Thursday, August 27, 2009

A very small gripe

Scott Joplin's music is wonderful. It's exciting, fun music. Full of joy. Beethoven has nothing on this man. Why then, why does everyone insist on playing it like they are recording it as a substitute of that staticky version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons people insist on using as hold music (speaking of gripes) as if the world had never seen Il Giardino Armonica. Why? Has the technical difficulty drained all the joy from your life? Has it? Also who calls their ragtime orchestra Ophelia? What is it with you people and death? Or perhaps it's the insanity.

Take liberties, brilliantly ruin it with enthusiasm, take it out past curfew, do something. Is there no drunken piano in the house? Yes?

Take this guy - a little bit much caffeine, a little insane, but not one to be drowning himself with flowers in his hair, is he?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

some Mondayor other

One of my friends said “no wonder you aren’t sleeping and are having such an awkward time socialising. Reading intense, depressing prose makes for great conversation, I bet.”

Actually it does, oddly enough, though a little one-sided at times. It also reminds me of a lot of dusty vocabulary I usually keep in a shed outside of Chesapeake City, Maryland, so as not to frighten people.

The word “diaphanous” came up, entirely validly, in conversation with the Spouse. He looked at me suspiciously.


“It means transparent, more or less”

“Why not just use transparent?”

Collocational differences? It’s a good term actually, collocational differences. It means “having different placement” but is usually used more broadly as “words which, while they may not be different in definition, differ in the possible combinations or placement.”

e.g. big = large; but “you are making a big mistake” not “you are making a large mistake”

similarly, “transparent accounting” not “diaphanous accounting”

Words are inexpensive to collect, and one doesn’t have to worry much about storage. Still, explosions are possible; one of my professors in college had worked on the Dutch version of the OED and had clearly suffered some damage.

My current, less lofty reading is a little less pleasurable than it might have been had it not been for Nabokov’s torture (as read by Jeremy Irons – such painful brilliance).

Ira is Latin for fury, and his last name I forget, but the last man to attempt to curb my occasionally baroque style ended up reminding me of a poet* I discovered about the same time –

“I remember the last

of the men I called sir, the last

time I feared poetry -

no hard shove out of Heaven

but a scrawl in green ink, Your analysis

is not brilliant, but will serve

if you avoid these leaps of imagination,

and I tripped away, a mark on my

head full of rhyme.”

I try, but am occasionally sorry to succeed.

*Tanis MacDonald, “To My Milton Professor”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Second thoughts

Hm. I find myself thinking of something a director I worked with in college once said - that the distinctive quality of a good play is that it makes your audience think. By that definition Lolita is a good movie, though it is not one I would ever want to see again. I woke up with the final scene with in my head. Kubrick and Mason do do something for Humbert; and I realise why that last scene with Humbert and Lolita is so painful - unlike Nabokov's Humbert, the Kubrick version has no distance. The scene is excruciating because it is recognisable; because it leaves the audience no room to back away from empathy.
I've also changed my mind about Sellers; well, he's a great actor of course, but the rewrite of the Clare Quilty part bothers me greatly, and on the whole it seems to be more about showcasing Sellers than about the movie; or perhaps it is a flawed attempt to engage the viewer on Humbert's side by introducing a more wicked (or more successful?) pervert.
Anyway, after all that I had to clean my brain yesterday, so I re-watched some scenes from Julius Caesar. It helped. I think I love James Mason now. I know, he's dead, but that's hardly an issue. I had a crush on the 28-year-old Oscar Wilde when I was seventeen, so clearly I am not deterred by deadness, sexual orientation or knee breeches. Frankly, there is very little practical difference to me between, say, the living Robert Whatsisface and the late James Mason, except that James Mason was rather better at acting. I assume it would matter if I planned to stalk them, in which case Mason or Wilde would be much the easier target, what with staying in one place. Yet I have no such plan, though I have seen Oscar's grave. Anyway, my point is - am I going to ever randomly meet either Mason, Wilde or Whatsisface? No, I am not. Do I care? Not so much. Will I obsess over their actual work? Well, in the case of Mason/Wilde, yes.
Goodness, I really didn't mean to make this into a rant about dead people. What I was actually going to say was that I watched that Brutus/Cassius argument yet again and it is undiminished. It is as beautiful and complex now as it was when I was watching it from the stage in college. So powerful - and I am reminded that the fuss about Shakespeare is not altogether unwarrented.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I have decided that I was exactly right about Lolita. Not even Kubrick, not even Mason, with their Nabokov-and-water version, can make this story less repugnant, and all the more repugnant for being also mesmerising. Even this more sympathetic rendering of Humbert is...painful to watch. Perhaps, actually, that is what is good about this film - the incredible painfulness. It does that very well. And Peter Sellers. He does everything well. And he's very creepy.


