Archive for GK Chesterton

Page Seventeen II: The Second Story

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2021 by dcairns

As usual, seven passages from seven page seventeens. I’ve recently enjoyed the rather mysterious short stories of Walter De La Mare. It was particularly fun to read Missing, a story narrated in a tea shop in a heatwave, while being in a cafe in a heat wave. So when I picked up WDLM’s novel of possession/reincarnation The Return from the St Columba’s Bookstore, I turned eagerly to page seventeen to see if it would offer me a suitable extract.

To my surprise I found a previous reader had bookmarked the spot with a scrap of paper. One the paper were the haunting words S.W. BRITISH CHAIN FREQUENCY GROUP 1B. Printed in green ink that closely matched the green hue of the Pan Books paperback itself. On the inside front cover the book was stamped WARDROOM LIBRARY H.M.S. SEAHAWK, and since S.W. can stand for shortwave, it seemed possible that this little piece of paper dated from the book’s use as light reading at sea.

On page seventeen I encountered a character called Sheila, which is my mother’s name. Here’s the passage I’ve selected, along with six more from six different volumes.

Lawford shut his mouth. “I suppose so–a fit,” he said presently. “My heart went a little queer, and I sat down and fell into a kind of doze–a stupor, I suppose. I don’t remember anything more. And then I woke; like this.”

I recall the scent of some kind of toilet powder–I believe she stole it from her mother’s Spanish maid–a sweetish, lowly, musky perfume. It mingles with her own biscuity odour, and my senses were suddenly filled to the brim; a sudden commotion in a nearby bush prevented them from overflowing–and as we drew away from each other, and with aching veins attended to what was probably a howling cat, there came from the house her mother’s voice calling her, with a rising frantic note–and Dr. Cooper ponderously limped out into the garden. But that mimosa grove–the tingle, the flame, the honeydew, and the ache remained with me, and that little girl with her seaside limbs and ardent tongue haunted me ever since–until at last, twenty-four years later, I broke her spell by incarnating her in another.

Mr. Hutton was aware that he had not behaved with proper patience; but he could not help it. Very early in his manhood he had discovered that not only did he not feel sympathy for the poor, the weak, the diseased, and deformed; he actually hated them. Once, as an undergraduate, he had spent three days at a mission in the East End. He had returned, filled with a profound and ineradicable disgust. Instead of pitying, he loathed the unfortunate. It was not, he knew, a very comely emotion, and he had been ashamed of it at first. In the end he had decided that it was temperamental, inevitable, and had felt no further qualms. Emily had been healthy and beautiful when he married her. He had loved her then. But now – was it his fault that she was like this?

To kill or not to kill an insect is a decision which faces several characters. It is morally all the more indicative as the act involves no retaliatory consequence, because it is a matter of impulse rather than reflection, wile from conventional viewpoints it has no moral significance. Thus the insect motif sometimes suggests a reverence for life. But this reverence is amused and sardonic, and has its markedly un-Schweitzerian aspects. The sudden death of an insect can also imply that a man can died a abruptly, and as unimportantly.

In the folklore of the doppelganger (German for double-goer; defined by the OED as “wraith of a living person”) to meet your duplicate is a premonition of death. Sellers, who had visited Roger Moore on the set of The Man Who Haunted Himself, must have felt as if he’d toppled headlong into a similarly horrific plot. As The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu, on Sellers’ orders, was being re-re-re-written throughout the night, by teams of hacks, belletrists, ex-playwrights, and just about anybody who could stay awake and hold a pen, this was exactly an element which was worked in at the last moment (though it was lost again when the film was edited after Sellers’ passing). As Sellers intended it (and he through the leaves of the script other people had concocted to the ground, in order to improvise it), the rejuvenated Fu, and Taylor as Nayland, were to walk off into the sunset together, the opposites reconciled, the doubles united. ‘You are the only worthy adversary I ever had, Nayland. They were the good old days. We can recapture them and start all over again.’

‘I admit I can’t make him out,’ resumed Barker, abstractedly; ‘he never opens his mouth without saying something so indescribably half-witted that to call him a fool seems the very feeblest attempt at characterisation. But there’s another thing about him that’s quite funny. Do you know that he has the one collection of Japanese lacquer in Europe? Have you ever seen his books? All Greek poets and medieval French and that sort of thing. Have you ever been in his rooms? It’s like being inside an amethyst. And he moves about in all that and talks like – like a turnip.’

Suddenly I found myself lying awake, peering from my sandy mattress through the door of the tent. I looked at my watch pinned to the canvas, and saw by the bright moonlight that it was past twelve o’clock–the threshold of a new day–and I had therefore slept a few hours. The Swede was asleep still beside me; the wind howled as before; something plucked at my heart and made me feel afraid. There was a sense of disturbance in my immediate neighbourhood.

Postscript: Fiona is now reading The Return, and in conversation with friend and Shadowplayer David Melville Wingrove she has learned that it was HE who originally donated it to the charity shop where I found it…

The Return by Walter De La Mare; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; The Gioconda Smile, from Mortal Coils by Aldous Huxley; Luis Bunuel by Raymond Durgnat; The Life and Death of Peter Sellers by Roger Lewis; The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton; The Willows, from Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood.

SUDDEN BIG FONT

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by dcairns

The only really alarming thing for us in Mindhunter, David Fincher’s new FBI/serial killer series, were the SUDDEN BIG FONT moments where the show would abruptly scream at you about where the current sequence was set. Given that the show is otherwise so cool and clinical, this hysteria seemed slightly misplaced, though I guess it did help stamp a visual identity on a show that was otherwise pretty simple and understated in its visual approach. (We don’t see murders, or even fresh crime scenes — just crime scene pics, and lots and lots of unpleasant graphic talk — and I contest the show would have been even more effective without the photos, whose nasty content is always described anyway.) And I guess it’s good they didn’t repeat the typewriter font from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS that got transposed directly into The X-Files. But if everything remains calm and collected as a hulking murderer discusses how to have sex with a severed head, why should we be so excited to learn that the next bit of procedural is going to occur in, say, Denton, Ohio?

THE REPTILE, curiously enough, a Hammer film from John Gilling played on the same sets as his PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, begins with a pre-credits teaser and then a giant yellow title is suddenly slapped into our astonished faces by a direct cut. Again, this was the only scary bit in the film. A bit like GK Cheserton’s demi-god/new messiah in his short story How I Found the Superman, the monster is killed at the end when somebody lets a draught in. Considering the house is on fire at the time, such a slight breeze proving fatal suggests a monster of unusually delicate constitution.

Still, good to see Michael Ripper get such a prominent role and even get to deliver the death-blow/window opening. And very nice physical work from Jacqueline Pearce, who should have become a massive star, as the scaly lady.

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.