Tag Archives: ENGLISH WRITER

How to write a successful (MA) English Literature graduate application letter

3 Apr

 

download (2)

Although colleges will ask you for a personal letter to assist in their selection process this is not in fact what they are looking for. They are looking to create a fit; an appropriate connection; the correct person for the available college resources. This means that the applicant needs to be aware that their letter of intent, rather than a personal statement, should be a carefully crafted document in order to illicit interest and most importantly, to simplify the selection committee’s choice. For example, rather than ramble on about your love affair with books and literature, direct instead your letter towards a specific period and department. By engendering the letter towards available programs and possibly known professors the applicant will significantly increase their chance of selection. Remember there are hundreds of applications, therefore, your job is to make the task of the selection board that much simpler. By offering direction rather than vague notions of literary allusion the candidate will not only stand head and shoulders above the multitudes but will significantly increase their chances of selection. Do not be fooled by the title of “personal statement”; do not reveal the deepest darkest corners of your soul but rather illuminate your writing with practicality. They want you in their college. They just need a little help in finding the right fit. The idea is to temper your own experiences and educational aspirations to available resources. Once again – as you have heard a thousand times before – be eloquent, be bright; use prose ” that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention” but keep it simple. George Orwell said that “good writing should be like clear glass.” Keep this in mind when penning your piece and for goodness sake keep it relevant. It may be a personal statement but it is definitely not all about you. It’s about the college and your own place within it. Make sure that you fashion your words to fit the institution and department of your choice. Craft your letter carefully to dovetail the available pigeon holes. Good luck to you.

The following is my own letter which was instrumental in my successful selection to the Masters program at ASU.

               I came of age in the 1980s in the north of England, a particularly austere period for what had been – until that fateful decade – the manufacturing center of the known Universe. Steel, ships, coal, railway carriages and chocolate where all produced within a hundred miles of where I grew up. The possibility of work after graduation was unquestionable; guaranteed employment for life. When I finally left comprehensive education, unemployment in east Yorkshire was higher than it had been in the 1930s and the aforementioned industries had all closed down and disappeared. Britain was no longer the engineering hub of the world but instead had become a land decimated and divided by greed and governmental neglect. Naturally I’m talking about the Thatcher years, when Margaret decided that there was no such thing as community – despite being the daughter of a grocer – and that Britain was a nation of individuals. Greed was the watchword of the hour and money poured into the south via the City and out of the north via asset stripping – the sale of machinery and associated jobs – and shipped abroad. The north was obliterated.

               The protests that arose to confront the tyranny and self-serving policies of the Tories gave rise to a form of literature which has abided with me ever since; the literature of the politically isolated and disenfranchised. When men are idle and families starving their minds turn to other things and often, as in the case of the striking miners, to the pen as well as the placard. Margaret Thatcher if nothing else was a terrific muse and her self-absorbed largesse reinvigorated the literature of the working class. One only has to think of the politically charged music of Billy Bragg and The Smiths, Bleasdale’s “Boys from the Black Stuff” and Franc Roddam’s “Aufwiedersehen Pet.” This voice, although pertinent, is not specific to the then newly unemployed of the eighties and can be found throughout literary history. Literature has always been a reactionary medium of political discourse reflecting the concerns of working people and quotidian politic. It’s this voice that interests me and wish to pursue. It is after all, the abstract and brief chronicler of our time.

               It’s the retrospective of history that allows one to reflect upon the inequalities of our own contemporary world and therefore, it’s the period of the Renaissance and in particular the writers and poets of the sixteenth century, that I wish to pursue. Given this tumultuous period of religious upheaval, the awakening of what would become the modern mind and the foundation of what we today call western society, I want to further my understanding of how the literature of the period underpinned the attitudes and frustrations of the masses; what it was they understood to be representative of their own disenfranchisement and how they formulated their grievances through the satirical and polemic. To comprehend the essence of quotidian sixteenth century society and attempt to appreciate the level of public dissatisfaction necessary to subvert what was ostensibly a police state. Their ineffable ability to show case injustice and malcontent whilst – and not always successfully – evade the censorious eye of the regime. Ultimately through the study of Renaissance Literature I hope to further acquaint myself with those, who dared to imagine that mere words on a page could alter that which was intolerable or unjust. It’s the voice of the everyman and the politically disenfranchised who documented inequitable and oppressive circumstance – exposing the injustice of modernity – which draws me. It’s the working man’s hand that I wish to grasp from the pages of plays and poems to supplement my own experience of what is ultimately the human condition; the centuries of subjugation and struggle which today are as pertinent to a 21st century society as they were to the groundlings at “The Globe.”

                As an undergraduate at ASU I have studied under Professors Corse and Fox and would be delighted to be able to continue to do so. In particular my sixteenth century satirical studies with Professor Corse were extremely instrumental in my desire to pursue this particular vein of socio-polemic literature. Likewise Professor Fox – whose encyclopedic understanding of Shakespearian literature and diverse contemporary authors was beyond illuminating – excited my interest in the social and political undercurrents of the English Renaissance. The chance to study with either of these professors in order to increase my knowledge in the field of Renaissance literature and literary satire would be beyond gratifying.

