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Posts Tagged ‘male violence’

I have a right to chose my own life — Verity (2015)

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Final still, a far shot (2015 Poldark, written & created by Debbie Horsfield

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A few stills before: Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) come with Jud, food & other supplies, watching Ross (Aiden Turner) who sits absorbed in thoughts about his mine

Dear friends and readers,

While Episode 1 of Horsfield’s 2015 mini-series (it’s important to remember how central the writer has now become to BBC film adaptations) seemed closely similar to Episode 1 in 1975 (Jack Pullman, writer, and Christopher Barry, director of the first four; with 3 others writers & different directors for the next 12, and a kind of organizing central conception and linchpin hold from the single producer for them all, Morris Barry), as I wrote and Anibundel noticed, Demelza’s entry into Ross’s household begun in the 2nd quarter of the 1975 second episode and clinched in the end of the 3rd (her father’s greedy intervention) was brought all into one into the 2015 first episode. What that meant is much in the original episode 1 (at least 4 scenes of mining and banking), had to give way and everything presented made briefer, shallower.

Reading over the blogs in reaction to the 2015 Episode 1 this week, I see that one unfortunate result has been most watchers have misunderstood the novel (Ross Poldark), which is not a triangular love story of a brooding angry man. Graham’s Ross Poldark is the story of a revenant, a man believed dead, who comes home to realize that no one minded him dying (except maybe Elizabeth Chynoweth and his now dead father, Joshua), that he has been replaced, his house gone to wreck, and who gradually gains the strength and determination to build a new life for himself as a mine owner; the last part of the book is a love story (a beautiful idyll), but Demelza’s story is primarily one of a lower class girl growing up, and painfully learning to integrate herself into the upper class Cornish world, which is not a lush rich one, but people on the margins, many genteel impoverished (Nampara is a farmhouse, the Chynoweths are broke, the Charles Poldark Trenwith home on the edge of bankruptcy). As I wrote the Elizabeth Chynoweth matter in both the 1975 and 2015 first episode was heavily taken from Warleggan (the fourth Poldark books).

Thus the slow-moving Episode 1 and 2 of the 1975 mini-series kept much more of the original emphasis; it also kept Graham’s political perspective, a pro-American revolution outlook, for a social contract among people (reflecting the Post World War Two atmosphere of the book), not just or even sheer anti-capitalist; and if my impressionistic survey of what’s being written on the Net and what I’ve read about the sales of the books from the 1970s to 1990s is accurate, while in 1975 and a decade afterward many readers turned to the books, and read them, the new mini-series may be increasing sales of the Poldark books, but few appear to be reading or re-engaging with them, understanding loving Graham’s Ross Poldark, just as much or more than the films.

A second reason for this disconnect is the new way of making films. Forty years have passed; in the 1970s through early 1990s, TV films were conceived as stage plays, whether filmed on an indoor set or outdoors; actors learned longish interactive talk and dominated much longer scenes (it could be as long as 8-11 minutes) on a screen; individual complex character conception out of virtuoso acting was prized. It’s not true that the 1975 Poldarks resembled most others by having characters standing around repressed. What made it so popular was it had characters who openly expressed their emotions, acted them out physically; and that (unusual until the mid-1980s), much was filmed on location in Cornwall, with different locations central to the action (as in a later episode when Dwight Enys sets a fire on the top of a mountain to warn the smugglers below the prevention men are coming to capture them). The music was highly original, haunting. In fact much less of this sort of thing is being done in the new Poldark: the new Poldark is more set-oriented (included the set for the mine), the music very average (not Cornish), the same landscape used stills over and over as sheer backdrop.

What is generically new and apparently compelling to an audience brought up on post-2000 movie-house films is the continual use of embedded montage and a very different mood. The technique of the 2015 film is ceaseless, sometimes abrupt montage, quick brief shots of epitomizing scenes, a continual wipe out as the camera moves from one group of people to another. Inside a series of these quick pictures with few words, reliance on gesture and sheer picture is heavy, are embedded references to different on-going stories. The mood of the new series is brooding melodrama, high and intense romance (in picturesque settings for Trenwith and Heidi Reed as Elizabeth), grating, edgy, a sense of emotions of those on the screen at any second about to explode (with Eleanor Tomlinson providing the languid resentful moments as an excluded and overtly oppressed target for others to hurt or order about). There is no comedy — there was much in the 1975 film.

The embedded montage in this film at any rate keeps many of the less central characters at a distance from us; it’s a tribute to the effective intelligent acting of Kyle Coller as Francis Poldark, Crystal Leaity as Margaret (presented as a prostitute), and Pip Torrens as Cary Warleggan (George Warleggan’s father, a man of at least minimal integrity as a capitalist has been cut) that we really get a sense of their characters — at the same time as Horsfield has reconceived these three (as well as Elizabeth). Horsfield is determined to add George Warleggan in early (as they did in 1975, with the commanding feel of Ralph Bates’s presence simply there now and again), but while Jack Farthing gets some individual moments (as bully, as treacherous, a kind of Iago to Francis’s Othello, but also favorably as this man trying to negotiate with Ross Poldark to bring him to compromise with the corrupt world), often he appears for a split second, says a line and then we move on.

This is a choice it must be remembered; it is seen most unqualified in the modern genres of western, action-adventure, crime-thriller and semi-fantasy films. In a historical film (which Horsfield’s mini-series aspires to be) you are allowed to slow down, offer scenic moments of the past (and Horsfield does this in the sets of the village and fair), and yes return to coherent precise talk. The choice here seems to have be taken as an effort to secure a larger audience. I have seen films where embedded montage is overcome enough that we have rounded complex characterizations in the minor characters (e.g., the recent Bleak House and Little Dorrit, Andrew Davies products). The film-makers may also have felt the staged playlets are seen as elitist and might therefore drive away audiences. They have ignored the reality that Downton Abbey uses this older technique and no one has complained; the more than 16 complex characters have been bonded with.

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Verity subaltern, Elizabeth mismatched (by mother it seems in this series) with nothing to do

What interests me personally though and what this blog will be about is how in Episode 2 of the 2015 Poldark series, Debbie Horsfield has reconceived the Graham story’s and the story of the 1975 film. (I know she denies knowing the 1975 but it’s transparently obvious she watched it carefully, as who would not, if only because it is well thought of, and sometimes develops and changes things from the 1975 not in the book at all.) Episode 2 turns the Poldark matter (let’s call it) into a mining story: the second episode begins and ends with the mines; its high moments are Ross’s hard work and gradual success at securing a combination of men to find and work copper in Wheal Leisure after the Warleggans have closed Wheal Reith, and it’s seen that Charles and Francis’s Wheal Gambler is failing, even though paying lower and lower wages.

The secondary story of Episode 2 is feminist as Horsfield understand feminism: the mistreatment of Verity (everyone is much harsher to her than the book or in 1975): Ruby Bentall is used as a servant, this Charles (Warren Clark) does not want her to marry (Graham’s Charles and Frank Middlemass as Charles did), she is presented as supposed to be subservient to Elizabeth (who protests and does not want to be idle and looks frustrated and bored). All of Verity’s initial story is told in Episode 2: meeting with Blamey, falling in love, courting, and the ugly thwarting by Francis and Charles (in the 1975 film it was, like Demelza’s, done leisurely over 3 episodes). This Cinderella kind of perspective is repeated in how we see Demelza literally kept in the dirt, at the hearth cleaning ashes, protected and looked after more by Ross than anyone else has: in the small time he’s got he noticed Jud and Prudie harass her, insult and make her life harder, and encourages her to negotiate for cheap prices for fish, and buys her a clock. Elizabeth is presented as bullied by her mother into the marriage with Francis, and afterward having nothing to do. This is Horsfield’s career-oriented idea of feminism; I’m surprised it hasn’t been noticed.

