Archive for Ulysses

More Things That Aren’t Films

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2012 by dcairns

Breaking Bad continues good. Rounding out season 3 now, slowly catching up — but an episode a night is cutting into my movie-watching. There’s a magnificent episode directed by Rian Johnson of BRICK and LOOPER fame, a tour-de-force set almost entirely in one room, taking the very old idea of an attempt at killing a single housefly that escalates out of all proportion — superb writing, direction and playing transcend the basic premise and generate spine-jangling tension.

The most gifted of the regular directors involved is Michelle McLaren, late of The X Files, who manages to serve up at least one stunningly eloquent set-up per ep. Check this framing out — the couple, their estrangement, and the space between them occupied both by the bag of ill-gotten gains and the exit from the family home, spells D-I-V-O-R-C-E without a word needing to be spoken. Of course there are words, and they deepen and elaborate the emotions…

***

Dipping into G.K. Chesterton again. I like his absurdity and surreal menace, never quite dispelled by the rational endings, as Gilbert Adair notes in his intro to The Club of Queer Trades. He also praises Chesterton’s ability, or compulsion, to romanticize everyday London. Chesterton’s essay on detective fiction includes the following example straight off the bat ~

Men lived among might mountains and eternal forests for ages before they realized they were poetical; it may reasonably be inferred that some of our descendants may see the chimney-pots as rich a purple as the mountain peaks, and find the lampposts as old and natural as the trees.

Chesterton already does this: he’s speaking of himself when he imagines such descendants. Although his philosophy, which he shoehorns in crassly whenever he can manage it, is frequently little more than a defense of prejudice, he gussies it up nicely in melodrama and fancy ~

‘In God’s name, look at his face,’ cried out Basil in a voice that startled the driver. ‘Look at the eyebrows. They mean that infernal pride which made Satan so proud that he sneered even at heaven when he was one of the first angels in it. Look at his moustaches, they are so grown as to insult humanity. In the name of the sacred heavens, look at his hair. In the name of God and the stars, look at his hat.’

Also, Chesterton begins The Napoleon of Notting Hill with ~

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong –

I like that so much I’m not sure I want to go on reading it, it’s too perfect on its own.

***

As an adjunct of sorts to my protracted and oft-interrupted reading of Ulysses, which currently looks designed to last the rest of my life, I delved into Dead as Doornails, a memoir by Anthony Cronin on the writers he knew in Dublin. Of particular interest is the first real celebration of Bloomsday, June the 16th, the day detailed in Joyce’s book. Cronin took part in a tour retracing Leopold Bloom’s steps, on the fiftieth anniversary of the original date, along with Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan), Patrick Kavanaugh and others. The whole thing nearly degenerated into violence at once, with O’Brien and Kavanaugh trying to kick each other off a steep hillside, but turned into something “that would have pleased Joyce”  ~

June 16th, 1954 was not only the fiftieth anniversary of the day Joyce had picked on as the day of his great fiction, but it was also one of the comparatively rare occasions when the date coincides with the Thursday of the Ascot Week and the running of the Ascot Gold Cup, as it does in the book. Naturally, with Kavanaugh, Con Leventhal — also a racing man — and myself in the party, some attention was given to this. Our progress, what with stops at pubs and places of interest such as Sandymount Strand, was so slow that the race was actually run while we were still in transit, in fact while we were still traversing the route of the funeral; and, at the insistence of the racing men, we stopped at a bookmaker’s in Irishtown to have a bet and hear the broadcast. There was a very strong French favourite, owned by M. Marcel Boussac, reputedly a great stayer. As is often thought advisable, in the Gold Cup, the stayer had a running mate who was meant to act as a pace-maker and ensure a good gallop for him, so that the stamina limitations of the other horses in the race would be exposed. The pace-maker’s name was Elpenor and he proceeded to make the running to such effect that not even his own stable-companion, who was supposed to win, could catch him, and he perforce went on to win the race himself at fifty to one, a record price for a Gold Cup winner in this century, though Throwaway in the book starts at forty to one.

Now Elpenor is a character in the Odyssey. He is a companion of Ulysses who falls off a height during some fighting, as some of our party had so nearly done, cracks his skull and dies. Although Ulysses remarks that it didn’t much matter, ‘since he wasn’t much of a fighting man, nor ever very strong in the head,’ he nevertheless goes down into the underworld after him to see what he can do. This descent is paralleled in the book by the scene in Glasnevin cemetery for in Joyce’s Ulysses, Elpenor is represented by the deceased Paddy Dignam; and it was the route of Paddy Dignam’s funeral that we were following; indeed the whole idea of a commemoration which would involve horse-cabs grew out of the Dignam funeral sequence.