               As with all choices there’s always more than one reason why one makes certain decisions and as the product of my own experience, electing to pursue an MA at ASU is no different. Not only will it enhance future employment possibilities, it will, more importantly, advance my own creative writing ambitions and lend itself to my desire to continue my education once completed. If the strikes of the eighties taught me anything it was the importance of education and a necessary ability to adapt. Modern America is no different in many respects from rural Yorkshire and the jobs which exist today – as I have witnessed at first hand in an ever diminishing manufacturing sector – may not be here tomorrow. Forewarned – as the adage goes – is forearmed.            

                Today I live in Phoenix with my wife and children, having settled here over ten years ago and operate a business on the west side of town. On first arriving in Arizona, after buying our home, I sent photographs to my family in England, justly proud of my new found materialism. My father looked at the photographs and, ignoring my possessions completely, focused on the blue sky. The new car and house might just as well not have been in the pictures. One can understand that living on a windswept island where we have more words for inclement weather than the Inuit have for snow, that the glimpse of an azure blue sky framed by palms trees might be appealing. Needless to say it wasn’t long before he boarded an aeroplane to visit us and enjoy for himself that with which he’d been sorely tempted. Phoenix, just as he discovered, is my home and therefore, ASU my college of choice.

 

1939 – TROUBLE AT MILL

6 Aug

wutheringheightstradead2

WYLER’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS

The assertion that a film fails to represent a book or doesn’t do it justice is not a new one and is common, especially when a production purports to accurately portray literary provenance. The process of embellishment or the reimagining of character or plot from canonized literature often leads to a faux representation that viewers accept as a true rendering of the author’s work, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Invariably a director will apply his own interpretation to that which doesn’t require gilding. Although we’ve come to regard film as art we must not delude ourselves that they – just as novels – are written for a market in the hope of profit and not just for aesthetic purposes. Although this may sound cynical let us consider how often we’re regaled with box office receipt figures rather than accounts of artistic merit and directorial accomplishment. Such is the case with the 1939 production of “Wuthering Heights” which although can be forgiven for its technical failings due to its contemporaneous – although surprisingly award winning – cinematic ability, we cannot so easily dismiss the license that was taken by Wyler with Bronte’s novel. The film although claiming to a be “a faithful adaptation” by the New York Times reviewer Frank Nugent is nothing more than a romantic period-piece designed to elicit the most bums-on-seats in order to garner the greatest profit for Sam Goldwyn. Anybody who has read the novel will recognize instantly the flaws in the film and will undoubtedly register a deep dissatisfaction after viewing it.

“Wuthering Heights” although it contains a love story is anything but and instead is a novel of agonizing desperation, revenge and societal machination; the microcosm of a small community who represent the hegemonic traits of larger class culture. Its principal characters are of course flawed and rather than accepting that which will bring them eternal happiness are instead bent on self-aggrandizement and the destruction of those perceived to have done them wrong. The rub of course and the denouement, is the realization that which they have lost was not the fault of others but theirs alone. The character of Heathcliff as we read him in the novel and the visualization of the character in the film are worlds apart and although sharing certain traits are conspicuously different; that which we discover through the mind’s eye thanks to Bronte’s writing is manifestly absent in the visual rendering.

Heathcliff is played by Lawrence Olivier who unfortunately lacks the grit and grime one would associate with such a robust character. In recent years in other productions of the story the character has been played by men more fitting to the role; one thinks of Tom Hardy’s 2009 portrayal which was far more realistic in terms of Bronte’s descriptions. In clipped English tones “Larry” – contrary to the uneducated stable boy Bronte describes – becomes that which he accuses Linton of being; a “whimpering milk sop.” In the film it’s the “pasty faced” Linton (David Niven) who initially seems to portray a man of substance and not Heathcliff and of – continuing in the tradition of class hegemony; at least in the beginning of the film – possessing inner strength.

Bronte paints Heathcliff as an enduring soul, one who despite his once elevated position under the care of old Mr. Earnshaw submits to the despotic behavior of Hindley. He isn’t the self-reflecting, submissive stable hand that Wyler portrays, but a survivor who chooses his own destiny and eventually succeeds in his plan to destroy all who’ve treated him ill. The scene where Heathcliff slaps Cathy is plagiarized from the one in the novel where he attacks Linton when he first meets him as a boy. Successively we’re reminded in the novel how weak Linton is and yet the director chooses to reverse character stereotypes. Perhaps this was done in order to garner sympathy for the leading man who – despite which ever camera angle is chosen – has the cleanest, most carefully manicured hands of any stable hand! 

For obvious run reasons the director chooses not to show the adolescence of the characters but instead portrays them as young adults. The first meetings between Linton, Heathcliff and Cathy occur originally when they’re children. The illusions of grandeur that Cathy decides to adopt are slowly ingrained into her over the years through the obvious wealth and kindness of the residents of Thrushcross and therefore the fabrication of the ball earlier in the film is merely an expedient.  Perhaps a similar simulation of time passing as utilized in “Citizen Cain” would have been more expedient, as the viewer is left struggling to construct a realistic time frame between one incident and another. Here the characters lose significant depth as it’s the experiences they have as children that cement the animosity – particularly in Heathcliff – of their adult years.

