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Posts Tagged ‘Disabilty studies’

BatesAccostsThomas
First season, 2nd episode: Bates (Brendan Coyle) accosts Thomas (Rob James-Collier)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m now well into Season 4 on this fifth journey of mine through Downton Abbey and have begun to notice a parallel: repeatedly both John Bates and Thomas Barrow are photographed as looking on at others. One or the other of them, sometimes both (separately) are seen on a threshold, from a space across the way, leaning against a wall. Bates’s face looking at Anna with such benign appreciation comes most strongly when he is watching her from afar, doing some act of fairness, dancing, or just sewing.

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Bates watching Anna doing the Scottish reel at Christmas

Thomas’s face is endlessly guarded as he watches others flirt, moves to snitch on someone (once in a great while rightly, like the bigoted Nanny West [Di Botcher] in Season 4), and especially when we see him yearning for a moment and twice he crosses an invisible barrier to reach out to another man, and then (in both cases, the Duke of Crowborough [Charlie Cox] and Jimmy Kent [Ed Speleers]), rejected. After he has been openly found out in the second case, and is about to be fired, we have striking scenes, e.g., of him watching Mr Bates looking at the bare cottage he and Anna are fixing up for themselves, of him downright crying in a corner:

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Unlike Bates, there is no mainstream other whom Thomas can latch on to, who suits Thomas, and who is an insider. His alliance with Miss Obrien (Siobhan Finneran) is with a pretend insider, which is therefore easily broken (as she has nothing to gain from him). People may not remember that it is Bates who goes out of his way to rescue Thomas from the spiteful and cruel revenge taken on him by Miss Obrien who, when Thomas (foolishly from a prudential standpoint, but as ever jealous of anyone’s gaining some foothold in the family that could possibly threaten him), far from helping Alfred Nugent (Matt Milner) her nephew, brought in to be a footman, lays traps for him.

Let’s look at that incident once more: helped along by the affection Thomas cannot resist showing Jimmy as he helps Jimmy learn to wind clocks and do other Downton chores, Miss Obrien has slowly aroused Jimmy Kent’s suspicions of Thomas’s sexuality, and planted hope in Thomas that Jimmy does like him, and one night, lonely, Thomas braves Jimmy’s room to be thrown out by Jimmy, horrified, filled with repugnance, just as alas, Alfred is entering to ask something. (The men seem to have their own rooms while the maids share rooms.) Thomas is exposed and called “foul” by Mr Carson (Jim Carter), an epithet he does openly repudiate — job or no job. Then when Mr Carson, unexpectedly offers at least to give Thomas a good character, Miss Obrien has no trouble rousing the fears of both footman, that their reputation and livelihood will be threatened if they don’t make sure that they are not suspected of homosexual leaning: they must act revolted, Jimmy must demand that Thomas leave without a character (or he’ll tell the police); Alfred must be made to enact disgust. In the earlier incident where the Duke to have had a liaison with a maid and she had his letters, there would be no case for blackmail. Sin or not, crossing class lines or not, heterosexuals are allowed, homosexuals not.

The larger interest which makes me write about it is that Fellowes is putting before us the same argument that E.M. Forster makes in his Maurice and Henry James through Kate’s father in Wings of the Dove and Simon Raven explictly, powerfully, angrily in his masterpiece first novel, Fielding Grey, that the misery of a life of a gay man is that what is natural ordinary looked upon with kindness, help, admiration on the part of heterosexuals — love, companionship — is a source of blackmail, petty sometimes, harsh often, for homosexuals. A heterosexual can betray a girl, even rape her (this is in Raven) and get away with it (and were it not for Bates, Mr Green would have in the case of Anna [Joanne Froggart]); the ugliest of conduct is not attacked as such, is overlooked; a homosexual man in love is at risk every moment. They live as outsiders.

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And this is the center of a key scene which wins Bates to help Thomas though Bates knows full well and lets Thomas know that Thomas has been Bates’s enemy, been spiteful and tried to get Bates fired (by planted clues suggesting Bates a thief when it was Thomas who had been pilfering wine so steadily 2 sets of boxes were missing at an inventory). Bates and Anna have been painting and making their old run-down cottage (in bad shape, not much of a gift if you compare it to the DA) and Bates is standing outside in satisfaction. Out of the dark Thomas comes up and starts to talk of how much he envies Mr Bates despite all that has happened to Bates in his (long prison sentences now twice, the Boer War, crippling) and (implicitly) what might yet occur (over the death of Bates’s first wife). This because everyone is happy for Bates, admires him and Anna for their nest together, do things to help them while (as we know) Carson uses cruel words like “foul” for Thomas’s feelings. It’s in the next juxtaposed scene that Thomas is seen crying by a corner by Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) in her frequent usual role as reconciler, who takes Thomas into her room, and discovers what is happening.

Thomas lives behind a wall is the feel he conveys to Bates, an invisible prison where he is continually at risk if he steps forth.

It’s this that makes Bates identify sufficiently with Thomas — as an outsider, forever at risk, in a society that can just thrown them out. In a remarkable series of moves (that he has to do several shows the generosity of it), Bates talks to Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) who expressed sympathy for Thomas and a desire to see him on the yearly cricket team so bad that it seems Grantham is willing to keep Thomas on in a made-up job if only for that talent), then to Mrs Hughes who tells Bates the instigator was Miss Obrien, and finally to Thomas himself, telling Thomas it was Miss Obrien. Is there nothing Thomas knows that could be used here?

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Bates’s POV as he asks Thomas to think if he knows anything as a handle for Bates to help him

And of course Thomas knows it was Miss Obrien’s putting a bar of soap near Lady Grantham’s (Elizabeth McGovern) tub that brought on her early miscarriage, thus forever cutting off the hope of a direct male heir.

Mr Bates invites Miss Obrien to the cottage and whispers the word (soap …) in her ear, we see Miss Obrien now desperately convincing Jimmy he’s done enough. Jimmy has been subject to the reprobation of the whole staff including Ivy (Cara Theobold), with whom he flirts:

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the worst sin is to try to take someone’s references and character. They will not find another job. So Jimmy (something of a mannequin dummy here) acts.

Thomas’s danger is not yet over. Alfred is also not the smartest brain in the house and he has been made to feel how “sinful” is Thomas (Miss Obrien’s grating reinforcements reinforced this) and has himself called the police. They arrive but luckily Lord Grantham is the first approached, just as he is telling Jimmy how generous it will be of Jimmy to accept Thomas’s continuing presence on the staff and that Jimmy will now be “first” footman (not much gain there for real) — Thomas is all this while playing cricket superlatively – Lord Grantham is told of the police presence and hurries over. The police tell him Alfred Nugent has revealed he was approached by a Mr Barrow. The power of the chief or bright hero of the series is shown: decisively pressured by Grantham, in a few minutes (screen time less than a minute) Alfred is there before the police, saying it was a misunderstanding, and Grantham is (in effect) punishing Alfred by offering the helpful explanation that Alfred was a bit squiffy. Drunk. Alfred takes the rap.

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The chief police officer looks at Grantham and says he gets it. They know all this is concocted but there is nothing to be done and they walk off.

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Thomas playing well, clapping enthusiastically — unobtrusively

As I have argued, we are given sufficient evidence to convict Bates of the murder of his wife and then to see that there is a strong probability he pushed Mr Green (Nigel Harman) into a bus (as the pattern of his going to London for the day and when he returns, the person has lost his or her life) and yet like Bates enormously, grant him a hero’s place in our hearts, because continually throughout the series not only is Bates himself a victim (crippled, tripped, trapped, as a disabled person at first stigmatized) but he is generous to other outsiders, e.g. Ethel. He stands aside when the others are interrogating Gwen (Rose Leslie) over her typewriter. In this blog I am concerned to bring out that there is a strong positive argument on behalf of homosexuals in the series despite its being presented in such a way that allows for the prejudices of a still bigoted audience. That Thomas is no angel would be approved of by James Baldwin: there was nothing that grated more on Baldwin than protest novels which made society’s victims into saints. They are not because they must in order to survive be collusive.

