Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The 1981 BBC adaptation of Great Expectations looks exactly like you would expect a 1981 BBC adaptation of Great Expectations to look like: (meaning, we are completely devoid of production values, I think we forgot to remove that mic. from in front of the camera lens and I don’t think it looks very period appropriate dangling there; but, we cannot afford to fix it because we spent ALL of our money on sideburns with double-sided tape on the back so that our actors who, still surprisingly look like they live in 1981, have an aura of authenticity). The sets are bad; the lighting is bad; it looks far more like someone held up a camcorder ( a 1980s one, at that ) to a staged version of GE and went to town.
But I harbour some affection for it because a.) it doesn’t have a malicious bone in its body--- it is trying so earnestly hard and b.) uber-fidelity: if you want scene-by-scene, line-by-line to be funneled straight from the book to the small screen then, dudes, this is where it’s AT.
A few years back, the BBC released boxed sets of all sub-production-par albeit faithful literary installments of the day and if you have seen the grainily lit, meandering Pride and Prejudice or even Silas Marner (oh Ben Kingsley) or even ADAM BEDE with chick that played Jane in the BBC Pride and Prej (1995) then you know what you are in for.
I have often noted that while adaptations of GE I have seen hit on one or two notes really well, no adaptation thus far (I am holding out hope, 2012! Don’t let me down!) captures the entire spirit or essence of the book. We don’t have a pitch-perfect medium-switch here.
Instead, This one touches a few points well:
Herbert Pocket and Pip’s relationship---this is often sacrificed a lot in in the interest of screen time; but this series goes on for friggin’ ever and so it has hours to draw this out--- and it does. Up to Pip going to Wemmick to try and sneak some of his Magwitch-fortune to his roommate/bestie.
[There are some awkward hugs when Pip and Herbert tentatively part --- and some weird crying--- and then Herbert awkwardly hugs Clara and weirdly cries some more--- ]
Bromance for the WIN
Joe Gargery’s Wisdom--- Joe is the salt of the earth and he is packed full of some of the sagest Dickensian lines in the world. Like, stuff about not lying because you’ll be crooked and some of us are blacksmiths and some of us goldsmiths and never the twain shall meet and what is betwixt friends, old chap, what larks ! ( heftily paraphrased: see source material )--- all these little nuggets are here and uttered with integrity-on-speed. This Joe is just a little too happy to be doing everything and is almost too good to be true ( you don’t see the dark, pained edges) but hell, he means well and he does actually say all of these lines….and he doesn’t know what to do with his hat when he goes to London and it is as FRIGGIN awkward as in the book ---made more awkward still by the bad production values and everyone’s sideburns…larks, kids, larks indeed!
The Estella Ending: Readers, remember the end of Villette and how frustratingly ambiguous it is and how half the team are (with Charlotte’s father) on the “NO! that cannot be right! What the heck you stupid shipwreck!” ship and the other half of the team is like, “Dude, he’s so friggin’ dead—but that’s okay because Lucy has independence and a cot of her own”? Well, Dickens did the same thing with the interchangeable, dvd -special- feature- alternate- ending to Pip and Estella’s “love” story. The series does this well.
This edition is so, so very cheesy; but it is trying so, so hard--- for hours—and hours---it might take less time to read the book.But, jiminy crickets! I am a-fond of it, y’all. It tries so hard to be nice and good ...
And WORD BY WORD it recounts every stupid, friggin’ line.
Ten points for the actress playing Mrs. Joe (Pip’s sister) post-forge attack. She just sits there as Biddy spoons broth at her gaping mouth---for HOURS
I am willing to bet you can find some of this on youtube, if you are so inclined
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Fair readers, you all know that we subscribe to the school of All Things Arthur Slade. He is, as you know, Canada's best YA novelist ( at least in my awesome opinion) and a personal favourite of mine. As someone who works in the publishing industry (albeit on the educational side), I find Slade's consistent fascination and experimentation with the tenets of Canadian publishing appealing. That, and he does Skype visits to lucky classroom children across the globe.
