Archive for Nabokov

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.

Times Two

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2021 by dcairns

A mystery of the universe —

First, the Discovery. We watched Pabst’s film of Brect & Weill’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA for the first time — I’d only seen his French version — and laughed at the clever, tasteless joke where Meckie is accused of having carnal knowledge of underage twins. “They told me they were over thirty,” he protests. “Put together,” he’s told.

I suddenly flashed on the notion that Billy Wilder had adapted/stolen this gag for my favourite line in KISS ME, STUPID, Dino’s “The Beatles? I sing better ‘n’ all four of ’em put together! And I’m YOUNGER — than all four of ’em put together.”

The Mystery: This led us to rewatch KMS and to my dismay the line wasn’t there. Dino says “I sing better ‘n’ all three of them,” Felicia Farr says “There’s four of them!” and Dino quips “Haven’t you heard? One of ’em got his hair caught in his guitar and was electrocuted.”

I could be misremembering, but I don’t think I could misremember a joke that good. If it’s an alternative take, it’s pretty interesting because it comes as part of a master shot well over a minute long.

The History: I last watched the movie on VHS, in an atrocious pan-and-scan version. The movie loses all of Billy Wilder and Doane Harrison’s beautiful blocking and cutting, but none of its leering grotesquerie. So quite possibly the VHS came from a different source from the DVD. And I suppose it’s just possible that Wilder shot two versions, maybe for censorship reasons. Since this scene shows a putatively single man (Dino is basically playing himself, and was married irl) getting into bed with a married woman, so it’s arguably the most risque in the movie.

A Secondary Discovery: the movie begins in Vegas, with Dino finishing a run and making a run for it — the whole chorus line wants to spend the night with him and even this Italian galleon doesn’t feel up to THAT. Among the women he’s fleeing, we’re told, are “those German twins, Sylvie and Mizzi.” Which feels like Wilder & Diamond giving Brecht credit for the gag they (in my memory, at least) are going to adapt later. Same as when Ray Walston calls his piano student “a male Lolita” — acknowledgement to Nabokov who first recognised and exploited the comic potential of Climax, Nevada.

The Side-Observation: In THE LADYKILLERS, Peter Sellers voiced Mrs. Wilberforce’s parrots, as well as appearing as one of the crooks. KISS ME STUPID started production as a Sellers vehicle (after Jack Lemmon, Wilder’s favourite star and Felicia Farr’s real-life husband, proved unavailable) but was shut down by his heart attack. Wilder recast with Ray Walston. Now, it would’ve been great if he’d recorded Sellers voicing Sam the Parrot (“Bang-bang!”) and then Sellers could have haunted the soundtrack, a ghost in the machine. We listened very closely to that parrot. “Sounds like Ray Walston to me,” said Fiona.

So that’s THAT cleared up, at least.

But does anybody else remember hearing Brecht’s joke in this movie?