I noticed that the ends of the first and this third year conclude with some magnanimous deed of Grantham, his opening up in new ways, with Bates just behind him, engineering it (using his abilities to forge, sniff out how a criminal-cardsharp will operate, and pickpocket) — and that is what happens at the close of the fourth season too. In the third season, with a little help from Lord Grantham’s status, it’s his fellow outsider whom Mr Bates saves.

Interview
Brendan Coyle discussing his role in the feature to the third season: it’s not over-speaking to say that in this hour-long summary of 2 seasons amid fluff, Coyle contributes the more serious reflections on the dilemmas of the character he plays (See Bates as dark hero, alter ego for Fellowes)

Ellen

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TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup re-named Plat when a slave (Twelve Years a Slave, directed Steven McQueen, screenplay John Ridley)

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Jay Morris Hunter as Ahab (Moby Dick, San Francisco opera production, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer)

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday and in the wee hours of the night I watched two movies I’d like to recommend not missing if you can help it. Both much worth immersing yourself in — thinking about in the case of Twelve Years a Slave and allowing the alluring beauty of the mood and music to bring you in with Moby Dick.

From what I hear other people say to one another, Twelve Years a Slave is misrepresented in ordinary talk somewhat. Since “word-of-mouth” retains its importance in making for a popular movie hit, I’m hurrying a little to write about Twelve Years. If seen by enough people, it could function (mildly) as Uncle Tom’s Cabin once did — this time to help against racial discrimination and racist thinking so prevalent in the US still. People have told me in some areas the film has not opened so maybe I’m precipitantly worrying the film will not be a commercial success. In my area it did open in our local art cinema; the owner rejoiced at getting two prints but it’s already in Theater 4 (smaller and not for continuing hits) and not many people were in the audience yesterday after only a week; and among these were a number of black people, so not many whites in the audience. This theater is not one black people go to much; it’s in an area that’s mostly white, upper middle and attracts art-film audiences. For The Butler I did have to go to Theater 4 but it had been playing for weeks and weeks, all summer in fact, and still the theater (4) was filled and it had a preponderance of white people. The Butler crossed the racial divide. In a nearby theater to me which has large black audiences The Butler was sold out on and off for weeks, long lines of black people waiting to go, early on and then the whites joined them.

Scuttlebutt (or what I’m told or read by friends) is how violent and hard to watch it is. It’s not non-violent and not easy to watch but not because you are shown excruciating torture or close-up shocking violence, nor is this perpetual or at all gratuitous. The violence wreaked on slaves that we see is precisely what will subdue and cow them (not nothing because it’s harsh and includes implicit threats of death), the beatings shown at a distance as (horrifyingly to decent emotions) par for the course, the ordinary routine of treatment for slaves. The coerced sex scenes (on the slaves Patsy played so effectively by Lupita Nyong’o) by the master Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbinder who does steal the movie) are not all that much different from what I’ve seen of half-rape type scenes in (soft-corn implicitly hard sex) movies which don’t name it that. The woman just lies there and lets him.

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Patsy asking Plat to help her kill herself

What’s memorable about the scene so many reviewers have mentioned of our hero, Solomon Northrup renamed Plat (Chiwetel Ejiofor) where he’s hung and will die if he does not manage to keep his toes on the ground is how everyday it is, how slaves walk by him unable to help him, how the whites watch and do nothing, and how the supposed “good” master (Bernard Cumberbatch as Master Ford) only comes to cut him down late at night lest he irritate his central over-seer. Ford gives him a violin but will not behave towards him as if he were a human being whose life matters.

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Plat rented out to a man who allows him to keep the money he’s paid for his violin playing

Twelve Years a Slave (based remember on a 19th slave narrative, a type or sub-genre) increased my respect for Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (essentially several slave narratives interwoven into a middle class type white novel) and watching it helped increase my respect for that nowadays somewhat under-rated book. It has the same attributed flaws — in the sense that there is a reductive quality, a melodramatic exaggeration going on continually so really the charge hurled at Simon Legree that he’s a monster and no one could be that bad and if he were he’d be an exception can be hurled at Epps.

James Baldwin would not like the way Plat is presented as sheerly noble and insofar as he can be good (see “Everybody’s Protest Novel”); he is not an Uncle Tom; he does not justify a(the character who does this who is popular now is Mr Carson in Downton Abbey) or suck up in his case in the face of horrible mistreatment, but he is an innocent as the film opens. When Solomon is lured to the south, it’s obvious that the two men luring him are crooks; they are over-praising him; he is a simpleton in the scenes. Master Ford as a character is better with his well-meaningness, and his inability to keep Plat, whose opinion Ford consults, thus whose abilities arouse the resentment-hatred of his over-seers slave-servant safe is believable, but numbers of the scenes are too obvious, he won’t help Plat for real, regards Plat as property he must sell to keep his debts down so our moral lesson is clear.

cumberbatchblog
Cumberbatch as the religious ethical man Ford nonetheless showing intense cowardice and lack of real understanding as he briefly explains to Plat why he sells him to Epps

But would such a man sell this man to Epps whom he knows is cruel, sadistic. Epps played as nearly psychotic and seemingly driven by guilt to be even crueller. The central parallel of the two works (Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the film Twelve Years) is this half-crazed white master. Epps is a Simon Legree and his wife a female version. But you do (Stowe and now McQueen) want to make sure the audience gets it.

MrsEppsblog
Sarah Paulson as Mrs Epps riping off Patsy’s ear and taking a chunk out of her cheek with a knife (in Dickens’s Travels in America he easily exposes slavery quoting the ads for finding escaped or “lost” slaves by the scars they are said to have)

Gets what? the key to the film’s power and importance is we see what happens to people who lose all status all caste worth – and in the case of chattel slavery this is reinforced by law which defines them as property. If they should be owned by a mad-man he is allowed to do as he wishes. The point is what law and custom allows. Sure in the Islamic world most men are not ogres, but the Koran and custom allow horrific treatment and power corrupts. People will use power if they are given it even when not as obvious as Legree or Epps.

The film is relevant to us today because today people lose a great deal of status and caste worth depending on how much money they make, the schools they go to, where they live, if they are broke — and worse, if they are immigrants or of a different racial color than the powerful. I was reminded of a book I recently reviewed on global emigration in the 18th century, enforced diasporas, and mass murder, Hodson’s Acadian Diaspora, where the point was made that safety for the average non-powerful non-connected person depends on staying where you are, among relatives or friends and people whose truth or falsehood you can gauge so not be cheated utterly to your destruction with no recourse in courts not made for you. See also David Denby on Twelve Years (from the New Yorker) as best movie on slavery made in the US thus far.

It seems to reflect a book too: there are intriguing sequences which are not part of the plot-driven movement: a group of Native Americans come to dance before the black slaves as if their culture is what slaves will understood. Other curious moments.

The one real flaw in the film is the ending as has been suggested in reviews and conversations I’ve heard. Not so much that Brad Pitt as Bass (a major contributor of money as a first-named producer) gives himself the role of our one abolitionist talker, and the only man to keep his faith with Plat.

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Brad Pitt as Bass actually listening to Plat (with exaggerated courtesy)

Plat before this trusts a white overseer who seems to be his friend with money in return for taking a letter to the post office to send to the north to reach friends to help him in court; the man tells Epps so immediately that the man does not have the letter as evidence and Plat manages to persuade Epps (not too bright) that he man is lying:

12-Years-A-Slaveconfidingblog
Half-mad man

The story is improbable Plat persuades Epps, and then we watch Plat burn the hard won paper and writing he did so laboriously with home-made ink and quill.

Bass is a hired architect, an outsider and he does get in touch with authorities up north and friends of Northup — at considerable risk to himself if he’s found out he says.

