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Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures

Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures(1979)

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Georgie (Victor Banerjee) is a swinging Maharaja who has turned his ancestral palace into a tourist hotel; he plays racquetball and collects photos of his female conquests while his wife is away on pilgrimage. His sister Bonnie (Aparna Sen) sits at home restlessly while her husband is out hunting. (Georgie and Bonnie, we learn, were given their nicknames as children by a Scottish governess.) Clark Haven (Larry Pine) is an American art collector obsessed with seeing the Maharaja's fabled collection of Indian miniature painting; the Maharaja's curator, Shri Narain (Saeed Jaffrey), tries to sell him other pieces instead, but Haven is undeterred. An adventuresome elderly British art collector, Lady Gwyneth--known as Lady Gee for short--arrives shortly afterward with her companion Lynn (Jane Booker). Equally keen on seeing the Maharaja's collection, she encourages Lynn to submit to the Maharaja's attentions to win his favors. Haven flirts with Bonnie with similar goals in mind. Determined to save the works from rotting away due to poor storage conditions, Haven and Lady Gee cook up a scheme together to "rescue" the miniatures. In the meantime, the Maharaja's curator, Shri Narain, has secret plans to sell the entire collection to a man named Winkler. The Maharaja, however, has a scheme of his own.

The Merchant Ivory production Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures (1978), released on DVD as part of the ongoing Merchant Ivory/Criterion Collection collaboration, is a low-budget film originally shot on 16mm for British television. Clearly, beyond the surface plot about possession and desire, writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and director James Ivory are saying some interesting things about the legacy of colonialism. Georgie and Bonnie are both Westernized to a significant extent--he dons jet-set trappings, she expresses dissatisfaction with the traditional role of the submissive housewife. (Georgie even wears a Santa Claus outfit for a Christmas Party.) The collectors Clark Haven and Lady Gee (in particular) voice a patronizing attitude toward India's artistic heritage--that it is their duty to save it in spite of what the Indians themselves may want. However, the film's themes come off as somewhat muddled, partly because of an extraneous subplot about the ghost of an English flapper who died under mysterious circumstances in the Twenties. The flashbacks, especially those relating to the flapper and to the Scottish governess, seem imposed on the material.

The script was partly written and partly improvised; while this approach can be extremely fruitful in the right hands (say, Robert Altman), here the results are uneven. The opening dialogue between Georgie and Clark Haven is terribly stiff and literary. Fortunately, things get better as the film goes along. My favorite scene was the conversation between Shri Narain and Lady Gee depicted on the cover; there a genuine sense of intimacy comes through, thanks to Ashcroft┬┐s and Jaffrey┬┐s confidence with the material. In general, Saeed Jaffrey and Dame Peggy Ashcroft come off the best, Victor Banerjee and Aparna Sen somewhere in the middle, Larry Pine the weakest. To be fair, however, it was Pine's first feature; he has since become a solid supporting actor in films such as Vanya on 42nd Street (1994) and Dead Man Walking (1995).

The cinematography is by Walter Lassally, who worked on such key British films of the Sixties as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Tom Jones (1963), winning an Oscar for best black-and-white cinematography on Zorba the Greek (1964). While there are some nicely composed images of the palace and some effective tracking shots, Lassally can't entirely overcome the fundamental limitations of the budget and the 16mm film stock. Much of the film, as a result, has a fairly flat look. The video transfer, at least, is clean and sharp considering the source material. The music by Vic Flick is a not-always-convincing blend of jazz and traditional Indian music, embodying the cross-cultural theme a little too obviously in places. The mono sound, however, is clean and well-reproduced. The only special feature on the DVD is a brief interview with Saeed Jaffrey. The amusing but slight Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures is not without charm, but it's mainly for devoted Merchant Ivory fans.

For more information about Hullabaloo Over Georgia and Bonnie's Pictures, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order Hullabaloo Over Georgia and Bonnie's Pictures, go to TCM Shopping.

by James Steffen by James Steffen