What has been noticed and constitutes (for me) the worst or flawed moments of this episode are the imitations of and reactions against other popular films: in order to get over a charged insulting moment, Ross is seen going swimming, naked from shoulder to waist, with Demelza in the grass, voyeur-like watching him in sensual enjoyment. This is taken from the famous “wet-shirt” scene of Colin Firth in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (scripted by Andrew Davies). Jud (Phil Davis) and Prudie (Beatie Edney) are made into nasty people, avoiding hard work wherever possible, having sex in the corners; this belies the pro-the people thrust of Ross’s actions, and seems to be a reaction against all the happy free servants we are continually confronted with in two-level humanity shows like Downton Abbey. The 1975 mini-series also showed the characters as existing on two separate levels (with Elizabeth and Francis’s wedding an elegant cold affair and Jinny and Jim Carter’s a warm free-for-all country dance and drinking), but we did get a sense of the lower class male and busineessmen characters’ individual personalities. In Episode 2 Zacky Martin (Tristain Sturrock) and Mark Daniel (Matthew Wilson) and Henshawe (John Hollingworth) appear and at least Jim Carter and Henshawe and the “bad guy” Dr Choake (a weakness there, played ably though by Robert Dawes) but there is no sense of them or the other male miners or the businessmen as real individuals.

What follows is a description of Episode 2 in 1975 and 2015. This time I won’t try to compare as the matter of the two is so different. My interest is to show how differently the movies are made in this one episode (I won’t do it again, this will be the one study) to suggest why they have such a different effect.

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Demelza climbs up, Ross watching her (Angharad Rees and Ellis)

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Francis (Clive Francis) as aristocratic young man, center of friends & cronies, women, enjoying himself

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Verity’s (Norma Streader) successful appeal to Ross (2975, scripted Jack Pullman, directed Christopher Barry)

Episode 2, 1975:

This Poldark story is treated archetypally, from the standpoint of sympathy with the lower classes of Cornwall and the fringe people gentry who are being exploited and starved by monopolizers and outsiders (the Warleggans stand for these), with a strongly active story-line of social scenes (gambling, dancing). The point is to build a whole varied world. The use of landscape is entrancing. The story thread now is how Ross (Robin Ellis) is (against his own will in part and certainly not done with open arms or glee but rather stern reactions) gradually brought into social interaction with people, gradually decides to start up his life as a man in the community, of some standing as well as family. I have never been able find a release transcript dialogue on line or a shooting script (these come as xeroxed copies held together with clips) for any of the 50 minute parts, so I can’t quote some of the speeches as it’s long and tedious work to take them down in stenography. To anyone coming here who knows where I could buy one, please let me know.

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The arching pattern has the story open with Ross with a prostitute (with a heart of gold, alas), drunk, gambling: he’s cheered by the woman and his activities but also desperate. When he sees Francis (Clive Francis as our good-natured well-meaning libertine, his own worst enemy but charmingly witty) comes in with a bunch of cronies, Ross leaves upon seeing Francis; Francis regrets that Ross has seen him, lest his activities get back to Elizabeth (Jill Townsend). To the watcher in the 1970s there was something congenial and manly in Francis’s artistocratic bearing; he is enjoying himself even if not virtuously, not despicably. Ross is doing the same, Francis by gambling, Ross by his relationship with Margaret and gambling.

Establishment shot of Nampara, and we are inside and there is Verity (Norma Streader) coming over finding Ross in a stupor and scolding him into at least getting up and doing something. She wants him to take her to a part, a ball, she has no partner. She too lives a desolate life she says — lonely, with no love of her own, no world, no activities outside caring for Trenwith and Francis’s family.

Ross’s determination to begin to make something of himself begin with his knowing he needs food and money, so the first thing is to farm his land. His visits to the Carters and Martins show him that Jim Carter, a young man he likes, is ill, needs work, and he hires him (three scenes). This thread will lead to Ross’s rage over how the poaching laws (a property war) are used with Jim as scapegoat to repress and kowtow and simply maliciously hurt lower class people. Carter is weak but well-meaning, an ailing person who cannot work in the mines (very bad for anyone) and comes for a job and proves his worth as a human being. We met Jinny in a juxtaposed scene, the Martins too. The wife is not individualized but everyone else is and made appealing. The sets are based on 19th century paintings from Cornwall: this is an impoverished world which maintains an important veneer of civility for themselves.

Then hopeful Ross is off to the fair to buy livestock and start farming. It’s a wonderfully recreated fair which in the book is also fully achieved, including in the film a St George and the Dragon play. The high point of the part and certainly I felt all the frisson was his meeting with Demelza (Angharad Rees) as a thieving young urchin and being led to bring her home. This is not quite as in the book for in the book he takes her out of two fighting fierce dogs (she’s protecting hers) and a resulting mob scene (people who object to her saving her dog). Here he saves her from a fierce beating. But the effect is the same. He is relentless with her too: scolds, berates, threatens. We do see she is falling in love with him because he is being kind and decent.

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Jim and Jinny Carter at their wedding

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Verity and Blamey dancing, falling in love

The film does fall into somehing the book does not: upstairs downstairs. We have the Carter wedding with Ross as viewer and this is (quietly) juxtaposed to Ross at the ball dancing so elegantly. We see the two subgroups interact in parallel ways but apart. There is an acceptance of this by showing it this way. The book does have these levels of people but does not make this kind of parallel contrast which by its presentation justifies the hierarchical okay point of view. it is here we see Verity and Blamey begin to fall in love in stills of them quietly dancing; Charles is agreeable to the idea if Blamey has money and status and asks Ross to help him find out. He will see what he can discover.

Then the coming of the Carnes; it’s treated half-comically. The father is corrupt and wants to be paid, at the same time to appear this male bully. Ross refuses to play this game, and a fight ensues over male pride. Jim comes in and genuinely participates in fending off the Carnes with Jud in the comedy of the piece: they help Ross throw out Demelza’s corrupt father and brothers.

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The young Demelza runs in to protest against her two guineas a year being given to her father: women have no rights, she declares

Ross is called to Trenwith by Elizabeth and rushes over: this is a rare moment in this hour where we see Ross’s love for Elizabeth come out. She tells the story of Blamey as a wife-murderer and alcoholic and says Verity refuses to give him up. She does not identify with anyone outside herself once again. Ross at first sees the wisdom of separating this couple, and the scene between them shows his concern for Elizabeth (he says her name ever so softly), but in a closing touching scene just outside Trenwith he is brought to agree to help her at least get to know the man by allowing meetings in his house. here it is made clear the man killed his wife, had a violent abusive alcoholic past. Graham and the film-makers of the 1975 film do not treat this as necessarily unacceptable — there is arguably some implicit and overt misogyny and disregard of women’s primal needs and problems in the 1945 books and 1970s film, but the 2015 film’s solution is to blame the woman: Bentall as Verity claims the wife was violent first, Blamey killed her wholly by accident. This is not much better.

To conclude in 1975 the central event is the coming of Demelza but she is seen against a backdrop of creating the world of Cornwall and the lives of other characters; nothing presented overtly didactically at all but subtly — more subtly than I’ve time or space to show. The use of the house (Poldark’s Cornwall names) it in which Francis, Elizabeth, the father, Verity live is very good. It fells such a natural place and yet has this lovely taste and landscape. So too is the farmhouse believable, feels real. Photographed naturally.

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Verity standing watching the duel between Francis and Captain Blamey, whose results will dictate, probably ruin her future

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At the assembly ball, a rare moment of laughter for Elizabeth while dancing & talking with Ross

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Ross’s crucial moment: the businessmen gather as he spreads out his papers to persuade them to re-open a mine to search for copper

Episode 2, 2015: this is how embedded montage works in this film, and how the themes of mining, business, and the oppression of women emerge.

Phase 1: The opening set of stills, rocks, crashing waters, the silhouette; then the mine set: bell, wood, lantern, leaves, Ross glimpsed working hard in the mine.