The flaw begins with how easy it is for the friends to show up & take Northup away. Why did they never look for Northup before? Well, it is true that people were terrified and a reign of terror worked down south (Harriet Martineau’s travels in America books record this) but then it should not have been as easy as we see it for the men to take Northup away Epps should have shot him, would have. We are then not shown the court scenes that would have been another 2 hours but that would have been original and interesting — so let’s hope for a sequel? I doubt it.

The least real moment is the return of Northup to his family. He looks just as innocent and sweet as when he set out. Not haggard, not worn, not much changed at all. His black family is improbably prosperous throughout yet seem to have no connections to anyone black or white outside themselves. All subside into joy in a circle. Plat-Northup keeps apologizing and that makes psychological sense.

I compared the final scene to some photos I’ve seen of Primo Levi when he first returned from concentration camp,haggard, exhausted, not the same ever again. I wondered if a man dragged from freedom to slavery wouldn’t have the same hostage symptoms, the same urges to self-murder and sense of deep humiliation not to be gotten over. We get intertitles to tell us how Northup wrote and published his book in 1853 (Twelve Years in Slavery, and how he worked hard for the underground railway. So he stayed in the US I thought.

But then this quietly ominous final intertitle: no one knows how or when he died or where he is buried. Maybe murdered?

The central performances of male roles as everyone has said are stunningly good. I’ve already named the principles.

As a woman watching I had though to endure the annoyance of women being presented one-dimensionally throughout — except for Patsy the girl who becomes Epps’ concubine; who he beats, who picks heroic amounts of cotton each day — so she is never whipped for under-picking as others are. The two white mistresses are basically either phlegmatic and do nothing (that’s their role) or spiteful: Sarah Paulson Mrs Epps loathes Epps and tries not to have him in her bed, to leave him but he threatens her too – she is a form of his property too (this reminded me of Valerie Martin’s book that won the Orange Prize, Property); Mrs Epps is as sadistic, as sick as her husband, hates Patsy and hurls hard objects at her, knocking her down, cuts her face and ear cruelly, will not let her wash herself so she flees for soap and is gone for a few hours which leads to a horrific scene of Epps beating her and then forcing Plat to do it.

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The scene’s reality for the era (keeping clean was difficult) makes one feel it comes from the book — as one of Indians humiliating themselves by dancing as white people expect

We see one black woman who has become a white man’s open mistress: she is fatuous, self-centered, looks down at other blacks. I don’t say these are not human impulses but that’s all we get of these women. A black woman weeps incessantly because parted from her children; another forces herself sexually one night on Plat.

So it’s masculinist movie — Fanny Kemble’s Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 1838-39 depicts the terrifying work load and sexual exploitation and cruelty wreaked on women — and their complicated humanity too. And Kemble as mistress identifies with them and within 4 years leaves her husband — she must leave behind her children to do it, only regaining the friendship of one of them in much later years. Such a thinking upright brave type woman is not in the film.

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Which brings me to the opera of Moby Dick where (like Master and Commander out of the Patrick O’Brien books) where no women are in the film — just remembered as embodying civilization itself.

The one women in the cast was playing the boy, Pip, who is almost drowned. Suffice to say it outlined the major hinge-points of the novel (as seen in a play originally with Orson Welles from the 1940s I once saw), and it brought out the meaningful themes: does life have any meaning? who is this haunted creature-fish and Ahab or Ishmael? they are lonely? Is there a God; if so, is he evil incarnate? The music was alluring, the lines resonant to larger meanings we can identify with through generalizations. Like all films it was made for today, with today in mind. The artwork beautifully picturesque:

The production did not emphasize the primal animal-fish (as did Winston Graham in his last Poldark novel, Bella) but human displacement, alienation. The production did seem to suggest that all would have been well but that the captain was mad. (That’s not the note of the Graham novels.) As I recall the book the thrust is all is not going to be well, never has. We see a dream life or men cut off from where they could know happiness as they are driven to make money in this dangerous occupation.

So I loved the deep melancholy of the men, their desperation to bring home some whale oil for money I see as part of human life. I bonded with the man who survives and calls himself Ishmael. He had wanted to go to an island with Queegqueg and live out our lives as best we can; I felt for Mr Starbuck who is nearly shot point-blank by Ahab, and almost shoots Epps on the way. There are the comic undercutting characters too.

Costello-Ishmaelblog
And he wouldn’t know, he was tempted

This novel centrally attacks tenets of Christian belief, from justice as always or often done, to stories of an afterlife. These are deliberately not love or dynastic stories. He wanted to be spared.

I bring them together because I watched them within 12 hours of one another, and was struck by the shared masculinity identification. For myself the plangent nature of the music, Ishmael as a person alone in this world resonated enough. I think Jim would have enjoyed the great range of the masculine voices they hired. The lines on the screen and wild waters as the ships turning out from lines, the wild waters — all pulled me paradoxically soothed me. The ending of the tale is tragic as is a good deal of life.

Friday nights on TV contain a revival of the old Great Performances which I remember from my childhood, watching with my father on the old Channel 13: Judith Anderson in Medea, a Chekhov play with a male character who lived in an attic with birds, a sad poet, a bitter absolutely perfect Twelth Night (so that’s what is meant), Peggy Ashcroft, Duchess of Malfi. Now a few weeks ago the four Henry plays, from Richard II to Henry V (and the actors and actresses were great from the extraordinary Ben Wishlaw as Richard (this was Shakespeare I thought — ever autobiographical in my reading), Lindsay Duncan as Duchess of York, David Morrisey as Northumberland, Tom Hiddleston as Henry, Roy Kinnear as Bolingbroke become Jeremy Irons as king, Michelle Dockery (Yay!) as Kate, Hotspur’s wife, Simon Beale as Falstaff, (I saw David Bradley too), magnificently done.

I did not realize the new version allows you to watch a re-run (as it were) as a podcast.

Learning to watch TV, a little
Ellen

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winstongrahamblog
Winston Graham — from his middle years

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Robin Ellis, recently — very important in shaping and keeping memory of Poldark alive (Making Poldark appeared in a 3rd expanded edition this year)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m delighted (and honored) to be able to report that James Dring has made a significant contribution to Winston Graham studies: on his website you can find a long, thorough listing of all Graham’s fiction accompanied by remarks culled from reviews at the time of the particular book’s publication, comments by Graham on the book (in green letters), and accurate contextualization of both sets of remarks by Dring (in brown). The file includes the films, screenplays, books on these, and letters by Graham and a letter from Graham to Dring. And finally a listing of all Graham’s minor publications (essays and introductions) and the few essays that have been published on him (mostly on his mystery-crime books). One could use this information as the beginning basis of a literary biography or longer study of all Graham’s writing.

An annotated bibliography

The films make visible the kinds of reactions readers have to the novels, the way they have been read:

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Still from the fine 19560s semi-art film, The Walking Stick

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Richard Armitage and Demelza Carne Poldark falling in love over their shared reading (Poldark 1977-78, Part 9)

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1996 Stranger from the Sea: an attempt to de-politicize the Poldark novels, turn them into ethnic (wild Cornwall) domestic romance (defeated by the brevity of the film and vociferous protests of fan club for 1970s mini-series & its stars)

Mr Dring has also provided two files of the dust jackets of the books: dust jackets; more dust jackets

Here are a few telling ones I’ve gathered (from the Net):

RossPoldark1stedition
First 1945 edition of Ross Poldark

1960sPoldarkNovelsBodleyHeadArtworkblog
Art work on back of all Bodley Head Poldark novels (1960s)

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Cover for the 5th Poldark novel reflecting the 1970s film adaptation

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Recent British set (21st century)

Dust jackets are an important form of packaging information about a book: they suggest who the book is aimed at; the imagery, if true to the book, something of its genre and nature; how much respect a particular press lends to the book. These provide the basis for a study of Graham’s readership, the initial reception of his novels and later evaluations by publishers, readers, and himself (he rewrote or at least revised his early books).

