"...he had taken the title from Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein liked to tell a story of a how he picked up a Marine one night and offered to take the man someplace fancy for breakfast. The only fancy place the Marine knew in New York was Tiffany's" (64).
I've seen the film multiple times over the years, and for me it's one of those films that lingers cheerfully in the memory but is startlingly mediocre in the process of actually watching (Hepburn's electric, iconic vivacity the unexpected trump card that manages to carry everything through long rough stretches). Bram isn't very enthusiastic about the novella either—musing that "it became a classic and it's hard to say why"—but I was sufficiently intrigued with his hypothesis that "much of its charm comes from something left half-said: it's the story of a romantic friendship between a straight woman and a gay man," and that "since their affection cannot end in sex or marriage, the two must explore other, less obvious ways to be intimate" (of course this is excised in the film, with Peppard's character instead played as a hunky—and strappingly heterosexual—kept man. Pat Neal's arch-eyebrowed amusement is the sole compensation for such a dull modification).
Long story short, by turning to Capote what I was hoping to access a queer foundation that could begin clarifying this most celebrated fairy tale (pun intended, of course), and if lucky discover in the process the first Great Depiction of the archetypal straight gal/gay male BFF relationship. Alas, I didn't really find anything of the sort: the dynamic is undeniably is there, but despite Bram's assessment it's not only not meaningfully explored on any level—it's just not really touched upon at all. And so I was inevitably disappointed, though I fully realize that it's not really fair to judge the text by my outside expectations.
As such, I suspect I'll find myself wanting to return at some point, much like the film, with vague but pleasant memories overriding initial misgivings. Hoping for better luck next time.
A total bummer of a pulp mystery, and I can only attribute the high star ratings on this site as the residual memories of the elegance and literary wiA total bummer of a pulp mystery, and I can only attribute the high star ratings on this site as the residual memories of the elegance and literary wit of the classic film noir that was adapted from it, 1947's Out of the Past. It's telling that all three of the enthusiastic quotes adorning the cover of this edition are taken from reviews of the film, and have nothing to do with the novel itself.
Homes constantly allows the plot to stray into long chapters dealing with peripheral characters who are hardly distinguishable from each other (I had a difficult time keeping them all straight--they all have similarly terse, one-syllable names like Guy, Slats, Lou, etc--and finally gave up when I finally realized they don't add much to the plot anyway), and there's a lot of focus on the good-girl Ann and her dogged suitor, small-town Jim. But at least there's the presence of Kathie, one of the most infamous femme fatales in all of cinema to compensate, right? Well, no--she barely makes an appearance here, and to add insult to injury, is named Mumsie McGonigle, which has to be the most ill-conceived name for a femme fatale ever.
So how did Homes, which is actually the pen name for Daniel Mainwaring who is credited with the film's screenplay, manage to transform his pigs ear of a novel into the silk purse that is the screenplay of Out of the Past? As it turns out, some archive detective work in the 90's by film scholar Jeff Schwager revealed that Mainwaring's screenplay was deemed completely unsuitable and discarded (the same goes for an additional draft by James M. Cain), and that the screenplay used in the film was actually by an obscure studio writer who went by the name of Frank Fenton. All of the elements that are most loved about the film's screenplay--the incomprehensibly sophisticated twists, the witty quips, the character of Kathie--only surface in shooting scripts after Fenton was assigned the project. He was never credited, however, and Mainwaring happily took all credit for the lauded screenplay (I read an interview with him from near the end of his life and he discusses it as if it was all his own creation).
But even if I was ultimately disappointed, I'm not sorry I read this. In the end, it merely made me love the film all the more. ...more
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist womenVirginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist women writers, including H.D., Colette, Dorothy Richardson, Bryher, Stein, etc. The topics traversed—ranging from the Woolfs's personal albums to Bell's photographic experimentation to early, pioneering female film criticism and more—is unceasingly fascinating, which is why I was often frustrated with how dull Humm's analysis could become. It's pretty dazzling when it sticks to original research and close reading of a wide range of material (which accounts for the four stars), but all too often comes it lapses into ponderous strings of academese, and I quickly began to skip just about everything directly dealing with psychoanalytic theory (which is why I considered docking one of those stars).