Cut to Ross at desk, thinking, working at papers, looking at crystal he has drawn from the morning work. Overvoice of Phil Davis as Jud chanting: mines, in the book, a copper vein the bread of life; what you eat, sleep breathe; cut to shot of closing notice of Wheal Reith; Jud’s voice continues: “she’s your salvation and your downfall” and soloiloquy turns ominous, dark. Cut to establishment shot of great house, and then inside an aristocratic man tying his bow, the other side, a footman knocking “my lord?” Phil’s voice continues, “making reckless, making blod.” Cut to redcoats and officers stopping men at a mine from working. Jim Carter to the fore: “’tisn’t right ’tis all we have,” men in back. Full medium shot of Jud drinking, Ross working at table, bitter look in both faces. We hear footman again: “My lord Basset, there are bailiffs” at Wheal Reith, as cut to inside and aristocractic man puts wig on head in front of mirror. Jud: “A fool’s game will end in tears” at table. Cut to Jim standing forward to fight, knocked down. Jud’s voice: “your father died before his time, now Ross answers “I admire your optimism.” Jud to Ross: “Your father died in his bed. And it won’t be the last man that mining did in, and if he were here today … he’d tell you not to make the same mista”ke
Shot heard from aristocratic house we saw during montage. Ross speaks to Jud’s soliloquy: “I wonder ..”

Cut to sea, and we hear and see surging waters. Establishment shot of farmhouse, Nampara. Demelza’s voice heard, angry: “Judas it’s cold, brr it’s freezing,” she is dousing her head with cold water from pump. Ross seen at window. She calls herself “a buttock of beef,” he is amused, she fierce. Jim comes up as Ross looks out window. Cock crows; Jim says “mine closed .. Basset dead.”

Cut to Warleggans, very handsome inner study with the young George worried, fretting, “We called in his loans,” and now we see his uncle at his desk, “no,” says Carey, “we declined to extend it.” George: “Does it not reflect poorly that it falls on deaf ears?” Carey snarls: “Are we in the business of sentiment or profit?
[Before we can feel for George], Margaret at door comes in to say “I be going now Mr George?” George cold, “Have you been dismissed? He is all arrogance, tells her she is to address him as sir,” and turns to say to Carey: “These ancient families they lack backbone.”

Cut to yard: Jim and Ross sitting together on a log : Jim: “Why would they call it? Ross”Believe me; it’s the banks.” Jim: “Grambler is the only mine.” Ross: “My uncle won’t take you in?” Jim: “there’s my breathing.” Ross: ” You’d welcome a few months above grass,” hands Jm the cup. Jim: “I need to work or my mothers and sisters starve.” Cut to Prudie scolding inside to Demelza, nasty, “So now we be home to all the waifs and wastrels of the county,” Ross coming in, hears, turns away, Prudie continues her taunts about begging bowls, with Demelza at threshold Prudie bangs into her, thus connecting her to Jim. Demelza looks awry, skeptical, hard.

Cut to books on library shelf, beautiful piano, beautiful things in room, Ross sits down and picks up 300 pounds from Charles to be gotten from Warleggan’s bank. Flashback: he remembers Elizabeth on the cilff in the sun before he left for America, and then fingers the ring she gave him. Cut to him determinedly charging across landscape; arrives at Trenwith, Elizabeth at window, seemingly satisfied. Downstairs Charles, Verity ever serving, Agatha, he walks in. Verity: “Ross!”; Agatha says “You still here?” Ross to uncle “I’m minded to give back money, puts down on table. Now Charles sneers, “Just like your father,” snaps fingers at Verity (she is treated like Margaret by George). Ross: “Heard about Wheal Reith, to which Charles “and Bassett” –-. Ross first of interventions for Verity: turns to her: “you must visit me soon Verity,” selfish greedy Charles retorts, “And neglect her duties here? She’s too busy to be gadding about,” with a further sneering reference to “Cousin Francis as not much good.” Ross walks out, and Elizabeth watching from window. She looks as a woman in love, she sits down to mirror, Francis comes in (minor key music), he wants to go to bed with her clearly, camera on her her hand on table as he says “Shall I join you in bed, m’dear”, he puts his hand around her reluctant one.

Cut to Demelza in Nampara farm yard washing in tub, Jim passing by with farming equipment; cock crows and nasty mischievous Jud and Prudie stick more sheets and shirts on her to clean. Now the working men seen chasing after Ross on horseback on way to mine, teasing him that he’ll be arrested for inciting a riot soon, Martin thanks him for hiring Jim, and another man says “Happen you could do the same thing for we?” He’s told that Charles Poldark has hired men for starvation wages, Ross’s bitter voice, now soft voice, “I can promise nothing.” Ominous music and mine seen in silhouette. Inside of mine photographed with ross Letting himself down.

Phase 2: Cut to outside mine, Francis with high hat rides up to mine, Ross coming out, Francis; “Are you staying. Ross: “do you resent this.” Now Francis appeals to him again (as he did in Episode 1) “We used to be friends … you aren’t thinking of reopening?” Ross: “I’ll think of anything hat might help those devils left off of Wheal Reith. Francis says he can’t take “responsibility” because “father doesn’t trust me.” Back shot of two against mine and Ross’s voice heard: “Perhaps we should share burden, Open wheal leisure together …”

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Cut to Elizabeth gathering eggs on Trenwith grounds, Verity to her, “what are you doing? A lady should not be doing this,” but Elizabeth wants to, Verity that “the lady of the house, goes to assemblies,” so Elizabeth shows her Elizabeth’s invitation to a ball and asks Verity, “May you not go?” Verity tells her that her days “activities are as a kind of superior servant, her life is not Elizabeth’s life” Note: Heidi Reed’s hair-do left over from Gainsborough’s films, high curls and one on shoulder, Verity’s a group of knotted buns, not 18th century, perhaps 1950s.

Cock crows and Ross in town – very much a rural scene in the streets. Effective set. Montage cut to Ross in banker’s office, talking to Pascoe who is saying “Have you taken leave of your senses. Ross: “What do I need?”
Answer includes “capital, knowhow, allies, men of means, money men.” Ross’s reply includes “marginal, smattering, cousin will lend his name.” Pascoe: “You need investment and have reputation somewhat tarnished. I am speaking as banker and friend.” Cut to tavern, POV Ross, Margaret seen from side – she is clearly a prostitute ever out for a lay. Western like minor musical tune, soft pedals from piano. Margaret approaches him, and he says he “has neither money nor inclination,” advising her to seek “another profession;” cut to her telling his fortune (he agreed to that at least) and brings out qualities about him, prophecies: “you have made the mistake of falling in love … came back … and you still care for her; she is kind, perhaps she loves you still.” He looks at her with a kindly smile on his face. Cut to vision of Elziabeth on chair in luscious garden looking melancholy – with appropriate uneasy music.

Ross riding back across landscape (a repeated motif) and Verity catches up on her horse; he is glad to see her. “You escaped then?” They come to farmhouse and Verity says: “I see you’ve not been idle” Jim and Jud pass them as they work. Ross calls out “Demelza” as she is at hanging out clothes near pump, introduces “Tthis is my cousin, Verity: she courtesies very awkwardly. As two ride off, Verity: “Has she settled?” Ross: “still somewhat feral. Verity asks if if his wound still pains him, she comes down from horse, a more intimate tone than we’ve heard “I wonder if I might ask you the greatest of favors.” Cut to invitation, we are to gather she wants him to take her. Cut to him staring out from desk, glimpses in nearby room Demelza sweeping. Lone unconsidered figure she is feeling this. Cut to brief shot of Elizabeth in fancy outfit in Trenwith, with Francis coming in front of her and asking, “My dear, will you not reconsider, you know how I love to show off my wife to the world.” She looks irritated. Cut to Demelza sweeping, looking up warily; Prudie comes over as Ross walks by. “Where’s he going?” Demelza: “To a dance, he don’t look too glad about it.” Puzzled. Prudie: “gentlefolks is strange.”

