Archive for Rudyard Kipling

Page Seventeen II: Risk Addiction

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2021 by dcairns

It was very late when we were finishing the meal, and the sun was already low on the horizon. I was barefoot, and one of the girls in our group, who had been an admirer of mine for some time, kept remarking shrilly how beautiful my feet were. This was so true that I found her insistence on this matter stupid. She was sitting on the ground, with her head lightly resting against my knees. Suddenly she put her hand on one of my feet and ventured an almost imperceptible caress with her trembling fingers. I jumped up, my mind clouded by an odd feeling of jealousy toward myself, as though all at once I had become Gala. I pushed away my admirer, knocked her down and trampled on her with all my might, until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.

The office was furnished in sombre good taste that was relieved by a pair of bronze puppies on the chimney-piece. A low trolley of steel and white enamel alone distinguished the place from a hundred thousand modern American reception-rooms; that and the clinical smell. a bowl of roses stood beside the telephone; their scent contended with the carbolic, but did not prevail.

I continued to smell the flower, from time to time, for its oddity of perfume had fascinated me. I passed by the house on the cross-road again, but never encountered the old man in the cloak, or any other wayfarer. It seemed to keep observers at a distance, and I was careful not to gossip about it: one observer, I said to myself, may edge his way into the secret, but there is no room for two.

This view is mistaken. You underestimate even the foothills that stand in front of you, and never suspect that far above them, hidden by cloud, rise precipices and snow-fields. The mental and physical advances which, in your day, mind in the solar system has still to attempt, are overwhelmingly more complex, more precarious and dangerous, than those which have already been achieved. And though in certain humble respects you have attained full development, the loftier potencies of the spirit have not yet even begun to put forth buds.

The dead man was face down on the dark hardwood floor. He was frail and old, and the house was sturdy and old, redolent of Victorian dignity. It was the house where he had been born.

Next to Ken’s store was Milton. He dealt in furniture and bric-a-brac, and went by the soubriquet of Captain Spaulding, perhaps because of the lyric, in the song of the same name, ‘Did somebody call me schnorrer …?’

This observation and part of the surrounding narrative appear to have been borrowed from a passage in The Gothic War by the sixth-century Byzantine historian, Procopius. The passage is known to Celtic scholars as a particularly late reference to Celtic religious beliefs. Procopius describes how the Armoricans – the inhabitants of Brittany – would be woken by a low voice and a knocking at the door in order that they might ferry the souls of the dead over to the island of Britain. When they went to the harbour they would find boats, apparently empty, sunk to the gunwales. One common explanation of fairy origins was that they were souls of the dead, an explanation which accounts for Puck’s disguise as the dead Tom Shoesmith in this story. Hobden’s wife is a descendant of the widow herself and so the borrowing from the historian indicates the ancient descent and immemorial continuities imagined by Kipling for his embodiment of Sussex man as well as for his fairy spokesman.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from seven books bought from Edinburgh’s charity shops or sent in by readers. (Send me books!) Feel free to reply with extracts from some page seventeens of your own, especially if they make suitable rebuttals to the bold statements cited above.

The Secret Diary of Salvador Dali by Salvador Dali (natch); The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh; The Ghostly Rental by Henry James, in Classic Tales of Horror, Vol. 1; Olaf Stapledon’s introduction to his Last and First Men; There Hangs Death! by John D. MacDonald, from Stories to be Read with the Door Locked II “edited” by Alfred Hitchcock; A Whore’s Profession by David Mamet; Sarah Wintle’s introduction to Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling;

Page Seventeen II: Electric Boogaloo

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2021 by dcairns

The handmaid of the Inn looks in before going to bed, ‘just to see if you wanted anything, sir.’ Finding he does not, she wishes him good-night, and retires hesitatingly to the door, then turns; ‘I would no sit up to-night, master. ‘Taint good to keep awake o’ nights now. Maybe ye’ld sleep and hear naught of it.”Naught of what?’ ‘Eh? ’tis more than I can tell and maybe ye’d say ’tis the wind.’ The door closes abruptly and she is gone.

‘He pays regular,’ was the rejoinder. ‘But come, it’s getting dreadful late, you had better be turning flukes – it’s a nice bed, Sal and me slept in that ‘ere bed the night we were spliced. There’s plenty room for two to kick about in that bed; it’s a almighty big bed that. Why, afore we give it up, Sal used to put our Sam and little Johnny in the foot of it. But I got a dreaming and sprawling about one night, and somehow, Sam got pitched on the floor, and came near breaking his arm. Arter that, Sal said it wouldn’t do. Come along here, I’ll give ye a glim in a jiffy;’ and so saying he lighted a candle and held it towards me, offering to lead the way. But I stood irresolute; when looking at a clock in the corner he exclaimed, ‘I vum it’s Sunday – you won’t see that harpooneer to-night; he’s come to anchor somewhere – come along then; do come; won’t ye come?’

Haber nodded judiciously and stroked his beard. What had seemed a mild drug-habituation case now appeared to be a severe aberration, but he had never had a delusion system presented to him quite so straightforwardly. Orr might be an intelligent schizophrenic, feeding him a line, putting him on, with schizoid inventiveness and deviousness; but he lacked the faint inward arrogance of such people, to which Haber was extremely sensitive.

‘If they were going to let Martino go anyway,’ Rogers asked, ‘why would they go to so much trouble with him? He wouldn’t have needed all that hardware just to keep him alive. Why did they carefully make an exhibition piece out of him?’

