Film Reviews 2000:

Anthony Leong for The Reel Site, December 29, 2000
Margaret McGurk for the Cincinnati Enquirer, December 29, 2000
Garth Franklin, Dark Horizons, December 26, 2000
Susan Stark for the Detroit News, December 26, 2000
Joe Baltake for the Sacramento Bee, December 25, 2000
Steve Persall for the St. Petersburg Times, December 25, 2000
Craig Kopp for the Cincinnati Post, December 25, 2000
Shay Casey for the Jacksonville Film Journal, added December 23, 2000
Greg Stacy for OC Weekly, December 22, 2000
Louis B. Hobson for the Calgary Sun, December 22, 2000
Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times, December 16, 2000
Erik the Movieman for Hollywood Bitchslap, December 16, 2000
Jonathan Rosenbaum for the Chicago Reader, December 15, 2000
Stephen Hunter for the Washington Post, December 15, 2000
John A. Martins for the California Aggie, December 15, 2000
Bob Campbell for the Seattle Times, December 15, 2000
Matthew Breen for My O.C., December 15, 2000
Henry Sheehan for the Orange County Register, December 15, 2000
Gregory Weinkauf for the Dallas Observer, December 14, 2000
Dean Kish for Movie Source, December 13, 2000
Robert Denerstein, Scripps Howard News Service, December 13, 2000
Becca Doten for the Daily Trojan, December 8, 2000
Mike Bracken for EOpinions, December 6, 2000
Jeremiah Kipp for, December 6, 2000
MaryAnn Johanson for the Flick Filosopher, December 6, 2000
Neil Smith for Popcorn News, December 5, 2000
Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles for FilmHead, December 5, 2000
James Berardinelli for ReelViews, December 4, 2000
Review from, December 3, 2000
Catherine Felty for Mothership, December 2, 2000
Christian T. Escobar for Cinezine, December 2, 2000
John Patterson for the Guardian, December 1, 2000
Kerry Douglas Dye for Leisuresuit, November 28, 2000
Jeffrey M. Anderson for Combustible Celluloid, November 27, 2000
Robin Clifford for Reeling Reviews, November 27, 2000
Stephen Cole for the National Post, November 27, 2000
"Ebert & Roeper at the Movies" (transcript), November 27, 2000
Rod Armstrong for, November 27, 2000
"Moriarty" for Ain't It Cool News, November 27, 2000
David Ansen for Newsweek, November 26, 2000
Bob Strauss for the Los Angeles Daily News, November 25, 2000
Dave White for IFILM, November 25, 2000
Michael Dequina for, November 24, 2000
"Eloise" for Girls On Film, November 24, 2000
Bennett Wright for Simple Reviews, November 24, 2000
Bruce Kirkland for the Toronto Sun, November 24, 2000
Owen Gleiberman for Entertainment Weekly Online, November 23, 2000
Paul Tatara for, November 23, 2000
Richard von Busack for MetroActive, November 23, 2000
David Sterritt for the Christian Science Monitor, November 23, 2000
Gregory Weinkauf for San Francisco Weekly, November 23, 2000
Elvis Mitchell for the New York Times, November 22, 2000
Paul Zimmerman for iF Magazine, November 22, 2000
Mike Clark for USA Today, November 22, 2000
Peter Stack for the San Francisco Gate, November 22, 2000
Kenneth Turan for the Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2000
Andy Klein for Rough Cut, November 22, 2000
Review by "Mr. Cranky", November 22, 2000
Eric Lurio for the Greenwich Village Gazette, November 22, 2000
"splitsurround" for Eopinions, November 22, 2000
Gemma Files -, November 22, 2000
Peter Brunette for, November 22, 2000
Stephanie Zacharek for Salon Magazine, November 22, 2000 (a must read!)
Jay Carr for The Boston Globe, November 22, 2000
Jack Mathews for the New York Daily News, November 22, 2000
David Edelstein for MSNBC, November 22, 2000
Bob Ivry for The Bergen Record, November 22, 2000
Kevin Maynard for Mr. Showbiz, November 22, 2000
Brief review from E! Online, November 22, 2000
Brief review from USA Today, November 22, 2000
Matt Wolf, AP, for MSNBC, November 22, 2000
John Patterson for L.A. Weekly, November 22, 2000
Jonathan Foreman for the NY Post (very negative), November 22, 2000
J. Hoberman review for The Village Voice, November 21, 2000
Glenn Kenny review for Premiere Magazine, December 2000 issue
Michael Tunison review for, November 21, 2000
Laura Clifford for Reeling Reviews, November 21, 2000
Richard Schickel for Time Magazine, November 21, 2000
Joe McGovern for Matinee Magazine, November 21, 2000
"Checkout", November 2000
Review by "Eric" for Dark Horizons, November 20, 2000
Tom Block review for
Peter Travers review for Rolling Stone, December 2000 issue
Krista Smith review for Vanity Fair, December 2000 issue
Viewer ("filipp") comments, November 18, 2000
Susan Granger review for eopinion, November 18, 2000
Justin Davidson for, November 18, 2000
Andrew Sarris review, November 16, 2000
Reviews submitted to AICN, November 16, 2000
Review by Paul F., November 14, 2000
Review by Harvey Karten for, November 2000
James Greenberg review for Los Angeles Magazine, November 2000
Brief review by J.D. Podolsky for George Magazine, November 2000
Paul Zimmerman's write-up on the Quills premiere at AFI "Fest 2000"
"Capone's" Review for AICN, November 7, 2000
Maitland McDonagh's review, November 7, 2000
The Guardian, November 3, 2000
"Mr. Molly's" entertaining review for AICN, November 2, 2000
My experience at the AFI "Fest 2000", October 26, 2000
Hollywood Reporter/Michael Rechtshaffen, October 2000
Interview Magazine, November 2000
Screen Magazine, September 2000
Upcoming Movies, September, 2000
Todd McCarthy, September 4, 2000
David Poland, August 28, 2000  (A must read!) / Sragow, July 27, 2000
San Francisco Chronicle, April 2000
Ain't It Cool News, April 13, 2000
"A DryWall Look At Quills" (AICN), March 8, 2000
"Moll F" Review, March 6, 2000

December 29: From The Reel Site:
Review by Anthony Leong (Grade A-):
    My dear readers... let me tell you of the newest film from director Philip Kaufman ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being"), a moral treatise by the name of "Quills". With a story plucked from the play by Doug Wright, it is a melodrama fashioned around the debauchery and deviancy that sprung from the disturbed mind of one Marquis de Sade. In its two-hour traffic on the screen, involving a cast of characters whose proclivities run from the pious to the perverse, a disturbing tale rife with passion and cruelty is recounted, whose meaning and context are not too far removed from the moral debates of our modern day. So I challenge you, dear readers, to lay bare your sensibilities to this celluloid concoction...
    Some things belong on paper, others in life. It's a blessed fool who can't tell the difference.
    Our tale begins in the late Eighteenth Century, on the grounds of the Charenton Asylum for the Insane. It is here that the 61-year old Count Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, better known as Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush of "Shine"), is imprisoned, his fate sealed by his salacious manuscripts and his predilection for carnal perversions. However, in comparison to the other unfortunate souls interred here, Sade resides in relative comfort, thanks to the influence and affluence of Sade's wife, whose monthly stipend ensures that his cell is stocked with modest luxuries, including a generous supply of paper, ink, and quills. Sade is also fortunate to find an ally in the priest who runs the asylum, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix of "Gladiator") - it is his belief that salvation for Charenton's most nefarious inmate lies in purging the wicked thoughts onto the written page.
    It's nothing but an encyclopedia of perversions. One man killed his wife after reading them.
    It's a fiction... not a moral treatise.
    Unfortunately, what Abbe does not know is that Sade has been smuggling his tawdry tomes to an outside publisher with the help of buxom chambermaid Madeleine (Kate Winslet of "Titanic"). So when the publication of Sade's latest ribald accounts comes to the attention of Emperor Napoleon, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine of "The Cider House Rules") is ordered to put Coulmier's house in order, particularly with respect to its most infamous inmate.
    But you see, the good doctor, despite his moralistic bravado, is a hypocrite, since he traffics in the very sort of thing he denounces. He has recently brought home his far-too-young wife Simone (Amelia Warner of "Mansfield Park"), whom he has relegated to the status of indentured servitude by locking her in his mansion and having his way with her as he sees fit.
    If you're going to martyr yourself Abbe, do it for God, not the chambermaid.
    What then transgresses is a battle of wills between Royer-Collard and Sade, with the latter finding new and innovative means to continue his writing, in spite of the former's attempts to confiscate his writing materials. Caught in the middle are Coulmier, who does not approve of the good doctor's savage methods, and Madeleine, who finds inspiration in Sade's writing, and whom Coulmier secretly holds a flame for.
    How can we know who is good, and who is evil? All we can do is guard against our own corruption.
    While the setting may be Eighteenth century France, the drama that unfolds has much bearing on the modern world. As was the emphasis of the original stage play, "Quills" is an examination of the unending debate on freedom of expression, particularly the role that art and media play in the ills of society. The circumstances in which the characters find themselves are not much different than the public debate that is ongoing today. Instead of contesting the merits and censoring the writings of Sade, we find ourselves embroiled in the controversies surrounding violence in the media, whether it be in the movies, television, or video games. With the memories of the Columbine tragedy still fresh in the minds of North Americans, and the recent lawsuits against Oliver Stone for murders inspired by "Natural Born Killers", "Quills" asks a number of pertinent questions. What responsibility do artists have in how their work is interpreted? Does responsibility for the actions arising from one's interpretation lie with the individual? And what role should society play in policing access to art-- or would such effort be better spent policing the individual?
    Conversation, like certain portions of the anatomy, always run more smoothly when lubricated.
    Not surprisingly, the key figure in "Quills" has been toned down considerably - after all, his name has been immortalized in the word 'sadism'. Sade, as portrayed with great ebullience by Geoffrey Rush (probably his best performance since "Shakespeare in Love"), is still a depraved and monomaniacal man, but you have to admire his persistence in continuing his writing, despite the efforts of Royer-Collard. When his quills, ink, and paper are taken away from him, he resorts to using red wine and bed sheets; failing that he uses his own blood and the clothes on his back. He may be one of the most despicable characters in history, but with respect to "Quills", Kaufman is not trying to paint a true-to-life picture of the man - instead, it is the ideas that the man represents that is important.
    Assisting Rush is a bevy of talented performers. Kate Winslet is much more assured than the vacillating performance she delivered in "Titanic", and her zest-for-life and empathetic interpretation of Madeleine serves as a nice counterpoint to Rush's Sade. Joaquin Phoenix, who was terrific as the villain in "Gladiator", is a little more low-key here, though he is still able to convey the conflicted nature of Coulmier. Caine, whose character was apparently infused with the characteristics of one Kenneth Starr, delivers his best work since last year's "The Cider House Rules", as the true villain of the story, a hypocrite who persecutes what he practices.
    "Quills" certainly will not be everyone's cup of tea. Some of the events that transpire during the two-hour running time are not only disturbing, but also thought-provoking. Using a fictional account of the final years of Marquis de Sade brought to life by a top-notch cast, "Quills" is both an engaging and accomplished examination of contemporary issues with respect to art and censorship.

December 29: From the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Rush Riveting in 'Quills'," by Margaret McGurk:
    Lush and layered though it is, Quills makes no bones about its agenda. The movie advocates passionately for freedom of expression, even when the ideas being expressed are as prurient and blasphemous as the writings of the Marquis de Sade. De Sade, who died in 1814, spent long years in prison and insane asylums because of his books about sexual fantasies of pain and degradation - an obsession the movie attributes in part to the French Revolution.
Director Philip Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright clearly mean de Sade to symbolize modern-day artists who flout social convention with work full of violence, sexuality and bigotry.
    Geoffrey Rush gives a bravura performance as a madman tortured by a mercilessly clear vision of his own demons. By turns charming, belligerent, irrational and pathetic, de Sade fascinates a young servant, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who smuggles his writings to a publisher. The book triggers a cascade of reprisals that drive de Sade to desperate and provocative extremes. He suffers even worse tortures at the hands of Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), who arrives at Charenton Asylum to "improve" on the humane system of Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix).
Where Coulmier believes in art as therapy - "It is better to paint fires than set them, isn't it?" he says to an arsonist - Royer-Collard favors "treatments," such as dunking chairs and iron cages. His methods fail to silence de Sade, but fulminate a tragedy that costs lives and sanity all around.
    The provocateur at the center of Quills is disturbing indeed. The movie may be too lacking in subtlety to qualify as great, but its star performance is not to be forgotten.

December 26: From Dark Horizons:
Review by Garth Franklin:
    Synopsis: Banished to a secluded Paris asylum, the marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), whose groundbreaking works changed the language of sexuality and literature, continues to threaten the moral conservatism of Napoleon's France by secretly smuggling out his spicy manuscripts with the help of the asylum's most alluringly innocent member: the young maid Madeleine (Kate Winslet). The asylum's young priest, Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), humanely tries to rehabilitate the Marquis' twisted soul while keeping Madeleine at a safe distance, both from the Marquis and himself.
    Through the endless days and nights at the asylum the two opposing men form a tentative relationship of mutual tolerance. But, neither is willing admit the one secret they have in common - their feelings for Madeleine. The three form an unlikely and dangerous love triangle that proves to be the ultimate test of the priest's sanctity and the Marquis'wrath. Keenly aware of human weakness, the Marquis prays on de Coulmier's humanity and on Madeleine's innocence. But the feisty young woman has her own reasons for defying orders, and de Coulmier's faith is stronger than the Marquis imagined.
    As the Marquis' popularity continues unabated in France, the brilliant and notorious Dr. Royer-Collard (Micheal Caine) is hired to "cure" the insatiable writer and to supervise de Coulmier. Royer-Collard and de Coulmier form an unfriendly alliance to stifle the irreverent Marquis' work and improve the image of the asylum. But the Marquis cannot and will not be silenced, and Madeleine refuses to be controlled. The more Royer-Collard and de Coulmier try to censor, the higher the stakes become in this extraordinary battle of wills between young and old, innocence and malevolence that careens through the asylum's haunting corridors.
* Amazing performances
* Solid, intriguing and provocative material
* Great production design
* A little slow & long
* Slow second half
    Summary: Biographical films come wide and varied from the epic in scope ("Amadeus") to the quiet and more personal ("Shine"), but none that I can recall come as dark and yet mesmerising as this. "Quills" proves to be one of the most original, elaborate, funny and truly sinister movies of the year - a thoroughly well-crafted and intricate film steered by great actors giving excellent performances, kept afloat by a clever script with some truly great lines, and backed by very timely issues and themes of free speech & censorship.
    Rush's previous over the top performances in "Shine" and "Shakespeare in Love" have scored him Oscar nominations (one of which won), but neither compares to this - he's over the top sure, but its totally believable and its just one facet of the character. This is a guy who'll leave you laughing one second with a great quip, and then in the next shot will hit his wife for not helping him - you love him at one point, and then despise him the next. The take on De Sade is also interesting - he's portrayed as a literary hero, a man with a obsessive compulsion to write and spends most of the film doing so with cruder & cruder equipment as each piece is taken away from him. Rush also is very brave spending half the film naked and while his very understated work in "Elizabeth" remains my favourite role I've seen him play, this comes a close second. Winslet does one of her standard solid performances as the Marquis' helper, though its Phoenix as the benevolent and struggling to hold true to his faith priest who will also likely get an Oscar nomination. Caine play the one-dimensional bad guy role and does it well, but can't help but feel tacked on a bit. There's also a slightly out of place sub-plot about Caine's wife though stunning beauty Amelia Warner and the 'younger Dougray Scott' looking Stephen Moyer will both get a lot of work from these scenes which are good but just don't really flow with the rest of the film.
    Onto the subject matter and its frank, dark and amazingly direct for an American-made feature. Sure it's about history's most famous pervert (after all this is the guy who was pretty much the first to give voice to S&M, fetishes and all sorts of kinky sex - ther term 'sadist' was named after him), but sex wise aside from some lewd dialogue there isn't anything terribly erotic here. It is however darkly violent, as this was after all 18th century France, with some content likely to distress viewers - lots of blood, at least two acts of rape, mutilation, full frontal nudity, use of faeces as a writing instrument, and a dash of necrophilia.
    Does the film work - yes and no. A really good comparison is "Bram Stoker's Dracula". That was a film with all the elements it needed to created the ultimate film version of Stoker's tale - yet it didn't quite make it, getting only about 60% of the way there - it was just lacking that central core of 'narrative energy' thus we didn't get swept up into it as we should have. Quills does manage to tap that energy a bit and comes out as an excellent movie but is still only about 80% of the way there - there by it stops just short of becoming a classic. Nevertheless in a month where films all seem to be floating in the 'mediocre' and safe waters of formulaic plots - its great to see a film like this break out of the mold with a fervent energy.
    Score: 8 / 10

December 26: From the Detroit News:
"Performers Take Pains to Make a Good Film Out of de Sade," by Susan Stark, Film Critic:
    Quills feverishly imagines the last days of the Marquis de Sade, whose novels, almost two centuries later, pretty well define not only the pain-pleasure principle but also pulp fiction. The film is directed by Philip Kaufman, no lightweight, as all who saw his 1968 big screen reading of The Unbearable Lightness of Being can testify. Kaufman went on to broad acclaim for The Right Stuff.
    Quills finds him back on familiar turf, ground zero not only for Lightness but also for his Anais Nin-Henry Miller biopic, Henry and June. The new film is by turn naughty, hilarious, high-minded, overheated and quite fearless.
Based on Doug Wright's adaptation of his own play, it stars Geoffrey Rush as Sade in a performance even more resourceful, bold and heartfelt than his Oscar-winning turn in Shine. During the course of Quills, Rush imperceptibly makes the transition from sly, haughty, naughty aristocrat to martyr for the cause of art.  Wright's script gives Rush certain heavy-in-the-mouth pronouncements about the character's plight: "I'll die of loneliness without my characters! My writing is involuntary, like the beating of my heart!" You have to get past that kind of chest pounding to reach the emotional core of the story. Rush, who has a good chance to stand for an Oscar again despite the conservative bent of the Academy, makes that almost easy. He's a wonder: Intelligent, daring, shameless in service of the character.
    The film begins with a quintessentially sadistic anecdote about a taunting, young aristocratic woman's come-uppance at the hands of a burly fellow working the guillotine. The script jumps ahead to the waning years of the 18th century in France, where the marquis is now held in a prison for the criminally insane at Charenton.
He lives in solitary splendor, among his own furnishings and fine wines, penning titillating novels smuggled out by the hospital laundress and scarfed up like croissants by the newly liberated, libertine French masses. The young priest in charge at Charenton figures writing evil thoughts will purge the soul of the troubled Marquis. The priest has no idea that his charge's lewd texts are being published for a ravenous citizenry.
    Napoleon, however, discovers the outrage and promptly sends to Charenton a physician who has had some success curing the mad with his sadistic regimens, including a water torture. Writer, priest, laundress and physician become caught up in an escalatingly fierce struggle that must end in tragedy.
    Though marked by wicked comic passages and bursts of psychological insight, Quills is essentially a drama about the war between expression and repression. Above all, it is an allegory about the lonely, painful, sacrificial destiny of the artist. Deprived of his pens (quills, in Sade's time) and paper, the marquis resorts to wine and bed linens; then to blood and clothing; finally, to excrement and walls.
    Heavy? Industrial strength.
    The delicacy of the piece, however, comes of Kaufman's thoughtful orchestration of the material. You laugh (at the hypocrisy and lunacy); you sigh (at the romantic surges); you gasp (at a saga that moves traffic in mortal sins from blasphemy to necrophilia). Quills is also a model of imaginative production design and cinematography.
    The film owes its emotional power to its performers, though. Rush stands first and foremost among them. His reading of Sade gives new oomph to the concept of bravura. Joaquin Phoenix, as Charenton's sweet, profoundly conflicted priest; Michael Caine, as the strutting, pitiful martinet of a doctor sent in to bring discipline to Charenton; and Kate Winslet as Sade's genuinely innocent ally as well as Phoenix's most chaste but deadly temptation add lustrous colors to the film.
    Although it becomes overbearing in its zeal to drive home the truth of the writer's compulsion, pain and worth, Quills is a film that speaks frankly and provocatively to essential, existential dichotomies: We all have within us the naughty and the nice. Adventuresome moviegoers will find it challenging as well as confirming.

December 25: From the Sacramento Bee:
"Rush Romps in Kaufman's 'Quills'", by Joe Baltake, Bee Movie Critic -- 4 stars:
    In the wide, wonderful world of filmmaking, Philip Kaufman has reigned as the thinking man's movie maverick for the past 30 years or so.
    Less well-known than, say, Robert Altman, and less self-promoting than Martin Scorsese -- neither of whom deserve the "maverick" label anymore -- Kaufman ("The Right Stuff," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being") is the real thing, a director more reclusive than high profile and an independent thinker with uncompromising standards.
In the movie year 2000, this makes him look like the genuine radical that he is -- a radical, however, who's still occasionally courted by the studios and given millions of dollars to make hugely personal films. I find it bizarrely comforting that the last film of the year is one by Kaufman -- his elegantly madcap tribute to the Marquis de Sade, pornography and free speech, the brilliant "Quills."
    It's comforting to know that this decidedly edgy, willful movie could come out the same year as the audience-fawning "Charlie's Angels" and "The Grinch." It means that, yes, there's still a future for movies as art and commentary, for thinking artists such as Kaufman and for thinking moviegoers who understand and appreciate what he represents.
    Set exclusively within the sprawling walls of Paris' Charenton Asylum for the Insane in 1794, "Quills" (opening today) vividly re-creates the last years of the Marquis de Sade, the 18th century nobleman, practicing nudist and author-pornographer ("The 120 Days of Sodom") -- the man who, to put it succinctly, gleefully put the "s" in sadism. He spent the final decade of his life there, at first living in near-baronial splendor, until his death in 1814. Kaufman and playwright Doug Wright, who adapted his 1995, Obie Award-winning, off-Broadway play for the film, have vividly reimagined what happened as the Marquis continued to write his books while imprisoned in Charenton and how the establishment went to grotesque extremes to silence him.
    The film is in-your-face about our rights to free speech. Like his lead character, Kaufman doesn't flinch. "There's a reason why we have a First Amendment," he told Entertainment Weekly recently. "And it's not the eighth amendment. It's the very first one."
    The result is the most entertaining and appallingly funny anti-censorship movie since Milos Foreman's "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" (1996) and one with just as incendiary an anti-hero at the center of all the rampant debauchery and verbal and written profanity. And who better to act as host and guide through this Napoleonic-era version of performance art than Geoffrey Rush, an actor who has elevated instability and madness to high art. As portrayed by Rush in an all-out exhibitionistic performance that takes no prisoners, the Marquis de Sade could very easily have been the one-man source of the French Revolution.
    The same character was also the memorable source of the Peter Weiss play and subsequent 1966 Peter Brook film, "Marat/Sade: The Persecution of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade."
    At Charenton, the Marquis is taken under wing by a sympathetic but very naive cleric named the Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix in his third impressive performance of the year, following "Gladiator" and "The Yards"), who foolishly thinks that the recidivistic Marquis can be rehabilitated. The Marquis also has another ally in Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a young, virginal laundress at Charenton who is amused and fascinated by the Marquis' rantings and come-ons.
    Winslet, in an excellent performance, does wonders with this potentially nothing role, painting Madeleine as a commoner with an open mind and a game, burning intelligence. Her Madeleine and the Marquis make wonderful accomplices.
    It is Madeleine who smuggles out his writings, which were eventually published as his book "Justine." Even though the tome's byline reads "By Anonymous," everyone in Paris fully knows who wrote it, including Napoleon himself -- who is outraged enough to dispatch Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a shrink who specializes in torture, to deter the Marquis from his scabrous writing and keep him in line. The first thing the good doctor does is to remove the Marquis' parchment and quills (hence, the title) so he can't write.
    But a contest of wills follows. First, the Marquis uses wine and a chicken bone to write on his linens, then he resorts to writing with a broken piece of glass and his own blood. Put in solitary confinement, in a cell completely bare, the Marquis shouts his stories, daisy-chain style, to the other inmates, who one after another shout in turn, until the prose reaches Madeleine, who is busy writing everything down.
    Finally, when he is stripped of all clothing and put in a dungeon, the Marquis writes on the walls with his own excrement. The man can't be stopped.
    There are witty subplots here about the hypocritical, lecherous Royer-Collard and his child bride, Simone (Amelia Warner), who he snatched out of a nunnery; the wicked play that the Marquis subsequently writes about them, which the other inmates perform; Simone's own sexual interests -- in the handsome Delbene (Patrick Malahide); and the Abbe's tortured lust for Madeleine.
    But all of this is overshadowed by Rush's one-man show as the prancing, preening, spewing Marquis -- a portrait of a man who was undoubtedly cleaned up into a mere scoundrel for the occasion and whose engaging ways might upset the very people who were bothered by Foreman's and Woody Harrelson's heroic take on Larry Flynt.
    Let them complain. That's what this film is all about -- free speech.
    As for me, I say, Sandra Bullock, move over. I hereby nominate Geoffrey Rush's Marquis de Sade for Mr. Congeniality. Forget the Oscar. Here's an actor so shameless and so inventive that when he jumps on a long dining table and struts down it, he turns the thing into a veritable catwalk.
    No, you can't keep him down.

December 25: From the St. Petersburg Times:
"'Quills' Does More Than Ruffle Feathers," by Steve Persall  -- Grade: A:
    Spritely as a farce in its action, deadly serious in its moral challenge, this film about the Marquis de Sade's supposed last days tries to turn our habitual allegiances upside down.
    Philip Kaufman's Quills is a fantasy version of the final days of the Marquis de Sade, cleaning up the author's perverse reputation enough to make him a poster boy for modern artistic freedom.
    As does the 1996 film biography of Larry Flynt, Kaufman's film prods a viewer to side with a disagreeable hero, since the only obvious alternatives -- hypocrisy and demagoguery -- seem worse than what they publish.
Flynt and de Sade both peddled extreme sex, the easiest way to ruffle feathers in 1797 or now. Both films make them merry pranksters tweaking authority, rebels with causes not seriously considered until watchdogs are at the door. Hindsight may make Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright more aware of the marquis' political importance than he was himself. De Sade's words are less dangerous than the forces working against them.
    So viewers shouldn't expect Quills to be an encyclopedia of perversion, although sex with and without violence, including pedophilia and necrophilia, are part of the show. There's more talk than action, but Wright's script, based on his stage play, is engorged with prurient thought. Moviegoers also shouldn't expect a puffed-up debate on artistic freedom, since Quills is as lively as a Moliere farce.
    Kaufman is more likely to confirm liberal thinkers on the topic than change conservative minds. Fairness isn't an issue, as it shouldn't be with satire. The marquis has the final word on every subject until grotesque measures render him speechless. Most of the time, it's something deliciously wicked.
    Geoffrey Rush gives a grandiose portrayal of de Sade, preening despite his grubby surroundings in an insane asylum and prancing with delight when he gets under someone's skin, which is often. Rush, an Oscar winner for Shine, should be a contender again. Hissing insults or purring pansexual innuendoes, Rush savors every word of the dense, delightful script. He's over the top, but irresistibly so.
    The marquis has been sentenced to the asylum for corrupting public morals with his graphic tales of kinky sexual practices. He continues to publish, with anonymous manuscripts smuggled out by the laundry maid Madeleine (Kate Winslet). His new novel, Justine, is the hit of Paris, and Napoleon orders all copies burned. He also sends an alienist, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), to cure de Sade of his perversions, or else the asylum will close.
   De Sade has been prompted to express his feelings in prose by Coumier (Joaquin Phoenix), a devout priest with other ideas for treatment besides Royer-Collard's bleedings and dunk-tank therapies. Coumier coaxes de Sade to stop writing about sex, but it makes no difference. Conflict between the two healers can be expected, as is their patient's rebellion.
    For a while, Quills is an entertaining game of one-upmanship, with de Sade locating the weaknesses of each authority figure, creating decadent escapades. Royer-Collard has a teenage bride (fetching new face Amelia Warner), so the author creates a crude play on the subject with other inmates. Coumier's weakness is kindness, and no shame is felt in exploiting that. Kaufman makes sure we'll be cackling along with the marquis when the tables are turned.
    Coumier gets fed up, confiscating de Sade's writing quills and ink. At that point, Quills becomes more than just another underdog versus the system story. De Sade doesn't simply want to write; he must. It's as vital as breathing, perhaps even more so than sex. He's depressed, but rebounds when he learns that a chicken bone, red wine and a tablecloth work as writing tools. Or, pricked fingers and feces, on clothing or walls. Quills raises the stakes by making art personal, and opposition more dastardly.
    Cleverly crafted ideas are matched by the settings, dank and grubby enough to appear authentic for the period. Quills could be a factor in several post-year award competitions, including Rogier Stoffers' suitably dingy cinematography and Jacqueline West's costume design. Such trappings lend depth to an impressive cast of performers.
    With her role, Winslet gets back on track after a couple of bad films. Madeleine and the marquis share a platonic relationship, yet we can tell she stokes his creativity. Phoenix is appealingly meek as the priest, whose faith wavers under de Sade's charismatic spell. Caine is simply terrific, relishing each droll comment and slow burn offered to Royer-Collard.
    Wright gives everyone nimble dialogue to raise questions still relevant today: Does life imitate art, especially the darkest kind? Is the purpose of art to lift us above beasts or show the beastly side and let us make our own decisions? Are censors as dangerous as artistic expressions they seek to repress?
    The answers are as partisan as one expects from an artist who has known some of de Sade's pressures. Kaufman prompted the creation of the NC-17 rating with his 1990 film Henry and June, another film depending on ideas about sex more than the act itself. Quills is his rebuttal to every infringement on creative freedom ever -- tarted up a bit, as de Sade says in the opening narration, so we don't miss the point.

December 25: From the Cincinnati Post:
"Censors are Sadists in 'Quills'," by Craig Kopp, Post Movie Writer
    In ''Quills,'' the only people who could be accused of sadism - the infliction of pain for personal pleasure - are the people who try to censure the man so well connected with this particular perversion that they named it after him: the Marquis de Sade.
    As played by Geoffrey Rush, de Sade himself is sort of a twisted freedom fighter - unable to stop writing from his seemingly endless supply of sexual fantasies. Those out to stop him are hypocritical tyrants who try to cover up their own inner lusts by repressing de Sade's bold, ribald writings.
    That's why the story is called ''Quills,'' because it's more about the Marquis de Sade's pathological need to write his sordid thoughts down than the sordid thoughts themselves. That's why you can't help but root for Rush as de Sade. His depravity is delivered with such dripping irony, with such devilish glee, that he becomes one of the oddest cinematic heroes ever.
    ''Quills'' deals with the Marquis' days locked up in the Charenton asylum, where a kindly priest (Joaquin Phoenix) is trying to literally bleed the sin out of de Sade by letting him write to his heart's desire.
    Unbeknown to the priest, de Sade's writings aren't for his personal elucidation only. An asylum chambermaid (Kate Winslet) who's as turned on by de Sade's writing as she is turned off by his pawing of her has been smuggling his manuscripts out. Soon, a scandalous tome called ''Justine'' is an underground best-seller on the streets of Paris.
De Sade's work even gets the attention of Emperor Napoleon, who is convinced that curing, rather than killing, de Sade would win him greater praise from the public. So, a doctor (Michael Caine) whose curative methods make sadism look like massage therapy is dispatched to put the screws to the marquis.
    Since the theme of ''Quills'' is censorship, the censors, of course, must be more immoral than the censored. And that's certainly the case here.
    The doctor sent to ''cure'' de Sade brings along a child bride whom he virtually molests. She eventually gets her hands on the last copy of ''Justine'' in all of France, seduces her cruel hubby's architect and runs away with him. This seals the marquis' fate.
    First his desk, quills, ink and paper are taken away from him. So he writes with a chicken bone and wine on his bedsheets. When his bedsheets are taken away, he writes with his own blood on his clothing. When the priest learns that the chambermaid, whom he has secretly fallen in love with, has been assisting de Sade, he makes plans to have her sent away. This leads her to ask for one too many titillating tales from the marquis, and it turns out to be a deadly tale for all concerned. But even the tragic consequences of his thoughts can't silence the Marquis de Sade, who finally gets down to writing with his own excrement on the walls of his prison cell.
    The last half-hour of ''Quills'' is a brutal as they come, but the brutality is not inspired by the twisted fantasies of de Sade. Instead, it's the work of those who would silence his salaciousness. Still, it will be more than a lot of people will want to stomach. And that's an idea with which this movie vision of the Marquis de Sade would be quite pleased.

December 23: From The Jacksonville Film Journal; Review by Shay Casey:
    I went to see Quills while visiting my family for Thanksgiving, and while on my way out, I asked my mother if she wanted to come along. As a point of clarification, my mother is usually pretty enthusiastic about going to movies; this time, she refused, citing her dislike for the subject matter. I argued briefly, stating that the film would not necessarily glorify its subject, that there was a very distinct possibility it would actually be a condemnation of its lead character. Still, she refused.
    Now having seen Quills, I find it hard to tell my mother to see the film. Certainly I liked it -- the film is neither a glorification nor a condemnation, but something much more interesting -- but I can't argue with her reasoning for not seeing it. As a discussion of the role of the artist vs. that of society, Quills is often fascinating stuff, but if you found the Marquis de Sade utterly revolting before going in, the film is unlikely to change your mind. And that, naturally, is precisely what makes it fascinating.
    Quills is a biography by design, though it certainly has no qualms about fiddling with the details. Sade was actually in and out of prisons and asylums for most of his life; this movie has him incarcerated in one place for its duration: the Charenton Asylum for the Insane. We see how Sade (played by Geoffrey Rush) still manages to get his manuscripts under the nose of the resident Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix): He passes them to a buxom chambermaid named Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who conceals them under the laundry and passes them off to a courier whenever she can sneak away. Emperor Napoleon, however, gets word that Sade's novels are still circulating amongst the general public despite his decree against such activity, and he orders that a new man be put in charge of the Asylum to crack down on the lax security. That man is the hard-nosed Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), who specializes in sadistic torture devices as his particular brand of medicine.
    Rush grabs control of Quills right from the start; it's his movie all the way. The role is an actor's dream, and you can see Rush relishing in his delightful double entendres (fantastic dialogue in Doug Wright's play/screenplay) and thinly veiled sexual advances. But it's not all fun and games, either. Rush allows us to see the Marquis' pain and humiliation when his only writing tools -- his quills -- are taken away by Abbé upon the order of Dr. Royer-Collard, upon which time he decides to keep on writing by any means necessary: using wine, chicken bones, bedsheets, clothing, and even his own blood. The triangular relationship amongst Sade and his two "best friends" at the Asylum present some of the film's most interesting scenes. Abbé is the one who's been encouraging Sade to keep writing, believing it to be a therapeutic tool -- but he doesn't know the writings have been distributed on the streets. He struggles with the Marquis; his own fiercely religious philosophy has him pulled in two directions: towards compassion for the man and simultaneous disgust with his art.
    We also see Abbé's difficulty with his obvious feelings for Madeleine; that whole vow of chastity thing isn't easy when you've got Kate Winslet strolling around in a corset. And Madeleine, a virginal spout of curiosity, seems to represent the one for whom Sade's work might actually be helpful: It allows her to live out her repressed fantasies on the page rather than in real life. The supporting characters are fully-rendered in excellent turns by Phoenix and Winslet, the former typically having trouble with his sort-of-English accent (we all remember Gladiator) but working wonders with simmering lust, and the latter reading the Marquis' work with such impish glee that you can't help but be enthralled.
    Quills seems to mostly come down on the side of the artist, which is no surprise: You would, perhaps, have expected a film made by someone who considers himself an artist (Philip Kaufman) to come down on the side of censorship? And, unfortunately, the film's one true weakness is in its presentation of the "other side," namely Michael Caine's Dr. Royer-Collard. It's not that Caine's performance is weak -- he delivers the right amount of vague menace covered by moral indignation -- but his character is so entirely unpardonable in his lusting after a young girl 40 years his junior that he's practically turned into a James Bond baddie; there are simply no shades of gray in the bad doctor. It's easy to see the character as a representation of puritanical Ken Starr/Newt Gingrich types in the contemporary world, and as political commentary, the doctor works just fine. With regards to the drama, though, he's a detriment.
    Thankfully, the handling of Sade is far more graceful. Kaufman is working on much the same wavelength as Milos Forman in The People vs. Larry Flynt: The Marquis is a nasty and repugnant person, a manipulator and a lecher, and he's also much like Flynt, the kind of guy you have to put up with if you value your own freedom. This argument, however, does carry a price. Eventually, the artistic work of a depraved mind will affect another like it, and tragedy may ensue. Kaufman is definitely interested in this conundrum, and his film builds up to its boiling point, upon which time the Marquis is forced to face the consequences of his "art." You get the feeling that this is what Kaufman wanted all along, and the climax of Quills lends the film exactly what it needed: ambiguity.
    That ambiguity is why Quills succeeds as more than a glorification or condemnation of the Marquis de Sade. It's also why it may be a little hard to take for many audiences. There is a tendency (especially amongst critics like myself) to try to conform one's own worldview to a slippery work like this, and I've already read critiques claiming that Quills is, in effect, a one-sided Marquis love-in. I think that's a bit presumptuous; Kaufman supports Sade's right to create, that's true, but he's not apologizing for the guy. Sade may have been an artist, but he's no hero.
    4 stars out of 5

December 22: Here's a great review from OC [Orange County, CA] Weekly:
"Youch! 'Quills' Pricks," by Greg Stacy
    Quills will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you queasy. It will make you moist. Occasionally, it will do all of these things to you simultaneously . . . which probably sounds like hyperbole, but believe me, it isn't. Quills is a film that will leave you exhausted and grateful.
    I won't keep you in suspense; I adored this movie. And so will you, if you have any sense at all. I left the film quite impressed with it, but in the days since Quills has come back again and again to haunt my imagination.
    Spun rather loosely from the true-life tale of the Marquis de Sade, Quills begins with a prologue in which de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) witnesses the sexiest execution you've ever seen (an execution that is also heartbreakingly sad and quite gross, a three-way combo that's so bizarre it's kind of funny; see opening paragraph). The execution inspires de Sade to pen an explosively lurid novel, a novel that will be so successful that it will lead outraged French authorities to chuck its author into an asylum. Once incarcerated, de Sade amuses himself by toying with the fancies of Madeline, a spunky laundress (Kate Winslet), and Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the asylum's hapless master, both of whom de Sade rightly regards as "beautiful young prospects, ripe for corruption." When it is discovered that de Sade has continued to publish new work despite his confinement, the state calls in the wicked Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to beat some sense into him. Then the foreplay ends and we get down to the really nasty stuff, as an epic battle of wills ensues between the Marquis and the forces of repression.
    The Marquis is equal parts charming rogue and utter prick, and Rush plays this richly complex antihero for all he's worth. It is a performance of great, plummy ripeness, although several of Rush's co-stars do almost equally amazing things with less showy roles. Looking as gray and lumpy as a moldy biscuit, Caine exudes a malevolence that is quietly over-the-top. While de Sade is the one locked up for being a sadist, Royer-Collard is the one who really gets off on inflicting pain. As the poor, lost Abbe, Pheonix ably carries our sympathies even as what he does grows ever more repugnant. Coulmier is as good and weak as de Sade is zestfully cruel, and when the moment arrives in which de Sade has grown as heroic as Abbe has grown depraved, we grieve for Coulmier even as we cheer for de Sade. As Madeline, Kate Winslet's performance is so affecting that you occasionally manage to tear your eyes away from her spectacular cleavage. Perhaps that sounds alarmingly sexist, but Winslet's loveliness here simply cannot go unmentioned. Nearly every male in the film is deeply smitten with Madeline, and she, bless her heart, seems a little smitten with each of them. Winslet's Madeline is no mere eye candy; she is a spunky, smart and courageous young woman who happens to be beautiful. But what beauty!
    In style, Quills calls to mind both the pretty talkiness of the Merchant-Ivory lit-flicks and the blood 'n' bosoms, Gothic horror shows that made Hammer Films such a cheesy thrill. Just when it threatens to sink too far into the former, Quills gooses you with a bit of the latter. This is a film of such emotional intensity that it approaches camp without ever quite giving in, or at least not to a degree that any sensible person could complain about.
    It's certainly a far greater picture than anybody could have expected from director Philip Kaufman. His past work has ranged from the pleasing (The Right Stuff) to the abominable (Henry and June), but he has never produced a work of art before. With Quills, he has.

December 22: From the Calgary Sun:
"Twisted, Brilliant - 'Quills' an Oscar Contender," by Louis B. Hobson
    Some voices refuse to be silenced. The Marquis de Sade remains one of the most notorious writers of all time. He was imprisoned for a total of 27 years for writing in candid detail about the basest forms of human depravity. To little avail, his jailers tried everything to stop the flow of his pornographic ramblings. His name has become synonymous with sexual violence and degradation and his novels are still lauded for their audacity but condemned for their sensationalism.
    With Quills, screenwriter Doug Wright and director Philip Kaufman have crafted a wild and electric fable about the power of literature to captivate or corrupt. They have taken great license with de Sade's life, but have retained the spirit of his crimes, sins and achievements.
    Quills introduces de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) in the final months of his life. He is a political prisoner confined to a cell at the asylum of Charenton under the care of a young, idealistic cleric named Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Coulmier believes that de Sade can be cured if he is allowed to vent all of his blasphemy. To this end, he allows de Sade to write whatever he wishes. Unbeknownst to the Abbe, de Sade's books are being smuggled out of the asylum by Madeleine (Kate Winslet) a young laundress, printed and distributed by an underground network. When Napoleon learns of this deceit, he sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to Charenton to silence de Sade once and for all. Quills paints Royer-Collard as the most dangerous kind of hypocrite. He harbours thoughts as questionable as de Sade, but knows how to sublimate them in public.
    Caine is brilliant in one of his most restrained and chilling performances, exuding an insidious evil more dangerous than de Sade's flamboyant defiance and grandiose exhibitionism. Rush strides through Quills like a colossus, delivering a performance as richly textured as it is uninhibited. He accomplishes the seemingly impossible. He shows the soul of the monster without declawing him. His de Sade is a dangerous man, but he's also eerily charming. For Madeleine, Winslet strikes a balance between innocence and lusty curiosity. Phoenix shows the eternal battle of flesh and spirit that is raging within Coulmier.
    Like Dangerous Liaisons, Kaufman's Quills is a big, bold, brazen celebration of theatricality that deserves to be recognized come Oscar time.

December 16: Here's Roger Ebert's review from the Chicago Sun-Times:
    Some are born evil, others choose evil, and some have evil thrust upon them. We are most inclined to forgive the members of the first category. The Marquis de Sade, for example, was hard-wired from birth as one of the most villainous of God's creatures. Although it is impossible to approve of him, it is possible to concede that he did what we are all enjoined to do: Taking the gifts and opportunities at hand, he achieved everything he possibly could. That his achievement is reprehensible does not entirely obscure the fact that his spirit was indomitable and his tenacity courageous. You know you've made your mark when a word - "sadism" - is named after you.
    Philip Kaufman's "Quills" supplies us with a Marquis toned down for popular consumption (you will not discover here that he thought an aristocrat like himself had the right to commit murder in search of pleasure). This Marquis stands not so much for sexual license as for freedom of artistic expression, and after he is locked up in an asylum and forbidden to write, he perseveres anyway, using his clothing, his skin and the walls of his cell as surfaces, and his own blood and excrement in place of ink. A merciful deity would have supplied him with writer's block.
    Kaufman's film, based on a play by Doug Wright, mostly takes place after the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) has once again gone too far, after the excesses of his writing and his life have exhausted the license and privilege granted to aristocracy. In 1801, at 61, after 27 years spent in various prisons, he is sealed up in the insane asylum at Charenton. There he finds a sympathetic friend in the Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a priest who thinks the Marquis should continue to write, perhaps to purge himself of his noxious fantasies.
    The manuscripts are smuggled out of the asylum by Madeleine (Kate Winslet), and find a covert circulation before Napoleon assigns a physician named Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to crack down. The new man's sadistic measures bring out the best in de Sade, who mocks him, taunts him, outsmarts him and remains indomitable almost to the moment of his death.
    Kaufman has confided in interviews that Royer-Collard is inspired to some degree by Kenneth Starr. The type is familiar: The man fascinated by what he has forbidden himself to enjoy, savoring it vicariously through a victim he persecutes enviously. No one is quite so interested in sex as a puritan. The analogy with modern times breaks down, alas, if we seek a correspondence between de Sade and President Clinton, whose milder transgressions would have flown quite beneath the Marquis' radar.
    "Quills" is not without humor in its telling of the horrendous last years of de Sade's life. There is, for example, the good cheer of Winslet's jolly, buxom laundry maid, who smuggles the manuscripts out of the prison. The Abbe Coulmier is clearly stirred by her, but does not act, and we have the incongruity of the young, handsome man forbidden by religion from pursuing fruits which fall into the hands of the scabrous old letch.
    Caine's Royer-Collard, on the other hand, is devoted to the pleasures of the flesh and keeps close watch on his too-young wife, Simone (Amelia Warner), warning "she is a rare bird, and I intend to keep her caged." It is unmistakable that Royer-Collard is attracted to de Sade's sadism and enjoys practicing it upon the man who gave it a name. If overt sinners are evil, how more contemptible are those who seek the same pleasures under the cover of hypocrisy. De Sade at least acknowledged his tastes.
    Geoffrey Rush (the pianist from "Shine") is a curious choice for de Sade; we might have imagined Willem Dafoe or Christopher Walken in the role, but Kaufman chooses not an actor associated with the bizarre but one associated with madness. De Sade is in the grasp of fixed ideas that sweep all sanity aside; unable to realize his fantasies in the asylum, he creates them through the written word, like a salesman or missionary determined to share his enthusiasm whether or not the world desires it. By the end, the words de Sade writes are indistinguishable, emotionally, from the pain he endures and invites by writing them.
    Whether this film will please most audiences is a good question. It is more about the mind than the flesh, and de Sade's struggle is monomania to an excruciating extreme. Yet Kaufman ("The Right Stuff," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being") finds a tone that remains more entertaining than depressing, more absorbing than alarming. It was not much fun to be the Marquis, but most of the time in this movie, de Sade doesn't know that, and attacks each day with zest and curiosity. Those around him are inspired by a spirit so free, even if his tastes are inexplicable.
    There is a scene where he dictates a novel through a human chain of other prisoners, who seem more intrigued by his invention than repelled by his images. Audiences may have the same response; we do not share his tastes but we have a certain admiration for his obstinacy.
    De Sade has been described as the ultimate extension of the libertarian ideal, but that is lunacy: He goes beyond ideology to madness. Still, he stands as an extreme illustration of the idea that society is best served if everybody behaves according to his own self-interests. And he gets the last laugh: In the face of Coulmier's liberal instinct to sympathize and Royer-Collard's conservative attempt to restrain, the Marquis remains indomitably himself. It is in his nature. The message of "Quills" is perhaps that we are all expressions of our natures, and to live most successfully we must understand that. Good luck that hardly any of us are dealt such a bad hand as de Sade.
    3 1/2 stars

December 16: From Hollywood Bitchslap:
Review by 'Erik the Movieman', who rates this film "f***ing awesome".
    It's amazing how far we've come. Hundreds, even thousands, of years of war, Renaissance and technology and yet we still have to deal with censorship. Or, at least, attempts at it. We can put the proverbial man on the moon but still thrust a tentpole of intolerance into society whenever something is created that offends us. Philip Kaufman's new film Quills is an examination of such taste, pulling nary a single punch to become one of the years's best.
Going back nearly 200 years, Quills tells the somewhat fictionalized tale of the infamous writer and sadist the Marquis De Sade. Institutionalized for his now and again less-than-romantic acts against women, the Marquis' only weapon is his quill. Writing pages and pages of explicit sexual text, his prose becomes a target for the Liebermann of the time, Dr. Royer-Collar (Michael Caine).
    In-between the two of them is the sweet chambermaid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who clings to the Marquis' work like a revered romantic novel groupie. And the priest who runs the institution, Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) who sees the writer's work therapeutic for some yet nevertheless wishes he would write something else.
    When the Marquis' work develops a bit of a cult following outside the gates of the institution, scandalizing the Marquis' wife and upsetting the likes of even Napoleon, the bad doctor is called upon to keep him at bay. Threatening to shut down Coulmier's asylum, the priest pleads with the Marquis to no avail, reducing him to take away any form of writing material he can find, including his beloved quills. But the Marquis refuses to be silenced, finding the most creative (and occasionally unsettling) ways this side of calligraphy to put the word down on the page.
    Quills is a film that would find a home in just about any decade. Not that it would be tolerated by certain factions, but it would be an appropriate commentary. Going into and continuing on in the 21st century is our government's war on Hollywood and there's always a museum or a controversial play waiting to be picketed. It's a film that brings to light the most disturbing aspect of censorship which is that the censors take it upon themselves to be the eyes and ears for everyone, telling them what they should and should not be seeing.
    Quills hits all the pressure points of the issue. Coulmier represents organized religion, albeit with a more sympathetic approach, who must fight his own desires while trying to save everyone else from the same fate. Marquis' comment on the hypocrisy of biblical copycats is one of the film's most treasured lines. Royer-Collar frequently objects to the Marquis in the manner of good taste and influencing the feeble-minded, yet never holds a mirror to his own greenhouse, entering into a marriage with the young Simone (Amelia Warner) that would make Roman Polanski envious. When the Marquis holds up that mirror and satirizes the doctor in a play reminiscent of Hamlet's "The Mousetrap", it only infuriates him further.
    Some of the more disturbed inmates symbolize the lowest common denominator that wind up becoming the standard, which the suppressers look for to make their arguments. When they eventually cause harm to others, it must be the triggered result of what they read or saw and not their own mental state. Quills finds the brutal irony of such sanctimoniousness in its ending showing that where the money flows, the bleeding stops.
    Geoffrey Rush pulls out all his own stops and then crushes them under his feet in his unflinching portrayal of the Marquis De Sade. Playing a thin line between an unlikable agitator and moral crusader (much like the portrayal of Larry Flynt), the Marquis is not someone we would want for a drinking buddy, but still stand by for what he represents. Rush should be staring down another Oscar nomination.
    In fact all the major performances in Quills are Oscar-worthy. Joaquin Phoenix is finishing off the kind of multi-film period that is rewarded with a year-achievement Oscar. Whether he's nominated for this or Gladiator, Phoenix's greatest achievement may have been to turn my opinion around on his skills as an actor. What is billed as a supporting role, his turn as Coulmier actually goes through the biggest arc in the film and he handles with great humanity, anger and sadness.
    Michael Caine makes a great Joseph Liebermann, I mean Dr. Royer-Collar, who may actually be a more terrifying (if quieter) sadist than the Marquis. Kate Winslet continues to keep her eye on the best scripts (and characters), particularly on the ones that allow her to take her clothes off. Special mention should also go to Amelia Warner as the doctor's youthful bride, timid and out of her element at first, but through the words of the Marquis comes into her own as an impetuous young woman.
    Chicagoan Philip Kaufman has been absent from film since 1993's underrated Rising Sun. And it's been too long. With a resume that includes The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the unbelievably creepy 1978 Body Snatchers remake and writing credits on both The Outlaw Josey Wales and Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is someone we want making a movie every year. He also directed one of my personal favorites and frankly one of the greatest historical epics ever filmed, The Right Stuff, an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's take on the early years of the Space Race. Quills is Kaufman's best film since that was released in 1983 and I guess if it takes this long to get it right, it's worth the wait.
    Quills, in essence, becomes a modern day One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with Royer-Collar a substitute for Ratched; the Marquis for MacMurphy. An institutional society where thought becomes the victim and free speech becomes an oxymoron with no chance to escape and costs more than just your tongue. It turns an unpleasant man into a crusader but not a hero. We may not like what the Marquis writes but its more valid to just close the book than to tell someone else to.