Phase 3: the assembly romance juxtaposed to Demelza at Nampara: shot from above looking down at high artifice in room, elegant classical music, camera from above, looking down at ball room candles people dancing, elegance, luxury. Verity walking down stairs on Ross’s, thanking him for getting permission from father. Ross: “I’m entirely at your service,” Verity: “Don’t be … ”

Downstairs, close-ups: luxury tables, piles of food, men gambling, Choake and the businessmen at a table: Choake: “Those ruffians settled themselves? Cary sneers about lack of jobs, Choake: “They have no business to have an opinion at all.” Francis: “Some would say that is outdated.” George: “In America for instance all men created equal. Choake “Preposterous. George (ironic for us to see him say this): “Distinctions of rank must be preserved,” Francis (conscious irony of his own) “Especially when they are so dearly bought. Cut to Demelza scrubbing floor; Prudie and Jud gloating over her (Cinderella scene) and enjoying fire and liquor.

Cut to dance floor: Georgeby steps: “Not dancing, Ross, will none of the ladies have you? mocking gently that he has a whiff of the workers. Ross asks if he needs perfume. George self-deprecating: “Yes how else will a family of blacksmiths … “, trying to be genial, with rapid line of “One of these days you may need to come knocking. Ross: “I would be desperate.” George walks off “I look forward to the prospect.” Turning round POV Ross sees Elizabeth apparently resigned (but has sad look on face however transient) on Francis’s arm, holding her face up, holding her own as best she can … Ross sees Blamey there, saying “you know that lady” to someone, Ross watches Verity and Blamey meet, Verity knows him, addresses him, but his attention diverted by Miss Teague trying to make conversation (his words rebarbative), then without him camera switches to an awkward Verity, trying to make conversation, “Ah, a sea captain,” she is tryingso hard. Juxtaposed to hypocrisies of Miss Teague to whom Ross says: “I fear I possess few of the refinements of polite society”. Verity lacks them too; implication, they are socially dysfunctional if real relationships is what you are after. Cut to Demelza to underline point: We see non-polite society; she is filthy sweaty, with candle lured into library, sits by harpsichord (minor chord), camera catches Purdie and Jud drunkenly singing, going up to their bed. She gazes at desk, maps, papers, crystal …

Ross coming down hall, Mr Treneglos accosts him; friendly men with Henshawe who worked as mine captain for his father, all talking of mines now. Henshawe eager: “Are you thinking of opening, working it.” Pascoe heard saying he’ll see what can be done … requires discretion. POV moves to George near by, spying. Ross”I fully comprehend you sir.”

Verity and Blamey falling in love over his drawing his ship on a pad, He: “When can I see you again? She: “Oh captain Blamey that I couldn’t say. Cut to cruel scene of Jud coming upon Demelza in library, threatening her, rough, telling her “go home you are getting ideas about your station,” she is angry, wretched. Cut to Blamey: “Forgive me, I do not wish to appear forward, but I would dearly like us to be better acquainted,” Verity quietly: “Me too.” Miss Teague back to trying again, Ross she and her mother by heading for Elizabeth who is talking with Francis, who genially retreats for the one dance.

High symbolic romance: Magic music hands touch – the director imitating Wright in 2005 Pride and Prejudice and recent Anna Karenina with single couple mesmerized, glimpsed and glanced by others again and again. (Nothing in book justifies this, in 1975 Ross upon seeing Elizabeth in a pattern dance, cannot bear assembly anymore, bids adieu to Verity and leaves.) George now, Iago-like planting seed in Francis’s mind; “Your cousin most attentive … to your wife …” At first Francis doesn’t take this in: “I don’t think he cares for dancing, he only came to please Verity.” George alert: “Who is that man” pointing to Blamey. Francis: “A captain but father couldn’t spare her and Elizabeth would miss her, George insinuatingly replies: “doubtless our wife would find ways of distracting herself.” So Francis begins to watch intensities between Ross and Elizabeth – we see trouble in his eyes. Mrs Teague now seeing Elizabeth and Ross, Verity notices, Francis upset, and Verity hearing high nervous laughter from Elizabeth, ignored Blamey’s stuttering asking if he can ask her father, comes to rescue by hurrying to Ross and stopping dance moment: “Ross may I introduce Captain Blamey.” Verity tells Ross, “There is nothing there for you,” and she and she look back at Elizabeth with Francis, and Verity asks: “You’ll take supper, thank you I’ve no appetite.” George seen nastily shadowing Francis,making ugly gossip about “Ross in love, see the spectacle – Ruth Teague is unlikely to remind one of previous attachment.” Ross goes out into night, turns up in tavern and then Margaret next to him: “May I be of service m’lod,” Ross: “One service is all I required,” he ushers her upstairs. Cut to Demelza with dog in bed, Elizabeth upstairs watching unhappy drinking Francis below.

Bright day over roofs – bell of morning – Margaret and Ross wake, he is kindly disposed, she tells him again “you’ve a rare hand it knows what it wants but not always how to get it.” The male upper class arrogance Horsfield concerned to show in Ross’s speech: “I was not in a talkative mood last night.” Demelza seen walking by beach – now he is seen stripping self and washing – presumably doing water therapy but the voyeurism and reference to Davies’s P&P (Colin Firth) unfortunate, and absurd: Tomlinson even breathes heavily …. and glinting sun –

Phase 4: The success of both Ross and Demelza in town.

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Arriving he calls out to Demelza

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She is glad to be respected, given a trusted serious task – buy food for household

Ross seen at work at his desk again, Demelza brings in food, the angry Charles comes in, opening a mine, the cursed of the Poldarks” but he wants Francis to be part of it — “he must learn to stand on his feet, but as is clear by Charles’s choosing this for Francis, he is not learning; Ross says teach him discretion “from his good friend George.”

Jim ready with horse, Demelza with basket, Ross wants to take her to shop – it is a kindness to get her away from Jud and Prudie seen in distance sitting – have they been making you a beast of burden, you look weary – she bursts out I know my place, He “your place is where I say it is, fetch your cloak, Sir? Never had no cloak
The two on horse, her hands held in this abject way – lively scene of town by the sea – everyone doing different economic things, visual expansive realism as they on horse move by – important day for us both let’s see who can strike the better bargain .. as she gets off. He spots Verity speeding along and she ducks
Demelza coming down stairs to fish monger. Elizagbeth out of shop with cloth – he is so eager to help her ,allow me (she didn’t need it and Demelza did) George glimpses them walking together .. she asks if he enjoyed –- she pretends to say Miss Teague was pleasing him and perhaps he should look here, he asks would that please you, so she says she has to go, Verity looking for her. Shots of Demelza bargaining; glimpses of Verity and Blamey.

Ross goes into tavern, meaning to bring Francis along, but it’s too late, as George coming away from Francis saying: “I’ll leave you.” Francis tears in his voice refuses: I need something I can depend on. As Ross walks away we see George standing there is swaggering. Unfortunate degradation of Francis: in the book and 1975 he refuses because he doesn’t like risk, is in too much debt, especially to warleggan; here he is insecure jealous male (lacks all dignity).

Key scene of episode: the business men gather, Henshaw sitting down, Ross spreading out papers, maps – he has worked so hard for this. Henshaw are we expecting your cousin, Francis has changed his mind a pit yit would lend a certain gravity – Choake deeply hostile at idea of spending gold for copper.

