liked the film Sylvia a little better after viewing it again, but I still maintain that there are some serious problems with certain aspects of the film that are ultimately the responsibility of the Director.
Today I received the Sylvia DVD I pre-odered from Amazon. It is a very meager DVD. There was no insert and there are no Special Features except for the movie trailer. No director's commentary and no biographical or literary material on Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes. You just get the film and nothing but the film. I guess you could watch the movie with French subtitles if you wanted to.
I saw it last night. It was really quite good.
Gwyneth was good but some of her line delivery was so very flat. I know, I know, Ms. Plath was East Coast but it sounded incongruous when mentioning a second suicide attempt to your husband, like fake macabre. "I once tried to drown myself". She uses the same note on a few lines during the movie and it makes Sylvia sound actually pretentious.
Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes was fantastic, contrary to all of the reviews I have read. He really held the film together in much the way that his character did his best to hold Sylvia together. He is portrayed as hard working and loyal, yet still being entirely himself. It's a no whistles and bells performance suitable for a film not entitled, Ted and Sylvia.
Shame there isn't any poetry in it. The lack of it in the script may be an effort to avoid pastiche but there was neither beauty or savagery in the words. Oh, they quoted Shakespeare, Chaucer and Yeats: accessible stuff, but nothing thouroughly modern.
Now, I've read some of your comments. There is an argument about how our knowledge of her life influences our judgement of her writing. Well, surely our judgement of the movie is unbalanced by our knowledge of both her life and her work? The movie ought be judged, if we can at all, as a movie. It is a separate art form and has its own limitations.
As a piece of cinema it was so wonderfully distant and visually quiet. Inobtrusive close-ups are a nightmare to pull off but Christine Jeffs managed it. Sylvia's madness grew and built in a claustrophobic way and could envelop you like the dark, murky, high-gloss walls of the rooms.
The production design is top notch. Great abstract paintings, New Look furniture and handbags to die for. Whilst it was rather georgeously shot and lit, the sound editing and score were both awfully heavy-handed. It's as if they were afraid of the silence so they had wind whistling around the Devon cottage sets as well as the London flat. Massive gestures of violin and cello to signpost pain or here comes a sad bit for the cinematically illiterate. The sound nearly ruins the movie.
Must go and dig out The Bell Jar at home, I know it's there someplace.I wonder would she really have become so famous if she hadn't married him or if she hadn't topped herself. ??? I wonder if people will read her work after seeing the movie??? You can betchya they will. And isn't that all that matters?
The Sylvia DVD comes out today in the U.S. Available at your local Target or WalMart. Does anyone else wonder what Plath would think of having her life's story for sale at a mass merchandiser?
After browsing through all the comments from so many passionate people - my only comment on having just seen the film without any prior knowledge of her work, her life, her marriage, her state of health, etc etc - I thought the film was magnificent far far better than 21 Grams, than Cold Mountain, than Mystic River in fact when I list these films they seem so Hollywood. Sylvia was a Gem! A gem that happens every so often, though not often enough. I only know the impact the film had on me. Congratulations to all involved in this fabulous movie.
After what seems an eternity of anticipation, finally saw it last Sunday..... I think they should maybe at least have cast someone who maybe actually liked Sylvia Plath to play her, someone who appreciated her to write the script (to make her come across as a likeable woman even.......), someone who knew the autobiographgical details to check out the script details (Ted meeting Aurelia after the wedding....?), someone who maybe knew London to scout locations....and where was Heptonstall in all this? "Disappointed of Dalston"
Claire Cozler (Mobbs)
Sarah, as a woman, I can assure you that gender and/or misogyny has nothing to do with any of the film's poor reviews. I could write pages about the film's (few) good points and (several) bad points, and I have to largely agree with Richard. The performances are fine. I think Paltrow was lovely in the role and had a real feeling for Plath and her life.
But there are problems with the direction and the script. I have a copy of the shooting script and there were several scenes left out when the film was finished - including a ouija board scene that would have strengthened the premise that Plath was very attached to her dead father and that she conflated Ted and Otto in her mind. I don't think her relationship with her father was emphasised enough in the finished film - and I hope the DVD will have those scenes at least as special features.
What surprised me the most about this film is that there seemed to be very little sympathy or empathy for Plath by the director. By the time the viewer is half way through the film, usually he or she ends up being annoyed with the 'character', who simply seems whiney and overly sensitive - rather than someone who is suffering from an illness (which I believe Plath was). In my opinion, the only truly moving scene in the film was the children being rescued from the house after Plath committed suicide.
It's terribly difficult to portray something as subtle and interior as writing on the screen in a way that would both advance the story and be visually interesting. But I never really got the sense that what I was seeing was a woman who was a genius of a writer. The film just seems to be missing something I can't quite put my finger on. As I said, I could write quite a lot about areas I thought needed improving, as well as aspects I liked, but I don't want to take up too much space! I'm glad that there is at least one poster (Rex) on this Forum that says the film made him want to know more about Plath and Hughes- that was my personal hope for the film - that it would lead viewers to her work, and to his.
I saw the film last weekend and I thought it was dire. I had extremely low expectations and I was severely disappointed. It starts well but then just collapses. Rather than go into every reason why it's such an incompetent film, I think the main crux of its utter direness is the lack of pace. The director simply has no idea how to juxtapose a slow scene with a fast one, a tender scene with one of violence or comedy. As a result the film never creates a sense of momentum and drama. The whole story is played for poignancy. For example, the scene where Plath burns Hughes' work is smothered in mawkishness. It should have been vitriolic, triumphalist and vengeful. That sense of power and liberation would then have contrasted, dramatically, with her final depression. But no! This is a one-note film, scene after dreary scene. The continuity is also appalling. One minute she can't write, the next she publishes The Colossus! How did that happen? The hapless screenwriter obviously doesn't have a clue. The performances were good considering the terrible script and direction, but I would advise the screenwriter and director to take up other careers. A true turkey.Richard Smith
Tuesday, February 3, 2004
I have been rather dismayed by all of the lukewarm reviews of the new Sylvia film, which I can't wait to see. From what I have seen of the trailers so far, it looks fantastic, and Gwyneth Paltrow looks uncannily like the poet. Most of the bad reviews I have read seem to be written by unsympathetic males who misunderstand Sylvia Plath and accuse her of self-absorption and ego-centricity just because she dared to write about things other than housework and babies and concentrated upon the inner-workings of her psyche. This seems to be acceptable for other male poets; you can't get more self-obsessed than Wordsworth and Byron, who seem to take pride in their individuality. I think that Sylvia Plath is still a victim of misogyny, in that a creditable attempt to reconstruct the events of her life is belittled by an unsympathetic male reviewership.
The film may have had poor reviews, but for me, it opened up the world of Sylvia and Ted. I knew nothing of their lives or poetry, and it has made me want to read both of them. If the film has done nothing else, it has done that! I loved the film by the way, and enjoyed both the lead stars acting!