December 15: Here's a review from the Chicago Reader by Jonathan Rosenbaum, who rates Quills a "must see". I have edited most references to two other films being reviewed in the same article.
    Quills is an American adaptation of an American play about the famous 18th-century French libertine the Marquis de Sade, starring Australian, English, and American actors. It is also, in part, an unacknowledged mainstreaming of a more intellectual German play that became famous in the mid-1960s because of an exciting and inventive staging by avant-garde English director Peter Brook -- Peter Weiss's The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, popularly known as Marat/Sade. (Brook's 1966 film adaptation of this intensely theatrical play is a pale shadow of the original…
    Quills is directed by Philip Kaufman, a particular favorite of the now-retired film critic Pauline Kael and her many disciples… Broadly speaking, I think Kaufman is popular with Kael and her followers because many of his films are entertaining and sexy in spite of their intellectual trappings and aspirations.
    I hasten to add that separating art from entertainment is something Americans do a lot more than French people, who are apt to use such blanket terms as "pleasure" to cover both. And my subjective impressions shouldn't necessarily be taken as consumer advice. I have no doubt that some Americans will find Resnais' two features highly entertaining, while others will want to flee after having just a taste. And I wouldn't be surprised if some viewers find Quills intellectually invigorating.
    Kaufman, by contrast, seems to consider himself an intellectual, and his fans seem inclined to agree, clearly seeing nothing denigrating in the label -- though presumably regarding him as a "fun" intellectual in comparison to someone like Resnais, meaning that he's smart and cultured without being distant or pretentious. Kaufman's brief essay that opens the press book does quote, in swift succession, "my old friend Nelson Algren," "Algren's friend Simone de Beauvoir," "Nobel Prize winning poet and essayist Octavio Paz," and "the great film director Luis Buñuel," but these citations all come much closer to "plain talk" than intellectual explorations. Admittedly, Marat/Sade onstage had some intellectual content, but it was designed mainly as a feast for the senses; in many ways Quills offers a more middlebrow and distinctly post-60s version of that experience, without the French Revolution.
An enormous literature has accumulated around the figure of Sade as an emblem of freedom and of perversion. Much of the French writing, from de Beauvoir to Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, is concerned with celebrating the formal and theoretical aspects of this freedom, while much of the American writing, from Edmund Wilson in The Bit Between My Teeth to Roger Shattuck in the recent Forbidden Knowledge, is concerned with condemning the moral and ethical aspects of the perversion underlying it. This debate has been raging for so long and in so many different forms that it can even be said to inflect many nonintellectual sectors of French culture…
   Given this debate, which I've read more of than of Sade himself, the curious thing about Kaufman's movie, and presumably Doug Wright's source play, is that it celebrates Sade's notions of freedom without engaging the moral and ethical issues arising from them -- at least not in any way that might disturb or challenge the audience. To put it simply, Kaufman and Wright Americanize the marquis (Geoffrey Rush), turning him into a classic antiauthoritarian and adolescent-minded anarchist hero, a martyr of free expression who will go on writing his politically incorrect sexual fantasies no matter what, even with his own blood and shit if necessary. Furthermore, they give us such an obvious and unambiguous villain to oppose him -- Dr. Roter-Collard (Michael Caine), the hypocrite and closet sadist who runs Charenton, the mental asylum where Sade is being held -- that no serious challenge to Sade's moral position is even contemplated, much less explored. He's simply a stand-up-comic sort of guy, bristling with witty bons mots that wow all the attractive and available ladies in sight, whereas the doctor has to revert to force to procure his child bride, who reads Sade's Justine on the sly.
    Paradoxically, the only real perversion or cruelty or sadism belongs not to Sade, an absolute hero and dashing bon vivant, but to the doctor, an evil authoritarian who serves as the rough equivalent of Big Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (though Quills doesn't have that book's misogyny -- Kaufman, to his credit, actually likes women). Yet to give us the impression that a true debate of Sadean issues is nevertheless in progress, the film also offers a relatively equivocal in-between figure, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), around whom a good part of the drama is structured -- a character who stands officially on the doctor's side while sympathizing increasingly with Sade and wrestling with his own inner demons of desire and repression.
    This simplistic view would make me livid if I cared more about the integrity of Quills and its fidelity to history, including intellectual history -- as much as I care, say, about the integrity of the Coen brothers' forthcoming O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its fidelity to Mississippi, the Depression, the popular front, the Ku Klux Klan, William Faulkner, and Preston Sturges. What, after all, could be more absurd than a cuddly Marquis de Sade? Instead of being livid, I quickly decided I preferred to be entertained by Kaufman's sexiness and silliness -- Quills is a guilty pleasure I chose to indulge.
    So I was impressed by the lively performances -- including those of Kate Winslet and Billie Whitelaw and the actors already mentioned -- and I was amused by the witty if simpleminded plot and dialogue, not to mention Kaufman's assured storytelling. If he and Wright want to make hash of the entire Sade debate in order to show us a good time, why not? The distinction between hero and villain may be about as stark as in a Gene Autry western -- undermining many of this movie's intellectual claims and shamelessly flattering the audience's sense of righteousness -- but who says entertainment has to be intellectually challenging? (By contrast, when I saw Kaufman's much-praised and equally sexy film adaptation of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being in 1988, I couldn't get past how he'd perverted the novel, avoiding what Kundera had to say about kitsch and any aspect of Czech life Americans didn't already know about. Does that mean I value Kundera more than Sade? Maybe.)
    I suppose that being entertained by Quills was an intellectual -- or anti-intellectual -- choice on my part. And viewers can make a similar choice. Even those unacquainted with or indifferent to the Sade debate and French history don't have to worry; they can simply see Quills as a slightly more thoughtful and reflective Indiana Jones or Sean Connery romp. (Kaufman collaborated on the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark and directed Rising Sun, which featured Connery.)

December 15: From The Washington Post:
"'Quills': The Sade Truth About Freedom's Price," by Stephen Hunter
    "Quills" is profane, sacrilegious, pornographic, sadistic and Sade-istic, titillating and the most honorable movie of the year. That's because it does something rare in an era of hot rhetoric and boiling rage: It argues its case fairly, acknowledging the implicit dangers in its position, and dramatizing the price that inevitably will be paid for its cherished goal of untrammeled personal expression.
    The setting is the famous insane asylum at Charenton shortly after Napoleon had quelled the fires of Revolution and taken over toute la France. At that picturesque hell, the most famous inmate, he of the seedy stained satins, the insatiable lust for both flesh and adjectives, the periwig that most resembles a drowned weasel, is the Marquis de Sade, writing his nasty tales to keep his own screaming demons at bay, smuggling them out to keep his readers in a state of high priapic anticipation.
    Many actors would have a good time with the twitchy, corrupt, cadaverous, imperious aristo quipster-whipster: One can imagine Malkovich or James Woods really going nuts; it's the part Jeremy Irons was born to play; Anthony Hopkins would have hit it so far it would never come down; or what about Jack Nicholson at his most depraved, his eyebrows arched like cathedral buttresses as he teases, "Mar-quis's home!" In Philip Kaufman's version of Doug Wright's play, the reed-thin, splendidly ruined Geoffrey Rush gives us the bad old guy who initially seems more grumpy than truly mad. The actor's not bad, but I kept thinking he should be having more fun. His best thing is that he gives the dirty old man a lot of charm, primarily because he doesn't pretend to be anything other than a dirty old man. Self-knowledge is always an attractive attribute in a fella, whether his name is de Sade or Lecter.
    By this time in his life, Marquis-Mark has it pretty soft. Although he is confined to the asylum, his wife pays his bills and keeps him in wine, he has the biggest sex-toy collection in Europe, he writes his scandalous tales of maids learning the joys of pain and perversity, and has them smuggled out by a proletarian laundress (Kate Winslet) who adores him. It's somebody's fantasy of the writer's life: He has the deep satisfaction of knowing he is being read by the masses and yet he doesn't have to pay his agent 10 percent!
    This professional arrangement of his works because it is countenanced by the cleric running the place, the Abbe Coulmier (played by Joaquin Phoenix, who usually gets the ratty parts), who believes in tolerance and trust. But the emperor is not pleased. His impulse is to have de Sade shot and to hell with it, but a political adviser suggests a subtler destruction: Send in Alfie.
   That is, Michael Caine as Dr. Royer-Collard, a law-'n'-order type. Caine's flexibility as an actor is built around his large blue eyes, whose gleam he can control as if they have a brightness knob. He can dial them up and they're seductive sparklers, or he can dial them down, as he does here, and they're the dead ball bearings of authoritarianism, all set to facilitate the folding, spindling and chad-punching of the human spirit.
    It doesn't take a genius to see where this one is going; even a movie critic can figure it out. The asylum: society. Phoenix's Abbe: liberalism. Caine's doctor: conservatism. Winslet and the rest of the inmates and staff: the people. De Sade: the spirit of anarchistic freedom. That's exactly how it plays, with the brilliant addition of the following miracle ingredient: consequences.
   The doctor (driven by the anger he feels when his young wife deserts him for a more sexually attractive partner) intensifies his war on the marquis, which in turn drives the marquis to find an outlet, not because he wants to, but because he must. Lacking quills (now confiscated), he sets up a human chain by which his words are transmitted from his cell to the cell next to the next, until finally they reach the willing Winslet, who writes down the words. That's almost a diagram of the writer's words moving through society.
    But as each teller tells the tale, it is subtly transfigured into something lower, baser, meaner, until it finally reaches a fellow in the chain unable to cope with the sensations it arouses, and he responds by committing rape and murder. Another fellow, encouraged by the breakdown in order, uses the opportunity to indulge his pyromania and sets the place aflame; the result is bedlam, released by the erotic writings of a genius given exposure in society.
    Thus the argument: Yes, say it all, publish it all, let the dark ravings of the lizard id have their play upon pages, even call it art. But be aware: There is a cost. Not everyone can handle it. Make your choice but make it fairly, not in a sentimental vacuum.
    That courage aside--courageous, since most free-speech acolytes argue in that very vacuum--the movie suffers from overproduction. You can tell that Kaufman's visual imagination has been stimulated by the sumptuous grotesqueness of an early-19th-century asylum (he has a well-stimulatable imagination, after all, as the director of "Henry & June" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"), and he fills it with bosomy peasant maidens always spilling out of their blouses, gibbering maniacs whose drool gleams like gossamer fairy spume on their chins, freaks, geeks, human baboons and an unusual selection of cast eyes, carbuncles, scars and cellulite.
    And it fudges facts, to its own philosophical advantage. Most seriously, it ascribes de Sade's tendencies to his exposure to political violence in the Revolution, inventing (among other contributions to our new century) a guillotine-cam, which allows us the blade's view as it descends toward a particularly pale, delicate aristocrat's neck.
    This is important philosophically to the movie; it argues that man can be corrupted by politics. But de Sade's life suggests the opposite: His first depredation occurred in 1768; he was sentenced to prison in 1769 and sentenced to death in 1772--all years before the Revolution. If anything, he was one of those fellows who were just born that way; he learned it no place. That's a heavy idea, because it suggests that some things just can't be fixed and that freedom will never be free; it'll always cost something.

December 15: From The California Aggie (University of California-Davis):
"Get poked by 'Quills'," By John A. Martins
    Quills, Philip Kaufman's new film about the Marquis de Sade's exploits at a French mental asylum, is one of those movies that leaves you in a daze for a good two weeks after you see it. This, of course, is a subjective comment about a film that might otherwise elicit a "That sucked!" from a good deal of movie patrons across the country. In a sense, those moviegoers are right - if you look at it from a conventional cinematic point of view, Quills does "suck." If, however, you choose to look at it from the more supply-side perspective and consider what the director was doing, Quills acquires a different tone. It suddenly becomes a film that takes its place among the most esteemed of contemporary avant-garde projects that push Hollywood's envelope to the point where movies surpass their entertaining narratives and hold a sharper, emotionally resonant function.
    An example of the material the film covers can be found, appropriately enough, in the first scene. Initially, a blue sky is overscored by the light sound of female panting, and we automatically expect to see some softly-lit half-naked couple porking among the poppies in a beautiful French countryside landscape. The camera then tilts down to frame the lowered head of a young woman who seems to be in blissful rapture, and as her breathing quickens, fingers sensuously crawl over her shoulders, and we start thinking that - in accordance to some sadist aesthetic - she is about to be sodomized by some strapping, young farmhand.
    Those fingers belong to an executioner, instead. The woman's head is placed into the guillotine and then swiftly chopped off, relegated to a basket already full of wide-eyed, blueblood-stained crania. Kaufman revels in this kind of teasing, but he does it for a purpose, you see.
    The screenplay, adapted by Doug Wright from his Obie-winning stage play of the same name, is a less-than-semi-accurate portrait of Sade's last days. Instead of attempting to truthfully depict Sade's actual environment, the movie focuses on the "relationships" that Sade (Geoffrey Rush) had with the people around him, including a young, morally headstrong laundress named Madeleine (Kate Winslet) and Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Pheonix), the director of the asylum at which Sade is lodged. Although Quills is a far cry from the lesson that 18th century historians would want you to have, that doesn't mean it's a trivial period piece, either.
    The audience is consistently baited throughout the film, and Kaufman effectively uses Wright's carefully crafted screenplay to intricately set up morally ambiguous situations. We are then prompted to fill in the holes by our own devices, and in order to do that we must look within. We suddenly find ourselves sympathizing with - and maybe even envying - Sade's vehement pansexuality. We understand his logic in the extraction of pleasure from pain and how, in Sade's own words, "if it is the dirty element that gives pleasure to the act of lust, then the dirtier it is, the more pleasurable it is bound to be."
    Quills is a film that starts off by demanding audiences to delineate their cultural, political, psychological, sexual and spiritual boundaries, and then goes on to test them at every possible moment. Kaufman's brilliantly calculated concept is strongly supported by both Martin Childs' production design and Rogier Stoffer's patina-tinted photography. Stephen Warbeck's structured and subtly foreboding musical direction successfully manipulates the audience's relation to the action at the precise times when either distance or proximity is most crucial. Jacqueline West's highly researched and profoundly expressive costume design at times spoke more for the roles than the actors, and the performances of both Rush and Winslet were deeply nuanced characterizations of people irrepressibly driven by their needs.

December 15: From the Seattle Times:
"'Quills' Whips up a Cinematic Porno Pageant," by Bob Campbell, Newhouse News Service
    Some life stories are sensational enough to rule out any call for dramatic enhancement. Did anyone ever live a life more crowded with drama than Donatien, the Marquis de Sade? His legacy of sexual, political and criminal excess is the starting point for "Quills."
    Director Philip Kaufman and playwright-screenwriter Doug Wright have whipped up a delirious 1810 porno-pageant, flying twisted images of lust, repression, perversion and terror from a rickety platform of fact. In the film's France, Napoleon redirects the nation's erotic energies into military bloodlust. Insanity is spreading like a plague.
"Quills" is so bold, ambitious and forceful that it practically has a right to be a good movie. It's not, but it may be the year's most memorable bad one.
    Wright weaves a wayward fiction around Sade's late-life confinement in Charenton Asylum, a situation immortalized in Peter Weiss' brilliant play "Marat/Sade." Kaufman appropriates Weiss' attitudes and assumptions, but loses his dazzling clash of ideas in transit.
    A starry cast fleshes out men and women pulled into the gravitational field of Geoffrey Rush's ("Shine") weirdly seductive Marquis. Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine face off as dueling doctors who seem to embody, respectively, universal soul and sterile intellect. Visionary Coulmier (Phoenix) treats Sade well, respecting him as an artist. Bureaucrat Royer-Collard is examining Coulmier's experimental treatment programs, at Napoleon's behest. Who better to personify the healthy sexual life force than warm-blooded Kate Winslet, who infuses real vitality into a juicy teenage laundress wildly anticipating her first plunge into the ocean of sex. The supporting characters of "Quills" are clearly fabricated as representations of set attitudes or symbols of ambiguous forces. Played by less vital actors, they might seem incapable of drawing breath.
   The spectacular centerpiece is Rush's prickly Marquis, a brilliant prankster deaf to moral prattle and talk of social ideals. The playwright has done his homework here, faithfully portraying Sade's dangerous ideas and fitting them to his mercurial emotions. From what must be a long stint of close reading, he's fashioned a distinctive thinking style for Donatien.
    Rush's languid, teasing poses evoke Oscar Wilde rather than an arrogant aristocratic rapist, but a softening of the Sade personality may have been required to keep audiences from rejecting his mind games, paradoxes and blunt judgments altogether.
    "Quills" ends with a woozy, lurching downhill tumble of outrageous and barely coherent events. The freak-show finale is both electrifying and laughable. Moviegoers with fond memories of director Ken Russell's psychedelic whizbangs will appreciate the movie's style but seek in vain for Russell's humor.

December 15: From My OC:
"When the Mighty Sword Guides the Pen," by Matthew Breen
    No jokes about the torturous aspects to watching some of the scenes in "Quills." Oops, too late. Some have called the Marquis de Sade a maligned genius; others have called him a pornographer who incited murders. Hate him or love him, call him a brilliant intellect or a depraved freak, don't go looking for factual biographical information in "Quills," a film director Philip Kaufman acknowledges is a flaccid fable story about the life of the imprisoned writer.
    Despite depicting the imprisoned life of the author for whom the term "sadism" was coined, the edgy eroticism and scathing wit that characterized the Marquis' writings is not to be found anywhere in the film. The sexual jokes are damp and dull ("the price is every bit as firm as I am") and sound more like Benny Hill than trangressive literature. Kaufman ("The Right Stuff," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") is not a timid filmmaker, and as a result "Quills" is blunt, obvious, a bit stylish, but hardly erotic or intelligent.
    "Quills" begins in 1807, with a grisly beheading. A story is being told about a young woman in the throes of rapture as the executioner's grimy hand slowly closes around her neck. The intent is clear, set the tone for the Marquis' obsession with the darker side of human sexuality, which is unfortunately never realized on film. The narration originates in the Charenton Insane Asylum where the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) has been condemned to spend the rest of his days. The asylum is run by the progressive and liberal-minded Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix, trying desperately to hang on to a British accent), who approaches his charges with techniques akin to modern ones like physical exercise, painting and other therapies. The Abbe encourages the Marquis to purge his perverse thoughts onto paper, in the same way he encourages a resident pyromaniac to purge his impulses by painting pictures of fires rather than setting them.
Though imprisoned for his writings, the Marquis' manuscripts made their way into print via the aid of his sympathetic young laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet) to whom he smuggled his writing in his bedclothes. Madeleine slips the papers through a fence to a waiting courier, to be taken into Paris and published anonymously. Enraged at the repeated appearance of more of the marquis' stories, the Emperor Napoleon sends the repressive and funereally clad Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), an ogre of a psychological administrator, to "oversee" the Abbe's work. The Marquis refuses to comply with orders to cease his writing, and instead takes every opportunity to embarrass, defy and humiliate the doctor. Royer-Collard retaliates by stripping the Marquis of writing instruments and paper, but the Marquis won't be stopped, however, and begins writing in wine on his bed sheets. The battle of wills escalates until the film ultimately drowns in its own disastrous excesses (and excrement). It's apparent that the situation cannot end happily, and the tailspin that the characters, plot and film take are spectacular in a way.
    As a philosophical treatise, "Quills" asserts the power of imagination, but as a film, it fails to realize the weightiness of it's own arguments. The dialogue in particular falls flat, forcing the characters into pantomime roles, and ensuring that they will never transcend our preconceived notions of who they were when they initially stepped onto the screen.

December 15: From the Orange County Register:
"Less Meaning, More Story, Please," by Henry Sheehan
Review: Metaphor overwhelms a look at the last days of the Marquis de Sade.
    As great and cruel a personal and literary libertine as he was, Donatien Alphonse François, comte de Sade - forever to be known as the Marquis de Sade - does make a claim on our sympathies. Not only did he spend 30 of his 74 years behind bars, either in prisons or asylums, but governments with wholly opposed political philosophies locked him up: first Louis XVI's Old regime, then Robespierre's Revolutionary Terror, and finally, Napoleon's imperial court.
    Paradoxically, the marquis wrote many of his works while he was incarcerated to relieve his boredom and frustration. The publication of his writing would lead to official outcry, thus prolonging his sentences, which in turn compelled him to write again.
    "Quills" was directed by Philip Kaufman from a screenplay by Doug Wright, who adapted his own play. Almost inevitably, it finds the notorious Sade confined in an asylum; in fact, the place where he would die. In 1814, the hospital at Charenton was a pretty progressive institution, given the circumstances, but you have to wonder if it was quite as 20th century as it's portrayed.
    Presided over by the young and idealistic priest, Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the institution treats its inmates with tender patience, allows them to wander the picturesque grounds, and encourages them to paint and sing; any therapeutic regimen is OK as long as it doesn't involve violence.
    Sade (Geoffrey Rush, looking much, much younger than the then-74-year-old marquis) gets his own relatively large and comfortable suite and as much paper, ink and writing quills as he wants. What the Abbé doesn't know is that pretty maid Madeleine (Kate Winslet) has been smuggling Sade's manuscripts to Paris, where they've been published to great scandal.
   Napoleon (Ron Cook) himself becomes so disturbed that he dispatches a notorious physician, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), to take over Charenton. The doctor's mission is to silence Sade forever without killing him. It's a task he intends to fulfill with instruments out of a medieval torture chamber.
    This is the stuff of grand melodrama: A forward-thinking priest and repressive physician battle for the soul of a diabolical genius while an innocent young woman (Winslet's character) gets caught in the middle. But Kaufman and Wright don't settle for melodrama. They want us to learn a Big Lesson.
    So nothing on screen is merely what it appears to be; it's a metaphor for something else. Charenton becomes the whole world, now consumed by madness; Sade is the unchecked id, demanding pleasure no matter what the cost; the Abbé represents reasoned charity; Dr. Royer-Collard unhealthy repression transmuted into outright oppression; Madeleine is innocent Everywoman. These characters don't do or say anything that doesn't directly affect their pure functionality.
    The Abbé suffers a crush on Madeleine that would play a lot better if it weren't so obviously meant to illustrate yet another lesson: Reason does not equip us to deal with out irrational selves. The most grievous of these pedagogical intrusions is visited upon the middle-age Royer-Collard, who marries a teen.
    Having gotten a taste of the marriage bed, Simone (Amelia Warner) soon develops lustful appetites far beyond her husband's abilities. Again, we learn a lesson: Royer-Collard punishes Sade because he's projected his own sexuality onto the innocent (at least in this one case) Sade.
   Although Rush spends a lot of time waving his arms and yelling obscenities, Sade himself gets lost in the process. Like Royer-Collard, Kaufman and Wright seem determined to erase Sade's "imperfections." By the end of the movie, he's revealed himself as a human being capable of love; in other words, it's OK to like him.
    What an end for a man who didn't care what people thought of him. Because of Sade's shocking sexuality and purple prose, it's sometimes forgotten that he posed a difficult philosophical question. The Enlightenment had succeeded in reorienting men's minds, promoting the value of the individual and the ideal of equality. Sade asked: If man carried his moral universe within his own mind, why shouldn't he satisfy any urge, especially deep, long-lived ones, for pleasure?
    Kaufman and Wright don't answer this profoundly unsettling question. Instead, like Sade's jailers, they treat him, alter him, cut and shape him to fit their contemporary concepts of morality. Poor Sade; once more, he's been imprisoned.

December 14: From the Dallas Observer:
"Sexual Reeling - Philip Kaufman's Quills is a harsh, lush lecture on sensuality and censorship," by Gregory Weinkauf
    Assessing the merits of Quills, the lusty new feature by director Philip Kaufman (Henry and June), it's tempting to seek correlative characters from popular movies to illustrate just how radical this business is not. In Kaufman's film--affectionately constructed upon a screenplay by Doug Wright, who adapts his award-winning play--we discover a fairly standard dichotomy: Geoffrey Rush is the Marquis de Sade, a pouty artist; Michael Caine is Dr. Royer-Collard, a seemingly upstanding manipulator of psyches. Tweak the universe a bit, and you've got Magneto and Dr. Xavier from X-Men. Add songs and eyeliner, and you've got Frank-N-Furter and Riff-Raff from Rocky Horror. Envision soft-core Dr. Seuss, and you may even see the Grinch and Cindy-Lou Who (a shame that that didn't come to pass; just imagine the inspired casting of Caine as the latter). Basically, beneath the rollicking performances and passionate execution, what we have here is yet another tale of the abused, misunderstood outsider being assailed by the heartless tormentor. Congratulations to the one-billionth entry.
    If only Kaufman didn't feel obliged to lay on the hero worship quite so thickly. Although Wright's curious perspective--that Donatien Alphonse François de Sade was foremost a brilliant poet of the senses, and a vicious monster not at all--remains chiseled into every scene from start to finish, it would have behooved the director to take a few liberties with the playwright's lovable libertine. Perhaps he could have spoken to Rush about toning down the cuddliness, to Caine about employing at least half an ounce of humanity. It is odd that this story of depravity and martyrdom is painted almost entirely in thick strokes of black and white, without even the slightest flush of ambivalence. You know the drill: religion and authority bad, sex and wankery good, blah, blah, blah. Technically, it's an impressive piece of work, but in Kaufman's hands the foul marquis becomes as trite as a wild horse in a teenage girl's sketchbook: noble, glorious, and incapable of unpleasantness...apart from Rush's abundant nude scenes, anyway, which truly allow us to share his character's suffering.
    The action centers on Charenton Asylum in the years immediately following the Reign of Terror, when, by an obscure edict forgotten by most historians, Napoleon commanded all French citizens to speak English for the audience's comfort and enjoyment. Leading these linguistic slaves is the Marquis de Sade, a bad boy and good writer persecuted throughout his life for such trifles as rape and murder. Having endured years of imprisonment, during which he purportedly witnessed the deaths of thousands by guillotine, he emerged to become his era's most poetic and prolific smut peddler, until Bonaparte arrested him again and threw him into the relative comfort of the asylum for his remaining years. When we meet the marquis, dusty and foppish in powdered wig and topcoat, he inhabits his lavish Gothic cell as a master of his craft, churning out "naughty little tales...guaranteed to stimulate the senses." Deprived of his freedom and slowly succumbing to the brittleness of advanced age, his inkwell and beloved quills become his most intimate link with the world, outside and inside.
    A hot-blooded chambermaid named Madeleine (Kate Winslet) has a mutual fancy with the marquis and, possessing a key to his ominous door, takes to smuggling out his stories along with the dirty linen. While the benevolent young abbé, Simonet de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), runs his asylum with compassionate attention to the special needs of his charges (particularly the marquis), his sexual denial and countless responsibilities keep him from noticing that his establishment is ground zero for the pornographic bee in Napoleon's tricorn. To apply a firmer hand to the dissolute dandy, Antoine Royer-Collard is dispatched to Charenton. An alienist and expert in devices of medieval torture, the doctor does not approve of the abbé's lenient methods of therapy, which include allowing the marquis to write and direct plays for the cast of gibbering inmates. Complicating matters, the doctor has plucked a young orphan (Amelia Warner) from a nunnery to function both as his wife and as a receptacle of frustration.
To be sure, Kaufman has a great talent for exploring wanton appetites and sexual disparities, as evidenced in his adaptation of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and, of course, in the diaries of Anaïs Nin (Henry and June). In a culture in which the infidelities of Bill Clinton and Hugh Grant have only enhanced their public stature, however, and in which Larry Flynt's clarion call of "Relax--it's just sex" seems fairly well embraced by the masses, the director now comes across as an old-fashioned hippie, bellowing for free love. True, Quills pushes buttons and tickles us with its dark prurience, but since its central conflict is so glaringly obvious, its protagonist so immensely unappealing, the themes lose much of their impact. As his treatise is very unlikely to "make the angels weep and the saints all gasp for air," perhaps Kaufman will be aghast to discover that Quills is hardly revolutionary, merely quaint.
    The strength of the project emerges from its exceptional cast and impeccable design. Phoenix is the surprise star of the piece, adding yet another role to his impressive résumé. Although Rush commands attention with all his strutting and fretting, his resentful, pound-of-flesh antics pale when compared with the intimate scenes he shares with the hungry yet restrained Winslet and, even more, with his wife Jane Menelaus, as the marquis' estranged spouse. Caine is a perfect villain--too perfect, in fact--yet all his attempts to woo his young charge with Peruvian marble, ceiling beams from Provence, and a trompe l'oeil over the ballroom do not explain why the girl does not even flinch when he attacks. Even this glaring improbability is nearly swallowed up by the sumptuous production design by Martin Childs (Shakespeare in Love), who provides the stage for this battle of vice and virtue. In sum, Quills is bound to titillate some, but for most it's likely to summon little more than a few Oscars and appreciative yawns.

December 13: From Movie Source:
Review by Dean Kish -- Grade A-
    One of the most colorful figures in French history has always been the Marquis de Sade. The Marquis was perverted, demented and experimental. He claimed that he knew the gateway between pain and pleasure. During his sadistic quest it is said that he was a magnificent lover. The Marquis' exploits were frowned upon by the upper class and when the Marquis became involved with one of them he was thrown into a mental institution. Where his erotic tales of pleasure were born.
    Loosely, that is the story forefront for the new motion picture, "Quills". "Quills" opens with the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) already locked up and slowly going insane. Trying to save the Marquis from himself is a padre named Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Coulmier does his best to make the Marquis comfortable by giving him a lot of luxuries. One of those luxuries is the ability to write. Mad, luxurious, and extremely sexual works begin flowing from the hand of the Marquis. These works become the obsession of the Marquis chambermaid (Kate Winslet) who is so very curious to envelope their unbridled passion. As the Marquis finishes his first most famous work entitled, "Justine", the chambermaid assists him in getting it to his publisher.
    When the institution becomes a mockery of society and the novel becomes a best seller, the "powers that be" hire a new doctor to tame the Marquis and oversee the institution. His name is Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) and he may be sicker than the Marquis could ever imagine. How will these characters but heads? Will the Marquis corrupt the doctor's teenage bride? How will the asylum change with a new master in the house? "Quills" is a Geoffrey Rush movie from beginning to end. Rush's presence captivates us as we plummet deep into the world of the Marquis. What I loved about his performance was the passion and depth. It's one of the finest I have seen in recent memory. He is electrifying and surreal as he submerges in the passion of the Marquis. Delivering passion, torture and spiritual abandonment is quite difficult to convey in a just a look. It also doesn't help when you are nude for half the film. It's purely amazing. I would also like to mention the other performances in the film. Joaquin Phoenix is as brilliant here as he was as the tortured Roman prince in last summer's "Gladiator". Phoenix should get nominated this year for one of these brilliant performances. Kate Winslet is as powerful here as she has ever been and I did love how she could play against Rush and not get swallowed alive. Kind of like what happened to Julia Roberts in "Mary Reilly" when she faced off against John Malkovich's Dr Jekyll. I also really liked Amelia Warner who plays the doctor's bride. This relative newcomer has a brilliant knack of delivering a performance that subtly changes from innocent bride to scheming vixen. It's a very interesting and engaging.
    The only performance that I found was out of place was veteran actor Michael Caine who seemed to have the weakest character and performance in the film. I am sure with his brilliance he could have found some faucet of depth for the doctor who is a creation of society. I liked his presence but every time he was on screen he really never brought anything new.
    I also loved how the film created the debate about who was more insane, the doctor or the Marquis. I mean with the Marquis you have control which is directed into his writing and with the doctor you see his blatant corruption of his young, innocent and very virtuous fifteen year old bride, Simone (Amelia Warner). Who is more insane? Which figure dictates a saner approach to the 1760s France? If you really think about it, the Marquis isn't really that insane if you compare him to that time's society. I mean the people back then were cut-off from sexuality and any mention of it was a sin. If the Marquis was let loose in the 1960s I don't really think he would have been described so much as a deviant. In the doctor's case, he is a deviant even today. Isn't it amazing how society changes and how society dictates who and what we are?
    To conclude, Quills is one of the best pictures of the year. Sadly I do wonder if Oscar will overlook it because of its extremely sexual content. (4.5 of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.
    Trailer Review -- Grade A -- Fitted with an all-star cast and impressive scenery, Quills looks like it has a good chance of being an Oscar contender. The trailer itself is set up beautifully, with rich, powerful music and dazzling visuals. The trailer actually surprised me because by reading the summary above I was expecting something quite different. This trailer is actually suspenseful, despite the content (and the trailer fails to make a direct note of what the movie is about). This one looks pretty cool.

December 13: From
"'Quills' - Somewhere Between Pain and Pleasure," By Robert Denerstein, Scripps Howard News Service
    In "Quills," an adaptation of a play by Douglas Wright, director Philip Kaufman accomplishes the near impossible. He turns the life of the Marquis de Sade into a middle- brow lecture on the terrors of censorship.
    Early parts of the movie are lewd, though nicely crafted, and may well appeal to an audience that wouldn't give the sadistic Marquis a tumble under different circumstances. But, then, "Quills" isn't only about the Marquis de Sade, whose life has been altered for dramatic purposes. It's also a bald attempt to mount an argument for free expression.
    Set in the insane asylum of Charenton, where the Marquis lives a surprisingly comfortable existence, the movie is saved from the self-importance of its agenda by Kaufman's artful, often exuberant direction and a commanding performance from Geoffrey Rush, as the charismatic Marquis.
    Dressed in tattered, dirty silks (and on occasion in nothing at all), Rush becomes a peacock of perversity who skillfully destroys the pretensions of others. The Marquis may be crazy, but he knows hypocrisy when he sees it. It's fun to watch Rush sink his fangs into Wright's mordant dialogue.
    The Marquis has found his way into the asylum because his wife would rather have him branded a lunatic than a criminal for a murder he committed. For his part, the Marquis doesn't mind being locked up so long as he can write, sneaking manuscripts out of the madhouse with help from a laundry maid, Kate Winslet at her ripe, ravishing best.
    A sense of gleeful lasciviousness bubbles to the surface when Winslet listens to the Marquis' pornographic prose. Alas, Winslet's character mostly helps advance the plot, which pits the Marquis against twin oppressors: reason and religion.
    Religion is represented by the Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the kindly priest who runs the asylum. Phoenix's Coulmier speaks in hushed, quivering tones.
    Science fares worse. Disgusted with the popularity of the Marquis' prurient work, Napoleon (Ron Cook) sends a physician (Michael Caine) to deal with him. Caine's Royer-Collard comes on like Torquemada, the torturer of Inquisition fame.
    According to Wright's script both men are hypocrites. Royer-Collard hates the free-wheeling sexuality, but constantly tries to augment his circumstances. He plucks a young wife (Amelia Warner) from a convent and shows no restraint when decorating his newly acquired mansion, a gift from Napoleon.
The script takes longer getting around to the Abbe's hypocrisy. He's kind and indulgent, but eventually becomes an enemy of liberty, carrying the burden of the script's message like a banner.
    Kaufman ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being") is at his playful best when we see Winslet's character smuggling the Marquis' work out of the asylum. And the movie obtains much mileage from observing the lengths to which the Marquis will go to write, even scratching stories in blood once deprived of quill and ink pot.
    Kaufman's camera keeps Quills from seeming static, and Martin Childs' production design gives the movie a towering sense of scale.
    The ending includes repulsive flourishes such as the Marquis having the tongue sliced from his mouth. And that's not the worst of it. The disorganized and overwrought finale seems muddled, as if Kaufamn couldn't tame the beast he let loose. The lunatics take over the asylum, at least briefly.
    At its best, "Quills" has a rollicking, irreverent spirit. When it comes to delivering the message, Kaufman too often writes in capital letters, abandoning the arch, elegant calligraphy that can make the movie so enjoyable.
    Grade: B-minus (3 stars)

December 8: From the Daily Trojan (USC newspaper):
By Becca Doten
    Sexual perversion of the highest level flows from the pen of the notorious Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) in Philip Kaufman's most recent film, "Quills." Locked up in the top floor of the mental institution, Charenton, the progressive abbé who runs the asylum (played with electric energy by Joaquin Phoenix) encourages him to write, hoping that it will purge his soul of the evil. Little does the abbé know, however, that the virginal chamber-maid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), is smuggling the pages out to a publisher. When Napoleon himself learns about the Marquis' writing, he sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a "doctor" who specializes in cruel and unusual punishment, to take care of him.
    Geoffrey Rush ("Shine," "Shakespeare in Love") is a tour de force his every move is saturated with depth and insight. Flouncing about in his magnificent, ratty blue evening suit, he carries himself with a certainty that comes straight from his mental depravity. Never afraid to go where the character takes him, Rush moves from off-the-cuff dirty joking to a much deeper, sinister, yet emotionally prone character as the necessity arises. It is his ability to find such a range of personality in the Marquis that takes the performance to the level of brilliance.
    Along side Rush, Phoenix, Winslet and especially Caine round out the strong cast. Phoenix infuses the chaste abbé with an animal sexuality that is that much more provocative under the robes of religion. His love for Madeleine, as well as the strange sexual tension between himself and the Marquis, add to the multiple layers of the story. Caine is also wonderful as the doctor who finds perverse pleasure in the torture of others. Caine finds an incredible charisma in the evil doctor.
    Kaufman proves his directing prowess in "Quills," not only through the wonderful performances, but his ability to create a very distinctive mood to the film. Everything from the cinematography, to the production design to the costuming adds to the richness of the piece, breathing life into revolutionary France. He juxtaposes beauty and horror, creating a superbly interesting environment.
    But while the look and mood of the film is excellent, the main problem stems from the story itself. Simply put, "Quills" dose not know who its protagonist is. The abbé, Madeleine and the Marquis are all treated, at different points, as the focus of the narrative, but then they are all but forgotten as the story moves onto another character. In ensemble pieces this can work, but Kaufman does not treat this as an ensemble piece.
    Instead, it is simply a story without a main character. The structural problems are especially evident in the end, as the film continues long past when it should end. Never knowing who he is focusing on, Kaufman then has no means of knowing when the story is over.
    Even with this, "Quills" is refreshingly interesting and provocative, making it one of the best films of the year. The performances, along with the world that is created, draw the audience into a sordid but deliciously interesting story. The Marquis, in all his perverse trappings, is a symbol for artistic freedom and the need for self-expression. The conflicts between him, the doctor and the abbé all contain philosophical dilemmas. Best of all, "Quills" is intelligent enough to let the audience think about their views on the problems, rather than give the one, true answer.

December 6: From Eopinions:
"Revisionist Sadeian History: Philip Kaufman's Quills," by Mike Bracken (5 out of 5 stars)
Pros: excellent performance from the cast, particularly Geoffrey Rush, and fantastic writing from Doug Wright make this a film guaranteed to generate Oscar buzz
Cons: the historical inaccuracies will undoubtedly create more confusion about Sade's life
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
    The mere mention of the name Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade can inspire any number of reactions. Until only recently, history had been quite unkind to Sade's memory-with many people content to think of him only as a sexual deviant, a pornographer, and the man the term sadism was coined for. However, the truly initiated have always realized that there was much more to Sade than the libertine with voracious sexual appetites. Scholars like Gilbert Lely, Maurice Lever, and Francine Du Plessix Grey have all looked into Sade's past, studying the family letters and history, and in the process have brought fourth a new perception of the Divine Marquis. In today's world, many still view Sade in his old guise, but these authors have endeavored to show us the error of our ways. Sade certainly was an atheist libertine who despised the hypocrisy of both humanity and the church, but he was also a philosopher, an author, and a talented playwright. Unfortunately, Sade was misunderstood even in his own time, a fact which caused him to spend most of his adult life in various prisons.
    To say that Sade lived an amazing life is an understatement-and incredibly enough, only a few films have been made about the libertine noble-most of which aren't very good. However, director Philip Kaufman has now remedied that situation with his sumptuous and mesmerizing new film, Quills.
    Quills is a fictionalized account of the late part of Sade's life based on a stage play by Doug Wright. After the Reign of Terror and the French Revolution, the Marquis de Sade found himself broke and lost in a land that no longer respected his noble position. To remedy this, Sade worked as part of the new democracy and hoped to align himself with newly crowned Emperor Napoleon. Unfortunately, Napoleon wanted nothing do with the notorious pornographer (whose books caused such scandal in France that they were often published anonymously) and had him consigned to the asylum for the insane at Charenton.
    The film tells of Sade's (Geoffrey Rush: Shine) days at Charenton, where he wiles away his time writing still more pornography (which is secreted out of the institution for publication) as a form of thereapy proposed by the institutes' director Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). The manuscripts are taken from Sade's lush cell to a horse-mounted courier by a lowly washergirl, Madeleine (Kate Winslet: Titanic), who both the Abbe and Sade have a romantic interest in. However, when Napoleon discovers that Sade is behind the pornographic material that has France in a tizzy, he sends in Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to quiet the Marquis.
    From here, the film becomes an incredible battle of wills as the openly defiant Sade butts heads with both Royer-Collard and the Abbe.
    The story is historically inaccurate (particularly the climax for Sade, who died in a completely different way under a completely different set of circumstances), but it doesn't matter. This is a film adapted from a stage play, so it doesn't hinge upon plot, but rather dialogue - and the dialogue here is magnificent. Sade's always been one of history's more quotable figures - a wordsmith with the gift for pointing out life's hypocrisies in a way that not only made perfect sense but sounded incredibly eloquent as well. Doug Wright does an excellent job adapting his play for the screen, and creates one eminently quotable line of dialogue after another. Sade rants and raves and offers up one intriguing nugget of wisdom after another - in fact, it's hard to catch them all the first time through.
   Yet, while the writing is fantastic, so is the acting. Geoffrey Rush will certainly receive Oscar consideration for his portrayal of Sade, and he's my early on pick for the best actor award. Rush is an incredibly gifted actor who's taken the role and made it his own. It's a richly nuanced, multifaceted performance that works on every level. Rush presents Sade as a three dimensional man - a man of both great cruelty and also good humor, a man possessed by the idea of writing to subvert the complacent and wage war against a God and society that displeases him. When Sade loses his quills and ink, he resorts to using chicken bones and wine to pen his work. When that fails, he uses blood and his own clothes, and finally, he resorts to using his own waste. With a lesser actor, these scenes would still have impact, but Rush's portrayal of Sade is so complete that it feels genuine - like something more dire than an actor playing a role.
    The rest of cast is equally impressive. Winslet is beguiling as the young washerwoman, bringing her girlish charm to yet another role. Caine is suitably evil as Royer-Collard, a man dedicated to the idea of eradicating Sade's will. It's interesting to see two actors of this caliber square off, and the film benefits immensely from this. Finally, Phoenix does a solid job playing the young and idealistic Abbe.
    Philip Kaufman's direction is excellent, with his camera capturing the beauty of the outside world in some shots, then contrasting it with the dark and drab insides of the Charenton institution. The set design and costumes are just as impressive, creating a genuine 18th century feel.
    Thematically speaking, the film is a rich experience, if slightly heavy-handed in its presentation. The movie makes a strong anti-censorship statement throughout highlighting the fact that Sade has essentially been punished because he writes things that certain people find offensive. However, Sade can't not write these things any sooner than he could cease breathing-even if doing so would make his life and existence easier. Instead, he crosses swords with a pious doctor who is actually a more despicable person than Sade himself.
    This isn't the only irony in the film, though. Consider the fact that the young Simone (who's married to Royer-Collard and is young enough to be his grand-daughter) runs off with an architect after reading Sade's novel Justine. Making things even more interesting is the fact that she was raised in a convent-making her the typical Sadeian heroine…a woman turned from the path of God who gives into her carnal desires and uses them to her own advantage.
    Ultimately, Quills is a fantastic film filled with mesmerizing performances, brilliant writing, and an interesting (if historically inaccurate) story about one of history's most intriguing figures. There's a little something here for everyone - some violence, some romance, some happiness, and some tragedy. It's not a wholly accurate portrayal of the Divine Marquis, but it's about as close as Hollywood's ever come. If you're looking for something a little more challenging and intelligent than the standard Hollywood holiday fare, then be sure to check out this film. It's all but guaranteed to generate buzz at Oscar time.
Bang for the Buck: Worth full-price to see it on the big screen.
Recommend to other potential buyers? Yes

December 6: From
Review by Jeremiah Kipp (4 stars out of 5 - Good, memorable film)
    Come frolic with the Marquis de Sade deep in the bowels of the Charenton Asylum, where he'll tickle your fancy with lavish descriptions of bestiality, flatulence and the dimples of a fat mademoiselle's bottom.
    As portrayed in Quills, based on the Obie Award-winning play by Doug Wright, the Marquis is an earthy, dirty, jolly old soul with the unquenchable desire to write his perverse dreams on paper. He's the unflinching id in the face of mediocrity and tolerance, the middle finger held like a candle to the powerful hypocrites, and the loud fart in the house of God, an affront to restrictive dogma.
    It's not enough that the madman hole up in his room with quill and reams of parchment to indulge his fantasies, no. He has to publish it to the secret, unspoken delight of the masses. Chapters are being smuggled out of the asylum by a curious chambermaid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet from Heavenly Creatures, Titanic). The streets are buzzing with outrage and titillation.
    Napoleon (Ron Cook) would love nothing more than to see the head of the Marquis twitching under the guillotine, but martyrdom would only increase the sales and spread the word. Therefore, a man is sent to the asylum with the intent to cure the Marquis of all the devils inside his head, whether it be through torture or, worse, the restriction of his writing privileges.
    That upstanding citizen sent to Charenton is Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine, reclaiming his title as Hardest Working Actor in the Business), a man so moral to the core that he marries a young lass whom he could have fathered twice over. This pinnacle of morality even has to force himself upon her on their wedding night.
    Our friend the doctor is just the sort of closet dirty bird the Marquis delights in mocking. A play is swiftly written, performed by the inmates of the asylum (which is indeed based on fact, since de Sade's plays were quite popular in his day) about a dirty old man humping his young bride in a variety of sexual positions. Dr. Royer-Collard sits in the audience, silently biding his time. In this battle of wills between doctor and madman, this is only the beginning.
    Doug Wright's story takes tremendous liberties with the Marquis' life, but the approach taken by director Philip Kaufman (Henry & June) feels appropriately mannered, clever and seedy. From the start, we accept that every character will be a bit off.
    Geoffrey Rush is wonderfully carnal and hungry as the Marquis, sashaying and swaying his body as he spouts out his scathing indictments of the so-called upstanding members of society. He makes full use of his robust voice, moving from ticklish prods to hot ecstasy. Rush manages to play the role over-the-top without going into camp, since he reveals small, subtle moments of genuine feeling (such as the moment we knew was coming, when the men in power take away his precious quills).
    Kate Winslet continues to impress as his loyal supporter, choosing challenging roles in independent films rather than cashing in on the success of Titanic. She could have become a major Hollywood star, but instead opted for building a quality body of work in such films as Holy Smoke and Hideous Kinky. She and Rush attack their scenes with playful relish together.
    There's also fine support from Joaquin Phoenix's (Gladiator) humanitarian priest whose noble principles are rocked by the decadent charms of the Marquis. Michael Caine takes what could have been a predictable arch-fiend and turns him into a complex, firm presence -- a steady rock who makes for quite a match against Geoffrey Rush's Marquis, though they share very few scenes.
    Philip Kaufman brings bravura camera placement into the film, whether it be low angles of leering faces or tracking shots following horse drawn carriages intercut with passengers rocking back and forth as vampiric music rejoices on the soundtrack. The production design is a Merchant Ivory film gone to seed, with mossy green walls and costumes which are soiled, wrinkled, and dirty. Even the wigs have flecks of sweat and grime. The actors, feeding off of these props, give performances like grinning masks, scary and hilarious.
    The plot is fairly traditional melodrama, complete with secret affairs and betrayals, bodice ripping and murder. It all culminates in an inevitable, explosive riot within the madhouse where the insane run wild, rattling their chains and ripping off their clothes. The sex and violence crowd will find their fair share of it here. While the mechanics are not unfamiliar, there's so much gusto thrown into the performances and attention to period detail that Quills plays out as enjoyably lavish, but not laughable.
    This film never goes as far as Pier Paolo Pasolini's interpretation of de Sade's Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, happy to be entertaining if not challenging. Altogether, it makes for a fitting beginner's introduction to the Sadean school of thought (and a much better one than De Sade, an earlier film on the man's life).
    Oddly, even though Geoffrey Rush spends the final half hour of the picture wandering around completely naked, this version of Marquis de Sade's life could almost play in Peoria. Almost, I say. While the Marquis spends much of the film talking about the bizarre sexual acts he committed during his life, Quills does find time to give us a little necrophilia. Gotta love that Marquis.