Cut to George seducing Francis in tavern: “some see arrogance, others observe a sense of entitlement; Francis: “To o what?” Whatever takes his fancy – then tries to pump Francis for info on “latest venture”. Cut to Ross talking it up; back and forth between two scenes; Francis does refuse to talk; Trenegloss question is, “What will it cost us? Choake irritated bankers not to be Warleggans. Back to George: “Warleggans will lend but persaps Rossdoes’t value friendship or family. Ross to Choake: “Warleggan will lend only in prosperity once it starts to struggle they take money out,” and Renfew and Henshaw add: “This costs miners dear (interrupton of George poring down seduction) – costs mine owners dearer. Cut to Francis, an idiot listening to George – he’ll advance anything.

Juxtaposed: Ross rewards considerable for these risks … he’d sooner gamble at mine than cards 50 guineas a piece for the first three months, Henshawe adds his and then the others fall in, Ross looks happy as others give in different ways, toast to Wheel leisure. Ross looks out window and sees George with arms around Francis
He is now outside and Demelza coming up with fish in basket; men see her, what am I a circus attraction, poorly dressed. He buys her a clock — in 1975 it was a new dress.

The last phase: tragedy of Verity and Blamey cut off from one another and ending with Ross finding solace and meaning in starting up mining, Demelza at his side.

Establishment shot of Trenwith then Elizabeth overhearing angry Charles and Francis discussing Verithy’s shamelessness wth blamey; Charles angry you should have dnoe something before our family name dragged through mud. Demelza and Ross home on horse. Cut to Demelza at kitchen chopping; calls Jud and Prudie, goes to door it’s Elizabeth, she is squashed and Elizabeth all elegance. Ross comes out so pleased and soft toned; Jud comes in as they are nearly talking of love despite Francis, she wants him to speak with francis and father, saddle his horse; rides there and Elizabeth there – hears with startle about Verity – now we now father selfishly against it anyway – -contrast to Charles 1975 – Clarissa solution she does not leave house until she swears never to see him again He is all agreement inside but looks loath. He is now outside – verity cones up to him, produces softened version in which she attacks him first – ross agrees t ohelp her. Blamey in house: she’s my angel of redemption – later he says Demelza his redemption

Comic heavy handed interlude with Mrs and ruth Teague – one has only to taste her syllabubs to know their succulence …is Miss Verit still meeting that blagard

As Blamey and Verity talk of their families, Ross asks Demelza if she hears word of her family she has not
Ross ride across stormy countryside on his way to Wheal leisure: Francis and uncle infuriated and scene over Blamey ensues. Ross now moving down swiftly: He had come home so happy about investment meeting, thinking about Francis may yet join him – they are all stiff and hostile – George must not be told he will betray, Francis accuses him of betraying them over Verity, who is given the utterance: “I have a right to chose my own life.” Francis’s response to this: “Perhaps a thrashing” to Blamey. Not in my house, says Ross – Blamey rightly calls Francis a puppy and he is incensed now father wants him to stop – Francis “anyone may abuse our trust – incensed over jealousy of Ross, he strikes Verity down more than once, wants Jud to act as referee – pathetic scene of Verity and Blamey outside. Shots Francis falls.

Prudie feared of blood and Demelza helps Ross stop the blood. Back and forth, Elizabeth comes in and is hysterical blaming Ross. Dmelza “Your cousin do owe you his life, then to Ross: “Where’d you learn to do such things,” Ross: “on the battle fields of Virginia. Stupidity of Charles, says to Ross: “You are a disgrace to name ofpoldark and offers no thanks. Elizabeth leaving “I do not blame you. I wouldn’t for the world wish him hurt. I now more than ever I need him by my side because I am with child.” This is the signal of the end of his hopes we are to take it; in 1975 it was Ross telling Elizabeth Demelza pregnant and he would marry her; no such scene in Ross Poldark.

Cut to Nampara: Demelza comes in to front roomand he puts hand on forehead, reaches for her hand, “Do I have half wit branded across my forehead. She: “No.” He: “Yet I fell for it again (he is talking unfairly of Eliziabeth) and should be grateful. Fetch Jud and Prudie, we have work to do.

Episode returns to mine imagery and setting we started with. A sign, Wheal Liesure is put up. Demelza is making a fire. Cut to inside Trenwith, dinner table, Charles and 3 women but Francis’s place empty. Cut back to Ross turning to Demelza come to give him his meal. Ross tells her she “did well today, but “if you miss your family” she can go home (illogical, why would he say that?) She is hurt: “You’ll be wanting rid of me … ” He: “I was merely offering you the chance to return to your home if that’s where you feel you belong.” She: “belong here I belong here,” and he smiles.

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One of those shots from 2015 where a world is created and felt

To conclude from what these analyses show: Admirably Horsfield has reseen the books; she is more pointed. Her way of using embedded montage makes for less subtlety, more abruptness; the characters are given gnomic statements too quickly, with out grounding: they hate, they love. It’s a woman’s film insofar as she constantly recurs to the women’s stories. They are presented as much more oppressed, from Verity who is openly caged in, subaltern, subordinate, used, to Margaret who is ordered about. She wants us to see Ross as loving Elizabeth and see her as learning after she marries Francis that she loves Ross after all. She has a cyclical structure for both episodes, the ending returns us to the opening. I find I prefer the naturalism of the 1975 film, its longer scenes with precise thoughtful dialogue that is believable. The characters (except for the Warleggans) are kinder to one another; we live in a harder world in 2015. There was less anxiety about masculinity in 1975: the strong good-natured protective male, the weak well-meaning sensitive one; there is much less enjoyment for the characters in 2015 thus far. By having to cover less, there are more scenes of characters doing things that have little to do with plot, but capture character, milieu, time. More of Graham’s language makes its way into the 1975 mini-series but Horsfield is careful to keep or make up new epitomizing lines.

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The St George and the Dragon play played out in the 1975 fair, the kind of scenes the new style of movie and its mood has no room for

Ellen

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Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Garrick arrived at Nampara (2015)

Dear friends and readers,

As you doubtless know if you’ve been reading this blog, the new Poldark mini-series is garnering much attention. Among remarkable items of interest suddenly turning up on-line are five texts by him read aloud sensitively, beautifully by two actors. One reason the Poldark novels have not been acceptable to the establishment is that while Graham is alive to this post-modern aspect of his fiction: how you can’t know the past, memory is failing, the universe itself unknowable, much relative, he does not make it central to his historical fiction and mystery larger structures — he mentions it now and again and there is a strong gothic undertow — well this idea and a gothic feel is central to these:

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In Cornwall

Meeting Demelza: a story written late in life where Graham meets his character at last; she tells what still hurts, we feel his ghostly desire: read by Ewan Bailey

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yqp4r

Ross and Demelza: one of the most powerful and visionary all chapters in Graham, where shortly after they are married, he takes her to an all night pilchard harvest in a brilliantly lit cove — read by Ewan Bailey, from Ross Poldark

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yqfx1

Three stories, all three abridged:

The Cornish Farm: set in the 20th century, a couple come to live and work a Cornish farm, a haunting marital suicide tale read by Nicholas Farrell

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03ynmf3

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Click on the drawing to enlarge it

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Other places

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Claude Monet, Vetheuil Winter

At the Chalet Lartrec: One not set in Cornwall but the Swiss Alps in the 1960s where the narrator seeks shelter from a blizzard (I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Lodging for the Night”); another haunting tale of apparent murder. Read by Ewan Bailey

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yngnh

The Old Boys: two now grown up boys meet on the grounds of their school, a meditation on how we re-interpret our past, how what for one is now amusement, for another is deep trauma. Read by Nicholas Farrell

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03ymztf

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If you’ve listened through, you’ll have experienced a shared set of themes, moods, character types and peculiar similarities, down to the man who claims to have strangled his wife resembling Mark Daniels (who in the Poldark books does), the throwing of precious things deep down a well.