The continuous portrayal of Heathcliff and Cathy at Penniston Crag are also beyond the scope of the novel as are their surreal declarations of love. In the novel the relationship is understated to the point where Cathy first expresses her love of Heathcliff to Nelly and not the boy. Again this lends a simpering edge to Heathcliff that is incomparable and completely out of character. Further, Heathcliff’s confession that he tried to escape to America, but instead jumped overboard, is a complete fabrication and deliberately puts the power of the relationship – in the tradition of fin ‘amors – in the hands of Cathy. When Heathcliff leaves the house he disappears into the night to mysteriously return a changed man. There are no thoughts of Cathy in his head only those of revenge. The director turns Heathcliff into an indecisive, when in the novel he proves to be a man of action and self-determination.

“Wuthering Heights” to my mind and also comparable to the writing of its author, is a mean, austere bastioned, stone building that was built to endure the inclement weather of the moors. Instead it’s revealed by the director to be a clean, well lit, orderly home. In my own imagination I envision the rooms as cramped, the house to be in disorder and in general disarray. There’s no impression of a Yorkshire farm house and instead one is cheated of imaginary creation with what is obviously a film set. Contemporary sets, thanks to the shrinkage of technology and the ability to utilize existing locations, offer a more realistic experience to the viewer. Bronte does a fantastic job of visualization in her descriptions and to have read the book and to have visited her location – if only in the mind – was far more satisfying than the faux décor of a Hollywood stage.

Everything in the movie is extraordinarily clean, from the hands of the stable boy to the farm yards themselves. Even the skies above the moor are of a perfect hue offering a surreal experience to the viewer. Rather than the claustrophobia of inclement weather, the sun ridden grasslands of northern England seem boundless juxtaposing the lives of its inhabitants – particularly within the four walls of “Wuthering Heights”- which are rather more limited. Although a willing suspension of belief is necessary to enjoy most films, the advent of realism with the popularity of color film has allowed a director to more accurately portray his own artistic vision. The choice to shoot the movie in black and white was not necessarily a good one as the portrayal of the countryside in color would have added to the depth of the movie. Instead the falling action is over shadowed; creating a shallow and lifeless environment populated by wooden figures. What was also noticeable was the attire of the actors who appear to be dressed in anti-bellum American clothes instead of the more traditional flat-capped country attire of a nineteenth century rural environment.

Because the director has chosen to make the character of Heathcliff weaker than his literary contemporary we are constantly put in a position where we can observe his inner turmoil; to perhaps understand the emotional man behind the perceived rough exterior. In particular the stable scene where Heathcliff thrusts his hands through the window in frustration is particularly poignant. Almost revisiting the sickness of Catherine at Thrushcross, Heathcliff throws himself on to a bed of straw in a dirty old stable, mirroring the frustration of his unrequited love. Rather than a man of fortitude we discover a character that has more in common with Bronte’s Linton than Wyler’s leading man. This scene of pathos fails to garner our sympathy but rather, compounds the obvious weakness of the character and showcases the sickness of love.

In all the movie fails to replicate the written word and would leave any ardent follower of Bronte disappointed and unsatisfied. Even taken outside of the novel, the story line is weak and the characters tin-cut. That it is of any worth at all is as an example in the progression of film history and the diverse representations the novel has endured through the decades. If the story of Heathcliff was based only on Wyler’s movie then he would have been nothing more than a disposable love interest and not the giant of literary history that he is. Written as a Byronic hero, Heathcliff stands head and shoulders above an ill-chosen, ill dressed, poorly accented cast, in what was clearly a studio production of a made for profit motion picture.

The Special Shakespearian Effect

19 Jul

          sdf

“FORBIDDEN PLANET” AND “THE TEMPEST”

  James Burbage towards the end of the sixteenth century, having built the successful “Globe” using the wooden frame from his original playhouse “The Theatre,” acquired a stone-built hall at Black Friars. The building stood on the grounds of the old Dominican Monastery which had been used variously over the years. Rather than an open air theatre, where the actors were subjected to the elements and limited to a wooden scaffold in the center of the viewing public, Black Friars was the precursor of what we today would consider a modern stage location. The Black Friar’s allowed for performances sheltered from the elements and where for the first time the use of stage magic or, in Hollywood parlance, special-effects could be utilized with full impact. The Hall – according to contemporary accounts – was shadowed and lit by candles; the stage decorated with elaborate screen sets and the plays themselves accompanied by musicians. The ambience of the location along with the atmosphere created by the players would have been beyond anything an Elizabethan audience had thus far witnessed; the development of the play via the utilization of stagecraft undoubtedly stunning.