December 6: From the Flick Filosopher:
"The Virtues of Vice," by MaryAnn Johanson
    Conservatives rail against the "liberal bias" of the arts and literature: the constant disapproval from certain quarters of some of the work the National Endowment for the Arts has subsidized; the infamous incident of New York's Mayor Guiliani condemning, with total disregard for any kind of cultural context, the elephant-dung-encrusted portrait of the Virgin Mary that the Brooklyn Museum exhibited. It's the old Is Nothing Sacred argument.
    But the truth is that art and liberality go hand in hand. You can't explore what it means to be human -- which is, ultimately, what all art does -- if you've already decided that any given narrow set of human behaviors are the only acceptable ones, and if you can't allow yourself to think rationally and feel genuinely about everything that humans do and think and experience. The aforementioned conservatives will never understand that No, there is nothing sacred in the eyes of an artist.
    "I've a naughty little tale to tell," the Marquis de Sade informs us as QUILLS opens. It's actually the opening line to the latest bit of juicy pornography he's writing, but of course it applies to the story QUILLS tells, a fictional account of de Sade's final years spent in a French insane asylum. As promised, QUILLS is bawdy and often surprisingly funny, but more frequently it's like a dark and disturbing flip side of Shakespeare in Love, exploring the inner and outer demons that torment and inspire writers and the necessity of leaving writers to exorcise those demons on their own, no matter whose sacred cows get slaughtered.
    De Sade (Geoffrey Rush) lives in relative comfort at the madhouse run by Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a Catholic priest; his quarters -- it could hardly be called a cell, except for the fact that the door locks from the outside -- are overrun with books and stocked with fine wines. He continues writing the erotica that landed him there in the first place (his wife had him committed, figuring an asylum would be far preferably to prison), though now his fiction is anonymous and sneaked to the outside world through Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a young laundry maid who is a big fan of his work. His Paris publisher can barely keep up with the demand for his latest novel, JUSTINE, but its popularity has caught the attention of Emperor Napoleon, who is infuriated that such "filth" is reaching the streets... and that de Sade has obviously not been cured of his supposed disease. So the emperor sends the alienist Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to take over de Sade's case.
    De Sade writes made-up tales of torture, perversion, and "the art of pain," but Royer-Collard is an actual practitioner, employing methods he allows are "aggressive" and which his critics decry as "old-fashioned, even barbaric." (Even the portcullis at the gate of his hospital drops with a guillotine-like shudder.) QUILLS -- directed by Philip Kaufman and based on Doug Wright's play -- makes no bones about which kind of man it considers the sick one. Which is more depraved, QUILLS demands, the man whose violent tendencies are purely fictional or the one who enjoys actual people actually in pain? Which is more evil: the man who needs to get his wicked fantasies down on paper lest they drive him mad, or the man who takes away the writer's tools, rendering him mute? Which is more perverse: to indulge, at least mentally, in one's every sexual whim, as de Sade does, or to indulge, as the priest Coulmier does, in a masochistic religious passion that disallows all sexual feelings of any kind?
    QUILLS steers you toward its own answer, and it's the standard liberal one: that sin is not defined, to paraphrase George Carlin, by the Invisible Man and his list of ten things he doesn't want you to do, but that the only sin is to hurt someone. The truly naughty thing about QUILLS is that it dresses its nothing-sacred answer up in as saucy a package as you're likely to find. Never cutesy (as SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE was, if appropriately so), QUILLS is instead stirring on a lusty, primal level that touches that baser human nature de Sade probed in his work. The film is disquieting when it wants to point out the cruelties that drive the world, from servant girls who rat out their peers to curry favor with powerful men to the terrible reign of Madame Guillotine that colored de Sade's outlook on human nature. Yet it retains a hearty, robust innocence about all that's lewd and wanton. Phoenix and Winslet -- two of the finest young actors on the screen today -- each maintain an ingenuousness that's absolutely right for Coulmier and Madeleine, the young priest and the young maid each seemingly making up for a lack of experience with an unearned sophistication. And Rush's de Sade is the eccentric calm in the middle of a storm of putative normalcy, turning perceived madness into just about the only sanity to be found.
    There's nothing in the least bit perverse about QUILLS. And if there's anything sacred about it, it's that it holds nothing sacred.

December 5: From Popcorn News:
Review by Neil Smith (4 stars out of 5)
    Necrophilia, mutilation and an unhealthy interest in faeces - no, not the Conservative Party's election manifesto, but a few of the things the Marquis de Sade wrote about during the 27 years he spent under lock and key.
    Best known on these shores for inspiring the word "sadism", Sade has long divided people between those who regard him as an overlooked literary genius, and those who dismiss him as a vile and amoral pornographer.
    That debate is set to continue with the release of two new films about the notorious Frenchman. In 'Sade', Daniel Auteuil portrays him as a silky smooth seducer. 'Quills', however, presents a more flamboyant interpretation and gives Geoffrey Rush his best role since 'Shine'.
    Set in Charenton Asylum, the madhouse where Sade died in 1814, Philip Kaufman's audacious drama begins by showing how the imprisoned Marquis (Rush) contrives to have his fruity fiction published. This he does with the assistance of Madeleine (Kate Winslet), an earthy young laundress who acts as his link to the outside world.
    A sympathetic priest, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), tries to bring about Sade's spiritual reformation, but to no avail. So Napoleon sends in Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a doctor whose draconian methods make the Spanish Inquisition look docile.
    Inventively fusing fact and fiction, writer Doug Wright not only offers an insight into Sade's complex and contradictory personality, he also makes some pertinent observations on the ongoing battle between free speech and the forces of censorship.
    The script is based on Wright's own play and 'Quills' is strikingly theatrical - with its almost operatic tone likely to make it an acquired taste - but if you're interested in Sade this is essential viewing. If not, there's still joy to be found in this provocative, irreverent and blackly comic romp.

December 5: From FilmHead:
Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles (3 1/2 stars out of 4 - "A very good film that is highly recommended")
    The 7:00 showing of Quills at the Angelika Film Center was packed. As the movie ended no one moved. The whole audience sat through the entire credits and then slowly began to stand and exit the theatre. Some hushed voices could be heard, but not many. It was impossible to tell from people's faces whether or not they liked the movie. Everyone simply looked overwhelmed. I too was overwhelmed: battered, amused, and disturbingly aroused by this sumptuous and almost brilliant movie.
    Quills takes place largely at Charenton, an asylum for the criminally insane where the Marquis De Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has been held since the end of the French Revolution. The Marquis continues to publish his scandalous and extremely popular pornographic novels by smuggling the manuscripts out of Charenton with the help of the Chambermaid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet). Charenton is run by the young Abbe Columier (Joaquin Phoenix), who encourages the Marquis to write out rather than act out his impure thoughts but is unaware of the Marquis' continued publishing. The Marquis' newest work angers Napoleon who sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to observe the Abbe's methods and to "cure" the Marquis. A power struggle ensues between the Marquis, the Abbe, and Dr. Collard as they fight for control of the asylum, each other, and their own desires. Madeleine and the inmates are caught inside the power struggle.
    Like the Marquis De Sade himself, the film is indulgent. The dialogue is brilliant and specific, delivering its many themes with wit and style. The costumes by Jacqueline West support each character and reflect their inner conflicts and changes. The film should be seen for the Marquis De Sade's suit of words if for nothing else. The physical production designed by Martin Childs is full of detail and provides wonderful counter points to the action. In one scene, a crucifix hangs near the head of an inmate as he whispers the Marquis' obscene stories through a whole in his cell.
    The acting is magnificent. Geoffrey Rush throws himself into his role and rips and snorts his way through one of the best screenplays this year. Every other actor in the film follows suit. Joaquin Phoenix is particularly good and mostly matches Rush and Caine in the power and depth of his portrayal. Phoenix falters a little at the end of the film, but he is given a nearly impossible task by director Philip Kaufman and writer Doug Wright: He must speak dialogue identical to dialogue spoken earlier by Rush. The comparison between the two actors is inevitable and not favorable to Phoenix.
    What keeps Quills from surpassing very, very good and becoming brilliant is that it tries to do too much. More characters and story lines are introduced than are truly needed and this takes time away from fully developing the main four characters and their conflicts. There are also too many themes. Not content with tackling hypocrisy, the dangers of sexual repression and definitions of vice and virtue, Wright and Kaufman also pack in religion, faith, definitions of art and artists, rehabilitation versus punishment and many others. There is simply not enough time for it all and the audience becomes saturated, unable to hold any more ideas or respond to any more crises.

December 4: From ReelViews:
Review by James Berardinelli (3 1/2 out of 4 stars)
    Two assumptions can readily be made about any motion picture centered around the Marquis de Sade. The first is that the material will be of a sexual nature. The second is that the movie will not be a lighthearted romp. Both of these presumptions are true in the case of Philip Kaufman's Quills, arguably the most provocative and best historical melodrama of 2000 (not that it has a great deal of competition). Employing the talents of a top-flight cast and working from a screenplay that uses the historical backdrop as a means to deal with issues of contemporary import, Quills offers a thoroughly compelling two hours.
   Count Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, better known as the Marquis de Sade, lived from 1740 until 1814, although his infamous reputation has survived for nearly two centuries since his remains were scattered. (His name lies at the root of the word "sadism".) For most of his adult life, the Marquis was in and out of prison, as his penchant for deviant sexual behavior (which typically included torture) continually put him at odds with the law. Following the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille, he was incarcerated in the Charenton Asylum for the Insane, where he resided for a year. After his release, he spent approximately a decade writing scandalous manuscripts and putting on plays before his activities once again landed him at Charenton, where he spent the rest of his life.
    Quills, although a fictionalized account of the Marquis' last years, is moderately faithful to the historical record. The characterization of the title character, despite being softened to make the man bearable to a mainstream audience, captures some of Sade's essence. As portrayed by the energetic Geoffrey Rush in a brilliant turn that avoids the easy path of caricaturization, Sade is a shrewd, dangerous man with an intelligence that is matched in magnitude by his perverse sexual desires. Rush's interpretation of the Marquis is not easily forgotten, and eclipses that of French actor Daniel Auteuil in Benoit Jacquot's Sade, a 2000 feature that does not yet have a United States distributor.
    Quills has a difficult task - one at which it succeeds. It must give a sense of Sade's depravity and tendencies towards evil without alienating the audience. Those of a delicate conscience may be offended by the movie, but the images it conjures in the mind are more disturbing than those depicted on screen. Most of Quills' sexual content comes in the form of excerpts from the Marquis' writings. Aside from one dream sequence that hints at necrophilia, there is little in the way of sex that is actually shown, and most (if not all) of the nudity is non-erotic. Rush has several full-frontal scenes, but they are in a non-sexual context.
    Thematically, the movie tackles issues that are as relevant today as they were during Sade's time. The salacious and melodramatic aspects of the film hold our interest on a superficial level, but the underlying richness of the subtext is what elevates Quills above the level of a traditional period piece bio-pic. One element that Kaufman emphasizes is the power of the creative impulse - how it drives and pushes an artist on an almost involuntary level. People create not upon a whim but as the result of a volcanic pressure seeking escape (Sade notes that, for him, the impulse to write is as powerful and unstoppable as the beating of his heart). Secondly, Quills takes a stand about the role of art in society. The perspective advocated here is that art, although potentially offensive, must be allowed to stand or fall on its own merits, and that any actions resulting from a person embracing that art are the responsibility of the individual, not the art. Finally, Quills explores ideas of personal freedom, asking whether someone can truly be free while constrained by society's conventions.
    Those familiar with the work of iconoclast director Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, 8 1/2 Women) may find sympathetic vibrations in Quills. However, while Kaufman may be venturing close to Greenaway's home turf, he is still in familiar territory. One of his previous films, Henry and June, also dealt with sex and literature, and was adult enough in nature that it forced the creation of the NC-17 rating (which turned out to be a colossal failure, but for which there were once high hopes). Quills is not as explicit as Henry and June (or Kaufman's adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for that matter), but it is more provocative.
    There isn't a weak performance to be found. Kate Winslet, continuing to enrich an already impressive resume, plays Madeleine, a chambermaid at the asylum who is engaged in a clandestine (albeit platonic) relationship with the Marquis. His writing fascinates her, and she smuggles his manuscripts out of Charenton so that they can be published. Winslet's performance, while generally low key, is so strong that she is able to stand toe-to-toe with the more flamboyant Rush. Joaquin Phoenix, one of today's hot young acting prospects, turns in solid work as a priest who conceals romantic feelings for Madeleine. Finally, Michael Caine proves that he still has what it takes to play one of the most thoroughly disagreeable characters on screen. His portrayal of Dr. Royer-Collard, the "man of science" sent by Napoleon to oversee Charenton, results in a memorably detestable villain.
    For those who aren't offended by the idea of a movie that presents the Marquis de Sade as a multi-dimensional character rather than a cartoon-like pervert, Quills has much to offer. It is based on a play by Doug Wright, and, while the dialogue has the intelligence and crispness of something originally designed for the stage, Wright and Kaufman have done an excellent job of opening up the setting. Quills is not constrained by its origins. The depth of the various relationships, the fact that the movie is about something, and the engrossing nature of the storyline all combine to make this a strong entry in a season of disappointments.

December 3: One of my search engines turned up this review from
    Imprisoned in an insane asylum in 1807 Paris, infamous author and sexual maven the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has laundress Madeline (Kate Winslet) sneak out what will be the last of his writings for publication. When the gentle methods of deterrence by the Abbe (Joaquin Phoenix) have no effect, a doctor (Michael Caine) assigned by Napoleon is sent to crack down on the Marquis.
This witty, atmospheric and powerful film delivers a barrage of images and concepts both sexual and philosophical. Director Philip Kaufman never allows the material to go over the top into cheap trash or camp, though he comes close. Oscar-worthy performances make this deliciously naughty fun, but it is definitely not a movie for those with weak stomachs.
    Grade: A
Kinsey Scale: 3 (The film touches on homosexuality, role-playing, fetishism, bondage, blasphemy, mutilation, necrophilia and pederasty. Every one of the performances is filled with subtle and overt psychosexual nuances that come into play as all are affected by Sade's influence. Phoenix is confused about his sexual urges, Winslet goes topless a lot and Rush stands around in all his, ahem, full-frontal glory.)

December 2: From Mothership:
Review by Catherine Felty
    I have to admit that I had reservations about going to see QUILLS. I wondered what could be done for two hours with an imprisoned Marquis de Sade, and I didn't come up with some very pretty sights, just scenes resembling daydreams of little Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  But from the start, I was very surprised and particularly surprised at the opening scene, which sets the tone for the entire film -- that path which so precariously meanders between pain and pleasure. For a historical figure that is so prominently connected with promiscuity, sex and sadism, I was astonished that these elements played so minor a part in the film. Instead, I found artistic drive and freedom of expression the focal points.
    QUILLS, which refers to the writing instruments used before Bic pens, is the story of the pornographer or genius, writer Marquis de Sade, played by Geoffrey Rush, after his imprisonment in the Charenton Asylum. (He's in a mad house and not a prison because his wife, played by Rush's real wife Jane Menelaus, would rather have a husband who's a nut instead of one who's a criminal.)
    Set in post-revolutionary France, the film finds that Napoleon has it in for the Marquis. Heads are rolling in France (literally), and the little leader would just as soon see the Marquis dead than cured of his propensity to write filth that everyone laps up as soon as it's smuggled out of the asylum by the laundry girl Madeleine (Kate Winslet).
The Marquis is a likable guy -- if you like someone who frankly speaks his mind, no matter what happens to be on it at the moment. He is a voracious writer who can't stop making up stories anymore than he can rein in his leanings towards writing about sex. But he's not supposed to be writing anymore, and he ends up having problems with his ink and quills. Not that he can be stopped by the mere absence of writing utensils. There are always other materials, such as bed sheets, clothing and walls.
    A lot of people like the Marquis. Along with Madeleine who sneaks into his cell and sneaks out his manuscripts, he's best buddies with the Abbe Coulmier, the priest at Charenton, played by Joaquin Phoenix. (And sometimes the Abbe has problems deciding whether he likes the Marquis or Madeleine better.) Coulmier tries to help the Marquis, not bothering to try rehabilitating him, but just by befriending him -- until the Marquis makes it impossible for the Abbe to assist him any longer.
    Some of these problems between the Marquis and the Abbe arrive in the form of the new head of the asylum, Dr. Royer-Collard, a forward-thinking psychologist played by Michael Caine. The doctor, who is repulsed by the Marquis de Sade's writing, is pretty repulsive himself. He's a lecherous old man who's engaged to Simone (Amelia Warner), a very, very young girl who was raised in a convent, and, outside of lavishly furnishing the home provided to him by Napoleon, he doesn't exhibit any tenderness in their obscene marriage.
    Between meeting with the architect (Stephen Moyer) who wants to work on both his house and his young bride, the doctor has some tricks he wants to try on the Marquis. He has some treatments that impressed Napoleon's men, including strapping a person in a chair and systematically dipping him backwards into a vat of water.
    While the doctor never liked the Marquis's writing, he finds that he likes him even less when the Marquis, who directs a little theater group in the asylum, writes a new play about his unseemly marriage to the young little Simone -- and puts on the play in front of the guests who have been invited to the asylum for the evening's entertainment.
The doctor also brings problems for Madeleine, who wants to keep up her business of passing along the manuscripts of the Marquis to publishers. But other problems await Madeleine, who doesn't get along too well with Bouchon (Stephen Marcus), who was an executioner in the French Revolution. Now that he's locked up, he doesn't seem to fit too well into asylum life.
    QUILLS is an example of what filmmaking should be -- this is the kind of movie that you go to a theater hoping to see. Rush gives an outstanding performance as the Marquis, a role even more courageous than those he's tackled in the past. (And, incidentally, here's an actor who's not afraid of full frontal male nudity when the part calls for it.)
Since we can't be back in the 18th and 19th Centuries hanging around the Bastille and the Charenton, seeing Rush must be the next best thing to actually meeting the depraved, early proponent of the First Amendment. Never overplaying the part of the Marquis, Rush enables us to view the pleasure that an artist goes through when he is producing his work. And the pain that engulfs him when he is no longer allowed to write.
    Winslet portrays the virginal, lusty laundress Madeleine in a fine manner, acting more like a 21st Century liberated woman than a 19th Century servant girl -- and making us early women-libbers of the 1970s realize that we probably weren't the first to burn bras. While there are undoubtedly critics that will complain that she has more weight than Callista Flockhart, three cheers for Winslet for not being afraid to show some fleshed-out flesh popping out of a corset in an industry that prefers toothpicks to curves. (And, according to PREMIERE magazine, look for the corset industry to pick up, thanks to Winslet's bustline and Jacqueline West's costumes.)
    Phoenix also adds much to the film, playing a very different character than his role of Commodus in this year's GLADIATOR. He plays a loving, caring, compassionate priest -- who, although he loves them both, appears he would give nearly anything if Madeleine and the Marquis had never come into his life. He gives an effective portrayal of a man whose own demons will continue to torture him throughout his life and well into his death.
    The surrounding cast, including Caine, Marcus, Warner and Billie Whitelaw as Madeleine's blind mother, provides a background that is convincing and authentic. West's costuming is as understated as the film requires -- you're not going to get too gaudy in an insane asylum -- but she proves she's capable of keeping up with the times when well-to-do women attend the little play sporting "empire" dresses made popular after the corset was tossed by the aristocracy and handed down to laundry workers.
    Watching this film will certainly transport viewers to the flavor of post-revolutionary France, with all the problems faced by a new country and its citizens who are seeking liberty and justice for all. But the issues are the same that are to be found today: censorship of the arts, passion for living -- oh, yes, and seeking liberty and justice for all. Seems like the more things change, the more they really do stay the same.
    Grade A

December 2: From Cinezine:
Review by Christian T. Escobar:
    If you can't keep a good man down, then what about a good pervert? If this story of Marquis de Sade holds any truth, perhaps the good pervert is just a bit more resilient than the good man. Director Philip Kaufman lifts the shrouds and opens the dungeon doors on the last days of the most infamous purveyor of filth and sexual indiscretion the world may have ever known. After all, it's not often you epitomize something so much they name a particular type of lifestyle after you. In Kaufman's Quills the audience is not introduced to a simple story of one man's fight for sexual deviancy, but rather his right to speak it and others to read it.
    The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has a relatively posh cell in the Charenton Asylum. He has his nice bed, his fine wine, his aristocratic clothing, his desk and most importantly, his quill. It is with his quill that the Marquis "purges" his mind of all the devilish things that float around between his ears. The young Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) allows this type of therapy because he is a bit more progressive and trusting than others of his time period. He allows the inmates to perform plays and enjoy freedoms they might experience on the outside. Torture seems like a distant relic nowhere to be found on these grounds. But what the Abbe doesn't know is that the Marquis is taking advantage of his trust. With the help of a chambermaid named Madeleine (Kate Winslet), the Marquis is smuggling out his text to publishers. It doesn't take long before a copy of the salacious novel Justine finds its way into the hands of Emperor Napoleon. At fist the tyrant orders the Marquis' execution, but his advisors warn that may make the writer a martyr. Thus, the Emperor calls on Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to "cure" the Marquis of his evil thoughts. Upon his arrival the Doctor gives the Abbe a chance to rein-in the wild Marquis. Yet stripping the Marquis of his quills doesn't appear to be enough, as the man ingenuously finds new ways to transfer his tales of debauchery. It isn't long before the Doctor and his torture devices try and temper the Marquis' ways.
    Quills has a wicked tongue and a flavor for the irreverent. Appropriately enough, I suppose. It also has a fiendish sense of humor to balance out its increasingly morose and somber tone. Watching the Marquis combat the forces of morality is like rooting for the quintessential underdog. Even when it looks like he is finished he finds a way to beat his captors. Free speech can be a polarizing topic and it often makes for superb entertainment. It's no different here. Kaufman allows the Marquis to weasel into every aspect of the free speech debate. His most effective piece comes when the Marquis stages a play based on the Doctor and his new wife, who is barely age sixteen. It's an almost honest rendition of the dubious marriage that rightly brings the art-merely-imitating-life argument to the front pages.
    Geoffrey Rush will most likely get an Oscar nod and in this year of questionable quality, he deserves it. Yes he is fed all the great lines and handed a gift-wrapped role filled with humor and struggle, but Rush makes it his own with delight. Joaquin Phoenix delivers another outstanding support performance. He's quickly growing into a master of inner-turmoil. I'm not sure what's best about Michael Caine: the fact that he will play the bad guy, or the fact that he is so good at it. As the corrupt Doctor, he relishes the fact he can grimace with evil. Kate Winslet gives a soft and subtle turn and may be overlooked because she's continually paired with the animated Marquis in almost every scene. She doesn't do enough films. The inmates are wonderfully cast with most of them leaving a memorable performance on the table.
    Kaufman takes Doug Wright's play and not only brings it to life with verve and bravado, but never lets it become a one-sided trouncing of morality's regulators. When the Marquis uses his ingenuity to transfer a story through the ears of his fellow inmates the consequences are dire and frightening. Despite the scenario producing comic moments, it is clear the filmmakers are saying something about the material. In the wrong heads our most dangerous words may incite the most dangerous of actions. What is also admirable is the reluctance to label religion as the ultimate enemy of free speech. Not only is the Abbe the Marquis' longest lasting defender, the Doctor clearly finds himself on the opposite side of the Lord.
    Kaufman has been a long time proponent for free speech and it shows in such films as The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry & June. In fact, the latter of the two was the film that forced the Hollywood Rating system to ditch the stigma-laden X rating for a more suitable, but no friendlier NC-17 label. With his latest film he stands firmly behind one of history's most vilified freethinkers and it's an entertaining stand. Quills doesn't write any new chapters in the battle of free speech, but it most certainly updates one of its oldest in a way never before seen. And since the Marquis de Sade is still around two hundred years after his death I'd say the pen might just be mightier than the sword.

December 1: Here's a review from the UK Guardian, which is a re-working of the review this critic did for LA Weekly:
"The Gospel of Filth," by John Patterson for the Guardian
    Sick of the election, tired of Christmas movies, I sallied forth this weekend to savour Philip Kaufman's Quills, a raunchy, campy look at the Marquis de Sade's eventful incarceration in the Charenton asylum. And I was pleased to find Kaufman, who before The Right Stuff was one of my favourite directors, has recovered his sense of humour.
    No loony bin, it seems, can stop the mad marquis (Geoffrey Rush) from disseminating his gospel of sodomy and the lash. Remove his writing materials and he'll use a chicken bone as a quill and write in red wine on his bed sheets. Strip the bed, prohibit wine and he'll pierce his veins and write on his clothes in blood. Lock him naked in a subterranean cell and he'll daub the walls with perverted exhortations, finger-painted in his own excrement - a more perfect union of medium and message would be hard to imagine.
You can't keep a bad man down, apparently. And not for want of trying. It's 1801, and thanks to the civic outrage prompted by his writings, the marquis has been confined on Napoleon's orders, and without trial, at Charenton. He's superintended by the Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a priest as susceptible to the marquis's charms as he is prey to the temptations of the flesh, here embodied by the booby-hatch's comely laundress Madeleine (a ripe Kate Winslet).
    The regimen is a combination of brutality and liberalism, with old-fashioned manacles and constraints freely deployed on the one hand, but with the inmates permitted, for apparently therapeutic purposes, to stage the marquis's joyously lewd plays on the other.
    It can't last, and once Napoleon's attention has been drawn to his celebrated incarceree's continuing literary and sexual debauchery, he dispatches the reactionary moralist Dr. Antoine Royer-Collard (Michael Caine at his most reptilian) to subdue the indomitable writer of what Bonaparte in his memoirs referred to as "the most abominable book that a depraved imagination has ever conceived". The doctor is De Sade's dream antagonist - a demon of religious sanctimony and pre-psychiatric viciousness. Royer-Collard brings with him the gruesome appurtenances of his trade: sarcophagus-like iron maidens, a nine-tailed scourge, and a swivel seat that secures a prisoner as he is dunked in ice-water. The scariest words he can utter are: "Secure him to the calming chair!" Of course, in Kaufman's eyes, it is the demonic doctor who needs calming.
    We're back in the territory Kaufman explored in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry and June. The forces of literary and sexual freedom are ranged against those reactionaries who would muzzle, neuter, castrate and destroy that freedom. Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin had to battle censorship laws and the moral values of the French bourgeoisie. Tomas, in Being, representing the new-found liberties of the Prague Spring, watches in horror as these freedoms are crushed by Russian tanks. Kaufman posits art as a weapon and, more risibly, the phallus as a beacon of liberty that will never, well, detumesce.
    Quills manages to break free from the self-absorption of Kaufman's previous excursions into literary territory. It has some of the manic energy and camp sensibility we associate with Ken Russell. Kaufman is more restrained and less juvenile than Russell, but the parallels are unmissable.
    If there's a problem, it has to do with Kaufman's continued attraction to literary adaptation and literary biography. Having started out promisingly in the 1970s working mainly on genre material (the Western, teen-gang flicks, sci-fi) he developed more grandiose pretensions. The trouble is that the confinements of genre gave the director walls against which to dash his head, and dash it most profitably; but his newfound liberty proved confining to his sensibilities.
    Where early works like The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, The White Dawn, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Wanderers all fizzed and popped with genre-bending ideas and startling imagery, his later films are comparatively static and visually unexciting. It's as if he feels sanctified by the presence of great writers, secure in the knowledge that high art will elevate the movies. I'm reminded of Alan Rudolph's dreary literary gab-fests, The Moderns and Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, neither of which are a patch on Choose Me or Welcome To LA. In short, great books don't necessarily equal great movies, as any viewing of Richard Brooks' The Brothers Karamazov (with William Shatner!) proves in two reels.
That said, Quills has remarkable energy and wit. The sexual gamesmanship and lubriciousness are a good deal more fun than in H&J and Being. Quills is also free of that strange, inhibiting combination of respectability (high art) and disreputability (Zalman King-style nudie cheesecake) that made those films occasionally so laughable.
    In the end it's the game performances that make Quills so effervescent. Rush plays the marquis as a splendidly incorrigible roué; a genially dirty-minded advocate of the destructive, insurgent power of prick and cunt against priggishness and cant. As far as he's concerned, he's merely extending the late revolution from the tumbril and the guillotine to the bed-chamber and, on occasion, the lavatory.
Caine, meanwhile, accesses his under-used evil side to render a portrait of unbending rectitude, as secure in his convictions as the marquis is in his own. And Winslet's role is perhaps too small to permit her to give one of her full-tilt, Fearless Kate performances, though she fills the chalk outline of her underwritten part with her characteristic energy and verve.

November 28: From Leisuresuit:
Review by Kerry Douglas Dye, Senior Editor:
    In a cinematic year that has brought us The Grinch and the upcoming Family Man, any film that provides a glimpse of cleavage is welcome. In an industry that still classifies Basic Instinct as erotica, Quills may be downright necessary.
    A fictionalized account of the Marquis De Sade's sojourn at the Charenton Insane Asylum, Quills functions, once you get past the narrative, as a nearly Sadean catalogue of perversions. With a cast of faces (Joaquin Phoenix, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine, Geoffrey Rush) familiar from Hollywood movies, all the depravity starts to feel like variations on a conventional Hollywood theme. Pederasty is impatient love. Necrophilia, tardy love. Voyeurism is unassuming love. Buggery, misguided love.
    I could go on, but the point is that they're all here. Sade (Rush) has been committed to the asylum where the kind-hearted, liberal warden, Abbé Coulmier (Phoenix) encourages him to write as a form of therapy. And write Sade does, sneaking his words to a publisher with the help of buxom laundry girl Madeleine (Winslet).
    Upon the publication of "Justine", Napoleon appoints renowned doctor Royer-Collard to Charenton to crack the whip, so to speak, and stop Sade from writing. Royer-Collard is a doctor of the old school--dunking chairs and leather restraints are the order of the day. He also has a new bride (the scrumptious Amelia Warner)--barely 16, fresh out of the nunnery . . . rather like a character from one of Sade's novels, and ripe for a quite lovely corruption.
    Quills works wonderfully as black comedy, and there's enough debauchery, depravity and tight-corseted strumpets to please all but the most jaded connoisseurs of R-rated cinema. That said, I'll be damned if I could figure out what the movie was trying to say. Does it forgive Sade, or condemn him? Are his words found to be harmless pornography or an incitement to brutal and self-defeating violence?
    Virtually every character in this film is a pervert--it's just a question of grade: budding, indulgent, repressed, vicarious . . . Does this film ask us to find liberation in debauchery? Sade tells us that to know virtue, we first have to understand vice. I saw plenty of vice in the film, but did it really have anything to do with virtue?
    Or maybe, like the best Sade, it was just an amoral indulgence--a little pleasure, a little pain . . . No higher purpose, but a bawdy good time. Sade, I imagine, would approve.

November 27: From Combustible Celluloid:
"Quills" 3 1/2 stars (out of 4) - Review by Jeffrey M. Anderson:
    It makes sense that brilliant San Francisco director Philip Kaufman would follow up his films The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and Henry and June (1990) with another intelligent erotic film. Quills explores the world of the Marquis de Sade, a writer Henry Miller would surely have identified with. As the Marquis, Geoffrey Rush manages to balance madness, obsession, and brilliance with a fine thread tying it all together. The Marquis is living in an insane asylum run by a sympathetic Abbe (Joaquin Phoenix) who lets him write in his cell. A virginal laundress (Kate Winslet) smuggles his writing out to be published, which causes all sorts of havoc (Napoleon himself is offended). So a repressed doctor (Michael Caine) is called in to become the new administrator of the asylum.
    Written by Doug Wright based on his own play, Quills covers several episodes of sexual awakenings and sexual perversions, including an extraordinary one where the Marquis "writes" a new story by verbally passing it though the walls from inmate to inmate so that Winslet can write it down. The telling effects the different inmates in different ways; one lights a fire, and one sexually assaults Winslet. The film wants us to think about the various effects of erotic writing and where it crosses the line into pornography. It brings up and presents in a new way the ages-old argument of whether art reflects society or the other way around.
    Though I admired Quills greatly, it lacks the sublime sophistication of Kaufman's earlier erotic works. I suspect that this is due to a first screenplay by Wright, and by inferior sound design and editing (alas, Walter Murch, who worked on The Unbearable Lightness of Being was not around). For some reason, the sound is designed to make us jump every time anyone bangs a door open. Nevertheless, Quills is a thoughtful adult movie that is a rarity in movies today. A must-see.

November 27: From Reeling Reviews:
Review by Robin Clifford:
    During the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, the infamous Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) narrowly avoided an appointment with Madame Guillotine. Instead of losing his head, the randy aristocrat was given over to the care of Abbe Coulmier (Joaquim Phoenix), the head of the Charenton Asylum for the Insane. The Marquis, whose writings were sexually inflammatory, produced some of his most notorious works with the unwitting help of the Abbe and the more than willing help of Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a smart, inquisitive laundress at the asylum in director Philip Kaufman's "Quills."
    Philip Kaufman doesn't make a lot of movies. He certainly is not known for his ability to "crank out" films on a quick and regular basis. Instead, the helmer provides quality, and sometimes groundbreaking work, like the paean to America's space program, "The Right Stuff," and his controversial, NC-17 (the very first movie rated as such) "Henry & June." Now, he adapts the play by Doug Wright (who also wrote the screenplay) on the last, imprisoned years of one of the most famous authors and men of his time.
    Today, the word sadism - which refers to sexual pleasure derived from pain - draws a picture in our minds of a man who has forsaken propriety for the satiation of his carnal and prurient pleasures. The Marquis de Sade may have epitomized the definition of the word that bears his name, but scripter Wright takes us down a very different path in his examination of a man who, at the very basis of he accomplished, was the devout proponent for the freedom of speech and artistic creativity.
    We first meet Sade as the guillotine is falling on those hapless folks who were on the wrong side of the Revolution. The story begins with the Marquis telling what sounds like a bawdy story of a comely young woman only to have the action change from lustiness to carnage as the razor sharp blade of the guillotine snuffs out her life. It's a shocking opening to a film that proceeds to tell us about the man, Sade, who is compelled to tell his tales in a way that both shocks and titillates the reader. His unwillingness to compromise his work causes his imprisonment (in relative luxury) by the leaders of the revolt. His brief stint of freedom, following the Revolution, is ended when he is committed to the Charenton Asylum by the Emperor Napoleon for publishing erotic novels.
    Wright's screenplay follows the last years of Sade as the man subverts the system that imprisons him by secretly spiriting new manuscripts to his publishers with the help of Madeleine, the laundress. Sade and Madeleine form a chaste, though laden with sexuality, relationship that allows the confined aristocrat a distraction from his confinement. Madeleine proves to be extraordinarily intelligent, learning to read and write from the Abbe, and using her education to read Sade's scripts to the unwashed masses working at the asylum. (Madeleine is kind of like an 18th century book on tape.) With her help, and the unknowing cooperation of the naïve Abbe, one of Sade's most notorious works, Justine, hits the streets, eventually falling into the hands of Napoleon, who "leafed through the most abominable book that a depraved imagination ever conceived."
    The Emperor's less than kindly attention results in the assignment of Dr. Antoine Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to act as "advisor" to the Abbe. The doctor's methods of treatment for "psychiatric" patients crosses the border to the barbaric, making the viewer wonder who the true sadist is. During this period, the Abbe is ordered to curb the work coming from Sade's cell and the cleric begins by removing all the author's quills (hence, the title), ink and parchment. Not one to be easily stymied in his creativity, Sade uses chicken bones and red wine as his writing implements and his sheets as paper to get his stories out to Madeleine. When even these meager tools re removed, the resourceful Marquis uses bits of broken glass as pens, his blood for ink and his very clothes for parchment. Besides the obvious free speech theme of the story, you also get the moral that you can't keep a good man down.
    The acting amongst the three principles - Rush, Winslet and Phoenix - is superb. There is a triangle of sorts but in a different way than one would expect. Sade and Madeleine have a teacher/student relationship through most of the film. It's not that the randy-minded marquis wouldn't like to jump the pretty laundress's bones, he respects her too much to insult her or drive her away. Madeleine and the Abbe also have a flirtatious relationship, but, again, one that remains chaste through to the tragic end. Sade and Abbe Coulmier strike up a long-term friendship with the enlightened priest allowing Sade to oversee Charenton's theater as a form of therapy. Each of the actors puts a convincing spin on their perfs with Rush standing tallest. Caine's Royer-Collard is the symbol of the oppression of free expression and isn't allowed beyond the symbolic nature of the character. The members of the asylum provide an interesting, sometimes bizarre, backdrop.
    The claustrophobic feel of the play is carried to the screen and is effective in showing the imprisonment of the remarkable marquis. I found it to be a bit too constrained, not translating to the big screen as well as other plays turned screenplays, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. But, this is a minor complaint on a uniformly solid work.
    Tech credits are exemplary with production designer Martin Childs lending his Oscar-winning talents in creating the Marquis's prison as it deteriorates from comfortable chambers to a bare prison cell. Costuming, by Jacqueline West, isn't pretty - it does take place in an insane asylum, after all - but it certainly fits the tone and period of the story. Newcomer to American film, lenser Rogier Stoffers, captures the claustrophobic feel of Sade's prison.
    Philip Kaufman may not come out with a film but once every several years, but they are worth waiting for. The quality work in Quills is no exception and worth the effort. You won't get big, flash F/X and explosions or lines like "I'll be back," but you will get a thought provoking yarn about a man whose name is in the dictionary. How many people can you say that about? I give it a B+.

November 27: From the National Post:
Review by Stephen Cole:
    Here's something: As many films about the Marquis de Sade have come out in the last seven days as were released during the previous 100 years. For those keeping score at home, the 20th century brought us Marquis (1989) and Peter Brooks' filming of the Marat-Sade, a screaming polemic on the necessity of free political expression. Then, suddenly, in the last week, Sade (see mini-reviews on Page B3) and now Quills find their way to theatres.
    Brooks' revolutionary shouting match came out in 1966  - no surprise there - and if you accept the notion that historical dramas are inescapably about the period they are made in, as opposed to set in, it's tempting to conclude that the current interest in France's most famously persecuted libertine owes something to the recent misadventures of Bill Clinton, the president who painted the White House red. Indeed, Philip Kaufman (Henry and June) seems to have gone to great effort in trying to bend Doug Wright's play on the Marquis into the shape of the Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr scandal.
    The film begins smack in the middle of the French Revolution, in 1794 Paris, with a woman losing her head over a sexual indiscretion - chop! thud! - while the Marquis, in a castle window high above, sniffs the blood-fermented air as if it were a dreamy aphrodisiac.
    With a political context established, we jump to a madhouse, years later, where the Marquis (a dashing, shouting Geoffrey Rush) is now the proverbial lunatic who has taken over the asylum. As much in love with words as he is with willing flesh, the governor runs his own theatre company and enjoys the services of an underground publisher.
All that threatens the Marquis' unholy but altogether happy domain is the off chance that the twittering fool who ostensibly runs the place (Joaquin Phoenix's obtuse cleric) might discover the older man's as yet unconsummated relationship with a saucy chambermaid (Kate Winslet). At one point, the Marquis tries to wrestle Madeleine out of her clothes, while promising to respect the young girl's virtue, by suggesting there are ways to enjoy love without actually having sexual intercourse. Uh-oh, we find ourselves thinking, here come the cigars!
    No, Kaufman doesn't go that far. But he does bring on a vengeful special prosecutor (Michael Caine), who burns with an unexplained desire to rub the Marquis out of France, if not all of existence.
    Actually, for its first 30 minutes or so, Quills is frantic, grimy fun. And we have reason to hope that Kaufman, a frequently compelling filmmaker, might be able to pull off his wild-eyed parable on the necessity of sexual and literary freedoms.
    In the past, the director has displayed a rare ability to create off-beat heroes - once upon a time, he even wrote the screenplay to Raiders of the Lost Ark and directed The Right Stuff. And the filmmaker's hugely entertaining Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with Donald Sutherland and Karen Allen, is one of the great, underrated liberal paranoia films of the '70s. If anyone can haul the mad Marquis out of bed and on to a soapbox, it would seem to be Kaufman.
    Unfortunately, after achieving an early climax, Quills goes limp, then descends into a chaotic rage. (According to biographers, the Marquis was much the same in intimate moments.) Part of the problem is that our initial joy in meeting the lewd, prancing Marquis, who is played with great athleticism and wit by Rush, subsides when our anti-hero becomes locked in windy dialectics with dullards Phoenix and Caine.
    Here we come to the design flaw with most partisan political dramas: Inevitably, the authors are incapable of articulating, even with a small degree of sensitivity or force, their opponent's position. And so we get, with Phoenix's stammering religious figure, a boy-twig who knows nothing about the world and less about himself. Caine, meanwhile, seems content to reprise his Scrooge role in The Muppet Christmas Carol.
As Quills descends into hoarse shouting, wanton torture and necrophilia - though not all in the same scene, it should be made clear - Kaufman's film loses even its ability to sensibly articulate its own political position. "If I wasn't such a bad woman on the page, I couldn't be such a good woman in my life," a tearful Madeleine informs Phoenix's priest when he begs her to explain her addiction to the Marquis' incendiary prose. Strangely, this odd bit of wisdom, which would seem to suggest that pornography promotes clean living, comes only a few scenes after the filmmaker gives us a mating ball of naked, glowing peasants rolling through a stable, a copy of the Marquis' latest shooting out of one twitching hand.
    Even the Marquis de Sade, not to mention President Clinton, eventually realized that you can't eat your cheesecake and have it, too. Rating two.
Quills opens in Toronto today; Vancouver and Montreal (English) on Dec. 15; and Calgary, Victoria, Edmonton, Montreal (French), Winnipeg and Ottawa on Dec. 22.

November 27: I have transcribed the review from the episode of "Ebert & Roeper at the Movies" that aired last night. Unfortunately there were no comments on Kate's performance:
Two Thumbs Up!
Roeper: It's directed by Phil Kaufman, who made The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. This time out, Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush stars as the Marquis de Sade, strutting and twirling with mad glee, while also revealing the darkest demons and some surprising bravery inside. The Marquis, the notoriously sex-obsessed author of post-revolutionary France, has been jailed in an asylum in Charenton, but he remains a story teller, as when he works his leering charm on a ripe laundress, played by Kate Winslet. After the Marquis has been stripped of his writing materials, even the clothes he was using as a literary canvas, he still creates. His need to write supersedes his need to breathe, as he defies Michael Caine, a sadistic doctor bent on silencing him. Quills is a searing indictment of censorship and religious hypocrisy, but it also presents the argument that works of fiction can light the fuse for horrific violence in the real world. The Marquis is far from being a hero, he manipulates humans like chess pieces, and his dirty fingered work isn't exactly Shakespearean in scope and insight, but at least he's honest about who he is. Rush delivers a daring, exhaustive and memorable performance in this disturbing and thought-provoking work. Quills should not be missed.
Ebert: You know, I was really amazed by this film because it takes so many chances - and it gets away with them. Here is the most controversial author in history, and there are two views of him. In the one view, he's this perverted, degraded, depraved monster, and that's kind of correct. And then there's another view in which he's this brave man who continues to try to create his art in the face of this enormous suffering, almost as much suffering as he inflicted on his poor victims, and that view is correct, too. And Phil Kaufman, I think, is fascinated by the fact that this man, who is not a nice man, is at the same time kind of heroic in terms of his human spirit, which will not be silenced. So, the audience is asked to kind of balance these two views, instead of being given some kind of simplistic solution.
Roeper: Yeah, he is both of those things, and sort of like a Larry Flynt is today, where it's like, well, what he does kind of frightens me, but I'm even more disturbed that people would try to silence this, and that's even a worse thing to do. And they do a wonderful job of mixing both of those elements into this character.
Ebert: And Geoffrey Rush really pushes as far as he can in this character. I mean, he creates a man who is essentially mad. We see him really suffering on the screen, and we're convinced. We don't think of him as an actor at all. It's quite a performance.
Roeper: Sort of ninety percent of the film actors out there, even the really good ones, probably wouldn't even try to tackle that part.
Ebert: What about Michael Caine?
Roeper: He's also really good here.
Ebert: Yeah.
Roeper: And it shows you that there are people even worse than the Marquis walking around in that time.

November 27: From
"Quills" 3 stars (out of 4) - Review by Rod Armstrong:
    Philip Kaufman is our bard of the bawdy. Three of his last four films - The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Henry & June, and now Quills  - have dealt with erotic politics, and each is commendable in its own way. With the remarkable lack of mature movies about sexuality, Kaufman's presence is certainly a welcome one. But don't be misled into thinking that his latest work is a scandalous biopic about the notorious pornographer, the Marquis de Sade. Quills is intelligent, engaging, and stunning to look at, but it's just not very sexy. Doug Wright's script is far more concerned with the art of storytelling and the nature of repression and censorship than the shenanigans of its licentious main character.
    Mingling fact with fiction, Quills' story takes place in late 18th-century Paris in an asylum known as Charenton, where de Sade, played by Geoffrey Rush (Shine), has been imprisoned for sodomy. Though incarcerated, he lives in fairly high style with a large bed, fancy dinners, and an elegant writing desk on which he composes his kinky texts. Though Charenton's abbé, a liberal man by the name of Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), requests that the Marquis express himself less libidinously, his prisoner responds by writing one of his most controversial works, Justine, and smuggling the novel out with the help of a laundress named Madeleine (Kate Winslet).
    It doesn't take long before Napoleon (Ron Cook) gets hold of a copy of de Sade's latest effort and calls for an immediate end to the man's literary career. One of the general's advisors suggests that Coulmier runs the asylum a bit too leniently and offers to send a doctor named Royer-Collard (played by the recently knighted Sir Michael Caine) to handle the matter. After Collard arrives at Charenton, a war of wills breaks out between the malevolent physician and de Sade, with the abbé and Madeleine trapped between them.
    Phoenix is excellent as the man of God conflicted by his own morality, the wishes of Collard, his affection for and fear of de Sade, and his fleshly desire for Madeleine. Winslet, a magnificent actress even in mediocre films (e.g. Titanic, Holy Smoke), is wonderful as the washwoman who is unable to make Coulmier understand that she desires him but is also erotically and intellectually provoked by the Marquis' writings.
    Other casting choices do not fare so well. Rush conveys the creative power and playfulness of the character with a bright gleam in his eye, but no erotic threat emanates from him. De Sade had his way with countless men and women of all ages, but the Oscar-winning actor never manages to make the character seductive. Caine is saddled with a more difficult problem - the role of a villain who is just too monstrous to be believed. The actor has shown that he's capable of playing almost-admirable bad guys (A Shock to the System, Get Carter), but the script never gives him the chance to turn on the charm.
    Equally unsatisfying are the moments when Wright and the director try to inject a little sexiness into the proceedings. The subplot about Collard's young and beautiful wife Simone (Amelia Warner), who develops an affection for Sade's scribblings as well as the rakish architect her husband has hired, seems to have been lifted straight from the Playboy Channel. Some of the madhouse scenes are directed in an over-the-top manner which may have been okay under a florid director like Ken Russell, but just don't fit with Kaufman's more restrained mode of expression.
    Though these are significant flaws, there are still pleasures to be had from Quills. Besides Phoenix and Winslet, there's Rogiers Stoffers' exquisite cinematography, which reveals more shades of gray than one would think possible. The set and costume designs attain a Greenawayesque perfection in scenes where de Sade writes on his bedsheets or his clothes because his paper has been taken away. There's also a wonderfully Shakespearean sequence when the pornographer puts on a play for his nemesis that ribaldly satirizes the hypocrisies of the good doctor's life.
    Another source of delight is the interesting portrayal of the relationship between writer and reader as it plays out over the course of the film. Madeleine tells Coulmier at one point that reading is her salvation, and her character illustrates the loop between creator and consumer. Not only does the movie pay tribute to artistic creation (as countless films have done before), it also offers a paean to the active and engaged reader, without whose silent dialogue the artist could not exist. By portraying in a splendidly visual manner the human need to tell stories and to have stories told, Quills should be considered a success; one can't help wishing, however, for slightly finer ink.

November 27: From Ain't It Cool News:
Review by "Moriarty":
    When someone has proven themselves capable of greatness, why shouldn't that be what I expect of them? It's certainly what I expect when Philip Kaufman steps up, and he's rewarded me with all manner of delights over the years. THE RIGHT STUFF, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, and HENRY & JUNE are all smart, adult pictures that have a distinct voice. This time, Kaufman's working from a script by first-time screenwriter Doug Wright, who's adapting his own play. The result is a sharp, sometimes even savage exploration of the way ideas can be weapons, the way words can wound, and the very nature of the responsibility that we as artists have to the world around us. Does art merely mirror the world in which its written, or does it shape that world, influence it? Is there such a thing as dangerous art? Can it spur someone to violence? And if so, should it be silenced?
    These are all provocative questions, and the cast comes ready to play. Joaquin Phoenix is Abbe Coulmier, the man in charge of the French asylum where the Marquis De Sade (Geoffrey Rush) is being held. He believes he's making progress with the Marquis by allowing him certain favors and privileges. What he doesn't know is that chambermaid Madeline, played with a naughty gleam in her eye by Kate Winslet, has been smuggling manuscripts out of the asylum so that they can be published. Napoleon is so outraged at what the public is reading that he orders Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to go to the asylum and crack down, to silence the Marquis for good. It's a simple set-up for a battle of wills, and there's really nothing to complicate the situation along the way. Dr. Royer-Collard finds himself stirred by the writings he's trying to silence, and he goes to claim his promised bride Simone (played by the stunningly cute young Amelia Warner) from the convent where she's being raised. As soon as the Marquis catches wind of the situation, he creates a satirical play that firmly rips Royer-Collard. This draws the battle lines quite clearly and paves the way for the film's horrific finale.
    Not once in the entire film is the word "censorship" spoken, leaving the larger discussions about the significance of what we're watching to us, the audience. It's apparent that Kaufman and Wright are making big points about big topics, but they never turn the film into a dry classroom lesson. Instead, the film has a rowdy, filthy sense of life to it, and it's surprisingly fun in the first half. There's a great deal of shock value to the writings of the Marquis, and theyr'e used strategically to illustrate the action that's going on. They were very clever in terms of what they used. Like Larry Flynt, the Marquis has more value as a symbol of free speech than he does as an actual writer. I mean, this is the guy whose name was the eventual basis of the word "sadism." I've tried reading some of his actual work, and it's not cute or coy or slighly naughty. It's genuinely filthy, and Passolini's SALO perfectly captured the almost inhuman quality of the work, rendering the film fairly unwatchable.
    As with HENRY & JUNE, Kaufman's made a film that seems informed by both the art and the artist. QUILLS is a clever mixture of fact and fiction, a way of using a real figure to tell a symbolic story. Some viewers will be bothered by the idea that this isn't all fact, that it's not "true." I think that what Kaufman and Wright have done is create something that gets at truth, that honestly deals with the issues raised. There are problems, to be sure. I think the very ending of the film is the weakest material, and part of the problem is that Joaquin Phoenix is given an unrealistic ending, a place that he has to go that isn't earned. It feels like it's hammering home points that have already been made, and it's a shame. By pushing it too far, Kaufman actually undermines some of the great ideas that he's already presented. Even with those flaws, though, I think this is important stuff, and it must be seen and discussed right now. As we continue to see the fallout from the recent Federal Trade Commission reports about film marketing, the questions that are raised by this film become even more vital. The answers to those questions are up to you, and we'll see what effect the film has on the national dialogue.
    UNBREAKABLE is, of course, open in theaters everywhere now, while QUILLS is going to be rolled out gradually in limited markets around the country. In both cases, I expect I'll hear both negative and positive reactions from readers after they've seen the films. I'm fine with that. At least we're finally getting films released that are worth discussion again instead of the dreck we've suffered through for most of the year.