The major highlight is the consideration of the Woolfs's personal photo albums as demonstrating a number of her literary techniques in visual form. Never chronological or even topically arranged, the five albums instead are largely associative constructions and often contain multiple photographs of a single subject from different visual perspectives (echoing cubist and other innovations of modernist visual art), and sometimes "superior" versions of photos can be found hidden behind ones that are less representationally perfect but contain flaws that are more artistically interesting and/or evocative (hinting that the albums were more than just personal records) . I wish Humm had explored a bit more Leonard's admitted contribution to the albums, but overall Humm makes a convincing case that Woolf's larger aesthetic project involves her "amateur" involvement in the photographic arts just as much as her "professional" achievements as novelist, essayist, and literary figure.
There's also a nice overview of the intimate connection many female modernists had to cinema and the photographic arts in general, opening up a number of avenues of inquiry I'm already researching and/or plan to pursue further.
[One of the images Humm includes from the Woolf albums]
Quite frankly I would rather have dental work performed than read most of the material brought together in this collection: of interest to me was itsQuite frankly I would rather have dental work performed than read most of the material brought together in this collection: of interest to me was its inclusion of what editor John Bryant calls "The Ur-Billy Budd," that is, the several brief fragments of poetry and prose that eventually generated into the Billy Budd as we know it today (see my full review Melville's novella here).
In light of my queer-inflected interest in this story, I particularly love the penultimate lines:
"In my last queer dream here I bid adieu— For most part a dream of ships no more— A muster of men from every shore— Hail to ye, fellows, and is it you?"...more
I had hoped that during the time that has lapsed between having had to read this and Moby-Dick or, The Whale as an undergraduate and now I would haveI had hoped that during the time that has lapsed between having had to read this and Moby-Dick or, The Whale as an undergraduate and now I would have warmed up a bit more to Melville, who along with Dickens holds the dubious distinction as being my least favorite "canonical" authors.
No dice. I found this just as difficult to read and even more difficult to sustain any kind of interest in, and was most grateful for the relative brevity of Billy Budd, especially as Melville's writing style can charitably be described as impenetrable, if not at times actually unreadable.
The thing is, I really, really WANT to like Melville. I love reading interpretations of Melville's writing, as they are of the type that fracture and fragment under postmodern analysis, bursting with utterly fascinating queer resonances. Certainly the all-but-slavering characterization of the titular character throughout the novella is one of the glories of homoerotic 19th century literature:
"He was young; and despite his all but fully developed frame, in aspect looked even younger than he really was, owing to a lingering adolescent expression in the as yet smooth face all but feminine in purity of natural complexion but where, thanks to his seagoing, the lily was quite suppressed and the rose had some ado visibly to flush through the tan."
Of course, Billy's corporeal beauty is rather problematically utilized by Melville as a symbol for purity, innocence, and moral as much as physical beauty, something that ultimately creates a rather blank and even unsympathetic cipher of a character. Not that, Claggart, his shadowy nemesis, is accorded any particularly interiority either that would help rationalize the hatred he develops that will eventually destroy Billy…
But Melville's silence in regards to the character of Claggart is also one of the most evocative qualities of the novella, creating an opening that has often been interpreted as sexual in nature: that Claggart is motivated by an attraction that is almost inevitably one-sided, that his fateful claim against Billy is rooted in a self-hatred caused by this attraction, etc.
One way or the other, what interests me about Billy Budd is that Melville's elusively was appropriated by director Claire Denis for her lyrical and (very) loose adaptation Beau Travail (France, 1999). In Denis's capable hands the bare bones of Melville's story is transformed into a beautiful meditation on postcolonialism, homoeroticism, the human (specifically male) body, marginality, movement, race relations, etc, etc, etc that in its own way is just as elusive and endlessly evocative as Melville's text. Only rendered, if you excuse my (very) biased opinion, with a masterfulness and density that Melville's text barely hints at.
