Archive for PG Wodehouse

Page Seventeen III: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2022 by dcairns

The sea lost nothing of the swallowing identity of its great outer mass of waters in the emphatic, individual character of each particular wave. Each wave, as it rolled in upon the high-pebbled beach, was an epitome of the whole body of the sea, and carried with it all the vast mysterious quality of the earth’s ancient antagonist.

“And I’m Newton Channing. Ever hear of Newton Channing? Does the name mean anything?”

“I wish it were so,” said Mr Escot; “but to me the very reverse appears to be the fact. The progress of knowledge is not general: it is confined to a chosen few of every age. How far these are better than their neighbours, we may examine by and bye. The mass of mankind is composed of beasts of burden, mere clods, and tools of their superiors. By enlarging and complicating your machines, you degrade, not exalt, the human animals you employ to direct them. When the boatswain of a seventy-four pipes all hands to the main tack, and flourishes his rope’s end over the shoulders of the poor fellows who are tugging at the ropes, do you perceive so dignified, so gratifying a picture, as Ulysses exhorting his dear friends, his ΕΡΙΗΡΕΣ ’ΕΤΑΙΡΟΙ, to ply their oars with energy? You will say, Ulysses was a fabulous character. But the economy of his vessel is drawn from nature. Every man on board has a character and a will of his own. He talks to them, argues with them, convinces them; and they obey him, because they love him, and know the reason of his orders. Now, as I have said before, all singleness of character is lost. We divide men into herds like cattle: an individual man, if you strip him of all that is extraneous to himself, is the most wretched and contemptible creature on the face of the earth. The sciences advance. True. A few years of study puts a modern mathematician in possession of more than Newton knew, and leaves him at leisure to add new discoveries of his own. Agreed. But does this make him a Newton? Does it put him in possession of that range of intellect, that grasp of mind, from which the discoveries of Newton sprang? It is mental power that I look for: if you can demonstrate the increase of that, I will give up the field. Energy—independence—individuality—disinterested virtue—active benevolence—self-oblivion—universal philanthropy—these are the qualities I desire to find, and of which I contend that every succeeding age produces fewer examples. I repeat it; there is scarcely such a thing to be found as a single individual man; a few classes compose the whole frame of society, and when you know one of a class you know the whole of it. Give me the wild man of the woods; the original, unthinking, unscientific, unlogical savage: in him there is at least some good; but, in a civilised, sophisticated, cold-blooded, mechanical, calculating slave of Mammon and the world, there is none—absolutely none. Sir, if I fall into a river, an unsophisticated man will jump in and bring me out; but a philosopher will look on with the utmost calmness, and consider me in the light of a projectile, and, making a calculation of the degree of force with which I have impinged the surface, the resistance of the fluid, the velocity of the current, and the depth of the water in that particular place, he will ascertain with the greatest nicety in what part of the mud at the bottom I may probably be found, at any given distance of time from the moment of my first immersion.”

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little: but some day the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,
That broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind
Till it is hushed and smooth! O unconfined
Restraint! imprisoned liberty! great key
To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
Fountains grotesque, new trees, bespangled caves,
Echoing grottoes, full of tumbling waves
And moonlight; aye, to all the mazy world
Of silvery enchantment.

He had been working for what seemed to him about a quarter of an hour, when he was informed that New York wanted him on the telephone again. And presently, across three thousand miles of land and water, there floated to his ears the musical voice of a young girl.

On March 7th, 1741, with the holds already stinking of scurvy, Anson sailed the Centurion through the Straits Le Maire, from the Atlantic into the Pacific Ocean. As he rounded the tip of Cape Horn, a storm blew up from the west. It shredded the sails and pitched the ship so violently that the men who lost their holds were dashed to death. The storm abated from time to time only to gather its strength, and punished the Centurion for fifty-eight days without mercy. The winds carried rain, sleet, and snow. And scurvy all the while whittled away at the crew, killing six to ten men every day.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens on vaguely nautical or aquatic themes.

Weymouth Sands by John Cowper Powys; The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis; Headlong Hall by Thomas Love Peacock; The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, from Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos edited by August Derleth;; Endymion by John Keats quoted in The Poetic Mind by Dr. Frederick Clarke Prescott; Big Money by P.G. Wodehouse; Longitude by Dava Sobel.

Pg. 17, #2

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2020 by dcairns

“You would scarcely expect me, constable,” I said coldly, “to absent myself from the farewell supper of a childhood friend who is leaving for Hollywood in a day or two and may be away from civilisation for years. Catsmeat would have been pained to his foundations if I had oiled out. And it wasn’t three in the morning, it was two-thirty.”

*

At close range, Colonel Margrave’s breath was a solid essence of whisky, but Branch didn’t reprimand him. If you had a good officer left, you didn’t reprimand him, no matter what he did. Also, Branch approved of whisky. It was a good release, under the circumstances. Probably better than his own, he thought, glancing at his scarred knuckles.

*

He got into a taxi and gave the address, and the driver was so slow starting the meter that the man repeated the address. The driver nodded, showing half his face. The man looked at the face and at the driver’s picture. They didn’t look much alike, but they never did. He supposed this was a reputable taxi company that operated the taxicabs at the station. Oh well, that wasn’t important.