As much as I agree with the people who criticise the film Sylvia I believe we must give credit for one very important thing: the film brought Plath and her work out to a much wider public. Even I, for instance, that was always fascinated by all poetry, I am ashamed to say, that I didn't read more than "Daddy" before the film. After watching the film, I am deeply involved now with as much of her work as I can get. I have been disapointed in the past by many movies involving true historical characters, especially artists, but the truth is that, if nothing else, it promotes their work and spirit probably better than any other way.
Had to travel to Fairhaven, Mass., to see the film, as evidently Rhode Island is a Sylvia-free zone. Fairhaven is a fishing port that can look charming or evil depending on the light and gave off a suitably fretful, weedy, sea-decayed hue on my drive there. So having reread the Ariel poems over breakfast, I was in a Plath state of mind when I entered the Bijou theater, which quickly evaporated as the film progressed.
Oh well. Probably too much to expect that the film would blow me away, but I was hoping for some kind of emotional impact. Blythe Danner's Brahminish rendering of Aurelia seemed to me the most interesting portrayal in the film, if completely contrary to the figure I had constructed in reading Plath and her biographers. But it's a striking thing to get wrong, since the depiction of Aurelia and the Wellesley house dramatically alters what we know of Plath's socioeconomic status, the middle-class background, the modest home in a good neighborhood, the scrimping and saving and being practical, the striving for achievement and recognition, so often expressed in monetary terms, in an ambition to ?make a living as a writer, the agitating need in Plath, as the journals testify, for accomplishment and perfection, the flip side of which was inevitably negation and self-hatred.
The Ariel poems must have momentarily quieted both the need and the negation in Plath, a savage sort of triumph that the poems allow the reader as well. The increasingly despondent Paltrow never conveyed what Elizabeth Hardwick termed the "unsettling elation" one feels at reading the Ariel poems which surely was a byproduct of their creation. The last images of the film -the sad little backlit hand above the downstair's neighbor's door, the sad little red-cloaked body being packed inside the ambulance - pathos. No"blood jet" here. "Acetic acid in a sealed tin? / Do not accept it. It is not genuine."
"Er, a "British" accent? Don't they mean a Boston accent?"
Alison, the reviewer meant that Paltrow has been in many movies in which the character she was portraying was British. I guess it was a relief to them that Paltrow was playing someone American for a change.
As for the film, I saw it, and I honestly don't think there is much to complain about. Yes, it could have been better, and I could list all the scenes and aspects that could have been improved, but I will not. It was a good stand-alone film, and I think the production and writing team had a very, very difficult task and tried their hardest to do their best.
How does one portray the mind of a very troubled artist whose life has been extremely controversial and in the public view for quite some time? Almost every well-read person has an opinion on Plath - how can they be expected to satisfy everyone? Especially with that horrible factor tossed in that they could not use extended chunks of poetry in a movie they were making about two of the greatest poets of the 20th century.
All in all, I would say that as far as making a decent movie, they succeeded. Depicting a volatile, confusing, unreliable, but extremely gifted mind is never easy. The director was extremely brave for even attempting a film like this, and I respect her immensely for that.
I have seen a couple of mentions of Plath's "Boston accent". In the audio tapes she does not seem to drop her r's or anything like that. In everyday speaking did she actually have a Boston accent but drop it for public speaking?
I believe the intended title was "Double Take." (?)
I saw the film while out in Monterey, and I guess I'm glad I saw it there because it's gonna vanish quickly off to video. Hardly being shown anywhere, if you look at the distribution map.
I wouldn't watch it a second time, that's all I'll say.
Regarding the Double Exposure snippet.. wasn't that the title of the 'other manuscript' Plath was working on for a second novel? As for the excerpt itself--it looks to me that if you kinda took that American mother and Sylvia and squished them together, you'd get Sylvia Plath. An interesting quote from there is the knocking on the door.
"Like you're waking the dead. Literally."
As a screenwriter and an avid Plathite, I have to say I am terribly disappointed at the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath. She may bring in the ticket sales and is a decent actress but everything about her does not bring Plath accurately across. The film was way below par, the script was weak, the pacing was unaccounted for and overall, it was embarrassing to watch. I'd rather have seen a less popular but acclaimed actress like Samantha Morton (she was in Minority Report) or Frances O'Connor (who played Madame Bovary in the movie) - there is a closer physical and emotional similarity to the poet that Paltrow just fails to connect with.
I was dismayed that the movie portrayed Sylvia Plath as such a dismal character, when from all I've read, she had a great joie de vivre. A more accurate portrayal would have shown Sylvia to be someone who found joy in daffodils, amusement in sketching funny caricatures, excitement at a snowball fight, and most of all, great delight in being a mother to her Frieda and Nicholas. I wanted so much to see that side of her reflected in the movie. I wanted to see "Sivvy." The movie seemed intent on making the story of the betrayal the main focus. I find that a travesty when there was such a wealth of character from which to derive the story.
Hi Alison, I noticed that part of the review immediately, and had to read it twice before it made sense. I believe the writer is disdainfully referring to Paltrow's part in Shakespeare in Love. Apparently, he finds it unforgivable that an American woman should dare play a part in an English farce. I can't understand why. I can name many British men and women who have portrayed Americans on film, and done so remarkably well. In the upcoming Cold Mountain, I believe the two lead roles in this American Civil War drama are played by an Australian woman, Nicole Kidman, and an Englishman, Jude Law. Catherine Zeta-Jones played a Chicago gangster's moll very convincingly. And of course, Vivian Leigh grabbed the parts of two very unforgettable American characters: Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche DuBois. A little off topic here, but that sneering tone really grates on me! The decision to play Sylvia Plath couldn't have been an easy one for Paltrow to make; she was aware that people would judge her very harshly for daring to portray such an icon on film. I'm glad that she seems to have redeemed herself in this reviewer's eyes.
Bernard:-My expectations of accuracy may indeed be naive; but then, my lament was not so much a cry of disillusioned bitterness as it was a resigned commentary on certain tendencies of the motion picture industry in general. Sylvia may only be a movie, but because it depicts the life of an immortal figure in 20th century poetry, and not a fictional character, accuracy and meticulous attention to detail must necessarily transcend all else. As Voltaire said, "one owes respect to the living, and to the dead only truth."
The larger good this film may perform of bringing people to Plath's poetry may or may not be eclipsed by the overwhelming incompleteness with which it depicts its subject; but in any case it most certainly does not excuse shoddiness and carelessness on the part of the filmmakers themselves. While I agree with you that the writing and editing was probably the true source of the movie's downfall, one cannot help noticing obvious defects in the directing. I did not, incidentally, intend to make a sweepingly dismissive statement regarding Christine Jeff's essential talent or potential...only to express my opinion that, with this film, she has achieved a notable failure, as almost any great or even competent artist manages to do throughout the course of a career. In fairness, it is indeed very difficult to ascertain who is taking up whose slack, or who with as much dignity as possible is cleaning up whose mess...the director the screenwriter's, the actors the director's, etc.