Brando-rant aside, I really did love Julius Caesar. I may watch it again later tonight. I also looked through James Mason's list of accomplishments and found old youtube clips of him playing Humbert Humbert in Lolita. I am not sure whether I am fascinated or repulsed. It is Stanley Kubrick, and it is a conspicuous gap in my viewing of Kubrick films; this is not unrelated to my predictably ambiguous feelings about the book. The Jeremy Irons (that other, equally mesmerising Humbert) audio book has lived on my Audible wish list for months; I have not downloaded it yet. Why is it that they keep casting really non-sleazy lovely men to play Humbert? I know, I know, he is not an obvious creep, hence. Still. Perhaps it will ruin Irons/Mason for me forever if I watch these movies. And that would be distressing. Anyway, I didn't mean to go off on a Lolita tangent, I just wanted to say that my Brando tangent implied no criticism of Julius Caesar as a whole.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Not an epilogue

For some time, there was a small note fridgemagneted to our fridge that said "Epilogues are for Tolstoy". The quote is from EM Forster, one of my favourite writers, though for reasons not entirely related to literary merit*. The reference (on my fridge, not in the original) was of course to JK Rowling's Awful Epilogue, but having just finished Crime and Punishment I cannot change my opinion of epilogues - or of Tolstoy - much. That is to say, I do feel that if the content of the epilogue is not intrinsic in the book, it is a bad epilogue, and if it is intrinsic, then the epilogue is unnecessary. So I found myself thinking, upon finishment, "hmm, the redemptive power of love, eh? Why not, I guess." and found myself oddly appeased by what is, most likely, a literary mistake. He pleases me reasonably well, Dostoyevsky does, but I find that I am too frivolous for his writing. The whole thing makes me long for The Master and Margarita, which shows that one can write serious things without utterly jettisoning one's sense of humour; but then I suspect that Dostoyevsky didn't have one to begin with.

There you go then, I have done my bit for world literature and am now off to read Outlander because hopefully it will entertain me without killing any brain cells. That does well enough for me. Actually, perhaps I should hold off on my pile of unread books and re-read The Master and Margarita. It really is one of my life-changing books, on account of being funny, profound, utterly playful, creative, layered and profound. The mix always seemed more lifelike to me than the merely serious or amusing.

*Forster, like Orwell, wins me over with his personal integrity more than his writing; both show me something very personal to me with their writings, something helpful.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Did someone say Oscar?

I caved and rented Julius Caesar, and am watching the famous Mark Anthony speech as done by Marlon Brandon, for which he presumably got that Oscar. BAFTA. Whatever.


Marlon, I love you, and you look fabulous in that Roman mini-skirt, but I have got to be honest with you, that speech is a little more complex than you are making it. Mark Anthony is a strategist, and a clever one, albeit an emotional one too. He has a range. Not just anger. I know, Marlon, I am berating a dead actor for a role everyone thinks he performed admirably. But Marlon, look at Gielgud and Mason. I know, Gielgud is not as goodlooking, we know; and though Mason looks lovely in his army gear, he is no Marlon Brando. Yet Marlon, they do so much more acting. Alas. It seems that I am doomed to wonderful performances of Julius Caesar marred by two-dimensional Mark Anthonys.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I'm on my second cup of coffee, so if I'm a little hyper, forgive me.

