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Out of Africa

Out of Africa – what they got right in the movie

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Out of Africa – what they got right in the movie

In July, I visited a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. This is no ordinary farm. It was made famous by white colonist Karen Blixen, the Danish aristocrat and author who conjured her adventures in a lyrical book, Out of Africa.

In 1985, American filmmaker Sydney Pollack turned that 1937 autobiography, and other sources, into a romantic melodrama with Meryl Streep as Blixen. Out of Africa won hearts, generated box office revenue, promoted safari tourism in Kenya and scored seven Academy Awards.

Inexplicably, the Oscar haul included best picture. More about this perplexing, if staggeringly beautiful, epic in a moment.

Blixen’s actual farm house, Mbagathi, is now the Karen Blixen Museum, located in the affluent Nairobi suburb of Karen. The handsome dwelling is filled with some of Blixen’s belongings and more so by props donated by Universal Pictures.

Because Mbagathi was unavailable at the time, Pollack positioned cinematographer David Watkin at Blixen’s first Kenyan house, the nearby Mbogani. No matter, Hollywood always takes liberties. As I have often warned, no one should ever believe most of what they see in a film, even when it is “based on” or “inspired by” a true story. Getting “the essence” right is a better benchmark.

What I did not realize when writing about Out of Africa in 1985 was how much Pollack & company did get right. It took a 2019 African safari, and time spent in Kenya with Kenyans, to understand what really matters.

This personal reassessment astounds me. Not that film critics refuse to change their minds in the years following first impressions. But rarely does it occur for the reasons I have finally come to appreciate Out of Africa, both as a book and as a movie.

Okay, the movie is still melodramatic. The focus is still on Karen Blixen’s bad marriage to a philandering Swedish baron (played by Klaus Maria Brandauer) and her subsequent love affair with English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (played as a pseudo-American by Robert Redford).

Streep and Brandauer are excellent. But Redford’s boyish charm cannot salvage his boring performance. His fireside proclamations as the untamed Finch Hatton ring hollow. The love affair is a fizzle, not a sizzle.

Instead, the movie soars through its dramatization of racial and cultural complexity. At a time of British racism and colonial segregation, Blixen did things differently — and the transcendent Streep delivers this message with subtle power and dignity. We feel Blixen’s empathy for, and understanding of, the indigenous peoples, especially the Kikuyu who worked on her coffee plantation. I repeatedly experienced a modern echo of that myself in Kenya.

Leave the last word to the Kenyan guide who escorted my wife, Rachel Sa, and I around the Karen Blixen Museum. “We respect and revere her,” the young woman said of Blixen, who started a school, provided medical aid, and fought to give the Kikuyu land when she returned to Denmark in 1931. “Karen Blixen was not like the others.”

This is the gift Out of Africa still offers today.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.



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Robert Redford's Napa Valley retreat for sale

Robert Redford’s Napa Valley retreat for sale

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Robert Redford’s Napa Valley retreat for sale

Superstar actor, director and supporter of the arts, Robert Redford — certainly not one of Hollywood’s Ordinary People — recently celebrated his 82nd birthday and announced his retirement from acting.

In his final film, The Old Man & His Gun — co-starring Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck — Redford plays a real-life career criminal and escape artist. It was released in September to rave reviews.

For decades, Redford’s permanent residence has been in Utah, home of his Sundance Institute. He and his artist wife, Sibylle Szaggars-Redford, also own a Napa Valley retreat where they enjoy hobbies and hosting family and friends. The Redfords have enjoyed the home for 14 years and have now decided to move back to the Bay Area and put their beloved Napa home on the market. It is priced at $7.5 million.

Redford is one of the few actors who started his career near the top in television, then breaking through to the top as a movie star as the wise-cracking cowboy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. With every film he made, the awards grew larger and more important continuing to mushroom with the addition of directing and producing. Redford’s long list of money-making and critically acclaimed films rank with the best in Hollywood history: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Electric Horseman, Ordinary People, Out of Africa, The Way We Were and A River Runs Through It.

Redford’s other passions, including working for ecological interests, was to help advance new artists in the film industry and creative arts. After filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Downhill Racer, he put all his proceeds from the two films into buying an entire ski area near Provost, Utah where he started the Sundance Institute. Using the name from the film, he formed related non-profit businesses under its umbrella such as the Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance cable channel, the Sundance catalogue and others as outlets for new filmmakers and artists.

In addition to receiving the highest film industry awards, top international awards and multiple honorary degrees, he has been recognized with the Kennedy Center Honors and the the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The charming Napa getaway, named Danza del Sol, lies perched on a knoll on 10 ultra-private acres surrounded by woods and vegetation with walking paths. The compound includes the main house, a 90-sq.-ft. artist studio/guest house and two large garages. The 5,200-sq.-ft. main house is modest by film mogul standards with three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a large great room, den, library-office, sunny white kitchen and formal dining room. Multiple wood-burning fireplaces exist throughout the home.

The quaint studio/guest house has a huge open space filled with light from a wall of French doors and a double garage door that rises high into the vaulted ceiling. One of the two garages houses a large workshop and exercise studio. Terraces by the pool, spa and outdoor dining areas offer calming views and are perfect for entertaining.

The Napa Valley estate of Robert Redford is now for sale. Priced at $7.5 million, the listing agent is Steven Mavromihalis of Pacific Union International, San Francisco.

toptenrealestatedeals.com/homes/weekly-ten-best-homedeals/ 2018/11-19-2018/1/


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