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Friday, July 04, 2014

The Time of Indifference (Gli indifferenti)(1929) by Alberto Moravia

Carla in the film version.

Book Review
The Time of Indifference (1929)
Gli indifferenti
by Alberto Moravia
Steerforth Italia/Steerforth Press (2000)
Translated from the Italian by Tami Calliope

  Happy July 4th everyone!  I'm not writing this ON July 4th of course, that would be absurd.  No, I think I will be in Boston, maybe going to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway park on July 4th.  Mind you: I've never been to Boston before!

  Moravia was active during the period when the Fascists were in power Italy.  His characters reflected the malaise/ineffectuality  of the bourgeois under Fascism.  Since the Italian Fascists didn't ship their critics off to death camps, Moravia existed in a kind of internal exile until Rome was liberated by the Allies.  The Time of Indifference was published when he was only 22.  Like many Novelists Moravia was sick for a long period as a youth, and he wrote The Time of Indifference while sick.

  The Time of Indifference focuses on a love quadrangle (pentagon?)  Between a woman and her two children, Leo their landlord and Lisa, the blowzy ex-lover of Leo and would-be lover of Michele (son of the mom.)  To add to the closed, incestuous nature of the narrative, Leo is the landlord of the family.  Michele, the son, in a plot that seemingly inspired a generation of existentialist novelists, tries to ineffectually murder his mother's/sisters lover, Leo, using a gun that he forgets to load.  Classic existentialist motif! Although there are many novels of the 20th century that hint at at aspects of existentialism  Michele is probably the first truly existentialist hero in the modern sense of the word. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Good Soldier (1915) by Ford Madox Ford

Book Review
The Good Soldier (1915)
 by Ford Madox Ford

  I would say I've learned more about the varieties of human suffering that stem from marriage in the last two-three years of reading classic Novels than I had learned in the prior 36 or so years of my life.  That includes what I learned from my own divorce.  One of the reasons it's should a good idea to familiarize yourself with the world of serious art is that it takes the sting off the idea that your particular brand of emotional pain might in any way be unique or unusual.  I'm talking about pain related to failed love here, nothing more.

  "The depiction of an unhappy marriage" is almost a definition for the novel as an art-form, and The Good Soldier is yet another step in a growing narrative sophistication for tales (unhappy marriage novels) of this sort.  Here, we have two unhappy couples, an "unreliable" (cuckold) narrator, and trips backwards and forward in time.  Couple one is John Dowell (narrator) and Florence- Americans- he a wealthy dilletante, and she a sweet young thing with a "heart condition" that requires her to be isolated from her husband at night, from 10 at night till 10 the next day.

    John Dowell is not the first "unreliable narrator"- the approach was not unknown during the sensation novels of the mid 19th century, but Dowell is the first unreliable narrator in the genre of the marriage novel.  He's not the first Author to use "impressionist"/stream of consciousness narrative technique, but the lack of knowledge and the way the knowledge (of her wife's affair with their bosom companion Edward Ashburnham) changes his perspective is the central technical concern of this book.

   Ashburnham is a bluff Englishman with a penchant for leisure and cheating on his wife, Lenora. Dowell revels in his ignorance, throughout the first hundred pages it is very much as if he doesn't want to reveal the truth: the affair, his wife committing suicide, the fact that Lenora knew about the affair.  He also learns that his wife had a prior affair, prior to their marriage, with a "low class" boy named Jimmy.

  Florence commits suicide after hearing Ashburnham, in the garden, with his young ward, Nancy- just released from a convent education.  The Nancy/Ashburnham's/John Dowell love rectangle also ends in blood and tears: Edward Ashburnham commits suicide, Nancy goes mad, and Dowell ends the story up caring for her.  Only Florence, who takes a dramatic turn towards villainess status in the third act, ends up happy-ish.

