Archive for the Interactive Category

The Porthos Paralysis Paradox

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2022 by dcairns

My questions answered, sort of.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of checking Project Gutenberg when I first discovered the strange disconnect between two accounts of the death of Porthos in Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask. Doing so, finally, has been illuminating — but questions remain.

If your brain is working better than mine, you may recall that I’d been baffled by the scene in VIVRE SA VIE in which philosopher Brice Parain, meeting Anna Karina in a cafe, recounts this key scene in precise but seemingly inaccurate detail. He claimed that Porthos was trapped in a collapsing cellar after failing to make a swift retreat from a bomb he’d set off — the slow-witted giant started thinking too late in life, and became seized by Zeno’s Paradox on the impossibility of movement. It rang false to me, even though I couldn’t recall from my own reading of the book, decades ago, exactly how Porthos perished. Some casual digging turned up a British Medical Journal piece stating that Porthos died, not from a bomb and a cave-in, but from vertebrobasilar insufficiency. I’m not sure what that is but you don’t need dynamite to achieve it.

Oddly enough, the two accounts and the text itself square up remarkably well. The BMJ piece has omitted all the details about HOW Porthos meets his fate. He is indeed involved in an explosion and a roof collapse. The scene is a cave, not a cellar, but Parain has otherwise described it fairly accurately:

“Oh! oh!” murmured he, “there is my weakness seizing me again! I can walk no further! What is this?”

Aramis perceived him through the opening, and unable to conceive what could induce him to stop thus—“Come on, Porthos! come on,” he cried; “come quickly!”

“Oh!” replied the giant, making an effort that contorted every muscle of his body—“oh! but I cannot.” While saying these words, he fell upon his knees, but with his mighty hands he clung to the rocks, and raised himself up again.

But what the BMJ interprets as a physical collapse — which is clearly what Dumas intended — Parain has parsed as some kind of intellectual brainstorm — the line “I can walk no further” is extrapolated out into this Zeno’s paradox routine — in order to take two steps, you must first take one, and before that a half-step, before that a quarter. Ultimately, the number of components of the two steps is infinite, and one cannot complete an infinite sequence. “I can walk no further,” indeed!

I don’t think Parain is misreading or misremembering Dumas by mistake, it has to be a deliberate distortion. I sensed when he made the ridiculous statement that Porthos manages to hold up the collapsing ceiling for several days before he expires, that he was slightly spoofing the heroic (or, often, anti-heroic) yarn. To what extent Godard has colluded with him in his radical reinterpretation of a popular classic is uncertain, though. I would imagine JLG would be more able than I to spot the distortions, and he had probably read the book more recently than I. Still, he allows Parain to misidentify the title as Twenty Years After.

Dumas gives Porthos some moving last words. As Porthos is struck down by his weakness and then crushed beneath the rubble, Aramis desperately urges him to hurry out of the collapsing cavern, and Porthos replies

with a voice growing evidently weaker, “patience! patience!”

Undercaffeinated blog post

Posted in Comics, FILM, Interactive, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2021 by dcairns

Hope I wake up before I finish writing this.

Finished reading Making a Film: The Story of Secret People, which is adorable. More on that soon.

More charity shop haulage: I bought LOGAN on Blu-ray for a pound. It’s a near-miss for me. I just think the mission of trying to make a superhero movie that’s super-serious is a bit silly. I could see that the same team’s THE WOLVERINE was trying to get away from costumed CGI asskicking and do noir stuff, but it all ended with a big robot fight, they hadn’t been allowed to really go for it. LOGAN goes for it, but hits a wall somewhere.

(I watched the b&w version, LOGAN NOIR, figuring that since director James Mangold went to the trouble of making it, it’d be the version to see, I have the colour version playing now for comparison. Very strange seeing it in colour. Like losing a friend.)

The part of the film that really works is all the Patrick Stewart stuff — in this film’s version of the future, Professor Xavier, beloved mentor of the X-Men, has dementia. This is so well written (Scott Frank is co-writer with Mangold and Michael Green) and played, and is such a great idea… I can’t think of any example of a senile superhero even in comics, and Prof. X. is the perfect character to apply this to, since his powers are mental. What happens when he has one of his seizures is really creepy and wild.

Unexpected added value from Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant, two more Brits stepping outside their usual arch mode and really committing to taking the thing seriously.

Hugh Jackman as the title character has always been good in this role, and certainly wants to be great in this. And all his stuff with Patrick Stewart is very strong. The fact that the story is just a chase and some fights doesn’t seem to do any harm here.

It’s the relationship that has to take over from the Logan/Xavier one, with which the intended audience has a longstanding familiarity, that suffers from having to make room for the punchy-stabby bits. Dafne Keen is properly uncanny as the young mutant who is in some way Logan’s daughter. Nothing lacking in the performance, which is mainly physical. The key to my dissatisfaction probably is highlighted by a moment when Keen and Stewart watch SHANE together. It’s nearly always a mistake to smuggle a classic film quotation into a not-yet-classic-and-maybe-never-will-be movie.

SHANE is about a man and a child, two rival father figures who are on the same side but have different styles. And it’s about violence, its terribleness and necessity — it being a western, the necessity for violent action is only lightly questioned, but nevertheless the film attains some depth. LOGAN certainly CONTAINS a lot of violence — an INSANE amount of violence — and everybody does it and there really isn’t any interrogation of it, and most of it has no consequences. There’s an attempt to show us that murderizing store clerks is bad, but the lesson is abandoned to make more room for sticking knuckle-knives through nameless dismayed persons’ heads. Knasty.