Without further ado, I give you Arthur Slade on the Radio (once again proving he has the EXACT same speaking voice as my high school drama teacher--whom I liked, so that's a good thing):
->Go to CBC Sunday Edition Website here
->Search under the Hour One paragraph and click midway through the black box there ( past all that asbestos exports stuff--- though that is interesting, too, if you are so inclined).
Slade speaks to his infatuation with Star Wars and how it triggered his imagination so acutely he began writing screenplays, teleplays and short, self-proclaimed "gory" stories.
As per always, most resonant of the Slade written agenda are the glorious glades of the Cypress Hills in rural Saskwatchewan. This landscape informs so much of his fictional backdrop (he speaks to pouring poison down gopher hills in his youth---this guilt perhaps exorcised in Jolted) from Dust to Megiddo's Shadow.
He speaks to his respect for W.O. Mitchell, his over-active imagination and how his favourite librarian was a bit of a Google search engine for him ( especially when it came to hunting down books on medieval torture devices...)
He even speaks of Iron Maiden, his favourite "literary" band...
It's a veritable smorgasbord of fun.
Yes, he talks to the e-book thing.
YOUR TO-DO LIST:
- Listen to Arthur Slade ( as mentioned)
- Go to his website
- Read this amazing blog entry (funniest author blogpost ever)
- and buy ALL of his books (e-book or otherwise)
[Funny story: I once had a blog reader comment and ask me what my commission was and if he could hire me to promote his new book the way I promoted Arthur Slade around the web.
I just like promoting Canadian writers (especially the good-natured and talented ones)
I love Great Expectations. It is my favourite Dickens novel and one of my favourite books ---ever since I read it at the tender age of 14 (the first chapters devoured while babysitting for kids from our church congregation. They had played with Legos. They went to bed. I read about Pip and his first, dreary encounter with Magwitch...)
If you read this blog, you will notice that Great Expectations occasionally comes up in conversation. I defended it for the Classics Circuit: Dickens vs. Austen Challenge, featured it in a Dickens Meme, and re-visited it through a religious lens.
Next year, to celebrate Dickens’ Bi-Centenary, we will be treated to not one; but TWO adaptations (one Hollywood; one BBC miniseries) of this classic novel. I am very closely following casting and production news on Dickensblog (where Gina extols every tidbit she picks up on in her close following of any and all things Dickens).
I thought that this transitory period between end of Summer and beginning of Fall was the perfect space to cuddle into this coziest of yarns. I re-visit parts of the novel often ( confession: I even have it bookmarked in Project Gutenburg edition at work); but wanted to re-visit some of the adaptations I have seen//own, as well as speak to those adaptations I have not been fortunate enough to see yet.
Adaptations I have seen previously and will be re-visiting for this series:
1946 adaptation, dir. David Lean: featuring John Mills, Jean Simmons, Alec Guinness
1981 BBC miniseries adaptation: featuring Gerry Sundquist, Jason Smart
1998 adaptation, dir. Alfonso Cuaron (modernized): featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke, Robert DeNiro
1999 BBC miniseries adaptation: featuring Ioan Gruffudd, Charlotte Rampling, Justine Waddell
1981: Great Adaptations Vol 1 read review here
1998: Great Adaptations Vol III: read review here
1999: Great Adaptations Vol II read review here
2011:Great Adaptations Vol IV: read review here
There are adaptations I have not had the privilege of viewing, including the 1989 Disney Channel adaptation which many cite as being a great and accessible adaptation.[ See Dickensblog review ]
The above is not available on DVD and no amazon sellers will ship to Toronto due to its VHS format (sadness)
Another familiar adaptation from 1974 features Michael York and Sarah Miles -- supposedly written as a musical, this lesser production (according to reviewers) is the result of a musical movie stripped of its musical numbers and the blanks in between apparently cannot hold weight)
Upcoming 2012 editions:
BBC miniseries starring Mark Addy, Gillian Anderson, Shaun Dooley, etc. (REVIEW)
2012 adaptation dir. Mike Newell featuring Helena Bonham-Carter, Jason Flemyng, Ralph Fiennes
I look forward to reviewing and blogging about the aforementioned movies: focusing on proximity to text, sensibility and malleability of medium.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
British actors Damien Lewis and Steven Mackintosh were lesser possibilities:
....Kevin McKidd had the right colouring, too:
Say wha.....? But, I know Toby Stephens. How could I have not seen Barney in him?