In any case, though, the essential...and not the final... product suggests that even with Frieda Hughes's cooperation this film was as doomed from the get go as Sylvia Plath herself turned out to be (look, for example, at the cringingly pretentious use they made of the few lines of Plath's poetry they were allowed to use without Miss Hughes's consent...I am thinking in particular of the Lady Lazarus opening scene, which seems, obscurely but somehow inevitably, to immediately feed into the image of Plath as "patron saint of sorority sisters" (as someone once described her).
As to the question of my literary research, I can only tell you that I own, and have perused thoroughly over the course of some years, every biography, book, and study on on Sylvia Plath that has been made available to the public; and that I know easily as much about her and her life as you and most of the other contributors to this forum do...which is to say, as much as any citizen not personally affiliated with her or her survivors CAN know. Anyway, in my opinion, the bottom line here is that within the context of this film, the living have neglected both their responsibility to the dead and to history.
Lisa A. Flowers
The UK movie review reads: "It comes as a huge relief that L.A. girl Paltrow is finally not faking a British accent, and her commitment to the role is genuinely impressive; Possession is hereby forgiven."
Er, a "British" accent? Don't they mean a Boston accent?
Sylvia opened here on Halloween, and just today I snuck away from work to see it. After being forewarned by the teenager selling tickets "I hope you like 'depressing', 'cause this is really depressing" ("Oh, I do, I do," I reassured him), I spent the next 2 hours completely alone in the theater, which was somehow appropriate...
Paltrow was competent, Daniel Craig as Ted was appropriately brooding and charismatic. That said, I found the film to be little more than a series of mainly gloomy vignettes rather than a more accurately energetic glimpse into her actual life.
From everything I've read about Plath (all of her works, plus over 10 critical and/or biographical books), the woman was a crackling force of both manic and depressive energy--this film, on the other hand, almost completely ignores the manic life (and death) force in favor of a pervasive listlessness. Even the scenes that we know from Plath's journals happened in real-life are dulled-down here: Plath's bang-smash account of her sexually-charged initial meeting with Hughes, for instance, which we know resulted in tooth-marks on Hughes' face and his snatching her hair-band, is rendered as little more than a fairly polite dance and kiss in the movie--you get little sense of the urgency and excitement of their attraction. Another scene, rendered far more cinematically in Plath's journals and in Hughes' poem Chaucer, is her enchantment of the local cows with her recitation of The Wife of Bath's Tale---in reality, the cows apparently gathered around her as she spoke, entranced by her voice, and Ted had to literally drive them away. When I read THEIR accounts, I could feel the magic of the odd situation; in the movie, though, Plath speaks a few lines to watching cows as she and Ted row past them on the river. Ho-hum.
While the two lived in Boston, Plath not only taught at Smith, but later entered weekly analysis, worked at a local mental hospital because Ted wouldn't get a job, and hung out with fellow poets at Lowell's weekly workshop, then got drunk with Anne Sexton, for one, afterwards. Again, that's all pretty darn cinematic; but in the movie, the Boston life consists primarily of a few seconds of Plath droning on before a class or two, then a scene of women gathering around Hughes after a reading. Yes, they do have a fight after Sylvia asks Ted if he fucked (the movie's word) one woman; but her own written account of the scene was rather wild, with thrown glasses, her "getting hit" and seeing stars, etc., rather than the bland incarnation of the incident that shows up here.
In London and Devon, too: In actuality, up 'til near the end, Plath was constantly in motion: setting up households, sending their work out, going to literary events, having babies, entertaining a myriad of friends and family and neighbors. Dido Merwin and Olwyn Hughes have both left testaments to Sylvia's sometime-hostility on occasion; Plath's own friends have left warmer accounts. Whatever the case, she was interacting with others, for better and worse, and much more interestingly than in this movie, wherein she mainly mopes around the house in a series of grim solitary poses. (Please, I feel like begging, show her getting mad at Olwyn for smoking, or angrily striding out onto the moors after an argument at Ted's family's house, or yelling at Ted about the damn rabbit traps or his Ouija-predicted fame, or expressing her frustration at her mother's annoying visit. anything to portray an interesting, REAL person and to relieve the monotony of all the pseudo-artsy posing that goes on in the film.)
In short, this movie sucks every bit of life out of Plath, portraying her as a zombie-like character almost from the get-go, when in fact we know from reading her own words that there was actually a thinking, feeling, living person on the premises up until the very end.
Thank you Trish in Seattle, for your kind comments....of course, I was just stealing from Keats, "The multicolored glass of experience stains the white radiance of eternity..."...one thing one finds, is that each moment has the seeds of the infinite, and life is an infinity of moments; words are finite, and absolutely anything one can say will at least nick a corner of the truth; the shores of the ocean of space are so infinite, and this gravel earth so small. But then, that's what poetry's for, in this kaleidoscope world...
Undignified and schumultzy movie about the life of two complex figures. Also it fails to emphasize the contribution made by Mr Hughes to his wife's suicide.
As the writer Nadeem Azam stated: "If a man's wife commits suicide he attracts and, in most cases deserves, sympathy and support; for his next partner to go on to do the same thing (and take the life of their child at the same time), only six years later, inevitably leads to suspicions about his character and deserves investigation."
There's an interesting review of the movie here:
Ms. Flowers, that Sylvia slices and binges is more likely due to the script and the editing than the direction. Your understanding of the director's role is inaccurate. I think you would feel very differently about Christine Jeff's ability to direct if you saw her debut Rain.
This is a movie. It is only a movie. It is not an accredited biography. Your demand for accuracy is very naive. Do you perform your literary research at Blockbuster? Did the lack of cooperation from the Plath Estate and Frieda Hughes restrict the production? Of course it did. And Ms. Hughes has only herself to blame. She was invited to participate and she declined.
This is a movie. It is only a movie. What does it mean in comparison to Plath?s contribution contemporary poetry? Nothing at all. At the end of the day, what matters is Plath?s craftsmanship and rhythms of her haunting Ariel. If more of the peanut crunchers pick up and actually read her literature because of a movie, all is not lost.
If John Brownlow is still "tuning in", I wonder if he can illuminate for us the reasons for the differences between the UK and US versions of the film. My friend Lena in Toronto, saw the UK version, which I understand opens with the Plath character talking about the metaphorical fig tree and it's myriad figs/choices (a Bell Jar extract. Whereas the US version starts off with the recitation of a few key lines from Lady Lazarus. I am not sure there are other differences in the films, as Lena and I have not yet compared the versions we saw beyond the intro. Is the different opening in the UK version an aesthetic or thematic choice? Because there is quite a bit of differnce between talking about your inability to make a choice and talking about dying and death. Or was there the idea that there might be more 'fair use' leniency for using Plath's writing in the US versus the UK? Any insights you could give us, John, would be most appreciated.
