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Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Thankfully the new adaptation of Northanger Abbey was done by Andrew Davies who hits all the right notes.  Admittedly, this book has not been adapted as much as the others, so there is nothing stellar to compare against, but he makes excellent use of Austen’s own dialogue (not every director is able to do this), adroitly showing the humor in the characters and situations, and the casting is great – Felicity Jones is perfect as Catherine, pretty, innocent and lively with a bit of spirit.  J.J. Feild does justice to Henry Tilney (one of the best of Austen’s heroes!).  Just looking at the previews for Mansfield Park has me filled with dread – that blonde, pouty girl to play Fanny Price! 

To see more about the PBS productions of all of Austen’s works, visit http://www.wgbh.org/article?item_id=3792119.  You can also take the Austen Quiz – I got 100%! (Nitpicking:  they have Sir John Middleton as Sir John Littleton in the quiz ).

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Persuasion – ouch!

I hated the new version of Persuasion, which aired on PBS last week  as Masterpiece Theatre becomes “Masterpiece Classics” and an all-Jane Austen slate of programs is kicked off.  Sally Hawkins is no Amanda Root, who played Anne in the 1995 movie version. She has a slumping, shuffling way of walking, gapes constantly like a fish out of water and in no way conveys Anne Eliot’s character, self-reliance or elegance.    I guess there would be no point in making a new version that didn’t try something different, but why amputate Wentworth’s letter to Anne from her moving speech to Harville that occasions it? Without his having overheard Anne say that all she claims for women is the power of “loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone,” his passionate, almost involuntary response by letter — “You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.  Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever” — loses all impact.  The very climax of the book is taken away and replaced with idiotic scenes of Anne running here and there across Bath in search of him. And the ending showing Wentworth and Anne arriving back at Kellynch Hall which he has purchased for her as a wedding gift, is just wrong.  Austen revered the navy, two of her brothers were in the navy and one of the themes of Persuasion is how much better this new class of self-made men are than the landed gentry represented by Sir Walter.  To put the newlyweds in Kellynch at the end, rather than on board a ship as in the book, is simply ridiculous.  That said, the character of Sir Walter was well played and resulted in the best scenes in the movie.  Next up on Masterpiece, Northanger Abbey.

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I’ve embarked on a new learning adventure – listening to courses on CD.  The first one I am trying is called “Books that have Made History; Books that Can Change your Life,” taught by Professor J. Rufus Fears. So far, I really like it.  The first lecture was about a German pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by Hitler near the end of the war. His book, Letters and Papers from Prison, demonstrates the way his classical education had given him the tools to contemplate his fate, to achieve wisdom, to maintain his humanity in the face of inhumanity.  Professor Fears makes the point that “Bonhoeffer had read the same books as those who tormented him.”  The judge who carried out his sentence had also received a classical German education, had read the Bible, Plato and Plutarch, yet they came to different conclusions about the current situation.  This reminds me of a poignant passage in the 5/22/06 New Yorker.  Anthony Lane was profiling an Englishman named Patrick Leigh Fermor (“An Englishman Abroad”) and relayed the following anecdote:

Fermor recounts a time in 1944, when he and his men are in flight from German patrols towing a German general. As they are climbing Mt. Ida (in Crete?) the General watches the dawn break and murmers from Horace, “Vides ut alte stet nive candidum.” Leigh Fermor also knew Horace and continued the quotation, “nec jam sustineant onus, Silvae laborantes, gulque, Flumina constiterint acuto”, and so on to the end. Fermor adds, “for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

Anthony Lane adds that “it feels like the end of something: the last, companionable gasp of a civilization– grounded in the knowledge of earlier civilizations, Roman and Greek– that had not just held sway in Europe for over a thousand years but had done more than any political truce or chicanery to bind Europe together. Both Leigh Fermor and the general had been raised to recognize Horace odes 1.9, to get it by heart, and to realize that the poem itself is a crystallization of our common feelings.” (p. 64).

Fears makes the same point as Lane, but takes it further. He condemns the German judge for not using his education to make a moral stand as Bonhoeffer did.  The judge “believed that his duty was to carry out trials that he knew were wrong.”  This helped clarify something that has troubled me for some time.  I read a lot, and have read great books in my life, yet I have often been guilty of poor judgment, of weakness, cowardice, of not acting honorably.  In fact, there was a scene in a recent Jane Austen movie (The Jane Austen Book Club), where a character is faced with a choice, a moral dilemma, and as she is about to cross the street, the light blinking “walk” starts to read “what would Jane do?” and then it switches to “don’t walk.”  And she makes the right choice and turns back.    I have read all of Austen’s books mulitple times, yet have I gained wisdom from them, the wisdom that is there for the taking?  And Fears answers that the Great Books are not enough.  He points out all the information that is available to us on the internet, and he says that knowledge and information in themselves do not equal wisdom.  Wisdom takes contemplation and reflection on what we read and experience.  Otherwise, all the reading, book after book, without thought, is nothing more than appetite. 

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Mary Poppins

When I was a kid in the pre-video, pre-DVD, pre-Tevo days, movies were rare events and not the stuff of daily life as they are now. I still remember the first movie I saw; it was “Mary Poppins” and the year must have been 1964, which means I was 7. We went to the movie and loved it and bought the soundtrack, on a 33 record album of course, which we played over and over again. I knew all the words to all the songs and could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (sp?) backwards. Walt Disney was also a family hero. We watched “The Wonderful World of Color” (in black and white) every Sunday night at 7:30. I remember when Walter Cronkite announced Walt Disney’s death on the news; I think it was a Thursday (I just looked it up on Google, and I was right – he died of lung cancer on Thursday, December 15, 1966). Besides JFk, his was the first death that I remember, and the first that I felt as personally affecting me, more than that of the President since I was only in first grade at the time. (The fact that my teacher was crying was the most shocking thing to me about JFK’s assassination.) Anyway, I am trying to get to the point of this entry, which is to discuss the article in the Dec. 19 New Yorker about the author of the original Mary Poppins books, P. L. Travers. But now, I’ve run out of steam and will have to continue this thought tomorrow….

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