*

The director’s record in this respect may well have attracted Columbia to the project of Anatomy of a Murder, since it was the only studio never to register with the PCA, Preminger, moreover, had a reputation for bringing in films under budget.

*

In this manner they marched for at least two hours, when at last the sacristan found himself on the borders of Blackheath. One of his lady companions then said to him, ‘We are going to a very pleasant party tonight a little way farther on. I wish you would accompany us; I am sure you would be well received, and you would have an opportunity of immensely improving the minds of the company.’

*

He took the receipt from the man holding it, translated it aloud for my benefit, word for word. It wasn’t one of those shorthand things you get up North. It was written out in great detail; it was a young book. It was in flowery Spanish. When I’d seen him composing it back there where I’d bought it, I’d thought that was the custom down there, to write out a complete description of each purchase, practically give its life history.

*

But today, there were no obsequies to observe at all.

*

Seven page seventeens from seven different volumes selected from around my bed.

The selections this week are from Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, by P.G. Wodehouse; The Metal Smile, a sci-fi anthology edited by Damon Knight, the story is Fool’s Mate by Robert Sheckley; Butterfield 8, by John O’Hara; The Cinema Book, edited by Pam Cook; The Oxford Book of English Short Stories, edited by A.S. Byatt, the story is The Sacristan of St Botolph by William Gilbert (father of the one from Gilbert & Sullivan); The Black Path of Fear by Cornell Woolrich; Valmouth, by Ronald Firbank.

They cohere nicely, I think. A bit of a booze theme, even though the passage from O’Hara’s very boozy book doesn’t mention the stuff.

Norman Invasion

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on April 10, 2018 by dcairns

I was thrilled to find THE GIRL ON THE BOAT in a charity shop, since it looked like being an all-time low for PG Wodehouse adaptations, and I snapped it up even at the excessive price of two quid. Well, it’s charity, isn’t it?

The casting of Norman Wisdom in a Wodehouse story is just so diabolically WRONG — I mean, maybe he could make a passable Ukridge or something, but he’s hopelessly unsuitable to playing a Young Man in Spats type. While he shows a measure of versatility by dispensing with his familiar “gump” mannerisms (readers unfamiliar with this hugely successful British entertainer — he did vaguely Jerry Lewis-like knockabout comedies where he played a childlike idiot in the fifties and early sixties), what’s left is a startlingly aggressive quality that’s totally unsuitable. Discovering that his pal, Richard Briers (very right for Wodehouse) has mal de mer, Wisdom says “Try to eat something!” as a malicious joke, and laughs for about a minute when Briers looks ill. Absolutely nobody ever written by Wodehouse would behave like that, not even a villain like Roderick Spode.

Not that there’s no comic cruelty in Wodehouse: it’s very hard to be funny without somebody being a victim. But it’s generally very mild and never gratuitous: Jeeves can inflict suffering on Bertie in order to keep him in line (for his own good). Bertie’s domineering aunts will force him to perform tasks he’d sooner avoid, but they simply don’t understand his reluctance. Bertie himself, like most Wodehouse heroes, is so sweet he could never break an engagement for fear of causing distress, no matter what a pill the girl in question has proven to be.

I think it was critic Penelope Gilliat who complained of the sadism in Wisdom’s supposedly kiddie-friendly comedies, and though that’s probably too strong a word for the above instance of nastiness, it does point out a harshness that can’t exist in the Wodehouse universe without blighting its surroundings.

The movie also undercuts itself in an extraordinary way by making the titular girl an awful drip. She’s skillfully played by Millicent Martin (and Sheila Hancock also has a good time — women seem to seize their chance to be funny in Wodehouse adaptations, no matter how misguided) but it’s impossible to root for any of the men to end up with her, as she’s what Bertie Wooster would call a Gawd-help-us, obsessed with poetry and her nasty little dog.

Norman still has his fans, and not just in Albania, where his stardom lasted decades longer than anywhere else as he was the one western filmmaker whose work wasn’t banned. Nick Park of Aardman has spoken of the influence of Wisdom’s absurd, involved slapstick sequences on his work. But I find that I love Park’s claymation in a way I could never love Wisdom’s flesh and blood performances.

The DVD also comes with a commentary by Sir Norman with interviewer Robert Ross. I assumed this must have been recorded before Wisdom’s Altzheimer’s set in, but I fear not — he needs reminded what he’s here for. It’s not as awkward as Mickey Rooney’s strange, surly and disoriented interview on the Twilight Zone episode Last Night of a Jockey, which I recommend to all students of discomfort — Sir Norm is always affability itself. But it’s not brilliantly recorded and the sound of the film fights it, so I’m afraid I gave up.

A curious thing, though. Despite the allegations of sadism in Wisdom’s comedy, and the unsuitably aggressive tone here, when the comedian became ill, the result, portrayed in a moving BBC documentary, was that the octogenarian star turned into the innocent, child-like character he’d played so often. A sweet gump. At the end of that documentary, he waves goodbye to the camera crew: “Thanks ever so much for looking at me.”

You’re welcome.