I continue to read the Beckett trilogy this week, as well as the perpetually nearly-finished Sex Lives of Cannibals. In my classes, we have been embroiled in a one-two punch of sex farces: Lysistrata in one class, and Joe Orton's anarchic What the Butler Saw in the other. (This anarchic quality may be the difference between the two shockingly forthright plays: Orton uses sexual comedy in the service of overthrowing the oppression of social order, whereas Aristophanes uses it to restore and reassert order in a time of civic strife.) I have also just resolved to reread all of Jane Austen's novels, and have started with the earliest, which was also the first I read: Sense and Sensibility. The last time I read it was 1993. And, of course, it is pure delight, as well as excruciating social torment. Quite the companion piece to Aristophanes and Orton.
Speaking of which, I have been watching True Blood with my mother, and placing a steady emphasis on the way the erotic and the repellent are played off against each other in the series (and, most pointedly, its opening credits), so that neither element of the vampire mythos ever gains the upper hand. We have now seen just about every type of human bodily process and fluid represented on screen in the first five episodes, so our parent-child bond is all that much stronger for the crucible of comic degradation we have witnessed. But I have to say, upon a second (or third?) watching, my verdict remains the same: Vampire Bill is awfully good at the beginning of the series, but the first season (and the end of the second) suffers mightily from a dearth of Eric the Viking Vampire.
We just finished watching Asif Kapadia's pensive and classical The Warrior, a tale of a brutal lord's bodyguard who turns to a life of peace after an epiphany about cruelty. Irfan Khan, who was wonderful in The Namesake, is so hypnotic and expressive-in-repose here that my mother asked if I thought he had his eyes insured, as the source of his whole livelihood. The film moves very slowly, but purposively so. About a third of the way through the movie, my dear mama wondered this: "Why do they all keep staring at each other like that?". There was a pause as I contemplated whether she expected a response. After a moment, she continued: "Is it just because of man's inhumanity to man, and the loneliness of human existence?".
Yes. Yes, it is.
We are now midway through Spartacus, which I am glad to say is a much, much better film than Ben-Hur. After Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments I had begun to despair of ever enjoying an ancient film epic, but Spartacus is winning me over. Perhaps it is the fact that Dalton Trumbo wrote a really remarkably left-wing parable about an alternate worker's society created when the proletariat cast off their chains, and each gives according to ability and takes according to needs. Perhaps it is the stunning love scene at the midpoint of the movie, in which Spartacus speaks of wanting to learn his beloved's every curve while dragging a blade of grass through her mouth, and then kisses her upside down and twines himself around her as they roll towards the camera. (Considerably more impressive than the surf scene in From Here to Eternity.) Or perhaps it is my favorite scene so far, in which Laurence Oliver (playing the patrician senator Crassus) asks the slave who is bathing him (a heavily eyelined Tony Curtis) if he prefers to eat oysters or snails. After a few moments of surreal, True Blood-esque conversation between the two ("Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?" "No, master." "Of course not. It's all a matter of taste, isn't it?"), Olivier turns to Curtis and adds in sultry tones, "My taste ... includes both oysters and snails."
Oddly enough, the studio didn't fancy including this scene in the first release of the film, and then managed (how clumsy!) to lose track of the audio that had been cut from the original version. When Kubrick was editing it for re-release, he wanted to restore the scene, which gives Curtis's character some key motivations for later actions, but he lacked both the audio and Lord Olivier himself, who had died in the intervening years. He contacted Tony Curtis and Joan Plowright, Olivier's widow, who suggested that Anthony Hopkins might stand in (vocally speaking) for her late husband. Curtis and Hopkins, working in separate studios on different continents, dubbed the scene, which to my ear was indistinguishable from the other dialogue in the film. Thank god it's back.
So: a new project. A few years ago I started a habit of taking up a new national or regional literature every calendar year, with the goal of expanding my knowledge of the chosen country during that year. My aim (not usually successful, but nonetheless aimed for) was to read a book a month by an author associated with the theme country. My most extensive achievement was in the first year, my Year of Down Under, when I read a bevy of Australian books I would never have considered otherwise (including the brilliant children's book The Magic Pudding) and greatly expanded the Australian presence in my library.
Now that I am settled in my new home, which is itself in a new country, it seems like 2010 would be a good year for a new project: The Year of the Maritimes. My project over the next 11 months will be to read 12 works from/about Canada's Maritime provinces. I have already collected a number of titles in my guest room that might serve me well for this project, including:
- L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Story Girl cycles. (I reread the first Anne book while visiting Prince Edward Island this summer with D.)
- Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan (The classic novel of Halifax, it is set during the 1917 Explosion - the central event of the city's collective consciousness and the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion in history.)
- Island by Alistair MacLeod
- The Nymph and the Lamp by Thomas Raddell
- The Birth House by Ami McKay
- Rockbound by Frank Parker Day
- Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
- Whylah Falls by George Elliott Clarke
- The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
- The Museum Guard by Howard Norman