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Caeria Israel, a painting inspired by Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove,” set in Cornwall

These feel dark and the snatches chosen are apolitical. The Poldark novels have a strong element of intermittent sunshine and hope and are political, left-liberal, just now in public media beginning to be talked about for the first time. Read this short essay by Stephen Fielding, a professor of political history at Birmingham:

http://nottspolitics.org/2015/03/11/sexing-up-cornwall-but-theres-more-to-poldark-than-good-looks/

Poldark was actually one of the most radical period dramas of its day, reflecting the influence of the novels written by Winston Graham on which it was based. The first Poldark novel was published in 1945, the year Britain elected a Labour government intent on building a more egalitarian society. Graham’s work was shaped by that context.

His villains are the Warleggans, described in the novel as the “new aristocracy”. These financiers-cum-industrialists are the “the people of the future”, monopoly capitalists in all but name, intent on destroying communities to earn a profit, and able to exploit a legal and political system that reflects their interest. Against them stands Poldark, who, as an impoverished squire, gestured to a more classless past in which squire and tenant shared the same economic interests. As Graham wrote in Ross Poldark (1945): “All men were born in the same way: no privilege existed which was not of man’s own contriving” …

Ross Poldark was, then, one of literature’s classic figures on the fringe, a man of noble birth who identifies with the people rather than with his own class.

I wouldn’t call him Robin Hood, rather a combination of the old romance hero of the Gainsborough films (remember Stewart Grainger in the UK, Errol Flynn in the US) and Che Guevara. Robin Ellis captured this latter aspect of the mood of Graham’s hero in this moment in spades:

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Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark — Drawing by Hope James

Ellen

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Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois (1951 Kazan/Williams Streetcar Named Desire)

Dear friends and readers,

Another announcement of a publication. (Rest assured very soon this will stop and I will return to our regularly scheduled programming mostly about films and books.) I’m happy to say my review of Nora Gilbert’s Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films and the Benefits of Censorship is now published on-line in Cercles: Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone

Better Left Unsaid, reviewed by Ellen Moody

Those who read this blog more than occasionally may recognize a few of the films I’ve written blog reviews of: Preston Sturges’s Miracle of Morgan’s Street, Cukor’s Philadelphia Story and Gaslight, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been enjoying myself mightily watching (and re-watching) a selection of the films covered by this book and also reading for the first time (Thackeray’s Catherine: A Story) and rereading (Bronte’s Villette) a selection of its Victorian novels, not to omit material on actresses and other people centrally involved in film-making.

The book is significant because aspects of its thesis, its assumptions may be found in many recent and older publications. Perhaps among the more interesting of the secondary books I read was the collection by Kucich and Sadoff called Victorian Afterlife (about historical fiction too), and some of the individual screenplays and books on these films; also James Chandler’s The Archeaology of Sympathy comparing 18th century sentimental novels with (among other film-makers) Capra.

I would not have thought comparable Austen’s Mansfield Park with Cukor’s Gaslight:

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Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist readying herself virtuously for bed (1944 Cukor/John Van Druten Gaslight).

I also liked following trails away from the main movies and books under consideration; one of these I’ve seen before included a commentary on the famous scene between Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront where in the make-believe cab seat we and Charlie Malloy (Steiger) are made to feel Charlie’s terrible betrayal of Terry Malloy (Brando)

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(Kazan/Schulberg, 1954 On the Waterfront)

I wish I had made more time to develop separate blogs on these books and films but do urge my readers to read and to watch or re-watch these books & films.

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See some Christmas commentary coming out of It’s a Wonderful Life this year – Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey pleading with the inexorable banker to give him more time (it’s the banker who has been able to steal the money George had been saving to pay his debt).

Ellen

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Jonny Lee Miller as the creature desperately trying to bring an exhausted Bernard Cumberbatch as Frankenstein back to life on the ice

Dear friends and readers,

Yes, I’ve just returned from watching the version of Nick Dear and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein where Miller is the creature and Cumberbatch Frankenstein. The moviehouse had the version where Cumberbatch is the creature and Miller Frankenstein on Monday night. I didn’t know. Next year if my local HD theater repeats this duo, I’ll be sure and see Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as Dr Frankenstein.

Not that I was at all disappointed: I have known since watching Miller in an episode of Prime Suspect (and in the difficult roles of Edmund Bertram in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 MP and Mr Knightley in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma) what a versatile, effective, deeply feeling compelling actor he is. In this intelligent adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel (and the novel is kept in mind throughout), the creature is far more central to the action and consciousness of the play than his creator. We see his birth from his point of view,

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Jonny Lee Miller as the monster being born

how he moves bewilder through a landscape of powerful machines and cruel people, to happening on the French family escaped from injustice and the kindness of the blind old scholar, De Lacey (Karl Johnson gets some comedy out of this role) to him, in succouring him, teaching him,

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so (except for Frankenstein’s horrified rejection of his creature and abandonment of him) it is a long time before before Cumberbatch returns to the stage. And Frankenstein is the far less astonishing presence, even if central to the emotional action-reaction at play’s center

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein pushing away from him what he has done

I’d just like to see how different would be the feel and meaning in the reversal; according to Michael Billington of The Guardian, considerable.

What Dear and Boyle did was pare down the novel to its doppelganger, and in their characters, their talk, their relationship all the themes of Mary Shelley are drawn out. Some of the matter is lost: the depiction of larger social injustice is not there and so the instinctive fears and savagery of human beings to one another is not outweighed; much of Frankenstein’s life and relationships: the depiction of education (critiqued), how Frankenstein began to try to recreate life partly in reaction to his mother’s death; his arrogance and lack of responsible behavior to others, the intense distrust of science. Frankenstein is someone not social (of course a no no), going off on his own. The emphasis of this twist is so 21st century. The role of Elizabeth is made to enact socialableness (a new word), responsibility, an attempt at kindness towards the creature, and that natural ways trump egoistic artifice. Naomi Harris is effective in the hard role in both versions (a side note, she played the black heroine to Cumberbatch’s white anti-hero in Small Island). ElizabethCreature

I suppose what is so compelling is the dialogue between the two, what’s said, but one is exhilarated even in a movie version by the staging, the use of machinery, the pivotal stage, the symbolic way each phase of the story is presented — matching the fantasy aspects of the story (for it is fantasy). I’ve been to the National Theater in London (with Jim) and seen a number of these creative productions: Aeschylus trilogy comes to mind, Henry IV part 2 (Michael Gambon as Falstaff), and at home on Bravo, the Yorkshire Mystery Plays. The material from Shelley is gothic, but the conventions here eschew anything like film noir or horror/slash movies. it’s really an intimate one-on-one play (not so different in this from say the Fly episode of Breaking Bad where we get a similar intense interaction for an hour between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Mr White and Jesse respectively, with bodies entangled eventually too).

One of the best reviews is that of Paul Taylor of the Independent, only he is wrong to say the play ends so differently from the novel. Yes at the close of Shelley’s novel it seems the creature immolates himself on a pyre on a slab of ice, while Frankenstein expires in Walton’s ship but it seems to me this dying is not what is important: it is the the pursuit and the insight (emphasized by Shelley in her text) that the two creatures to live on are forever intertwined in their hatred and (due to Frankenstein) thwarted love.

He lives for my destruction. I live to lead him on

I haven’t any shots of Frankenstein pulling his sled after the creature (nor of Andrea Padurariu as the Female Creature Frankenstein is drawn to himself, but destroys), but I do of the creature’s desperation when he thinks Frankenstein may have died, and his loving attempt to bring Frankenstein back to life so they can up and move on again (see still at top). In this one the director had Michelangelo’s famous image of God and Adam in mind:

Michelangelgo

Ice is central to the gothic and among the additions to Shelley’s vision, is that of body snatchers: the uses of corpses, poor people’s remains is brought out in comic pragmaticism when in Scotland Dr Frankenstein pays two Scots peasants to bring him materials. I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher.