November 26: From Newsweek:
"King of Kink, Writing Porn in Prison," by David Ansen:
    Dec. 4 issue - The pointed arrival of "Quills" in the midst of Washington's show trials on Hollywood's alleged immorality couldn't be more timely. A literate, playfully provocative defense of free speech at its most abominable, director Philip Kaufman and writer Doug Wright's movie impudently positions the Marquis de Sade - the 18th-century pornographer who inspired the word sadism - as the twisted spokesman for the creative spirit.
    We focus in on the old pervert late in his life, when he is incarcerated in the lunatic asylum at Charenton. Fortunately for the marquis (Geoffrey Rush), it's run by a liberal priest (Joaquin Phoenix) who allows him comfy confines, ample wine, and quills and paper with which to pour out his obsessive sexual fantasies. With the aid of a young laundress (Kate Winslet), de Sade's inflammatory books are smuggled out and published - to the outrage of Napoleon. The emperor dispatches the chilly Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to the asylum with orders to "kill or cure" the offender. But de Sade is not easily silenced.
    "Quills" is based only loosely on the facts. Guided by Rush's deliciously theatrical performance, this battle of wits and wills is presented as a comedy of depraved manners. (Nasty as this marquis is, the film cheats a bit by soft-pedaling the sexual violence of his work. The quotations from his work were actually written by Wright.) Ultimately, "Quills" descends into overwrought melodrama. But at its bright and bawdy best, it bubbles with subversive wit.

November 25: From the Los Angeles Daily News:
"Rush Shines in Dark, Brilliant 'Quills'," by Bob Strauss, Film Critic
    If you can't have fun with the Marquis de Sade, why even bother? Fortunately, director Philip Kaufman ("Henry and June," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"), scripter Doug Wright (adapting his stage play) and, especially, lead actor Geoffrey Rush ("Shine") know how to party on the lip of perdition. There's a jaunty naughtiness to "Quills" that, miraculously, enhances its very serious inquiries into the darkest possibilities of man and society.
    Relentlessly smart and witheringly critical, yet morally playful to the core, the film is a clever gloss on everything the debauched aristocrat represents. And in a delectable irony that the Marquis himself might have drooled over, this movie that twists the very concepts of free expression and suppression into indistinguishable knots arrives at the height of a national debate on censorship. If the picture has one flaw -- well, two, if even the most liberated libertine inside you can only take so much of Rush's naked torso -- it's in making the key representative of prohibition an easily discounted hypocrite rather than a true crusader in the Joe Lieberman mold. But these are mere rope burns on a story that hogties contrasting views of physical and mental freedom, artistry and overindulgence, spirituality and self-knowledge, and enlightenment and insanity into grotesque configurations of often stunning brilliance. All which, quite appropriately, look exquisitely painful.
    Following an eroticized opening guillotine tableau that Rush's Marquis observes, frightened and inspired, from one of the many prison windows he leered through in his lifetime, the story settles into his final incarceration, some two decades after The Terror, at Charenton asylum. It's there, the fact-mangling scenario would have it, that the pampered pornographer composes his scandalous "Justine," which he has surreptitiously smuggled out to a publisher by a virginal but breathlessly curious chambermaid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet in a smart and soulful reworking of the adventure-hungry innocent she played in "Titanic").
    When a copy of the, um, masterpiece is read to Napoleon, the emperor demands, as is his nature, action. To that end, Dr. Royer-Collard (a cold-as-steel Michael Caine), a "progressive" psychologist whose treatment for the mentally ill makes the father of sadism's sickest fantasies look like comfy chairs, is dispatched to Charenton to clean up the mess. There he finds the liberal-minded master of the institution, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), giving the well-paying Marquis pretty much run of the place: living in a lavishly furnished cell, directing "therapeutic" theatricals starring the other inmates, coming on outrageously to having-none-of-it Madeleine, etc.
    The cleric is also smitten with the ripe young maid and considers himself a friend of the Marquis. But as the decadent artiste continues to export his lascivious writings, Collard forces the uncertain Abbe into taking increasingly extreme measures to silence the monster. First, the Marquis' quills and ink are taken away, then the wine he learns to write with, then the sheets he still manages to scribble on ... by the end, stripped of everything, he's reduced to scrawling on walls with his own blood and feces and dictating his literature through madmen.
    But his creativity will not be squelched. Indeed, "Quills" suggests that repressing expression only makes it more extreme -- and when your starting point is "120 Days of Sodom," we're talking as extreme as it possibly gets -- and that those who would impose their propriety on others are the true perverts. But the dialectic here is more complicated than that. The Marquis de Sade's words, not to mention the example he sets, indeed incite tragedy in very direct ways. On the other hand, the man who lent his name to the pleasure of pain-infliction is, well before the story's end, unmasked as the ultimate masochist, even a martyr to a misguided, but nonetheless holy, notion of artistic purity.
    It's all deep stuff, of the kind director Kaufman has made ponderous pretension to in the past. But things are kept lively and vigorous in "Quills," due in no small part to our irrepressible host. Rush's performance is so far over everything we can't even see the top from where he's operating. It's a lip-smacking, eye-rolling, pun-hissing barrage of unbridled license -- unconscionable by many measures of good acting and utterly right for the game at hand.
    Kaufman rises to the occasion, too, creating as richly imaged a movie as he's ever made. The voyeuristic wit on display here is, of course, profuse. But as the climax rolls around, he's working at a level of true visual profundity, up to and including a profane Pieta of man's inseparably dual nature.
    "Quills" hardly settles the never-ending debate over whether the Marquis de Sade was just an exceptionally energetic sicko or something like a real philosopher. The film does, however, come perilously close to confirming that art really can lie somewhere near the heart of the ugliest, most awful truth.

November 25: From IFILM:
Review by Dave White:
The Players: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine
The Play: The Marquis de Sade was one crazy dude. Horny, too. He was confined to an insane asylum for it, but it didn't stop him. He kept being crazy and horny. Not a bad way to live, really, except for the prison part. And this movie lets you see it all. It's a riveting story, beautiful to look at, well-acted, and it's full of all your favorite perverted sex stuff. Just one problem keeps it from being great: an anti-censorship moral hammered home with all the subtlety of a sermon. Otherwise, very cool.
Coolest Scene: Well it depends on what your pleasure is. You like three-ways? Full-frontal nudity? P*****s? Boobs? Necrophilia fantasies? It's all here on a plate.
Nastiest Scene: The ubiquitous Michael Caine rapes his own teenage wife.
Cineast Factor: From the director of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was also full of scandalous sex.
When to Go Get a Drink/Hit the Restroom/Answer That Page: Geoffrey Rush naked. You thought Harvey Keitel was an unwelcome exhibitionist.
Date Movie? For all you almost-kinky couples out there.
You Should Pay Nine Bucks to See This If: You like old-school titillating art films.
One Other Beef: Geoffrey Rush as de Sade? Yes. Joaquin Phoenix as a priest? No way.

November 24: From
"Quills," reviewed by Michael Dequina (R) *** 1/2 (out of ****)
    The thought that most immediately comes to mind with the mention of the Marquis de Sade is that of sex--not just any sex, but the kinkiest acts of fornication imaginable. Yet Philip Kaufman's provocative account of the infamous 19th Century French writer's final days is titled "Quills", and the reason is simple: this powerful version of Sade's story is one ultimately not about sensationalistic salaciousness, but the power--and price--of self-expression.
But sex--both the forced act of and graphic writing about it--is, after all, what lands the Marquis in various forms of captivity: prison and, ultimately, an asylum. It is in the latter, Charenton, where Sade (played by Geoffrey Rush) is introduced, submitting his latest torrid text to a publisher through unlikely supporter Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a young laundress. Immediately upon publication, Sade's sexually explicit "Justine" is the talk of France, leading an outraged Napoleon to send self-righteous Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to Charenton and give Sade the discipline he had not been receiving under Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the young priest in charge of the asylum.
    The clashes and collisions that power "Quills" don't necessarily derive from differences in one's nature than differences in one's ideals. The conflict between Royer-Collard and the Marquis is the film's most heated, but they are two sides of the same proverbial coin. For all his talk about morality, Royer-Collard is himself engaged in a scandalous affair--that with Simone (Amelia Warner), his very young, almost child-like bride; the hypocritical doctor shields what would otherwise be a frowned-upon indulgence under an "upstanding" societal convention--marriage--while Sade is shameless in expressing his darker, deep-seated urges. The seemingly angelic Madeleine is, in fact, Sade's closest match. She is quite comfortable with and honest about having those base instincts, but she knows her place in her constricting world; hence, she enjoys her natural naughtiness in the expanse of her mind, whose limitless imagination is further fueled by possibilities presented by Sade's incendiary prose. For the Abbé, his most-valued belief in a divinity overpowers--barely--his simmering attraction to Madeleine.
    The psychological conflicts, both internal and external, are lent immediacy by the actors. Caine, in a much more impressive performance than his Oscar-winning "Cider House Rules" turn, is a subtly formidable foil to Rush, who gives the Marquis genuine vulnerability as his veneers are gradually stripped away. The complexities of Madeleine are handled with characteristic ease by the ever-astonishing (and ravishing) Winslet, and Phoenix proves his versatility with his nuanced portrayal of the anguished Abbé.
    Given the subject matter, "Quills" could have been unbearably heavy, but Kaufman and writer Doug Wright (adapting his own play) infuse the film with a decadent playfulness befitting a film about the Marquis -- a spirit that is perfectly embodied by the exuberant Rush. This quality does act as reinforcement of the film's endorsement of uninhibited expression, but to Kaufman and Wright's credit, they don't sidestep the negative fallout that could occur along with the obvious benefits of artistic freedom. Prices, both fair and unfair, are paid all around, and those costs continue to be felt even after "Quills" etches the disappointingly contrived images of its lackluster epilogue.

November 24: Sarah (aka "abbagirl") found this review on Girls On Film:
Review by "Eloise":
    Imagine a costume drama, a French one no less, starring Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix. Now imagine it's based on the Marquis de Sade's life and writings. Finally, imagine that it's directed by Philip Kaufman, the same guy who did Henry and June. Are you blushing?
    This movie is Quills, and in addition to Winslet and Phoenix, it boasts heavyweights Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Shakespeare in Love) and Michael Caine ( The Cider House Rules). In the spirit of Shakespeare in Love and Immortal Beloved, Quills is a fictitious tale of a famous artist, as well as a study of obsession. It's also smart and fun, funny and sad, and its only fault, though substantial, is that it's not dirty enough. Now I'm not a pervert or even a porn fan, but I like the occasional dirty movie. Let's be honest; this isn't supposed to be Rugrats in Paris - it's about the Marquis de Sade, that perverted bastard! But thankfully, lack of sufficient dirtiness aside, Quills is a delight.
The film takes place in post-revolutionary France, where the Marquis is serving a sentence in a mental institution in lieu of prison, where his blasphemous writing has landed him in the past. His incendiary prose, smuggled out of the institution by beautiful laundress Madeleine (Winslet) in dirty sheets (!), has ignited the wrath of Napoleon, who dispatches the cruel and cold Doctor Royer-Collard (Caine) to keep an eye on the Marquis and prevent him from corrupting the French people.
    Rush's Sade is obsessed with writing his erotic and perverse tales. It's the thing that sustains him, and when Royer-Collard takes it away, he goes to great lengths to continue to write. When they confiscate his quills, ink, and paper, he is no less dangerous. When he is naked in an empty room, with nothing to write with or on, his inspiration burns even hotter. He is more dangerous than ever before.
    Caine plays a brilliant villain, and he's got plenty to work with in the character of Royer-Collard. Remember Joaquin Phoenix's character in Gladiator? That's the type of guy Caine plays here, shot through with evil, who gets his rocks off by hurting others, all the while thinking he's doing those he injures a good turn. He's countered by the gentle and hot (but not dirty enough!) priest who runs the institution, Abbe Coulmier (Phoenix). The Abbe resists Royer-Collard's tactics and tries to rehabilitate the bad, bad Marquis. The Abbe is so, so good - he teaches Madeleine to read and stifles his ungodly desire for her, his hairless chest heaving. But it's Winslet and Rush who really steal the show.
    Winslet's radiant energy and lust for life make Madeleine the center of the film. The one character whose great appetite is not infected with obsession, Madeleine is pulled on one side by the Marquis and his perversions, and on the other by the Abbe and his virtue. Rush is a whirlwind of energy and desire, bile and vitriol, genius and madness. He occupies his cell like an aristocrat, a predator, and a trapped animal.
    From its opening scene, wherein an aristocratic woman is caressed by the henchman who then places her head in the guillotine, Quills tries to inhabit the borderline between arousal and abomination. And it's in this that the movie ultimately fails, because the characters seem to be having so much, well, fun. Everyone's running around with scandalous manuscripts, rolling in the hay and having a rousing good time, so much so that when the porno for pyros moment initiates a descent into horror, it doesn't resonate as much as it should.
    Still, Quills is beautiful to look at, visually making metaphors literal in gorgeous and powerful ways. It's a battle between goodness and perversion where you're rooting for perversion until that, too, is perverted, and you realize you're complicit. That's where the abomination truly lies. It's all about corruption and pain - the pleasure is gone. No wonder there wasn't enough sex.

November 24: From Simple Reviews:
"Quills," (4 1/2 stars out of five) reviewed by Bennett Wright:
    Set in Paris, France during the late 1700s and early 1800s, this is a fictionalized account of the wild pronouncements, prurient writings and bizarre actions of the Marquis de Sade. The story is told in an often-humorous way as we visit the Marquis in his cell at the Charenton Asylum for the Insane. His wealth allows him unusual privileges such as a completely furnished "suite", his own menu and plenty of writing supplies. The Abbe (the catholic priest in charge of the facility) believes that the Marquis can vent and then shed his evil ways, by writing about his aberrant sexual fantasies and experiences. Unbeknownst to the Abbe, the Marquis has found an ally in a chambermaid named Madeleine, who is smuggling the Marquis' writings to a publisher outside the walls of the asylum.
    Even though the salacious writings are attributed to an anonymous author, everyone, including Napoleon, knows they are the writings of the Marquis. When Napoleon demands that the Marquis be put to death, an opportunistic doctor named Royer-Collard convinces the Emperor that he can rehabilitate the Marquis. The good Doctor is given rein over the Marquis and his treatment but first must work with and around the Abbe to get total control of the Marquis. Meanwhile, the Abbe tries his best to thwart the publishing aspirations of the Marquis by removing all his writing supplies. The Marquis in turn uses his rampant imagination to continue his writing and publishing efforts.
When the Marquis' parchment is removed he writes on his bedlinens until they are removed. Next he writes on his clothing until it is removed. When his ink is removed the Marquis uses a chicken bone and red wine to write on his single quilt, until chicken and red wine are stricken from his menu and his quilt is removed. Next he writes in his own blood. In rage the Marquis writes on the walls of his cell with his own excrement. And last, the Marquis comes up with a scheme to dictate his fiction to Madeleine through a chain of inmates. It is at this point that the Marquis runs out of writing options, as Madeleine is lost as a resource, the Abbe is severely disciplined and Doctor Royer-Collard finally gains control. The Marquis can no longer write or survive.
    This is a brilliant fictional depiction of this very bright, demented, often-funny and extremely strange man. Geoffrey Rush is perfect in his portrayal of the crazy "Marquis". The content of the Marquis' published works is shocking by even the standards of today. Imagine the shock to those reading his rantings in the late 1700s!
    I have based my recommendation on the excellence of the production. Many, however, will find the subject matter unacceptable. Those who can deal with the Marquis's often sadistic and prurient pronouncements (a big IF for many) will like this first rate film. It all fits together so well.

November 24: From the Toronto Sun:
"Rush-ing Toward An Oscar -- Geoffrey Rush Gives A Tour-de-force Performance in Quills," by Bruce Kirkland
    Quills, Hollywood's stage-inspired version of the Marquis de Sade's sex-sational story, has different strengths and weaknesses than the French-made Sade. Put the best elements of the two together in one movie and we'd have a classic to exult about. As it stands, both are good in their own way -- but not great.  The only thing they really share is the boast of an outstanding actor in the lead role.
    Daniel Auteuil is crafty and ferocious as the Marquis in Benoit Jacquot's Sade, which opened last week in Toronto. Geoffrey Rush unleashes a tour-de-force performance in Philip Kaufman's Quills, which opens today and could generate heat at Oscar time, at least for Rush. Yet audiences would not realize that they are watching actors play the same monstrous historical figure, albeit at slightly different points in the saga that is Comte de Donatien Alphone Francois Sade's controversial life. Rush plays Sade when he was in his final days, in his 60s and early 70s. For the last dozen years of his life, the controversial author, philosopher and libertine was incarcerated in the Charenton insane asylum, where he died in 1814.
    There are also brief flashbacks to Sade's participation in the French Revolution, during which he watched as thousands were guillotined. Quills kicks off with one of these grisly moments -- an execution -- and guarantees that the meek, while they might inherit the Earth, won't make it through the movie. Children are also unwelcome.
    In Charenton, at least in this version of the story, Sade is at first treated as a resident genius by the priest in charge. He is played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix, who creates a complex, ambiguous man in awe of his prisoner and enlightened in his attitudes. Phoenix also is confused about his sexual urges.
    Sade's comfort zone is threatened when Napoleon, scandalized by the publication of one of Sade's salacious novels, sends a brutal torturer to straighten the author out. This inquisitor is played as a crude, simplistic cliche by Michael Caine, whose attempts to humanize him are awkward and ugly.
    The struggle between the two extremes of power -- on one side the benevolent ultra-modern priest, on the other the disciplinarian with the medieval techniques -- propel Sade into an endless crisis.
    Caught in the modern is his best friend at Charenton, a virginal yet sexually overripe laundress (the overripe and always interesting Kate Winslet) whom Sade would love to deflower.
    Unlike the film Sade, which illuminates the madness of revolutionary France on a large scale, Quills revels only in the individual, as if Sade's story is purely personal or a metaphor for America's obsessive search for a single man's freedom. The reason for this, perhaps, rests in the origins of the movie, which is Doug Wright's stage play Quills (adapted to the screen by the playwright himself). It was Wright who infused Sade's life story with fanciful elements.
    Kaufman (best known for The Unbearable Lightness Of Being and The Right Stuff) took it further in his direction and tone. The result? Quills is a work of Gothic fiction.

November 23: From Entertainment Weekly Online:
"Quills," reviewed by Owen Gleiberman
    As the Marquis de Sade, Geoffrey Rush, wearing dirty white breeches and an even dirtier smile, makes a lewd and gleeful hambone jester in "Quills." Directed by Philip Kaufman, from Doug Wright's adaptation of his 1995 stage play, this lavish and energized production is set at the turn of the 18th century, when De Sade, nearing the end of his life of scandal, sits imprisoned inside Charenton, a cavernous stone mental institution, scrawling away with quills and parchment as he taps the bottomless well of his sexual fantasies, spewing them into extravagant tomes of lecherous, blasphemous infamy.
    The smartest thing Kaufman did was to get Rush, an actor of incendiary bad boy vitality, to play De Sade. The dumbest thing he did was to make a drama about the most outrageous writer in the history of Western civilization and to keep this walking, seething human id locked up in a clammy medieval cell for the entire film. The Marquis sneaks his manuscripts out of the asylum through a secret courier, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a rosy cheeked virgin laundress who thrills to his writing and his devilish charm, even as she shucks off his horny advances.
    Early on, he succeeds in getting his publisher a copy of ''Justine,'' and it becomes an underground hit, as readers gather on the streets of Paris to devour every lusty page. The authorities, incensed, send Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a kind of thought cop shrink, to cure De Sade of his wanton ways.
    Is De Sade a criminal? A sicko? A visionary? As Rush plays him, he's a boisterous sprite of high perversion, naughty but not really wicked. ''Quills'' comes on as a fearless celebration of art, freedom, and the unbridled soul of human sexuality. The film, however, isn't really about the epic fire of De Sade's erotic imagination. It's about censorship (we're meant to go, ''How relevant!''), and the way it rendered De Sade a revolutionary pariah.
    Royer-Collard, played by an unusually bland Caine, is a virtuous hypocrite who takes a child bride and then cracks down on the Marquis for trafficking in similar fantasy. In a strange way, though, ''Quills,'' too, strikes a tone of hypocritical squeamishness. The Marquis de Sade was consumed by images of cruelty, orgiastic excess, pederasty, and murder; he remains one of the most radical and terrifying of all writers because he shocks, and challenges, not just puritans but liberals.
    The De Sade we see in ''Quills'' is just a giddy prankster who writes lip smacking odes to the glory of women's body parts. His rapt attraction to pain is ascribed to his having seen the horrors of the French Revolution. Even his grandest perversities are made ''political.''
    ''Quills'' bleaches the danger -- and fascination -- out of De Sade, turning him into a kind of mad saint of ''Masterpiece Theatre'' porn. By the end, the Marquis, nude and in torment, uses wine, blood, even his own feces to keep on writing, waging his war against the prudes who would erase him from the world. It's hard not to cheer him on, even as the film itself erases De Sade more than it reveals him.
    EW Grade: B-

November 23: From CNN:
Review by Paul Tatara, reviewer
    For whatever reasons, Philip Kaufman's transformation into a European art house director continues unabated with "Quills," a fictionalized account of the last days of the Marquis de Sade. Regardless of what audiences may think of the movie -- which stars Geoffrey Rush (as the very much put-upon marquis), Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and Michael Caine -- Kaufman isn't lacking in nerve. There's enough abuse and vulgarity on display here to satiate a stadium full of Howard Stern fans.
    De Sade's intentionally vile, sexually brutal prose got him tossed into the Charenton insane asylum for the final 10 years of his life, and his imagery is still bound to ruffle some feathers. The modern-day result of his ungodly pursuits is a movie that progresses from sharp wit to endless rounds of shrieking, bug-eyed revulsion. Just as he did with 1990's "Henry and June," Kaufman is trying to be high-minded and lowbrow at the same time. Think Ken Russell's "The Devils" (1971) crossed with Milos Forman's "Amadeus" (1984), if you dare.
    Evil jottings -- "Quills" opens with what we quickly come to find is a fictional grope and beheading envisioned by the marquis. Locked in a cell full of obscene artifacts, he's encouraged by Abbe Coulmier (Phoenix), the benevolent priest who runs the institution, to free his mind of "evil" by jotting down degraded stories. These works are not intended for public consumption, of course, which means that everybody in France wants to read them.
And read them they do, courtesy of Madeleine (Winslet), an amply endowed washer-woman who smuggles the tomes out of de Sade's lockup in her laundry basket. She then passes the stories to a mysterious stranger who publishes them.
    The unwashed masses treat them as the 19th century version of Must-See TV. De Sade's literary nastiness is all anybody can talk about.  This draws the ire of none other than Napoleon, who dispatches Dr. Royer-Collard (Caine) to supposedly cure the marquis of his "madness." After assorted rounds of one-upmanship with his patient, the not-so-good doctor sets about creating a literally tortured artist. His treatment consists of strapping de Sade in a metal chair and repeatedly dunking him into a vat of water, among other unsavory things. It doesn't look like fun, and only convinces de Sade to go to greater lengths to make his voice heard. Once his cell has been stripped of writing material, he actually starts scribbling stories on his bedding, in his own blood. That's what you call commitment.
    Laughter, screams -- There are moments of great verbal humor in all of this, and de Sade's battle with the doctor is sometimes pitched at a level that intentionally elicits laughs. At one point, a new play by de Sade is performed by the yelping, drooling asylum inmates for an audience of respectable citizens that includes Caine's character. It turns out to be an exceedingly cruel parody of his loveless marriage to a beautiful teen-age girl.
    Rush and Winslet also share some naughty-naughty conversations that crackle with lust and amusement. Screenwriter Doug Wright (who adapted his own play) obviously loves language just as much as de Sade did. But Kaufman continually raises the delirium ante around the asylum until he seems just as crazy as its occupants.
    The cast is game, although Winslet is strangely misused. She's a downright fearless actress, and her physical ripeness suits the character. Yet there just isn't enough sexual tension generated among Madeleine, de Sade, and Phoenix's priest to believably engender the final act's litany of potboiler freak-outs. Rest assured that all hell breaks loose, and then some.  [Not enough sexual tension?! Boy, do I - and many other critics disagree with that assessment!]
    Phoenix shines in a role that would initially seem unsuited to his skills; this is a real breakout performance for an actor who's growing in unexpected ways with each new film. And Rush, as you might imagine, has a field day with de Sade's shenanigans. He's a casual marvel in one of those roles that all but guarantees an Oscar nomination if the actor stays focused. Rush, who won the best actor award in "Shine" (1996), may even pick up a second statue in this somewhat weak year for male performances.
    Without a doubt, Kaufman's best work as a director is 1983's sprawling wise-guy epic, "The Right Stuff." It finally brought his pop-savvy visions to a frothy head, and it's very close to the final word on the American frontier spirit. But the film's unexplained commercial failure must have thrown him for an artistic loop. Since then, he's concerned himself with nothing but high-toned studies of art and artists, with gorgeous -- and middling -- results.
How did the man who co-wrote the story for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and directed a biting remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978) wind up churning out pretentious, long-winded studies like this film and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988)?
    There's a good chance that "Quills" will generate the stiff-backed applause that Kaufman apparently has been seeking. But American movies would be much better off if he'd give equal play to his unerring sense of pulp. After all, not every artist has to suffer to be heard.
    If you can imagine it, it's in "Quills." There's a beheading, an attempted rape, a murder, systematic torture, married-but-forceful sex with an underage girl, necrophiliac fantasies, grotesque language, debatable degrees of religious blasphemy, and nudity. Winslet, as usual, can't keep her shirt on for the entire picture. But the fun is effectively squelched by Rush standing around in his full-frontal glory. Yuck, as they say. Rated R. 123 minutes, with the final 15 or so reaching way too many crescendos.

November 23: From MetroActive:
"Sade Story - 'Quills' offers an intriguing look at the last years of the Marquis de Sade," by Richard von Busack
    'No spirit was more free," said the poet Apollinaire, to which a later writer commented, "No body was more imprisoned, at any rate." The Marquis de Sade, hero of the new film Quills, served 30 years of his life in various dungeons for misdemeanors. In jail, he composed an enormous, rambling body of written work. De Sade's writings are a chaotic fantasy of sexual egalitarianism, an inverted version of utopian fantasy.
    In his writings, every human is up for grabs, subject to any whim any other human might have - no matter how grisly. The argument against de Sade's work is the same argument against pornography: What if the wrong kind of person reads it, taking fantasy for gospel truth? From de Sade's novel Juliette: "How delightful are the pleasures of the imagination. In these delectable moments, the whole world is ours; not a single creature resists us; we devastate the world, we repopulate it with new objects which, in turn, we immolate; the means to every crime is ours and we employ them all." Even Alfred Hitchcock couldn't have phrased a better description of the movie-going experience.
    In this stunning comeback movie by Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Geoffrey Rush plays de Sade during his confinement at the asylum at Charenton in the early 1800s. De Sade, naturally a handful, is under the care of a good, liberal, work-within-the-system-type weakling abbé (Joaquin Phoenix). He's also tended by a coy but hardheaded laundress (Kate Winslet, never riper and more inviting).
    Summoned by the scandalous success of de Sade's print enormities, a new director arrives at the asylum, Dr.Royer-Collard, played by Michael Caine. The joke is that Royer-Collard exemplifies the type of authoritarian de Sade diagnosed in his prose. Caine's doctor crowns his new job with the legal conquest and imprisonment of a convent-educated child-bride. The second half of the film is a war of wills between the doctor and his prisoner, which takes a turn into mad punishment.
    When the script, based on Doug Wright's play, departs from history into symbolism, the film falters. As a fable, Quills is grounded in realism too much to be completely accepted as a fairy tale. For example, the Reign of Terror sequence at the beginning of Quills feels alive with real horror; it's even better even than the scenes Val Lewton did for the David O. Selznick version of A Tale of Two Cities. Yet the last quarter of Quills is gory and flip/ironic in the manner of a Tales From the Crypt episode; this, despite a fine, acrid finale, a Pietà scene with a sting left in it.
    Rush of Shine, in his best performance yet, makes the Marquis too grand a figure to be ground down by symbolic (and utterly fictional) violence. Rush evokes the humor and hyperbolic qualities of this influential, dreaded writer. Kaufman's made one of the few daring films this year, a discourse on the attractions and dangers of pornography that explains how S&M reshapes everyday pain into sudden pleasure.

November 23: From the Christian Science Monitor:
" 'Quills' Mixes Shock And Commentary," by David Sterritt
    Call it a sign of the new millennium, but 2000 has given us no fewer than two new movies about the Marquis de Sade, one of the most notorious miscreants of the past few centuries. "Sade," a French production, is a rather tame affair that hasn't yet found American distribution. But the more abrasive "Quills" is opening with a Hollywood-style flourish, evidently meant to offset the picture's unsavory content by calling attention to its respected stars. They are eccentricity specialist Geoffrey Rush as the aging antihero, "Titanic" veteran Kate Winslet as the laundress he loves, Joaquin Phoenix as the priest who runs the asylum where he's incarcerated, and Michael Caine as the doctor who aims to cure him but may secretly be as sadistic as the Marquis himself.
    Directed by Philip Kaufman from Doug Wright's screenplay, "Quills" is designed to strike different moviegoers in different ways. In many respects it's an exercise in Grand Guignol grotesquerie that presents the Marquis and company in the sort of self-consciously lurid manner associated with horror pictures. It's also a deliberately toned-down account of the Marquis's true artistic and intellectual ideas, abridging them so much that they're hard to recognize at times.
    This double-faced approach is a clever compromise, allowing some spectators to praise the picture's blunt naturalism while others defend it as "only a movie" and find solace in its fundamentally conservative view of art's ability to stir up a society's most evil impulses. Still, you can't help wondering why the Marquis's story is worth telling at all if it isn't worth telling accurately. If the actual transgressions of his life and work were laid bare on the screen, the result would hardly be a studio moneymaker. But it might be a useful lesson in the raging horrors that swept through European culture during an 18th-century epoch so momentous that its influence is still felt on both sides of the Atlantic.
    Like most dramas centering on Sade's career, "Quills" takes place at the Charenton asylum where the Marquis was imprisoned in the later part of his life. The plot depicts his complex relationship with the servant Madeleine, and his conflicts with the increasingly exasperated clergyman and physician who have authority over him within the institution.
    The movie's basic message seems to be that the power of these professionals - and of the less imposing individuals who are promoting the terrors of the French Revolution outside Charenton's walls - has corrupted them so much that Sade has little edge over them when it comes to cruelty, malice, and perversion.  This is hardly an original idea, and its impact is further reduced by the anemic account of Sade's writing, which is quoted at enough length to seem awfully naughty but not enough to appear genuinely subversive. Ditto for the picture's depiction of sadistic violence, which may shock the unwary but is little more gruesome than a '50s monster yarn from Hammer Films.
    If there's any real value in "Quills," it's the story's emphasis on the potency attributed to written words before the media-drenched excesses of our own postverbal time. When the Marquis risks safety, sanity, and life itself in order to scrawl a few outlandish sentences that may someday reach a reader, it's a salutary reminder that language once mattered a lot more than it appears to in the age of "Quills."
    Rated R; contains explicit sex, extremely graphic violence, and highly offensive language.

November 23: From San Francisco Weekly:
"Sexual Reeling - Philip Kaufman's Quills is a harsh, lush lecture on sensuality and censorship," by Gregory Weinkauf
    Assessing the merits of Quills, the lusty new feature by director Philip Kaufman (Henry & June), it's tempting to seek correlative characters from popular movies, to illustrate just how radical this business is not. In Kaufman's film -- affectionately constructed upon a screenplay by Doug Wright, who adapts his award-winning play -- we discover a fairly standard dichotomy: Geoffrey Rush is the Marquis de Sade, a pouty artist; Michael Caine is Dr. Royer-Collard, a seemingly upstanding manipulator of psyches. Tweak the universe a bit, and you've got Magneto and Dr. Xavier from X-Men. Add songs and eyeliner, and you've got Frank-N-Furter and Riff-Raff from Rocky Horror. Envision soft-core Dr. Seuss, and you may even see the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who (a shame that that didn't come to pass; just imagine the inspired casting of Caine as the latter). Basically, beneath the rollicking performances and passionate execution, what we have here is yet another tale of the abused, misunderstood outsider being assailed by the heartless tormenter. Congratulations to the one-billionth entry.
    If only Kaufman didn't feel obliged to lay on the hero worship quite so thickly. Although Wright's curious perspective -- that Donatien Alphonse François de Sade was foremost a brilliant poet of the senses, and a vicious monster not at all -- remains chiseled into every scene from start to finish, it would have behooved the director to take a few liberties with the playwright's lovable libertine. Perhaps he could have spoken to Rush about toning down the cuddliness, to Caine about employing at least half an ounce of humanity. It is odd that this story of depravity and martyrdom is painted almost entirely in thick strokes of black and white, without even the slightest flush of ambivalence. You know the drill: religion and authority bad, sex and wankery good, blah, blah, blah. Technically, it's an impressive piece of work, but, in Kaufman's hands, the foul marquis becomes as trite as a wild horse in a teenage girl's sketchbook: noble, glorious, and incapable of unpleasantness ... apart from Rush's abundant nude scenes, anyway, which truly allow us to share his character's suffering.
    The action centers upon Charenton Asylum, in the years immediately following the Reign of Terror, when, by an obscure edict forgotten by most historians, Napoleon commanded all French citizens to speak English for the audience's comfort and enjoyment. Leading these linguistic slaves is the Marquis de Sade, a bad boy and good writer persecuted throughout his life for such trifles as rape and murder. Having endured years of imprisonment, during which he purportedly witnessed the deaths of thousands by guillotine, he emerged to become his era's most poetic and prolific smut-peddler, until Bonaparte arrested him again and threw him into the relative comfort of the asylum for his remaining years. When we meet the marquis, dusty and foppish in powdered wig and topcoat, he inhabits his lavish, Gothic cell as a master of his craft, churning out "naughty little tales ... guaranteed to stimulate the senses." Deprived of his freedom and slowly succumbing to the brittleness of advanced age, his inkwell and beloved quills become his most intimate link with the world, outside and inside.
    A hotblooded chambermaid named Madeleine (Kate Winslet) shares a mutual fancy with the marquis, and, possessing a key to his ominous door, takes to smuggling out his stories along with the dirty linen. While the benevolent young abbé, Simonet de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), runs his asylum with compassionate attention to the special needs of his charges (particularly the marquis), his sexual denial and countless responsibilities keep him from noticing that his establishment is ground zero for the pornographic bee in Napoleon's tricorn. To apply a firmer hand to the dissolute dandy, Antoine Royer-Collard is dispatched to Charenton. An alienist and expert in devices of medieval torture, the doctor does not approve of the abbé's lenient methods of therapy, which include allowing the marquis to write and direct plays for the cast of gibbering inmates. ("My glorious prose, filtered through the minds of the insane," murmurs the marquis near the film's bitter end. "Who knows, they might improve it.") Complicating matters, the doctor has plucked a young orphan (Amelia Warner) from a nunnery to function both as his wife and as a receptacle of frustration; and who better to be turned on by the marquis' stories, to set in motion these rickety wheels of retribution?
    To be sure, Kaufman has a great talent for exploring wanton appetites and sexual disparities, as evidenced in his adaptation of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and, of course, in the diaries of Anaïs Nin. In a culture in which the infidelities of Bill Clinton and Hugh Grant have only enhanced their public stature, however, and in which Larry Flynt's clarion call of "Relax -- it's just sex" seems fairly well embraced by the masses, the director now comes across as an old-fashioned hippie, bellowing for free love. True, Quills pushes buttons and tickles us with its dark prurience, but since its central conflict is so glaringly obvious, its protagonist so immensely unappealing, the themes lose much of their impact. As his treatise is very unlikely to "make the angels weep and the saints all gasp for air," perhaps Kaufman will be aghast to discover that Quills is hardly revolutionary, merely quaint.
    The strength of the project emerges from its exceptional cast and impeccable design. Phoenix is the surprise star of the piece, adding yet another role to his impressive résumé. Although Rush commands attention with all his strutting and fretting, his resentful, pound-of-flesh antics pale in comparison to the intimate scenes he shares with the hungry yet restrained Winslet, and, even more, with his wife Jane Menelaus, as the marquis' estranged spouse. Caine is a perfect villain -- too perfect, in fact -- yet all his attempts to woo his young charge with Peruvian marble, ceiling beams from Provence, and a trompe l'oeil over the ballroom do not explain why the girl does not even flinch when he attacks. Even this glaring improbability is nearly swallowed up by the sumptuous production design by Martin Childs (Shakespeare in Love), who provides the stage for this battle of vice and virtue. In sum, Quills is bound to titillate 'em in the Bible Belt, but elsewhere it's likely to summon little more than a few Oscars and appreciative yawns.

November 22: From the New York Times:
" 'Quills': Torturing Everybody, And Loving It," by Elvis Mitchell
    One of the funniest and most riveting scenes in "Quills" sets the tone for the movie, though it doesn't come early. In the Charenton Asylum, Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) and Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) are discussing the best way to handle the infuriating Marquis de Sade, and as they walk, these men of reason are surrounded by demonstrations of the most modern medical treatments: bloodletting, phrenology and the like. It's the kind of casual absurdity that the film's director, Philip Kaufman, delights in, and "Quills" at its best lets him display a graceful wiliness. This story of the Marquis de Sade, adapted by Doug Wright from his play of the same title, isn't exactly a docudrama. It invents elements to make its rather obvious point about the price exacted by art and the state that liberals trying to do what's right can be whipped into. Fortunately, the elegance of Mr. Kaufman's direction and his handling of the cast make for the kind of euphoric stylishness that has been missing from moviegoing for some time.
    Much of that élan comes from Geoffrey Rush, who plays Sade as a gleeful voluptuary unfettered by either morality or what for him would be the most venal of sins, sentimentality. Sade is a flamboyant pansexual, a glittering vulture who exploits others for his own delectation. A man who views rot as the ultimate form of self-expression, he's quite vain about moral deterioration, and he keeps himself a bewigged and perfumed dandy. For him, his stay in the Charenton Asylum is merely slumming, a time when he gets to evaluate the damaged and discarded psyches that litter the rooms and decide which is his most apt target. And Mr. Kaufman revels in the chaos.
    Sade creates trouble because even while confined at Charenton, he manages to have his scandalous writing published. His scribblings, laundry lists of depravity, are smuggled out of the asylum by Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a virginal laundress eager to conspire with him. But Sade's writings are becoming a threat to the crumbling French establishment. The compassionate Coulmier thinks that Sade is a possible candidate for redemption, but is unable to keep him under wraps. Mr. Phoenix's thoughtful performance makes it clear that Coulmier clings to decency because it offers him self-definition and sanity; without it, he'd be lost, potentially worse off than any of the asylum's inmates. Coulmier's essential goodness marks him as a failure, and Napoleon dispatches the more businesslike Royer-Collard to silence Sade. (Mr. Caine's performance is tart and precise, a portrait of a man who isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is.)
    As conceived by Mr. Wright and Mr. Rush, Sade is a man so utterly convinced of his own allure that his confidence functions as a form of madness; what's really the difference between Sade and the inmate who thinks he's a bird? And as portrayed by Mr. Rush, Sade's spoiled conviviality is a disease; this awe-inspiring sociopath infects others with the need to do his bidding, and they go along happily. This could have made the other performers into no more than quirky straight men for Sade's arch blustering, but Mr. Kaufman solves this by focusing on Mr. Rush's face as he listens closely during dialogue. Like any good predator, he's waiting for the moment to pounce.
    Accentuating Sade's attention to others is Mr. Kaufman's way of putting the rest of the cast on an equal footing. Ms. Winslet rises to the challenge. She comes across as a member of the lower class whose native intelligence makes her worthy of Sade's notice. She knows it, too, and deploys her own wiles to keep him at bay. Ms. Winslet's shrewdness as an actress has never been better displayed than it is here, as she shows that she's aware of how intoxicating Sade's presence can be and is intrigued enough to go along for the ride.
    "Quills" occasionally becomes pretentious and shrill - sometimes Mr. Wright isn't aware that his material is so good that he doesn't need to comment on his characters, and the effect at the end of hoisting Sade on his own petard is totally unnecessary. But Mr. Kaufman moves the film briskly along. Like Sade, he loves stirring up trouble.
    "Quills"` is rated R. It contains nudity, violence, torture, sexuality and adult language.

November 22: From iF Magazine:
Review by Paul Zimmerman
    Was the Marquis de Sade the ultimate martyr for free speech or just a dirty old man? He's both and much, much more in Philip Kaufman's new film QUILLS. A full, robust, enormously satisfying entertainment, QUILLS challenges both the brain and the libido and is a success on any number of levels. Adapted from his play of the same name by Doug Wright, QUILLS is as the author suggests "a story full of melodrama, terror and Sade's incendiary sense of humor."
    Set at the turn of the 18th Century in the wake of the French Revolution, this is the story of scandalous author Marquis de Sade in his declining years. Banished to the Charenton sanatorium by Napoleon - who's aghast after reading parts of de Sade's sado masochistic tome JUSTINE -it quickly becomes an ode to free speech and expression.
    What drives the film and the Marquis is his burning passion to write. He must literally publish or perish. He finds support for his work from the fetching Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a virgin laundress who changes his linens and his way of life. Smuggling out his banned manuscripts to sleazy printers, de Sade becomes more popular behind bars than when he was free. Seduced by de Sade's ribald way of writing and thinking, Madeleine longs to be free and love the sanatorium's director Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a priest with hot pants for the hired help. Both his friend and foe, Abbe is willing to put up with the Marquis' making his looney bin even more loopy until the evil Doctor Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) is sent to "cure" the writer.
    And so the battle begins. De Sade cannot stop himself from writing, Royer from ruling and Madeleine from loving. It all plays like a mad, sexed up version of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. With all this lust, love and torture under one roof, something's going to give. Will the doctor break the free spirit? Will the Abbe break his vows and give in to his longing love of the voluptuous laundress?
    Geoffrey Rush as the doomed writer, quite simply, has the time of his thespian life. As the charming and lurid de Sade he prances, preens and insults, seducing the rest of the cast and the audience. Rush has said in interviews he imagined vain rock stars locked behind bars for his portrait and the results are dead on, he always stops just short of playing over the top.
    The rest of the cast clearly relishes working with a literate script and solid director. Winslet is her usual bold self, playing what could be a one-dimensional part with unblinking frankness and a fresh sexuality. As she did in HOLY SMOKE, Winslet is unafraid to bare herself emotionally or physically. Caine is suitably nasty without resorting to mustache twirling and Phoenix, as the most tormented of all souls, shows his GLADIATOR portrayal was no fluke.
    Director Kaufman finds (several) appropriate tones and the resulting film is by turns funny, sexy, provoking, and moving. This is Kaufman's first film since `93s tepid RISING SUN and his return to form is most welcome. Indeed, even measured along side his past triumphs like THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING and THE RIGHT STUFF, this may be his best film to date. The gritty period detail is dead on and the story moves with a rapid pace that belies its potential heavy tone and possibilities for polemic missteps.
    Grade A-

November 22: From USA Today:
"De Sade, The Pleasure Is Ours," By Mike Clark
    No one can accuse the Marquis de Sade of writer's block in Philip Kaufman's admirably fluid Quills
( * * * out of four), an adaptation of Doug Wright's Obie-winning play that triumphs over potentially claustrophobic material. As a matter of fact, several scenes even deal with fluids -- unconventional ones that the scandalous Marquis ultimately employs as ink substitutes after authorities confiscate quills and other writing instruments in France's Charenton asylum for the insane.
    Incarcerated Sade -- The incarcerated Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) hungers to write, and the most humane of his early 19th- century oppressors (Joaquin Phoenix as asylum supervisor Abbé de Coulmier) has allowed the titillating writer to do so. Though the progressive Abbé's intentions are purely therapeutic, one of the facility's chambermaids (Kate Winslet) has been smuggling out the Marquis' sexually explicit pennings to a publisher, who has been bringing them out under the name ''Anonymous.'' It's a ruse that fools no one, and everyone in official France, from Napoleon on down, is apoplectic, though the general populace is having a grand old time.
    What follows is a game of puritanical cats (plural) and mischievous mouse (with helpers) in a contest of wills that grows more deliriously deviant as it races toward a mad climactic encounter that, let's just say, among many other things, makes a strong case for closed caskets. Undeniably aimed at specialized tastes and perhaps too schematic for even its target audience, the movie nonetheless mounts a pertinent attack on the frequent hypocrisy of those who would stifle free speech.
    And in this regard, it has a fun-to-hate villain who you just know, from the moment you see him amid courtship, will soon be playing the cuckold. He would be Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), an expert in torture devices who arrives to put a stop to the Marquis' chicanery and to revamp a nearby mansion for his child bride (Amanda Warner as the hottest innocent in the convent).
    Once she starts reading the Marquis de Sade's outlawed Justine on the sly, her eyes start roaming off the page, and Royer-Collard starts putting more zeal into his doled-out punishments. Give the doctor some credit: Not just anyone can make a relative hero out of the Marquis, whom Rush seems to savor making as seedy as possible.
    As a choice of material, the movie adds to the unpredictable mix that is Kaufman's career: Henry & June, The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Uniformly robust acting puts still more (quill) feathers in the caps of Rush, Winslet and Caine, just as the last is coming off an Academy Award win for playing another unconventional doctor in The Cider House Rules. Oscars are one thing, but don't look for Caine's latest 1-2one-two acting punch to win him AMA certification.

November 22: From The San Francisco Gate:
"Rush Hits Hits Mark In Brilliant 'Quills' Role, But Filmmaker's Vision Not Quite On Target," by Peter Stack, Chronicle Staff Writer
    "Quills," the new film by San Francisco director Philip Kaufman, stars Geoffrey Rush in a raw and witty role as the Marquis de Sade, the fallen French aristocrat shut away in an asylum for his scandalous views on sex and cruelty. In this fictionalized account of the last years of Sade's life, the marquis writes obsessively, smuggling out his pornographic scribblings via a virginal laundress, played by Kate Winslet. When his writing tools, the quills, are taken away by authorities, Sade risks his health and sanity to continue writing -- with implements of his own devising. The film becomes an impassioned polemic on artistic freedom within a repressive political climate. In this, "Quills" has a strikingly contemporary tone.
    Rush is amazing throughout this absorbing, provocative film, which is set in Gothic confines. "Quills" was written by Doug Wright; this is a screen adaptation of his play looking at Sade's time in the Charenton asylum during the Napoleonic era. Sade died at Charenton in 1814.  The grim setting is far from fertile ground for high-minded discourse or physical pleasures, but the marquis clings to his nobility with a library, courtly costume and wig, and a writing desk where he spends endless hours scrawling explicit novels and elaborate, often shocking arguments.
    In his dealings with fellow inmates and prison authorities, Rush's Marquis de Sade explodes with life; he's a sharp-tongued, goading and contentious genius. He's simultaneously a child having a temper tantrum and an erudite adult nattering endlessly about what he regards as the gloriously sordid nature of people and their hypocrisy over not coming to terms with it. Rush often makes the film soar with a sense of enlightened madness. He delivers Wright's brilliant lines with such vitality and so many shadings that he transforms Sade into a believable man, driven by the heat of inspiration but stuck in the vise of imprisonment. The role is an actor's dream, and Rush makes it all come true.
    Sade didn't just like sex; he was obsessed with it. Coupled with his noted examination of human cruelty as a source of pleasure, Sade expounded on his passion for perversion with the zeal of a missionary.  The sputtering aristocrat is attended to by Madeleine, the laundress who becomes his ally. She's amused by him, and smilingly tolerates his toying with her, flirtations in which he boldly enunciates his wicked fantasies. Winslet plays the role with subtle humor, balancing innocence with a winking knowingness.
    Sade is also attended by the asylum's administrator, a priest called Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who is stimulated by Sade's intelligence but also driven to guide his demonic ward to a moral path. The interplay among these three characters is fascinating.
    The film is gorgeously shot in spite of its grotesque setting. The asylum is filled with the mentally distressed, and "Quills" becomes an engaging study of imprisonment. The human imperative is to break bonds, however delusional. Voyeurism is everywhere; privacy is an illusion.
    "Quills" is plenty naughty in language and imagery. The fainthearted may want to avoid this bold production, which revels in the lascivious if for no other reason than that it is about a passionately lascivious person. There is raw language, nudity and grotesque violence.
    Yet in spite of Rush's great performance and the film's painstakingly "accurate" physical staging, "Quills" doesn't quite touch the heart. Audacious, yes. Strangely romantic, yes. Literate? Sure. But something is missing at the core. The film never quite transcends its fixation with Sade as a punished genius, even though Wright's treatment tries to turn the tale into a despairing love story, as the Abbe finds himself hopelessly drawn to Madeleine (a subplot that turns wearisome).
     Michael Caine is disappointing in his role as a moralist doctor sent by Napoleon to deal with Sade. Caine's performance is a monotone -- the predictably calculating demonic type who is hypocritical every moment. Kaufman seems content to let Caine stay stone cold and not reveal the vulnerability of the tortured man behind his mask of scientific sanctimony. Caine's performance is a reflection of some of the film's missed opportunities to engage in a more complex, layered drama, one that would have served as a better complement to Rush's brilliant work.
--Advisory: This movie contains graphic violence, explicit sex, nudity and raw language.