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1st edition of Little Walls

ForgottenStoryblog
Edition of Forgotten Story, story set in Cornwall, 1898 (perhaps 1960s? or around the time of the 1984 film adaptation, featuring Angharad Rees)

RecentEditionblog
Recent edition of novel set in India, Corfu, Wales, something of a historical novel (sexy cover fixated on woman from the back in slip influenced by memories of Hitchcock’s Marnie)

Mr Dring contacted me to suggest I link his website to mine as providing on-line information about Graham, the Poldark and his other books. I’ve now done so, linking all three files into my central section and bibliography page

Ellen

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PaulCriticalofRogerblog
TWWLN (Pt 2, Ep 12): fierce quarrel between Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) and Roger Carbury (Douglas Hodge)

Dear friends and readers,

I am happy to be able to say the paper on “Masculinity and Epistolarity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope films” is finished, and accepted as excellent and fitting in very well with a projected volume on British costume and popular serial drama as a whole. (There are four essays on Downton Abbey, two on the Poldark series, one on The Forsyte Saga in it.) In order to keep the paper to 6700 words, I had to omit a bibliography and cut some parts of my argument; the parts chosen were about how Davies alludes to, critiques and even seeks to replace previous films adapted from the same book or another book by the same author. Davies extends his influence beyond how to read a particular book or author by alluding to and replacing earlier ones by a given author; he likes to comment on earlier films and mini-series too.

Davies has often described his approach to an author’s text he has adapted into a screenplay for a film or mini-series as “having a little quarrel” with “mine author.” He means playfully to refer to the way he will reverse, qualify and critique some of his author’s points of view and the characters’ acts and personalities. Most of the time Davies seeks to present a far more humane, and sometimes socialistic vision than his verbal sources.

His way of extending his readings’ influence in many of his films is to allude to and replace precursor films; for Trollope these include Alan Plater’s 1982 BBC six-hour Barchester Chronicles and Simon Raven’s 1974-75 BBC 26 hour Pallisers. In He Knew He Was Right Davies replaces Trollope’s Exeter and East End London with the décor, church ambiance and costume designs of Plater’s Barchester Chronicles to provide a note of needed cheer. The sets also bring home to us this idyllic matter of the 1980s was not shot through, as this film adaptation is, with gender and class betrayals, and exploitations of women. Something that never comes up in Trollope and Plater’s Barchester Chronicles and is made much of here is the need of a clergyman to be seen to be respectable, maintain a standard of life style and please his parishioners to survive.

DorothyBrookeblog
HKHWR (Pt 3, Ep 4); Dorothy Stanbury (Caroline Martin) reasoning with Brooke Burgess (Matthew Goode)

In Davies’s and Trollope’s HKHWR, the intelligent and candid Dorothy Stanbury (Caroline Walker dressed in a costume whose cut and design harks back to the previous film) tells her suitor who prefers to ignore this motive for her acceptance of him: “The world is filled with people whom nobody cares for, people that nobody thinks about, nobody talks about as if they’re not there … If a man is a nobody, he can make himself into somebody or at any rate, he can try, but a woman has no means of trying. She does not earn anything or do any good in the world.”

An analogous bleak awareness about why women marry, and the consequent “tyranny of husbands” is uttered by the Signori Neroni in Trollope’s Barchester Towers, although given a wistful turn by Plater and Susan Hampshire (the actress). Susan Hampshire playing the crippled Signora Neroni has been listening to her sister, Charlotte Stanhope, urge their penniless brother, Bertie, to court the widowed Eleanor Bold, to marry her for her money if he can. Obstacles include the heavy mourning Eleanor wears. Madeleine speaks a series of utterances which have undergone no change from Barsetshire Chronicles: “I hate such shallow pretenses. I’d let the world say what it pleased and show no grief [for a dead husband] if I felt none – perhaps not show it if I did,” and (when they in effect say nothing) “you both know in what way husbands and wive generally live together. You know what freedom a man claims for himself and what slavery he would exact from a wife and you know how wives generally obey. Marriage means tyranny on one side, and deceit on the other, and a man is a fool to sacrifice his interests to such a bargain. The tragedy is a woman generally has no other way of living” (Cf 1:4, Episode 5; BT 125-26).

BTPt5Madeleineblog
Barchester Chronicles (Pt 5, Ep 4): Signora Neroni (Susan Hampshire), disillusioned

This disillusioned awareness about marriage, as found in Trollope’s Barchester Towers and uttered by Susan Hampshire is central to Emily Trevelyan’s dilemma and the two other heroines who have no way of supporting themselves in the book, Nora Rowley and Dorothea Stanbury. Through these heroines Trollope utters and Davies repeats bleak versions of Madeleine’s comment. But Trollope shies away, offers no words which shed light on the novel’s sexual and emotional anxiety, distress, on jealousy, both the male and female’s desire to have unshared physical possession (the latter enshrined in marriage), their need for reassurance and respect, and urge to dominate. All that Trollope’s text contains (repeated many times) are Louis’s religious castigations (which Emily rejects as ugly name-calling) and demands for instant obedience. Davies makes us see that in fact Emily did flirt with Osborne, they talked disingenuously when they justified their implicitly erotic correspondence with one another, and Davies does what he can to reinforce and bring out versions of feminist self-assertion in his films.

One example: Lady Rowley (Geraldine James) trying to persuade Emily to own a fault and submit to her husband at least part way.

Emily: and offer him my humble penitence for sins I’d never committed
Lady R: but to have your home again dear and your little boy
Emily: by telling lies and living a lie
Lady R: you wouldn’t be the first women to do so

Emily stares, her father, Sir Marmaduke rustles his newspaper in discomfort resentful as if about to protest. Then Davies gives Emily a soliloquy by curtained window & flower arrangement to us:

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HKHWR (Pt 3, Ep 7): Emily (Laura Fraser) reasoning with us

if I simply said the words to him might they work like a spell would he change back to the Louie I first knew I could pretend pretend to be the humble penitent wife he wants (intense resentment understandable) and wait and take my chance and escape with little Louie … but where could we go that he couldn’t find us … then still looking at us

In The Way We Live Now Davies includes scenes which allude to the kind of behavior we find among males in both Barchester Chronicles and The Pallisers: Davies’s younger contemporary males attuned to the contemporary worlds of business and more liberated women expose the older men’s supposed sheerly chivalrous motives in wanting to marry a much younger woman as a mask for carnal appetites and control over everyone within the reach of their patronage; this achieved by treating women as children and presenting themselves as exemplary in all behaviors.

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TWWLN (Pt 2, Ep 7): again Paul Montague and Roger Carbury confront one another

Four scenes invented by Davies between Sir Roger Carbury (Douglas Hodge) and his cousin-nephew, Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) are intended as commentary on the supposed chivalrous but actually possessive and repressive behavior of Plantagenet Palliser (Philip Latham) over Lady Glencora McClusky Palliser (Susan Hampshire). Davies’s TWWLN: Part 2, Episode 7: Paul: “For God’s sake, man, she’s not a piece of property for one man to take or another to keep. She has a will of her own and a heart of her own. In the end she will decide. She may not choose either of us”; Part 2, Episode 12: Paul: “You think and you speak of her as a child, Roger, all your intercourse with her has been as a grown man with a child and you offer yourself to her as a lover. How can you regard your advances to her with anything but embarrassment and disgust.”

Palliser’s father-like concern in participating in the forcing of a frustrated thwarted Lady Glencora to marry him forms another common typology in Trollope’s work, one shown to be justified by Trollope and Raven. In a striking scene which set alongside Trollope’s clearly is intended to critique this paradigm, Davies has his less than scrupulous young male hero, Paul Montague turn on Roger Carbury, Paul’s older guardian-uncle when (as in Trollope) Roger disdains Montague for spending a weekend with the married Winifred Hurtle, and accuse Roger of far worse behavior, of distasteful appetites and seeking exploitative control when Roger pursues the much younger and dowry-less Hetta. Roger’s response to this demonstrates how central Davies understands Paul’s direct thrust against Victorian male paternalism (and Trollope’s alter-egos) to be: “I don’t see how our relationship can survive this” (Cf. HKHWR (film), 2:2, Episodes 7, 12 and HKHWR 374-77)

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HKHWR (Pt 1, Ep 3): Emily with Osborne (Bill Nighy), a vision or daily happening?

