But I’m alone
(Patsy: oh no you’re not!)
So all alone
(Patsy: I’m here you twat!)
All by myself I’m all alone
I’m All Alone (from “Spamalot”) – Tim Curry and Michael McGrath
What do Monty Python and Emily Dickinson have in common? Nothing, probably, except that they both employ the English language. Perhaps a Monty Python sketch may have parodied the Belle of Amherst, but surely a serious biopic about her would not reference Monty Python, would it? And yet…
We were watching “A Quiet Passion”, Terence Davies’ exquisitely crafted movie about Emily Dickinson, luminously embodied by Cynthia Nixon in one of her most compelling, multi-layered performances. The movie is both a traditional biopic and a willfully original work in that it dutifully follows a life span from youth through adulthood to death, but rather than constructing traditional dramatic arcs to illustrate Dickinson’s life, it skips fleetingly yet deeply from moment to moment, each rendered as short and dense scenes of outward simplicity and inner richness, in what I imagine is a conscious effort to have the cinematic dramaturgy mirror the shape and effect of Emily Dickinson’s own poetry, which is often heard recited, clear and elusive all at once.
It’s a movie likely to divide audiences. I was engrossed throughout. Ed felt like he was “watching wallpaper”. Which may explain why his mind was free to catch the Monty Python moment. During a scene late in the movie when Dickinson is feeling bereft and wandering the rooms of her home alone, somber piano music is playing in the soundtrack. Ed leaned toward me and whispered “Spamalot”. I thought “What?” and listened closely to the doleful piano melody. Yes, it did sound like “I’m All Alone”, King Arthur’s comically pathetic ballad from Act Two of the Monty Python musical “Spamalot”. But surely that was just a matter of one melody coincidentally sharing a few notes with another melody, much like “Memory” from “Cats” shares similarities with Ravel’s “Bolero” or “West Side Story’s” “I Have a Love” echoes Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung”, to name just two famous examples. I lightly boxed Ed’s arm in a comic rebuke for making such a silly connection while watching a sorrowful moment in this film, and mentally reminded myself to check the music credits at the end of the movie to find out what 19th century piano piece Terence Davies really did employ, and which must have a melody that would over a hundred years later be coincidentally mirrored in a Monty Python tune.
I was in for a surprise.