November 22: I bought an LA Times newspaper today and noticed that there is a review of Quills in the "Calendar" section. Unfortunately, Kenneth Turan is the Times critic who reviewed the film - and, boy, does he hate it!
" 'Quills' Pushes Well Past the Point of Discomfort," by Kenneth Turan, Times Film Critic
    From its subject matter to its execution, the film about the Marquis de Sade is tough to handle. Not content to simply explore the life and philosophy of the celebrated Marquis de Sade, "Quills" soon becomes a sadistic experience in its own right. Experiencing this pretentious wallow -- overwritten, under-thought and overdone -- is a very sophisticated form of torture. For if the marquis, his scabrous thoughts on pleasure and pain notwithstanding, was nothing if not genuine, "Quills" is a smug fraud that indulges in the worst kind of pretense. It would like you to believe it's about such high-minded notions as the power of words, the risks of free expression and the price of censorship, but in fact what director Philip Kaufman has come up with is a crude and shameless melodrama weighted down with sham pieties. This film isn't challenging, it's self-congratulatory in the most meretricious way, overripe contrivance masquerading as high art.
    "Quills" certainly has the right ingredients for this charade. Stars Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine are all respected; Kaufman himself remains a critical favorite, though his last unalloyed success ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being") is deep in the past; and screenwriter Doug Wright based the script on his Obie-winning play. But credits don't make films, people do, and everyone on the "Quills" team has betrayed their talent by participating in this fiasco.
     Wright's script is a good place to start the search for unindicted co-conspirators. It's annoyingly and artificially theatrical, rife with bogus philosophizing and wink-wink lines like "the price is every bit as firm as I am," and, worst of all, it's got a sense of character about as subtle as "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon." In his zeal to make his right-thinking points about the horrors of stifling creativity, Wright hasn't known or cared how much his characters pander to our preconceptions, how much they are obvious, over-familiar heroes and villains whose heroism and venality (and this is where Kaufman comes in) couldn't be written more clearly on their faces if they had capital Hs and Vs stamped on their foreheads.
    After a brief prologue illustrating the French Revolution at the height of the Paris Terror, "Quills" shifts to the Charenton Asylum and its most infamous inmate, the marquis. (Filmgoers with good memories will remember this same institution as the site of "Marat/Sade," the 1966 Peter Brook-directed version of the Peter Weiss play.)
A tireless scribbler who considers himself "a writer, not a madman," the marquis (Australian actor Rush, "Shine's" Oscar winner) wears out quill after quill in a cell liberally decorated with what is probably the greatest collection of Oriental sex toys in all France.
    Madeleine (Winslet), charmingly described in the press notes as "a ravishing young laundress," gets a kick out of flirting with the nasty old marquis. She also helps him out by smuggling his manuscripts to Paris, that hotbed of perfidy, where back-street publishers can't print them fast enough for a public that doesn't have the Spice Channel to distract it.
    Unfortunately, a copy of the marquis' latest, "Justine," reaches the hands of Napoleon (played, with characteristic heavy-handedness, as someone whose short, childish legs don't reach the floor when he sits on the throne). The emperor, no surprise here, is not amused, and decides to put a tough-love advocate in charge of the marquis' asylum.
That would be Dr. Royer-Collard (an unsmiling Michael Caine), a "man of iron resolve" who considers idealism "youth's final luxury." Sternness itself, Royer-Collard is the kind of guy who takes it as a deserved compliment when people call him old-fashioned and barbaric.
    Currently in charge of Charenton is the doctor's opposite number, the idealistic young Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a godly man who believes in reason, compassion and therapy. He lets the inmates put on plays, paint, even, in the marquis' case, put his thoughts on paper as "a purgative for the toxins of his mind" (though becoming the Jackie Collins of Paris was not part of the bargain). He also has his eye on young Madeleine, but what with his being a priest and her being a ravishing laundress, it's a complicated relationship.
    Royer-Collard, for his part, considers inmate theater "playing dress-up with cretins," so a battle with the saintly abbe is in the cards. If you're naive enough to expect a fair fight, you'll be disappointed. The doctor, it turns out, has taken a child bride of just 16 (Amelia Warner) literally straight from a nunnery, and the way he treats her on their wedding night would not make fellow physician Dr. Ruth Westheimer happy. My God, the man is a hypocrite. What a revelation.
    The celebrated marquis, the center of all this attention, turns out to be a terrible showoff as well as a spoiled brat. Rush's portrayal of him is occasionally amusing, but though its excessiveness is what the director wanted, it's much too gaudy a performance to be meaningful and the great man's endless smugness does not wear at all well.
    The closer "Quills" gets to its ponderous ending, the more impossibly heavy-handed it becomes, throwing in dark and stormy nights, a panting would-be rapist, even an aren't-we-sophisticated scene of sex with a corpse in a church that is pitiful in its childish determination to stick its tongue out at convention. "A malcontent who knows how to spell," is what the abbe calls the marquis in the film's one and only good line. It's a judgment that fits the filmmakers just as well.

November 22: From Rough Cut:
Review by Andy Klein (it's worth $7.00)
    Philip Kaufman's Quills may be all about the Marquis de Sade, but it is decidedly not a bio pic of the notorious author and libertine. If anything, it is more a bio pic of Philip Kaufman. (Note: absurd exaggeration for effect. Do not take literally.)
    Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright (adapting his own play) take huge liberties with the details of Sade's life, approaching even the Ken Russell (The Music Lovers, Lisztomania) level of disregard for literal history. But, where Russell's strategy is to throw accuracy to the wind in search of more essential truths about the subject, Kaufman is clearly motivated in part by his own struggles with hypocrites and censors.
    This is, after all, the same director who made the frankly sexual Unbearable Lightness of Being and who holds the honor of receiving the very first NC-17 from the MPAA's ratings board (for Henry & June), after protests forced the board to come up with an alternative for the tainted X rating. The reaction of theater owners, newspapers, and "decency" crusaders helped kill Henry & June's commercial prospects, effectively making the NC-17 a failure from its first outing.
    While one might not be able to find many other parallels between the lives of Kaufman and the Marquis, there is no question that the director is more concerned with Sade as an extreme representative of the Artist in conflict with Society.
    Except for a brief intro set during the French Revolution, the body of the film takes place sometime during the second decade of the 19th century. Sade (Geoffrey Rush) -- either for his actions or his words or likeliest for both -- has been locked up in the insane asylum at Charenton. Thanks to the indulgence of his wife, he lives a relatively luxurious lifestyle in the middle of this dank fortress, with a comfortable bed, a library, and, best of all, access to quills, ink, and paper. In truth, these comforts are no substitute for freedom. But at least Sade can write: the words seem to bubble up out of him uncontrollably, as he pens one sexually explicit tale after another.
    Of course, the urge for expression often goes hand in hand with the urge for an audience, and Sade is no exception. He has an ally in free-spirited laundry girl Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who smuggles his manuscripts out of his cell so they can be published in Paris. The appealing girl is bold enough to enter the madman's chamber and strong-willed enough to fend off his advances. It is no shock that this exemplar of unbridled lust would be trying to have his way with her; but there is, from the start, at least a hint that his infatuation may go beyond mere sexual desire.
    One other factor has allowed Sade to maintain his privileges. Charenton is run by the liberal young Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a genuine Christian who believes in the restorative power of love and kindness. (It is one of the film's more amusing liberties with history that the handsome Phoenix's character was, in real life, a four-foot-tall hunchback.)
    Coulmier has no idea that Madeleine is sneaking Sade's work out of the facility. He seems to be one of the few men in France who is unaware that his most famous inmate's books are selling like chauds gâteaux. Unfortunately, Napoleon is aware and not pleased. He dispatches the cruel Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a firm believer in cures that amount to torture, to "help out" at Charenton.
Sade immediate provokes Royer-Collard with a satirical play about the doctor's sex life with his new bride -- the vastly younger Simone (Amelia Warner), whom Royer-Collard has more or less bought from a church orphanage and whom he intends to keep locked up in a sumptuous mansion. But she is wilier and smarter than he realizes. "Don't think I'm such a fool," she proclaims, "as to think a prison is not a prison because it has fine china" -- which points up the parallel between her plight and Sade's.
    Each of Sade's provocations brings greater retribution, which spurs him to yet greater provocations. All the while, the hapless Coulmier is like the Ego, stuck in the midst of a battle between repressive Superego Royer-Collard and Id Sade.
In fact, while the plot revolves around Sade, all the major male characters are torn by the conflicts between their impulses and their repressions: Royer-Collard is a smug, "scientific" hypocrite; Coulmier cannot deal with his own feelings toward Madeleine. The main women -- Madeleine and Simone -- are too powerless to be torn; they are victims, whose attempts to escape their victimization may or may not succeed.
    As presented by Kaufman and Wright, the story is extraordinarily rich in themes. The movie draws the clear connection between the uncontrollable sexual impulse of the libertine and the uncontrollable expressive impulse of the artist -- both of whom are demonized by those who insist on projecting onto others their terrified need to control their own impulses.
    Oh, man, I could go on! There is simply so much to play with here. For 90 percent of the film's length, it's funny, exciting, and intriguing. As in The Yards, Phoenix reaffirms his great talent here. Winslet and Rush are equally wonderful, as Caine, while not a cardboard villain by any means, nonetheless projects an evil that I would not have believed possible from someone with such natural, movie-star charm.
    But then there's that final ten minutes or so. Like a fascinating mystery that invalidates all its good points by cheating on the solution, Quills falls apart during a coda of only a few minutes. After presenting such a complex profusion of ideas for the body of the film, Kaufman caps things off with a few scenes of irritating, cheap irony. In order not to give anything away, I will refer to the worst of the moments as the dreaded Manos, Hands of Fate ending, rather than cite any of the better known films that make the same mistake.
    Walk out five minutes early, and you'll have been treated to one of the year's best films.

November 22: From "Mr. Cranky":
IN SHORT: One of the Best of the Year (so far). [Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, violence and language]
    As we've written before, the end of each year tends to be packed with overly long epics with heavy-handed stories deliberately chosen for their unsavoriness. That means, without proper warning, early on you'll be wondering why you spent your money on the ticket. There are a few movies where a single solitary performance by an actor or actress can make up for, uh, scenes of festering junkie induced sores on arms and legs and such things like that...
    And then, once in a while, you get a story with an unsavory background that's really well developed, darkly funny and features not one, not two, but at least three Oscar worthy performances. Such a movie is the topic of this review and it is called Quills.
    Here's the only warning you'll get. Quills is inspired by the final years of the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush). That means that Quills is packed to the gills with blood and sex and irony and hard R pornographic linguistics and deceit and hints of necrophilia and hypocrisy and some incredibly horrific visuals. No, no one dresses in a spiked leather suits and whips naked nubile young things -- the Internet chat rooms have been abuzz with thoughts of Kate Winslet naked in this flick. Given the age of most of the kidlets in those chat rooms, they won't be sexually turned on. They'll be screaming in shock. Perfectly in keeping with things de Sade.
    It must be remembered that what is obscene and pornographic by 21st century standards is quite a bit different than what was considered obscene and pornographic in the 18th-century. The words of the Marquis de Sade, from his novel "Justine," read to the Emperor Napoleon (Ron Cook) are more biologically correct then gratuitous by modern standards. Simply, you'd find dirtier things in the letters to Penthouse magazine.
    What is important to note about Quills, is that there is almost nothing gratuitous in Doug Wright's adaptation of his award winning stage play. Wright has taken the known facts that de Sade was imprisoned in an asylum for the last 30 years of his life; that he had some kind of relationship with a chamber maid working in the asylum, here named Madeline (Kate Winslet) and that Emperor Napoleon did send a doctor Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to treat the Marquis with very vicious "scientific" methods more akin to sadism (sic) than medicine. These include what look to be medieval torture devices with names like the "calming chair" in which a patient is strapped and bolted into an iron chair and dunked backwards into a vat of cold water. For hours every day. For months at a time.
    Wright fashions a story that goes far beyond any preconceptions that we may have had about what the pervert de Sade may have been like, and twists them to his own delicious ends. Quills is filled with a tremendous amount of dry humor. De Sade is amused that his "incendiary prose" is ordered burned in a public square by the diminutive Emperor. That the words even made it to a publisher enrages the Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who is in charge of the asylum. The Abbé has allowed de Sade to continue writing in the belief that putting it on parchment was a safer and potentially more curative outlet than letting the man take his perverted fantasies out on other inmates. Or livestock. Or himself. Or corpses, what have you. De Sade's imagination, even to this day, still sets the lowest possible standard for the most perverse kind of thought. But it is read by everyone. The Abbé. The chambermaid. The Emperor. The people in the street. The doctor's wife . . .
   And tell me what you would make of a 62 seven-year-old doctor whose new bride, Simone (Amelia Warner) is a 15 going on 16 year old orphan girl, raised by nuns. The doctor is rich enough that he can pay to have her every material want and need fulfilled in the new house that the Emperor has provided. Certain needs, however, are left inflamed by the hidden, banned works that she hides inside books of poetry and unsatisfied by her elderly mate.
    Everyone is affected by the Marquis. As the punishments for writing grow ever more severe, the old man comes up with ways to subvert them, every time. As Quills moves into its final act, a battle of wits becomes one laced with revenge and horror. But the ultimate confrontation, while set up in the very beginning of the story, virtually disappears while the Doctor is busy attending to the architectural needs of his new home. It is our only disappointment with the story, that the tension does not build throughout the story. But there are multiple relationships at work between all the characters: the Abbé and the Maid; the Abbé and the Doctor; the Doctor and his Wife; the Wife and her lover. Not to mention the politics of the asylum; backbiting between the employees and the mini-story arcs of a quartet of loonies whose living quarters are not as luxurious as those of the Marquis.
    On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Quills, he would have paid... $7.50
    Quills is a brilliant, adult movie. It is funny and it is tragic and it is perverse, so we tip our hats to director Philip Kaufman, the cast and the playwright for it. Multiple story arcs fit nearly seamlessly. Terrific performances across the board. And one surprise after another. Highly recommended.

November 22: From the Greenwich Village Gazette:
Review by Eric Luiro (**** 4 stars)
    The Marquis de Sade is perhaps the greatest pervert of the second millennium of the common era. From him we get the word sadism and his works are still in print after a period of two centuries. He never seems to have gone out of fashion, at least in some circles, and remains a fascinating figure.
    The film begins with our Marquis(Geoffrey Rush) narrating an accompaniment to the decapitation of some poor lass during the terror of the French revolution. Cut to ten years later. Sade is now in the Charneton insane asylum, where he's confined to a luxurious cell where he writes his immortal smut. It seems that the Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) believes that our protagonist will be able to get it all out of his system if he writes it all down. But, Sade has other ideas. He's got an accomplice, a servant girl named Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who smuggles his scribbles out of the asylum and into the hands of a certain pornographer (Tom Ward), and very soon the notorious "Justine" is on the streets, being so popular that it gets noticed by Napoleon himself, who send the evil Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to put an end to the Marquis' literary outrages at any cost.
    Thus begins a perverse little soap opera where the bad Doctor and the worse Marquis duke it out while the Abbé and poor Madeleine watch in horror. First the Marquis makes fun of the Doctor and his child bride Simone(Amelia Warner), who's having an affair with an architect(Stephen Moyer), then the Doctor takes away his writing instruments and the Marquis begins to write with other materials.
    The battle escalates until we reach the gristly conclusion. This is a horror film, and there's plenty of blood and gore as we watch this literary train wreck. Surprisingly, scripter Doug Wright has written a very even-handed work. He shows what Sade's work can do to people, even though we clearly know who we're supposed to root for.
    What makes this thing bearable are the performances. Winslet, Rush, Phoenix and Caine are all brilliant, as are the supporting cast of servants and loonies. This is a fable and the moral of the story is quite clear. The intensity of the film just makes the point even stronger. This is not for the weak of stomach, but is well worth the trip to the theater.

November 22: From Eopinions:
Review by "splitsurround"
Pros: interesting story, well told & acted
Cons: might be too graphic for many
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
    "Quills" is twisted little movie. On the surface, seemingly the story of the Marquis de Sade, it reveals itself to be a tale about censorship, freedom, and taboo sexuality.
    The film opens in its main setting, an insane asylum. The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), incarcerated for his sexually charged writings, has decided to exercise his inner demons the only way he's allowed to at this point: to the other inmates. He stages a play, with a cast composed of lunatics. His main opposition is Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), who runs the asylum he's a part of. Collard's only concern is keeping his institution respectable, and free of embarrassments like published pornography by inmates like de Sade.
    Ironically enough, de Sade's biggest supporter comes in the form of a priest named Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Although a devoutly religious man, he attempts to relate to de Sade on a creative level, hoping to allow de Sade the time and space to exercise his demons on paper-and privately. The final key player in the film is Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a maid at the institution. In the same vein as Coulmier, she befriends and aids de Sade in his attempts to express himself.
    What happens in the institution might not be true events - but they're certainly entertaining. However, I would caution those that are put off by "deviant" themes to avoid this film. Not only is almost everything that comes out of de Sade's mouth sexually charged, but even the saintly priest Coulmier falls victim to sexual fantasies of Madeleine. And it's graphic. Which, if you're like me and … uh … appreciate Winslet's … look, then you'll enjoy this film.
    Director Philip Kaufman does a wonderful job of telling his tale of men battling their demons, without falling victim to cliches or pointless, gratuitous sex. Yes, there's sexual content, but it all serves the story in a very logical way. "Quills" (the name refers to one of de Sade's last attempt to express himself on paper … "a quill! somebody give me a quill!!") is an intelligent, fun, and well acted film that tells an original story for mature viewers. I highly recommend this one, although perhaps not on the first date.
On the Splitscale: 8/10
Bang for the Buck: Worth full-price to see it on the big screen.
Movie Mood: Serious Movie
Suitability for Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
Recommend to other potential buyers? Yes

November 22: From
"Theatrical and Seductive," -- Gemma Files
    Philip Kaufman is a man -- well, not totally obsessed with sex, I suppose, but it (along with film, and literature, and the censorship of either medium) definitely seems to be right near the top of his list of personal and professional interests. After all, this is the same guy whose cinematic adaptation of Anais Nin's sex-soaked diaries -- Henry and June, in which cute little cartoon-eyed Maria de Mendoza gets it liberally on with everything from Uma Thurman to her own libidinous imagination -- became the first movie on which the MPAA chose to test their brand-new NC-17 rating. And going by Quills, his newest, equally provocative offering, Kaufman's still having trouble deciding exactly what turns him on more: books or movies; images or words; the act itself or the mere idea of that act, in all its myriad possible permutations.
    Based on a stage play by Doug Wright (who also supplies the screenplay), Quills revolves around yet another (in)famous literary provocateur -- the Marquis de Sade, discredited aristocrat turned compulsive pornographer, who eventually lent his name to an entire category of sexual dysfunction. When the film opens, Napoleon is in power and the Marquis -- here played by Geoffrey Rush -- has been imprisoned in a comparatively humane asylum at Charenton, run by the naive young Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). His days of actual rape and assault have been behind him since before the French revolution began in similar idealism and ended in bloody Terror. Now the Abbe encourages him to leach the Sade-istic poisons in his brain onto the page, so he won't have to even consider acting on them anymore.
Problem is, Sade's got a little business deal going on the side with pretty laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who's been looking for properly stimulating reading matter ever since de Coulmier ushered her into literacy. The Marquis passes Madeleine his books, chapter by chapter, in return for the occasional sly kiss or grope; Madeleine shares them with her friends, then pockets a fee to pass them on to Sade's publishers in Paris. Thus Sade's notorious "Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue" becomes both a huge hit and a public scandal, and an insulted Napoleon dispatches Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to Charenton, where he has instructions to "cure" Sade as quickly as possible...or else.
    Rife with thematic possibilities to the point of over-saturation and beyond, Quills -- like the Marquis himself -- is a pose-y, pungent, ultra-theatrical yet weirdly seductive mess which wants to have its cake, eat it too and discuss the whole concept and context of its meal (constantly, contradictorily) while it does so. Parts, like the stunning opening sequence, provide breathtaking evidence that Sade really was the ultimate product of his times, and explain why so many literary punks have since elevated him to the status of an anarchist poet (even though, as de Coulmier points out, he's really just a hack who knows how to spell and fixates far too easily on words like "nipple" or "pikestaff").
    But other sections simply flirt with the complexities inherent in this fertile soup of material, most strikingly when Kaufman tries to imply that even though the effect of incendiary writings like the Marquis' definitely correlates strongly with the strength of character -- or lack thereof -- of those who consume them, an artist has no particular responsibility to censor himself just because some members of his audience may not be able to internalize his work without damaging their own world-view irreparably. It's a stance I find considerably more offensive than anything Rush, Winslet or Phoenix -- all giving great performances -- are called upon to do, say or espouse in the service of Kaufman's crippled masterpiece, and if that makes me some kind of unwitting dupe of the MPAA -- which, by the way, gave this a mere R -- well, then ... so be it.

November 22: From
"Sex & Politics," by Peter Brunette
    The Marquis de Sade has fascinated artists and intellectuals for nearly two centuries now, but owing to the inherent conservatism of the cinematic medium, he's rarely appeared on the silver screen. We may think of movies as a place where nearly anything goes, especially nowadays, but even art and independent films have been notoriously shy about wallowing in kinky, violent sex, which is, after all, what the Marquis was all about. Now, taking advantage of what we may come to see in retrospect as only a temporary liberalizing of the zeitgeist, the thinking-man's maverick Hollywood director, Philip Kaufman (Henry and June, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff), is here with Quills, a decidedly political take on his central figure. As such, it's most welcome, even if the film itself is not entirely successful.
    Quills is set almost entirely in the notorious Charenton prison, from which the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush), its most celebrated inhabitant, continues to publish his scurrilous books. Joaquin Phoenix plays Father Coulmier, the enlightened priest who befriends de Sade and administers the establishment with a view toward rehabilitation rather than punishment; he looks the other way when the Marquis's manuscripts are smuggled out by the voluptuous scullery maid Madeleine (Kate Winslet). The French court is thoroughly unamused by the prurient reading matter that continues to emanate from the prison and sends M. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to put its administration on a more rigorous footing and, above all, to put a stop to the Marquis's creativity.
    Kaufman, like Doug Wright, on whose play the film is based, construes de Sade not so much as a sexual liberator and prescient prober of the dark recesses of the human soul, as many others have done, but rather as a champion of intellectual and artistic self-expression. As his writing instruments are taken from him one-by-one, de Sade engages in all-out warfare with the forces of repression represented by Royer-Collard (who has some sexual problems of his own); the Marquis writes on his walls, then his sheets, then his clothes, and finally his own body. At a dangerous political moment in the United States, when both candidates for president have vied to outdo each other in their condemnation of supposed Hollywood excesses -- disguising their attack on freedom of expression as an effort to protect children (as these forces have always done) -- Quills is a refreshingly direct defense of this all-too-perishable freedom.
Thankfully, it's a pretty good movie as well. The dialogue is sparkingly witty, and Phoenix and Winslet are excellent in what are, after all, meant to be fairly one-dimensional roles. Veteran Caine - who seems to be doing more than fifty films a year - is nicely nasty as the villain and his psychological hand-to-hand combat with the Marquis is cleverly nuanced. Seeing through the Marquis's need, above all, to épater le bourgeois, he shouts at him in one resonant encounter that "you're not the Antichrist, only a malcontent who can spell." And in scene after scene, just as you are beginning once again to identify with and feel for the Marquis, Kaufman/Wright have him do something obnoxious in order to threaten that identification and to make you realize that the sanctity of self-expression must have nothing to do with the personal attractiveness or unpalatibility of the person doing the expressing.
    The narrative pacing does slacken from time to time, but never enough to actually make you lose interest. If I could change one thing in this thoroughly thought-provoking movie, I would cast someone else as de Sade. Rush is a fine actor, but he doesn't have the physiognomy for the role and he's only intermittently convincing as the brilliant bad boy you have to love and hate at once.

November 22: Here's a great, thoughtful review from Salon Magazine:
Review By Stephanie Zacharek
    Philip Kaufman's "Quills" is like an elaborate 18th-century woodcut come to life. It's a picture puzzle that offers a dazzling and provocatively brainy message on the surface only to reveal, on closer inspection, an erotically charged cluster of characters fumbling, fondling and fornicating. They're living in the roughest and most passionate way, committing acts that stretch beyond our boundaries of approval or disapproval, whether we're libertines or prudes or anything in between.
    Based on Doug Wright's play (Wright also wrote the screenplay), "Quills" is a delectable and ultimately terrifying fantasy about the last days of the seductively malignant Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush). It's the early part of the 19th century; Sade has been imprisoned in the insane asylum Charenton for some unspecified crime. (In real life, Sade was imprisoned on and off throughout his lifetime for crimes ranging from debt to sexual deviancy, often because of the machinations of his mother-in-law.) His confinement hasn't kept him from publishing his scandalous texts, smuggled out of his shabbily lavish prison cell by the voluptuous and winsomely game laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet). Meanwhile, the lovesick Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who oversees the asylum and considers himself Sade's friend and protector, looks the other way.
    When the Emperor Napoleon gets ahold of one of the smuggled texts, Sade's blasphemous and pornographic "Justine," he packs off a specialist physician, the panther-cruel Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), to "cure" Sade of his perversions, or, rather, to keep him under strict control. Sade, who immediately pegs Royer-Collard as a less-forthright mirror version of himself, resists. The doctor's persecution spurs him on, until one of the tales he spins from his prison cell inspires and incites a tragic and supremely horrifying act.
    The movie has already been praised by some critics as a vigorous anti-censorship treatise, but that makes it sound so much drier than it is, and it captures only one small wave of the movie's resonance. "Quills" is a complicated picture. Its multiple themes crisscross and swell and recede, and the ending leaves us in a place very different from where we started. Rife with rampant obsessions, necrophilia and murderous sexual acts inspired by a writer's prose, "Quills" is a story about the uncontrollability of passion and of art. It's an allegory of sorts, but it's one with blood coursing through its veins. The movie's lessons skitter flamboyantly across its surface -- the actors hand them to us baldly in the dialogue. "If I wasn't such a bad woman on the page," Madeleine tells the Abbé, who has also fallen deeply but chastely in love with her, "I couldn't be such a good woman in life."
    "Quills" is also a call to action, a reminder that art has to be allowed to breathe if it's going to flourish. But it also sets on its ear the idea, held dear by plenty of liberals and conservatives alike, that art's grandest purpose is to enrich the world. If art needs to incite passion to be effective, then, given the unpredictability and uncontrollability of human beings, there's also the possibility that it might foster madness. The ugly truths behind the nature of art are no less valuable than the gorgeous ones; the notion of art's ability to elevate us is meaningless if we don't also accept that it's sometimes red in tooth and claw.
    That could be a leaden theme, but not in Kaufman's hands. What makes "Quills" such a marvel is the chiffon lightness of its first two-thirds. The picture skates along merrily, even as its treacherous undercurrents gather momentum. Kaufman, the most catlike of directors, wants to play with us a bit before he slaps his paw down, but he stops well short of being sadistic: He makes sure the game is as wickedly enjoyable for us, his prey, as it is for him.
    Even more important, Kaufman doesn't sacrifice the picture's characters on the altar of the picture's mission. They're always the ones -- with their florescent perversions, their wayward desires, their devilish or angelic beauty -- who drive the movie. When Dr. Royer-Collard orders that Sade's paper and writing implements be taken away from him, there's mischievous merriment, bordering on a mad scientist's delight, in the way Sade discovers that red wine can be used as a substitute for ink. Before long, he takes more pleasure in his ingeniousness than he does in the act of writing: You can see it in the way he flutters his crudely bandaged fingers like raggedy war-torn butterflies, having drawn his own blood to fashion yet another of his immodest and immoral tales. Those bandages are less like badges of his dedication than works of art in themselves; like the Catholic sacraments, they're outward symbols of Sade's obsessiveness, a physical counterpart to his maddeningly repetitive tales of sodomized virgins and flagellated buttocks.
    "Quills" doesn't elevate the art of Sade; it actually goes out of its way to poke fun at the themes the real Sade embroidered and re-embroidered (among them his intense anal fixation) throughout his career. At one point the Abbé, who considers himself Sade's friend and protector, takes the writer to task for his "endless repetition of words, like 'nipple' and 'pikestaff.'" But the movie doesn't shrink from acknowledging the timeless power of Sade's work, either. When Dr. Royer-Collard's young bride Simone (played by the radiant and sly Amelia Warner), whom he's recently snatched fresh from the convent, pastes a copy of "Justine" between the covers of her "Lady's Garden of Verse," it's a reminder that no one is immune to ruthless seductions -- in fact, the innocent are the seducer's most coveted and perfect audience.
    This Sade, as Rush plays him, practically quivers with evil elegance; he's an erotic crocodile in shredded finery, a creature whose lavish lifestyle and brutish hedonism aren't just remnants of his past but tinctures that have seeped into his soul. Rush gives us a more sympathetic Sade than the real-life one, who consorted almost exclusively with prostitutes, considering them lesser beings and therefore more suitable for his brutal games, like whipping a woman and then pressing hot candle wax into her wounds.
    But Rush's slipperiness is still far from benign, and it's also treacherously appealing. When Madeline comes to his door, he whispers a raspy order: "Go ahead, you've a key; slip it through my tiny hole!" And even well before the movie's final third, when Sade can't avoid facing the consequences of the tragedy that springs to life from his prose, Rush wins our sympathy for his character: When the Abbé takes Sade's pen and ink away, he crumples to near helplessness, stating flatly, "I'll die of loneliness without them."
Rush's Sade is the sun king of "Quills," but the subjects that revolve around him are almost as luminous. Caine's Royer-Collard is something of a stand-in for Ken Starr, a man whose smug sanctimoniousness is just a convenient cover for his own rotting soul, but Caine puts just enough shading into the performance to keep it from being a caricature. His particular brand of evil has the placid creepiness of a weeping willow.
    Phoenix's Abbé radiates so much purity and goodness that he invites us to laugh at him: Going around the asylum's art room, he stops at one inmate's florid, flaming painting and notes encouragingly, "It's far better to paint fires than to set them, isn't it?" But before long he's less a comical figure than a tragic prisoner himself. Even the set of his shoulders, girlishly narrow-looking in a fitted cassock, suggests a man who doesn't dare face up to his own decidedly masculine passions. His scenes with Winslet's Madeleine have a shapely delicacy: The two of them are almost girlish together, but Phoenix never lets us lose sight of the Abbé's repressed desire. Sade's virility is a gaudy music-hall show; the Abbé's is more muted but no less genuine.
    And Winslet, flirtatious, conspiratorial, maidenly even at her sauciest, is pure delight. Sade is, of course, in love with her, in his own twisted way. ("You've already stolen my heart, as well as another organ south of the equator," he assures her.) When she creeps into his cell to procure a manuscript, he holds it away from her, telling her she'll have to pay a kiss for every page. When she obliges, it's clear she's half turned-on. But she's more of an accomplice to Sade, a partner in crime, than a lover. She reads his prose aloud to her friends ("Her flaxen quim! The winking eye of God!") with voracious joy. With her eternally flushed cheeks and excitable curls, Winslet embodies the thrill that art, at its best or its most devious, can bestow on us -- a suggestion that the excitement is sometimes more valuable than the work itself.
    For all its audaciousness, "Quills," shot by Rogier Stoffers, with production design by Martin Childs, is a startlingly elegant-looking picture -- its surface has a faded, silvery sheen, like the frazzled brocades Sade wears in his prison cell. It's an unapologetic dazzler, which is why it's never overwhelmed by its themes.
    At the heart of "Quills" is the idea that although art doesn't have to be dangerous to be effective, if it isn't allowed to encompass the possibility of danger, it's impotent. As Sade explains to some of his fellow asylum inmates before they're about to perform a play he's written for them, "Inside each of your delicate minds, your distinctive bodies, art is waiting to be born." All it needs is the right midwife to draw it out. How lovely, when the agent is Monet with his water lilies or John Donne with a blushingly romantic couplet. But it might just as easily be the Marquis de Sade, crooking his finger -- even as he ponders just which hole he'd like to put it in next.

November 22: From the Boston Globe:
"'Quills' A Stylish Tale That Moves With A Rush," by Jay Carr, Globe Staff
    ''Quills'' takes the much pawed-over saga of the Marquis de Sade and turns it into a witty yet fiery and, in the best sense, provocative play of ideas about freedom of expression. It's as amusing as an epigram, as urgent as a slap. Geoffrey Rush could override the film's envelope-pushing subject matter to another Oscar nomination as that toxic free spirit, Sade, the French nobleman and pornographer who straddled the French Revolution and Napoleonic era and gave his name to sadism. The marquis hasn't materialized so vibrantly since the opportunistic exhumings of him during the burn-baby-burn '60s, when the ban against his books, with their licentious carnality, was finally lifted. Like the most notable artifact of that period based on his writings, Peter Weiss's ''Marat-Sade,'' ''Quills'' comes from a play, too, by Doug Wright. He and Philip Kaufman, the thinking man's filmmaker, locate it somewhere between libertinism and civil libertarianism.
    Most important, they bring it to bristling, coruscating life. In a glumly ironic way, it's bracingly timely in its probings of the limits of artistic license. The film blazes with the sheer unstoppableness that Rush convinces us was Sade's best quality. On the one hand, Sade was connected enough to live a relatively comfortable life under lock and key once it was determined that no power structure would ever give his anarchistic libertinism free rein outside prison walls. Not for the first time in human history an embarrassing loose cannon was declared criminally insane and permanently incarcerated. On the other hand, he couldn't get out. So his writing did. To his credit, Rush's Sade mixes perversity and persistence in ways that make him seem a cagey mischief-maker. If he lived today, he'd be the star of his own late-night TV show.
    It almost seems like a 20th-century invention, but he really did enjoy the lenient policies of a progressive priest who ran the place and whose methods of treatment included theatricals by the inmates. The idea of writing as therapy didn't last long, once Sade's incendiary violent erotic outpourings (inflaming to contemplate in theory, actually pretty boring to read) were smuggled out, printed, and circulated. Today they would merely be consigned to the warehouse of masturbatory fantasies. But the flashpoint his writings became in their own day richly serves the play's contemptuous needling of the ultimate impotence of censorship. Without repression, Sade's writings would neither be remembered now, nor, indeed, have been motivated in the first place. With a perversity Sade would no doubt have found amusing, the play posits repressive tyrants as indirect patrons of the arts.
     Rush dines stylishly on the scenery as the imprisoned nobleman who writes on his clothes when paper is taken away, writes on his skin when his clothes are taken away, writes with his blood when his ink is taken away, and keeps writing by smearing the walls of his cell with his own excrement when his blood runs low. The threat he represents for contemporary sensibilities is that both depravity and rationality coexist in him. Short of killing him, which the authorities were reluctant to do (they made a handsome income off him), there was no way, really, they could stop the marquis from expressing himself. In ''Quills,'' the most unnatural thing is enforced silence.
    In the film, the marquis is given a nemesis, Michael Caine, playing the polar opposite of the kindly doc he played in ''Cider House Rules.'' Here, he's a fascist in silks, whose young convent-bred trophy wife does not remain unaffected by Sade's lifelong war on the let's-keep-the-lid-on mindset. He also embodies the truism that permissiveness is invariably followed by repression. But, as Rush's Sade gleefully keeps reminding us, the lid will not be kept on. Because he has no power except what he can scrape together with his wits, a certain underdog sympathy accrues to him, although Rush also keeps him witty and charming.
    The film makes pretty clear that for all his talk about sex, the marquis enjoyed very little of it, if any. Kate Winslet does wonders when it comes to bringing to life the role of a prison laundress and Sade groupie. It's another of her fearless performances, this time as a naive acolyte seduced by Sade's manipulative audacity. Joaquin Phoenix throws himself into the role of the progressive priest who's a soft touch. And Caine is efficiently vicious as the doc. But it's Rush, Kaufman, and Wright who mostly carry the ball here, and they know just where to go with it. ''Quills'' spills beyond the screen and into a healthy re-energizing of the always necessary debate about boundaries and the way repressiveness can backfire.

November 22: From the New York Daily News:
"Literary Martyr de Sade, Feel His Pain - Brainy, brilliantly acted 'Quills' Treats Repression As Worst Sin of All," by Jack Mathews:
    Whatever you may think of the man after whom sadism was named, director Philip Kaufman sees in him a champion of free speech. And if you're expecting - or hoping - to see some kinky sex in "Quills," Kaufman's adaptation of Doug Wright's play about the Marquis de Sade's last years in France's Charenton Asylum, you will be disappointed.
    The things you can look forward to, however, are the humor, intellectual musing, emotional tumult, superb acting and challenging adult questions that discriminating viewers have come to expect from the director of "Henry & June" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
    Geoffrey Rush, the Oscar-winning Australian actor from "Shine," gives another brilliant performance as the complex marquis, a fallen aristocrat in postrevolutionary France, trying to maintain his sanity through his writing, while sabotaging that privilege with his uncontrollable rages against authority. In this story, Sade is both a sadist and a masochist who brings himself pleasure no matter what he does.
    It's the early 18th century, and the institutionalized Sade is sneaking purple prose out of his cell, via a friendly, virginal maid (Kate Winslet), to Paris, where it is being published anonymously. Sade's outré sexual fantasies may be playing well in gay, bi and straight Paree, but an unamused (and savagely caricatured) Napoleon decides to stem the tide of pornography by sending barbaric Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to Charenton to oversee the liberal Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix).
    Impulsively, Sade immediately insults Royer-Collard by writing a bawdy play, parodying the doctor's sexual relationship with his child bride (Amelia Warner), and having it performed by his asylum theater group. It's a hilarious sequence - for both the 18th and 21st-century audiences - but a red-faced Royer-Collard uses it to strip the sympathetic abbe of his authority and to deprive Sade of his treasured quills.
Still, the Marquis manages to express himself, writing with wine and a wishbone, then with his fingers and blood, and finally, by shouting his prose to a verbal chain gang of fellow inmates. But Royer-Collard is the greatest sadist Sade will ever know, and he has the power - not to mention some trippy torture machines - to destroy him.
    Both the play and the movie blend fact and fiction into a literary madhouse stew - and in that sense, "Quills" is a historical lark. But it seems a case of justifiable poetic license. He was, by all accounts, an unsavory fellow - a rapist, sodomizer of boys and girls, a debaucher who used his privileged station in life to pursue the extremes of me-first sexual hedonism. Still, his talent, temerity and willfulness did knock down some walls of convention and censorship and create breathing room for generations of writers who followed. For that, if not for those S&M instruction manuals, we can be thankful.

November 22: From MSNBC:
"Going Soft-focus on Marquis de Sade," by David Edelstein
    Censors are so much fun to hate! Merely by their opposition, they have a way of turning otherwise insipid or despicable pornography into a cause célèbre - something sexy, politically liberating, even life affirming. Philip Kaufman's sumptuous new tragicomedy "Quills" is a poison-pen letter to the most loathsome of the breed: the ones who publicly stifle artistic freedom while privately indulging in the vices that they persecute.
    The setting for this barbed parable is France's Charenton Asylum, in which the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned until his death in 1814, and in which he penned, clandestinely, some of his most unruly novels. The director and Doug Wright, who adapted his own play "Quills" for the screen, don't appear to be interested in the most vivid thrust of de Sade's fiction: that torture, rape, and grisly murder are the natural right of the sexual aristocrat. Instead, they transform the marquis into an anti-establishment provocateur and martyr, a symbol of the rebel-artist who must sublimate or die, and they turn his antagonists into vicious hypocrites whose repression constitutes the more insidious evil.
The movie has been acclaimed in some circles as a masterpiece, and it's certainly one of the most provocative big-studio products in years. (How it slipped past Rupert Murdoch we'll never know.) But if "Quills" has the breadth of a masterpiece, it doesn't have the depth of one: The dramatic case is too settled, the narrative trajectory too smug, the view of the transgressive artist too naive. What the film does have is coruscating anger, impish wit, and a breathtaking style. Kaufman is celebrating de Sade, but he's no sadist. He's out to pleasure you.
    Stirringly Romantic -- From the start, his take on de Sade's "forbidden" writings is stirringly romantic, even aphrodisiacal. The marquis (Geoffrey Rush) slips the pages of his latest opus, ink still wet, into the arms of a buxom laundress, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who in turn passes them through the asylum gates into the hands of a roguishly handsome horseman. Sneaking back inside, she comes face to face with the earnest young Abbé de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who's visibly intoxicated by her assets and utterly miserable about it. He counsels her to practice reading as a way of guarding against corruption, and in the next shot she's reading, all right: de Sade ("… her Venus mouth, her flaxen quim, the watching eye of God …"), to servants in the middle of a group grope, while through a peephole a bald, monstrous inmate is ogling her and masturbating. The sequence represents the movie at its most puckish and foreboding: joyful naughtiness accompanied by hints of something ugly swelling up in an impressionable (i.e., infantile and psychotic) mind.
    Expelling Poison --The Abbé de Coulmier is a compassionate idealist who believes that the cure for de Sade's perversions is allowing him to expel his poisons - i.e., to write. What he doesn't know is that those expulsions are being printed and read by thousands of his countrymen - among them the emperor, Napoleon, who dispatches the grim "alienist" and torturer Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to Charenton to put the kibosh on the marquis' publishing career. What follows is an increasingly ugly battle of wits. The insolent de Sade baits Royer-Collard by mounting, Hamlet-like, a play in verse on the subject of the old man's forcible marriage to a comely convent teen-ager (Amelia Warner) - "Pretty morsel/ Get on your back/ Let's try it dorsal." The upshot is that the marquis is stripped of his possessions, books, paper, and quills. Like a scorpion unable to discharge its own venom, de Sade sickens and becomes desperate, until he turns to his own blood for ink. In the splendidly blood-and-thunder climax, he relays a sordid tale through the walls of the asylum, his words passed (often mutating) from inmate to volatile inmate to Madeleine with paper and quill, the cause of artistic freedom finally spawning a Bacchae-like orgy of rape and murder.
    Comedy and Horror -- "Quills" moves inexorably from mordant comedy to horror, but even at its most grueling, Kaufman's palette (and that of his cinematographer, Rogier Stoffers, and production designer, Martin Childs) is flush with excitement. The blood is Grand Guignol by way of Hammer Studios. The blacks and grays of the curvy asylum corridors evoke Rembrandt and Hogarth; the characters' faces, when they emerge into the light, are so translucent that you can read the faintest stirrings of passion in their cheeks. De Sade's chamber is a perfumed universe of its own - luxuriant with depravity, festooned with dolls locked in eternal buggery. Kaufman's virtuosity is not the frigid kind of Stanley Kubrick or Terrence Malick; he's a sophisticated jokester who likes to goose you from shot to shot.
Hambone Mode -- The director's spirit is in sync with Rush's de Sade - at least at first. The actor begins in hambone mode, emerging from the shadows like a fruity Count Dracula and purring to Madeleine: "You've already stolen my heart, as well as another prominent organ south of the equator." This marquis is alternately glib and infantile, but when robbed of his tools of expression his antic mask dissolves and Rush's performance achieves a flayed, hell-bent stature. He falls on a still-steaming roast chicken and digs out the wishbone, the juices running from his fingers, and fashions a new kind of quill to plunge into a glass of red wine.
    The compulsion to write has never been portrayed as so madly, epicureanly sexual. Later, after bleeding himself, Rush reclines on a cabinet like an obscene sprite and waves to Madeleine with punctured digits tied off. The last scenes find him naked and pathetically exposed, his skin ashen and saggy. He's not succumbing from hunger - just the reverse. His own toxins are killing him.
   Lewd But Solicitous -- Should the viewer have any doubt that the movie's de Sade is a vulnerable, good-hearted fellow, it's wiped out by his lewd but solicitous treatment of Winslet as the virginal laundress. The real de Sade was apparently equally fond of the real Madeleine, but he also spent many hours literally screwing her for money. Kaufman and Wright offer her up as proof that pornography need not corrupt: "If I wasn't such a bad woman on the page," she says, "I hazard I wouldn't be such a good woman in life." That I didn't groan when I heard that line is testament to Winslet's gorgeous performance, which manages to be at once ripely self-possessed (the phrase "saucy wench" is impossible to suppress) and tremulously open. She and Phoenix make a heartbreaking match. He's not the first actor who comes to mind for the role of a fervently benevolent intellectual, but he's stunningly good. A standard-issue male ingénue would have made de Coulmier too monochromatically virtuous; with Phoenix, the struggle between lust and duty is right there in his peculiar physiognomy. In some ways, the abbé is a thankless role, yet it's Phoenix's performance that centers the movie and - when the abbé becomes a torturer himself - gives it what dramatic complexity it has.
    Stock Villain -- What irons out that complexity is "Quills'" stock villain, who is viewed by the filmmakers in precisely the same way he's viewed by de Sade - which makes for stirring political melodrama but profoundly boring drama. Once the shock of seeing Michael Caine as a torturer wears off - his natural affability locked behind a seething mask - there's nothing to discover in the character or the performance.
Royer-Collard has no redeeming qualities. He's a hypocrite, a voluptuary posing as an ascetic, and a more dedicated sadist than de Sade. He extorts money for his own palatial home from the marquis' long-suffering wife (Jane Menelaus). In an especially contemptible touch, he glimpses an atrocity about to be committed against a well-loved character and allows it to go forward, presumably in the hope that this will justify further injury to de Sade.
    Take That, Wretched Puritan -- My contempt for the hypocrisy of the typical right-wing moralist is equal to Kaufman's and Wright's. Crude as it is, Joe Eszterhas' fantasy in "American Rhapsody" of Kenneth W. Starr obsessing over his White Whale, Bill Clinton, while masturbating to the memoirs of Gennifer Flowers has its piquancy: Take that, wretched Puritan! Who was not, on some level, deeply satisfied by the exposure of New York's obsessively moralistic mayor - a man once celebrated for denouncing a scatological art exhibit now parading around town with his mistress after informing his spouse via press conference that she was history? What of that serial wife-abandoner Newt Gingrich blaming the counterculture for Susan Smith's drowning of her children - only to learn that she'd been shaped as a teen-ager by the nocturnal visits of her stepfather, a fervent churchgoer and Republican pooh-bah? What of the Boston University dean who denounced Hollywood's lack of morality in a speech that turned out to have been largely plagiarized from a book by the reactionary film critic Michael Medved?
   Casting The First Stone --The scandal, in all these instances, was not the sin itself but that it coexisted with the impulse to cast the first stone. Wright and Kaufman have the correct target.The trouble is that they cheat. To clinch their case, they've ignored the aspect of de Sade that makes his work potentially worthy of … if not censorship, then at least constraint. This man wasn't the Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt of his era. He wasn't the Lenny Bruce of his era. He wasn't the Anne Rice of his era. The most disturbing exhortation in his writing is not on behalf of promiscuity or kinky sex between consenting adults. It's that an exalted individual (i.e., him) may put his or her own pursuit of pleasure before the rights of other human beings, to the point where they may be tortured and killed for sexual gratification. This is a different beast, and a different set of provocations, from the ones depicted by Kaufman and Wright.
The truest expression of the Sadean worldview that I've seen in a film is Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" (1994), a punk-nihilist manifesto in which hipsterism (the movie's equivalent of aristocracy) gives its protagonists absolute freedom to commit mass murder.
    As a sometime consumer of gut-munching Italian splatter pictures, I'm not often moved to call for a filmmaker to be suspended by his thumbs and whacked in the kidneys with a heavy branch - but for Stone I almost made an exception. When, after a copycat killing spree, the novelist John Grisham called for Stone to be held accountable, I toyed with the idea that he was right. I rejected it - but only barely.
The makers of "Quills" loathe their censor so much that they can't see the threat through his eyes, and so their one-sided critique is relatively easy to shrug off. The greater insult, ironically, is to the artist, who in this romantic scheme is always an innocent, sublimating in a trance and blithely disconnected from the consequences of his or her work. Do Kaufman and Wright really view their own kind as such simpletons?
David Edelstein is the movie critic for Slate.

November 22: From the Bergen Record:
"Publishing and Perishing For The Love and Pain Of It," by Bob Ivry, Staff Writer
    "That's terrible," says a blind washerwoman in "Quills" when the Marquis de Sade's prose is read to her. "Too, too terrible. Do go on." That about sums up the appeal of this film, in which Geoffrey Rush, his Ichabod Crane body on full display, chews the inside of his cell as the marquis on the marquee in a fictionalized chronicle of the master of depravity's final days, spent locked up in the Charenton insane asylum in the 1810s.
    Sade's novels read a lot like the condensed works of Bret Easton Ellis, and it's a testament to the devolution of culture that while Napoleon had Sade incarcerated for being a corrupting influence, Ellis has been condemned to a far more grim fate -- the gossip pages of Vanity Fair.
    Charenton is definitely preferable. That's in no small measure because the chambermaid at this torch-lit, stone loony bin is the rosy-cheeked, panting-breasted Madeleine, played by Kate Winslet. The deal is this: Sade scrawls his pornography on parchment and Madeleine smuggles it out, clutching the pages to her fair bosom until a mysterious black-clad rider on a black horse stops by the front gates of the sanitorium to collect them and whisk them to a Paris publisher.
    The black market profits from such classics as "Justine" -- a more sophisticated, more no-nonsense version of "American Psycho" -- keep the Marquis in relative luxury. His cell is the two-room variety, with a feather bed, a case full of books, and a desk on which to write. This bucolic island in a stone sea of insanity is overseen by the Abbe Coulmier, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who, if he doesn't watch out, will start being considered a serious actor, after this, "The Yards," and "Gladiator."
    The abbe preaches compassion; he allows the inmates to perform plays under the direction of Sade, and he teaches the lovely Madeleine to read -- a skill she uses to relate aloud the Marquis' prurient fiction to any ears that'll listen, including those of her blind mum. Truth to tell, the abbe, though a man of God, is a bit smitten by Madeleine. So is Sade. So was I.
    This tenuously chaste love triangle is shattered with the arrival of France's leading headshrinker, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine). The good doctor's methods are cutting edge for the time -- locking loonies into full-length body cages, dunking droolers into cold water, and slicing off patients' body parts until they get sane. His Majesty Napoleon has dispatched Royer-Collard to Charenton himself, to stifle Sade, whose underground publishing empire is giving people ideas.
    Director Philip Kaufman, who's so proud of his "Henry and June" that he's routinely billed as the creator of the "first NC-17 film," and Doug Wright, who wrote the screenplay based on his Obie-winning play, give "Quills" one sly twist after another. Royer-Collard, played by Caine with just the proper dash of ironic detachment, is given a 15-year-old wife who was raised in a convent and whose sexual education he commandeers. To top it off, doc is skimming funds, making him an altogether worthy villain of "Quills." In fact, it is Royer-Collard who turns out to be the real sadist of the story; by comparison, Sade comes across as a pussycat.
    A pussycat with a mouth on him, though, and an insatiable need to write down his horny tomes. "This God of yours," Sade thunders to the abbe at one point, "strung up His own son like a side of veal. Think of what he'd do to me." When the abbe, on instructions from Royer-Collard, takes away Sade's ink and quills, the marquis writes with wine. When the wine is taken away, Sade uses blood. And when Sade's blood is taken away ... Let's just reiterate that the director is very proud that he made the first NC-17 film.
Production designer Martin Childs excellently evokes a French insane asylum in the 1810s -- and between Sade's witty rants and Madeleine's heaving bosom, you almost wish you were there. Almost. The climactic scenes, which Kaufman stages as a kind of animated Hieronymous Bosch painting, give off a whiff of the fiery pits of hell. All that's well and good, but in the final analysis, it's the actors -- Rush, Winslet, Phoenix, and Caine -- who make "Quills" hurt so good.
QUILLS (3 1/2 stars): Directed by Philip Kaufman. Written by Doug Wright. Produced by Julia Chasman, Nick Wechsler, and Peter Kaufman. Photographed by Rogier Stoffers. Music by Stephen Warbeck. Edited by Peter Boyle. With Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, Amelia Warner, Elizabeth Berrington, and Jane Menelaus. 125 minutes. Rated R. At the Sony Lincoln Plaza and Angelika Film Center in Manhattan.

