Monday, April 27, 2020


Genius / Genius
    GB/US © 2015 Genius Film Productions Limited. Year of release: 2016. PC: Desert Wolf Productions / Michael Grandage Company / Riverstone Pictures / Ingenious / Pinewood Pictures. P: James Bierman, Michael Grandage, John Logan.
    D: Michael Grandage. SC: John Logan – based on the book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978) by A. Scott Berg. Cin: Ben Davis – digital – colour / b&w – 2.35:1 – release format: DCP. PD: Mark Digby. AD: Patrick Rolfe. Set dec: Michelle Day. Cost: Jane Petrie. Hair designer / makeup designer: Christine Blundell. SFX: Trevor Butterfield. VFX: Helen Streeter. M: Adam Cork. "Flow Gently Sweet Afton" (1873). S: Ian Wilson. ED: Chris Dickens. Casting: Jina Jay.
    C: Colin Firth (Max Perkins), Jude Law (Thomas Wolfe), Nicole Kidman (Aline Bernstein), Laura Linney (Louise Perkins), Guy Pearce (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Dominic West (Ernest Hemingway), Vanessa Kirby (Zelda Fitzgerald), Gillian Hanna (Julia Wolfe), Angela Sant'Albano (Bertha Perkins).
    Loc: England, Czech Republic, 2014.
    104 min
    Festival premiere: 16 Feb 2016 Berlin International Film Festival.
    US premiere: 10 June 2016.
    Finnish dvd premiere: 2 Nov 2016, Future Film.
    Finnish telepremiere: 21 Feb 2020 Yleisradio (YLE), Finnish subtitles by Suvi Heinonen.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    Yle Areena, viewed at home in Helsinki on a 4K tv set, 27 April 2020.

IMDb: "A chronicle of Max Perkins's time as the book editor at Scribner, where he oversaw works by Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others."

AA: Maxwell Perkins belongs to the greatest editors in the history of book publishing. Even in Finland he was a model for example for Jarl Hellemann, the illustrious CEO of the Tammi publishing house. Hellemann wrote about Perkins in his book Kirjalliset liikemiehet: kustantajakuvia [Literary Businessmen: Portraits of Publishers, 2002].

When Michael Grandage's film Genius was released four years ago, Robert Gottlieb wrote for The New York Review of Books (8 Dec 2016) an illuminating essay on the relationship between Max Perkins and Thomas Wolfe – a professional relationship that also turned into a profound friendship. Max Perkins had five adorable daughters but no son. For Wolfe, Perkins became a father figure. For Perkins, Wolfe filled the part of the much-longed son.

I have no means of assessing how close Grandage sticks to the truth, but according to Gottlieb's review he seems to have achieved that reasonably well. Let's state here that Genius is not a perfectly successful film. There is a top cast and the ingredients are good, but an irresistible drive is missing. The director does not have a compelling touch. The musical score is conventional, and there is a slightly drab look in the cinematography. Although this is a New York story, it has been shot in England and in the Czech Republic.

However, the screenplay is excellent. Based on A. Scott Berg's award-winning book, John Logan has dramatized the story well. Ernest Hemingway is a supporting character, important in his leanness of style as the diametrical opposite to the exuberant Wolfe. F. Scott Fitzgerald is more important in the core drama: he suffers from writer's block, and in this he is the opposite of the overproductive Wolfe.

Max Perkins helps Wolfe edit publishable books from endless (and endlessly growing) masses of manuscript pages. I laughed out loud in the scene where the caskets filled with the manuscript of Of Time and the River are carried to Perkins's office.

Perkins always gives sole credit to the artist and none to himself. Wolfe keeps discovering himself in his writing. It is also about discovering "life". "You haven't the slightest idea of how to live" is Wolfe's accusation to Perkins. But he treats his significant other, Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) abominably. During the most hectic period of editing Wolfe's book, Perkins sacrifices his family and lets his wife Louise (Laura Linney) carry the whole responsibility of their daughters.

A topical connection in this story is that Thomas Wolfe writes his final lines as a miliar tuberculosis patient, treated by the best neurosurgeons of the country, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The Coronavirus Research Center at Johns Hopkins University is today the most respected source of information about the pandemic.

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