Student Model: Film Review

Peter Bogdanovich and Frederick Raphael's Daisy Miller

by Laura Rogers

Fall 2008

Peter Bogdanovich created a film from Henry James's Daisy Miller that remains remarkably faithful to the novel. Bogdanovich recreates what it may have been like fro an Americn girl taking a "grand tour" in Europe. The leisurely lifestyle of upper class Americans and Europeans before World War One is portrayed effectively and alluringly with the use of on location shooting, gorgeous costumes, and striking sets.

The theme of a young woman's relative innocence destroyed by a corrupt social environment is the central issue in the book and the film. The protagonist, Daisy Miller, holds the audience and makes us feel sympathy for her. She pulls this off by her remarkable stream of chatter which is entrancing and yet off the mark of what's happening, with every once in a while acknowledging she is being trapped and wrongly condemned for refusing a kind of imprisonment to conventions. She does nothing wrong but act generously in her manners. Bogdanovich captures the intensity of James's work seamlessly. Although Daisy seems shallow in her understanding, I felt her acting was executed in a thoughtful way. Cybil Shepherd is a talented actress; she sang so apparently mischievously and yet poignantly. She is continually framed by the camera, a room, a window, a carriage. Bogdanovich is taken with her and allows the camera to linger on her face again and again.

I was very imperssed by the way Barry Brown played Winterbourne too. Barry had never been out of the US before he filmed this and was only 23 years old. He spoke his lines with authority and grace, and was every inch the American Victorian gentleman who had adapted to European culture. He was not as corrupt-seeming or hard as the character in the book; his depression seemed a form of sadness for Daisy and he seemed to want to protect her. The scenes with his aunt are hilarious, especially at the spa as the two gossip in the hot springs pool with various items afloat around them. The newpher and aunt are drinking tea, while in the background two older men play chess and then a vase of lowers drifts by. Bogdanovich then does more than simply remain faithful to the text's story and characters; he visualized so much more for us than we could ever do ourselves. These visual jokes fit the darker themes too.

The film flatters the novel and is a treat to experience. Bogdanovich and Raphael understood and softened James. So too did the actors convey just the right wit, scary seething resentments, and hypocrisies. I especially appreciated Cloris Leachmann as the nervous Mrs Miller, Mildren Natwick as the aunt and Eileen Brennan as the malicious Mrs Walker. The boy, James McMurty as Randolph, Daisy's equally mischievous brother was a kind of punctuation and reinforcement of each mood, including the devastating ending. Maybe he was right and they should have gone home. This is more than a story about someone who pays a high price for defying conventional constraints as a sexually pubescent and wilfull girl.

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