  It is an undeniably dark vision, pre-World War I in place and plot, but with a layer of dark, dark cynicism that guarantees it's relevance a hundred years later.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Kings of Kings (1927) d. Cecil B. Demille

Cecil B. Demille's Jesus piece: The King of Kings (1927)

Movie Review
The Kings of Kings (1927)
d. Cecil B. Demille
Criterion Collection #266

  Um heads up- this movie is practically three hours long.  It's also a "silent" film- albeit one with a banging, restored/new(?) soundtrack courtesy of the Criterion Collection re-issue.  The 1920s are the first decade where you can really compare movies to printed literature, or argue that movies really are literature (reading required before the advent of sound) but the Criterion Collection's FIRST film was released in 1922.  There are, in fact, only 17 films from the 1920s in the entire Criterion Collection, and hardly more than that if you include the Eclipse.  Meanwhile, 70 of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die are from the 1920s.  And, you know, I'll watch the films of the 1920s if Criterion Collection deems worthy, but I'm not going to be seeking out silent movies to  watch in my spare time, because watching silent films is a chore.

   Although DeMille had a brief career as a would-be "artistic" film director early in his career, he will forever be associated with epic silent era Hollywood era event films.  This makes him a somewhat uncomfortable subject to film scholars who would rather dwell on the art films made in Scandinavia during the same period that DeMille was dominating the marketplace in America.  You can see the Criterion Collection being cognizant of the deficit- they've released two 20s comedies from Harold Lloyd in the past year or so.

  Luckily for me I am actually unfamiliar with "the story" of the life of Jesus, so this three hour silent epic was the first time I actually saw the episodes that I understand to be integral to the Christian faith: ejecting money lenders from the temple, Judas betraying him, Jesus performing miracles and of course, the crucifixion, which is the stylish money shot of the entire epic.  If you want the 10 minute version of this lengthy, silent film, watch the ten minutes prior to the final ten minutes of the film, the Crucifixion/suicide of Judas scene, holeee shit it is crazay.

  There is not much (any?) camera movement, so what you get is posed scene/title card/posed scene.  There is very little action, though often huge numbers of people in the frame of the film- it's more like a series of pose tableaux's then what we consider modern film making.  Demille was presumably the most successful exponent of a style which has largely been consigned to the dustbin of history.

  Trigger Alert:  This movie depicts Jesus being crucified and is not very kind to Jews.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Professor's House (1925) by Willa Cather

Willa Cather: Only one novel on the 1001 Books list? Seriously?

Book Review
The Professor's House (1925)
by Willa Cather
University of Nebraska Press, Scholary Edition (2002)
Historical Essay by James Woodress
Explanatory notes by James Woodress with Karl A. Ronning
Textual Editing by Frederick M. Link

  I was half-way through this excellent edition of The Professor's House when I stopped and said to myself, "Wait, this is MID career Willa Cather, what earlier Cather titles have I missed and what are the other Cather novels on the 1001 Books list?"  So I goes to my copy of 1001 Books, look up Cather in the author index and BOOOM:  THE PROFESSOR'S HOUSE IS THE ONLY WILLA CATHER TITLE IN THE ENTIRE LIST OF 1001 BOOKS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE.

  Are you kidding me?  Only ONE Willa Cather novel?  D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf each have like, six titles a piece.  I feel like every undergraduate in America has read O Pioneers and 50% have read My Antonia.  If you look at the other American representative on the 1001 Books list you've got lesser lights like Theodore Dreiser, later period Upton Sinclair, Jack London and Edgar Burroughs and equivalent level authors like Gertrude Stein, later period Henry James and Edith Wharton.  Edith Wharton has like, three or four titles. Jack London has two for Pete's sake.  And Cather only gets one single book?  It is a travesty- the first obvious travesty/sham I've come across during this project.

   I guess The Professor's House made it because it has a controversial book within a book format, similar to that of a sonata, according to the author herself.  The accompanying historical essay makes clear the separate development of the middle of the book, which concerns the discovery of the ancient Anasazi civilization by a pair of rail road workers/cattle men in rural New Mexico  and the bracketing start and finish, which deal with events decades later and mostly revolve around a college professor going through some kind of mid-life crisis (Trigger warning: there is a suicide attempt late in the book.)

  I can hardly believe that this is the ONLY Willa Cather novel in the 1001 Books List.  I don't see how you give Wharton four or five books and Cather only one.  I just don't get it.  That decision does not make sense, unless you hate America.

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