            There is evidence within “The Tempest” of significant stage-direction which would have allowed a writer a broader scope with regard to character development and so, it’s little wonder that this Shakespearian play, perhaps more than any other, contains evidence of technological manipulation. This giant leap forward one could argue is akin to the C.G.I manipulation of modern film makers. Now the sixteenth century playwright had the facility to bring his characters to life and rather than simply have a Chorus implore a crowd “to make imaginary puissance” or to “piece out the imperfections [of a play] with [their] thoughts.” At last the playwright could do more than just stimulate the workings of the – now comfortably seated – groundling’s “imaginary forces.” Although “Henry V” would have benefitted from close exposition within the confines of Black Friars “The Tempest” would’ve been literally embellished by that which was now possible. Clearly Shakespeare wrote the play with this in mind; hence the numerable sequences which elicit the use of some form of stage manipulation. It’s because of these proto special effects that the play is so easy to conceive within the framework of “Forbidden Planet.” A film which, although loosely based on the play, translates Shakespeare’s magical realism into the technological advancement required of the science fiction genre. Therefore, those special effects which were vital to the success of “The Tempest” have lent themselves to the longevity of “Forbidden Planet” without which it would’ve been impossible.  The technology used to exhibit these effects in both productions is of course planets apart but the results are none the less stunning and are particularly apparent in the characterization of both Robbie the Robot and Ariel.

            The play opens with the supposed drowning of a ship however, with manipulation of torches, swinging ropes and discrete lightning to represent flames it would’ve been an easily achievable scene inside of Black Friars. The fantastical portrayal of the plays characters on the other hand would have been a challenge. Ariel is an ethereal being, a willow-the-wisp character that can fly around the world in seconds, appear at will wherever it chooses and carry out the most arduous task with the greatest of ease. With a system of ropes and cranes Ariel could have been seen to fly to the delight of the audience as with little effort from Elizabethan riggers, the character could magically have be whisked from one part of the stage to another. In an era when magic was considered to be a very real phenomenon and the explanation for the world at large, the audience would have been astounded to see proof of the unseen realm for just the mere price of admission. Ariel is the enslaved embodiment of Prospero’s desire who without him – not dissimilar to the advanced knowledge left to Morbius – would not have been able to achieve the magic he did. Although he has the book, the staff and the wardrobe to paint himself a magician, Prospero is a base alchemist who utilizes the abilities of another to achieve his own ends.

            In the 1950’s rendition of the same play, Ariel appears in the form of Robbie the Robot and although light years apart in appearances, performs exactly the same role. Robbie is a sophisticated piece of electronics; a mobile, mechanical being that serves at the behest of his designer and master Morbius. He’s a swirling sophistication of flashing lights and rotating sensors who is able to perform all manner of tasks thanks to the usurped knowledge left by the planets predecessors. Robbie is both a protector and servant; a mechanical being of great strength that can produce any quantity of any material at will. Able to carry tons of sheet lead and yet unable to harm any living being thanks to his programming he is the embodiment of Ariel. An unwitting captive of Morbius’ design who without complaint fulfills every request and performs any task demanded of him. Just as Ariel is unable to free himself from the bonds of Prospero so Robbie is destined to exist only to serve. Robbie is the poster-child of 1950’s prophesized, future, technological development just as Ariel is the manifestation of the ethereal. Both Shakespeare and Wilcox are able to create magic thanks to the application of the special effect. In both instances the illusion for the audience is a persistent one as, rather than merely imaginary, Ariel and Robbie are living, breathing or electricity consuming, stage-crafted phenomenon.

            Using trick photography and film cuts Wilcox was able to create optical illusions that to a 1950’s audience must have seemed very real indeed. His superimpositions of models to show what appear to be highly advanced technology are extremely successful and from an artistic stand point very authentic. In particular, the attack of the Monster of Id upon Morbius’ residence where in order to protect themselves, steel shutters slam – as if by an unseen hand – into place. Likewise his renderings of the underground structure – which in reality are probably plastic models – when properly lit and filmed with superimpositions of tiny human figures, appear to be extremely lifelike. Wilcox presents a film that the audience is able to readily accept thanks to the success of his many special effects. “Forbidden Planet” isn’t particularly well written or acted and yet thanks to its cutting edge sophistication is unforgettable.

            Similarly Shakespeare doesn’t rely on the ability of his actors nor his words to achieve success. In the stage direction we can clearly see the intent of the play was to amaze and surpass that which had already become quotidian. Tales of star struck lovers, revengeful kings and ubiquitous twins surviving shipwrecks were in want of fresh paint and it was the machinations developed at Black Friars that allowed “Theatre” to take the necessary leap. In two places in particular we are shown the ingenuity of the players. In the first instance, the banquet scene, where the survivors of the ship wreck are offered a bounteous table and yet thanks to the harpies are unable to partake. Ariel is seen to suddenly appear in various parts of the stage; finally ending up on the table itself. “Thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel who like a harpy clasps his wings; and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes.” The notes suggest “an ingenious device of stage mechanism.” Shakespeare has included a flying harpy, sound and lighting and to conclude, an apparatus of some mechanical genius that renders the banquet gone. Secondly at the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand, Prospero is in want of a “corollary” of spirits. This event is preceded by “soft music’ which choruses the arrival of Ceres, Juno and Iris. The stage direction once again bears witness to the ingenuity of the author. “Juno descends;” suggesting some type of winding mechanism. The footnotes even suggest that the direction is given too early and that this may be to take into account the limitations of the “machine.”