I just saw the tail end of the Marlon Brando/James Mason Julius Caesar. Thoughts -
1) I had forgotten that there really are a number of old movies that are riveting; I couldn't walk away, and my usual goldfish attention span found itself overridden by, of all things, Shakespeare.

2) James Mason, who otherwise mostly exists in the vague periphery of my film knowledge, makes an outstanding Brutus; Marlon Brandon on the other hand, in spite of being the poster boy, is somehow ill-suited to playing Marc Anthony. Brando is (well, was) many things but not Marc Anthony; no. And yes, I know this is a minority opinion.

3) Julius Caesar is really a wonderful play, and it is a kind of epiphany play for me. For a very long time I simply did not see the point of Shakespeare. Hard to understand, convoluted plots, non-funny jokes and really, really long plays. I spent a lot of time trying to understand why Hamlet is supposed to be the greatest play of all time and have come to the following conclusion: perhaps it is; but for the life of me I can't tell because all of the times I've seen it on stage (three times, I think) it has been outright painful (with the exeption of the sexton - you have got to love the gravedigger) and when I saw the Laurence Olivier movie it did nothing for me. I saw Ken Branagh's four hour Hamlet, all four bloody hours, and thought it a waste of some fantastic acting talents. No - as far as I'm concerned, the best Hamlet I have seen is called Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead. Anyway, tangent aside, so I kind of tried to understand Shakespeare and didn't. Only then I saw a performance of a pretty obscure play of his, Measure for Measure, at a beautiful old school, while the snow set it; and that changed everything. It was wonderful, funny, charming; I saw the light. Julius Caesar was another of those moments, because while it was not the first Shakespeare play I actually acted in, it was by far the best, and for all its failings, the performance gave the play all of the passion it deserved. Which brings me to

4) Watching Julius Caesar is like meeting an old, beloved friend. I don't always remember the details of our acquiantance, but I remember the spirit of it. I recognise the inner workings of it, I see what it is thinking; and what I thought I had forgotten turns out to still be there.

5) Of course the play should be called Brutus, even if Caesar's ghost hovers over the play. Brutus is a wonderful tragic hero, and while he is not as complex as Hamlet, he is also much easier to identify with. Not that I do, though I could; I identify with

6) Cassius. Cassius is so much more human than Brutus, so much more fallible; there is more pathos in his death on his birthday than in even Brutus's pleas for his friends to kill him. Cassius is passionate and ambitious, and lord, I forgot how incredibly gay this play is. To put it less facetiously, though there are women, all the meaningful relationships are between the men, and none is so openly emotional as that between Brutus and Cassius. And Gielgud as Cassius to Mason's's apt and beautiful.

Thank you, Turner Classic Movies, and thank you, late great Gielgud and Mason. In your honour I have, not one, but two youtube clips.

And as closing credits:

Postscript: Julius Caesar, Shakespeare aside, is another on my list of really fascinating historical characters; a consummate politician whose great virtue and flaw was that he could handle criticism and forgave his enemies, and had a sense of humour. Thank you six years of really boring Latin and really interesting history.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Well, its been an interesting time. I am not quite sure what to say, except that Crime and Punishment is growing on me, after almost 16 hours of listening, as is The Three Musketeers, now that I've almost finished it. Nineteenth century literature, it's been a while, so perhaps this is just the required period of adjustment. The two books make for an interesting contrast - the tortured murdered vs. the joyful, playful musketeers who take all the killing in their stride.