Sylvia splices and smudges with the the sugary fingers of a binging college girl attempting to finish a dissertation overnight. There's a distracted fluster about it, as if it had been pieced together from several rough drafts rescued from the trash, then hastily painted and wheeled in for a final viewing.The film has a wasteful, listless quality about it that seems to flick away its own subjects like drugged flies. ?Listless? is in fact, the one word that can most accurately be used to sum up the waning tiredness of this motion picture, which appears to have been filmed under the cataract of a glazed cosmological eye by a director ailing with some chronic and/or terminal illness that makes her too exhausted to come to work much, much less care about any work she does manage to get done.
Right from the get go, people and situations are veritably hurled at us without recourse, pretense, or explanation. Never, at any point in the movie, are characters allowed to develop and establish a basis for their actions, which in themselves are not even given enough time to become subsequent. Paltrow and Craig have all the chemistry of two plates, and the edgy contempt that permeates their affair from the get go dashes their "marriage of true minds" myth to bitters on the rocks. Never in the film, even in the beginning, do the two display any real tenderness towards each other, nor anywhere is the important historical union of their dual artistry illuminated. Thus not being convinced of their love...nor, more importantly, of Plath's intense vulnerability... we cannot, of necessity, mourn its, or her final disintegration. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. From "white sweet cradle" to oven, we are left peering over Paltrow's shoulder as the carbon monoxide blurs in front of her, hoping someone will do something more interesting in the foreground.
Two, imperative details of Plath's life that cannot, in any important biography of her, be left out, are either grossly downplayed or outright ignored.Where is the buying and cultivating of Court Green? The Merwins? Gerry and Jillian Becker? Elizabeth Compton? Olwyn Hughes? Where is anything? Left bare by copyright restrictions, perhaps; or more than likely, simply swept under the house. The argument will be that not all viewers are aquainted with the intimate details of Plath's life; but because the point of portraying the life of anyone who actually lived is to do so in the most accurate terms possible, that argument is null and void. Rewriting or omitting events in history for the sake of time constraints or juicy gratuity designed to appeal to the "peanut crunching" public has always been the hallmark and downfall of the movies, with only a handful of notable exceptions.
The pivotal myth of Otto Plath is debunked and dismissed to the high seas, as is the pivotal figure of Assia Wevill (who appears briefly as little more than a meek and inconsequential child.) Jeffs does not even succeed in making Plath an unlikable character, though she devotes a good deal of time to perpetuating the image of her that appeared in Anne Stevenson's biography Bitter Fame.Indeed, both leads seem throughout the film to be in the grip of an eye rolling and watch-glancingtestiness, as if waiting for the day?s shooting to end so they can go to the bar or to sleep.There are no convincing love scenes in this film, and the sex in it seems stuffed and frantic, as if were thrown at the last minute into a suitcase and sent whirling into some empty terminal, stamped and breathlessnot to go overbudget. The same self, in fact, unfolds like a suit in almost every frame.
It is very difficult to imagine a movie that downplays with more tactical error the genius and dimensionality of its subject. Much of the dialog is downright tacky, right out of its own Saturday Night Live parody. Frieda Hughes was absolutely correct in refusing to cooperate with this dramatization, where ?everything her family feared then has come to pass, and more?. This film needs to be redone by someone who knows what they're doing.
Lisa A. Flowers
After seeing Helen's message, I thought I would just let people know that Sylvia will in cinemas from Friday 23rd January 2004 in the UK. As far as I know, thats nationwide, not just London. Hope that helps!
When I first heard that there was going to be a movie about Sylvia Plath, I was skeptical. After seeing a series of disappointing movies over the summer, I was worried. I was worried about being let down again, especially by a movie that was supposed to capture the brilliant genius that is Sylvia Plath. However, after reading countless articles about the movie, I have to admit that I am now eagerly anticipating the time in which my class and I can see the story unfold on the big screen.
The first aspect of the movie that struck me was the uncanny (and chilling) resemblance that Paltrow and Plath share (Sadly, in my opinion, Daniel Craig hardly resembles the tall and masculine Ted). If only Frieda would have allowed the movie writers to use her poetry in the movie...nevertheless, after seeing clips and trailors, I must say that the screen writers did a brilliant job in making up for the absence of Plath's words through the passion and fury displayed by Paltrow. The mere three seconds of the "burning of the letters" was enough to convince me that the director studied Plath's works and history very well.
I do hope that the movie will not focus too much on the depressing aspects of Plath, but will instead highlight the many instances in which Plath reveals her ingenuity and sanity. Plath was not a "crazy poet" as some critics claimed, but was an educated woman, with a genius most people still cannot grasp. She merely led a tragic life, and I hope that Sylvia Plath's movie will banish all ignorant stereotypes that critics might hold against her.
Can I add my voice to the chorus of disapproval about film reviewers? Most reviews I've seen have been condescending in their treatment of both Plath and Hughes. I thought the film succeeded on many levels. The theater I saw it in was only half-filled. I would have welcomed more peanut-crunchers. I sincerely hope that neither Plath nor Hughes are elevated to being high priest and priestess of poetry. Those unassailable positions make me nervous. They were both humans, after all. Let people access them how they wish, whether in popular films, magazines, and forums like this one. I only wish Mademoiselle was still being published today. I would love to have read a review of the film in there!
Hi Kenneth, thank you for posting that (extremely appropriate) quote from Gore Vidal. I'd say that sums up my point of view precisely -- but far more elegantly than I could put it. I enjoyed the film, and I'm grateful to everyone involved for having the convictions to see it through to its release. I'd also recommend that everyone download Kate Moses's excellent article, "Just whose Plath is it anyway"? The link is on the main forum page. You needn't subscribe to Salon, either ... you can simply click the free 'try it on for a day' option. Wonderfully expressed!
I recently read a numskull review of the Paltrow movie ranting that it was an "uninteresting movie about uninteresting people"
After some pondering I concluded that she has been so isolated by her fans to somewhat of a feminist cultural icon and although she will never be read by the sort who think Dylan Thomas is a "great" poet, I am afraid that her passion has been mitigated by her choice of subjects. She is a historical treasure, not (just) a cultural or political icon and in that sense she is sexless.
Her work must be liberated from stereotypes, she was a woman, she was an American, she was a victim but she was also a Virgil for this century.
I suppose I am preaching to the choir but then you might disagree.