            Clearly the utilization of special effects to enhance characterization is nothing new and if one considers the theatre of Ancient Greece then we gain insight into the notion of Deus Ex Machina; where the god would have been lowered to the stage to turn wrongs to rights. Similarly Shakespeare was able to adapt to his new surroundings and given the embarrassment of riches the new location offered was able to adjust his plays accordingly. Likewise Wilcox using the malleability of film was able – without a single advanced mechanism – to make an audience believe that they had landed on a distant planet by means of space ship, only to discover that a far superior intellect awaited them.

             Both creators utilized everything at their disposal to create an illusion that enabled a willing suspense of disbelief. Just as Robbie the Robot is no more than a man dressed in a suit and Ariel a man on a wire, both characters are gilded by the use of special effect. It is the advent of Elizabethan stage craft that has taken Shakespeare’s “flat unraised spirits” from the “unworthy scaffold” and translated them into Wilcox’s “beautiful Cinema Scope” with “Amazing Color.”

MEN OF ENGLAND…

14 Jul

imagesBASTILLE DAY: July 14th 2015.

“THE PROFUNDITY OF IDEOLOGY IS IMMORTAL”

“If you find yourself in the majority , you should reconsider your position.”

Mark Twain

Men of England, wherefore plough

For the lords who lay ye low?

Wherefore weave with toil and care

The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save

From the cradle to the grave

Those ungrateful drones who would

Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge

Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,

That these stingless drones may spoil

The forced produce of your toil?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,

Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?

Or what is it ye buy so dear

With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow, another reaps;

The wealth ye find, another keeps;

The robes ye weave, another wears;

The arms ye forge, another bears.

Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:

Find wealth—let no imposter heap:

Weave robes—let not the idle wear:

Forge arms—in your defence to bear.

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells—

In hall ye deck another dwells.

Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see

The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

With plough and spade and hoe and loom

Trace your grave and build your tomb

And weave your winding-sheet—till fair

England be your Sepulchre.

P.B.S

download

GEWITTER – The Tempest

9 Jul

caine

A Rendering of “The Tempest”.

It’s 1918; the First World War is coming to an end. After five years of bloody attrition Europe has been obliterated and trenches stretch from the North Sea to the Alps. Despite the millions who’ve already died, small pockets of fighting still persist in a land ravaged by shot and shell.

In a forward listening post – separated from the German trenches by barely a hundred yards – two British officers stand watch. Their orders are to raise the alarm in the unlikely event the Germans try to make a desperate, last-ditch effort. The soldiers stand ankle deep in mud and filth and peer with their binoculars over the sand bagged trench. As they stare into the early morning mist a biplane – although in radio contact with the officer in charge – buzzes unseen above the clouds. The radio crackles – a static voice breaks the silence – and suddenly the ground in front of them comes alive. An artillery barrage erupts upon the enemy lines, sending huge columns of mud and debris into the sky. The elder of the two men reaches for his cigarettes, smiles and waits for the guns to abate.

The film is set during the First World War. The character uniforms are those of the protagonists of the period, the location the trenches of Flanders. The scenario touches on the events of the “Tempest.” The premise is that a small group of German soldiers evacuating from the front lines are caught in the final barrage of the war. Despite casualties the men manage to escape but because of the mist and the utter desolation of the environment they become increasingly disoriented. This leads to their desperate quest to escape the dangers around them and their eventual encounter with the British.

Rather than just another well-worn, mud-drenched soldier epic, this particular film will be filmed with lashings of psychological fantasy where each soldier is drawn, despite his personal demons, to relive episodes of his pre-war existence. These episodes will be similar to the scene in “The Shinning” when Jack Nicholson walks into the ball room at the Overlook Hotel, which although supposedly empty, is filled with the ghosts of a bygone era. The men will all experience surreal episodes that will make them question their sanity, as well as the nature of perceived reality; an allusion to the absurdity of the carnage experienced during the war.

After all, what could be more absurd than total annihilation?

Character List

Major P.

 Michael Caine – who else?

The Major is a sympathetic realist in his fifties who although, battle hardened, clings to the notion of a universal morality; that there’s more to life than blood and bullets and that by living one day at a time and soldiering to the best of his ability he will eventually earn the right to return to his beloved England.

Leftenant Graves.

Jude Law

Graves is a public school boy – that’s English public school – who thanks to conscription has been forced into the ranks during the final months of the war. A good looking boy from a well-to-do background who, although maintaining the pretense of a stiff upper lip and filled with faux “Boys-Own” bravado, is on the point of mental break down. Hand tremors and occasional outbursts are softened by the affection he holds for the Major who – through their shared experience and his protection – he’s come to appreciate as a virtual father to him.

 There’s a nagging question of barely-perceptible homosexuality, but this is never satisfactorily resolved.

Ariel

Is a disembodied voice that alternates from person to person. The spirit is the pilot in the unseen aircraft, the voice on the end of the telephone and the static in the radio. There is constant contact between the Major and the entity with regard to the observation, discovery and eventual capture of the enemy. The voice is everywhere and nowhere; the ghost in the machine and yet Major P’s only contact with the outside world.