In interviews Davies has said both The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right are about “strong, confident ['modern'] women.” He sees Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right as “about a strong woman who is seeking to make her own decisions and lead her own life, and a rather fragile man who can’t stand up to her” (Walsh), an astonishing stance when placed in relationship to most essays about the book, which Davies clearly has read (e.g., Nardin 203-11).

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HKHWR (Pt 1,Ep 3): Emily overmastering Louis (Oliver Dimsdale)

Although Davies eliminates some of the worst explicit violence against women in Trollope’s novel, it’s Trollope’s dramatization of women’s subjection, caged delusions, sense of self, fierce materialism in conflict with their need for love, and tendency (as he sees it) to submit and sacrifice themselves to others that Davies turns to mildly subversive advantage in the stories of the partly re-characterized unchaste as well as chaste young heroines. The character Trollope meant to be one of the corrupt and deluded focuses of the book, Lady Carbury (in Trollope’s scathing view, a marketplace “female literary charlatan” if ever there was one, [Kincaid 173-74; McMaster 69, 76]), becomes an often sympathized-with vulnerable and sensual career woman.

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TWWLN (Pt 1, Ep 9), Lady Carbury (Cheryl Campbell) making up to Mr Broun (David Bradley) at her salon

Davies was attracted to The Way We Live Now by two male characters: “Sir Felix Carbury, so pathetic, yet very attractive to women. He’s utterly contemptible really, and is my favorite character”; “my character of Sir Roger [Carbury] is Trollope writing in a great fire of indignation about every aspect of English society” (PSB Website). Integrity as an element in male emotional weakness, and empathy with mean, vicious male characters have long been found in Davies’ filmic oeuvre (Cardwell, Davies 159-66, 84-94, 148-57), but the conventions and characterizations in Davies’s Trollope represents show Davies unsympathetic to Trollope’s moralisms, staid realism and specific characters in the 1974 Pallisers (which Davies sought to replace).

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TWWLN (Pt 1, Ep 6): Felix’s jaunty walk (Matthew Macfayden)

Felix Carbury is a type found throughout Trollope’s fiction: the ne’er-do-well drone attractive to women because he can be brutal to them, e.g., Burgo Fitzgerald whom Barry Justice plays (Pallisers 1:1–3:6) as a poignant tragic hero, a view consonant with Trollope’s text: Raven’s pathetic scene of Burgo as genuinely grief-stricken and abused, wounded in a justified pride (Pallisers 3:6, Episode 28) includes dramatic language taken directly from Can You Forgive Her? (690-700). Matthew MacFayden as Felix ends complacently playing cards, drinking whiskey, and is last seen chasing a flirtatious woman around a door, apparently content with life on a remittance in small European town (at least behaving no differently than he ever did). Neither Raven nor or Alan Plater (scriptwriter for the Barsetshire Chronicles) ever question the supposedly admirable motives of Trollope’s alter egos.

Davies’s particular brand of mild feminism within a masculinist perspective calls out for study since he has been so influential on how people respond to the books he’s adapted. He feels for weaker woman, e.g., in TWWLN Madame Melmotte’s nervousness is contrasted to Hetta (Paloma Baeza) and Mrs. Hurtle (Mirando Otto) as strong women: Madame Melmotte (Helen Schlesinger) clutches her hands in a characteristic gesture signaling a helpless woman listening to Melmotte’s last pragmatic advice: “You’d better pack up your jewels . . . pack ‘em up small, ready to hand . . . you might have to …”

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TWWLN (Pt 4, Ep 11): she wrings her hands

Not all is sombre; strength in woman can make gay scenes too. A mark of Davies’s real talent for play-writing (scripts for TV too) is the ability to convey a story through dialogue and make the dialogue itself of interest in different ways and at the same time create human sympathy for the characters. I was struck by this sparkling dialogue written by Davies for Caroline Spalding and Mr Glascock to speak to one another in their flirtatious phase at Florence; there is no such dialogue in Trollope, but it articulates the conflict of values between the two, and presents as sharp a critique of the US as the UK — which self-critique the American Senator Gotobed (American Senator) fudges:

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HKHWR (Pt 2 Ep 9): Miss Caroline Spalding (Anna Louise Plowman) holds her own; they begin their witty flirtatious debate with Caroline suggesting to Glascock (the name is deliberately parodically allegorical) he would not enjoy a visit or life in the US:

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Mr Glascock (Raymond Coulthard)

Caroline: You wouldn’t like it [the states]
Glascock: Why not?
Caroline: Because you’re an aristocrat
Glascock: And why should that prevent me from liking it
Caroline: One half of the people would run after you and the other half would run away from you on principle
Glascock: Revolutionary principle?
Caroline: Democratic principle
Glascock: And may I ask which half you’d be in [-- gets sly and sharp look now]
Caroline: The second half of course
Glascock: You’re not running away from me now
Caroline: No I’m not, am I? but I think I shall have to before too long
Glascock: Oh that would make me sad
Caroline: It would make me sad too but there we are I think it has to be done the old world and the new are like oil and vinegar you see we may be polite to each other in society but deep down you believe we’re an inferior race and
Glascock: mouths oh
Caroline: Deep down we’d like to smash your outdated snobbish institutions and make you like us free and equal
Glascock; Well, all Englishmen are free and we’re all equal in the eyes of god
Caroline: Oh and doesn’t that excuse a great deal of iniquity we freed our slaves Mr Glascock
Glascock: We never had slaves Miss Spalding
Caroline: No you just traded in them
Glascock: Well not me personally and my father was very active in the abolition movement (getting insulted now)
Caroline: None of this is personal, Mr Glascock
Glascock: I’m relieved to hear it.

The juxtapositon of this fresh love of Caroline and Glascock is cast odd light on by previous utterances about love and courtship by the 5 or 6 other couples of the novel (dependent on how you count them) and also Emily and Louis’s love: What will this couple be in a few years, we are led to ask. A deep scepticism about erotic love in this film is part of Davies’s presentation of male sexual anxiety too — she says this will end in tears. Then we get this witty half -challenging dialogue about old world and new aristocracy and democracy. Davies probably thinks of himself as outdoing his predecessor even in the area of naturalistic dialogue where Trollope is a past master too.

Ellen

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George V (Samuel West) pushing Roosevelt’s (Bill Murray) wheelchair into the library where they can talk freely

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Same night, Daisy (Laura Linney) smoking freely by small cottage on the grounds of Hyde Park

Dear friends and readers,

Until I read the reviews which came out around the time this film was released, this past Christmas (yes I’m 7 months late, but then this is better than my usual 10-20 years), I was going to tell of how much I enjoyed the movie the first time I watched it around 1 in the morning so perhaps in the mood for a sort of odd “midsummer night’s dream” about real people escaping the world of day. Then how I grew to dislike it as I considered all it had left out about the importance, greatness, nobility of the finest, best president the US has ever had bar none, his decent associates, and listened to the tasteless and hypocritical voice-over commentary of the film-makers. And then how I reversed again upon third viewing, again at 1 in the morning (gentle reader it’s been so hot here), realizing its appeal lies is that it’s traditional costume drama of the BBC type done for film adaptations with a quirky difference. It is a genuine defense of unconventionality; of people with what’s called and in the case of Roosevelt certainly was after polio disabilities. Its center is a spinster with little ambition.

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Love-making in a flowered field — Daisy also begins to smoke in this scene

So, quirky, but not so much because of the female narrator whose marginalized kindly, apolitical, private point of view permeates the film: that’s par for the course in these sort of films. They often have such women only they are usually made beautiful and married by the end. The usual nostalgia there is (including the use of film taken from a historical picnic at the time which provides the film’s penultimate scene), alluring landscapes, wistful light music, the leisurely pace, the complex psychology of some of the characters, multi- and parallel stories. Rather it’s quirky because of its self-deprecating non-solemn or off-hand presentation of the unconventional, the disabled, women no one wants (but Roosevelt it seems), the usual slice of life angle from the upper class (Hyde Park house is a sort of Downton Abbey, with several extensive staffs, steward, butler, man to carry the president when needed), one presented so wryly and combined with an important political reconciliation (this was the first visit of an English king to an American president).

