Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

BBC Miniseries version of Tess d'Urbervilles f. Gemma Arterton (2008)

Gemma Arterton plays Tess d'Urbervilles in the 2008 BBC Miniseries

BBC Miniseries version
of Tess d'Urbervilles
 f. Gemma Arterton (2008)

  So I've been watching a couple "brit coms" on the Hulu Plus "British" channel, and one night I thought, "Hey, I wonder if they have all those great BBC miniseries where they do classic novels? Answer, yes. They do.  Thomas Hardy published his novel in 1891, but unless you know that it would be hard to guess it, because the book is set in the 1880s (maybe earlier?) and all the 'action' takes plays in rural England.  What I like about Thomas Hardy is that his shit is DARK.  There is hardly a single happy moment  during the whole of Tess whether it be the book or miniseries.  Watching it spool out on the television, it almost seems like Hardy is trying to punish some Tess-like woman who did him wrong when he was younger.

 The central theme of Tess, for me, is that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  Tess is told early on that she belongs to an ancient, hallowed family, and this knowledge spurs what can only be called a series of poor life choices: she gets raped, has a baby, baby dies, becomes a milk maid, gets married to a dude who doesn't know she has a dead baby, she tells him against all advice, he freaks out, etc. etc. etc.

 Of course, it all ends in murder, and Tess being executed for murder.  Her travails almost reminded me of what the lead actress in a Lars Von Trier movie typically has to put up with. There is something unapologetically modern about the darkness of Hardy, even if his plots and settings are quintessentially Victorian, and this miniseries captures that perfectly.  And Gemma Arterton isn't half bad.  She certainly has "quivering with repressed desire" down to a formula.

 Sorry about the utter lack of SD/so cal local music coverage this month! 

Tarzan of the Apes (1912) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Bettie Page being menaced by a cannibal in a scene that derives inspiration directly from Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Book Review
Tarzan of the Apes (1912)
by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  Tarzan of the Apes is a classic example of the porous border between "high" and "low" art.  Tarzan turned into one of the most enduring fictional characters of the 20th century, alongside contemporaries like Sherlock Holmes(1887), The Invisible Man(1897) and Dracula(1897.)  Tarzan is different from earlier popular fictional characters because the move from printed literature to film was almost instantaneous.  The first film versions of Tarzan were silent movies released as early as 1918, which, if you consider the interruption of the first World War, is basically simultaneous.

  The movie version of Tarzan took off in 1932, when Johnny Weissmuller played the role.  You can see the impact in an Ngram comparing the relative popularity of Tarzan, Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes:

  In this Ngram you can see Tarzan crushing Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein before plummeting to earth in the 1930s.  Thereafter, Tarzan and Sherlock have both played second fiddle to the Nineteenth century character Frankenstein, perhaps because Frankenstein is considered the "first" monster book in literature and thus attracts a disproportionate amount of attention from the academic community relative to the other two characters.

  All this supports the proposition that Tarzan of the Apes- the first book- is worth a look precisely because it has proved to be so enduring, the true definition of a classic.  At the same time, Burroughs is not the most skilled novelist, and the vile racism that permeates his treatment of the African cannibals is as difficult to stomach as the frank depictions of the evils of slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  The difference being that Stowe was criticizing the institution of slavery, and Burroughs is trying to entertain a broad popular audience for adventure novels with gory sensationalism.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sons and Lovers (1913) by D.H. Lawrence

Book Review
Sons and Lovers (1913)
by D.H. Lawrence

  Bring on the sex and psychology!  And sexual psychology and psychological sexuality.  If you wanted an intellectual theme for the first half of the 20th century, you could do worse than picking "Thinking About Sex: Parallel Developments in Psychology and Literature" as your choice.  The narrative of Sigmund Freud occurs outside literature, but his thinking is so crucial to developments in 20th century literature that it is almost impossible to talk about 20th century literature without crediting Freud for some of the themes he brought to the table.  Maybe the seminal, specific work to really pin down Freud's influence on literature is his 1899 work, Interpretations of Dreams and its concomitant ideas about the unconscious.  Also crucial to his influence on literature, but less to his credit, are his theories on sexuality, many of which were outlined in the first decade of the 20th century.

 You certainly can't get serious about Lawrence without first understanding how deeply he was influenced by the writing of Freud.  Given the difference in language and general time lag in absorbtion of new ideas during the turn of the century period, it was plausible that Lawrence "never read Freud" as he claimed in a 1914 letter, but it is also possible that he is straight up lying, and certainly accurate that he "had heard" about Freud from multiple contemporaries who were directly involved in the psychoanalytical "movement" that trailed in the wake of Freud's most crucial contributions.

  In Sons and Lovers the reader is presented with a complex Mother/Son relationship that has multiple psycho-sexual elements- along the line with what more explicitly Freudian influenced Artists would present a half century later.  The main relationship is between Paul Morel and his mother, a "ubiquitous moral presence with great ambitions for her gifted son."  Much of Sons and Lovers is recognizable as a successor to George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, but even in 1913 Lawrence was breaking ground in the depiction of physical sexuality in the English novel.  Although 18th century literature could be quite bawdy, and while the French carried on a separate tradition of frank literature about sexual relations, the English saw it disappear for close to 160 years.  Lawrence's 1920 novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned for almost 40 years in the United Kingdom.

 Unfortunately the development of "internet pornography" has simply obliterated a couple centuries of sexual mores, making the crazed virginal attitude of Paul and his childhood girlfriend seem almost insane in comparison.  Perhaps that is part of the lasting appeal- at how FRAUGHT the sexuality becomes in his books, coupled with the fact that he is the first writer in the English novel to combine sex and psychology.  Man, what a winning fucking combination for 20th century art.  For real.

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