German Soldiers

Schmidt, Gruber and Schuhmaker

 Liam Neeson. Tom Hardy. Peter Falk.

The soldiers are foils to the British characters; Neeson to Caine and Hardy to Law.

Falk is the chorus and embodiment of Trinculo and Stephano and offers comic relief.

Hardy like Law is a young man drawn into conflict and the pseudo love interest in the never declared homo-eroticism.

Neeson is just as grizzled as Caine; a man who’s been forever changed by what he once perceived as a just crusade.

Various walking shadows

Every good war movie needs a few death scenes!

Psychological episodes

•        Falk lost in the mist turns a corner and suddenly find himself on the “Reeperbahn” in Hamburg. Girls and good times are everywhere and we experience the surrealism of pre-war Europe.

•        A monster made from the corpses of all the dead of all the wars rises from the mud. Barbed wire hangs from its body. It chases the soldiers and although never catching them is constantly an entity at the corner of their eye and a perpetual threat.

•        Law meets and chats with an airman who – to everybody apart from himself – is obviously a ghost.

•        Caine finds himself – fishing rod in hand – at the edge of a mud filled crater reliving civilian life.

•        Neeson reencounters his wife who was killed in a bombing raid by the British at the beginning of the war; the reason he joined the army in the first place.

•        Random vehicles are seen to drive through the trenches, ice cream vendors appear alongside other tradesmen. The occasional prostitute is seen leaning against the side of the trench.

The idea is to create sheer terror with absolute ridiculousness. The trenches aren’t just filled with the dead but also their memories. The Trenches as it were are;

“  ….full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Denouement

The men finally unite after their horrors whilst lost in the trenches.

 Law and Hardy have their brief, yet obvious moment of affection.

The men despite their different uniforms and political ideology come to a tacit understanding of universal brotherhood.

As the radio sputters to the sound of victory the air is filled with the roar of twelve-cylinder-Fokker- aero-engines. Machine gun fire rips through the trench killing them all.   

The radio breaks into a music hall ditty.

The camera pans the bodies and lingers briefly on the outstretched hands of Law and Hardy.

The trench slowly transforms into the Reeperbahn which Falk witnesses – cigar in mouth – in his last living, breathing moments.

The paradox of reality and dreams is left unanswered.

The Intent

Although the film parodies the book there is no intention of staying absolutely true to it or of using Shakespeare’s language. Although there will be allusions to the play – possibly in conversations between Law and Caine – there will be no direct link to it. The intent is to subvert the original play and at the same time doggedly adhere to it. By relating to it in the loosest of terms and without obvious reference the allusion will be maximized.

Do I have to mention that my idea is protected by copyright and that I’m also available for shooting next week?

GOTHIC EVERGREEN

27 Jun

         

images

THE RECYCLING OF A GENRE

   Shakespeare never wrote a truer word when he penned sonnet fifty nine and proclaimed, If there be nothing new, but that which is…Hath been before, how our brains are beguiled.”  In layman’s terms the Bard was indicating that there is nothing new under the sun. Although it wasn’t a literary genre that he was waxing lyrical about, it could very well have been the subject of his musings. The Gothic has been in fashion since the later part of the eighteenth century when Walpole produced the now moss covered milestone of the “Castle of Otranto.” Since then literature has been wall-papered with the tropes of Gothic to the point that one can barely watch or read anything without some facsimile of the style being inherent to the plot; dark, brooding locations populated by mysterious beings, intent on causing mischief or at least satiating a habitual blood lust. Gothic has become so engrained in modern society that it can be found in many other artistic mediums including music, fashion, art and is no longer confined to literature. One may hazard that the attraction of the style is grounded in the easily recognizable genre tropes that are appreciated ostensibly by a symbol minded audience.

            Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Stoker’s “Dracula” haven’t been out of print since they were first published in the nineteenth century and still feature among the most enduring and cherished stories. Modern versions of these same tales – although contemporarily bearing only a passing resemblance to the originals – still hold true albeit with tenuous provenance. Likewise the medium of the modern film has succumbed to this retroactive, hair-raising over-spray and has taken it a step further. By utilizing historical characters, whether literary or human, it has not only recycled but has embellished and breathed new life into them with all things Gothic. Time-worn tales that have been told and retold ad nauseam have been resurrected thanks to the supplementation of genre allusion. The addition of appropriate styling has enabled film makers to recreate in much the same way that the medieval writers were able to reimagine the ancient classics without fear of obvious repetition. Gothic trope has become an adornment with which to repackage and stylize older works in order to achieve box office success. In particular one is reminded of Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and that most elusive of villains Jack the Ripper.