Finally, Barney is a bit of a rakish fellow and, as such, featuring in an early example of Canadian romance, would sport a roguish grin. Observe this picture:
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
To say that I loved Eve's Daughters would be an understatement. I drank in Eve's Daughters, turned each page with a contented sigh and was absolutely depressed when the final chapter rounded the bend.
Again, Lynn Austin is at top form crafting a multi-generational story involving four generations of women and their trials and triumphs: the men they loved, the mistakes they made, the eponymous “curse” that leads them to believe that one darkly hidden past mistake has ripples and ramifications brimming into the past and present.
The novel begins in 1980 with 80 year old Emma packing her belongings to move to a nursing home. Her daughter Grace and her grand-daughter Suzanne are nearby to help excavate the past. Suzanne is currently going through the first inklings of a divorce and Grace is still trying to reconcile with her childhood and discover why her father never wanted her and disappeared when she was quite young.
As is prevalent thematically in all of Austin's novels, the conceptualization of a woman's role is explored here: as Emma's mother is recalled and her migration from Germany to Pennsylvania shapes Emma's early life. Emma's formative years are traced against the backdrop of the years preluding the First War. As always, Austin perfectly captures the historical period and paints such a life-like canvas you get swept into the past and into the lives of her characters. This is not to mention the absolute perfection in which she rounds out a multi-dimensional cast of supporting characters: each springing life-like from the page and embodying the elements of grace, redemption, mistakes and forgiveness that form the whole of the tale.
The story is told in fractured narrative, often captapulting the reader back to the present and then stirring the past again: through Emma's great secret, Grace's lifelong search for a father and Suzanne's inability to reconcile her spirited nature with the confines of her mother's domestic example.
Christianity plays a role; but one sewn in the fabric of the tale and not blatantly at the front. It is implied and characterized and emblemized without ever being "preachy" Like most of Austin's novels, one need not be Christian to appreciate the wiles of her craft and the way she plays with you: at one point unravelling just enough of a mystery; while holding back and toying with unobstructed narration. The fill-in-the-blanks portion of each ( sometimes unreliable) narrator keeps the reader attempting to sew together the design of the finished product and to, once and for all, marry the past with the present-- uncovering the one devastating secret that has shaken the family to the core.
As While We're Far Apart features a Jewish protagonist and pairs Judaism with Protestant Christianity ( the wealth of Austin's market); Eve's Daughters does well in respectfully painting the life of the Irish Catholic experience at the beginning to mid 20th Century. The ultimate hero of the tale ( and a wonderfully realized character ) is Father O'Duggan: a flawed priest whose mistakes never fail to tarnish his witness as a man of Christ in a tortured world.
This is just exceptional writing: Christian or not, and reaffirms why Austin remains one of my favourite living writers: She catches you in all of the right places, makes every sentence seem relevant and current to each and every situation and validates your existence as a woman.
She's a strong, strong writer and those who have not dipped into her incredibly strong backlist ( I have yet to read a mediocre Austin novel ) are really, really, missing out.
Saturday, August 06, 2011
Friday, August 05, 2011
The results of this discussion are these STELLAR film line-ups (TCM, we're waiting by the phone). First up, Ruth's picks ( I haven't seen them all yet and want to go watch them all, in a row, right now!)
Her Cardboard Lover (1942) – In her final film appearance, Norma Shearer shines opposite a young, energetic, and boyishly charming Robert Taylor. Taylor is the broke songwriter intent on winning socialite Shearer’s affections, while she’s determined to keep him at arm’s length, using him as a "human shield" against the attentions of a debonair George Sanders. Taylor is at his maddening, dashing, adorable best in this film, and reveals a surprising affinity for screwball comedy.
