Archive for OScar Wilde

The Sunday Intertitle: Quite Wrong

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2021 by dcairns

I always misremember the start of BLITHE SPIRIT — I always imagine that the opening preamble is delivered as title cards, or as VO. In fact, it’s both. Which is a great idea. The title cards are replied to by the author himself, Noel Coward, who had one of the most distinctive voices in Britain. It’s like Cocteau’s handwriting, perfect for introducing one of his works.

“We are quite, QUITE wrong.”

Coward’s father was an unsuccessful piano salesman, so his fantastic posh voice, coming from somewhere behind his nose, was a concoction of his own.

I must find an excuse to introduce my students to him. The younger generation don’t generally know about him, and I’m pretty sure my nine Chinese students won’t have come across the works, let alone the persona.

Impressive that CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? managed to build a plot around his correspondence without having to shoehorn in unnecessary explanations of who he was, exactly. The Americans are good at smooth exposition, a lost art in Britain.

I wonder how Brits processed the Coward persona back in his day. He seems “obviously gay,” and I think this was probably recognized, but we just didn’t speak of it. You could be flamboyant yet discreet and it was sort of accepted. The acceptance was conditional on nobody being forced to acknowledge what they all knew. You can’t quite call it “tolerance.” Well, maybe tolerance of the unstated. As Wilde discovered to his cost — though he already knew it, too — if the love that dared not speak its name were forced to account for itself, the lover quickly found himself beyond the pale. “The don’t ask don’t tell” brigade demand to live in a state of low-key cognitive dissonance, and if their compartments break down they get very irate.

Noel’s skill at navigating these murky depths is evident in BLITHE SPIRIT’s script, which constantly escapes truly facing the scandalous implications of its concept. If there’s an afterlife, then widowers remarrying becomes bigamy. Sure, this movie is a fantasy, but pick at it and Heaven comes crashing down under the weight of its own contradictions. Or at any rate, we’re forced to revise our expectations of it to include the menage-a-trois and more. Or, I suppose, taking into account the “till death us do part” escape clause, we assume all vows are null up there, and a twice-widowed spouse could choose which, if any, of their former partners to remarry. Design for dying.

Interesting to see David Lean when he apparently had no interest in landscape. Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford, sublime) stands at the window and rhapsodises about the evening, but our director isn’t tempted to provide even a single illustrative cutaway.

Pg. 17, #7

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2020 by dcairns

*

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

*

‘It’s in the cellar under the dining-room,’ he went on, so overcome by his worries now that he forgot to be pompous. ‘It’s mine — mine. I discovered it when I was a child, all by myself. The cellar stairway is so steep that my aunt and uncle forbade my using it, but I’d heard someone say there was a world down there. I found out later they meant an old-fashioned globe of the world, but at the time I thought they were referring to the world itself. One day when no one was there I started down in secret, but I stumbled and fell. When I opened my eyes, I discovered the Aleph.’

*

We see, from the start, the very strong inclination of science to deny, as much as it can, external relations of this earth.

*

*

More and more madly poured the shrieking, moaning night wind into the gulf of the inner earth. I dropped prone again and clutched vainly at the floor for fear of being swept bodily through the open gate into the phosphorescent abyss. Such fury I had not expected, and as I grew aware of an actual slipping of my form toward the abyss I was beset by a thousand new terrors of apprehension and imagination.

*

“I have seen Niagara thunder over her gorge in the noblest frenzy ever beheld by man,” rhapsodized Frederick Starr in a piece for the Chicago Tribune in 1909, recovered for us now by Stanley Kauffmann and Bruce Henstell in their fine anthology, American Film Criticism: “I have watched an English railroad train draw into a station, take on its passengers, and then chug away with its stubby little engine through the Yorkshire Dells [sic], past old Norman Abbeys [sic] silhouetted against the skyline, while a cluster of century-aged cottages loomed up in the valley below . . . . I have looked upon weird dances and outlandish frolics in every quarter of the globe, and I didn’t have to leave Chicago for a moment.”

*

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven different books. I belatedly recalled an entire forgotten bookcase, and rushed to avail myself of it. Of course, apart from stimulating your brains to assemble strange narratives with sparking connections, and get you wondering about what comes next, these offerings can also serve as inspiration for your purchases — if you respond favourably to a prose style, you can seek out the excerpted volume and roll around in it. See below for details.

Flaming Carrot Comics #1, by Bob Burden; The Picture of Dorian Gray, preface, by Oscar Wilde; The Aleph And Other Stories 1933-1969, title story, by Jorge Luis Borges; The Book of the Damned, by Charles Fort; Tales Designed to Thrizzle #3, by Michael Kupperman (looks like a front cover but is a panel from page 17): The Whisperer in Darkness, by HP Lovecraft, from the story Dagon; The Silent Clowns, by Walter Kerr.

Cross Examination

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , on January 4, 2020 by dcairns

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What Edward Carson, QC, is doing, of course, is the time-(dis)honoured business of critics and biographers: trying to psychoanalyse an author based on his works.

Wilde made him look ridiculous, as artists often do when confronted with those who wish to pin down their meaning like butterfly collectors, but Wilde running rings around Carson with effortless wit probably helped confirm the jury’s mind that he was the type of man who would get up to funny business in hotels.

The testimony of the “trade” against Wilde was the more serious evidence, but potentially damaged by the fact that all the young men had criminal histories. So it was necessary to damage Wilde’s character to an equal degree so that everybody’s evidence would be equally bad and the group testifying against Wilde would win by sheer numbers. Since Wilde had no criminal convictions, we got all that philistine lit crit, designed to show him as suspect in his sensibility and in the cultural company he kept. To which Wilde’s testimony added one more coffin nail: he was too clever by half.