November 22: From Mr. Showbiz:
Review by Kevin Maynard
    Kinky subject matter aside, Quills, Phillip Kaufman's Gothic period pic about the Marquis de Sade, is less about the intersection of pain and pleasure than the power of the written word. Based on his Obie Award-winning play, Doug Wright's screenplay, which takes a fictionalized look at the perverse penman's last days at Charenton, a French mental asylum, after the revolution, is a literate, dialogue-driven treat delivered by a cast that truly savors the script's wicked wit.
    Being kept in a cell isn't so bad for the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush). Locked away in his own private chambers, he has the perfect writer's nook to develop his most depraved prose. Plus he's got Madeline (Kate Winslet), a ravishing young laundress who thrills to the licentious adventures in his pornography and has worked out a secret arrangement to smuggle out his writings in her basket to an underground publishing house. Parisians clamor for his work, unbeknownst to Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the progressive young priest who runs Charenton and thinks the Marquis' writings are a purely therapeutic pursuit.
    When word spreads, Napoleon's men deploy Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to "cure" the Marquis of his mental disease. But nothing is quite as it seems. Ironically, the good doctor is himself a brutal tyrant who tortures his patients into mental cleanliness and keeps Simone, his underage bride (Amelia Warner, a talented newcomer who looks like a teenage Catherine Zeta-Jones), locked in his fortress of an estate. Meanwhile, Coulmier appears to be appalled that de Sade's words are being published under his very nose, but that's because he's repressing his own desires for Madeline. And the Marquis, who's filled with unspeakably shocking stories of mutilation, pederasty, and necrophilia, also harbors passionate feelings for the maid. In Quills, the only act more audacious than sex is love.
    Kaufman's made a diverse career out of literary adaptations; two of his best, the erotic The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the startlingly unerotic Henry and June have mapped the follies of the human heart with intelligence and pitch-perfect period detail. But Quills also tackles the issue of who decides what art is, something that, in light of the NEA and New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani's battle with the Brooklyn Museum, is no less controversial today than it was in the Marquis' era. In the role of the original whip-master, Geoffrey Rush prowls and preens with the lusty conviction of a male Mae West; he's clearly aware that this is the role of a lifetime, and he squeezes every last drop of dirty innuendo out of his dialogue. Kate Winslet's a little long in the tooth to play a 17-year-old virgin, but in her spirited, vital performance, it's easy to see how she's stolen the affections of both a priest and a pervert. The real Coulmier was actually a 4-foot hunchback, but the smolderingly handsome Joaquin Phoenix expertly captures his tortured, divided heart. Michael Caine's blindly evil doctor is light-years away from the role of the kindly Cider House Rules abortionist for which he won an Oscar last year. Also terrific are Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, Jane Menelaus (Geoffrey Rush's real-life wife, playing de Sade's betrothed), and a host of British character actors as the asylum inmates.
    Quills isn't without smudges. The epilogue is ruefully ironic, but not entirely convincing, and often Wright works too hard to make the Marquis a poster boy for our civil liberties instead of a perpetrator of sex crimes. Still, verbosity is the film's greatest asset. Unable to obtain the actual rights to Sade's work, Wright has a field day approximating it, e.g., calling the vagina a "Venus mound" and (my personal fave) "winking eye of God." His sharp, subversive script proves that in the battle for artistic expression, the pen is always mightier that the sword.

November 22: From E! Online:
    The pen might be mightier than the sword, but a quill, when in the hands of the Marquis de Sade, is downright dangerous. As he did in Shine, Geoffrey Rush struts some Oscar-worthy charisma as the demented Marquis, a man imprisoned at an insane asylum but whose pornographic passages -- published illegally with the help of impressionable Kate Winslet -- have all of Paris buzzing. Michael Caine, a self-serving doctor who believes dunking patients in a pool of water is the way to cure the mentally ill, says he's disgusted by the Marquis' works but has some secrets of his own. Joaquin Phoenix -- fresh from the Gladiator arena -- gives a terrific supporting turn as someone who wants to be a friend to everyone but ultimately ends up hurting himself. Holding it all together -- and leveling the drama with more humor than one expects  is director Philip Kaufman, who knows how to push the write buttons and leave all participants, well, satisfied.
Our grade = B+

November 22: From USA Today:
"De Sade, The Pleasure Is Ours"
No one can accuse the Marquis de Sade of writer's block in Philip Kaufman's admirably fluid Quills, an adaptation of Doug Wright's Obie-winning play that triumphs over potentially claustrophobic material. As a matter of fact, several scenes even deal with fluids - unconventional ones that the scandalous Marquis ultimately employs as ink substitutes after authorities confiscate quills and other writing instruments in France's Charenton asylum for the insane. The incarcerated Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) hungers to write, and the most humane of his early 19th century oppressors (Joaquin Phoenix as asylum supervisor Abbé de Coulmier ) has allowed the titillating writer to do so. Though the progressive Abbé's intentions are purely therapeutic, one of the facility's chambermaids (Kate Winslet) has been smuggling out the Marquis' sexually explicit pennings to a publisher.

November 22: From MSNBC:
"De Sade, an 18th-century Larry Flynt," by Matt Wolf, Associated Press
    The urge to write courses through "Quills," but the question hanging over Philip Kaufman's film is whether a mass audience has the urge - or the sensibilities - to watch a reasonably fearless movie about the Marquis de Sade. Say that name and innumerable horrors come to mind, some of which Kaufman's movie examines and others of which it ignores. But what viewers take away from his audacious and beautifully made film is not its chronicle of degradation but its portrait of a man driven by the "quill," or pen.
    By film's end, Geoffrey Rush's marquis has been stripped of virtually everything, and still he won't be silenced - even if that means scrawling his musings on life in excrement on the walls of the asylum to which he has been consigned. Does that make him Antichrist or genius? Perhaps some of both. Without such men, "Quills" suggests, the world is a weaker place, even if certain passages in the film demand a viewer with a decidedly strong stomach. It's de Sade, after all, who gave the world the term "sadism."
Mirror to the world -- Kaufman adapted the film - his first since "Rising Sun" several years back - from an off-Broadway play by Doug Wright, a Yale graduate who premiered "Quills" in 1995 in part to comment on a censorial present. For the marquis, think an 18th-century Robert Mapplethorpe or Andres Serrano.
It's amazing how trenchantly the debates in Wright's excellent screenplay traverse the centuries. One minute, you're admiring the marquis for "merely hold[ing] up a mirror" to a debased and depraved world. But can't the same character just as easily be seen as the cleverest of malcontents - a visionary given to images not so much iconoclastic as grotesque? "Quills" doesn't take either side, beyond insisting on freedom of speech. In an odd way, if there is any equivalent to the marquis in recent mainstream American movies, it's the Hustler publisher at the heart of "The People vs. Larry Flynt." There, as here, is a take-no-prisoners anti-hero.
    Struggle For The Soul -- "Quills" begins in Paris in 1794, its first sounds - appropriately enough - those of heavy breathing. At first glance, life doesn't seem that rough for the marquis inside the asylum he calls home. A laundress, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), is on hand to act as confidante and eventually more, while the marquis continues to give vent to what he calls an involuntary urge to write.
    At heart, "Quills" is about the struggle for de Sade's soul, waged between a man of God, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), and a man of science, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine).
    Without giving too much away, it can be said that rape, for the marquis, means being deprived of his quills, which is just one of the indignities he will endure. But to sit in judgment on the marquis is, to some degree, to be affected by him. The Abbe, as it happens, is not immune from the lust that fuels de Sade's stories, just as Royer-Collard can be seen embodying the bestial instincts that drive the marquis on.
The material benefits from a top-rank cast that fleshes out what could merely seem an exercise in philosophy; the specifics of "Quills" could be far more salacious than they are.
  Playing the antithesis to the kindly abortion doctor that brought him an Oscar in "The Cider House Rules," Caine cuts a fearful, mean-eyed figure, advocating a "cure" for the very man he would like to see killed. Recovering from a descent into camp in "Gladiator," Phoenix makes an admirable foil, even if it's not his fault the Abbe suffers from perhaps the film's most questionable sequence. Winslet yet again is a ripe, warm presence confronted with the "predator turned prey" that is the marquis. And as Rush wryly sums up his character's fate, the audience may feel unexpected sympathy for a notorious figure made unsentimentally noble.

November 22: From L.A. Weekly:
"Whip it, whip it good," by John Patterson
    "We eat, we s***, we f***, we die," says the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) at one point in Philip Kaufman's Quills, outlining his vision of the downward spiral of pointlessness that draws us inexorably from the womb to the tomb. Later in the movie, once the unbridled licentiousness of his writings has inflamed the wrath of his brutish doctor and his sovereign Napoleon and caused them to confiscate his quill pens and paper, he might just as easily utter the words "We eat, we s***, we bleed, we come - and all of these bodily excretions make damnably good substitutes for mere ink." Nothing, it seems, will stop the mad Marquis from disseminating his hell-spawned gospel of sodomy and the lash. Remove his writing materials - he'll use a chicken bone as a quill, and write in red wine on his bed sheets. Strip the bed, prohibit wine - he'll pierce his veins and write on his clothes in blood. Lock him naked in a subterranean cell - he'll daub the walls with perverted exhortations written, or finger-painted, in his own excrement; a more perfect union of medium and message would be hard to imagine.
    You can't keep a bad man down, apparently. And not for want of trying. It's 1801, and thanks to the civic outrage prompted by his writings, the Marquis has been confined, on Napoleon's orders and without trial, in the grim, gothic bedlam known as Charenton Asylum. Here he is superintended by the Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a priest as susceptible to the Marquis' charms as he is prey to the temptations of the flesh, here embodied by the booby hatch's comely laundress, Madeleine (a ripe Kate Winslet). The regimen is a combination of brutality and liberalism, with old-fashioned manacles and constraints freely deployed on the one hand, but with the inmates permitted, for apparently therapeutic purposes, to stage the Marquis' joyously lewd plays on the other.
    It can't last, and once Napoleon's attention has been drawn to his celebrated incarceree's continuing literary and sexual subversion, he dispatches the conservative moralist Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine at his most reptilian) to subdue the indomitable writer of what Bonaparte in his memoirs referred to as "the most abominable book that a depraved imagination ever conceived." If the Marquis represents the liberated mind capable of rendering prison walls invisible and irrelevant, the doctor is his dream antagonist, a humorless Kenneth Starr figure who stops at nothing to fetter the Marquis' spirit. A demon of religious sanctimony and pre-psychiatric viciousness, Royer-Collard brings with him the hellish appurtenances of his trade: sarcophaguslike iron maidens, the nine-tailed scourge, and a swivel chair that secures a prisoner as he is repeatedly dunked in ice water. The scariest words he can utter are these: "Secure him to the Calming Chair!"
    Of course, in Kaufman's eyes, it's the demonic doctor who needs calming down. Unable to undermine him directly, de Sade composes more devious and roundabout mind-fucks with which to torment his tormentor, even infecting the doctor's orphan child-bride with a copy of his notorious Justine and causing her to elope with her decorator. Caught midway between this unstoppable force and that immovable object is the Abbé himself, under de Sade's liberating sway but at the same time under the doctor's repressive command, and torn within his soul between clerical devotion and worldly pleasure. He is the one figure who earns our undiluted sympathy as the two breeds of madman goad each other toward mutual destruction.
    We are back in the territory Kaufman explored in both The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry & June. The forces of literary and sexual freedom are ranged against those reactionaries who would muzzle, neuter, castrate and destroy that freedom. Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin had to battle censorship laws and the public morals of the French bourgeoisie. Tomas in Being, representing the newfound liberties of the Prague Spring, watches in horror as these freedoms are crushed by Russian tanks. Against firepower and torture, Kaufman posits art as a weapon and, rather more risibly, the phallus as a beacon of liberty that will never, well, detumesce.
    In short, Quills is more of the same. But it manages to break free from the self-absorption of Kaufman's previous excursions into literary territory. Where Henry & June and Being were rather too serious and glum, Quills has some of the manic energy and camp sensibility we more commonly associate with Ken Russell. Kaufman is more restrained and less juvenile than Russell, but the parallels are unmissable.
    If there's a problem with Quills, it has to do with Kaufman's continued attraction to literary adaptation and literary biography. Having started out promisingly in the 1970s by working largely on genre material - the Western, teen-gang flicks, sci-fi - Kaufman later developed more grandiose pretensions. The trouble is that the confinements of genre gave the director walls against which to dash his head, and dash it most profitably, and once he freed himself and started to make the films it seemed he really wanted to make, his newfound liberty itself proved confining to his sensibilities. Where early works like The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (about the James-Younger Gang), The White Dawn, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Wanderers all fizzed and popped with genre-bending ideas and startling imagery, his later films, the ones that bug the MPAA's bluenoses, are comparatively static and visually unexciting. It's as if Kaufman feels sanctified by the presence of great writers, secure in the knowledge that high art on its own will elevate the movies. One is reminded of Alan Rudolph's dreary literary gabfests, The Moderns and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, neither of which is a patch on his Choose Me or Welcome to L.A. Likewise David Cronenberg, whose admirably quixotic crusade to adapt "unfilmable," "obscene" books (Naked Lunch, Crash) is considerably less rewarding on celluloid than his non-lit projects like Rabid and Dead Ringers. In short, great books don't necessarily equal great movies, as any viewing of Richard Brooks' The Brothers Karamazov (with William Shatner!) will prove within two reels.
    That said, however, Quills does have remarkable energy and wit, and is probably the most purely enjoyable entry in Kaufman's sub-oeuvre of literary excursions. The sexual gamesmanship and lubricity are a good deal more fun than they were in Henry & June and Being. Quills is also free of that strange, inhibiting combination of respectability (high art) and disreputability (nudie cheesecake in the soft-porn style of Zalman King) that made those fine but flawed films occasionally laughable.
    In the end, it's the game performances that make Quills so effervescent. Rush plays the Marquis as a splendidly campy, untamable, incorrigible roué, a genially dirty-minded advocate of the destructive, insurgent power of prick and cunt against priggishness and cant. As far as he's concerned, he's merely extending the late revolution from the tumbrel and the guillotine to the bedchamber and, on occasion, the lavatory. Caine meanwhile accesses his underused evil side to render a portrait of unbending rectitude, as secure in his convictions as the Marquis is in his own. Winslet's role is too small to permit her to give one of her full-tilt, Fearless Kate performances, though she fills the chalk outline of her underwritten part with her characteristic energy and verve. But it's Phoenix who steadies the film's center, using his pained eyes, his endearing speech impediment and his nervous physicality to delineate all the torments and compromised sympathies that convulse his idealistic young cleric's heart and soul.

November 22: From the NY Post (about as negative as one can get):
"Pointless 'Quills' Sticks It To Marquis de Sade," by Jonathan Foreman
    Monster and rotten writer though he was, even the Marquis de Sade doesn't deserve to be memorialized by a costume drama as ludicrously crude as "Quills." The author of "Justine," that classic of rape and torture, was a cultivated man who would have despised this film's smugness and vulgarity - and the way it shamelessly, confusedly rips off several genuinely brilliant works of art, including the classic 1964 play "Marat/Sade" and '75's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." "Marat/Sade," also inspired by Sade's incarceration at the Charenton insane asylum, was a '60s masterpiece about repression, revolutionary violence and art. This, on the other hand, is an exercise in self-congratulation pretending to be a brave statement for art, free expression and sexual liberation. The result resembles a period version of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" - played dead straight. It's all there: a dark and stormy night, scenery-chewing performances and Geoffrey Rush as Sade channeling Tim Curry's Dr. Frank N. Furter, bringing polymorphous sexual liberation to the uptight folk of Napoleonic France.
    The asylum where Sade is luxuriously imprisoned is under the control of the idealistic Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Coulmier lets the Marquis put on plays starring asylum inmates, and allows him to write sadistic pornography as part of his therapy. He doesn't know that Madeleine (Kate Winslet), his favorite busty laundrywoman, is smuggling Sade's writings out to a mysterious horseman who arranges their publication in Paris. There, they are such a success that Napoleon himself wants Sade silenced, and sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to take over the asylum. Royer-Collard is an authoritarian sadist who immediately seeks to stifle Sade's creative output. As if this weren't bad enough, Royer-Collard is also a sexually inadequate hypocrite who has just bought a teenage virgin wife (Amelia Warner) from a nunnery. It's only a matter of time before she's corrupted by the Marquis' works, and the battles between the doctor, priest and prisoner end in a bloody climax.
    Rush hams it up as Sade, and Caine is little better as the Ken Starr-like Royer-Collard. Winslet, who's incapable of a bad performance but lately only appears in pretentious stinkers, is hamstrung by Doug Wright's overwrought but underwritten script.
    Blame for the way "Quills" feels like a Masterpiece Theater spoof must go also to director Philip Kaufman, who once made films like "The Wanderers" but has been on a downward slide since "Henry & June."

November 21: I found this review in the Village Voice [I always wonder about 'critics' who get one of the character names wrong]:
"Cruel and Unusual," by J. Hoberman
    "Dear reader, I have a naughty little tale to tell…" So begins Quills, Philip Kaufman's earnestly overblown celebration of the Marquis de Sade, adapted for the movies by Doug Wright from his Obie-winning exercise in intellectual Grand Guignol.
    Assuming a fun, rowdy tone from the get-go, Quills opens in 1794 Paris with a brief pastiche of Sade's catalog of atrocity Juliette and a blade's-eye view of a liberated young woman being whacked by the guillotine. Sade, at this point our narrator, gazes down from his prison window on the bloody terror - as though he were at once product and prophet of the French Revolution. Having paid homage to Madame Tussaud, the film leaps a decade or more into the future and the marquis's internment at the Charenton insane asylum.
    It is here that Sade (Geoffrey Rush) is freest to be himself - confined with his monstrous ego and the means to indulge it. Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the young abbé who administers the hospital, is a man of the Enlightenment; he believes in art therapy, explaining to one pyromaniac how much better it is to paint fires than set them. Hence Sade, comfortably ensconced in a cell stocked with moldy sex toys, is encouraged to stage theatricals and write stories - which, unbeknownst to Coulmier, the institution's comely laundress, Madeleine (Kate Winslet with a mild Cockney accent), has been smuggling out to Sade's avid publishers.
    Reading the marquis's outrageous manuscripts aloud to her friends (who are inspired by what they hear to spontaneously form a threesome), virtuous Madeleine is the sweetheart of the loony bin - she's variously pursued by a feebleminded 300-pound wanker, yearned for by Coulmier, and continually propositioned by Sade, all the while maintaining her virginity. (Although Madeleine's chastity is considered admirable and even necessary to the movie's argument, the filmmakers assume a modern, anticlerical tone toward Coulmier, who is shown as worse than a fool for not following through on his sexual feelings for the girl who so admires him.)
    Wright's script takes more liberties with history than Sade does with Madeleine. Still, it's essential to the premise that Sade's anonymous books attract a popular audience and even make money. When a few humorous passages from Justine are read aloud to Napoleon, France's newly crowned emperor demands that the book be burned and its author shot. Cooler heads prevail, and instead, the stern Dr. Royard-Collard (Michael Caine) is dispatched like an 18th-century Lynne Cheney to oversee overly permissive Charenton. Greeted by a gaggle of singing inmates, the doctor tartly remarks that "playing dress-up with cretins sounds like a symptom of madness, not a cure"-the best one-liner given to anyone in the movie other than Geoffrey Rush.
    A ridiculously incorrigible roué crowned with a long, ratty gray wig, Rush's strutting, winking, leering Sade sends each delicious bon mot out into the world with lip-smacking glee. This Sade is far less philosophical than the more urbane Divine Marquis played by Daniel Auteuil in Benoit Jacquot's rival production Sade (not yet acquired for U.S. release), and also a tad less blasphemous-although he does at one point spit on the Bible. Indeed, the biggest sadist in Quills is, of course, Dr. Royard-Collard.
Living out his own tawdry gothic novel while Sade's "crimes" are limited to his imagination, Royard-Collard claims his orphan child-bride from a compliant convent and installs her in the barred-window boudoir of a renovated castle as his prisoner of love. This juicy information soon spreads through Charenton and Sade takes it as the subject for a farce, which is performed for Dr. and Madame Royard-Collard by a troupe that proves to be remarkably accomplished, given that they haven't had the benefit of any rehearsal or even a read-through prior to the play's world premiere.
    Rising to Sade's bait, the irate Royard-Collard shuts down the theater and commands the hapless Coulmier to prohibit the miscreant Sade from any further writing. Deprived of his quills, the diabolical author forges on using wine and a chicken bone to inscribe a tale of necrophilia on his bedsheets-and that's just for starters.
    It's striking that both Sade and Quills humanize the marquis by having him cast his spell on innocent young girls. Quills, however, goes further in conceptualizing Sade's audience as essentially female. Madame Royard-Collard is one such fan, who, in effect, seals Sade's fate when she slips her well-thumbed copy of Justine to the handsome young architect who is redecorating the castle-then leaves the book behind as evidence for her cuckolded hubby to find. For her part, Madeleine is proud to play Jeanne d'Arc to Sade's dauphin. She is publicly flogged for aiding and abetting his writings, but her devotion to the cause leads her to ask the marquis for one last tale of baroque debauchery-relayed from Sade's cell to hers telephone-style by a helpful network of inmates.
    The effect is grossly overstimulating. Even the weather turns stormy and the entire asylum runs amok in a full Shock Corridor of rape, mutilation, self-flagellation, necrophilia, and coprography (if that's the scientific term for writing with human feces). All this is quite risible until it turns actively unpleasant. I'm inclined to agree with my colleague Michael Musto, who suggested that the reason various characters have their tongues ripped out is to prevent the actors from chewing away the scenery.
Ultimately, Kaufman's Sade is less the "freest man who ever lived" (as the Surrealists thought him) than an artist deprived of his art-a First Amendment martyr. Less ambiguous on-screen than onstage, Quills is an anticensorship manifesto-even a defense of Hollywood. (Kaufman's far sexier Henry and June was the movie that first compelled the industry to invent the scarlet NC-17 and then unfairly suffered the consequences for it.) Quills argues that, when it comes to culture, downtrodden workers like Madeleine need the rough stuff to hold their interest. Moreover, for healthy people-although not necessarily the unstable inmates of Charenton-Sade's hyperbolic, even pornographic, tales of rape and torture provide a useful form of sublimation.
    As Madeleine explains to the abbé when he questions her taste in literature, "If I wasn't such a bad woman on the page, I couldn't be such a good woman in my life." I look forward to hearing some young movie fan paraphrase that line during the next round of congressional hearings.

November 21: My pal Sylvia, knowing that I was having a difficult time getting my hands on the December issue of Premiere Magazine, sent the review to me. (Thanks to David for the tip!)
The first words in Philip Kaufman's Quills are heard in a plummy English voice-over: "I've a naughty little tale to tell." I have to admit, those words and that voice made me sink in my seat a little, expecting the worst: two hours of the Marquis de Sade (for he is the character who is speaking) portrayed as a quaint British fop, an eccentric dirty old man. The notorious 18th-century writer was a far more dangerous creature than that; he was a genuinely transgressive thinker whose works demanded an almost complete inversion of conventional morality (one of his most famous, Justine, which figures in this film, is subtitled The Misfortunes of Virtue); and his ideas are as difficult and disturbing today as they were when he first set them down. To reduce him to a randy eccentric would be ... well, typical of Hollywood.
    Fortunately, though, the use of British accents in this film merely honors an old theater and film convention. Quills, adapted by Doug Wright from his celebrated play, does, in fact, confront Sade's ideas head-on, and it also raises remarkably pertinent questions; it argues passionately in favor of artistic freedom while at the same time refusing to avoid the fact that ideas can have consequences. This is a film of no small intellectual heft, remarkably provocative in every sense of the word. But it's hardly stodgy or light on story; Wright and Kaufman perfectly couch their intellectual delvings in a knotty, compelling, fast-moving tale that is, by turns, comic and tragic.
    The picture begins with a nice bit of misdirection in which the "naughty" tale the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) seems to be telling turns out to be one of sheer terror (as in the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution) rather than debauched pleasure. We then cut abruptly to the Marquis's home in later years - the lunatic asylum Charenton, where he is confined in relative plushness: a nice feather bed, his own store of wine, plenty of quills and ink with which to compose the endless scenarios of transgression roiling away under his tatty wig. The young Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who is in charge of the asylum, encourages him in his work as director of the madhouse's theatrical troupe and engages the tireless blasphemer in well-meaning debate. Perhaps most important of all, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a young maid, smuggles his manuscripts out of the place for him.
    It's with the anonymous publication of his Justine that Sade's real troubles begin. Napoleon has the best-seller torched, and his advisors dispatch "alienist" Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to Charenton to see if it is indeed Sade who's behind the work, and to ensure that no more such texts escape from the confines of the madhouse. Royer-Collard is, as so many proto-shrinks were, a prig and a torturer. The abbe, fearing the worst for his idealistically run institution should Royer-Collard begin putting the screws on, begs Sade to cool it for a while. But the boy can't help it. Even when his life sustaining quills are seized, he contrives ways to write, lending the movie a rich vein of metaphor that literally doesn't stop giving.
    It's ripe stuff for Kaufman, who's one of Hollywood's last thinking men his best films include such heady stuff as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a sly remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the New York gang classic The Wanderers - and this one), and the director makes the most of it, as do the actors. Sade is genuinely tortured beneath his glib facade, and Rush fearlessly fleshes out his pain. Winslet was born to play Madeleine, a woman who avers that exposing herself to "bad" thoughts helps her be a good person. Phoenix atones for his puzzling work in Gladiator with this most soulful portrayal of a man of God who - surprise! - can't really come to grips with his earthly desires. And Caine's portrayal of a bad doctor fully complements his Oscar-winning turn as a good one in 1999's The Cider House Rules;  it's a meaty study in villainous self-rationalization. Quills is not a Sadean work per se, but it's a deft consideration of the challenge Sade threw down, one with which our civilization's still grappling.
    Agree? Disagree? Respond to Glenn Kenny's reviews on AOL. Go to Keyword PREMIERE and click on Message Boards.
Thanks, Sylvia, for taking the time to send me the review!

November 21: From
Review by Michael Tunison
The imprisoned Marquis de Sade gets his kicks with a plume in this exhaustingly trashy costume drama.
    Story - Comte Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), the legendary French libertine and writer of dirty stories who lent his name to the term "sadism," goofs away the last decadent years of his life in an insane asylum. But the black-market publication of his latest porno masterpiece upsets the unorthodox arrangements he has with a mischievous chambermaid (Kate Winslet) and the open-minded priest who administers the facility (Joaquin Phoenix). Soon a harsh new supervisor (Michael Caine) arrives with orders to break the unrepentant Marquis.
    Acting -While he bears little physical resemblance to the historical de Sade -- a 350-pound 64-year-old at the time of his death in 1814 -- Rush ("Shine") nails the combustible mixture of monster and intellectual rebel that makes the character such a fascinating counterculture icon. Meanwhile, "Titanic" leading lady Winslet has almost too much sultry star presence for what is little more than an overglorified henchwoman part. The talented Phoenix ("Gladiator") has much more to work with as a young priest caught in an increasingly painful moral dilemma.
    Direction - Philip Kaufman, who previously indulged in raunchy literary biography with 1990's "Henry and June," digs into substantial issues about free speech and the incendiary power of ideas in a piece that plays like "Amadeus" meets "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright (adapting his own stage play) mean to wash all this down with as much lurid teen sex, necrophilia and S&M as they can cram into an art film, but there's something a little too earnestly deliberate about their attempts to be crude and salacious. Their Marquis is an entertaining enough fellow, but he starts to wear out his welcome as this highbrow tour of hell plods through its somewhat tedious second hour.
    Bottom line - Nice try, but nonstop wickedness and debauchery should be more fun.
[Actually, I found it to be loads of fun!]

November 21: Laura Clifford reviews the film for Reeling Reviews:
    An aristocrat during the French Revolution who spent over half his life in prison, the Marquis de Sade, whose actions and literary works resulted in the coining of the word 'sadism,' has been praised by some as a genius and vilified by others as a pornographer. Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush ("Shine") stars as the Marquis during his later years spent in the Charenton insane asylum supported by his wife, befriended by the Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix, "Gladiator"), bedevilled by Napoleon's emissary Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) and in love with a teenage laundress (Kate Winslett).
    Doug Wright has adapted his own off-Broadway play and together with director Philip Kaufman, ("The Right Stuff," "Henry and June") explores the nature of the artist and the effects of repression in "Quills."
    The art of writing isn't the most visual one, yet Kaufman, who tackled writers before in "Henry and June," succeeds with his provoking film "Quills." Maybe its because he's chosen authors of controversial works laden with sex, but here, at least, his film works because it gets his audience thinking - does the reading of De Sade's books cause humans to behave badly or does the censorship of his work create the evil atmosphere?
    Kaufman startles us right at the onset of his film. As the Marquis tells the tale of a noblewoman with a taste for pain, we see that woman responding to the hands and kiss of her lover. Slowly, we realize that that man is an executioner and that we are seeing a woman at the guillotine just as De Sade is, gazing out of his prison window. (The guillotine really was moved behind a jail when the Parisians began complaining about the smell.)
    De Sade, who was arrested for sodomy and kidnapping before his writing landed him in trouble, spent his last years in an insane asylum because his wife's family preferred that to prison. He had a well furnished room, dined well, put on theatrical productions and was visited by the Abbe Coulmier. However, when his most notorious novel, 'Justine,' (smuggled out by laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet in this film) made its way into the hands of Napoleon, Antoine Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), an alienist, was sent to observe the asylum and its most notorious inmate. When De Sade's quills and ink were taken away, he resorts to chicken bones and red wine and later to his own body.
Wright plays with historical fact in that Coulmier was really a four foot tall hunchback and little is known of the real Madeleine except that she visited the Marquis. Here a love triangle is created and it's an effective device because it shows that good (Madeleine) can be exposed to evil and remain untouched yet evil (De Sade's writings) is inherent in all men (Coulmier). The film's climatic tragedy, where De Sade tells a new story to Madeleine like a game of telephone, illustrates that Royer-Collard's repressive actions have set the stage for disaster.
    Rush revels in naughtily tweaking the saintly Abbe and exposing the self-righteous Royer-Collard but he can become scary, allowing darkness to wash over his face, even as we're laughing at his latest quip. It's a charged performance. Winslet is delicious as the curious laundry girl. She does devilishly juicy readings of De Sade's work (invented for the film) yet has an apple cheeked purity about her. Phoenix, who's shaping into a really good actor, gradually changes from a good and innocent Abbe to a tormented man wrestling with lust. Caine, beautifully introduced by Kaufman from behind the head of a man being tortured in a dunking machine, turns in a bland performance as the brutal doctor.
    Support includes Amelia Warner ("Mansfield Park") as Royer-Collards' child bride, whose sexuality is unleashed by reading the forbidden De Sade, but with another man. She's a pretty girl, but this subplot does little for the film other than to gratify by seeing Royer-Collard cuckholded. Rush's wife, stage actress Jane Menelaus, plays De Sade's wife and makes us feel her character's frustration. Michael Jenn ("The Messenger"), Danny Babington, George Yiasoumi "Elizabeth," and Stephen Marcus ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") all create unique inmates. The great Billie Whitelaw has been given little to work with as the blind mother of Madeleine.
    The film feels claustrophobic, as the imprisonment of a theatrical writer should, although the monochromatic palette is somewhat dull. Costume (Jacqueline West, "Pulp Fiction") is notable from the sexy draping of the Abbe's robes to the buxom milkmaid look given to Madeleine.
    While "Quills" is provocative, relatively little sex and nudity are shown. "Quills" is a movie about words and ideas that will make you think.

November 21: Here's a very negative review from Time Magazine [BTW - his sequence of events is incorrect!]:
"'Quills,' a fantasy based on the Marquis de Sade, is witless," by Richard Schickel
    At the Charenton insane asylum, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has a nice life - good food, good wine, the ability to smuggle his dirty books out to his publisher via a sympathetic chambermaid (Kate Winslet). But he offends Napoleon, who orders an alienist (Michael Caine) to cure him or kill him.
    First he's robbed of his writing instruments (the quills that give this movie its title). Undaunted, he uses his blood for ink, his clothing as paper. Stripped, he manages to write a story in his excrement on his cell walls. Finally, his tormentors rip out his tongue. "Quills" is not, obviously, your standard biopic.
    It is actually a fantasy only vaguely based on the facts of the case - a distinctly postmodern fantasy insistently exploiting the paradox that De Sade is a victim of sadism as wretched as any he might have imagined. Other matters are also ironically explored: What is freedom; What is power - that sort of thing. The film's creators - director Phil Kaufman, writer Doug Wright (adapting his own play) - seem to think they have made a black comedy. But Kaufman, who displayed a gift for sexy literacy in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," here succumbs to an unbearable heaviness of spirit. His approach to this material is brutally horrific, vulgarly unamusing. And Rush wears the desire for another Oscar nomination on his sleeve in a puffed-up, unfelt performance.
    The film poses a smug challenge: If you don't like our merry little prank, that makes you square and unhip. OK, we'll bite. This is soft-gore porn, obvious in its strategies, witless in the play of its ideas, absurdist only in its pretense to seriousness.

November 21: Here's the first review I've read that actually pans Kate's and Joaquin's performances:
Review by Joe McGovern, Staff Film Critic, Matinee Magazine
    Similar to the Salem Witch Trials, any subject matter dealing with the life and times of the Marquis de Sade involuntarily lends itself to interpretations that address critical issues of our time, most having to do with the age-old debate over free expression. History teaches that the Marquis was no role model. His last name is the origin of the word sadism and, apart from the mix of the horrific and the pornographic in his books, he was a truly repugnant owner of that term, responsible for numerous rapes and other lecherous acts that landed him in a French insane asylum for the last years of his life (he died from respiratory failure in 1814). But his place in history has taken on a mystique all its own. His books were published and promptly burned by Napoleon, though modern-day thinkers rank him as an evil yet brilliant genius. His myth exists as a reminder that human freedom has no boundaries--that his excessive overtures, no matter how perverse, make us more aware of our own unalienable rights.
    This seems material like tailor-made for Milos Foreman--combining the inmate-running-the-asylum angle from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the depraved artistic mind from Amadeus, the rights of bottom-feeders from The People v. Larry Flynt, and the misunderstood icon from Man on the Moon--but the director of Quills, based on a fictionalized play by Doug Wright, is Philip Kaufman, whose last film was 1993's Rising Sun. Although his most heralded movie to date is still The Right Stuff, it is also his least characteristic; Kaufman is a spicy and adult-orientated filmmaker who ushered in the era of NC-17 with his Henry and June, the first film ever to be designated with the faux-X rating. Geoffrey Rush stars in a no-bullshit performance as the Marquis, also an ostensible composite of Randall McMurphy, Antonio Salieri, Larry Flynt, and Andy Kaufman, though his look suggests a 19th Century Howard Stern. The flavor of the film is hot, bothered, and bold--yet sadly, its substance ultimately does no justice to the spirit of the Marquis de Sade or the pious cause it purports to celebrate.
    Kaufman opens Quills with a clever and provocative flourish that would have made the Marquis proud. In a single medium headshot, an attractive woman is shown in the throws of passion. The tide then turns from sensual to sadomasochistic to deadly as her head ultimately finds its way into the claws of a guillotine. Locked away and forgotten, the Marquis witnesses this from his cell window, absorbing the violence like an addict. (The film does not indicate it, but this prologue takes place several years earlier, during the Revolution.) Under the supervision of the liberal-minded priest Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the Marquis is allowed to purge his unpublishable thoughts on paper, under the pretence that it will uncork his mind of all impurities and create a functional equilibrium. But this is not enough for him. He is a verbal exhibitionist who must always have the last, most shocking word. "We eat, we shit, we fuck, we kill, we die," is a typical way to end a conversation. "An entire religion based on an oxymoron," is how he refers to Christianity and the Virgin Mother.
    With the help of an adventurous and sexually-curious young laundress named Madeleine (Kate Winslet), the Marquis is able to smuggle transcripts of his books out of the asylum to a printing press. Published under Anonymous, the books sell like hotcakes in the back alleys of Paris, reaching all the way up to Napoleon, who reacts with vehemence and disgust. Shown a copy of Justine, Coulmier is also disappointed. So is the Marquis: "Look at this cheap paper and small print." The thrust of the film is structured around the defiant Marquis and a cruel alienist named Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), who specializes in medieval torture devices and is dispatched personally by Napoleon to put a permanent end to the Marquis' brand of free expression.
    The character of Royer-Collard single-handedly defines the term hypocrite, and the film is so intent on illustrating this that it turns the man into a one-dimensional boor with no complexity whatsoever. From surveying the asylum that houses the Marquis, he heads directly to a nunnery and plucks a teen bride-to-be (Amelia Warner) who is easily young enough to be his granddaughter. (A sidebar that develops between Royer-Collard's pretty wife and a young architect is a misguided tangent of a misguided tangent.) The Marquis catches wind of his inquisitor's moral shallowness and thus decides to rewrite a stage play that the inmates are scheduled to perform. (Shades of Fredrick Wiseman's Titicut Follies here, but the town locals evidently quite enjoyed watching mental patients perform in this time.) Of course he alters the text to exploit the situation with Royer-Collard and his wife, who are seated in the front row.
    Needless to say, the play is a success. The Marquis never mentions any influence from Shakespeare and Hamlet's subversive play-within-the-play used to draw out the murderous King. Yet Quills continues to pass itself off as historical analogy on that level of self-importance. Although the movie makes Coulmier pleading in the Marquis's defense sound louder than Royer-Collard objections, I never believed that the vicious doctor, who speaks of killing the Marquis in his first scene, would allow himself to be humiliated in such a way. Screenwriter Wright conceived the Royer-Collard character as a Kenneth Starr-like man--but is Starr considered the kind of cutthroat who wouldn't shoot to kill with every chance he got? The Marquis's punishment for disobedience is the removal of his quills, which actually proves to wear on his mental condition. First he composes with red wine, then blood, and finally with his own feces.
    Like The Contender, which might as well have been co-written by the Marquis, Quills is a three-ring circus of high camp disguised as a weighty history lesson. It often feels stagy not in terms of the production design or cinematography, but the schematic dialogue (which sounds self-consciously contemporary) and plot twists. Yet there are many moments in it that truly come to life. Miscast as the Marquis, Rush is not a threatening presence onscreen, but is nonetheless sensational, making the broad characterization all his own. Boastful, pausing at all the right times, flaring his eyelids so you can practically watch the next dirty thought as it enters his mind, he plays the Marquis as the cat who just swallowed the tweety bird. He seems a lock for an Oscar nomination, if only because he bravely appears in the last third of the film totally nude. Caine, Winslet, and Phoenix, on the other hand, are adequate but languid, hardly believable in their respective roles. (Why Phoenix chose to affect a British accent to play a French character is anybody's guess.)
    Without giving too much away, Quills goes in so many different directions during its last half-hour that it incapacitates any meaning the original metaphor might have had. The ending does not triumph free expression, but undermines it without any depth or conviction. The only artistic freedom on display is in the imagination of Doug Wright--there is certainly nothing wrong with his fictionalizing for dramatic effect, yet shouldn't those dramatic effects ultimately support his storytelling goals? Quills also includes an epilogue that is much too preposterous and unconvincing to even warrant discussion. In the end, the whole film feels like an eager yet impotent member--carnal knowledge that is disappointingly limp.

November 21: From "Checkout":
"Quills" -- Geoffrey Rush tries to tickle our fancy as the Marquis de Sade
    Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade. A biopic about the world's foremost pornographer by the filmmaker that brought us Henry & June and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kate Winslet in a corset. All the makings of an incendiary time at the movies. And yet, while Quills is filled with subversive humor played to raunchy excess, there is something a bit too tidy about it.
    It is, in many respects, a triumph of perversity, teetering precariously between repression and expression. We meet the Marquis (Rush) after he has been committed to an asylum for a number of sexually deviant crimes. Put there by his rich wife to avoid the embarrassment of jail, the Marquis is afforded luxuries not otherwise made available to patients. His cell is well furnished, the walls lined with books and his desk filled with paper, ink and quills -- all part of the Abbe Coulmier's (Joaquin Phoenix) plans for a cure. His reasoning being that if the Marquis is given an outlet for his racy thoughts, his mind will eventually right itself. The Abbe even allows Sade to run the asylum's theater as a form of therapy. The only problem is, the Marquis has found a way to get his work published (not part of the therapy) with the help of a conspiratorial laundry girl named Madeleine (Kate Winslet) who smuggles his pages out to a messenger.
    When his latest work, Justine, hits the streets, Napoleon himself gets involved and sends his most esteemed scientist, Antoine Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to the asylum to keep an eye on the Abbe and to suppress Sade. Royer-Collard quickly learns, however, that the Marquis de Sade cannot be suppressed. His prose, no matter how repulsive, must flow. The scientist learns this the hard way while attending his first of the asylum's theater productions and moves to destroy all of the Marquis' papers as well as confiscating all his writing materials. Once again, the nasty voices in Sade's head prevail as the vulgarian dreams up a number of creative ways to record his prose.
    The smoldering relationship between the Abbe and Madeleine is caught in the middle of the Marquis' travails, and there is no relationship that is safe from the effects of the Marquis' sharp quill. These relationships become the film's focus leading to a logical and overly dramatic climax that steals a good deal of thunder from Rush's performance, but he is certainly provided with ample scenery to chew. Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix both give the kinds of strong performances that we've grown accustomed to seeing, but Caine is not nearly devilish or threatening enough as Dr. Royer-Collard.
     They are all afforded a mouthful of intelligent, flowery dialogue by Doug Wright who adapted his Obie Award winning play for the screen and director Philip Kaufman has created a world that wreaks of madness from every angle, succeeding in imprisoning both the sane and insane alike.
    Perhaps expectations for such a project are bound to fall a little short, and to give the film its due, while it may not have delivered a knock out, Quills certainly does pack a solid punch.

November 20: I found another review on Dark Horizons today:
"Quills" - A Film Review by 'Eric' (Positive, Minor Spoilers)
    The Marquis de Sade is perhaps the greatest pervert of the second millennium of the common era. From him we get the word sadism and his works are still in print after a period of two centuries. He never seems to have gone out of fashion, at least in some circles, and remains a fascinating figure.
    The film begins with our Marquis(Geoffrey Rush) narrating an accompaniment to the decapitation of some poor lass during the terror of the French revolution. Cut to ten years later. Sade is now in the Charneton insane asylum, where he's confined to a luxurious cell where he writes his immortal smut. It seems that the Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) believes that our protagonist will be able to get it all out of his system if he writes it all down.
But, Sade has other ideas. He's got an accomplice, a servant girl named Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who smuggles his scribbles out of the asylum and into the hands of a certain pornographer(Tom Ward), and very soon the notorious "Justine" is on the streets, being so popular that it gets noticed by Napoleon himself, who send the evil Dr. Royer-Collard(Michael Caine) to put an end to the Marquis' literary outrages at any cost.
     Thus begins a perverse little soap opera where the bad Doctor and the worse Marquis duke it out while the Abbé and poor Madeleine watch in horror. First the Marquis makes fun of the Doctor and his child bride Simone(Amelia Warner), who's having an affair with an architect(Stephen Moyer), then the Doctor takes away his writing instruments and the Marquis begins to write with other materials.
    The battle escalates until we reach the gristly conclusion. This is a horror film, and there's plenty of blood and gore as we watch this literary train wreck. Surprisingly, scripter Doug Wright has written a very even-handed work. He shows what Sade's work can do to people, even though we clearly know who we're supposed to root for.
    What makes this thing bearable are the performances. Winslet, Rush, Phoenix and Caine are all brilliant, as are the supporting cast of servants and loonies. This is a fable and the moral of the story is quite clear. The intensity of the film just makes the point even stronger. This is not for the weak of stomach, but is well worth the trip to the theater.

November 20: Here's another review - thanks to Emmeline for the find!
"Quills," reviewed by Tom Block for
    For a liberal humanitarian Philip Kaufman picks the damnedest heroes: the James-Younger outlaw gang in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, the self-absorbed libertines of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry & June, the Mercury astronauts with their cartoon machismo in The Right Stuff. In Quills Kaufman makes the Marquis de Sade a poster-child for the freedom of expression-the same marquis who spent nearly 30 years in prison for crimes that included rape, and whose writings retain their pornographic sting 200 years after their publication. At one point of the movie Sade appears as a living parchment, his ragged clothes ribboned with obscenities that he's scrawled out in his own blood. "My writings live!" he crows, and his joy sparks a riot of exultation among his fellow inmates at the Charenton Asylum for the Insane. Quills extinguishes the distance between art and being, and treats the act of creation as a compulsive part of existence, as involuntary as breathing. It's also plays out one of society's most volatile scenarios-of what happens when human beings whose identities are rooted in their sexuality and creativity are confronted by the square outsider who insists that their bohemian game-playing must come to an end.
    Adapted by Doug Wright from his Obie-winning play, Quills is a freewheeling interpretation of the marquis' final years, when he was imprisoned at Charenton for publishing his obscene novels. A dissolute aristocrat and spoiled genius, Sade (Geoffrey Rush) is something like a celebrity within the asylum, even enjoying a two-room cell fitted out with comfortable furniture and a library. This generosity is mainly due to Charenton's director, the liberal Abbé Coumier (Joaquin Phoenix), who time and again reaches out to the writer by appealing to his faith or reason. The unacknowledged wild card in the two men's ongoing debate is their shared lust for Madeleine (Kate Winslet), the young laundress who spirits Sade's manuscripts out of the asylum. Sade's purple porno fantasies bring out the life in nearly everyone that encounters them-commoners read them aloud in the street, the asylum inmates feel each other up using the sound of his words as a metronome-and Madeleine is no exception, but for her the marquis' works express the carnality she longs to enjoy with the young priest. (When Sade comes on to her, she adopts a fishwife's demeanor and blunts his advances with an earthy sarcasm.) On his end, the abbé's feelings for Madeleine are an insistent signpost that he's taken the wrong path in life, a realization given an extra jolt by the marquis' mocking epigrams.
    When Sade's novel Justine appears in Paris, it creates a social shock-wave that ripples all the way up to Napoleon, and the emperor dispatches Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to take control of the asylum and silence the troublesome voice. Royer-Collard is the worst thing in the world: a sadist disguised as a moralist whom circumstance has endowed with some measure of power. Where the abbé reaches out to his patients with understanding and humility, Royer-Collard simply tortures them until they relinquish their insane behavior. (His dunking machine is like a forerunner of the punishing medical contraptions in The Right Stuff.)
    Sade responds to the doctor's mission with an opening salvo that couldn't hit closer to home. The abbé has allowed the marquis to form his fellow inmates into a theatrical troupe that stages plays for the visiting gentry, and when Royer-Collard arrives at the asylum, Sade welcomes him with a ferocious satire of the doctor's arranged marriage to a girl one-third his age. "Do you mean to take us all down with you?" the uncomprehending abbé demands of the marquis as Royer-Collard prepares to lower the boom. The doctor means to staunch the flow of Sade's works into the mainstream as if they were bacteria, and so he confiscates the tools of the marquis' trade-his ink and quills. It's the one action that Sade doesn't have a comeback for, at least not until he realizes that other materials-a chicken bone and a splash of wine, for instance-might serve as writing materials, and the discovery invigorates him. The ensuing relationship between the two men is a minimalist's game, a race to zero, as Sade meets the doctor's increasingly sordid violence with a determination to let no amount of deprivation or abuse still his voice.
    Kaufman hasn't shaken all of the theatrical roots from Wright's script, and Quills remains an idea play that "asks questions" about such upper-case issues as Censorship and the Morality of Art. The ideas and ironies have too much thesis-sentence clarity to shade off into poetry on their own, but Kaufman expresses them with such a dense and passionate interplay of picture and situation that Quills avoids becoming a declamatory, stiff-backed "classic." Even the pat (and unnecessary) transformation involving the doctor's child-wife can't hold Quills back-the movie is too brutal and hilarious, too profane and sensual, for that. Beginning with its brief prologue (an exercise in misdirection that veers from sexual rapture into sudden horror), Quills is filled with primal movie moments, as when a woman who's about to be guillotined glances down into a basket filled with human heads that appear to be waiting for hers to join them. Kaufman's pictures always look glorious and Quills is no exception, and, in an imaginative tribute to the setting, cinematographer Rogier Stoffers has unobtrusively covered his images with a smoky veneer, as if they were old paintings in need of a slight cleaning.
    The marquis' heroism is inseparable from his self-destructiveness; dressed in the rags of the suit he arrived in, he's a devil who can't help but push people beyond their comfort zones, forcing them to retaliate. He's both charismatic and repellent when he plays a kissing game with Madeleine, and even atheists may be shocked by his reaction to a Bible that Coulmier offers to him. But Rush doesn't overdo the character's decadence or flamboyance-he never turns the marquis into a dirty-minded Auntie Mame. As the young woman whose physical stature is heightened by her fantasy life, Winslet is a tower of imaginary lewdness. She looks like someone who believes in what she's doing, both as an actor and as a character, when she swaggers through the asylum's corridors; by the end of the movie you feel sated by her presence. Coulmier is like a Peace Corps volunteer whose good works are undone by a single unruly villager, and Phoenix, one of our best young actors, already has the range to handle his Graham Greene-ish arc of disillusionment. Caine keeps a leash on Royer-Collard's villainy by acting mostly through his saucer-like eyes, two blue limpid mirrors that remain dryly unconvinced of anything that he doesn't want to see.
    Kaufman's knack for re-creating a particular time and place (post-Civil War Missouri, the Prague Spring, the dawn of the American Space Age) is on full display here, and so is the "European sensibility"-really, an adult, engaged approach to moviemaking-that many critics have detected in him. Instead of depicting the play-within-the-film in straight-ahead fashion, Kaufman turns it into a voluptuous reverie that fills our ears with its music; when we suddenly notice that everything's going wrong for the characters, it's as if we're waking up to a bad dream. And Kaufman really shows off his stuff in one of the most inventive sequences of his career. Sade, reduced to a gray naked man in a gray naked cell, dictates one last story to Madeleine by relaying it through a tag-team of madmen, each of whom receives it sentence by whispered sentence through a network of holes in the walls between their adjacent dungeons. It's the kind of idea that nearly all of today's working directors would flub (if they'd think to include it at all), but Kaufman zips it together in a fluid continuous rush, then caps it off with a shot of the hallway linking the cells as it's filled with a blissful, murmurous babble.
    Quills is more than a howl of protest against the forces of oppression-in its heart, it's a howl of agony. A chorus of self-contented "Ah's" could be heard running through the theater when it seemed that the marquis' unquenchable spirit would burn on beyond his death (and so on), but only a moment's thought is needed to see that the movie offers a spark of triumph at best. The creative, skeptical, sexually charged, and anarchic face of humanity will never be fully extinguished, but in those instances that it's driven underground and its tongue is severed from its roots, it becomes hard to imagine what might ever rid the world of its Royer-Collards. (Nothing can compensate for the damage they've done.) The good doctor's ice baths and iron maidens may be out of step with the spirit of our age, but the deviant who wishes to be heard today must break through an equally intimidating permafrost of public indifference and official hostility. Marvelously alive and meticulously crafted, Quills itself is a tale whispered through the cracks in a dungeon's walls.

