strange_complex: (Miss Pettigrew)
I should really have read the book this is based on before progressing to the film, so that I could see properly what Stephen Fry was doing with his source material. But it seemed like a natural fit on my Lovefilm list after Easy Virtue (the last film I saw), and a pleasant way to spend a Sunday evening. I can pick up the novel later.

Obviously, it presses a lot of my buttons. Stephen Fry, Evelyn Waugh, 1930s glamour and decadence, a fantastic period sound-track by Anne Dudley (who also did the music for Jeeves and Wooster) and an astonishing role-call of British character actors. It's hard to watch the film without mentally going "Jim Broadbent! Harriet Walter! Imelda Staunton! Nigel Planer! David Tennant! Simon Callow! Fenella Woolgar! Michael Sheen! Stockard Channing (not that she is British, obv)! Brief, unexpected Mark Gatiss! Peter O'fucking Toole!" Which is always a pleasant thing to do. Many of them I know best from later appearances in Doctor Who, of course, and all are familiar faces that I'm not surprised to see turning in great performances. All the same, though, I thought Fenella Woolgar stood out as particularly captivating in the role of Agatha (here Runcible, not Christie) - a great role which gave her every chance to be fabulous and flamboyant (including a spell looking rather delicious in black tie and tails), but which also touched on the empty void beneath.

The story seems a hackneyed one now that we're all familiar with the concept of youthful hedonism, though I'm sure it wasn't when Waugh first penned it. The trajectory reminded me of Human Traffic (1999), in fact - non-stop party antics turn to emptiness and tragedy, with some characters redeeming themselves by finding a more meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle at the end of the film. The main difference lies in the accessibility of the hedonistic lifestyle - in the 1930s restricted to the sons and daughters of the aristocracy, but in the 1990s available to everybody.

The pace is fast and a bit surreal. We plunge from dizzy heights to dismal lows very rapidly, and although the colour palettes capture this nicely, in terms of acting and dialogue the tragedies of some characters are skipped over in a very matter-of-fact fashion. I think that's deliberate, reflecting their uncertain grasp of their own emotions - they simply don't know any other way to express the effects of their own downfalls. But it can feel as though some of the emotional impact we would normally expect from scenes of suicide, social disgrace, financial ruin and madness is missing. The time-scale is strange too - you think for most of the film that you're in the late '20s or early '30s and then suddenly BAM! it's the Second World War. Again, though, that's part of the style of the film, fitting in with the surreal and erratic schedules of the party set.

One more strange thing: the film contains two scenes in which the main heroine, Nina, is 'sold' by one man to another. First the man she supposedly loves, Adam, sells her to the richer-but-duller Ginger in order to pay his hotel hill. Then, years later, Adam buys her back for a fortune which he has acquired largely by luck. Each time, these transactions actually only consolidate what is happening anyway - the first time, Nina is already drifting away from Adam towards Ginger, and the second time Ginger has realised she doesn't love him, and has recognised that he would be better off letting her go and leaving the country. So the 'sale' itself, and Nina's apparent lack of say in the matter, is less utterly obnoxious than it might be - more a way for the two men to come to terms with what is happening to them anyway, including her changing interests, than anything else.

But the motif struck me because it also popped up in another recent adaptation of an Evelyn Waugh novel - the 2008 adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, where Rex similarly 'sells' Julia to Charles (after which she is this time rightly outraged). That most certainly wasn't there in the novel, and the second scene from Bright Young Things can't be there in Vile Bodies either if, as Wikipedia says, it ends with Adam alone on a battlefield rather than reunited with Nina as in the film. So does this all stem from just one scene actually written by Waugh, in which Adam sells Nina to Ginger half-way through Vile Bodies? I'll have to read it to find that out for sure. But if so, why have modern adaptations seized on the motif so eagerly and repeated it wherever they could manage? I suppose it is an easy way to convey a decadent society and morally-questionable characters. But I think I would prefer it if we didn't collectively seem to be quite so vicariously fascinated with it.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Jooster tie binds)
IMDb page here. Watched in Brum with Mum on DVD.

