Thursday, November 6, 2008

Movies to Knit To

There are certain types of movies that are better than others for getting knitting projects done. They're comfortable and familiar, like your favorite afghan. It's okay if you're not always looking at the screen, because there aren't any sight gags or explosions or subtitles that you're going to miss. It's okay if you're not always listening, because the plots are either not that complicated, or so familiar it doesn't matter. And you can watch them over and over.

Below I've tried to delineate some of those categories, and pick out just a few examples in each. (Trying to list all the good knitting movies would distract me from knitting for too long.)

If, like me, you don't already own them, most will probably be available at your local library, movie rental store, or Netflix, and all are definitely available on Amazon.

A Musical

Outstanding Representative: Once (2007)

Not a musical in the strictest sense (you're not going to see it on Broadway), but in this case that works to your knitterly advantage. Putting the movie on is akin to popping in a Frames CD with optional visuals, should you chance to look up.

Honorable Mentions:

The Sound of Music (1965)

Julie Andrews! Clothes made of curtains! Nuns defeating the Nazis! And the uncut version is nearly three hours of knitterly bliss long.

Les Miserables(1998)

This is a concert, rather than a fully staged version of the Broadway musical, which is good for us. Less action + more singing = better knitting time.

A Childhood Classic

Outstanding Representative: Robin Hood (1973)

You couldn't ask for a more talented group of voice actors than the one featured in this movie. Seriously. You could just turn off the screen and listen to it like an old-fashioned radio play. And when it comes to knitting, that's definitely a plus.

Honorable Mentions:

The Secret Garden (1993)

What sets this apart from some other adaptations of classic children's novels is that it does not pander to its audience. Through some miracle, the kids are believable, not precocious. And despite the film's apparent conclusion that paradise must look like a Thomas Kinkade painting, I really could watch this over and over. (And over).

Mary Poppins (1964)

This could just as easily fit into the musical category, but I'm putting it here because this was THE childhood classic for me. This was the movie I'd watch beginning to end, then demand that my mother rewind immediately so I could watch it again. Now, thanks to the magic of DVDs, I don't have to wait several minutes between viewings.

An Adaptation of a Jane Austen Novel

Outstanding Representative: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

This adaptation (my favorite of all of P&P's screen incarnations) wins the category not because of its cast (which is nevertheless good, especially Jennifer Ehle), or its sets and costumes (which are lovely), or its faithfulness to the novel (which isn't perfect, but does reasonably well) but because it is five and a half luxurious hours long. You can get a lot of knitting done in five and a half hours.

Honorable Mentions:

Sense & Sensibility 1995, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, with gorgeous direction by Ang Lee.

Persuasion 1995, starring the delightful Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds proving he doesn't always play a villain, and an incredibly fine supporting cast--not a sour note among them. Lovely costumes and music, too.

Mansfield Park 1983, not as pretty as more recent adaptations, but FAR more faithful to the novel, and Sylvestra Le Touzel really grasps the character of Fanny, I think, portraying her as painfully shy but willing to stand firm for what she believes in. Also, how cool a name is Sylvestra? Also also, fun fact: Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell, who play Fanny and Edmund, were reunited in 2007's Amazing Grace, (a film well worth watching but not as good for knitting), playing a married couple in late-18th-century England. Now, granted, Amazing Grace takes place just before the slave trade was abolished in England, and Mansfield Park just after, but if you squint, their characters in Amazing Grace look just like Fanny and Edmund after 20 years or so of wedded bliss.

Emma 1997, starring Kate Beckinsale. In all but prettiness this one has it hands down over the Gwyneth Paltrow version. If only there were a way to splice in the costumes and Jeremy Northam from that one with the cast and writing of this one.

Northanger Abbey 2007. It was kind of a toss-up between this and the 1986 version; part of me is still hoping for a really good adaptation that doesn't have to cut corners or have weird saxophone solos on its soundtrack. But JJ Feild and Felicity Jones are undeniably charming.

An Adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell Novel

Elizabeth Gaskell at her best has all the humor and romance of Austen, plus a little something more...people of goodwill but differing opinions, trying to hammer out their differences, solve their problems, and make their world a better place. (Plus, the BBC has been making them into miniseries in the past few years, and you know we love a good miniseries.)

Outstanding Representative: North & South (2005)

All the good stuff I just mentioned, plus the delicious Richard Armitage.

Honorable Mention: Wives and Daughters(2002)

All the good stuff, but more lighthearted than North & South (despite the number of corpses).

A Robert Altman Film

There are two ways to watch a Robert Altman film. The first is to pay close attention, and through repeated viewings, try to catch every snippet of conversation among the huge casts of characters. And this is rewarding in its own way. The other way, the knitterly way, is to not worry too much about catching everything and just let yourself enjoy the atmosphere he creates.

Outstanding Example: Gosford Park (2001)

Classic 1930s English country-house murder mystery. Jeremy Northam sings. 'Nuff said.

Honorable Mention: The Company (2003)

Featuring Neve Campbell as a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. Only the honorable mention because you may occasionally want to tear your eyes away from your knitting to take in the fabulous dancing.

And just for fun:
Movies That Are Really Terrible For Knitting

1. The General (1926)
Because it's a Buster Keaton classic, which means that it a) is silent, and b) depends heavily on slapstick. In other words, if you're not watching the screen, you're screwed. Might be okay if you've got miles of stockinette to do.

2. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Because "slow and depressing" is not the same as "soothing". (Sorry, Sofia Coppola. I liked "Lost in Translation"!) By the end of this film you will have lost the will to knit, along with the will to eat, move, and breathe. Might be okay if you were trying to stop doing those things anyway.

3. Anything by Michael Bay
Because explosions are not a knitter's friend, unless the knitter is working on something which requires randomly-placed dropped stitches.

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