I watched Sylvia this weekend and enjoyed it tremendously. Yes, I would have made it differently. But I'm grateful it's been made at all. However, I certainly am not enjoying reading the various reviews. I find many of the male reviewers' comments especially infuriating. It always amazes me how people who knew Sylvia not at all can dismiss this complex woman in three words or less ("a holy terror" according to the Seattle Weekly). Ted's adultery doesn't bother them; he was merely obeying his 'inner wildness' according to the same clueless reviewer. But Sylvia's (to me, understandable) jealousy they dismiss as mere ravings. These reviewers aren't focusing on the film, they're rehashing every salacious detail of Sylvia's extreme misery over her husband's philandering. I believe it can be summed up as the same old double standard. A woman who cheats is a harlot, a man is simply obeying his biological destiny, or inner wildness. I also missed the absence of poetry in the film, but of course I wasn't surprised by it. I'm still hoping the film encourages more people to read Plath, and I believe it will. I have seen positive comments about Gwyneth Paltrow's performance. I believe she did an extremely fine job. I'm glad she didn't attempt a 'full-on' Massachusetts accent. Those are very difficult to pull off, and the failure would have been a huge distraction.
Dear Mr. Brownlow; Thank you for the film and for your article, in both Script and the Guardian...
It all brings up Gore Vidal's comment after scripting Ben-Hur and Left-Handed Gun, et. al.-- "Everybody knows exactly what makes a film work, except for those of us who've made the things. After you've done a couple of them, you're surprised they ever happen at all." It's an incredibly contingent art, shadows and smoke... frozen in a moment. And, given the politics of this particular assignment, kudos for emerging from the fire unscathed, finished product in hand. I don't know how you did it....
I'm sure it will be a major opera someday, with a virulent Beethovenesque score, and Wagnerian arias for the principals, but for the moment, your film will do just fine.
The whole concept of turning Plath's life into entertainment when her daughter is still alive - and firmly opposed to the idea - is totally deplorable and insensitve, not to mention how much it trivialises her merit as a writer. And come on, Gwyneth Paltrow?! Yuck. Plath ought to be deemed a highly significant poet and author of a seminal novel,not as fodder for the popcorn-eating general public.
Mr. Brownlow, thank you for the information regarding the shooting script of Sylvia. A few months ago, in this forum, a user wrote the following in regards to Frieda Hughes:
"Recently, Frieda's loathing of Plath's devotees has centered on the makers of Sylvia. When the filmmakers approached her, she told them she would have none of it: 'Why,' she asked, rather sensibly, 'would I want to be involved in moments of my childhood which I never want to return to?'
So is it accurate to say that Ms. Hughes refused the use of her mother?s poems for the film? Many of the published reviews of the film complain of the lack of the poems, by either poet, Sylvia or Ted, and that this exclusion of the poetry is glaringly evident.
Can you please comment on this?
As the writer of the film Sylvia I have been following the discussions here with great interest. Probably the best compendium of reviews of the film is to be found here:
I today received my complimentary copy of the Newmarket Press edition of the shooting script so it should be in bookshops any moment. It is nicely produced and contains an introduction by me, a full set of production notes and a set of stills from the movie. The script really is the shooting script, too... pretty much exactly the one that was taken on set.
The introduction is a slightly abbreviated version of my article Who's Afraid of Sylvia Plath? which can still be found on the Guardian site, which I would imagine many people who visit this forum may already have read.
Nevertheless, and at the risk of plugging my own book, the shooting script may well be of interest to Plathologists because it includes quite a large number of scenes and lines which did not make it into the film(which either were not shot or ended up on the cutting room floor, as is usual during the production of a movie).
Does any one know when the Sylvia film is due out in the UK?
I haven't yet seen the film but may next week. The following lines appeared in a Washington Post review:
"We only know the barest essentials: that Plath was intimidated by her successful husband; that her literary successes (at the time) were eclipsed by his; that she tended to bake cakes or cookies when she was stumped for something to write; and that she received no help with the kids."
It's no surprise that a Washington Post review is subjective, but I was wondering if anyone who has seen the film can address these issues. In all of my reading of Plath over the years, I never got the impression she was intimidated by TH's successes (with the obvious exception of the last few months of her life); on the contrary, she seemed energized by his literary triumphs. Ditto regarding help with the children; by all accounts Hughes was a tremendously hands-on father throughout their marriage, until the two lived apart. It seems to me that if the film focuses on continuous aggravation regarding the other's success and baby-tending, it will be a bit too theatrical for my taste.
I was a frequent contributor to the Forum when it first started in '98-'99 and somewhat fondly remember the huge debates about who should play Plath (Meg Ryan's interest in a Plath project caused quite a bit of heated discussion). It's nice to be able to pop in and see the new views on Plath's work and the interesting responses; thanks.
I saw the film Sylvia on Thursday night, at a special preview. It is a small- budget movie, plain, and so it has to make the most of what it has; good actors, an okay script, and some humor in unexpected places. The more you know about Plath, the more frustrating it is, as Chris said, there is nothing shown of Plath's attempts to seek insight into her problems, none of her joy, even, in writing her Ariel poems, or in being a mother. She is shown as someone who was happy, then not, and then there is a fictional element to the story, which seems to be the last straw, which I found unnecessary and actually rather offensive; all the previous condensations and made-up scenes were not nearly as bad, though I don't know why some of the events were rearranged. (Hughes & Plath marry after he wins the prize for The Hawk in the Rain, for instance, and Aurelia Plath is not on hand as a witness; indeed, she never visits them in England at all.)
I can't help but think that if a little more time and money were available, a much more vivid and dimensional Plath could have been shown, and the presentation of Hughes could have been more accurate as well - as Middlebrook says, they had a rare marriage where both wrote and did housework, but this is never shown. The tragedy of what happened would have been heightened, had a fuller picture of their marriage had been shown, from their honeymoon onwards. And it is too bad that Frieda Hughes didn't want her mother's poetry used, as it would help to show her mother's genius and possibly boost sales and general interest in Plath's work, which can only be a good thing.
I must say I dreaded seeing how the end of Plath's life would be shown, but I think it was done in a direct way, with no glazing, the panic and grief there, but not lingered upon. I was sad to see the color red, a color Plath loved, only really used in two places; both times symbolically. The unrelenting darkness in the interiors was something Plath always fought against, and I wanted to see more white and red, and less black and dark green.
That said, I think it is worth seeing, for the performances alone; it could have been better, but I doubt if any of the actors could be bettered.
I must say, The Sylvia Plath Forum is well done! It is quite interesting to read all the different views people have on Sylvia and her works. What interests me the most is all the hype about the Sylvia movie. Though there is both positive and negative feedback, I look forward to seeing the movie and enjoying it. Despite my excitment for Sylvia on the big screen, I became hesitant when I read My Mother, a poem by Frieda Hughes.
"The peanut eaters, entertained
At my mother's death, will go home,
Each carrying their memory of her,
Lifeless - a souvenir."
It's a touching poem, which made me think, "Why am I seeing the movie?" I mean I could just read her poetry". Fortunatley for me, the movie dates keep getting pushed back, which ended up proving to me just how much I want to see the movie. Whether it's good or bad, at least it has something to do with Ms. Plath!
Just saw the move last night, I guess we're a little behind the curve here in Atlanta. This was an advance preview, not general release. They had heavily promoted the screening with free passes through all the local poetry societies.