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Daisy and Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) as friends playing cards, fringe hangers-on — the happy ending

The quirkiness is also in presenting disabilities (a stutterer, cripple), spinsters (Missy LeLand is as much a spinster as Daisy Suckley), and an unconventional marriage (FDR and Eleanor’s) as not needing to be normalized. There is none of this heroic overcoming we had in King’s Speech, no great win as in Lincoln, the stuttering and bigotry (the butler is simply let go for not being willing to allow black men on his staff in the kitchen) and unromantic sexual habits go on.

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OpeningStillblog
As in a novel the opening sentence is telling so in a movie the opening still: we begin and end with Daisy’s voice and here she is from the back answering a phone call to come help cheer the president

It was the second thought, the doubts I was going to emphasize. This is one of the cases where the over-voice commentary on the DVD is worse than a waste of time: Roger Michell and his buddies talked false hype: continual
self-regarding stories about “the stars,” silly stories about Roosevelt; if the film-makers understood anything of the film techniques they were using (which they surely did) it was the last thing they were going to discuss. What do they think people listen to commentaries for? To be given a commercial in disguise. And the feature was not a feature but a trailer, which like most trailers distorted and dumb-downed the movie to make it appeal to a larger audience many of whom would not like this movie. I was particularly offended with their salacious references to the “hand-job” Daisy is said to give FDR in the film, and thought they had handed the public a deliberately degrading and debased way of viewing the man responsible for the few social ameliorations US people enjoy today and whose laws until they were repealed controlled the rapacious banks.

I thought one typical remark in the commentary revealing. The film-maker apologized for cutting the scenes of Blake Ritson as Johnson (luxury casting here), the butler who refuses to work with black men whom Eleanor has hired.

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Scene filmed from odd angle, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), president’s mother (Elizabeth Wilson) faced by Johnson (Blake Ritson) and other staff, two black men from the back

He says it’s them or me. Eleanor says it’s you and Ritson as butler is fired. All cut — you can view it in the DVD’s deleted scenes. No explanation from Michell beyond how sorry he was to lose Ritson’s performance. This is a part of the lavish flattery of these features for all the people participating in the film and pretense of happy times for all doing the film seen together with no rivalry (it seems). I think they cut it because it lacked the semi-humor with which everything else was dramatized.

I know FDR was the greatest (best, most decent, unbeatable as to programs) president the US ever had (bar none), though I’ve never sat down and read a full-length book about FDR or Eleanor — only what essays have come my way in periodicals we get in the house. I’ve the highest respect for Eleanor — and feminist avante la lettre as to her expressed points of view — I’ve never even read her memoir which I’ve had in my house for donkey’s years. I don’t know which is the best and don’t know where to ask, and know what is written about him is so skewed — during his 4 terms (my father used to say) from the newspapers you’d think he was the most hated man in the US and each election it was presented as astounding that he’d won again and big. His one mistake (driven to it, partly by illness) was to give up Wallace as his vice-president in that last term. History might have been different. I’m telling myself I’ll find out the best book and get to that memoir. I’m no “Americanist” — just don’t read much American literature though most of the books as a child and young woman without trying were US authors and types. I do like American gothic.

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But then I read the reviews and realized the film was dissed as “imbecilic” and idiotic because it told the story from Daisy Suckley’s, an obscure woman’s point of view: Daisy has “a termite’s view of history” said one reviewer. Who could care about her? I love that it was as much a heroine’s movie as say Frances Ha or an Austen film.

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Daisy (Laura Linney) appealing to and FDR (Bill Murray) reciprocating affection

A film without great stirring events and resolutions offended reviewers: it wasn’t going anywhere, had no point (like Lincoln). (None of the adulterers is punished like Anna Karenina [another Xmas movie], except if you think being told that while FDR shared his estate with Missy he did not visit her in the hospital when she felt fatally ill.) Eleanor (who did keep a second house) looked dowdy! (but she did in life). Those who recognized the film’s genre complained about what was the point: its discomfort, the unease. I agree a sceptical harder view of who these individuals were and why they hooked up (more characters should have been individualized) would have improved it (see Peter Bradshaw) — there were more serpents in this garden than the disabilities never discussed.

There is something odd in this film, but no one asks what it is: why did Nelson choose the incident of the king and queen’s visits (he adds it onto Daisy’s diaries) to show Roosevelt’s astuteness and humanity? it’s not only singularly devoid of hard mean politicking, war enter only through the king’s pity for the children in Spain bombed out of existence, and it does focus on the most privileged pair in the UK, partly trivializing them too, though Elizabeth’s (Olivia Coleman) needling George (Samuel West) with pointed references to his more suave brother, Edward VIII (who vacated the throne) seemed not improbable. The film is explicitly, consciously a defense of keeping secret the private lives of these politicians – that can be used by conservatives to cover up the their personal uses of their offices, I see that, but ti also allowed a crippled man to be president greatly. Should people’s sex lives and vulnerabilities be exposed when its their economic and social ideologies that count? In this film the characters have freedom in private.

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Roosvelt catching himself with his hand

Its central scene is where the president comforts the king for his stuttering by showing himself lurching along a desk as a crippled man to reach his cigarettes. And its climax occurs when Daisy discovers the president is having an affair with Missy as well — in that cottage she thought he had set up for her. And how the two women then became close friends, buddies in a car together.

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So instead I will emphasize how the film does not enforce normalcy. How it shows people behave irrationally: that the British King should eat an American hot dog as a great symbolic act is silly, and yet that is what happens in life. How Daisy remained the spinster around the place, the president’s friend except to those in the know. Daisy’s point of view is good-natured, open, tolerant, caring about others (her aunt played by Eleanor Bron who also lurches) as she hopes to be cared for,

DaisysAuntblog.

and this wins me over.

As with The King’s Speech, I felt sorry for the king while his character played so adeptly and slightly comically by Samuel West is not paid enough attention to. He makes the film fun. I liked his jokes (lame as they were) when the poor servants dropped those trays heavy with dishes and food.

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And the performances were very good. My view of Laura Linney has changed: I’d hitherto only seen her enacting that godawful introduction to Masterpiece theater where she is dressed in a ludicrous trussed-up sexual way. Here she is a Fanny Price who gets to stay on, everyone’s confidante.

As one commenter said, it’s a fine summer romp that I recommend. A beautiful movie.

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The president asks Daisy how does she like the landscape; she says very well.

And then sit down and read a good book on FDR, Eleanor, Henry Wallace, the political, economic and social worlds of the later 1930s. Yes we would have learned more to have Frances Perkins in the film (and political associates of FDR), but that and Eleanor’s politics require a separate documentary or biopic. Due to some good talk on Trollope19thCStudies I’ve ordered Kirsten Downey’s book on Frances Perkins. Also Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley, ed Geoffrey Ward — Daisy’s diaries and private papers (nowadays very cheap), and Hazel Rowley’s Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage (ditto).

Ellen

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GosfordParkUpstairsblog
Gosford Park: Upstairs

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Gosford Park: Downstairs,

Dear friends and readers,

Notwithstanding Rumor to the contrary, Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, both scripted by Julian Fellowes, are distinctively different movies. Here am I again about Gosford Park: a fine film about costume drama, whose signature music I offered two Sundays ago and again on Downton Abbey (see archives).