Foreign Affair (1948) – Classic Billy Wilder comedy featuring a standout performance by Jean Arthur as a prim and proper Congresswoman tasked with assessing the morale of American troops stationed in occupied Berlin. A love triangle develops between Arthur, a handsome army captain played by John Lund, and Marlene Dietrich as a sensuous German singer with a dangerous past. Hilarious misunderstandings ensure, and watching Arthur gradually unravel as she falls for Lund is a delight.
My Cousin Rachel (1953) – Richard Burton is at his handsome and youthful best in this absorbing story of obsession and what happens when the line between perception and reality becomes irrevocably blurred. Olivia de Havilland is gorgeous and enigmatic as the woman who comes to captivate Burton’s soul. Moody, suspenseful, and atmospheric, with gorgeous mid-19th century costumes, My Cousin Rachel is not to be missed for fans of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
A Hole in the Head (1959) – Charming Frank Capra vehicle features Frank Sinatra as a well-intentioned single father who struggles to balance his high-flying schemes of striking it rich with the responsibilities that come with raising a young son. Eleanor Parker is lovely as the lonely widow Sinatra's son Ally hopes will make his father happy, and Edward G. Robinson and Thelma Ritter are terrific as the straight-laced relatives determined to separate father & son. Sinatra and Eddie Hodges will melt your heart as father and son, especially during their performance of the Oscar-winning song from which the film takes its name and the moving final scenes.
Midnight Lace (1960) – Doris Day does suspense! Day plays Kit, an heiress and the new bride of Rex Harrison, who can’t get anyone to believe she’s being stalked. Moody and intense, the scenes in the London fog are deliciously atmospheric, and John Gavin is positively swoon-worthy as the one man who wants to help Kit, but as she's driven to the brink of madness, she isn’t sure she can trust.
And now for MY PICKS! (you'll notice that Ruth's picks intelligently featured vintage posters advertising each film; whereas I was all over the LET'S SEE THE ACTORS IN SCREENSHOT" mode! )
Gone with the Wind - brings the Southern Antebellum Era to wonderfully techni-coloured life. The loves and losses of spicy heroine Scarlett O'Hara threaten to eclipse the background canvas of the war between the States while still drawing enough attention and melodrama to evoke comparison to another looming War imminent at the time of the film's inital release. This movie is the epitome of sprawling epic and it releases just enough of the book's enduring magic and touches on just the right notes of Scarlett's on-going ballad to make it one of the greatest examples of novel-to-screen in film history. The film is so well cast that each individual character will forever be associated with its competent onscreen portrayal and thoughts of revision seem incomprehensible.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: Surfacely, a charming romantic comedy about a poetic soul misplaced in the big city upon his inheritance of a grand estate. "Pixilated" since birth, Longfellow Deeds' big heart and eccentric demeanour fall prey to the wiles of a newspaper's hunger for exposition while thawing the heart of a journalist whose initial skepticism is replaced by pure inspiration. A gem from Frank Capra: a director who devoted his film career to piecing hope and inspiration out of the crumbled loss of a nation disillusioned by war.
Roman Holiday: from the first moment when Princess Anne ( glitteringly portrayed by endearingly vulnerable Audrey Hepburn in her first major American film role) accidentally slips out of her shoe you know that this Cinderella-story-in-reverse will be luminously executed by Hepburn's incomparable beauty and charm. As Jean Arthur's sceptical journalist in Mr.Deeds Goes to Town hides her identity to weasel a story; so Gregory Peck's Joe Bradley sets out to glean the exposee of the century while class-clashingly falling in love with a princess disuillusioned by her royal obligations. Rome plays as much of a character as the two leads and the cinematography leading both tourists through the maze of the definitive continental city adds to the burgeoning romantic plot.
Pygmalion transplants George Bernard Shaw's comedy of class and manners onto the silver screen. So lasting was the interpretation of the play by Leslie Howard and Dame Wendy Hiller that the controversial ending tweaked to suit a romance-hungry movie-going population would endure until the release of My Fair Lady several years later. British acting is at its finest as a classic piece of theatre is made accessible to audiences everywhere. While it takes the aforementioned liberty with the ending of the tale, the screen adaptations stays true to the tone and subtle humour of the story and Howard is at his best when playing to Henry Higgins' greatest weakness: his inability to recognize that in as much as he has changed flower girl-turned -English gentlewoman Eliza, Eliza has changed him.