The holding back of sentiment is commendable, but at some point the emotion should break through and also we need to feel the pain of a dying protagonist — it’s like THE AGONY AND ECSTASY again, it fails on the agony. Jackman limps but still feels invulnerable.

Also I’d watched THE GUNFIGHTER where the whole film is “Hurry up and get out of town Gregory Peck.” This one is a long chase where the character TWICE stop running and casually say “We’ll move on first thing in the morning.” NO. That’s not going to work, is it?

Beautiful moment where the little heroine, a Kaspar Hauser with the power to punch through walls, encounters a vision of the family she’s never had —

I tried plugging my Blu-ray player into my laptop but nothing happened, so here are some photos taken off my TV on a bright day. Yes, I suck. And here I am critiquing James Mangold, who on this evidence should kill it with the new INDIANA JONES (my favourite of his is DAY AND KNIGHT [although there are lots I haven’t seen] so I think he can get the tone).

We also watched JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE which more fun than a Donkey Kong barrel full of CGI monkeys. Clever, character-based jokes, a beautiful ensemble cast — TWO ensembles, in fact — and although the thing’s a CGI-fest (something LOGAN, to its credit, never feels like), which meant I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the action, it as the alibi that it’s all happening inside a game. There’s probably a visual look out there which would have made interesting use of CG stylisation, the way TRON did, but neither the original JUMANJI with its ambulatory taxidermy animals, not this one, has found it. But the Rock and Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan and Jack Black are lovely, and although I find I strangely still have no interest in other Jake Kasdan films such as BAD TEACHER and SEX TAPE, I would happily watch the sequel to the reboot of film of the book about the game.

The Devil’s Music

Posted in FILM, Interactive, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2021 by dcairns

Oscar Micheaux’s BODY AND SOUL opened Hippfest last night and was a triumph — thanks in no small part to the jazz accompaniment by Wycliffe Gordon and his big band. It’s a movie full of skilled performances, and some good big cartoonish ones, and a curious mixture of sophisticated and naive storytelling. The score made it seem like some of the more curious choices were intentional — perhaps because he’s from Georgia himself, where the story is set, Gordon seemed really… well, phrases like “in tune” or “in sync” could seem a little corny. But he really gave the film the power of confidence, so you could definitely believe Micheaux totally knew what he was doing.

An early news article tells us that the film’s phony preacher villain (Paul Robeson, startlingly nasty) is being tracked by “Black Carl, noted Negro detective” — a character we were very excited to meet. But he never shows up. He’s like Godot. This may be because the New York censors reportedly objected so strongly to the premise of a drunken, lecherous and corrupt preacher, even a fake one, that Micheaux was forced to recut and retitle the third act making the whole central part of the film a dream. This kind of ending (see UNCLE HARRY) is usually pretty disgustin’, but it kind of plays here… Since there was a strong history of Black audiences talking back at the screen, and since the heroine’s mother, deceived by her fake pastor, spends the film in a daze, audiences would yell at her “Wake up!” So at the end, she does.

And, thanks to Gordon’s score employing vocals — a risky business in silent accompaniment, but one that pays off here — Black Carl becomes a truly defining absence, the film’s avenging conscience, spoken of in song and headline, rather than a one-line mention.

Professor Charles Musser, Micheaux scholar, and Wycliffe Gordon himself, who joined us for a virtual Q&A after the film, provided useful context. Musser questions whether the film was really recut, and may have always had its strange, oneiric structure, which he identifies as a mash-up and critique of three hit plays about “the Black soul” — The Emperor Jones, Roseanne and All God’s Chillun, all of which had starred Robeson on stage. Just as Sidney Poitier felt compelled to play noble characters because he was the only Black star, carrying the burden of representing his whole race, Robeson seems to have been horrified at what he’d done here and spent the rest of his life denying that he was ever in such a film as BODY AND SOUL.

I asked if Black Carl would have showed up had the censor not forced a revision — Musser told me, first, half-seriously, “No doubt about it. He would have carted Robeson off to the prison in the sky where he would have had to serve penance for his sins,” but added, “Oscar Micheaux’s response to the censors was that he had left out something important –the opening scenes that makes clear that Robeson is playing an escaped convict who is pretending to be a man of God. Of course, this was playing off of Chaplin’s The Pilgrim. So I am not at all sure that this “new” beginning was for the benefit of the censors. I think this was the original, intended ending. You have to decide if this was the film’s “reality.” Or if this over-the-top ending was just one more fantasy. It does bear some relation to the ending of Symbol of the Unconquered when our hero turns out to be a millionaire.”

Micheaux intercuts jaggedly, running parallel actions whenever possible: if a character leaves, we’ll likely watch them going off down the street in little snippets that bite into the scene they’ve just left. This creates an odd, staccato rhythm in bursts, and might have seemed awkward or inept, but the music found a pace that really made it work. And the anticlerical slant was fascinating — Micheaux lampoons the congregations ecstatic reactions to their fake pastor’s big sermon — those censors weren’t wrong to see this as an attack on religion, not from where I’m sitting.

It’s not too late to catch this movie at Hippfest, with its truly amazing soundtrack. Here.

I want to see more Micheaux now. A kind of outsider artist who didn’t get much support from Black critics and intelligencia. I hope when I do see WITHIN OUR GATES, it’s with Gordon’s forthcoming score, which you can hear a sample of in the Spotify playlist he put together for the screening’s afterparty. Meanwhile, are there Micheaux talkies you’d recommend?