            The visual medium of film is an ideal showcase to exhibit those traditional tropes of Gothic literature that are so conventional to the reader. Although imagination is a powerful tool the addition of quality illumination, professional cosmetology and a score and that would make an exorcist quail, are not without their place. It’s the Gothic that’s chorus to so many great films and undoubtedly one of the reasons for their continued success. Lightning strikes and thunder crashes; the orchestra strikes up an ominous note and immediately popcorn is forgotten and sugared drinks neglected. The visualization of the unheimlich is a powerful draw and those oligarchs of movie magic recognize its financially beneficial veneer when they assiduously apply it to celluloid. Ominous location, other worldly situations, dark and brooding moments, strange characters and the inevitable parataxis that wrong foots an audience are all part of the well-fingered apparatus of cinematic satisfaction. This doesn’t only apply to the film but also to the carefully crafted siren-song of the movie posters which predict the dark delights of the as yet unseen; supplying the necessary element of uncanny to excite willing flesh and pliable minds. Brilliantly rendered images that paint the imagination before coin has been exchanged for a tooth-to-nail thrill that’s guaranteed to suffuse the blood and raise the hackles. In the dulcet tones of that over familiar announcer whom we’re all acquainted with, “We’ll give you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge!”

            Sherlock Holmes has been a part of the popular conscious since his inception in 1887 when he first appeared in “A Study in Scarlet.” Under Conan Doyle’s’ penmanship, the consulting detective went on to appear in four novels and fifty six short stories, a literary phenomenon whose extraordinary analyzing mind was the key to the character’s success. The stories where quintessentially Victorian with a modern, somewhat removed character able, by the process of deduction and his intimate knowledge of the new scientific methods, to apprehend criminals in spectacular fashion. Although representative of the period and an obvious foil to Victorian society he was never a true Gothic character, although the original inception did create a template for future adaptations. Given the popularity of the genre during the period it was written, trope exclusion would have been contrary to public appeal and so one can recognize the inclusive elements of isolation, mystery, ominous setting and high emotion. Despite being replete with Gothic codifiers, Holmes didn’t become a true Gothic character until the B.B.C. television series featuring Jeremy Brett in the 1980’s. Although many earlier cinematic and television versions were originally filmed in black and white – due to contemporary technology – this later series was deliberately filmed with vague sepia coloration that induced a deliberate sense of the unheimlich; invariably using a smog ridden city scape to enhance the atmospherics of suspense and pending doom. Consequently instead of being an accessible, although eccentric human being, Holmes was cloaked in mystery, associated with the black arts and prone to violent mood swings. The director John Hawkesworth was fond of discordant scenes and used parataxis to enhance the sense of frustration, urgency and rapid thought patterns that to the viewer where bewildering to the point of discomfort. The addition of the Gothic to completely restyle a rather flat character, whose major attributes were a quick mind, a faithful companion and a deerstalker, didn’t happen however, until director Guy Ritchie reimagined Homes in 2009. With a combination of steam punk culture and overt gothic representation the character of Sherlock Holmes was completely reborn.

            To date Ritchie has made two films both of which are steeped in Gothic imagery and allusion. Holmes is a complete man of mystery who hides form the world and who although possessed of incredible cerebral gifts has a side to him that could be described as sociopathic. Not unlike Conrad’s “Kurtz” Ritchie has alienated the figure of Holmes so that the reputation of the man is greater than the hero himself.  Isolated in 221b Baker Street he is surrounded by the ephemera of empire and foreign travel and the debris that clutters each scene is a distraction and also a precursor to the inexplicable that occurs in subsequent falling action. Ritchie’s cinema craft is so rich that one doesn’t know where to look as each object, situation or new character distracts to the degree that there is an omniscient feeling of anxiety of haste and a burgeoning sensation of the necessity for breathless flight. Holmes, rather than in London, is constantly portrayed in hostile landscapes where he is pursued by mysterious frantic figures. Attacked by adversaries who simply materialize from nowhere and with the inexplicable threat of Moriarty, Ritchie’s ability to confound and surprise are aided by the technical brilliance of camera angle and scene setting to enhance viewer sensation. This looming sense of prophetic evil is not dissimilar to the “Nellie” steaming up the Congo; shrouded in mist and surrounded by impassable jungle where at any minute absolutely anything could happen.  It is this kineticism of pending action that continually keeps an audience on its toes. The brooding atmosphere one associates with Victorian Gothic is consistent throughout his films via the medium of lighting, wardrobe and score. Ritchie is the master of metonymy where atmospherics, billowing steam and the ever present Thames fog proscribe the cinematic shorthand for impending doom and danger. The film is rich in doppelgangers, caricatured by the ability of Holmes to manipulate disguises using the “modern” technique of camouflage and period theatre craft. An obvious bumbling stooge to juxtapose the brilliance of the detective in the figure of Watson – as created by Conan-Doyle – is reversed by Ritchie who uses the character to foil Holmes’ innate ineptitude at life. The inclusion of femme fatales, arch villains and irrational momentary characterization rip the novel from the flat page and thrust it into the technicolored, moviescaped brilliance that it becomes in the hands of its director.

            Even though the legend of Jack the Ripper has grown from the true events of a nineteenth century serial killer, it is still an exquisite representation of contemporary horror. Given that the events took place during latter years of the Victorian period – the location of his crimes and the dark brooding city-scaped images of a man stalking fallen women with a surgeon’s knife – his adaptation to the Gothic is an easy transition to make. The story of those historic events has appeared in every genre of literature since and can even be found in science fiction; an episode of “Star-Trek” included a character representative of the murderer.  Unfortunately as with most early cinematic portrayals – and indeed one only has to go back to the eighties to experience the profundity of poor film craft and inadequate technology – the saturation of inept story telling tended to jade enthusiasm. The disassociation from film as medium of profit to that of an art form was necessary, along with the availability of 21st century technical ability, to bring a tired and worn tale back from the dead. Since the inherent details of the crimes were quintessentially Gothic it’s little wonder that an art-house production of the story was released. Once again the overt application of the Gothic literary genre was used to reanimate an already familiar topic.