Robert, Earl of Grantham, the controlling Top Male whom all ultimately reverence in Downton Abbey, is a good decent man who keeps his word; he does not have a liaison with any of the servant girls. He means well; we are endorse all his decisions for himself and others. Sir Wm MacCordle, the controlling Top Male of Gosford Park and many investments, is a ruthless lying seducer, especially of working women around him dependent on him. In DA, everyone (even Thomas the homosexual footman and Miss Obrien, the old maid lady’s maid) is presented as having a good side, explicable by a sort of pop Freudian psychology, most mean well, most believe in the value of their job, the general order of things against which they may rebel, but then blame themselves as ungrateful. Godford Park is shot through and thought with knowledge of how demanding, careless of their health and needs, indifferent, utterly selfish, obtuse the upstairs people mostly are; the staff is sceptical, notes the hypocrisies, idle lives of their masters and mistresses, lack of lives of their own. Sir William is murdered three times over and his death upsets no one but his (foolish) worshipful valet.

Every one of the 16 stories (we have 16 major characters) in Downton Abbey is elaborately worked out; we are given many clues for each story; if the story is left to end ambiguously, by the end nothing is mysterious or merely suggestive. In Gosford Park, suggestiveness without elaboration is the key to presenting an interweave of 40 characters. The characters are glimpsed mostly as an ensemble, clues are sparse, lines which explain given only once and indirectly. Gosford Park therefore feels much much realer as we experience, each scene has so much piled into it (rich texture) you feel you could watch it so many times as you might read a book at least several times.

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Downton Abbey: the upstairs group enjoys a Christmas dance

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Downton Abbey: the downstairs group enjoying a day-long fair

Downton Abbey is a justification of the older hierarchical order of the world, with some counting far more than others; Gosford Park is an exposure of the anguish this giving power to a few males wreaks on everyone else, a perversion or out natural appetites.

The difference is the presence of Robert Altman to provide a counterweight to Fellowes’ arch-conservatism, to undercut, undermine, satirize Fellowes’ vision while showing it going on as if intact, only at the end the house is almost all closed up as all people but McCordle’s wife, butler, valet, are getting out as fast as they can to something they hope will be better for them. At the same time Fellowes provides a brilliant script psychologically and knows how to make effective filmic scenes.

Two closing moments can epitomize what I’m getting at: the last part of Season 1 where Lady Mary has gone a step too far: Matthew breaks it off and speaks from the gut as he realizes Mary is offering to marry him if she doesn’t get a better offer (supposedly actuated by Lady Rosamund); he has just nearly been kicked out by the prospect of Cora, Lady Grantham having a baby (stamped out by Miss Obrien)

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The moment the American producer nods to Elsie, ex-head parlormaid, kicked out upon breaking code and in front of all at the table showing herself to be the latest in a long line of Sir William McCordle’s mistresses; Elsie, I say, crosses over to his car where await her Igor Novello (songster, failed movie-maker) and the producer’s lover-companion, Denton. She’ll do all right after all – on her back — and as Mary (Lady Constance’s lady’s maid) closes the door on her we see Sir William’s dog has a berth in her case. Much said in this series of stills:

GosfordParkElsieJoinsHollywoodsetblog

The scripts of both read like novels. And their dramatic range and for suggested complexity of character both deserve to be awarded. The scripts of Downton Abbey read like stage plays, plenty of thought into the lines; sincerely believed in and imagined, not tongue-in-cheek; a landscape country house story of clashes within characters and across the tabooed lines between them. We have scenes omitted from the final cut.

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Big moment of shock when tabooed lines crossed

The scripts of Gosford Park reminded me of the game of Clue. The first page had thumb-nail shots of each character and their role/job and one characteristic; they were lined up against a tree connecting them to one another. This was a murder-mystery in which when we realized the usual suspects had done it (the young man driven to bankruptcy by McCordle, his ex-mistress housekeeper whose life & dreams he has blighted utterly; his bastard son who loathes him, we realized it didn’t matter and no one cared as it’s all a game we agree to play in order to be in the order, play a part. It also has stories omitted from the final cut.

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Someone matter-of-factly directing traffic: Mrs Wilson, housekeeper

I’m on my third viewing of Downton Abbey, and while I become so involved with the characters over and over and do see more psychologically, socially, I’ve managed to deepen the experience by attention to filmic techniques, by reading The Chronicles of … and The World of Downton Abbey, and now the scripts for the first season. I’ve now watched Gosford Park 6 times (!). I’ve now watched Gosford Park 6 times altogether: once in the movies, once when Jim downloaded a copy from Pirate Bay, and now 4 more times since I’ve gotten myself the DVD with the feature, two of these times with over voices, first just Fellowes and then Altman with his production designer and one of the producers.

To sum up, Altman’s presence has made GP shots so much more overflowing with information, story matter, and continually undermined any of the longed-for ideals both programs dramatize so the matter of these scripts feels inexhaustible; each time you watch the Altman you see more (40 characters about 25 stories in 2 and one half-hours, many of them hollow though deeply emotional); each time you watch Fellowes alone you see more fully the same thing but no more — what you see is what you get — and there is no undercutting that is not made explicit by Maggie Smith as sour Dowager.

Ellen

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Adam and Beth go looking for racoons
Adam (Hugh Dancy in key role): a movie about an autistic young man

Dear friends and readers,

There’s a major area completely undiscovered – as it were — in Victorian literature. A way of making genuinely humane sense out of all sorts of works. We need to stop (first of all, a minimum first) stop using terms like “cripples” or “monstrous” as these feed into misunderstanding of what the experience of disability is to the person and those immediately around him or her, who live with and next to them.

To answer a request to cite a few such characters and comment on Victorian characters already cited:

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The first shot of la Signora Neroni (Susan Hampshire): Mrs Proudie asks, “what’s so special about this lady beyond her preposterous name?” Rickman as Slope replies: “She can’t walk.”

Madame Neroni in Trollope’s Barchester Towers is not a monstrous figure, but her crippled state is described as grotesque. She refuses to try to walk is to do that would expose this aspect of her body. If we move away from the word “cripples” and an insistence on physical disability as the key to disability, Elizabeth Gaskell has quite a number of disabled characters across her oeuvre, especially the short stories (a number of which are gothic in feel). It’s mostly mental disability and she shows real empathy for the disabled character and her or his caretaker, mostly women. By contrast, there’s Eliot’s really cruel Lifted Veil where a “mentally retarded” young man (whom today would be labelled low-functioning autistic) is treated with horror, as an unendurable mischievously savage burden. I would count Tarchetti’s Fosca as an Italian Victorian gothic novella — in the modern translation by Lawrence Venuti it’s retitled Passion, the influence of Sondheim’s musical-opera.

It doesn’t take much to see many of the characters in gothic mysteries and crime stories as disabled people stigmatized as “other.” A reading of recent disability studies might open up a whole new area of humane investigation from this point of view, and this has been already begun. An issue of Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies — 6.2 (2012) — is dedicated to disability studies. The central point is made that disability is partly in the eye of the society who defines a series of traits as disability and then sees the person with these as “others”; then the purpose of the issue is to explore how disability is presented in literature. There are essays on “Late Victorian Gothic,” disability in romance, disability in crime and mystery novels.

The claim is persuasively made that crime and mystery novels have often centered on disabled people seen as villains, freaks, or the detective him or herself (mentally different you see). This kind of insight is fueling the new British Sherlock, arguably both Martin Freeman and Bernard Cumberbatch play high-functioning autistic or Aspergers characters who find deep friendship and a metier in helping other outside the cultural norm.

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First shot of Dr Watson (Martin Freeman) home from war

Moving slightly away from Victorian texts, it’s argued in these essays that there are far more openly disabled characters in popular fiction than ever before, but the question is whether there has been really a development of understanding or empathy or it’s a reinforcing voyeurism in the service of enforcing normalcy. I know everyone is tired of hearing of Downton Abbey, but the presence of a character like Mr Bates is part of this new openness. What’s remarkable about Gaskell for example is by the end of her presentation the central characters have not been re-coopted into conventional patterns; they are not made “all well.”And to give Fellowes his due for once, Mr Bates is not co-opted back into “all well.” He remains outside the “norm” with his menacing dignity. The actor, Brendan Coyle, was given a central role in the film adaptation of Gaskell’s Cranford Chronicles.