Oscar Wilde and I have a History. Like many teenagers, around the age of 15 I thought he was LIEK OMG SO COOL AND CONTRAVERSHUL. I worshipped his witty aphorisms, cultured decadence and jibes at the establishment, spent hours reading Ellman's biography of him in the school library, and set myself to devouring every word he'd ever written. Well, actually in the event I think I skipped quite a lot of the lit crit and the poetry. But, by any reasonable standards, I did my homework.

Moving into my twenties, the passion began to fade, as excessive adulation always does. I realised that Wilde had only been a human being like the rest of us, and that plenty of other people were just as clever, perceptive and eloquent as him. In fact, I began to find him pretentious and tedious. This is probably more the fault of people who think that quoting him liberally makes them seem funny and intelligent than it ever was his, but the effect was the same. "Get over yourself!", I wanted to scream down the century. When this film came out, I went to see it in the cinema at Oxford - but by then as much for old times' sake and because Stephen Fry was in it as anything else. Clearly, it didn't have that much impact on me at the time, because on this rewatch I found that there were vast swathes of it I had completely forgotten. I remembered touching scenes with his children, arguments with Bosie, performances of his plays and the period in jail - but that was about it, really. Very little about Robbie Ross, for instance, or about his direct interactions with the Marquess of Queensberry.

Since then, my opinion has settled and balanced a little. I still find some of the one-liners rather trite - but recognise that they weren't when he first came up with them, and that he probably would have cringed himself at the way they're used now. As for his stance as a self-proclaimed aesthete and general artiste (dahling!), I can appreciate better now that it was something which the Zeitgeist of the times demanded someone play about with, and that it was in a way as much a part of his professional life as his plays or poems were. I've started going to performances of some of his plays again, and discovered rather deeper themes in them than I'd remembered previously. And I've even had his Complete Letters on my Amazon wish-list for a couple of years now.

So when Mum and I had settled down the other evening, intending to watch Ladri di Biciclette, but finding ourselves let down by a dodgy tape, the DVD of Wilde which my sister had left with my parents so I could watch it some time seemed an obvious choice. Time to give my former hero another outing.

I must say that the film itself seems rather a Wildean whitewash. It's basically set as a classic tragedy, with Wilde's Tragic Flaw being his blind love for Bosie, itself exacerbated by society's Tragic Flaw of failing to accommodate homosexuality. This makes for a neat and quite moving morality tale, and both Stephen Fry and Jude Law carry it off very nicely. But while it is all certainly extractable from Ellman's biography (after all, the screenplay is based on it), I don't seem to remember Wilde coming across in the book as quite such a constant model of perfect empathy, humanity and compassion, and I'm certain that he was already entirely capable of neglecting his wife, spending extravagantly and behaving foolishly and dismissively well before Bosie came on the scene: all things which the film quite explicitly blames on his influence.

Nonetheless, it's enjoyable enough, and certainly reminded me that I really do want to read those letters. Seeing it from this stage in my life, I also couldn't help but view his story in terms of Classical parallels. It wouldn't surprise me if he himself saw his accusation and trial as a retreading of Socrates' for corrupting the youth, and certainly now that the original trial transcripts have been uncovered, his 'defence' (essentially, "You're the ones with the problem, not me, and I relish being a martyr to my cause") bears a remarkable similarity to the one Socrates presented, as recorded in Plato's Apology.

And then of course there is Ovid - exiled to the Black Sea by Augustus, partly for writing scandalous poetry, but also for a mysterious error which may well have had a political aspect. And this was brought home to me particularly by a rather loose translation in the film. Wilde explains to Robbie Ross that the title of his letter to Bosie from Reading Gaol, De Profundis, means 'From the Depths'. Really, it doesn't - conventionally 'De' in a Latin title means 'about' or 'concerning', as in Cato's De Agri Cultura, Cicero's De Re Publica or Vitruvius' De Architectura. They all mean 'About' + exactly what it looks like they mean from their modern derivations - so similarly, 'De Profundis' means 'About the Depths'. But if Wilde's letter had been called 'From the Depths', that would have translated as Ex Profundis - and thus of course inexorably have recalled Ovid's poetic collection of exile letters, Ex Ponto (Pontus being the particular area he was sent to). What I don't know is how similar they are in content, since I've only read an abridged version of De Profundis, and snippets of the Ex Ponto. But it would be interesting to know how much, despite avoiding the more obvious potential tribute in the title, Wilde was aiming to cast himself as a modern-day Ovid as much as a modern-day Socrates.

