Tuesday, May 17, 2005

happiness without a hole in it ... the effluent way to fall asleep [may 17, 2005]

I don't plan to read Henry James ever. Despite countless citings of The Turn of the Screw. Well, I might (make that a italicised bold might). Some day. In the meantime, I take the easy way out. Catch the film adaptations. Always a good substitute in general (although a crappy adaptation can turn you off). I remember fragments from The Portrait of a Lady, and I don't recall being too impressed. Now it's the turn of the Merchant-Ivory production of The Golden Bowl. This boasts the usual M/I trademarks: lavish sets and costumes, attention to detail from the period, a multivariate cast of familiars. And the pace. This time though, the pace is one of the monsters that plagues the film. There are so many invitations to fall asleep (you'd wish the characters would just get on with the truth instead of indulging in all that high-society elision and obfuscation). Lovers end up marrying a father and daughter, and there's this predictable panorama of deception, betrayal, mendacity, stoicism, and play of manners. Along with some of the nice euphemisms of the time ("they were intimate" instead of "they've had several rolls in the hay"). And the use of "affianced" (ah, the beauty of English). And there's an explicit reference to Hamlet. But you also have some of that old dialogue that just sends you rolling off the couch in laughter:

* Charlotte talks of Maggie having relieved her

* During a photo session, the photographer presents the same silly line twice: are you composed madam? ... (yes) ... then we shall expose ... are you comfortable? ... (yes) ... then i shall expose.

The golden bowl referenced in the title has even less screen time (possibly) than Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, but serves as fodder for coincidence, revealing misunderstandings, and a mirror of imperfection (what with the crack in the gold).

Advice: Read the summary of the film and move on. This film justifies some of the rants in Joe Queenan's article on his Merchant-Ivory movie marathon in Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler.

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