Looking back now, The Big Sleep looks like a crucial point of transition from being an voracious but indiscriminate reader to, well, a more discriminaLooking back now, The Big Sleep looks like a crucial point of transition from being an voracious but indiscriminate reader to, well, a more discriminate reader of serious Literatuh. Before that time most of my reading was centered on Agatha Christie mysteries and equally amusing diversions, so after the Bogie and Bacall classic brought this novel to my attention about halfway through high school, I figured "awesome, more mysteries!" and checked out Chandler's novel from my local library.
I don't remember many specifics of that first reading, other than the unbridled enthusiasm it inspired (I went on to read everything by Chandler available to me over the next year or two). But boy did those similes and poetic descriptions stick with me—for whatever reason the characterization of a street as a "curving ribbon of wet concrete" imprinted itself on my memory ever after. If I wanted to attempt analyzing my life as a chain of neat cause-and-effects, I could very well select this as the lightbulb moment where I finally began to perceive the power of writing and literary artistry, and truly realize how the mundane can be transformed into the sublime through just a few well-selected words.
It wasn't a conscious decision, of course, but after that encounter with The Big Sleep less and less Christie novels were checked out from the library; it was also during this time I began taking my English classes more seriously. By the time I entered college several years later I dimly perceived that I might actually want to devote my attention and major in these book thingies (it took a while, but I did ultimately did head in that direction).
Just after Christmas I revisited the film, a favorite that I hadn't seen in years. Afterwards I picked up the book, but not without a bit of trepidation. I never reread The Big Sleep, but over the years my returns to Chandler had yielded disappointments (The Lady in the Lake underwent a particularly drastic fall from grace).
But much to my surprise, I found The Big Sleep even better than I remembered it. Oh, as a mystery narrative it's more or less a bust—the legend surrounding both the novel and film regarding the plot holes are surely justified. But that seems rather beside the point to me: the brilliance is in the vivid individual episodes rather than the sum of the narrative parts. Frankly, I could care less who killed who—I read this to savor Marlowe's constant wisecracks and wry musings, and to meet the eccentric character that seems to emerge from behind every door. And I'll just straight out say it: within The Big Sleep are some of the most evocative, unexpectedly beautiful similes and descriptions I've ever come across in all 20th century American literature.
"She gave me one of those smiles the lips have forgotten before they reach the eyes."
"It was a crisp morning, with just enough snap in the air to make life seem simple and sweet, if you didn't have too much on your mind. I had."
Even just a cursory glance over various analyses of Wedekind's short novella shows that interpretations tend to be just as conflicted and baffled as mEven just a cursory glance over various analyses of Wedekind's short novella shows that interpretations tend to be just as conflicted and baffled as my own (*sigh of relief*). Because, well, this text is just weird. Really, really weird.
The story, revolving around an unorthodox boarding school young girls become mysteriously initiated into, places each girl into a hierarchical "family" of seven other girls, and over the next seven years rigorously trains them in ballet and to play instruments. By their sixth and seventh years, the girls, teetering on the edge of puberty, are then employed by the school to perform in elaborate nightly performances to help finance the institution, and judging from both Wedekind's detailed descriptions of the performances as well as the vocal reactions of the audience, the plays are selected for their "tastefully" lascivious plotlines and elements. The girls, unable to comprehend the double entendre of the actions they are performing, are then ushered out of the school once the menstruation process is about to begin.
If this sounds like erotica, if not actually thinly veiled pornography, countless descriptions and actions, often presented as asides, do little to dispel such a charge (i.e. "if you missed even a small step, you felt the cane on your legs, a sensation that trickled up to the back of your neck. Gertrud always smiled when she beat us"). Or such scenes of swimming in the stream, with "hundreds of girls… undressing ready to sunbathe" (they swim naked, of course), or the narrator's remembrance of her role as one of the peasant girls in her first performance, in which she remembers that they "had nothing to do but lie on the steps and display [their] naked upper bodies and calves." Umm, yeah. Creepy.