I didn't like the movie, and upon reflection, have come to really really dislike it.
The music is very obtrusive and heavy handed. I know this was before Home Depot, but it seems the only paint colors for walls back then was black, charcoal, or steel gray. Apparently Sylvia Plath never owned a light bulb in her life higher than 40 watts. It was beautifully filmed and I understand they were trying to set a mood, but the tone was just so unrelentlessly lifeless and depressing.
There was so much they left out, it makes her down slide so one dimensional. No real talk of the therapy or treatment for her depression, some of her lifelong friends were just completely left out.
However, the big problem for me was that after the brief discussion about the "magic" of words and the role of poets as Shaman, there's never really any indication of the importance or love of words in anyone's life. It's almost as if everyone had lost their faith in the power of poetry itself.
I saw Sylvia at one of the two movie houses it's playing at here in New York. If, like me, you have low or limited expectations, you'll probably not be disappointed. I know that's not much of a recommendation, but when you think of how they could have botched it up, it comes as a relief. The movie's limited budget shows, but that's not such a bad thing. A major studio would have strived for more than the bare-bones telling of the story that Sylvia provides. It's not after a large commercial audience and is unlikely to get one. As a result, it doesn't mess with the material to provide entertainment value. Like Greek tragedy it assumes that given the personalities of Sylvia and Ted, and the circumstance of their lives, it had to end poorly. The script moves the action along at a rapid pace. The small embellishments it does allow work pretty well. You know from the moment Aurelia Plath tells Ted she expects him to protect her fragile daughter that things are rapidly moving downhill. I've always admired Gwyneth Paltrow's acting and so her performance is no surprise to me. In retrospect, she's an inspired choice for the role. The movie takes no sides in the Plath/Hughes dabate, showing both as brilliant but heavily flawed individuals.
I saw the film today. Actually, I must confess, I saw it twice! The first viewing I found myself constantly commenting on historical inaccuracies, while still blown away by Gwyneth Paltrow's performance (which is truly more wonderful than I could have ever imagined--she has grown into an actress of real depth.) On the second viewing, I could forget about the imperfect details and just enjoy the film, which was profoundly moving.
Complaints: I wish there was more poetry. I wish Ted Hughes wasn't presented as such a cypher, and that their early connection as a couple was present throughout the rest of the film, instead of just focusing on the downward slope. And I wish there had been more historical details. Also--a mystery--many of the shots/scene in the trailer are not in the film! Which leads me to believe that there is a longer cut of this film somewhere, which I hope ends up on the DVD, along with any deleted scenes. But in general I found the film lyrical, true to the passion and spirit of both people, and beautifully shot and acted. And perhaps easier to feel as there were no easy answers or explanations given: their innermost lives and truest motivations have eluded us all, and perhaps this is why our fascination will never cease. The last quarter of the film is utterly heartwrenching, and Paltow's portrayal of Plath's fight to save her own life is unforgettable.
I just came home from seeing Sylvia (of course I had to go the first day!!) and I didn't know what to expect. I loved it. I thought Gwyneth did an amazing job.The scene where she was writing the Ariel poems was so chilling, I literally became choked up. I know people aren't happy that she did not use Sylvia's Boston accent but I feel that if she did it would have been too over the top, if that makes any sense. We all have to remember that it is a movie, it is not the final say or "picture" of Sylvia. Fans of Sylvia's work are constantly reading and researching (like me) and they should realize that the movie is not the "be all and end all". I think Gwyneth should be commended, it took a lot to portray Sylvia. She knew from the beginning that we would be judging her even before the film was released.
I feel that Daniel Craig's portrayal of Ted was another strong point of the movie. I am happy they didn't have a big name movie star playing him. I can't explain what he brought to the film, but he was perfect for the role. The movie was extremely powerful. All I really want from the film is for more people to discover Sylvia's work (especially the poetry).
Why, I wonder, has Anthony Lane "habitually written about Sylvia Plath" when he admits in his review of the movie to a "constitutional aversion to her poetry"? His was the sort of self-conscious, egotistical movie review I find least helpful--he spent more time trying to be what we in the American South call "cute" (funny) than being incisive about the movie. Perhaps that was an attempt to deflate all the seriousness that attends the topic of Sylvia Plath. (And I'm afraid that might be typical of many of the reviews we'll see--"All right, you morose Plathians. Now that your sad little heroine is on screen, she is fair game for all, and we refuse to take her so seriously.")
I'm sure he's right, though, that the film's playing "slow and loose" with the facts of Plath's life will cause "devoted Plathians to throb at the temples." He says that this is okay, given that she was an exaggerator of her own life--and how does he know? If she says the initial kiss with Hughes was "bang smash " (don't all us morose Plathians remember a kiss like that ourselves?) who is he to doubt her and who are the film makers to tamper with her account?
I disagree with him that Sylvia is a poet for the young. So then were all the great poets who died young, and that would let out many of the best. While it's true that her verse may never have reached the maturity it could have given time, perspective, and personal healing, many a mature poet never achieved her command of language. And that she belongs "obsessively" to young women? What a shallow and dismissive view of her poetry. So sexist!
But there I go again--being so serious, like all us morose, obssessive, humourless Plathians.
I saw Sylvia today. I went into the theatre with that certain Gwyneth Paltrow pessimism that seems to be hanging about the film, which by the way was further exacerbated by a viewing and a discussion at Barnes and Noble with Paul Alexander and Angelica Torn about the one-woman play Edge. In fact, Angelica believes Sylvia visits her in the night and is fully supportive of her performance in Edge-- a statement that resulted in me just-about spilling my capuccino on myself. Needless to say, by the time Sylvia hit theaters, and as I was not particularly a Gwyneth Paltrow fan and yet an avid Sylvia Plath fan, I was anticipating a two-hour giggle fest. But I was immediately proved wrong.
For those of you wishing to see a film about speculation about Ted Hughes or mysticism, Sylvia will disappoint. It does not address anything about Ted other than his affair with Assia Wevill. It begins with the St. Botolph's meeting (both Sylvia and Aurelia recount briefly Sylvia's post-Mademoiselle suicide attempt-- it is never shown) and runs rather quickly through their marriage, until it settles around the birth of the babies and the beginning of Sylvia's depression-- about her work, her lack of success, his success, her exhaustion at being a mother (with two absolutely adorable children playing the parts of Frieda and Nick), and of course her suspicions about Ted. And Gwyneth, whom I believe was mourning her father's death while filming, is absolutely (and suprisingly) mesmerising-- a little eerie-- particularly when discussing with Al Alvarez how bad everything feels, while made up like a starlet and staring blankly outwards. There is also a lovely dinner scene between the Hughes and the Wevills where Gwyneth glares and tortures her guests from her place setting, while Ted simpers in his seat. Quite simply, it is an incredibly elegant film about depression that doesn't (contrary to Edge) do anything to shock. Blythe Danner is briefly in the film as Aurelia Plath-- and is stunning. My only major complaint is that I think she should've played a much larger role. Also, the influence of her father is minimalized-- a fact that I actually appreciated, as I have always felt that her father was more a metaphoric device.