Perhaps Dear congratulated himself too much on having given the creature back his voice, for Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 production of Frankenstein (screenplay Steph Lady, and Frank Darabout, producer Francis Ford Coppola) with Robert De Niro as the monster and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and a bride-monster of Frankenstein, had an equally articulate poignant presence for the monster. Dear and Boyle learned from Branagh and De Niro.

It was a production and is now a film which shows how transcendent and variable the gothic can be. The New York Times critic made fun of it — a paradoxical measure of its transcendence (the monster is alive and peeved!) It’s very effective in this film production – – where they do intersperse some stills from the 1931 Whale Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff), but for once I will concede that I was aware how much more charged it must be to have been in the theater. I don’t often feel this in the HD operas which are directed for film; this is a play taking advantage of all the techniques and stagings possible nowadays of a theater in the round and live stage.

It’s worth while to listen to Dear’s description of a many year project and the book as providing a contemporary creation myth:

Ellen

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Nearclosure
With Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman standing aside, Bryan Cranston as Mr White advising Aaron Paul as Jesse to find a new identity — near closure

Dear friends and readers,

When I began watching and then writing about Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad I did not intend to write seriously about it, but gradually I came to see the it comprises an unusual set of quality TV films worth study and evaluative commentary. They mirror central deeply disquieting and central aspects of US life, the whole plot-design actuated by the cancer epidemic (from our ubiquitous “chemistry, yo Mr White!”) and the horrendous price of a pretense at effective chemical medicine:

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Anna Gunn as Skyer desperate and believing Walt could be saved, pressuring him into going for the out-of-range expensive chemotherapy and operation.

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At film’s end: she sits, chain-smokes, drinks coffee, listens to others in a corner of a trailer-home

As film art they are brilliant. The genre finally American gothic: the mini-series has the recipe except for the supernatural: the double self, death, labyrinthine haunted places, the past never goes away, even sexuality in the form of homo-eroticism unacknowledged, and at the end a house in ruin. Less known but common characteristics: exploration of science, doctors (as in Frankenstein). Kafkaesque, majorly says Jesse of his experiences.

So now, as I’ve done for the Palliser, Poldark and Downton Abbey mini-series, as well as many Jane Austen and Andrew Davies’ films, I offer a handy list in one place for people who are interested easily to reach my summaries and commentary. I’ll keep it to this blog (and not attempt to put it on a new website when I finally make it) as after all I discover I did not write as many here as for these previous series:

1) Cancer and Anatomies of Violence: Season 1:1-3

2) Cancer and Money: Season 1:4-6

3) Parallels distract common sense from seeing who is the villain here: Season 1:17

4) It’s the reverse of what’s claimed: Season 2:1-4

5) A Crime Adventure Story: Season 2:5-7 to Finale

6) A Crime Adventure Story (Cont’d): Season 2:8-10

7) American Gothic: Season 2:11-13

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Their first lab

8) Sensational Screenplay into a film: Season 3:1-4

9) Rather poorer stuff: Season 3:5-7

10) Stasis (includes Fly and Kafkaesque): Season 3:8-10

11) A Killing Way of Life: Season 3:11-13; 4:1-4

12) I change my mind about Skyler: Season 4:5-13 & Reprise 1:1-7

13) Walt and the Emmys: Season 5:1-8 & Reprise Season 2:5-13

14) The Dark Tragic End: Season 6:1-8

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From The Fly

I’ve two books to recommend, and transcripts of what was said in each episode. As I discover new essays or materials (reviews welcome) on-line that are good, I’ll add them here:

David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp’s collection of essays by themselves and others, Breaking Bad and Philosophy: Badder Living Through Chemistry

Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad by Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz

The Breaking Bad episodes scripts — simply the dialogue taken down (not the screenplay, not shooting scipts as they have no stage directions, no description of production design, no designation for shots)

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One of the many landscapes and bags of chemicals from the series

Ellen

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Anna Gunn about to fall to her knees on the ground as Skyler crying after her baby is taken from her by Walt

if you cut them [man’s laws] down … d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then … Yes I’d give the Devil the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake — Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons

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But see this pinned up photo of Andrea (Emily Rios), among the world’s targets: who cares what happens to her: anyone may and does shoot her in the head

Dear friends and readers,

I finished what I’m calling a first viewing of the extraordinary 42 hour Breaking Bad to the bitter end last night. Even to try to take it in would require several viewings. Each of the last shots of the principles epitomizes some final statement about what each has become and how they related to the story’s themes and action. In the last feature as well as a parody, “Alternate Ending,” Vince Gilligan offered his view of the two men’s last moments.

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The series’ last shot of Bryan Cranston as Walter White

White, he suggests, is “spiritually broken, his hopes for revenge pipe dreams; he’s too sick,” the last episode “an elegy, a bit of a goodbye — he goes out on his own terms, the cancer does not kill him, he is killed saving Jesse, there’s almost a perverse feeling of victory to it for me, at least.” Walt’s life up to the time he began to cook meths was a long mortification, failure as most in his society saw it, mocked by the bully brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) in a video replayed briefly made during Holly’s baby shower. He tells Skyler he did it “for me. I liked it. And I was good at it. I was alive.” Look at that look of bliss on the man’s face as Walt enters the darkness from which we all come, for him the release of oblivion. His life as Walter White ended when he was told he had terminal inoperable cancer; now the love he depended upon is gone from his family, he has done for them what he could monetarily, and he now dies on his own terms, blithe to go.

I’m not as persuaded by Gilligan’s view of Jesse. He’d “like to think Jesse escapes,” that there is “some hope of a life ahead.” Look at that face whose every nerve is suffused with moral pain and despair:

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Last shot of Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman

Jesse crashes in a junk car at full throttle through an iron fence from the last lair of murderous crooks with which he and Mr White have had to deal and Walt destroyed. Realistically, he’s nowhere to hide: Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) has vanished (“it’s over”) and with him his mechanisms for creating new identities for his clients. Jesse will end up seeking out his two feeble friends, Skinny Pete and Badger, and die on the streets if not jailed: he has been called “the moral compass” of the series;” it’s more true to say he has bneen its bleak victim, the one beat up continually, targeted again and again for killing, enslaved with chains, at the close yes knowing he made a killing choice to join Walter White and Jesse is no killer. Each time he shot or killed someone it was after an intense effort to force himself: only the strangulation of Todd (well deserved after Todd coolly shoots Andrea in the head) came naturally.

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The alternate ending has Cranston as Hal, a comic emasculated character with Lois, his formidable wife (Jane Kaczmarek, from a once TV popular series, the two of them starred in, 2006 Malcolm in the Middle) waking in the night, trembling from the “scariest” dream you can imagine: told he had cancer (!), he took to cooking meths, making bombs, killing people (!), alongside a “lost waif, a man child who looked like he was always wearing his older brother’s clothes and he would always say things like “b…” [he stops embarrassed and worried his wife won’t approve], the b word he would use the b word a lot he would say (shouting) “yo B word” and “yah science b word …” In “Felina” we see Jesse when young lovingly carpentering a wooden box, his drawings of himself as a boy hero were recognized by Jane (Krysten Ritter), one of his two loves, as the work of a comically self-deprecating artist. Despised and rejected, with no Mr White to save him, Jesse zooms into the darkness too.

In this dream Hal tells Lois, as his actual wife (much TV self-reflexivity here) that he, Hal, was married to this “tall beautiful blonde woman” — Lois the wife semi-jeers, incredulous of course. When Skyler is last seen she is continually smoking, chain-smoking. She sits and smokes. She is terrorized twice in this season, both through her baby. After a terrific scene after Walt has produced another set of lies to account for his absence and where Hank could be, she sees a fancy knife in a knife set on the table we have seen many times. She grabs it and lunges at him, screaming, “leave us alone, just leave us alone.” Walt defends himself and they fall to the fall, rolling, tussling; he manages to wrench the knife back but not before she has slashed his hand. Horrified, Walt junior becomes hysterical as he watches this.

