October 11, 2014

Revisiting "Portrait of Jennie"

I watched "Portrait of Jennie" on TCM two nights ago. I've probably seen it at least 10 times. It's a 1948 b/w movie starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten -- and if you've never seen it, you missed out.

The idea of the movie is mushy but appealing. Cotton, a painter without a muse, encounters Jennifer Jones in Central Park. She's a child of perhaps 15 (but of course she's an adult named Jennifer Jones, and it shows). Her beauty and her "timelessness" intrigue him. She seems like a girl floating through a foggy reality. Special bonus: she even sings a haunted tune. We don't know what her story really is, but Cotton paints a beautiful image of her and finally manages to sell a painting.

He then meets her at odd, widely spaced moments, always in the park. And each time, she's older. She tells him to wait for her so they can be together, adding that she's "hurrying" -- i.e., trying to grow up quickly for him.

So yeah, it's another Hollywood romantic story with a vague supernatural element. Whatever. I'm an easy mark. I fall for movies like this every single time.

This is just background material for what I want to say. There are two things about the movie that I never noticed before. First, the intro is spoken by a disembodied voice that babbles on about space and time and the mysteries thereof. I guess you have to take the date into account. In 1948, when "Portrait of Jennie" was filmed, people were still trying to assimilate the new physics championed by Einstein: time and space are relative, and time flows at different rates under different conditions. It was mind-boggling (and still is, let's face it) -- and it was great fodder for Hollywood's movie makers.

Mind you, the movie doesn't try to engage with this idea at all. It just babbles about it, the way today's woo-meisters toss "quantum" into their sentences, thinking it makes their product sound modern. (Yoohoo, Deepak! Hi, hon.) Still, this aspect of the film is a reflection of its era. First time I saw that.

Also, and more dearly to me, I discovered that whenever the actual portrait of Jennie is onscreen, viewers hear Debussy's "Girl with the Flaxen Hair". That's so cool. It's one of my favorite pieces of music and the mad murderer in Xmas Carol, my Christmas-themed horror novel, plays this melody as he murders an innocent victim. Fun!

Anyway, great movie. I'll always love it. And as for the song, here it is. This pianist, Tal-Haim Samnon, plays the song just as I envisioned it when I wrote the scene. Beautiful.


Artichoke Annie said...

Interesting. I am going to play this music when I read that scene on this read through. I love it when authors bring music into their writings and I love listen to that music as I read.

writenow said...

You really are the perfect "author's reader", Annie.