ETA: and browsing idly through Ellman's biography, I now find a) that De Profundis wasn't Wilde's title anyway, but a suggestion from a friend, possibly E.V. Lucas, and b) that it is the opening line of a psalm, so was presumably intended by whoever did suggest it to have Biblical, rather than Classical resonances. Wilde apparently suggested In Carcere et Vinculis ('In Prison and in Chains') instead, which to me recalls the names of martyr churches in Rome such as San Nicola in Carcere and San Pietro in Vinculis, and thus masterfully incorporates both the Biblical and the Classical traditions, while also stressing the idea of his own tragic martyrdom. Still doesn't mean he wasn't thinking of Ovid, though, either when he wrote the letter or later as he wandered Europe in exile.

strange_complex: (Jooster tie binds)
IMDb page here. Watched at home with [ profile] big_daz.

My third watching for this, I think. I'd been a bit confused about the plot the first time around, due to missing the first fifteen minutes, and not having a clue who everyone was. Not that seeing them would necessarily have helped all that much. Like the West Wing, it avoids exposition, and simply presents naturalistic dialogues, in an almost docu-drama type fashion. It's up to you to pick up who's who as you go along.

Anyway, having seen it a second time too, I pretty much had most people figured out this time, although had forgotten some names. So I was able to watch in full knowledge of how the plot would pan out, and the hidden secrets of all the characters. Which is a nice position to be in, as there's a lot of very charged scenes early on if you know what's going to happen later, and what's already been going on before the film begins. Mind you, [ profile] big_daz, who was seeing it for the first time, didn't seem to be at any disadvantage. He was going 'ooh' and 'aha' at all the right moments, and basically had the whole thing figured out from about half-way through the film. Well done that man!

It's a very bleak film in many ways - especially in contrast to the episode of Jeeves & Wooster I watched while eating my lunch earlier today. Has left me feeling rather sad - but luckily Doctor Who exuberance is still bubbling up under there, so I think I'll live.

Things unblogged

Friday, 19 May 2006 11:33
strange_complex: (Darth blogging)
Gosh. I would appear to have some free time. Nominally, I'm at Warwick doing essay returns. But since I only have 11 people to see today, as opposed to the fearsome 35 I got through yesterday, there are a lot of gaps in the day when I can do other things. And I've actually run out of minor administrative tasks to perform, so that means I can write on LJ - yay!

What I'm going to do here is give quick accounts of some of the things I would have blogged over the last couple of months, if I'd had the time to do so. They probably won't get the same level of detail as they'd have had if I'd written them up at the time. But at least this way they won't be completely forgotten.

18th March - celebratory meal at Gee's )

30th March - Robin Blaze at the Wigmore Hall )

1st April - 'Springtime Baroque' concert at the Sheldonian )

24th April - QI recording )

8th May - Rik Mayall in 'The New Statesman' )

Well, that was a great relief! I feel a lot less weighed down by a back-log now, and more able to get on with posting about things day to day. There are still some Big Posts I need to make about things like my new job, and my book and so on. But this has definitely been a good start.
strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
Wow! I am sitting in a TV studio, about to watch a recording of QI! How cool is that? Big ups to [ profile] kaz_pixie for getting us the tickets!

strange_complex: (Claudius god)
Ah! Stephen Fry just made the 'I, Clavdivs' joke on QI.

I think my life is complete now. :)

strange_complex: (Penny Arcade)
Just been out to see the above. Very quick notes, as I really need to get to bed (9 o'clock lecture, an' all...):

Spoiler-tastic )

Finally, everyone must go here, and download the second mp3 listed. It's the last track from the Hitch-Hiker's soundtrack album, not in the film, and is called 'Reasons to be Miserable (His Name Is Marvin)'. Kind of electronically distorted rap, voiced by Stephen Fry. You need to hear it to believe it.
strange_complex: (Penny Gadget)
A new internet-only trailer for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has surfaced, and I think it's much better than the previous one. Delightfully self-referential, voiced throughout by Stephen Fry, and with two great lines from Alan Rickman as Marvin. I wasn't so sure about the look of Marvin before (I couldn't let go of the version from the TV series). But now I've heard him speak - YES!


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