I suggest a study of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights from the point of disability studies (her verse too) might open whole new points of view on Heathcliff and Emily Bronte herself, the occasional half-hysterical violence of that book, the apartness of her poetry and various stories about Emily herself. Isabella Linton Heathcliff may well be a portrait of a woman unable to cope with social demands, and reacting grotesquely.

There’s also Fictions of Affliction by Martha Stoddard Holmes: her figures in include Madame Neroni, Dickens’s Jenny Wren (Our Mutual Friend), Tiny Tim, Wilkie Collins’s Lucy Finch she also studies Henry Mayhew’s interviews with disabled street vendors; autobiographical writings of Harriet Martineau and John Kitto, both deaf; and biographies of two public figures who were blind, the postmaster general Henry Fawcett and the disabled-rights activist Elizabeth Gilbert.

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Contemporary illustration of Dickens’s character by Marcus Stone

Holmes is said to be interested in the melodramatic way most of these figures are presented; it’s an emotional and moral, not a medical and social struggle. Thinking about this, for Madame Neroni I would say it is a social struggle. For example, her decision not to be seen walking, the way she re-interprets what happened during her marriage. She’s not presented melodamatically either. Not that I am arguing Trollope’s portrait is of a 20th or 21st century enlightened sort, but he does bring in that she was physically abused by her husband.

Though not on Victorian literature, the insights in Rosemarie Garland Thomson: Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring disability in American literature may be used for Victorian literature.

Deafness is also often brought up as a central “type” of disability — partly because of the strong self-advocacy by the deaf, & I suggest Leonard Davis’s Enforcing Normalcy ought to inform any work done in this area; its subtitle Disability, Deafness, and the Body brings out its central focus on deafness. One of the chapters is on the first recording and understanding of deafness as a disability (not a monstrous irreversible condition) in the 18th century; this revolutionary change began in our enlightenment and its work has never been wholly undone. Another chapter makes Quasimodo a central figure.

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From Charles Laughton’s brilliant performance in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Going back in time a century, Oliver Sacks’s Seeing Voices also has a long eye-opening chapter on individual courageous and insightful 18th century philosophes who developed and taught sign language to deaf people, miraculously it was thought at first, turning them from imbeciles into functioning members of society — by those who would let them function. Sacks goes into the first schools for the dear, unfortunately all too quickly in the early 19th century an attempt was made to enforce talking on the deaf in such schools, to take away from them their sign language, to beat them into submission even. One of the most moving accounts of seeing the change in deaf people once they are treated as human beings like ourselves with another way of communicating is found at the close of Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands writes: if he that speaks looks towards them, and modifies his organs by distinct and full utterance, they know so well what is spoken, that it is an expression scarcely figurative to say, they hear with the eye … It was pleasing to see one of the most [hitherto] desperate of human calamaties capable of so much help.

I’ve not published any conventional articles on this for Victorian studies. It would take such work for me — partly because I’d have to really dig into Gaskell. She seems to me a rare spirit in the Victorian period to show sympathy, but to be accurate, her empathy is with the care-taking women. One limitation of her gothic stories is she tends to show sympathy simply for the care-taker and we see the disabled person as violent or sullen from afar; a rare instance of one of her attempts at a disabled perspecive is Lady Ludlow’s Story where the story is told by Margaret Dawson; however, soon after the narrative begins and not until we get near to the end are we reminded our narrator is a crippled girl on a couch.

I also dream of writing a study of the Poldark novels and Daphne DuMaurier’s King’s General. Placed in the 17th century civil war, the latter’s about a heroine crippled from a fall from a horse: DuMaurier said she began it when she saw near Menabillies (her great house) a home-made wooden wheel chair from the later 17th century in a barn.

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This would take me back to the eighteenth century.

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Frida Kahlo, self-portrait with doctor

Thinking about Gaskell’s approach, disabilities affect women centrally as care-takers and as disabled. I’ve now gotten myself 3 books on disability studies in the humanities, two wholly devoted to how disabilities affect women, one of which I’ve begun: Michelle Fine and Adrienne Asche’s collection: Women with Disabilities. See Fine’s Disruptive Voices: Fine is the only person I’ve read to do justice to the class bias that ostracizes women who are raped when they come into clinics for help.A little from the introduction.

Because of the way society is structured, women experience disabilities much worse than men, and are much more ignored — the two go together, experienced much more excruciatingly in the area of sexual experience, so crucial to women’s lives. . I now have statistics and essays arguing what I’ve long felt to be so: the only reason it’s said more men are autistic is people care so much more about men not getting jobs or “doing well” socially; women need only be married off and have babies; plus people are more ashamed of reading women than reading men. A reading man might become a scientist, a professor, a lawyer, what is the use of a reading woman?

Why has there been little work done among feminists for women with disabilities? shamelessly, one female academic said: such studies would “reinforce traditional stereotypes of women in need, dependent, perhaps passive.” (Can’t have that.) I’ve just begun the essay in the volume on friendship between women one of whom has disabilities and the other not.

How few the conversations with people about disabilities and how even then when confronted with an individual there’s a turning away and intense discomfort, a desire not to have the burden, fear of contagion: you’ll catch it, you too will be ostracized. Disabled characters, open and disguised, are found among classic children’s books, more often than you might suppose.

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One of Yvette’s favorite books: E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan: a mute swan carries a trumpet and writing slate

Two further well-known texts include Elizabeth Spencer’s Light in the Piazza (made into a musical): the daughter is autistic. Lucy Greary’s Autobiography of a Face.

I’ve only begun Women with Disabilities but already the texts bring home to me aspects of a set of texts I’ve been studying for over two years now: Austen’s letters and the experience of discussing these with other people. Again and again I have to watch people continue to misread the emphases in these letters and ignore say Jane’s relationship with Martha Lloyd. Insist that she didn’t marry was a default option not a preference. Ignore the very real peculiarities in her character.

Recently I’ve added and compared Frances Burney D’Arblay’s life-writing and found some aspects of her compulsion to write come out of her disabilities as a child. But her life-writing is not as useful as Austen’s — she hides her disabilities since much is self-praising fictionalizing: she makes herself the central heroine of romances, the adulated, the envied, from George III’s madness to Hastings’ trial. It’s rather in her third novel, Camilla, where one of her two heroines, Eugenia, is lamed and her face disfigured early in the novel that we get an early rare example of empathy for a disabled woman in early literature: what happens to her: Eugenia ends up married to an abusive man.

For studying disability as such (not in literature) I’d much prefer to write about life-writings than novels

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How did I come to write the above? whom am I speaking to?

On the large academic literary listserv, Victoria, there had appeared a query where for a second time someone requested examples of “cripples” in a disquieting way. The person requested “gothic images of cripples” and used the word “monstrous” of such a character without any sense that she (or he) was treating a whole class of people as obvious freaks, taking aboard as it were what one would have hoped in such a place would be an outdated attitude.

I waited a while and when no response beyond that of listing such supposed characters emerged, which then morphed into citing “deaf” characters, I sent a posting which was at first rejected or over-looked as insufficiently Victorian. A little rewriting enabled it to go through the next day and then off-list I got a number of thank yous, remarks about how slow or small has been the progress of understanding of people with disabilities,and descriptions of experiences, that I decided to put the above posting on line to reach more people in the form of a continuation of a blog I wrote about a debate in articles in a humanities journal which covers popular literature as well as disabilities: is the increase in depiction of characters with disabilities creating real understanding or effective help for real people with disabilities? I asked how far fandoms prevent such growth in sympathy and how far authors and film-makers found themselves pressured into creating alienating depictions or enforcing normalcy.

And I discussed the dramatization of the experiences of characters with disabilities in the last 5 of the Poldark novels and Downton Abbey.

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The third shot of Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle, the first two show his face in the window of a train arriving at Downton, !:1)

The first time a startlingly prejudiced posting was put on Victoria I answered it too excitedly, but if I could find that posting, I’d put here on this blog now too.

Ellen

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