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To this they have descended. Well he gets back; before she can rise and adjust herself, he has taken the baby in its carrier, run to his car and is driving off. She rushes out after them frantic, asking for her baby back, and falls on her knees to the ground as he drives away. A stunning moment. She begins at long last to cry. Walt does care for Holly and leaves her with the firemen, where we presume Skyler can pick her up safe and sound.

Again another moment in this last season, late at night, she hears a sound from the baby’s room and finds herself by the crib with three men who surround it. They are masked and the dangerous Todd is one of them. They say she has been talking to the police and if she tells about who Lydia is or anything she knows they will return — implication and kill this baby. She mouths obedience.

SkylerWhite
Last shot of Anna Gunn as the show’s princess Skyler White seeing how bad Walt looks

Anna Gunn interprets her character inadequately throughout. She says Skyler is a shell, nothing in her. But for her life is not pointless as yet: she has her children, but like Jesse, they make her intensely vulnerable to those who want to get at Walt or any of his associates. Unlike Jesse, once her court case is done, if she does not go to prison (and a plea bargain seems probable), she must (like Saul) move, and if not get a new identity, keep out of harm’s way. Her beauty is of no help for what she cares about — though perhaps it attracted Walter White in the first place, made him dump Gretchen Schwartz. The characters in the series invite these kinds of speculations: we learn enough about them suggestively over the slow-moving 6 year series. I imagine she will eventually stop the heavy smoking — though she will never be the complacent woman she once was. She will remember a world of terror that she joined in on (to the extent of telling Walt to have Jesse killed when Walt balks at this), that still exists but which she now wants no part of.

Lastshotofseries
The very last shot of the series: the men with big guns in the scientific lab (as Fortinbras has the last word in Hamlet)

There is a bleak inference to be garnered at this end: at each and every turn of their career, the two men came up against people who had become inured to murder by dint of murdering other people lest they be murdered or found out, bullied into confessions, and then tortured by penal servitude for decades to come. Each set of murderers were worse than the ones before: from Krazy-8 (seemingly sane) to Tuco Salamanca (who commits acts of wild crazed violence), replaced by the frighteningly homocidal Gus Esposito and his ruthless hitman, Mike Ermantraut, replaced in this last season by the vicious Nazi crew run by Jack Welker (Michael Bowen), with perhaps the scariest pair of them all, Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) and Lydia Rodart-Quayle (Laura Fraser). Hank tells Walt he is a dead man ten minutes ago when Walt is still so foolish as to try to bargain with Jack for Hank’s life based on reasoning:

Hankslastmoent
Near last shot of Dean Norris as Hank: to Walt “you were the smartest guy I ever knew, but you are too stupid to know it was over ten minutes ago.”

The mini-series presents law as providing a modicum of safety for those who do not break it: those administering (inflicting?) and obeying it do not fear one another and however personally awful, mean, demeaning of others, have a vested interest in not breaking it. So some control is exerted over people, some order set up (however morally cruel or wrong) whose rules most of the time can be depended upon — at least by white middle class people.

Marieleftalone
Marie (Betsy Brandt) left alone, widowed in her impeccable kitchen — having learned nothing, her lips tight as she spews out unfocused anger

At least you know where you are with the DEA, the medical establishment, the schools, family rituals. There are levels of barbarity such people most of the time do not stoop to. Not everyone is inside this net — those on drugs, alcoholics, non-whites, the poor, women who are driven to prostitution, for whom there is no pity, no understanding. The show does not include GLBT people who presumably are not inside the Net if they reveal themselves.

Disabled
Walt’s last view of Walter Junior (RJMitte) who he has tried to provide money for funneled through the Schwartzes

I would not want to be a disabled person, a child, someone who does not conform in the surface way the well-rewarded Schwartzes have.

A bad dream? Says Mr White to Hank (who soon after ends up buried in sand), if you do not know what this has been about (“who I am”), tread lightly:

Treadlightly (2)

Treadlightly (1)

The remark is not to limited to Heisenberg as Hyde but the whole complex of life we’ve experienced.

Have I mentioned how effective are the inconsequential shots of the series: as Walter White is taken away to hide in the granite state, a stray dog crosses the road

Straydog
Final shot of Oxymandias (13:6)

Ellen

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A Syllabus for a Class at the Oscher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University

Exploring the Gothic

Day: 8 Tuesday afternoons, 2:15-3:40 pm, Sept 24th to Nov 11th
Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road. Fairfax
Instructor: Ellen Moody

Description of Course:

This course explore varieties of gothic and its terrain which conform to recipe format. Take one labyrinthine or partly ruined dwelling, place inside murderous incestuous father or chained mother (preferably in a dungeon), heroes and heroines (as wanderers, nuns), stir in a tempest; have on hand blood, night-birds, and supernatural phenomena, with fore-, and back-stories set in the past. We’ll read short stories, three novellas and sample films. We’ll begin with ghosts and witches, move to vampires, werewolves, and end on socially critical mysteries and stories of the paranormal (e.g., possession). We cover terror, horror, male and female gothic. We’ll also view clips from two films considered the most powerful film gothics ever made and an Oscar winning short.

Schedule:

September 23:   Origin, definition, history of genre, characteristics. I’ll show parts of DVD for The Haunting and The Woman in Black (if possible, otherwise substitute clip from “Afterward” from Shades of Darkness).
September 30:   Stevenson, “Markheim, ” Wharton’s “Afterward” and Mary Reilly
October 7:  Mary Reilly (possible clip) and F. Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life”
October 14:   Stoker, “The Judge’s House,” Conan Doyle, “Adventure of Abbey Grange;” Wharton’s “Kerfol”
October 21:   Vampire Tapestry (first 3 tales), LeFanu’s “Carmilla” and Oliphant’s “The Open Door”
October 28:   Vampire Tapestry (last 2 tales), Stevenson, “The Body Snatchers,” Wharton, “Mr Jones”
November 4 :  Dickens, “Signalman”'; M. R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedrale”; Bierce, “Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge”; A. M. Burrage’s “Smee.”
November 11:  The Haunting of Hill House

Texts:

Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly. New York: Vintage, 1990. ISBN 978-0-375-72599-9. It’s available as a kindle, and there have been many editions: Doubleday 1990, Washington Square Press, 1994.
Charnas, Suzy McKee. The Vampire Tapestry. Albuquerque: Living Batch Press, 1980. It’s available as a Kindle and two newer edition: Orb Books, 2008; The Women’s Press, 1992.
Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. NY: Penguin 2006. ISBN978-0-14-303998-3

Online short stories:

R.L. Stevenson, “Markheim”  
http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Mark.shtml

Edith Wharton, “Afterward”
http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/ewharton/bl-ewhar-afterward.htm

F. Marion Crawford, “For the Blood is the Life” (scroll down)
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0605421.txt

Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House”
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10150/10150-h/10150-h.htm

Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of Abbey Grange”
http://sherlock-holmes.classic-literature.co.uk/the-adventure-of-the-abbey-grange/

Edith Wharton, “Kerfol”
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24350/24350-h/24350-h.htm

R.L. Stevenson, “The Body Snatchers”
http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/body.htm

Edith Wharton, “Mr Jones”
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200121.txt

Sheridan LeFanu, “Carmilla”
http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/carmilla.htm

Margaret Oliphant, “The Open Door”
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10052/pg10052.html

Charles Dickens, “The Signalman”
http://anilbalan.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/the-signalman.pdf

M. R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedrale”
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/mr/more/chapter5.html

A.M. Burrage, “Smee”
http://anilbalan.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/smee-by-am-burrage-_-scary-for-kids.pdf

Ambrose Bierce, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/
YouTube for Oscar Winning Short: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuP5kUQro40

For further materials on the gothic, see my website under Ghosts and gothics, vampires and witches and l’ecriture-femme; under Austen Reveries, the category “Gothic.”

Ellen

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