Unfortunately, Cronin only noticed this remarkable coincidence when it was too late to place a bet, provoking his companions to fury when he told them of it. They could have made a fortune.

What made the result the more remarkable was that Joyce always believed his book to have strange prophetic powers of which he himself only became aware after the event.

***

I also read Get Real, the last of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder books. I was afraid it might be a melancholy affair, but Westlake keeps it funny. He may have had some intimation that he wouldn’t be writing any more books, though: and this itself becomes occasion for some sly wit, when Dortmunder speculates that at last his luck may be beginning to change. Without Westlake to arrange the stumbling blocks that litter Dortmunder’s destiny, I guess he’s right.

Lash La Rue

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2011 by dcairns

Theory: when you start reading Ulysses, synchronicities pile up around you like herring. Case in point — I just watched HOT SATURDAY, and this is the titular weekend as it appears in a desk calendar in the film –

It turned Saturday, July 23 2011 as we were halfway through the movie…

HOT SATURDAY (more on it another time) got watched because we’d just enjoyed its star Nancy Carroll in THE WOMAN ACCUSED, about which I’d written the following, which also begins with an odd coincidence –

William “Stage” Boyd in bondage, trades kisses for apples with Leatrice Joy…

By chance, I’d just seen my first (I think) film directed by Paul Sloane, a Leatrice Joy “comedy” called EVE’S LEAVES, a silent set in China with place names like “Mookow”. Not a CLEVER film. But his THE WOMAN ACCUSED is pretty interesting, and regular Shadowplayer La Faustin reminded me I’d been meaning to see it…

A decidedly odd piece. Some of it is surely down to the ten writers doing an episode each, or whatever it was. They each get a title card and portrait in the opening credits, and are boosted as the top authors of the day, but I’d barely heard of most of them. Western writer Zane Grey is probably the best known, but I’d encountered Rupert Hughes via the daft melo SOULS FOR SALE — he’s the kind of novelettish buffoon who christens a heroine “Remember Steddon.” Vina Delmar is a classier scribe, having contributed to MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE — I most recently encountered her via PICK-UP. J.P. McEvoy was a semi-regular contributor to W.C. Fields’ films, which is of little help here.

The plot reads like what it is, a patchwork, with each successive author supremely bored by his predecessors’ contributions, so trying as hard as possible to escape the plot set up by them and set out for pastures new. Perky Nancy Carroll is engaged to perky Cary Grant (during his early, not-quite-inept but not-quite-ept-either phase) but her oily ex, Louis Calhern (hereafter to be known as Ambassador Trentino) won’t let her go. Sneaking away from her party she manages to brain the mobbed-up scumbag with a figurine, and flees. The coroner remarks that the lifeless Trentino has the thinnest skull he’s ever seen, which chimes with my own impression of the actor. He was basically one, vast, walking fontanelle.

DA Irving Pichel (effective in a rare non-halfwit role) is suspicious, but the slain man’s gaunt buddy, John Halliday, is determined to pin the blame on Nancy. Of course, we’re completely sympathetic to her, despite her guilt, and this being a pre-code all bets are off as to where this will lead. Meanwhile, she’s taken off with Cary on a three-day cruise, eager to forget her recent homicidal adventure.

Here’s where the film, hitherto merely disjointed and inconsistent, takes off into a stratosphere of absurdity — Halliday boards the cruise ship by police launch, and begins his own investigations. I learned a lot about the American legal system in this movie: I didn’t know previously that testimony given during a mock-trial at a pool party is legally binding, nor that beating a witness insensible with a length of rawhide is acceptable practice for lawyers. This occurs in the scene sometimes called the most shocking in all pre-code cinema –

Looking at this (and shooting glances over at Fiona, who was staring open-mouthed beside me), I was struck all over again by Jack LaRue’s versatility in slimeball roles. He didn’t just play one stock gangster, he had a whole range of them, twitching smack-heads, spectacular neurotics or gloating wolves, and depending on the slant he takes, his face seems to change. Here it’s all about the teeth, grinning with them, talking through them, sometimes just retracting his limbs and torso to hide behind them…

Lona laffs it up.

I liked Nancy Carroll a lot, and Lona Andre was fetching in her bit role, I suspect written solely so some exec could bed her. There was no reason for her to be there, or to speak. But she had won Paramount’s “Panther Woman Competition” (?) and they were trying her on the public. She later declined to exploiters like SLAVES IN BONDAGE and set a world’s golfing record for women before retiring from movies and becoming a successful businesswoman.

Cary Grant seemed to be doing something weird with his face all the time.

Cary’s legal advice to Nancy, “Just say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’ no matter what they ask,” was much in my mind as I watched the Murdochs, père et fils, testifying last week, not to mention their associates in the press, the police, and the government.

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