Miss Duveen ignored the question. “I am not uttering one word of blame,” she went on rapidly; “I am perfectly aware that such things confuse me. Miss Coppin tells me not to think. She tells me that I can have no opinions worth the mention. She says, ‘Shut up your mouth.’ I must keep silence then. All that I am merely trying to express to you, Arthur, knowing you will regard it as sacred between us – all that I am expressing is that my dear sister, Caroline, was a gifted creature with not a shadow or vestige or tinge or taint of confusion in her mind. Nothing. And yet, when they dragged her our of the water and laid her there on the bank, looking -” She stooped herself double in a sudden dreadful fit of gasping, and I feared for an instant she was about to die.

Mickey took the glass from Arthur’s hand and as he walked to the card table he brushed against the wires that hung down from the central light socket. They swayed towards Arthur. He leant away from them as though they were poisonous snakes about to bite. Which, in a manner of speaking, they were.

‘Thunder!’ he cried, ‘A week! I can’t do that; they’d have the black spot on me by then. The lubbers is going about to get the wind of me this blessed moment; lubbers as couldn’t keep what they got, and want to nail what is another’s. Is that seamanly behaviour now, I want to know? But I’m a saving soul, I never wasted good money of mine, nor lost it neither; and I’ll trick ’em again, I’m not afraid of ’em. I’ll shake out another reef, matey. and daddle ’em again.

An Indian Ghost in England from The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales by Rudyard Kipling; Moby-Dick by Herman Melville; The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin; Who? by Algis Budrys; Miss Duveen, from The Picnic and Other Stories by Walter de la Mare; GBH by Ted Lewis; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Think of India

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2021 by dcairns
It’s actually quite hard to find shots favouring Dean Stockwell’s face in this film where he has the title role…

It’s definitely a mistake to watch MGM’s KIM (1950) right after reading Kipling’s novel, but it would also be a mistake to watch it before reading the novel. So probably the best thing is not to watch it at all.

The three screenwriters have actually done a passable job of compressing and adapting a book that has several aspects that render it tricky. Kim ages from aged ten to at least fourteen, and the change in him is remarked upon by others. Still, Dean Stockwell was around fourteen and manages to suggest a fairly ambiguous age. Also in the book, Kim both speaks and thinks in more than one language. The writers manage to quasi-suggest this without ever showing it.

The most overt distortions have come in the service of Errol Flynn, preposterous casting as a Sunni Muslim Pathan, but given the lack of Indians in speaking roles, not really that preposterous compared with everything else. But now they have to give his character more leading man action stuff to do — they kill off Hurree Chunder (Cecil Kellaway, the only one who dares attempt any kind of Indian accent — his role was clearly intended by Kipling for Sydney Greenstreet, or would have been if the actor had been a bit older than 21 when the novel appeared, and if Kipling had been thinking of casting white folks as Indians in a movie version back in 1900) to give Flynn’s Mahbub Ali more to do. He obliges by chucking somebody off a cliff and then starting a rockslide.

All that I can kind of overlook, and I think you could just about make a passable Hollywood KIM even with all those changes. The numerous location shots are a help, even when they’re just used as rear projection fodder…

What I can’t forgive is the terrible flatness. Andre Previn seems to be asleep (maybe it’s the heat) — he provides a bit of martial splendor (absent in the book) but remains unstirred by scenes of nominal suspense. Director Victor Saville is one of very few Brit directors to go to Hollywood and totally give up any attempt at achieving cinema. His standard mode is the flat two-shot, and I do mean FLAT.

Dean Stockwell shows signs of being quite capable of playing his role, but I don’t think he’s been guided, and the camera doesn’t encourage us to consider Kim’s emotions as particularly important. You need Hitchcockian POV/reaction shot stuff to bring the character alive. It’s a bit like Bobby Driscoll in Disney’s TREASURE ISLAND — he’s a little powerhouse, not subtle but capable, but he’s under orders to emasculate every scene by playing it as a cheerful romp (Stevenson’s novel is a horror story).

Who the hell is this meant to be? He narrates the film, but the even credits don’t explain.

The biggest casualty of Saville’s disinterest is the Lama, played by a miscast Paul Lukas in his dullest manner. We get a voiceover — provided by some unexplained Indian — TELLING us that Kim grows to love the Lama, but the scant, desultory interactions depicted in flat and distant style give us nothing of this. I suppose it’s a typical Hollywood mistake to privilege the violent action stuff at the expense of character and spirituality, but there are plenty of movies of the time that do get this right. If Frank Borzage had been in charge, both the relationship and the religion would have come through strongly: Borzage believed, as does Kipling (speaking as Mahbub Ali), that all spirituality is a way to truth (Borzage would have insisted on kindness as a necessary tool). And he was at MGM!

Although Kim isn’t an easy book to film, it does have a number of very strong cinematic scenes. These are all either absent or ruined by Saville’s clumsy handling, except for the hypnosis bit, played by one of my favourite underused actors, Arnold Moss — the book is 100 times more powerful, and provides visuals that any competent director ought to have seized upon, but the material is so strong and Moss plays it so well that Saville actually wakes up very slightly and it becomes fascinating.

One weird thing: I’d seen bits of the movie as a kid, and now I understand why I was bored. No child focus. But I do recall the cliffhanging bit, and when I got to this passage in the book, describing the plunge — “No need to listen for the fall — this is the world’s end,” it rang a strong bell and I assumed the line appeared in the film. It SHOULD, but it doesn’t. I have this FALSE MEMORY of hearing the line as a kind and thinking “Is that TRUE?” Maybe I heard a similar line elsewhere. The child’s brain is strange — as Kipling knew.