L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In which I make a poor impersonation of a celebrated author, with intent of doing him honour

Dear sir,

What with having just now completed a first reading of the novel which is called "Great Expectations", my introduction to the revered work of a revered author, Mister Charles Dickens - whose name weren't at all necessary to mention, as likes not - I felt I must needs tell of my great delight in its literary aspects great and minor. While perhaps it ain't proper to tell it so, I can't help it but declare that I was beaten all of a heap, sure and true. Now, whether it be needed for me to relay, or whether it be not, I shall yet say that I listened it, rather than truly read. I heard it told out whilst I painted the length of several days through, being myself of an artistic nature and profitably employed at picture-making, and the days were fleeting, they were, and charmingly spent by way of its hearing. I shall tell you, too, that my august spouse may also be found to be reading the same quite remarkable work, though it will best be said that she will have list'd it told, as well, when she be finished, as I have related it were for me. Now, at present times, she shan't be found to be so far advanced in the telling as I be, having finished and been done with it, myself, as I have stated.

Therefore, her most ardent, though still incomplete, enjoyment of Master Dickens' charming and affecting novel, has made and yet makes a necessity upon myself of the firmest and most severely attentive discretion, if you will have understood, for her fear of having got even the frailest intimating of any unread - or unheard, as it would be - turning of the tale or vivid draught of its finely-made characters or any careless pondering on the virtues of those same said characters, will have been sufficient to bring her to such a point of distress and seething agitation, that I weren't never to make a hazard of it. As my good and most charitable wife finds herself more grossly encumbered by worldly responsibilities and attachments than do I, and therefore have not the opportunity to enjoy reading or any sort of tale-telling at any regular appointment of leisure, I trust that much length of time will have passed away until we might make full conversings of the attested merits of this estimable work. That shall be a good and happy day, in all certainty, for our spousal communications do rightly veer toward jolly connubiality and artistical sympathy. Until the awaited day, though, I shall keep mine own counsel, shall hold all anecdotals suppressed, and shall not be liberal in the least part with my enthusiasms for Master Dickens' very fine novelistic production, and otherwise do my utmost best to keep off her wrath and hysterics. For I do love and have a full and hearty respect for my wife and also fear her.

So I have said and do mean it most sincerely.

Your servant,
S. M. O. Pennington Foster, Esq.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Film and storytelling and language

G and I watched "Brokeback Mountain" again last night. We both had pretty much the same reaction to it as we have had in the past. After, we talked a while about it, then I dug up a copy of the original story by Annie Proulx. I had read it before, G hadn't. We had pretty much the same reaction to that as well, though mine was different than it had been years ago when I'd first read it.

The film is well made, very touching, beautiful to look at. Some of the acting - especially that of Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams - is great, finely calibrated. And the first half of the movie - the story of the two main characters and Ennis' wife - is nearly perfect. It's true. But it falls apart in the second half, when it tries to fill things out, adding characters and scenes that aren't in the original. It's understandable that the filmmakers would do this. I'm sure they thought the story was too short, really, and also that the characterizations might be enriched by adding more people for the two men to interact with. Not only did that not add anything that wasn't already there, but they cast three noticeably inappropriate actresses to play major roles. Michelle Williams looks and acts exactly right for her role, but Anne Hathaway, Anna Farris, and Linda Cardellini - as Jack's wife, Ennis' daughter and his invented girlfriend, respectively - never look like anything but what they are: Hollywood actresses with perfect teeth, straining to seem "country". That, combined with a strangely incompetent "aging" makeup for Heath Ledger, take us out of the truth that had been so well constructed, and undercuts the whole of the film.

(Interestingly, comparing the story with the film, we found that the screenplay uses nearly all the original dialogue, unaltered. One of its strong points.)

The original story is well constructed; the shape of it is nearly perfect. The characterizations are well done. On re-reading it, though, I was rather shocked at the inconsistency of the language. Maybe living with a writer has made me overly sensitive to every little word. (Though how can that be a bad thing...?) But it seems to me that language - the choice of each word - needs to be consistent, and congruent to the whole. Proulx is writing a scraped-knuckle sort of love story. Her characters speak in don't-nevers and you-goin-a-dos. How can she narrate using language like: suffused; inured to the stoic life; massed in slabs of somber malachite; the mountain boiled with demonic energy; a bestial drone; tumescent? The choices she makes are often so jarring. And in the end they just seem sloppy. Very disappointing, and a real disservice to a beautifully built story.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reaching upward

I just want to say how proud I am of my beautiful, talented wife. Last night G produced her first literary event. And her producing career started off large, with a great turn-out and a killer line-up, some of Portland's hottest, most respected writers: Lidia Yuknavitch, Vanessa Veselka, Kevin Sampsell, Courtenay Hameister, Bradley Rosen, and Gigi. The event was part of March Music Moderne, a month-long celebration of modern music, and the theme of the evening was writing that touched on music in some way. G read one of the essays from her memoir, and she read suavely, bien sûr. The piece was mainly about how she was as a child, a little girl with dreams of musical stardom, but one who was too timid to let anyone but her mom know about it. It's a great piece. And it was a great night, great writing, great performance. Again, I'm so proud of her. I hope she's proud of herself for organizing and contributing to a very successful evening.

And so I also want to salute that shy little girl she was, the little girl in her essay. The little girl who wanted so much from life, but didn't know how to reach for the things she wanted, the things she deserved. The little girl who's found her way.