November 19: I typed up this review from the December issue of Rolling Stone magazine:
"Quills" - A witty, wicked and sharply pertinent take on the Marquis de Sade that skewers sexual hypocrisy for the new millennium," by Peter Travers
    One of the hallmarks of a quality director is that his films fascinate even when they fumble. Take Philip Kaufman. Whether he soars (The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being), slums (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Wanderers) or stumbles under lofty ambitions (Henry and June, Rising Sun), Kaufman shows a keen intelligence. Quills, deftly adapted by Doug Wright from his f***-the-facts play about the Marquis de Sade, is a Kaufman high-wire act. Literate, erotic and spoiling to be heard, Quills offers the full-out exhilaration of watching artists work without a net.
  Geoffrey Rush is scandalously good as the marquis who put the Sade in sadism. After spending the last decade of his life locked up in the asylum at Charenton, France - a ploy devised by Napoleon to keep the world safe from this aristocratic pornographer - de Sade died in 1814, leaving a violently rapacious literary legacy, including 120 Days of Sodom. Sade was one sick twist, and the film wisely refuses to paint him otherwise.
    The topic here, as it was in Milos Foreman's The People Vs. Larry Flint, is free expression, and since were all fresh from an election featuring censorious bloviators, you can't argue with its relevance. Sade is locked in a cell decorated like a salon featuring erotic arts. His overseer is a humane priest, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who views writing as a way for Sade to purge his impure thoughts but forbids him to publish. It's Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a bodice-fitting laundress, who sneaks de Sade's scribbles out to a printer. That's when a furious Napoleon sends in Dr. Laura, or in this case Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine). Caine has a ball skewering this hypocrite who condemns all things sexual while drooling over his virginal teen bride (Amelia Warner).
    Kaufman mines Wright's screenplay for every comic and carnal nugget. And the actors are exceptional. Winslet brings sass and spine to the role of an innocent peasant who glories in Sade's lusty prose as she pines for the celibate Abbe. And Phoenix, on a roll this year with Gladiator and The Yards, excels at making the priest a seductive figure - a neat trick considering the real Abbe was a four-foot hunchback. Winslet and Phoenix generate real fire, notably who Abbe dreams of ravishing Madeleine on the altar.
    Still, the film belongs to the volcanic Rush. When Sade's quills are removed, he writes with red wine, then blood, then his own feces. In a striking scene, Sade dictates a story to Madeleine by using his fellow loonies to pass along, cell to cell, each salacious sentence. Quills doesn't cheat; its anti-censorship argument isn't blind to the dangers of porn being censored. Kaufman puts flesh on what could have been too cerebral a concert. The result is a savage comedy of sexual extremes; the barbed laughs draw blood.

November 19: I typed up this review from the December issue of Vanity Fair magazine:
"French Twist - Philip Kaufman explores de Sade in Quills," by Krista Smith
    From its sensual yet horific opening scene, Philip Kaufman's Quills is a captivating journey through the depraced mind of 18th-century writer the Marquis de Sade, masterfully played by Geoffrey Rush. Adapted for the screen by Doug Wright from his play of the same name, Quills is a fictional account of de Sade and his effect on French society as he lives out his days in an insane asylum while continuing to transmit his polemic and sexually charged prose to the outside world (with the help of a fetchign chambermaid (played by Kate Winslet). Joquin Phoenix gives an Oscar-caliber performance as the progressive-minded priest in charge of de Sade's care, and Michael Caine plays a sadistic doctor sent by napoleon to break the controversial writer. Although the beautiful art directiona nd costumes are definitely period, the subject matter is not your usual costume drama fare. Outside of the sexual themes, Kaufman (whose previous movies include The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Henry and June) deftly explores contemporary conflicts such as those between art and censorship and church and state without being preachy. Quills is not for the prude or the squamish, but it is a seductive and oftentimes hilarious film worthy of the eccentric genius to whom it pays homage.

November 18: Here are comments about Quills from a viewer ("filipp"):
    I just saw a sneak preview of a film that really blew me away. Quills is a film about the last days of the Marquis de Sade and it is so outrageous that it had me both laughing and crying.
    It begins during the French Revolution, when the aristocrats were being guillotined, and then cuts to the Marquis years later in a mental prison during the Napoleonic period. The film is about good and evil (but it's not what I expected to see!) and has a lot to do with today's mentality of repressing artists. It relates so much to what is in today's news.
    The real revelation of the film is the brilliant and funny Geoffrey Rush who plays the Marquis de Sade. He and Kate Winslet (she's really stunning in the film), who plays a maid in the mental asylum, have amazing chemistry. Rush is a genius who can play anyone in the world and get you to like them. The Marquis is one of the most wicked characters in history but Rush gives you a deep sympathy for him.
    Wonderful acting from Michael Caine as the real villain Royer-Collard who is sent by Napoleon to silence the Marquis. Caine has a way of smiling that gave me an eerie feeling of someone like Ken Starr, who really enjoys going after people's private lives and seems to get pleasure from inflicting pain on others. Ironically, the Marquis says that he's a man after his own heart! A real Sadean hero.
    Joaquin Phoenix plays the tortured priest who runs the asylum and has to deal with all the fireworks. He acted well and I've never seen a priest do some of the things he does! What a powerful performance. He and Kate have their own terrific chemistry as they try to keep their hands off each other.
    The other actors were all top stuff, especially a really hot young actress who plays `Simone.' There are great actors all through the film, but I especially enjoyed the mental patients and in particular the bird man was really rad!
    I loved this wild film and I can't wait to see it again.  ***** (5 stars)

November 18: I found this review by Susan Granger:
Pros: Intriguing concept, brilliantly acted by Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix
Cons: So much depravity is, ultimately, repugnant.
    If you had any doubts about what you're in for, the grotesque opening shot of an orgasmic beheading in post-revolutionary France should make the allegorical intentions of director Philip Kaufman ("Henry & June," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being") abundantly clear. This is the fictional story of the Marquis de Sade's final years, adapted by Doug Wright from his Obie Award-winning play.
   One need only go to a dictionary to discover that the word "sadism" derives from the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), whose writings describe various sexual aberrations, primarily the getting and receiving of pleasure from dominating, mistreating or hurting one's partner.
    Geoffrey Rush (Oscar-winner for "Shine") plays the lusty, decadent Marquis, whom we first encounter as a prisoner in Charenton Asylum for the criminally insane, where he is tended by a young priest (Joaquin Phoenix) who debates the concepts of morality and sin with him and encourages him to use his quill to "purge his evil thoughts upon the page." Smuggled out by an adoring chambermaid (Kate Winslet), these writings are published, much to the chagrin of Napoleon, who dispatches a cruel, snarling doctor (Michael Caine) to remove the quill and silence the filth spewing forth.
    Undaunted, the Marquis scratches out his pornographic thoughts with a chicken bone, using wine on bed-sheets. After those implements are removed, he uses bits of a broken mirror, blood and his clothes. Even after his tongue is removed, he finds ways to express himself.
    Geoffrey Rush performs brilliantly, particularly during the excruciating final half-hour. Joaquin Phoenix embodies the conflicted priest, and Kate Winslet plumbs the subtle nuances of her supporting role. (I assume that it was Ms. Winslet's willingness to be attached to this project that, ultimately, got it to the screen.) As a side note, Jane Menelaus, who plays the wife of the Marquis, is also the real-life wife of actor Geoffrey Rush.
    Celebrating artistic expression that refuses to be silenced, the film is thematically timeless, but so much depravity is, ultimately, repugnant. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Quills" is a provocative, smutty 6. Rated R, the extravagant imagery of wild debauchery and deviant behavior is probably too violent and explicit for art-house audiences and too esoteric for the multi-plexes.

November 17: Here's a review from Newsday (not positive):
"Basic Instinct," by Justin Davidson, Staff Writer
    'QUILLS," Philip Kaufman's new movie about the Marquis de Sade, is a parable masquerading as a costume drama. Set in Napoleonic France but directed at Clintonian America, the film tackles an issue that leapt to the foreground of the recent presidential campaign: how to calculate the social effect of sex and violence in popular entertainment.
    "Quills" treats the last of Sade's 27 years in captivity with a scenario that seems like an experiment in Hollywood hybridization. The valiant pornographer from "The People vs. Larry Flynt" inhabits the madhouse setting of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The Marquis, a sane but deviant fop (Geoffrey Rush), languishes luxuriously in the asylum of Charenton, publishing underground smut from his cell. A copy of his obscene vampire romance "Justine" somehow finds its way to Napoleon, who dispatches the ferocious luminary Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to silence Sade's writing and straighten his twisted mind.
    Rush's Sade belies the character's ghoulish reputation. Untroubled by the distorting burdens of civilized behavior, he wanders around in shabby finery and a dusty wig, consumed by earthy instinct. He is nothing but a grandly crude aristocrat, a good-natured virtuoso of vulgarity, more Howard Stern than Grand Guignol.
    Caine's Royer-Collard, on the other hand, turns out to be a less literary but more literal sadist than his patient. His preferred form of therapy is to strap patients into a chair that flips them backward into a pool of ice water. He embodies a sanctimonious, bureaucratic sort of evil, bent on eradicating any threatening and destabilizing behavior.
    For all the meticulous attention to Empire detail, however, make no mistake: This is a movie about the present. Sade's outrageous novels stand in for all the gangsta rap, performance pieces and dung-encrusted canvases that ever offended a righteous politician. Kaufman has said that he thought of Royer-Collard as a Kenneth Starr-type inquisitor, which would, I suppose, make Sade an early-19th-Century Bill Clinton, the seductive embodiment of a period's collective carnality. The analogy begins to stumble almost immediately, though, for the simple reason that high-minded intolerance just isn't what it used to be. Indicting one period with evidence from another does not make for a terribly convincing case.
A latter-day Sade might, in some parts, be ostracized or fined or even forced out of business, but he would hardly be committed. Today, his arch and wordy scenes of violent sex would be included in collections of "Best Erotica" and sold at Barnes and Noble. Napoleonic France provides a better template for a tale of censorship and repression. Totalitarian and moralistic, the setting also offers the advantage of a hypocritical society, one that willingly suffered through the revolutionary years of terror but which flinches at a little fictional pain.
    With directorial sleight of hand, Kaufman merges the contest of French philosophies in the early 19th Century -- enlightenment, rationalism, sensual romanticism, absolutism -- with the early-21st-Century notion of writing as therapy. At some point during the film, Sade's gothic sexual fantasies metamorphose from pornography into art. That's because what's important to Kaufman is not what Sade wrote, but his overpowering need to write at all.
    In today's sugary, Oprah-tic terms, his compulsion, not his talent, entitles him to honor. He pens comic-book vindictive fantasies? Well, he has Issues that need to be Worked Out. His prose is overripe and rococo? Ah, but he has Feelings he must Express.
    Curiously, the excerpts from Sade's writings that Doug Wright's script doles out are actually quite tame. The language is replete with elaborate euphemisms such as "Venus mound" and "pikestaff," and the subject matter ranges no further than some rather laughable perversions. Kaufman has his R rating to protect, of course, but choosing more genuinely scabrous excerpts might also nudge the audience out of sympathy with the Marquis.
    In the film, neither Sade nor his books injure anyone (except for the pride of the long-suffering Marquise) -- until the emperor decides to quash his writing, beginning a chain of events that leads to blazing cataclysm. Sade, locked in solitary confinement, deprived of paper and quills, narrates his final story through a chink in the wall. His fellow inmates -- a stereotyped collection of droolers, mutterers and brutes -- whisper his gruesome tale from cell to cell, until it finally reaches the Marquis' amanuensis, the newly literate chambermaid Madeleine (Kate Winslet). With each new detail, the lunatic messengers become progressively more inflamed, until the mixture of arousal and rage lays waste to the asylum in an explosion of apocalyptic vengeance out of Brian De Palma's "Carrie."
    Kaufman casts Sade's writings as a form of protest art -- Napoleonic rock and roll. The Marquis' natural allies are the dispossessed: Winslet's heavy-breathing ingenue, the asylum's lumpen staff, the convent girl whose marriage to Royer-Collard amounts to sexual enslavement, the Parisian poor who buy "Justine" out of wheelbarrows from a furtive hawker. With no investment in the status quo or its burdensome conventions, these people are free to find his books titillating, unifying, even liberating. Far from acting as an agent of degradation, pornography here echoes the raw defiance of the marginalized classes. The message for our day is clear: Any attempt to limit access to raunch is inherently undemocratic.
    Yet even as the film builds its defense of liberal libertinism, it acquires some reactionary overtones as well. If sexually audacious literature can channel popular frustrations into harmless fantasy, then the safest step for a prudent, prudish autocrat is simply to leave it alone. Sade's writings acquire their political potency only when the authorities try to stop the flow of ink. This lesson, too, is clear: Allow outrageous entertainment to be produced and it will sate the people's basest and most basic needs, its venom dissipating quickly. Suppress it, and the populace might explode. To those who see subversive potential in free expression, "Quills" offers advice laced with Marie-Antoinettish disdain: "Let 'em write books."
    The film's dispiriting implication has become the entertainment industry's standard line of defense. As soon as the moralists start searching for cultural sources of evil, Hollywood and the pop music corporations rush to proclaim the benign irrelevance of their products: Violence on television corrupts nobody, repellent song lyrics act as a safety valve for people's primitive urges and boiling discontent.
In the same vein, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland contains a wall of television screens and billboards titled "Don't Knock the Rock," featuring fragmentary clips of Sen. Ernest Hollings, Jesse Helms, Tipper Gore, Jerry Falwell and assorted other dignitaries over the decades decrying the evil effects of whatever the kids are listening to these days. The polemic not only dishonestly glosses over the distinction between criticism and censorship, it also mocks the forces of outrage and therefore trivializes the art form itself. If rock and roll never represented a genuine threat, then what was it all about?
    All this represents a self-defeating hypocrisy on the part of the entertainment industry. At least the Royer-Collards of the world have always believed passionately in the social power of art.

November 16: Snowflea found a review in today's New York Observer by the esteemed film critic Andrew Sarris. (I've been waiting for this one!) While he doesn't applaud the film, he does applaud the performances:
"A Dirty Little Movie That Doesn't Do It For Me," by Andrew Sarris
    Philip Kaufman's Quills, from a screenplay by Doug Wright based upon his play, has taken so many liberties with the life and death of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) - particularly his last days at Charenton Asylum - that he becomes as much an icon of civil liberty as the literary originator of what we now term "Sadism." The key to both the play and the movie is the canny title, which does not merely denote the writing implement of a certain period but emblazons it as a symbol of writing behind prison walls. Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Wright have executed an end run around the censors by placing the scabrous words of the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) on the sound-track as if they constituted a summons to liberation.
    I must confess at this point that I have often had problems reviewing Mr. Kaufman's films because he has taken his material so far out on the cutting edge that there is little (if anything) to compare it with: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and Henry and June (1990) come immediately to mind. His mixture of playfulness and earnestness emits mixed signals to the audience. In Quills, for example, the Marquis may be playing a joke on us with his literal obscenities, read aloud to the shocked expressions of Napoleon (Ron Cook) and Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), who come off as squares. To emphasize the point, Mr. Kaufman ridicules both Napoleon's short stature and Royer-Collard's reportedly small penis.
    Unfortunately, Quills descends to one-sided melodrama with its magnification of two real-life characters into martyrs of malignant repression. The virginal Charenton laundress, the 17-year-old Madeleine (Kate Winslet), serves as the Marquis de Sade's literary conduit to the outside world. She is lusted after by the Marquis and chastely loved by the Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Thus, Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Wright have created a sexual triangle where none existed before, and with it a wild melodrama in which Coulmier goes mad in a burst of necrophilia and Dr. Royer-Collard emerges cynically triumphant.
    We are a long way from the political dialectics of de Sade's time. Quills narrows his concerns to the anal, the vaginal and the penile, and Mr. Kaufman delivers once more on the visual correlatives. But the Marquis lived in a cruel and depraved age, and had witnessed the horrors of the guillotine as one of its prospective victims. For lawgivers like Napoleon, the issue with the Marquis was how he described these evils on paper with an enthusiastic complicity. In this respect, Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Wright can be said to be denouncing hypocrisy in Napoleon's time and our own.
    Why, then, am I so reluctant to applaud Mr. Kaufman's civic service, particularly when the performances of Mr. Rush, Ms. Winslet, Mr. Phoenix, Mr. Caine and Billie Whitelaw as Madeleine's mother are so exemplary? Mr. Kaufman is to be commended for allowing Mr. Caine to modulate the evil in his character with a suggestion of tactical intelligence and bureaucratic shrewdness. As for Ms. Winslet, I am still waiting for the puritanical Oscar voters to reward her courageously full-bodied incarnations of complex women. Perhaps my problem is more with the Marquis de Sade than with Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Wright. What little I have read of his prose pornography reminds me of what bores me in hard-core pornography on the screen - endlessly exultant repetitiousness without any metaphorical invention, lazy diabolism without a shred of psychological insight, masturbatory fantasy without any feeling of otherness. These are the impressions I have of the Marquis, and nothing Mr. Kaufman has done has changed my opinion in the slightest.
    Actually, Quills turns melodramatically ambivalent at the end by suggesting a possible effect on behavior by anti-social expression in the arts. But the argument is muddled and emotionally arid. I am reminded of the late Mayor Jimmy Walker giving the foes of censorship a comic argument with his quip that no girl ever got into trouble reading a book, to which Wilfred Sheed later retorted in Esquire that many girls have indeed gotten into trouble by believing what they read in books. Vide Madame Bovary.

November 16: Two people (not film critics), who saw an advance screening of Quills, submitted their reviews to Ain't It Cool News, and they were published today. (I have corrected only the misspelled proper names.) Spoiler alert!
A couple of folks check in with their looks at QUILLS --
Hey folks (and you Ruthe Stein), Harry here with a pair of damn luck and cool as a witch's ummmm.... wart fellas and their looks at Philip Kaufman's latest film... QUILLS which has been getting quite a few raves and is the first really solid film from Kate Winslet since TITANIC if this word holds up. And I'm glad because I think Kate is just absolutely radiant. Well hear about watching the film with George Lucas and all sorts of other celebs... here's Randfilms and Enigma Boy....
    Hi Harry -  I've never written, but after tonight's screening of Quills, the new film by Wanderers/Unbearable Lightness of Being/Right Stuff's Philip Kaufman-- I thought I'd drop a line.
    At the UA Galaxy on Van Ness and Sutter, they kept us in the drizzle while the VIPs filed in first. George Lucas was in the house along with many groupie ILMers in their STAR WARS EII crew jackets. Geoffrey Rush was alone in the lobby greeting people, shaking hands and signing autographs. Nice to see a lead w/o an entourage.
    The MC was the S.F. Chronicles Ruthe Stein. She offered up the usual softball-name-dropping-I-saw-it-at-Toronto-first type of questions. After about 15 mins the audience starting groaning and got rowdy. She wouldn't budge until Mr. Kaufman said "Let's just see the movie" and the crowd roared w/ approval. Then no q/a after the flick. Jip.
    The flick. Quills. So Quills are the bird feathers that they used to write with way back before ballpoint pens and palm pilots and the internet.
    This flick had the gushiest trailer in my opinion. Complete with that same old choral/chanting classical music that they overuse. Well the movie is not flowery. It gets gnarly. There is blood, sex, tits, and full frontal male nudity. I could have done w/o the latter, but it was just a brief shot and I'd have had to bust out the binoculars to get any kind of positive I.D. I digress. Honestly-- hetero in S.F.
    The story was pretty good. The Merquis Des Sade (sp?, it's French-- who cares!) MDS is writing porn for the late 1700's and it is snuck out of a CRAZY HOUSE where he is shacked up by Kate Winslet. The stories are published and the public snatches 'em up. Napoleon gets wind of this and gets pissed. So Michael Caine is sent to straighten MDS out with all his torturous toys of "science." Geoffrey Rush is really pretty good as the MDS. Joaquin Phoenix is good too as the Priest who really just wants to get ahold of Kate's Titanic bosom. By the way. Nice shots (yes more than one) of Winslet's winners! This for all those Joe Bob Briggs types that keep score. A quick mAMorie jog-- 2 Kate's, 2 of others, several passerby's that you would never admit to have actually eyeballed.
    The best part is the ways in which the MDS finds to keep writing. They take his QUILLS, so he uses bones from his meals and wine for ink. Then they take the rest of his stuff, so he goes for his own blood. Then it degrades a couple steps LOWER. Use imagination here.
    My problem was a toss up between the direction and/or editing. Several key spots for me and my girlfriend seemed to confound. Should we laugh or not? The shot didn't linger enough to garner a laugh that could have been heartier or the emotion between Joaquin and Kate after "they break down" seemed like it didn't connect.
So maybe I nitpick.
    Good flick. Good sets and costumes. Really good gore for a film that I thought was going to be a fu-fu film out of the Merchant Ivory school. I had fun and got to rub elbows with the likes of congress woman Nancy Pelosi, George Lucas, Geoffrey Rush and then write to you about it and name drop so that Ruthe Stein can see how cool I am when she reads your site tomorrow.
Thanks Harry. Later DAZE!
San Francisco
And now comes the mighty ENIGMA BOY!!!!
    Howdy Ho Brother Harry, This here be Enigma Boy. Tonight I got myself into the special advanced screening of Philip Kaufman's newest film QUILLS, a story about the Marquis de Sade. I shouldn't say that I "infiltrated" the screening, because truth be told, I went with my mom after winning a pair of tickets in the San Francisco Chronicle. Tonight was extra special because there was the promise of seeing a short Q&A session between local SF film critic Ruthe Stein (who looks like a 50-year old Laura Kightlinger (and the pair of director Philip Kaufman (THE RIGHT STUFF) and star Geoffrey Rush (SHINE). As I am a star-struck teenager, I was awestruck to be in the presence of Casanova Frankenstein, whom he does basically look like. The Q&A wasn't terribly interesting, but it was enough to keep me pleased. And on a geek note: George Lucas was sitting a few rows back from me. I tried to find him after the screening, but either he left before I could get a chance, or I was a moron and didn't see him as I exited the theater. I realize now that by failing to get George Lucas' autograph, I have failed as a geek. *sniff* For punishment, I'm going to dunk myself headfirst into a toilet bowl. Be right back…
    …Okay, now that's done with, on with the review. QUILLS tells the story of the later years of everyone's favorite perverse French author, the Marquis de Sade. At the beginning of the film, he has been living in an insane asylum, secretly writing manuscripts that are discreetly being leaked to the outside world and published anonymously. The film chronicles the effort to attempt to silence these writings. As the lives of four characters are affected greatly, each with their own perfect little story, the plot advances unpredictably, every once in a while hitting us with something so shocking or profound that I was taken back. Geoffrey Rush, as mentioned before, plays the Marquis de Sade with a whimsical madness that we could expect from the recent Oscar-winner for SHINE. Joaquin Phoenix (GLADIATOR) plays Abbe Coulmier, the head of the asylum, who is having some serious issues regarding his devotion to God. Kate Winslet (TITANIC) plays Madeleine, the chambermaid who aids the Marquis in his writing. The fourth and final character, played by the amazing Michael Caine (recent Oscar-winner for CIDER HOUSE RULES), is Royer-Collard, the doctor appointed by Napoleon to "cure" the Marquis.
    Geoffrey Rush has proved himself to be quite a useful actor in the past, also playing such characters as Walsingham in ELIZABETH and Philip Henslowe in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (another nominated performance), even if he's had his casting mishaps (MYSTERY MEN). He is truly amazing playing a "madman" in late 18th century France, amusingly spouting countless double entendres made to make the audience both giggle and shiver at the same time. I have always like his acting, but it is with this performance that I truly realized that he does much of his acting with his hands. In the case of SHINE, he was a piano player (granted, it wasn't actually him playing the piano in key scenes, but you get my drift). With MYSTERY MEN, Casanova Frankenstein was characterized by his sharp nails, one of which he lunged very humorously at Mr. Furious in that film's climax. With HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (which was a fun popcorn movie, nothing more), the way he held his cigarette as Mr. Price, it was perfect. With QUILLS, as the title suggests, his fingers go through a great deal of writing, with or without quills (you'll see what I mean while viewing the film). The fingers are characters on their own, but the fact that they are attached to such a talented and noticeable presence makes them that much better.
    As with the rest of the cast, Joaquin Phoenix proves once again that he is an underappreciated actor (save GLADIATOR) who is key for characters that go through serious mental anguish. The journey he takes psychologically in this film should help him win a nomination for supporting actor, if there is justice in the world. The emotions portrayed by him are raw and truly powerful. As Madeleine, Kate Winslet comes back into play as a powerful actress, one who sometimes suffocates herself in overblown blockbusters (the aforementioned TITANIC) or in tiny indies (HIDEOUS KINKY and HOLY SMOKE). She supplies much of the center of the story, morally at least. Rounding out the cast is Michael Caine, who plays a villain so detestable that you want to see him punished so badly that you can taste it. All of his motives are honest, albeit coldhearted, and he may very well persuade the Academy to honor him with a nomination instead of Joaquin Phoenix (although I would prefer the latter).
    The film has its problems. It's as if some producer noticed the success of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and decided to make something very very similar, except this time much darker, much moodier, and with the visual style of ELIZABETH (interesting how those three films all star Rush). It's very much like SHAKESPEARE because it deals with a very renowned author, true to life, and placing that person in a semi-fiction plot. Dealing with the plot, none of it is convoluted, but sometimes it just seems strange and oddly unsupported. The way the scenes are structured and set obviously expose the film's origins as a stage play, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some of the middle lags, but never enough to start disliking the movie. Once the film became more intense, dealing with the madness of the other characters, it was then that I started to really enjoy it.
    Overall, it's a very powerful and unique film, one that is Oscar-bound, although not necessarily best picture material. It's definitely worth your money, and a great place to see four incredible performers show their acting chops.
    Until next time, O fearless leader, and respect the beetle.

November 14: Here's another great review:
"Quills" - A Film Review by 'Paul F.'
    A fictional work that reconstructs the unknown fate of the Marquis de Sade, the writer and sexual deviant who was imprisoned in Charenton Asylum for the last 10 years of his life, Quills is a creative period piece from director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff). In the film, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) befriends the director of the asylum, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), and both share affections with the asylum laundress, Madeleine (Kate Winslet). But when Napoleon sends in a doctor (Michael Caine) to cure the Marquis of his supposed madness, the Marquis's rebellious character only grows stronger.
    It can be said that 2000 was not the most exciting year in American cinema, so seeing the new and audacious masterwork from veteran director Philip Kaufman is a breath of fresh air. Of course, this stunningly bold and intellectual screen adaptation of the award winning play may not be for everyone, but then it doesn't try to be. Everything about this film is perfect, though its audience needs to be as sharp and intellectual as the material presented. Quills is a thematic, not a character or even plot driven piece, yet it is arguably one of the freshest and most audacious American films of the year. As with Doug Wright's play, Kaufman's film treatment (also adapted by the playwright) is a study in sexual mores, a look at the role of censorship and sexual self-expression. Quills pulls no punches in the way it explores the passion and power of artistic freedom that, despite its nineteenth century setting, is surprisingly contemporary in tone.
    The performances are uniformly faultless but it is Geoffrey Rush who gives a virtuoso performance as the tortured De Sade, who audiences will not forget. He is remarkable, the best we have seen him on screen to date, a performance well deserving of an Oscar, and the best performance of the year. Joaquin Phoenix continues to demonstrate his growing depth as an actor, faultless here as a very human priest. Michael Caine is a satisfying antagonist and Kate Winslet is ferociously alluring as the chambermaid who falls under the Marquis' seductive spell.
    Beautifully lensed by international cinematographer Rogier Stoffers, and intelligently directed by the wonderful Kaufman, Quills is a sexual, audacious and witty film, one where all the filmmaking elements come together with graceful precision. It is a remarkable work not to be missed.

November 15: My movie review search engine turned up this review of Quills; it's also posted on imdb:
QUILLS - Reviewed by Harvey Karten
Fox Searchlight Films Director: Philip Kaufman Writer: Doug Wright (play & screenplay) Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, Amelia Warner, Jane Menelaus, Stephen Moyer
    If you're reading this online review, you are, of course, familiar with the power of the Internet. All sorts of movie data, even whole books, can be uploaded to the 'net and then downloaded in a matter of seconds by readers from Passaic to Port Moresby. How easy things have become in the Information Age! Our very freedom to gather printed and even visual material from a gadget that can be held on our laps furnishes dramatic contrast to the difficulties people had in disseminating their views during the Nineteenth Century and before. Although Gutenberg's invention of movable type had been around for a couple of hundred years, governments and religious leaders were reluctant to allow their people to read materials they considered subversive of the political or social order. In our own time, an age that beholds eight- year-olds gazing casually and without shock at pornography on the Internet, we may feel bemused that at one time some books considered corrupt by those in power were off limits to the populace (as a few are even today). One such work was "Justine," published anonymously but recognized everywhere as the work of the Marquis de Sade. While the contents would today be considered hokey, even downright laughable, the flagrantly erotic text of "Justine" created quite a scandal in Paris, so much so that while many who could get their hands on the outlawed novel gobbled up the pages hungrily, Church officials and even Napoleon himself were apoplectic with outrage.
   Phil Kaufman, whose "The Right Stuff" was neither arty nor subtle, now comes across with a decidedly uncommercial movie; cynical where "The Right Stuff" was idealistic, grotesque where the all-American movie was straight-laced, depraved and revolting where the rah-rah picture was uplifting. Based on Doug Wright's Obie (off-Broadway)-award winning play by the same name, "Quills" cannot be mistaken for a naturalistic movie but instead evokes its theatrical origins in virtually every scene. Resembling in spirit Peter Brook's 1996 film "Marat/Sade"--which was in turn based on Peter Weiss's breathing-down-your-neck play about a so-called performance staged by inmates of the French asylum for the insane at Charenton --"Quills" offers a potent, arch, humorous and downright fascinating glimpse into a society both terrified and titillated by literary descriptions of raging sexuality. While "Justine" appears to me to be more gynecological than arousing, the illustrated novel in its time became a cause celebre, as controversial as the current presidential quagmire in the U.S.
    "Quills" takes place in 1807 and centers on the Marquis de Sade, a man whose very name has given us the word "sadism" but whose cruelty in this screenplay is limited to a passing comment about his activities - which included the carving up of a 16-year-old's backside and the rubbing of salt into the wound. Instead de Sade is made into an artistic hero, a man who, while imprisoned at a mental institution for his past sadism, is for the most part a gentlemanly, intelligent fellow with a compulsion to write and comfortable quarters to do so. If denied the privilege of putting his ideas on paper with his feathery, quill pen - of subliminating his madness through his art - he believes that he will go as demented as his fellow inmates, who include one guy who thinks he's a bird and another a bald, lecherous Frenchman who could pass for a Sumo wrestler or for the masked executioner who in the opening scene lowers the guillotine on a hapless aristocrat.
    The Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) is treated well by the Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who believes that insane people can act reasonably when treated with kindness and given therapy.  (In one situation, he gently asks a pyromanic, "Isn't it better to paint fires than to set them"?) A virginal chambermaid in the institution, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), is regularly aroused by the Marquis' erotic writings, which she reads to the giggles and pique of other workers, but more important she has been smuggling the banned chapters of the Marquis' literature out of the asylum for general publication - handing the pages over to a mysterious equestrian comrade. With Napoleon himself infuriated by the novels and the Marquis' wife scandalized by the pornography, Dr. Royer-Collar (Michael Caine) is sent to Charenton to bring both the Marquis and the Abbe to heel.
    Most of the film deals forcefully, dramatically, and exquisitely with what happens after the Marquis is forbidden to write. His quill pen taken away, he resorts to writing on the tablecloth with a chicken bone dipped in wine. Absent the chicken bone, he pricks his own finger and writes in his own blood. When even the ability to cut himself is removed, he implements yet another resourceful method to get his ideas into print, one which horrifies the entire institution and could turn quite a few stomachs of those in the theater audience. (His final words give new meaning to smut on bathroom walls.)
    "Quills" informs us with striking drama what happens when art and sexuality are repressed by the forces of pious hypocrisy. Director Kaufman draws the lines clearly, giving the viewer no doubt that compromise is out of the question. The gentle Abbe is pitted against the thoroughly unsentimental Royer-Collard, the latter infuriated when his own marriage to a orphaned girl decades younger than he is brutally satirized in a play written by the Marquis and performed by the inmates to the glee and horror of the audience. The Abbe himself is torn between his vows of chastity to the Church and his arousal by both a naked Marquis and the winsome chambermaid, Madeleine. The lovely wife of the Dr. Royer- Collard, Simone (Amelia Warner), is torn between her marriage vows to the aging doctor (who supplies her with all the material luxuries any woman could want) and her "Justine"-inspired desire for the young and handsome architect, Prouix (Stephen Moyer).
    While most of the action of this stage-born work is filmed within the institution, Kaufman's photographer, Rogier Stoffer and his production designer, Martin Childs, give the work a painterly essence, a gruesome exhibition of the guillotine in action in the very opening of the film climaxing with the horror that befalls the Marquis as he uncompromisingly alienates the powers that be.
    The always reliable Michael Caine plays admirably against the extraordinarily talented Geoffrey Rush, while the erotic nature of the young women is tested against the repressive notions of the Church and government. Strip away the costumes and you could almost see our own times: the ongoing dialectic about Hollywood's alleged corrupting of youths around the world; the absurd overreaction of right- wingers to President Clinton's peccadilloes; even (as ace online critic Maitland McDonagh points out in her prescient essay) the controversy over the defense given by the American Civil Liberties Union to repulsive organizations like the American Nazi Party and other skinhead bands. Contemporary relevance aside, "Quills" stands out as a tough-minded, lush portrayal of people acting in extremis, particularly of one man unwilling, nay unable, to compromise even at the risk of torture and death. There's a place on our screens for small, low-budget indies like Kenneth Lonergan's remarkable "You Can Count on Me," which NY Times critic Stephen Holden named one of the two or three best movies of the year so far. "Quills" demonstrates that we also need off-the-wall high drama, powerful tales of larger-than-life characters whose uncompromising heroism elevates them to mythic stature.

November 13: There is a nice review of Quills in the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine. I have typed it up for you:
"Say Anything - The Marquis de Sade talks dirty in Quills, Philip Kaufman's scorching indictment of Hollywood censorship," by James Greenberg
    Now that even democrats like Joe Lieberman and Al Gore are threatening to legislate morality in Hollywood, Philip Kaufman's Quills couldn't come along at a better time. More than a story about the last days of the Marquis de Sade and his questionable contributions to literature, Quills is really a grand "fuck you" to those who would control the content of movies. When the film opens, amazingly enough at Thanksgiving, politicians and religious leaders everywhere are likely to take to their soapboxes - exactly what Kaufman must have had in mind.
    Quills is not just about sex, though that does get your attention. For Kaufman, it's about the right to say anything, no matter how offensive. To make his point, he has chosen the most notorious libertine in history. By parading Sade's perversion and atheism, Kaufman is deliberately committing a provocative act.
    This is not new territory for the director. The NC-17 rating was invented for Kaufman's Henry and June (1990), a film detailing the romantic triangle involving Henry Miller, his wife and the writer Anais Nin. He also explored the intersection of politics and eroticism in the Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988). Presumably because Quills talks about sadomasochistic acts rather than shows them on-screen, the film got by with an R rating. The irony is that the images of the marquis's decadence are all the more vivid because he describes them slowly and in loving detail rather than plays them out. The process of deciding who gets to see what has never seemed more absurd and arbitrary.
    In today's corporate climate, it's a minor miracle that a film like Quills got made at all and a major miracle that it's being released by Rupert Murdoch's Fox Searchlight Pictures. Obscured by the smoke screen of explosions and special effects is the fact that movies today have become more timid. Excessive violence and numbing sexuality have replaced any discussion of controversial ideas. Films like The Matrix are permitted to blow people away by the dozens, while it's unlikely that a single studio would go near issues of abortion, domestic violence or teenage sex in a realistic way.
    Studio executives and filmmakers bristle at the idea of being told what to do, and rightfully so. But should Hollywood be voluntarily more responsible for the content it sends around the world? Absolutely. No one can empirically determine the damage caused by witnessing too much gratuitous violence, too much misogyny and too much meanness in our entertainment. But seeing it surely doesn't help. There are those who argue that movies simply reflect the values of society, and though this is perhaps true, couldn't the Industry aspire to do better, to raise the level of discourse? In the real world, motivated by grosses, the answer, of course, if no.
    In the face of all this, Quills is courageous for simply raising questions of freedom and censorship. Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright, who adapted his stage play, are less interested in the historical Marquis de Sade than in giving him contemporary resonance. For them, Sade's voice is a cry against the whitewashing of our culture; they don't care whether the marquis's work is really art. In fact, his actual writings are filled with descriptions of pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia. Whether the work deserves to be published and read is a choice for a free society.
    Polemics aside, Quills is one of the most perversely enjoyable movies of the year. Yes, it is single-minded and at times excessive, but Kaufman is such a skilled filmmaker that he understands the best way to make a point is to entertain. Wonderful performances by actors who seem to be delighting in the Grand Guignol of it all help lighten difficult material. It is great fun to watch Geoffrey Rush pose, posture and decay as the marquis. In his soiled waistcoat, his white wig slightly askew, he is elegant, intelligent and gloriously depraved. For all of his outrageousness, the character is still a desperately touching soul. Rush's glee and willingness to expose himself illuminate the lower depths of human experience. "I've been to hell, young man," he tells the abbe at the Asylum of Charenton, where he is incarcerated. "You've only read about it."
    Rush's partner in crime, Kate Winslet, as a laundress who is smitten with the marquis, also relishes her role. Continuing to explore the bounds of sexual liberation, right where she left off in Jane Campion's Holy Smoke, Winslet may be the most daring actress working today. In Quills, bouncing lasciviously on the dirty old man's knee, she certainly seems to be in on the joke.
    At least for the first half, the film is a nasty little romp. Confined at Charenton in a room of threadbare splendor decorated with objets de sex thanks to the endowment of his aristocrat wife, the marquis reigns as a kind of fallen eminence. The tone is comic and over-the-top as the marquis creates scandalous fiction under the watchful eye of the asylum's director, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Practicing an 18th-century version of art therapy, the abbe believes that writing enables the marquis to keep his demons at bay. He is even allowed to stage farces featuring the inmates, a special treat for the repressed gentry. For a madman, Sade actually functions quite well within the confines of the asylum; the laundress smuggles out his manuscripts, which become a national sensation, read aloud on street corners throughout France. But when a copy of his novel Justine winds up in the hands of Napoleon, Sade's good fortune ends.
    Titillated and repulsed at the same time by the text, Napoleon dispatches Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), an expert in treating mental cases, to tame the savage beast. What follows is a classic struggle between repression and expression. Sade strikes first, mounting a hilarious spoof of Royer-Collard's sex life and marriage to a teenage convent girl (Amelia Warner). The doctor responds by rescinding Sade's privileges and finally taking away his writing quills - an act that Sade compares to being raped. What was a black comedy now just becomes black.
    Like so many would-be protectors of the state, Royer-Collard is convinced God is on his side. But unlike the marquis, whose crime is to express precisely what he's thinking, the doctor is a hypocrite, profiting from that which he condemns. Royer-Collard goes to barbaric lengths to silence Sade, and some of the torture scenes are definitely hard to sit through. But the marquis is equally resourceful in finding ways to write, giving new meaning to the notion of putting your body on the line for your art. After showing a shocking surgical procedure, the film climaxes with an image so extreme it's sure to be seized on as blasphemous. If Kaufman made this film to watch conservatives squirm, his mission is accomplished.

November 13: Following is a brief review of Quills in George Magazine:
"George Votes For…" by J.D. Podolsky
Who would have thought the Marquis de Sade a literary hero? I had secretly lusted for Quills to be one of those debauched Barry Lyndon wannabe films solely highlighting the Marquis' unmentionable libertine life. I was happily disappointed. Quills is the right stuff. Director Philip Kaufman confronts freedom of expression, government repression and religion vs. desire. All of which occur during de Sade's imprisoned life in an 18th-century cuckoo's nest. Geoffrey Rush shines as the twisted Marquis, obsessed with penning his joy-of-sex treatises while the government is obsessed with stopping him. Michael Caine (Kaufman patterned his role on Ken Starr) is the evil moralist sent to quash Rush. Fat chance. Quills is indelible. It's etched in your memory forever.

November 11: I found a write-up on Quills and the AFI "Fest 2000" closing night festivities by Paul Zimmerman for an independent film magazine:
    FADE IN: 405 FREEWAY - NIGHT -- Rain. Rain in LA. It's one of the first storms of the season and that means trouble. Not from the slick build up of oil on the dry streets. From the cell phone wielding, panic stricken drivers. Cars swerve and I'm going to be lucky to make the screening of the closing night film QUILLS. But luck is on my side and after passing the umpteenth spin off I make it in time.
QUILLS marks something of a grand return for director Philip Kaufman. A legend among indie legends, Kaufman has seen his career rise to dizzying critical heights (THE RIGHT STUFF, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING) while his box office status has always remained low and under the radar(HENRY AND JUNE).
    He hasn't been seen of since `93s RISING SUN, his stab at an intelligent big Hollywood thriller (an oxymoron?), that only did moderate business and drove Kaufman into several years of development hell. The pit of that hell was seeing two years wasted trying to bring the best selling horror novel THE ALIENIST to the big screen.
    With QUILLS, a tale about the last imprisoned days of the Marquis de Sade, seems just the perfect tonic to put Kaufman back in the proper standing. Starring Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis and Kate Winslet as the fetching chambermaid who helps smuggle his subversive (and arguably pornographic) writings out to a hungry Napoleonic era public, QUILLS is a bawdy, robust tale full of sex, violence, great performances and a cultural bonus, a moving tribute to free speech.
    Following the film's unspooling at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd, hundreds spill into the outdoor reception to find it's still raining on their parade. As the majority of folk in LA are apparently made of sugar, they shriek in horror and run for cover. Unfortunately only two areas that offer sanctuary are a concrete overhang which buttresses the theater's lobby and an empty store where a Texan folk singer is vainly trying to perform over the din.
    Kaufman, a slight, soft spoken, bearded man, is holding court in center as several well wishers shower him with praise. Indeed the buzz on QUILLS is big, the biggest of a week that has featured overwhelmingly positive screenings. "I loved it," says one scribe while stuffing appetizers into his mush. "It's so refreshing to see a film that's so artful and yet.. sexy."  "It's a real bodice ripper, I'll give you that," says another adding, "Did you notice? Kaufman looks like he could be Curtis Hanson's older brother." Behind me a woman grouses. "I got stuck in the god damned rain. I missed the whole god dammed movie. God damn it!" Her friend puts a hand to her shoulder and gushes. "It's wonnnnnderful. Wonderful. Oscar talk has already started on (Kate) Winslet, (Geoffrey) Rush and Joaquin (Phoenix)." The gentleman with his arm at her waist joins in, "Picture ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST remade by Ken Russell. Not current Ken Russell. DEVILS era Ken Russell. It's like that film too. Sex. Religion. Politics. Self-flagellation. Torture. Hypocrites gaining power. It's also very today. Very current."
The rained out woman is confused. "If it's CUCKOO'S NEST, who's the Nicholson part?" "Rush, I mean the Marque de Sade," he counters quickly. "Michael Caine is the Nurse Ratchet character and Joaquin Phoenix is Billie the stutterer." "Phoenix stutters? "No, it's just…" "Now you're stretching things," starts the woman as I move out into the dreaded rain and head for the folk singer in the cabaret. Nearing the door I hear much shouting as several huge bouncers are turning dozens of soggy patrons away. "We're way over capacity," says one organizer holding up her hands. "The fire marshall just threatened to close us down."
    One of those turned away is KIDS IN THE HALL alumni Scott Thompson, one of the festival's "New Directions From American Independents" judges. A guy who normally just can't stop joking: for the festivals program book, he sent in a cartoon of himself instead of the requisite photo. But he's not laughing now (although he is smiling a clenched jawed, death like grin). "It's OK, it's OK," he says toward the blocked door and backs away.
    The rain starts coming down harder and the crowd quickly begins to dissipate. A laughing scribe beside me crows, "So the festival ends not with a bang but a drizzle covered whimper." I nod and agree and then make my way into the night.  "A drizzle covered whimper," I'm still thinking 20 minutes later on the 101 freeway when the sports car to my right does a 180 degree spin and gets collided by the car that was tailgating it. Now THERE'S a bang.
But that, as they say, is another story.

November 7: Here's another review of Quills from a contributor at Ain't It Cool News:
    I saw QUILLS the day after I sat through the safety and comfort of Bagger Vance. What a difference a day makes! Now we enter the dangerous perversion of QUILLS, an account of the final days of the Marquis de Sade. Put aside your memories of Marat/Sade; this is a whole new beast.
    The always great Geoffrey Rush (Shine) is France's most notorious teller of lewd and bloody tales lewd, who spent his final days in a mental hospital run by the church (in the form of Abbott Coulmier played very well by Joaquin Phoenix, who continues to amaze me with his range). Despite being locked up, he is afforded many luxuries because of his status as one of the most well-read authors in the nation. He is allowed visitors and has exceptional living conditions. But most importantly to him, he is allowed to write. And thanks to the help of a chambermaid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), his manuscripts are smuggled out and published almost instantaneously. When word reaches Napoleon that this expert in perversion is getting filthy rich in this manner, he sends the noted Dr. Royer-Collard (the exquisitely evil Michael Caine). While Coulmier uses kinder, more religion-based methods of treating his patients, the fine doctor essentially tortures the mentally ill into submission.
    Director Philip Kaufman is in his element here, lingering on words and descriptions of acts that border on obscene. But rather than show us all of these acts (we do see some), we are often treated to simply hearing the voice of Geoffrey Rush reading from several of de Sade's more famous passages. Kaufman has previously directed such films as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Henry & June, and The Right Stuff, as well as the excellent 1978 remake of  Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As in those films, he is unflinching here and lets his actors and situations get so out of hand as to almost threaten to jump off the screen are wring your scrawny little neck.
    The performances border on the overblown at times and the direction might turn some people off toward the end, especially with the excessive violence (actually the end of this film reminded me a lot of the end of Requiem For A Dream), but writer Doug Wright (on whose play this film was based) keeps the actors on track with sharp and biting dialogue. Many of the words sting like sleet on your face. Every character here possesses some deviant qualities, which Kaufman exploits and puts on very public display for us to examine and judge. Michael Caine steals every scene he's in and his relationship with his 16-year-old bride is slimy and comes has an appropriate resolution. Winslet's role more or less holds things together as she acts as a go-between for the three males leads, some of whom lust after her because it is expected of them (de Sade) or because it's not expected of them (Coulmier).
    QUILLS is sick fun and an acting tour-de-force. France never looked like so much fun. The film opens in mid-December I think.
November 7: I found this review of Quills in a film magazine:
QUILLS (R) -- Review by Maitland McDonagh
    A highbrow treatise on madness, art and social rebellion revolving around the grotesque figure of the Marquis de Sade, Philip Kaufman's newest film may find itself betwixt and between: too violent and sexually frank for art-house audiences and too wordy for thrill-seekers.
    Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, Henry & June) has never been a subtle filmmaker, but at his best, he's an energetic one, and parts of Quills are very energetic indeed. Adapted by Doug Wright from his own 1995 Obie-winning play (which owes at least some debt of imagination to 1967's Marat/Sade), Quills is a bluntly drawn debate that comes down firmly on the side of free speech, healthy sexuality and gentle treatment of the insane, and against pious hypocrisy, systematic cruelty towards the helpless and erotic repression. Hear! Hear!
    The year is 1807, and the place the Charenton Insane Asylum, where the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), living symbol of lechery, viciousness and the brutal excesses of the aristocracy toppled a decade earlier by the French Revolution, has been condemned to live out his days. Charenton is run by the progressive Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who defies conventional 19th-century wisdom by treating madness through physical exercise, art therapy ("Isn't it better to paint fires than set them?" he gently asks a pyromaniac) and writing. The Abbe particularly encourages the Marquis to purge his mind of poison by committing his thoughts to paper. What the Abbe doesn't realize is that the Marquis has enlisted the aid of spirited young laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet) in smuggling these blasphemous, pornographic writings to a publisher in Paris. The most recent work from the Marquis' imagination (published anonymous, but recognized by all as his) is causing a frightful scandal-Napoleon himself is outraged-and as a result the repressive Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) is dispatched to Charenton to "oversee" the Abbe's work.
    Defiant to his very core, the Marquis refuses to lie low as Royer-Collard, clad in funeral black, sweeps through the asylum plotting to end the Abbe's mollycoddling and whip the joint into shape. He instead pens a nasty little playlet mocking Royer-Collard's recent marriage to a convent-raised girl young enough to be his granddaughter, humiliating the hypocritical doctor in front of the local gentry who make it a point never to miss the Charenton inmates' theatricals. And so the battle lines are drawn: Royer-Collard vs. Abbe de Coulmier for the fate of the Marquis, and the Marquis and Abbe de Coulmier for the soul of Madeleine, a good-hearted girl whose healthy delight in the Marquis' wicked writings is positively perverse. Deprived of his paper and quill pens, the Marquis writes on his sheets, using a chicken bone dipped in wine. When those tools are taken away, he takes to writing on his clothing using his own blood. The Abbe, meanwhile, is losing control of Charenton and tormented by his most unpriestly desire for Madeleine, who would be more than happy to reciprocate. It's clear that this situation can only end badly, and it degenerates in a pretty spectacular fashion.
    The Marquis de Sade is to free-speech advocates what neo-Nazis are to the American Civil Liberties Union: the extreme case you have to grit your teeth and defend for the sake of everyone else. It was a wise decision on both Wright's and Kaufman's parts to avoid dwelling too long on his words - which, for all their formal rigor and vicious invention, are shocking even by contemporary standards - and to concentrate instead on the man himself, portrayed by Rush as a smirking reprobate whose charms enthrall the unworldly likes of Madeleine and the idealistic Abbe. Rush couldn't be more physically wrong to play the bloated Marquis, but his performance is extraordinary - teasing, ironic, desperate and utterly unrepentant, even in extremis. Winslet is thoroughly charming as Madeleine, and Kaufman even manages to harness Phoenix's brittle, somewhat feral energy and put it to good use. And Wright has his thematic house in order: The battle over de Sade's pornographic imagination manages to echo current concerns ranging from Special Counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation of the Clinton White House to ongoing cultural debates over obscenity, art and censorship. The movie's schematic narrative eventually becomes a little tiresome; it's far too evident, too early, what parts the various lunatics, hypocrites and sacrificial lambs are going to play in the inevitable debacle. But it's still provocative, and contains some remarkable set-pieces, notably the sequence in which the Marquis dictates his final tale to Madeleine through a chain of inmates, each of whom subtly alters the material according to his own mania before passing it along.