But just when one has pretty much written off Mine Haha as esoteric smut (albeit beautifully written, extremely fascinating smut), Wedekind switches gears, and suddenly giving the entire story a liberal, even feminist slant: the description of the performance features prominently the main female character trapped in a cage, railing against the injustice of her situation, and it retrospectively echos a brief moment earlier in the narrative when the narrator and several other girls stand at the large, barred iron front gate of their school in which they note the "heavy bolt" that prevents their access to the mysterious world beyond. While nothing is ever explicitly stated, it is clear, however, that more is involved now than an elaborate fantasy.
This squares with Wedekind's reputation, then, as one of the most vehement and articulate critics of European bourgeois culture in late 19th century, particularly in regards to its repressive stance in regards to sex and sexuality (one of the reasons why Spring Awakening still seems so audacious and modern, capturing such a huge American audience over the last few years). And so that becomes the pièce de résistance of weirdness—suddenly what has seemed so queasily porno-ish is now being positioned as a progressive, utopian social vision. It's an odd dynamic that the novella is never able to resolve (though really, Wedekind might not even have realized it was something that needed to be resolved), and that's what created such a conflicted, unmoored reaction in me.
Which brings me to why I even read this in the first place. As it turns out, several years ago a French film director took the contradictions and ambiguities of Mine-Haha and transformed them into a masterful film. Among other things, in Innocence (2004), Lucile Hadzihalilovic completely reworked this material, positioning it as a dreamy, evocative metaphor for female sexual maturation, though she is careful to retain many of the ambiguities and complications that marks Wedekind's novella, leaving them eerily unresolved as well (which caused its own minor controversy when the film was released). As such, placing literary and cinematic texts next to each other creates a fascinating dialogue, their uneasy reflection in each other resolving some issues and questions but opening up even more.
Which, it must be admitted, is exactly as I was hoping for, as I'm writing on this topic for my thesis, and I was hoping to use this novella and adaptation as a key example. And now I can. :D
Dunno... can something be interesting without being compelling? Because that's the conflicted feeling I get when remembering this study—Stam is a distDunno... can something be interesting without being compelling? Because that's the conflicted feeling I get when remembering this study—Stam is a distinguished writer and scholar, of course, and I appreciate the varied and multivalent approach in analyzing Jules et Jim, which many feel is Truffaut's masterpiece (I need to rewatch, but I've always been firmly in the camp that holds that the director never quite reached the same heights he managed with Les quatres cents coups). Stam places both Henri-Pierre Roché's source novel and the film adaptation into a variety of biographical and historical contexts, and also looks at the later adaptations Truffaut made of Roché's work. It's a learned and impressive piece of scholarship that is also readily accessible—no easy feat. But does it say something that I never exactly bothered to finish it? ...more
Essentially ground zero for adaptation studies—it's actually kind of embarrassing that I hadn't given it a look until recently (I'm assuming checkingEssentially ground zero for adaptation studies—it's actually kind of embarrassing that I hadn't given it a look until recently (I'm assuming checking it out multiple times from the library to have it sit unopened on my shelf doesn't count, right?).
Bluestone follows Lessing's classic distinction between the verbal and visual as articulated in Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (though interestingly never references Lessing explicitly), and in minute detail argues that "what is peculiarly filmic and what is peculiarly novelistic cannot be converted without destroying an integral part of each."
Fair enough, though almost all analysis and commentary on the subject—my own included—in the half century since have taken on a more nuanced approach in how the literary and cinematic interact in film adaptations, thus Bluestone's study takes on that unenviable position of being that initial, influential text that everyone subsequently takes to task to erect their own theoretical conjectures. The majority of the book is comprised of essays that entail close, formalistic readings of both the cinematic and literary text of the type that was de rigueur in academic studies in the first half of the twentieth century (which is my diplomatic way saying that it's good stuff that makes for dull reading).
Someday I will sit down and give it a thorough read though. ...more