High Museum of Art: Films

In The Garden by Linda Dubler
July 28, 2009, 12:45 pm
Filed under: General, High Museum | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Standing before the shimmering expanse of the largest of Monet’s Water Lily paintings now on view at the High, I’m reminded  — of all things — of Cinemascope, that most immersive of big screen movie formats. It’s true that Monet wanted to create an in-the-round experience with his monumental water lily series, but it’s strange to think of gardens and Scope in the same breath — gardening isn’t really a theme that’s inspired great cinema, epic or otherwise, and the gardener’s greatest asset, unflagging devotion, isn’t a quality that we look for in movie stars.

As a not-entirely-successful tomato grower, I can attest to the fact that the  emotional investment made fighting black spot, root end rot, and gigantic green caterpillars approaches the drama of home renovation, but there’s no digging-in-the-dirt version of Mr. Blanding’s Builds His Dream House or The Money Pit.  The movies are full of hunky male gardeners like Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows, or Marlon Brando in The Nightcomers, a prequel to The Innocents set at a remote English manor (have to admit I haven’t seen it) as well as dotty ladies whose devotion to raising  prize-winning roses makes them objects of fun; the hip counterpart to these genteel matrons is the heroine of Saving Grace, a sweet British widow who turns to raising marijuana after her husband commits suicide.

Hugh Laurie (Wooster) and Stephen Fry (Jeeves)

Hugh Laurie (Wooster) and Stephen Fry (Jeeves)

Formal gardens fill English period films, so that lovers can stroll among their manicured beds. (In one of the funniest episodes in the vastly entertaining TV series Jeeves and Wooster, Hugh Laurie’s dimwitted aristocrat, Bertie Wooster, tries to win a girl by pushing a child into a garden pond and then rescuing him — needless to say he makes a mess of things.)

Likewise, the gardens of Versailles show up as an embodiment of pastoral decadence in movies like Vatel and Marie Antoinette. In a similar vein, a very young Kenneth Anger made a charming short film in 1953 called Eaux d’Artifice that features the water gardens at the Villa d’Este in Tivoli.
One of my strongest visual memories from childhood is  that of watching cactus flowers bursting into bloom in Walt Disney’s The Living Desert, which was screened in the auditorium of Jefferson School in Maplewood, New Jersey around 1958. (The film was made in 1953 and won an Oscar for best documentary). Looking at a clip on YouTube now it’s awfully hammy, and vastly inferior to anything on Nature, or in  series like The Living Planet.   I hate to let go of the awe of that memory though, and I’m reminded of its power through Herzog’s Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, both shot in the Amazon jungle and and full of a throbbing, kudzu-growing-before-your-eyes, viney, vegetal madness.
Write me with your thoughts on gardening, movies, and what’s worth watching.
Linda Dubler

1 Comment so far
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Hi Linda, – my tomatoes are not doing well either. But your posting made me think about gardens in movies. Although gardening was not the theme of these films, the land certainly was. Scarlett O’Hara comes to mind declaring she’ll never go hungry again, but I forget what’s she’s eating out in the field. And Monet might have liked The Color Purple when Celie walked in a field and seemed lost in the flowers. I don’t remember the scene exactly, but the impression stays with me, just like Claude promised 🙂

Comment by Julie Chautin

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