November 3: I found this review of Quills in The Guardian:
"A Boisterous, Salty Sade"  ***
    The Marquis de Sade seems to be in mode this season, what with the recent re-release of Pasolini's Salo, and now two festival screenings of films about French literature's leading reprobate. Benoit Jacquot's Sade has Daniel Auteuil as a Byronic and rather benign philosopher, casting a chilly eye on the excesses of the revolutionary terror going on around him. Where Jacquot's sober study primarily addresses history and ideas, Philip Kaufman's very different Quills is a flamboyant pantomime farce that portrays Sade as both pornographer and political dissident, and writer above all.
    Where Jacquot's film has the Marquis as the inmate of an aristocratic clinic - a pampered refuge for protected nobs - Quills, adapted by Doug Wright from his own play, is set in Charenton asylum. Sade (Geoffrey Rush) busily pumps out scandalous texts from his cell, smuggled out by laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet). His activity is tolerated by the hospital's idealistic young director, the Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), but a corrupt new enforcer (Michael Caine) is soon brought in to shut off his flow of lascivious outpourings.
    The film's robust, sometimes near-hysterical gusto places it somewhere between Fellini, Hogarth and a Carry On film. In fact, you can just imagine Jim Dale as the blushing Coulmier, and Geoffrey Rush looks gnarled enough to be mistaken for Sid James. But the boisterous, salty larking - at its height when Sade writes a scabrous stage satire - has a serious point. This is very much a debate on censorship, presenting Sade as a sexual and ideological refusenik deprived of his right to expression. But neither he nor his work is idealised, and the grand guignol climax awkwardly poses the question of the author's responsibility for his writing's effect.
    The least you can say about Quills is that it tackles contentious material with which Hollywood wouldn't dirty its hands. Its tendency to sensationalise, sometimes in full Hammer-horror style, is at least in keeping with that audacity. Flamboyant performances from a deluxe cast - also including a barely recognisable Billie Whitelaw - mix dignity and full-blooded excess, stopping the film from spelling things out too schematically. Salo may still be the most challenging screen treatment of the Marquis' writing, but Quills is a bold attempt at a dark, provocative and hardly sedate Sade.

November 2: I found this veeery entertaining (LOL) review of Quills on Ain't It Cool News:
"Quills: Writing Porn With Blood and Feathers," by "Mr. Molly"
    I got to see Philip Kaufman's newest, Quills, at the William Fox Theater.
    Let me say first off I'm a sucker for those "writin' with feathers" flicks some old-time Hollywood studio head said he hated (might have been Warner, but don't quote me). Loved Dangerous Liaisons, Ridicule - if they're writing with feathers and plowing each other under like eight skirts, I'm in.
    So I figured Kaufman, with his love of visual texture (he's like Tony Scott with substance and purpose) would serve up a veritable Sizzler buffet of powdered wig porking and poking.
    Quills is exactly that, with rich performances and brilliant art design. Everyone acts like they're tanked on ether, and can't wait to get in front of the camera and try out that new accent they bought on eBay.
    The plot concerns the twilight years of the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush, doing a Casanova Frankenstein with good dialogue), when he was locked in a French asylum, whiling away his time staging plays with inmate talent, and writing his most famous works, smuggling them out with the help of a maid (Kate Winslet, who gets yummier and yummier despite what the skeleton-worshipping fruits over at Us magazine say).
    Wait a minute, I've got my laptop set on "run-on sentence".
    The Marquis has another ally in the asylum's warden/priest (Joaquin Phoenix, doing as good a job with his accent as Keanu Reeves did in Bram Stoker's Dracula) who's convinced the Marquis is exorcising his inner demons through his writing. Of course, the popularity of lash-and-bum tomes like Justine brings the attentions of a Puritan doctor (Michael Caine) who is determined to "break" the Marquis and strike a blow for fuddy-duddies everywhere.
    I could go into the loopy plot, over-the-top performances (Rush, in particular, has been to the Harvey Keitel School of Art House Acting) and ironic ending, but none of that's going to do the job of GETTING YOU TO SEE THIS MOVIE, which you should. Because it's more fun than a box of bon-bons shaped like ti***.
    The Marquis, locked in his cell, is a priapic Hannibal Lecter, whose pen and tongue turns everyone around him into heaving f***-beasts. There's a Feast of Fools sequence in which the Marquis taunts Caine's character, who's recently taken a child bride. There's a brilliant sequence in which the asylum's maniacs must transport de Sade's latest work, sentence by sentence, to a waiting Winslet, like an X-rated game of telephone (a scene which inspires the film's best line of dialogue, spoken by Rush, and not revealed here). And, pen and paper denied him, de Sade goes to some... ahem... brutal lengths to get his writing read.
    Have a dinner of squab, a bottle of Yquem, and instruct your coach driver to get you hence to the nearest picto-graph theater. Get a nice box over the orchestra, crack a package of Venus' Nipples, and support perversion.
    It's the Christmas season, after all.

October 27: I've taken some time to write a description of the Quills premiere last night in Los Angeles, along with my comments about the film:

The setting: A beautiful, but cloudy and crisp evening in the heart of Hollywood.
The players: Filmmakers and fans of the art of filmmaking.
The event: The closing night of the American Film Institute's "Fest 2000", featuring an awards ceremony and the premiere of Quills.

The Egyptian Theatre is located on Hollywood Boulevard, along the "Walk of Fame", and was the site of the closing night ceremonies.

This is the pic used on the poster!
A series of Quills posters (film poster and enlargements of various magazine and newspaper articles about the film) were displayed on easels, lining each side of the center walkway of the courtyard.

There was a buzz of excitement amongst the guests as we gathered in the courtyard and waited for the event to begin!

The Lloyd Rigler theater is a lovely setting in which to view a film - comfortable chairs in a stadium arrangement, high ceilings, and beautifully decorated.

Awards were presented to the outstanding films and filmmakers, and thanks given to all those who had assisted in planning the festival. An intermission followed.

Then, at about 7:45 pm, the director of AFI, Jean Picker Firstenberg, introduced Quills director Philip Kaufman. He discussed the film, saying that he felt it was an important work. The details of the development of the film project were interesting, as were his comments about the long rehearsal period. Phil remarked that he received much valuable input from his very talented actors. He said he hoped we enjoyed the film, and then, the lights dimmed, and Quills began!

Kate's beautiful presence graced the opening sequence, as "Madeleine" walks the corridors of Charenton Asylum, collecting dirty linens. She pauses, looks around to see if anyone is observing her, then approaches the cell of the Marquis de Sade, and informs him that she wants to enter his chamber. She nervously unlocks his door and enters, but doesn't see him. She calls to him, but there is no answer. Madeleine wanders around his room, inspecting various "objects d'art" (some quite explicit in nature). This is something she has clearly wanted to do for some time. She approaches the bed, around which curtains have been drawn. Is he lying there, waiting for her? Just what will he do? She hesitantly pulls apart the curtains. The Marquis is not there, he is standing behind her. She is startled and gasps…

Don't worry - I'm not going to do a scene-by-scene review! (If you would like details about specific scenes, don't hesitate to email me.)

Quills is a story that has a good mix of character types - the innocent, well-intentioned girl who is trying to find escape from her dreary life (Madeleine); a "rescuer" who means well, but is fighting his own personal demons (Abbe); a pompous, self-serving jerk (Dr. Royer-Collard); and an intelligent artist, who will allow others to be hurt for the sake of his "art" (de Sade). The main characters are well developed, their stories are compelling, and the events unfold in a believable fashion. The only character I didn't think was well developed was the doctor's young wife, but that is the only flaw I found in this fascinating study of human behavior.

Director Philip Kaufman does a fantastic job of balancing the many elements in Doug Wright's excellent screenplay:  humor, tragedy, issues of freedom of speech and censorship, the impact of new ideas, battling one's weaknesses while trying to do the "right" thing. What is the right thing? The Marquis feels it is continuing to display his art; Madeleine feels it is assisting the Marquis, as she is intrigued and liberated by his work; Abbe de Coulmier feels it is doing everything possible to rehabilitate the inmates; Dr. Royer-Collard feels it is carrying out the orders of Napoleon, making a name for himself in the process.

The production elements are all excellent. Production Designer Martin Childs, Costume Designer Jacqueline West, Cinematographer Rogier Stoffers (and many others) join forces to create the dank, dingy atmosphere of Charenton Asylum and the surrounding area. When the Marquis is stripped of all his clothes and possessions, and left alone naked in his chamber, I felt the cold. When the production team can involve the audience in this way, making them understand and feel a part of the world on the big screen, they've accomplished something wonderful. This allows us to "experience", rather than just "watch" the events unfolding.

All of the actors deliver fine performances. Geoffrey Rush co-created a compelling, fascinating character. While one may not appreciate the work of the Marquis de Sade, we still find him interesting enough to wonder what he'll do next. I do feel that Rush was "over the top" during the scene with his wife that takes place in his chamber. It was sufficiently scary, though, so he did pull it off. His performance could very well be honored with an Oscar nomination. Michael Caine was good at being bad. I understood his "type" from the outset, which is to the credit of Caine's talent. Joaquin Phoenix performed his role of the good priest who is fighting the "flesh" very well.  He displayed much emotion in his eyes, and causes the audience to feel empathy for him and his work.

Madeleine is a beautiful, charismatic, intelligent young woman who is trapped in Charenton's dark environment of madness and repression. Her "prison" is symbolized visually by her being seen trapped behind the bars of the fence at Charenton as she passes the pages of de Sade's stories through the fence to a young, handsome man on a horse. She watches him ride away with envy and longing in her eyes. One reviewer stated that Madeleine is the moral center of the film. To me, she is the "main" character, because her actions affect everyone else. For example, her decision to read aloud and smuggle out de Sade's writings is what starts the chain of events:  Dr. Royer-Collard being dispatched to the asylum, the Abbe's position and reputation being threatened, the stripping of de Sade's chamber and body, the doctor's young wife being "educated" by de Sade's writings and making a decision that will change her life. Madeleine's attempted seduction of the Abbe and her carelessness in handling the lunatic who is obsessed with her also has dire consequences for several people.

It has been said that Kate is the "glue that holds the film together".  I agree with that comment one hundred percent. Kate has a gift for making her characters sympathetic and accessible. We feel for Madeleine's situation at the asylum, and wish she could find a better life. We understand fully when she explains to Abbe that she lives vicariously through the characters of de Sade because her own life is so dreary. This scene, by the way, occurs as Madeleine's wounds from being whipped are treated. She is defeated in one sense, but still displays strength of character.  It is a moving scene and successful due to Kate's performance. Humor is then injected in the scene when Abbe comments that if he had known her taste in reading material, he never would have taught her to read!

My favorite scene occurs just after this "confession". (Don't worry - it won't give away the ending!) Madeleine lies awake that night, apparently thinking about the Abbe and his gesture of putting himself in her place to be punished. She had realized then that he cares for her, and she decides to go to his room. He allows her in, then attempts to counsel her about acting on one's desires. This is played with Abbe standing behind Madeleine, so each can't see the other's reactions. Abbe is under the mistaken impression that Madeleine is in love with the Marquis. She corrects him, letting him know that he is the object of her desire. She turns her face toward his and there is a nicely played moment of expressed longing, but hesitation. She then kisses him passionately.  He responds at first, then pushes her away. She pleads with him to forgive her; he admits that he loves her. She is hopeful, but then he insists that she leave his room. Madeleine leaves, feeling hurt and humiliated. The next morning, as she is gathering sheets from the clothes line, she finds him hiding behind a sheet, watching her. She says, defiantly, but with tears in her eyes, "Don't come any closer, Abbe, God's watching." It is a fabulous sequence (beginning with the whipping scene) that is beautifully acted by Kate and Joaquin, and is a good example of fine filmmaking.

Kate is given the opportunity with this role to demonstrate a wide range of emotions: intrigue, a wicked sense of humor, fear, passion, remorse, humiliation. Madeleine is intrigued by, and yet fearful of the Marquis. She thoroughly enjoys reading his stories to her mother and coworkers, seeming to delight in shocking them. She loves the Abbe, but is remorseful, then hurt and humiliated by his rejection. Kate says more with her eyes than any other actor I've watched.

What so impresses me about Kate's acting is that she never seems to be "acting". While other actors sometimes seem to be reciting lines, the emotions and expressions Kate display seem to spring from deep within. She is "experiencing", and I am thankful that Kate allows us get inside her character's mind, heart and soul. Her performance in Quills is certainly Oscar-caliber.

The audience was very appreciative of the film. They responded to the humorous scenes and witty dialogue with much laughter, and seemed very moved by the tragedies that occurred. Applause rang out as soon as the credits began to roll. There was more applause at the very end of the credits when the house lights came on.  It was wonderful being a part of an audience of "film lovers". As I was leaving the theater, I overheard a woman comment, "Isn't Kate Winslet wonderful?!" No argument here!

The reception began immediately after the film ended, and was held in the theater courtyard. Live music, good food, and interesting conversation were elements of the final "event" of the evening.  Philip Kaufman is one of the people my husband and I spoke to. This occurred just before the film began, as he was waiting to be introduced, so we didn't have an opportunity for a lengthy chat. We hoped to speak with him more at the reception, but were unable to spot him.

It was a marvelous evening, one that I will treasure for some time.

November 1: I found the link to this Quills review on the "Rotten Tomatoes" site. Mr. Rechtshaffen may have found the film tough to sit through, but he has great things to say about Kate's performance:
"Quills" -- Review by Michael Rechtshaffen (for the Hollywood Reporter) --
    From the opening shots depicting a grisly beheading, it's clear that director Philip Kaufman plans to pull no punches in his portrait of the Marquis de Sade: The Asylum Years, known more pointedly as "Quills."
    Adapted by Doug Wright from his Obie-winning play, the story offers ample opportunity to push things to the limit -- this is, after all, the guy who lent his name to sadism we're talking about here. Subtlety isn't really an option.

    But where the stage may have allowed for ample theatricality, Kaufman's insistence on piling on the atmosphere onscreen drowns the potentially intriguing work in its own grotesque excess.
    Ultimately, despite the naughty bits, the AFI Festival's closing-night selection proves a tough watch and most likely a tougher sell for Fox Searchlight.
    When we first encounter the indomitable Marquis (a bold, brilliant Geoffrey Rush), he's holed up forcibly in one of the better suites of the cavernous Charenton Asylum, presided over by the sympathetic Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a young priest not entirely comfortable in his clerical robes.
    The Marquis has taken full advantage of Coulmier's humanistic approach to dealing with the criminally insane -- he's encouraged to "purge his evil thoughts upon the page" -- by smuggling out those ever-incendiary writings with the help of spirited chambermaid Madeleine LeClerc (played to perfection by Kate Winslet).
    Their subsequent publication doesn't sit well with Napoleon, who dispatches the sadistic doctor Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to find more effective means of silencing the Marquis.
    But the Marquis' industriousness prevails. Removed of his quills, ink and paper, he makes do with a chicken bone, wine and bedsheets. After those are taken away, he improvises with a shard of a broken mirror, his blood and the clothes on his back. Stripped of those and, ultimately, his tongue -- but still refusing to be silenced -- he manages to find other ways to express himself.
    Initially, that core theme of the resilience of artistic expression in the face of censorship lends "Quills" its interesting, not to mention timeless, hook. And resident provocateur Kaufman, who tested a few boundaries with "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and the NC-17-inducing "Henry & June," would appear to be the man for the job.
    Alas, what begins promisingly, with Rush holding court like a much wilder Oscar Wilde, quickly turns from wicked to insipid, taking a thematic plunge into insanity from which there is no recovery.
    Despite the overkill, Rush, handed his most substantial role since his Oscar-winning work in "Shine," runs with it. It's a brave, take-no-prisoners performance, and, particularly during the raw last half-hour, there's nothing he's allowed to hide behind.
    Winslet manages to instill nice complexity into the role of the woman who aids and abets the Marquis' cause, as does Phoenix as the conflicted priest, while Caine's avenging doctor is more hampered by the character's one-dimensional, antagonistic function.
    Behind the scenes, cinematographer Rogier Stoffers and production designer Martin Childs work overtime to create the maddening mood, but half as much would have been twice as effective.
    Then again, given its notorious subject, maybe it's fitting that "Quills" can be such torture to endure.
QUILLS -- Fox Searchlight
Industry Entertainment/A Walrus & Associates Ltd. in association with Hollywood Partners
A Philip Kaufman film
Credits: Director: Philip Kaufman; Producers: Julia Chasman, Peter Kaufman, Nick Wechsler; Screenwriter: Doug Wright; Executive producers: Des McAnuff, Sandra Schulberg, Rudulf Wiesmeier; Director of photography: Rogier Stoffers; Production designer: Martin Childs; Editor: Peter Boyle; Costume designer: Jacqueline West; Music: Stephen Warbeck. Cast: The Marquis de Sade: Geoffrey Rush; Madeleine: Kate Winslet; Coulmier: Joaquin Phoenix; Royer-Collard: Michael Caine; Madame LeClerc: Billie Whitelaw; Delbene: Patrick Malahide; Simone: Amelia Warner. MPAA rating: R. Running time -- 123 minutes. Color/stereo
"Torture to endure"?! I obviously found the film much more entertaining than did Rechtshaffen!

October 21: This brief review appears in the November issue of Interview Magazine (Kate cover):
Depravity isn't a mystery, but the stuff of life for Geoffrey Rush's Marquis de Sade, locked in an asylum but abetted by Kate Winslet's virginal laundress in his dissemination of literary ultra-smut. The conflict here is between the arty pornographer who won't be censored and the church (Joaquin Phoenix's repressed abbe) and state (Michael Caine's snarling bully) who won't tolerate his filth. As indicated by the opening shot - of a rapt young beauty orgasming on the guillotine scaffold - pleasure and pain are inseparable bedfellows in this mordantly funny and wonderfully Hogarthian allegory from screenwriter Doug Wright and long-term sexual inquisitor Kaufman. By Graham Fuller

September 8: Quills is featured in Screen magazine. Here's the article - thanks to my "UK Correspondent" Karen for emailing it to me!
    Power-director Philip Kaufman is back behind the camera for the first time since 1993 with a star-studded cast and the juicy subject of the Marquis de Sade. Quills, however, is only partially successful as a thrilling period cinema. Unlike Dangerous Liaisons, with its similar themes of sexual cruelty, hypocrisy and lost love, Quills fails to cohere, veering from character to character without building sufficient interest in any. Scripted by Doug Wright from his play, it lacks the sense of delicious mischief that Stephen Frears evoked so perfectly in Liaisons.
    Entertaining nevertheless, Quills has many pleasures and is sure to draw large crowds of upscale film-goers who will be drawn by de Sade's sexual antics, four excellent actors all on top form and the promise of a sophisticated adult entertainment. Fox Searchlight is releasing the film on Dec 8, so no doubt the film will also make a case for Oscar nominations.
    Rush relishes his role as de Sade shut away in the Charenton asylum outside Paris for his immoral writings, but still churning out the stuff and having it published courtesy of a helpful maid (Winslet) who smuggles the manuscripts out and a benign abbe (Phoenix) who runs the institution.
    Upon publication of his obscene Augustine, however, the emperor Napoleon brings in a puritanical doctor (Caine) to shut de Sade up. Coming over Phoenix's head, Caine sets about stripping de Sade of his scandalous quills - actions that incur the marquis' wrath and revenge. Meanwhile, de Sade and the abbe have fallen for the virginal serving maid, who is herself titillated by hearing de Sade's pornographic prose.
    A la Larry Flynt, the film makes a case for freedom of artistic expression, although in this case de Sade's sadistic writings do finally inspire appalling violence. It is this final half-hour of gruesomeness and degradation that is least satisfactory and over-long; the film is more successful when a lighter tone is employed.
    By Mike Goodridge

September 7: Here's a review from the editor of Upcoming Movies (thanks to Emmeline for the tip!):
    (*** 1/2): At the heart of this tale of the time the Marquis de Sade spent at the Charenton Asylum is the ages-old debate/controversy over obscenity. As the film opens, de Sade has the luxury of a large furnished two-room cell at Charenton, where he can release his thoughts in the form of writing, an exercise that the Abbe thinks will help de Sade overcome his darker side (which is quite a revolutionary, pre-psychology concept). What he doesn't know is that those very same writings are being smuggled out by a young laundry girl (Winslet), where they are published and raise the ire of Napoleon himself, who sends a doctor (Caine) known for his cruel methods to silence/treat de Sade personally.
    The writings of Marquis de Sade were way ahead of their time in terms of subject matter. The legal problems of people as contemporary as Mike Diana (a Florida artist who was sentenced to stop drawing comic books) show that the puritanical mindset that encourages censorship is still alive and well today, and suggests that de Sade might face the same problems if he was writing today that he did in the time of Napoleon. Unfortunately, there is far too often a tragic irony where censorship is concerned, as the events behind closed doors reveal censors to be hypocrites of high orders, much as is often the case when someone presumes to categorize themselves morally above someone else. So, in this film, we have the heretic, the hypocrite, the man of God, and a young woman who is swayed by two of them.
    Geoffrey Rush obviously has a lot of fun inhabiting the role of this most lust-filled and decadent author, variably creeping, leering, and stalking. He brings a complex portrayal to what might have too easily descended into camp and overacting. Joaquin Phoenix is effective as a young man of God who apparently so openly believes in the essence of good (as he defines it) in all men that he is willing to grant the Marquis favors that many would not. He's a man of power and control who is also at the whim of a bureacracy (represented by Royer-Collard) that he is also morally in conflict with. Kate Winslet is like a breath of fresh air to the asylum, like a ray of light in the darkness, but she also plays someone who is excited by the randy, bawdy tales that de Sade has to tell. She's easily the most balanced of all of the people in the movie, and probably whom most of us are most likely to relate to. Finally, there's Caine's role as Dr. Royer-Collard, a villain who is a far cry from his more kind-hearted roles like in 1999's The Cider House Rules. This was probably the character that for me was the weakest link, as he seemed perhaps too purely "evil". The cast is rounded out by a variety of fine English actors as the asylum's staff and residents.
    Quills is a powerful and atmospheric film that delivers a barrage of images and concepts of both sexual and philosophical natures. Is there a difference between thinking of an act and performing it? What are the limits to which a person can conceive of something before it effects their psyche? Is thought of physical pleasure evil? Is lust something to be ashamed of, or even evil? These are the sort of ideas Marquis de Sade inspires in his writings, and they're within Quills as well. Some people are just not going to "get" this movie, as its decadence is a definite acquired taste. However, for those looking for a randy and inspiring look at one of history's most controversial writers, Quills is a good bet. As the film progresses, it heads into some dark places, but alas, so did history.

September 4: I found a new review of Quills in the Boston Globe:
"Star Cast Keeps 'Quills' Lively," by Todd McCarthy, Daily Variety Chief Film Critic, Reuters
Quills (Biopic, color, R, 2:03)
TELLURIDE, Colo. (Variety) - The eternal struggle between unbridled personal expression and society's impulse to censor receives an engaging, if not galvanizing, airing in ''Quills.'' Brimming with colorful incident, juicy confrontations and layers of irony, Philip Kaufman's intelligently boisterous screen version of Doug Wright's successful play about the Marquis de Sade maintains a sharp focus on the notorious writer's compulsive creativity during his long imprisonment at the Charenton asylum. At the same time, the film lacks an edge of danger or excitement that might have brought the subject alive in more than a cerebral way.
    A fine cast and period re-creation at the service of an intriguing subject should translate into reasonable commercial returns for this Fox Searchlight entry.
    Kaufman's first film since ''Rising Sun'' seven years ago sees the independent-minded director returning to the kind of sexually charged Euro material he took on in ''The Unbearable Lightness of Being'' and ''Henry & June.'' Once again, he looks at a non-conformist libertine writer in a specific historical context, here the French Revolution and the Napoleonic aftermath, during which long-established values were in great flux and the urges toward liberation and repression were simultaneously seen in their most extreme forms.
    The Marquis de Sade was a provocateur par excellence, a willful affront to any civilized society and a self-consciously insidious illuminator of the darkest corners of human desire. Wright's play and script, using historical characters in fictional ways, pit the wit, malevolence and deviousness of the Marquis against the assorted methods with which the state tries to restrain, rehabilitate and silence this supreme moral insurrectionist.
    Shooting at Pinewood Studios and using a uniformly English-accented cast, Kaufman gives the squalid tale a decorous treatment that contrasts the detritus of the Revolution with the pretensions of a burgeoning new empire. Having narrowly avoided execution during the Terror, the notorious Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) is being held prisoner at the Charenton Asylum for the Insane, a relatively benign, beautifully landscaped institution where its most famous inmate enjoys the luxury of a furnished apartment, complete with a velvet-draped bed chamber and large collections of books and erotica.
    Giving vent to his physical frustrations in a torrent of scabrous writing, the Marquis smuggles his prose to the outside world courtesy of a lovely young laundress, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a virginal girl fascinated by the Marquis but nonetheless unwilling to submit to his raging desires. In short order, his incendiary book ''Justine'' is published in Paris and achieves such notoriety that it even comes to the attention of Napoleon. In the wake of the Emperor's disgust with ''Justine,'' doctor-cum-torturer Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) is dispatched to Charenton to bring the Marquis into line.
    Royer-Collard's draconian methods meet resistance from Charenton's overseer, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a liberal-minded, good-looking young priest whose progressive notions include allowing the Marquis to write and stage theatricals featuring the asylum's assorted loonies. Temporarily thwarted from doing as he'd like with the Marquis, the aging Royer-Collard becomes distracted with the teenage bride (Amelia Warner) he snatches from a nunnery, which gives the Marquis an easy subject for a lurid, impudent new play that he stages with his subjects in attendance.
    This, in turn, gives the doctor an excuse to shut down the theater and provokes Coulmier to take away the writer's quills. But the Marquis' compulsive scribbling can be stopped scarcely more easily than the rising of the sun, as he manages to compose, first with a wishbone and wine on his bedsheets (which are spirited out by his obliging chambermaid), then in his own blood on his clothes and, in an impressive climactic sequence, shouted to fellow inmates who methodically pass the lurid sentences along verbally to the awaiting Madeleine.
    With every offense, the Marquis' privileges are cut back; eventually, both he and his room are left entirely stripped. And the more rebellious the Marquis becomes, the more the balance of power is tipped toward Royer-Collard and his severe methods and away from Coulmier and his more humane ones.
    At the same time, the internal equilibrium of these two men is being undercut by the power of the flesh, the subject on which the Marquis is the self-appointed authority. The old doctor's nubile wife, inspired by illicit readings of ''Justine,'' initiates a romance with a young architect, while Coulmier's faith is tested by Madeleine, who tries to push their emotionally intimate relationship into the physical realm. It's not surprising that, with one incidental exception, none of these conflicts come to a favorable resolution for anyone.
    Laced with lively expostulations, philosophical aphorisms and concise arguments, Wright's script is at its best when centered on the Marquis, and Rush gives the character a full-bodied reading fueled by acid, blood and lust.
Still, the piece shies away from presenting the worst side of the author; although numerous quotations are offered from ''Justine,'' enough to make fully comprehensible any average person's aversion to his views, his vicious cruelty and torturous inventions are side-stepped. In the end, this Marquis de Sade is more a depraved but witty gentleman than a truly rapacious, even murderous beast, which takes some of the edge off the dramatic parallel to Royer-Collard and, in an important sense, reduces his genuinely dangerous stature.
    Written in uniformly villainous mode, the doctor emerges as a rather fuzzy figure, partly because he lurks oddly on the periphery for a considerable time but more because both Kaufman and Caine seem keen to avoid overt, easy melodrama but have developed no character subtext to give Royer-Collard some complexity or motivation; thus the doctor remains a stock figure.
    As the idealistic priest, Phoenix has rather more success, as he makes clear the increasing mental and emotional torture he suffers due to prolonged exposure to the attitudes of the Marquis and the attributes of Madeleine. In the latter role, Winslet gives a lucid account of a peasant girl who manages to combine a dedication to high principles with a feisty independent streak, albeit with tragic results.
    Kaufman pushes the eventful tale along at a vigorous clip, and there is nothing of the stuffy period piece about it; the surroundings and the clothes look lived in, the characters converse and relate colloquially rather than declaim (the Marquis' postulations notwithstanding), and the bodily juices so often referred to keep any mustiness at a great remove.
    Production designer Martin Childs' interior re-creations of Charenton layer a fundamental opulence with an acquired oppressiveness, while Jacqueline West's costumes are remarkably detailed and expressive of the characters they dress. Rogier Stoffers' lensing leans away from standard-issue lushness and more toward period painterliness.
    Stephen Warbeck's score is supportively energetic.
The Marquis de Sade ..... Geoffrey Rush
Madeleine ............... Kate Winslet
Coulmier ................ Joaquin Phoenix
Royer-Collard ........... Michael Caine
Madame LeClerc .......... Billie Whitelaw
Delbene ................. Patrick Malahide
Simone .................. Amelia Warner
Renee Pelagie ........... Jane Menelaus
Prouix .................. Stephen Moyer
A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox Searchlight Pictures presentation of an Industry Entertainment/A Walrus & Associates Production in association with Hollywood Partners. Produced by Julia Chasman, Nick Wechsler, Peter Kaufman. Executive producers, Des McAnuff, Sandra Schulberg, Rudulf Wiesmeier. Co-producer, Mark Huffam.
Directed by Philip Kaufman. Screenplay, Doug Wright, based on his play. Camera (Deluxe color), Rogier Stoffers; editor, Peter Boyle; music, Stephen Warbeck; production designer, Martin Childs; supervising art director, Mark Raggett; art director, Steven Lawrence; set decorator, Jill Quertier; costume designer, Jacqueline West; sound (Dolby Digital), John Midgley; supervising sound editor, Frank Eulner; assistant director, Deborah Saban; second unit director, Vic Armstrong; second unit camera, Angus Hudson, Peter Field.
Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 2, 2000.

August 28: I found this great review on Roughcut:
"The Hot Button," by David Poland -
    Last Friday, I projected Fox Searchlights' Quills right into the middle of the Oscar® race. Now, it's time to really explain why.
    There is greatness here. Greatness in the performances. Geoffrey Rush is, for me, even better than he was in Shine. He carries all the genius of Walsingham, the queen's council in Elizabeth, but this time, he is a man of words, not a man of mystery. His Marquis de Sade is a man of his time, breaking through every convention to speak to the heart that beats in every chest, male or female, slutty or chaste. And his real words, as laid out throughout the movie, are still tantalizing to this day. (I, for one, will be reading Justine on the airplane to Telluride later this week.) And Rush manages to balance this man of enormous talent, even greater ego and, as so lovingly portrayed here, an unstoppable need to express himself so that the audience turns from a combination of disgust and charmed acquiescence of this rogue to a tacit understanding of the soul of a man.
    Kate Winslet is the glue that holds the movie together, spread in her yearnings between the honor of the young priest who runs the asylum where Sade is kept and the sensual power of unfettered honesty of which Sade wreaks. There may be no better actress of this generation when it comes to these efforts to grow on screen. Winslet is forever seeking truth. From her 19-year-old film debut [actually, it was at the age of 17] in Heavenly Creatures, where she could only find truth in fantasy, to her Elizabethan turns as the girl trying to find herself to the defiant Rose of Titanic, and even in last year's Holy Smoke, Winslet is ripe for plucking, yet always seemingly worthy of more than such base instincts. Her drive for higher goals, while always remaining earthbound and physically accessible, is the core of her magic as an actress. And no less so here. She is a grown woman who still has that children's habit, figuratively, of putting everything she comes in contact with to her mouth. She must taste it all. She can't help herself. She embodies all of our humantiy.
    Quite the opposite is Michael Caine, in a brilliant reversal of last year's Oscar wining turn in The Cider House Rules. In that film, he was a controversial figure who hid from the world so he could do what he felt was morally right. Here, he plays a man who wants all the world to know of him and to think what he's doing is morally right. He is a bad, bad man. And you can almost feel the delight with which he returns to the dark side, where he has so wonderfully and wickedly won us over before. This guy's only redeeming feature is that he has no redeeming features. Like so many men of dogmatic extremes, he doesn't believe his own speechifying. He only believes in himself.
    And keeping the space between Sade and Caine's Dr. Royer-Collard is Joaquin Phoenix. This has really been the year of Joaquin Phoenix. In Quills and Gladiator, Phoenix went from a curiosity to a leading man. Here he plays Abbe de Coulmier, the keeper of Sade before Caine is brought in to clamp down on the writer who is as prolific behind bars as when free. Coulmier is a man twisted alive by his belief in virtue and his compulsion to treat even the most loathsome man with kindness. He is the moral ping-pong ball who gets batted back and forth from the earliest part of the film to its final frames. And Phoenix gives his most complex performance yet.
    But it's more than just acting. Writer Doug Wright, adapting from his own play, brings a clear focus to the storytelling here. He manages to control the wave of emotion without allowing the story to become trite or predictable. His taste in using Sade's words is impeccable. And he allows all four major characters and a number of secondary characters fully rounded lives, even when we just see a sliver of their worlds. Particularly effecting are Coulmier's young wife and Winslet's washerwoman mother.
    And then there are the lunatics. And this is where director Philip Kaufman must be given credit, blurring into the screenplay. Kaufman creates the most realistic, yet still macabre, cast of lunatics since One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. They are bizarre and extreme, yet each has a distinct and predictable personality. And so, when they act out, you are not surprised, and they are not just there for effect. Of course, this is just the start of Kaufman's wonderful work in this movie. This is the Kaufman of The Wanderers and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The Kaufman who can work on a large canvas while keeping the intimacy palpable.
    Kaufman and his cinematographer, Rogier Stoffers, who shot Mike van Diem's Oscar-winning foreign-language film Character, do beautiful work here. We are in the era of guarded opulence and while heads are rolling in town, a certain level of indulgence continues to continue in Napoleon's France. But they also manage to keep this from feeling like a period film. Yes, it is overtly a period film, undeniably of a time. But you don't spend a lot of time worrying about that, watching the scenery. The characters are fuller and richer than the landscape on which they live.

July 27: I found a great new review of the film on
"The Return of the Marquis de Sade," by Michael Sragow -
    "Quills" never deteriorates into schematic debate: It's all flesh and bone and blood, thanks to the gusto of Kaufman and his actors. The rest of the cast is like a wish list of British Commonwealth performers who've broken through to international audiences. Here, once again, they show us why.
    I thought Rush was at his best as the impresario in "Shakespeare in Love," but he tops himself in "Quills" -- he appreciates Sade as another essentially theatrical creature, with a compulsion to imagine radical fantasies, write them and do his best to act them out, whether onstage or in life. It's an audacious performance: Rush's Sade is the embodiment of a skewed appetite. His off-the-wall robustness enables us to appreciate his delight in his own doggerel wit and to feel exhilarated when he cuts loose, whether with a quip or a jig. He has a magical moment when he devises a way to write without ink or paper -- and celebrates the morning after by striking a pose on top of some shelving like a lewd Dickensian ghost (the Spirit of Decadence Past). Caine is his perfect opposite: a master of containment, who finds his sadism in public restraint. And Winslet is an unsentimental heartbreaker, imbuing Madeleine with a lucid native intelligence that allows us to respond to everything that titillates her without letting it swamp the virtue and good nature of her character.
    This ensemble operates with a liquid precision -- you might say, like a clockwork orange -- and Kaufman is the rare director these days who knows how to key his lights, camera and action so that everything in the film feels like an extension of his actors' thoughts and moods. One isolated example: The image of the publisher's messenger on horseback, who picks up Sade's manuscripts from Madeleine through the asylum fence, registers as an erotic reverie -- a healthy, unconflicted masculine force of the kind Madeleine will never find behind the asylum walls.
     More important, because the Marquis' voice frames the film in two spine-tingling strokes, we see it as a sort of Sadean tale that Sade himself could never write. His hatred for hypocrisy and his love of headlong verbal expression propel "Quills," but so does Kaufman's hard-edged humanism, which keeps it beautifully balanced and cathartic. Audiences will settle into this movie as into a pungent and exotic bath whose elements are not herbs but sharp emotions: from randiness to romantic longing, from revenge to bereavement and atonement. Kaufman still sees movies as a popular art; he knows how to lift crowds on waves of feeling into shifting, startling perspectives. This isn't an art-house special: In its own devilish way, it's an honest-to-God movie.
    Indeed, the red-streaked shadows and richly gloomy corridors of the Charenton asylum brought back memories of one of my own favorite late-night films, "Bedlam," a 1946 Val Lewton production based on a William Hogarth engraving. Like "Quills," it contained plays within plays, a villainous medic (Boris Karloff), an abused angel of mercy -- and even a set piece when the inmates cry out her name in an obfuscating, horrifying din. For Lewton, a man of the 1940s, it was daring to stage a black-and-white morality play in a B-thriller form and deliver an uplifting message about improving the plight of the mentally ill. For Kaufman, in this new millennium, what's daring is to make each character the center of his or her own personal morality play, and to salute the pulse-quickening compulsiveness and danger of art.
    The movie has the timelessness of all great storytelling; despite the obvious Clintonian parallels, it raises deeper questions that have puzzled us for centuries. What is the difference between what we learn from books and from experience? How much power do we cede to authors when we insulate our young? Why do we read (and write) at all? This movie doesn't mock Madeleine when she says she likes Sade's stories because after her hard life at the madhouse "it takes a lot to hold my interest," any more than it scolds Royer-Collard's painfully young, pornography-seeking wife when she says, "I grew up in a convent, sir. Everything I know in the world, I owe to books." Kaufman doesn't punish the characters -- and he mourns when they condemn themselves. He's as liberal as the abbe, but he's not naive.
    This director has rarely received his critical and commercial due. "The Right Stuff," a roistering saga of American guts and ingenuity, flopped after the promotional campaign connected it disastrously to John Glenn's presidential bid. When he made "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Henry & June," fans of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Wanderers" reprimanded him for supposedly becoming Europeanized.
    Kaufman's time may come with "Quills," partly because no movie could be more immediate, despite its 18th- and 19th-century trappings. The search for extremes that Sade waged in outré sexuality we see all around us -- not just in the most severe self-exposure and exhibitionism, but in the brutal pursuit of the biggest financial score or the farthest-out "sport." And the way this movie views him, the marquis was nobler than all this contemporary swill.
    In "Quills," the heroic side of Sade inspires a ravenous hunger -- not for perversion, but for iconoclastic and imaginative thought. Kaufman the filmmaker, who hadn't made a movie for seven years, must have identified with Sade's drive to create. Yet "Quills" bears no whiff of desperation -- only the brimming confidence of a director whose appetite for filmmaking is once again fulfilled.

From The San Francisco Chronicle, April 21, 2000:
Phil Kaufman to Heat Up Art Houses With Racy 'Quills' Drama about de Sade features Geoffrey Rush - all of him - by Ruthe Steine:
    Local filmmaker Phil Kaufman was seen pacing in the lobby of the Embarcadero Center Cinema last Sunday. It wasn't the imminent birth of his first grandchild that made him uneasy. It was another baby: Quills, his sure-to-be-controversial movie about the Marquis de Sade, which was about to be screened for a test audience. Although the unannounced preview was off-limits to the press, Movie Insider managed to slip in. We don't have to wait for the results of the audience survey to predict that Quills will be an art-house hit when it's released in November.
    Look for Oscar nominations for its literate, sexually charged screenplay and sterling cast led by the very game Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis. We had heard rumors about nude scenes when Quills was shooting in London. But who would have imagined that it was Rush who goes stitchless?
    The film focuses on the Marquis' heroic effort to continue to write pornography despite his confinement at Charenton Asylum for the Insane in France. Kate Winslet plays a virginal laundress who sneaks his scorching words out into the world after using them to stir her own imagination. "If I wasn't such a bad woman on the page,'' she confesses, "I couldn't be such a good woman in life.'' Michael Caine appears as the asylum's head doctor, sort of an evil twin to his lovable doc in The Cider House Rules. Caine's well- known wit emerged during filming when he changed a line about saving the honor of Charenton to "saving the honor of Sharon Stone.''

Ain't It Cool News had a report on April 13 from a person who saw Quills as part of a focus group. [My guess is that, based upon feedback from focus groups, there may be some re-editing, particularly of the ending.]
    The Shaggy Duck quacks in with this enthusiastic look at Quills:
    Ya know...First Geoffrey Rush plays (for all intents and purposes) Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill... now, he plays a role... right up Price's alley... The Marquis de Sade. Personally, with that casting and about that character... I'm at the theater, no matter what, but wait! There's good news... Apparently there is quite a bit more... Check it out for yourself...
    I finally got to be part of focus group for a movie Monday night in Marin, California, spitting distance from Lucas' ranch. The movie was Quills. This is the story of the Marquis de Sade and his tenure at a mental hospital under the supervision of Abbe the priest trying to silence him.
    The movie was quite disturbing and pushed the "envelope" in directions I wouldn't have imagined for a historical period type movie. The movie follows the Marquis' attempts to continue his writing and publishing even though he is placed in an insane hospital. He is aided by a chamber maid, who sneaks his material to the outside world. Abbe, the priest, is the curator of the hospital and is a sensitive sole who gives great leniency to the Marquis. Both men have romantic feelings toward the chamber maid. Abbe is not aware that the material is escaping the walls of the hospital.
    One of the books makes it to Napoleon and he finds it repulsive and orders a doctor to supervise the Marquis. From here the movie leaves its playful tone and spirals to a dark and disturbing tone. The more and more the doctor and Abbe attempt to silence the Marquis, each man falls deeper into demise. The ending is a roller coaster of highs and lows. Each high is a suitable ending but the movie kept continuing and there would be a lull in activity before the next climax. Every time we expected the ending to come soon but there would be more sequences. Some audience members even walked out. The movie ran 2 hours but it seemed like 3 hours.
    My friends and I stayed beyond to answer questions. The editors were there and seemed to be most interested on the ending, which most people thought was acceptable to inadequate. The Marquis de Sade was played by Geoffrey Rush and he did an excellent job. The first hour of the movie is filled with comical conversations between him, Abbe, the chamber maid, and other inmates. I have never been a big Geoffrey Rush fan, but after this I am a believer. Abbe is played by Joaquin Phoenix. I would have liked to have seen a slightly older actor portray this character. At times he just wasn't believable, especially in the key emotional scenes. Kate Winslet plays the chamber maid, Madeleine. While she was enjoyable to watch and turned in a good performance, she didn't come off as a suitable chamber maid. She was too clean and prissy. Finally Michael Caine plays the doctor. The audience loves to hate him in this role. He is bad to the bone, although in key scenes he seemed to not deliver the emotional punch you hoped for.
    I would recommend this movie on Geoffrey Rush's performance alone.

I found this item on Ain't It Cool News [negative]:
"A DryWall Look At Quills," by Johnny DryWall, March 8, 2000 -
    I caught a screening of Philip Kaufman's new picture Quills last night. In Quills Kaufman tries to impart the story of the Marquee de Sade and the asylum in which he was interred.
    The Marquis de Sade is most renowned for writing tales of erotic violence that stirred the already turbulent, post-revolution French public into an even more hedonistic celebration of their new-found freedoms. In an attempt to relegate the Marquis to obscurity instead of raising him to martyrdom, Napoleon has the Marquis committed to an insane asylum instead of having him executed.
    Joaquin Phoenix plays the Abbe de Coulmier, a peaceful priest that runs the asylum with a gentle and nurturing hand who befriends the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush). Madeleine LeClerc, Kate Winslet's robust and lusty chamber maid completes the love/lust triangle. Madeleine is helping the Marquis to smuggle his writing to his publisher while the Abbe is trying to get the Marquis to stop publishing his writing (as Napoleon will shut down the asylum if the Marquis cannot be controlled). The Abbe is having no luck silencing the Marquis, so Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) famous for getting results via severe treatments, is sent in to "assist" the Abbe.
    Philip Kaufman likes to make long movies (Henry & June, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff) and Quills is no exception, clocking in at just over two hours without any titles or credits. Quills is a very ambitious offering and I think that's the problem. With such a concentrated and complex subject the director must have felt an obligation to cover it all for fear of losing the story's relevance or impact. Consequently, we are treated to a series of short, dramatically explosive conflicts between characters whose development mostly comes from similar, prior conflicts. These outbursts are separated by long periods of padding in which the otherwise ruthless and ambitious Dr. Royer-Collard gives the Abbe chance after chance to quiet the Marquis before stepping in and taking over.
    I don't understand why Joaquin Phoenix was allowed to mangle a British accent through the whole movie, even Costner had the good sense not to open himself up to that ridicule. For that matter, why did ALL of the characters have British accents? Isn't this a French story about French men and women in France?! (By the way, yes, it is...) The acting is disappointing and the direction is inconsistent. We are never really given any reason to care about the characters and so we never really have any interest in what happens to them. There are times when I could almost hear the crew and the extras applauding Geoffrey Rush's "acting" at the end of a few scenes.
    On the upside though, Michael Caine is phenomenal! Dr. Royer-Collard is cold-hearted, conniving and patient. An absolutely ruthless adversary that does what is necessary to get what he wants or to exact retribution from any who stood in his way, all the while keeping his cool. Pauline McLynn who plays Dr. Royer-Collard's wife, Pauline (I think) is also very good and her character may be the most compelling of all.
    There are a few high points, though. The scene in which the Marquis produces a play that the lunatics perform is very funny and another scene were Madeleine trades kisses with the Marquis for pages to his new manuscript gets raunchier and raunchier. We also get to see an entire scene with a very topless Kate Winslet (which may be worth the price of admission), as well as Geoffrey Rush run around through several scenes completely nude.
    Hopefully, the powers that be will recognize that by re-cutting Quills down to only two or three story lines and looping Joaquin's regular voice back into the dialogue this could be a cool, dark and sexy tragedy. But they probably won't and we will simply be subjected to a shorter version of the mess it is now.

A sneak preview review of the film by "Moll F" from "Ain't It Cool News" [Note - The following contains spoilers!]:
    This review is based on the assumption that you are vaguely familiar with the perverse, sadistic, erotic, violent writings of the Marquis de Sade, or are at least aware of his reputation of ill-repute.
    The movie opens with an upper-body shot of a young maiden seemingly in a state of sexual abandonment ... until the hands of an executioner clasp her neck, forcing it down onto the cutting block of the guillotine -- sounds dramatic and could have worked but didn't, instead a ripple of giggling eminated from the movie audience ... not a good start. Kate Winslet plays Madeleine, a laundry woman working in the insane asylum in which the Marquis de Sade (Rush) is interred (her mother also works there). The Marquis has struck a deal with Napolean's advisors (who are aware that his execution would drastically increase the sales of his books), that rather than being put to death he must live out his days in an insane asylum, albeit furnished with all the comforts to which he is accustomed.
    Phoenix plays the priest in charge of the asylum, whose methods are to rehabilitate the insane through art, music, theater, etc. He allows the Marquis to write as much as he wants in order to 'purge himself of his impurities' in an effort to save his soul.
    Secretly however, Madeleine is smuggling the Marquis' writings out in the dirty laundry linens, and the Marquis is thus able to publish his novel, 'Juliette.' This infuriates Napolean and he appoints a doctor (Caine) to oversee the priest's work. The doctor's methods of curing mental instability are somewhat more torturous than the priest's, to say the least. Thus the confusing muddle of antagonistic relationships ensue: between the doctor and the Marquis, the priest and the Marquis, the doctor and the priest, the priest and Madeleine, etc, etc. The Marquis is in charge of staging a play that the inmates perform before a public audience -- he uses this opportunity to ridicule the doctor and his new, very young, virginal bride (played by a young woman who could not act her way out of a paper bag). The doctor's wife eventually leaves him to pursue her lustful relationship with a younger man, having been sexually liberated after reading the Marquis' book.
    As the Marquis finds ways to anger the doctor, the priest is forced to punish him further: he takes away his writing implements so the Marquis writes on his bedclothes using red wine and a chicken drumstick; the priest then empties the Marquis' cell of all its luxuries, so the Marquis cuts himself with shards of glass and uses his own blood to write all over his clothing; the priest then forces him to strip naked in one of the few great scenes of the movie -- there is a whole question as to whether the priest is visibly turned on by the Marquis' flirtatious striptease -- and ultimately, the Marquis uses his own faeces to write on the wall of his dungeon cell.
    Meanwhile ... Madeleine has fallen in love with the priest, whose sacred vows of chastity prevent him from consummating the relationship. Their feelings for one another are not always clear, and there is the most ridiculous scene where Madeleine is being whipped (a punishment ordered by the doctor for smuggling the Marquis' writings to his publisher), and so the priest tears off his robes and offers to be whipped in her place (yawn), (more giggles). Madeleine and the priest's relationship is sometimes reminiscent of the super-cheese eighties miniseries The Thornbirds with Richard Chamberlein as the self-sacrificing messenger of god.
    To the crunch: In the final hoo-ha, the Marquis hatches a plan whereby the final story he is to tell Madeleine will be relayed from his cell to the laundry room (where she sits waiting to transcribe it), via the inmates of the other cells. Each lunatic has a hole in the wall of their cell through which a sadistic tale is told from madman to madman, like a game of "Chinese Whispers".
    Alas, all goes awry when one of them, a pyromaniac, gets hold of his neighbour's candle and proceeds to set the place on fire. Chaos ensues, enabling another crazy (who is obsessed with Madeleine), to crash through into the laundry room, cut out her tongue, and stab her to death. His actions mirror the story that the Marquis has just told them.
    The priest is devastated, and from this sad state of affairs comes the best scene of the film: the priest has a necrophiliac dream in which Madeleine and he are making love on the altar of a Catholic church, while the image of Christ crucified looks on. Very cool.
    The ending is one of 'false horizons,' the kind where just when you think it's all's not! and it's long and boring and frustrating. Goes something like this: The priest and the Marquis de Sade have a showdown in which the priest forces the Marquis to admit that he was actually in love with Madeleine; The priest cuts off the Marquis' tongue to revenge Madeleine's death; as the Marquis is dying, the priest attempts to read him his last rights and holds a crucifix up for the Marquis to kiss -- the Marquis ends up swallowing it.
    Cut to: The doctor is showing a priest around the asylum -- this is to be the new priest in charge. They go to the Marquis' old cell and therein lies the priest, dirty and bedraggled, pushed over the edge by the Marquis' final rejection of salvation. He is begging for quills, something to write with, anything. The doctor and the new priest slowly walk away.
    The laundry trap opens and it is Madeleine's mother, passing him paper and quills. But rather than write a letter to the world in an attempt to regain his own liberty, the priest begins to write sexual/sadistic/violent material in the manner of the Marquis de Sade. The acting of the lead players -- Rush, Winslet, Caine, and Phoenix -- was on the whole excellent, as to be expected. Unfortunately the film tries to do too much, rather than focusing on moments that could have been breathtakingly powerful, but inevitably end up few and far between. Alas, for a story that is based on the life and perverted times of the Marquis de Sade, the film lacks anything vaguely resembling erotic manifestations, and the depth of the characters fails to reveal any long-lasting poignancy. Worst of all is that the director, Philip Kaufman, almost ignores the fact that Kate Winslet is one of the most sensual, erotic actresses to grace the contemporary cinematic screen. He fails to put her talents to use...and in a movie about the Marquis de Sade! If you don't see it here, then where?
    Kaufman has attempted to make the movie big-budget-Hollywood while also trying to make it artsy-fartsy-deep-and-dark. Unfortunately, the way of the world insists that one must choose one or the other --- if you're going to go dark, then you'd better go DARK -- and this is where Quills fails miserably. Not a psychologically disturbing thought lingers for as long as the credits roll.