And of course all that matters is not whether you fall down, but whether you get up and dust yourself off for another round. Right now that next round is pretty literal, if not entirely, and I feel pretty disinclined, comtemplating the microwave chocolate cake instead.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If you ever see this book, pick it up and read the back flap

The back flap is funny. Yet so is the front cover. Who says the cover doesn't matter? I would never have read this book if it weren't for the wonderful, lovely cover.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Things I don’t

It seems like as time passes I am more and more defined by the things I don’t do; for better or for worse. Times when I don’t take it out on other people, when I don’t burst into tears; when I resist the impulse to just say what I think. I don’t pursue some of the dreams. I don’t dare. Sometimes the space I live in seems so small; yet life is full of small victories; conflicts I step away from; unhealthy conversations I finally end; bad habits I no longer have. Confidence I no longer have.

Small comfort: Kona coffee (because all real luxury is small); new songs; a pair of earrings; a new book.

And difficulties require only that you live through them with your equilibrium intact (“balance is the biggest part of movement”, Paula Cunningham the dentist-poet says) and with your self-control at the ready.

Meanwhile, in my head, Billy Idol and Adam Ant are getting bored, and waste time playing dress-up, but you know sometime soon a revolt will break out.

(Cue Cake’s version of I Will Survive)

Less drama, not less purpose.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Scarlet, not Scarlett

I knew him, of course; as played by Richard E. Grant, who is such a wonderful, fun actor; and then as played by Anthony Edwards, who was a little less the fool and a little more the handsome hero. I knew the story, that lovely bit of anti-revolutionary propaganda which first interested me in Robespierre*. The book I picked up for a dollar at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store somewhere on a whim, because I had too many serious things to read. Of course I should have know – Tolkien warns us that the path at our door may lead us anywhere, and so it is with books; you never know where they will take you. So I am reading The Scarlet Pimpernel, a foolish book, yet as usual giving me a little more than any movie or tv, and find myself unwittingly swept up in yet another frivolous-yet-riveting book. Seriously, my friends, there is a limit to the number of books I can read obsessively during every available minute, though I guess that given the Spouse’s travels and the temporary lull in professional insanity, I may be more available for such things than usual. Swashbuckling. That’s what this book is, and yet it is a little more sophisticated than I would have given it credit for. I am very fond of the triple-decker intrigue – not just the romantic hero posing as ze euld hag to the “Frenchies”, but posing as an indolent fool to the English. A tightly-wound (and don’t we all love a tightly-wound man**), brilliant man pretending to care for nothing but cards and fashion. Yes. On the other hand, the plot contains so much signposting it becomes painful.

Yet again, I find myself on the narrow ledge just above the Harlequin novels***, but I already like the Pimpernel better than the sparkly undead, and frankly it would be hard to beat Robespierre and the French Revolution for a nemesis.

*Robespierre is interesting; a powerful man with no attachment to power, a dictator but not a demagogue, a civil rights advocate turned tyrant on principle.

**See previous entries on such topics as Mr. Darcy, Snape, Mr. Rochester and yes, the blasted vampire

***Sometimes the snob in me gets upset about this. Then the smart, rationalising TDEC reminds her inner snob that stainglass windows are the church’s comic books and that Shakespeare wrote his plays for a picnicking, chatting audience, that clapping between movements in classical music used to be the norm and that the only difference between Jane Austen and that Harlequin romance is the fact that Austen is good. And has a sense of humour.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Sun Also Rises, less fun than a barrel full of monkeys

I think I am supposed to think that the passion at the core of the story is inescapable, that it is inevitable. Yes, I just finished Hemingway’s bullfighting extravaganza, The Sun Also Rises. The good news is that it is better than I expected. The understatement works, to some extent; though it gets a bit much. That said, I can’t sympathise with the bullfight-enthused Jake. Perhaps Brett, the lady at the center of it all, is meant as helpless, a victim to her inability to find what she is looking for (an unharmed, fully manly Jake?) but I cannot fathom such selfishness; such painful promiscuity; and worst of all, the way she hangs on to Jake every way she though she knows it can’t do anything but harm. And of course Jake is an idiot for submitting to it; love makes fools of us all, I know, but surely at some point you get over it, her, yourself.

Back to Dostoyevsy, then. *sigh*

Yesterday was the Spouse’s birthday, which I mostly missed thanks to work. Brilliant.