It does deal very well with the writer's process, a task that is very difficult on film. Pursuit is used. Daddy is used. So I was a skeptic and I was highly impressed.
A link to a number of reviews of the movie Sylvia:
A really good review for Sylvia written by the formidable Diane Middlebrook...can be read here.
I think this is one of the best reviews we're likely to read on the film (and I'm not saying that because it's entirely positive...because it isn't). Given Middlebrook's expertise on the subject...we can certainly trust her assessment of the film.
A too-late title idea for Sylvia -- How about The Cauldron of Morning?
Well, the film-makers never said they wouldn't portray Plath's suicide. Someone who saw the film (not a critic but a layperson like you and me) said that Plath's suicide was portrayed very sensitively and tastefully...I don't think you can ask more then that.
Additionally, some of Plath's poetry is featured in the film. Under the fair use notice, the film-makers were allowed to quote some of her poetry...but just not as extensively as they would have liked. Apparently, a line from one of Plath's poems actually opens the film.
The New Yorker gives a promising review of Sylvia.
I don't believe the film will attract many to Plath's work. For one thing, there was no permission to quote in the film. And sadly, Plath's life (actually, her death) will remain to most far more interesting--particularly after a beautified and sexed-up cinema version--than all but a handful of her more sensational poems. Furthermore, many of the poems are impenetrably cryptic to those not familiar with her biography. They are intensely demanding as poetry generally and the themes are difficult to contemplate.
The dialog excerpts that I have heard in online film trailers and read about (see this month's Vogue with Gwyneth on the cover) are appalling: "I really feel as if God is speaking through me." "You remind me of my father." (To Thomas Trevor on the night of her death.) Serious Plath readers who are familiar with her letters and journals will not regard lightly this sort of liberty-taking.
That said, I'm eager to see the film. Plath the precocious writing girl fascinated me most when I was younger and first read The Bell Jar and Letters Home. Since I married, it was her relationship with Hughes and its effect on her work that began to engross me. I'm 10 years older than she was when she died, and it's been 25 years since I first read her. She's not going to go away in my reading life.
By the way, I think the film is inaptly titled Sylvia when the pivot of the script is her relationship with Hughes. Funny, but I thought the makers might be high-minded literary types that would sheer obliquely from the gross details of her death, but stills of Gwyneth with the Thomas Trevor actor indicate otherwise.
Anthony Lane reviews Sylvia in the 20 October 2003 issue of The New Yorker. It is a good review; "Young Blood" appears on pages 206-207. The film will undoubtedly add more fuel to the still burning fire in the Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes world. It is very terribly American of me, but it is a debate and a rivalry much like the one that exists between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. It doesn't take much to see that, in either case, that either side is not definitively right or wrong. Lane has habitually written about Sylvia Plath, which is directly contrary to what he learned as a book reviewer earlier in his career, "Do not, under any circumstances, write or publish anything on the subject of Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes." His explanation can be considered "old school" for many weathered Plath scholars, but it is worth repeating: "At the merest mention of his or her name in print, winged covens of family members or acquaintances, backed by defenders of either the Plath camp or the Hughes clan (but never both), would descend from the hills, baying for blood. There were times when the air would grow dark with libel writs." One can only hope that with the passing of time, this warning, this threat, will continue to disappear. (If anything, a comparison can be drawn from the current political atmosphere here in the States. W: It isn't cool to piss-off the masses. But I digress.)
Lane praises director Christine Jeffs, Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig. The persisting debate which has criticized Paltrow's selection to play Plath is now, and has been for a while, a moot point. Get over it. She's a brilliant actress and she will certainly do her best with the acting, script and direction. The movie will be released within two weeks! Lane asks a very valuable question: "Will Sylvia send viewers back to the verse, or will they find better and saner things to do?" Sylvia Plath isn't for everyone, but the movie should attract a very large crowd. Frieda denied the audience "a word or a touch/Or a bit of blood/Or a piece of [Plath's] hair or [her] clothes" but she could not deny our continued "eyeing" of Plath's "scars." It will thus be up to Paltrow to get the beating of Plath's heart down. This was her challenge, her only challenge. Soon, soon we will see if "it really goes.". . .
It doesn't take a genius to see that 2003 will prove to be a very important year for Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes scholarship. Already, in bookstores around Boston, the number of books by Plath for sale have increased. This may be because of the movie, but also because of the three very important publications that will appear over the next month. Her Husband by Diane Middlebrook and the paperback, expanded edition of Wintering by Kate Moses have hit the shelves. The Collected Poems of Ted Hughes will also be out at some point in November. Even Ronald Hayman and Paul Alexander released new editions of their controversial 1991 biographies of Plath. Hayman has added a new chapter to The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath and Alexander, perhaps riding on the tide of his bizarrely successful, but terrible play "Edge", has merely changed the wrapper color of his book.
Peter K. Steinberg
I agree with you Trish that not one of us will ever be entirely satisfied by this film or any other film about Plath, so we will just have to hope that all turns out well. I have to say, after reading the production notes I feel much more optimistic about the movie. Tariq Anwar was the editor for American Beauty and is Oscar nominated; likewise, Sandy Powell the costume designer won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love; Gabriel Yared's music for The English Patient is sublime, and I am looking forward to hearing his score. Christine Jeffs is a not very well known, but seemingly well respected up and coming director; John Brownlow spent years as a documentary filmmaker, so I have high hopes for the realism of his script and his ability to project an understanding of people's emotional lives. Plus his article in the Guardian was very funny - sense of humor is always a good sign. Besides Paltrow, Danner and Craig, Sir Michael Gambon is in the cast. So, many talented people have come together to make this film - not necessarily a guarantee of success, but promising. Interestingly enough, Movieline's Hollywood Life magazine included 'Sylvia' as one of it's top 12 picks for oscar contention. Although the writer gets points subtracted for referring to Plath as a nut case.
As for "peanut crunchers", I think you'll find Trish that many people on the Forum use the term in an ironic and often self deprecating way Plath used it differently in Lady Lazarus. Perhaps we some of us feel at least a little guilty for being so interested in Plath and her life that we mock ourselves. At least this is my take on it!
I can well understand why so many of us who admire Plath's poetry would view this film with misgivings .... but I am delighted that it's been made. Probably most of us retain a certain 'ownership' of Plath and we're bound to be disappointed -- but what filmmaker could possibly rise up to our high expectations? And actually get a film financed, produced, and distributed, outside of a narrow arthouse audience?