Cluny Brown, Ernst Lubitsch's penultimate film, is a equal parts satire and comedy of manners set at an English manor house in the year preluding the Second World War. Charles Boyer is the epitome of rapscallion charm as Adam Belinski: a wily Czech professor in exile for his anti-Hitler sentiments willing to capitalize on the well-meaning (if daft) British anti-war enthusiasts who idolize him. This leads to his stay at Friar's Carmel with a wealthy family who know little about world events other than writing letters to the Times and hearing of Hitler's popular book ( something or other outdoorsy about a camp, or so thinks the Lord of the Manor). While there, he falls head-over-heels in love with another outcast: the adorably zesty domestic maid Cluny Brown. With an imagination worthy of Anne of Green Gables and a penchant to follow her dour Uncle's trade as a plumber, Cluny mirrors Belinski in her seeming inability to meld into the society she is so desperate to find her place in. With a scathing, sweet, whipsmart script and enough double-entendre to send a modern viewer's head spinning, Cluny is only recently being revisited as a classic of the Lubitsh canon.
So there you have it - I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these films, or which five would make up your own "dream" TCM schedule!
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Next to Love by Ellen Feldman is a gripping tale of women affected by the travesties--- on the home front and beyond--- during the years of and the years following the American involvement in the Second World War.
Babe, Grace and Millie are three very different childhood friends whose bond is sewn even tighter due to their collective experience: learning of loss, hardship and heartache when the men they love are expected to do their duty overseas. The novel weaves mainly between the three perspectives of these women; but sometimes offers a glimpse into the point of view of their husbands, boyfriends, and (very occasionally) their children.
Interspersed with letters from the front line and a pitch-perfect historical sense, readers will be easily engrossed in the wonderfully realized world of these very different women.
I was immediately captivated by the narrative structure of the book and found myself turning pages rather quickly. The details about Babe, Grace and Millie’s everyday work and home lives are told with such historical conviction you feel you are peeking through a window to observe their every- day experience.
I was most captivated by the love story between Claude and Babe. Sensitive Claude never recovers from his time in combat and Feldman’s stark portrayal of a man who has undergone the shock and treachery of the battlefield is heartbreaking. This is made even more so when coupled with a traumatic experience which befalls his wife Babe while she is still at home. The novel takes us beyond WWII and into the 1950s and 60s--- decades where America’s promise was emblemized in new housing, urban planning and differing ways of extending credit. The prosperity of these years clashes with the opening chapters of loss. One of the most effective moments of the book occurs with Grace: who refuses to watch the hands of the clock on the last day before her husband Charlie’s leave ends. The utter disparity of usual house chores cutting into the last fleeting moments they spend together will rip at the reader.
I also really enjoyed the timbre and tone of the aforementioned letters included in the novel. While some of Babe, Grace and Millie’s correspondence is featured, it is the letters of Charlie, Pete and Claude that most held my attention. The vernacular very much reflected the breezy nuances and idioms of the time period and the experience of the front is muted behind overt declarations of undying love and hope for the tenuous future.
My one complaint about the novel is its preoccupation with sex (ironic because it is a major theme and counterpart to war and the undercurrent of many actions--- Feldman explains its significance as a type of underlying civil construction and deconstruction …. ) awkwardly infusing paragraphs and sometimes jarring the flow of narrative as she outlines every single movement. At these moments, I felt like I was reading a flat out romance and not a serious literary endeavor focusing on the hardships of Americans at War. To say its gratuitous is not a stretch: its implication rather than stark descriptive realism would have been more effective and played into the other more subdued thematic strains of the novel.
Secondly, I found the multiple narratives to be slightly confusing---- but you will hit a page, mid-way through where something clicks and you can weave seamlessly from one tale into the next.
Altogether a splendid snapshot of an integral part of history. As a non-American reader, I was able to transplant the uncertainty, fear and despair into a national consciousness---where I could better understand what my grandfather ( a stretcher bearer) and my grandmother ( a war bride from Canadian-liberated Holland) underwent.