Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Anne Baxter & Sean Young in Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980)

Once again, Anne Baxter finds herself in a drama about what goes on behind the scenes in the theater. This early Merchant Ivory production is about the personalities and politics of the business and art of theater. The separate camps are the denizens of the "legitimate" uptown theater of Broadway and opera and the avant guard, downtown style of experimental theater that gained a foothold in the 1950's and by this the time of production in 1980 had become a force to reckon with on the New York scene. The warring factions are two former lovers - Lilliana Zorska (Baxter), an established acting teacher in the traditional style and Pierre (Robert Powell), a former pupil of hers and the Svengali of an experimental SoHo theater workshop. Caught in the fray are a young married couple - Ariadne (Young) and Victor (Kurt Johnson). He's gotten a role in a Broadway musical and she's become enmeshed in the touchy-feely world of Pierre's troupe. What sets off the fireworks is the right to produce a hitherto unknown play written by a 12 year old Jane Austen and the grant money to fund it.
Image: Google Images
Though this film seeks to lay bare the process of creating two different styles of theater and the temperaments involved in each, it has a tendency to come off as a bit pretentious and at times tedious. There is truth, however, in the contentious nature of the warring camps. Art is such a subjective endeavor, that it can bring about self doubt, which, in turn can lead to deeply held convictions and personal attachment. Look for Sean Young in her first screen role.

This film is available on DVD as part of the Merchant and Ivory Collection. Above is a clip, uploaded to YouTube by TheGreekoid. The clip features the first meeting of Ariadne and Pierre.

Obscurity factor: 8 (on DVD, known to Merchant Ivory fans, largely unknown otherwise)

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