But if the film prompts people to explore her poetry or fiction, or even just crack a few pages of her journal, I'll be happy. Sure, some of the 'peanut eaters' (I'm sorry, I hope I am not offending anyone when I say I find that expression a little elitist and, well, offensive) are just going to view it as good entertainment, but so what? Maybe later they'll be attracted to her poetry. Sylvia herself did not view popular entertainment with disdain. Along with her deep appreciation for Yeats and Joyce, she avidly read the Ladies Home Journal.....
Yes, the film will very likely focus more attention on her tumultuous relationship with Hughes at the expense of her poetry, but I think it's unrealiastic to expect otherwise. I personally can't wait to see it!
Well, I got to admit that it's not fair to judge the film in advance, so I'm not going to complain any more till I go to the cinema to watch it. : ) Maybe it'll be a great experience, why not? One has to look on the bright side of the whole thing. It's possible that a good amount of people will become interested in her: that would be nice indeed.
And, well, please don't misunderstand my comments about the intense feelings that the portrayal of her death arise in me. Of course it's a crucial fact, of course it's very important: I don't think it's a taboo and of course it must not be banned from the screen, but... I mean, so many people are lead to the morbid cult of "the doomed artist" and forget completely about the great importance of the existence and the accomplished works of the dead artist before he or she decides to put an end to his / her life!
That's what I fear. People must see she was a great artist, a poet of genius, with or without her tragic death.
But, God, let's hope the movie will open the hearts of many, many people, because she deserves to be loved.
I am very excited that Syvia Plath is being recognized as such a great poet. On the other hand I also fear that the movie will not portray her life as it really was. From what I have heard about the movie,it is about her relationship with Ted Hughes. This disappoints me because her existence was much more than her husband and kids. Reading her journals and of course The Bell Jar she expresses many times about her fear of being known as a wife and losing her identity. Her existence is too deep to portray in a movie. SP was more than a poet, more than a mother, a wife, a manic depressive, someone who committed suicide. She was a women battling an invisible battle within herself.To read her Journals someone must recognize this and admire her for her strength. SP was never afraid to face her inner beast.
Oh my goodness! A person whose opinion I respect just told me that he saw an advance of the film, and that it is much better than anyone expected. He also saidthat although Gwyneth does not attempt Sylvia's prominent accent, that Gwyneth is very good in the title role. This is very good news--I'm very happy to hear an advance report that the film is great.
Lengthy Sylvia production notes now online. Enjoy!
OK people, it's time to just let this go. I've been reading these posts for a while, and it seems like everyone has judged this movie before a lot was even known about it. Lots of you have complained about GP playing the title role, but I have yet to see anyone suggest anyone better. Gwyneth is a popular actress, and what is wrong with her using her popularity to draw people to see a movie about a tallented woman's life? At least it will open up the world (or at least, a Hollywood version of it) to the life of one of the greatest writers of all time!
Do you think Sylvia Plath should be bottled up and given only to her "pure" fans? I don't count myself as a fanatic, but I do enjoy her writing and am greatly looking forward to this interpretation of important life events for her. So what if it doesn't happen exactly the way it happened in reality? IT'S A MOVIE. I thought it was fantastic, the way the movie The Hours opened up the writings of Virginia Woolf to a new audience, and I hope this movie does the same thing for Ms. Plath.
She deserves every ounce of praise that she receives. And I hope you all give this movie a fair chance before you continue heaping criticisms on it. I think we should all be excited and delighted that she and her work are important enough for a movie to be written, shot, and shown about her life. Young women and men will see this (hopefully) and start reading her works and fall in love with her the same way the rest of us have. At least it isn't some awful TV movie-of-the-week.
Yes, Plath's suicide is portrayed in the Sylvia. Let's face it,like it or not,Plath's death is hugely relevant to the entire scheme of her life. Suicide was something Plath struggled with on and off for years and it wouldn't make sense to not find some way of showing her final struggle in the film. Plath's suicide has been reconstructed in almost every single biography written about her and most of us have read those. I would like to know how it is any more disrespectful to see her suicide, sensitively portrayed on screen...then it is to delve into graphic descriptions of her final hours and moments in print (however sensitively written)?
Also, Plath is already an icon, as we all know and to some people, she probably already is trendy (whether it be feminists who adopt her image for their own cause...etc). If anything, let's hope Sylvia encourages people to go out and read her works (and Hughes' too) and try and understand Plath for themselves.
I've seen The Hours and I didn't see anything disgusting in the portrayal of Woolf's suicide. If they can show violence and graphic sex in film...why is suicide so taboo? It is, unfortunately and tragically, a part of life and happens all the time, every day.
Oh yes, it's sad that most people will go to watch the movie just because Gwyneth Paltrow is starring it... And, yes again, most people won't care a damn about her poetry. It's sad, sad, sad. And I'm afraid the movie will make Sylvia "fashionable", a mass product. I can well imagine new reprints of her works with an ad in the cover, refering to the film, as if the film was prior or more important than her life and work. Well, that's what happened here in Spain with Virginia Woolf after The Hours won those Oscars and so...
And, God, I don't know yet if the film will present Sylvia's life in a sassy Hollywood style, but whatever it comes... please, please, I just hope they haven't portrayed her suicide. It was disgusting when it happened to show Virginia dying in The Hours.
About Gwyneth disliking Sylvia because of the Journals, I just can say: WHAT? I mean, she's witty and sane at the most of it in her Journals!!! They show how brave she was. I wonder what's bad in self-analysis and irony in order to wrestle the inner battles of mind and soul and flesh. I wonder if Gwyneth is just blind, dumb and deaf with pre-conceptions: When one reads the Journals, one really feels how much Sylvia loved life. And her sad end cannot make us forget that: She loved life. I just hope the film will portray this!
Focus Features now has the official Sylvia movie site up and running, although not complete. The catch phrase on the poster, which I was unable to read before says something like "life was too small to contain her." I keep thinking of alternative lines like "her bell jar was too small to contain her." Or "her cookie jar was too small to contain her."
I'm still not sure if the film is opening in the US in wider release after the 17th, or if we are going to have to wait until the new year in parts of the country not LA or NYC. Alas, this midwestern life has its drawbacks. I have to admit, I have trepidation.
I am somewhat morally ambivalent about the project in the first place, although I seem to have no problem with other biographical or semi-biographical films. It's just that I have a certain affection for the subject of this film, or subjects I should say.
It's interesting to see the new previews for Veronica Guerin starring Cate Blanchette - my first choice for the SP role in the BBC film - another biographical film coming out at the same time as Sylvia, albeit with a very different story line. Although a film-story wherein Sylvia Plath battles Irish drug lords has its attractions.
My friend Lena says in the Sylvia preview Paltrow doesn't use Plath's Boston accent. I have the feeling that the filmmakers considered the accent rather old fashioned/old womanish and thought it might detract from the viewing of the film. Certainly Paltrow has done accents before. Most people in the audience, of course, will not notice, but we will notice. Once you have heard Plath's voice, it is difficult to 'unhear' it. Well, that's my 'late at work' 2 cents worth for today.