            “From Hell” was released in 2001 by the Hughes Brothers and centers on a troubled clairvoyant police detective tasked to investigate the murders of Jack the Ripper. Immediately we have the introduction of the uncanny and the unheimlich with a man who can allegedly predict the crimes of others through his opium induced dreams. The inspector is a disparate figure set apart from society by class, ability and personal appetites and although considered by the constabulary to be a maverick, is none the less recognized as one with great ability. Shades again of the “Kurtz” figure of whom similar qualities were attributed. The inspector operates in the smog enveloped urban jungle of White Chapel where street walkers and drunks populate the far margins of society of whom little or no attention is paid. Our hero finds himself in a strange land struggling to survive despite the machinations of diabolical –although human – forces. The inspector has to reconcile duty with the dangerous aspirations of an impenetrable monarchy supported by the unseen hand of the obscure illuminati who attempt to confound him at every turn. Although fear and foreboding are used to great extent along with the most gorgeous use of the cinematic craft, it is the psychological aspect that drives the action. The director deliberately uses darkness and shadow, accompanied by unusual camera angles, to sustain a claustrophobic atmosphere necessary when portraying the Gothic.  Although we want the inspector to succeed we know that because his character is flawed and the forces he is up against are so powerful that his likelihood of success is minimal. Associated with the portents of his visions are the inevitable females in distress; prostitutes who for some unexplained  reason are slated to be murdered by the Ripper at the express desire of the shadowy hand that is truly behind the crimes. Many of the other trope codifiers are utilized including an indefatigable partner, inexplicable events and – interestingly – allusions to other Gothic writers including Edgar Allen Poe. “From Hell” has transformed itself from the traditional murder investigation story into a psychological battle between the forces of darkness and light.

            Gothic trope as is obvious from the two examples given has become an adornment with which to repackage and stylize older works in order to achieve box office success. The addition of appropriate Gothic codifiers has enabled film makers to recreate familiar stories in a new vane and thrill audiences with opulent representations of the Gothic style. The genre which has become so beloved as is apparent by its longevity and chronic metamorphoses has been translated with considerable skill from page to screen. Whether rain or knife slashed the appropriate settings of isolation, decrepitude and desperation – all inherently necessary to the Gothic – find a home in the modern cinema.

images (1)

JEKYLL and HYDE

17 Jun

Famous Fantastic Mysteries 42-08_Page_006

GOTHIC FANTASY or THOUGHT CRIME?

The duality and multiplicity of the Victorian era is implied in the reflectionism of Stevenson’s text. This includes the rise and fall of empire, the adoption of empirical science, the ascension of the middle class and the advent of the modern era; the list goes on and on. Consequently to try to coerce the figure of Mr. Hyde into any one of these positions would not be difficult. Likewise the idea of Lombroso’s anthropomorphism can be applied to the British attitude towards subjugated nations, gender roles  and class differences; the beerage as oppose to the peerage, as they were laughingly known by the blue bloods. Similarly the new Victorian sciences of phrenology, psychology and evolutionary theory could also help to explain from a contemporary perspective what it is that we think Stevenson’s novel is trying to tell us. I am not persuaded by any of these as I do not believe that this is analogous to the period nor a Gothic tale but that it’s a fantasy instead. Stevenson is renowned for other fantastical and adventurous works including “Treasure Island” and more in line with this particular story “The Bottle Imp,” and consequently “Jekyll and Hyde” is a work of pure escapism. Of course it embodies the tropes of Gothic literature but what modern story of suspense and mystery doesn’t?

Rather than discovering untold wealth in a “Rider-Haggard” novel or the perpetual youth of “Dorian Gray” we’re granted license to live out our wildest fantasies with impunity. Given the darker side of human nature and the masks we choose to wear in public, how many of us haven’t wished to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior and escape the bondage of social conformity. This is also a Romantic notion and something to which Blake alluded to in the “Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” Whether it’s the demise of one whom we despise, or robbing the local bank without fear of retribution what wouldn’t we do? This I believe is the true underlying message of Stevenson’s writing and is supported in the lack of specificity regarding the debauchery enjoyed by Hyde. Yes, we’re told of the trampled child and the murder but everything else is left to our imaginations. When Jekyll freely admits that he has done those things which go beyond the pale and which are inadmissible in a polite society, what goes through the readers mind? What is it that we as individuals desire but would never hope to get caught doing? This creates reader intimacy as – although we live the tale as written – we envision the acts personally and so embellish Hyde with our own true natures.

In the immortal lyrics of Billy Joel:

Well we all have a face that we hide away forever

And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.

Some are satin some are steel, some are silk and some are leather.

They’re the faces of the stranger,

But we love to try them on.

The nature of pseudo-science – just as in “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” – is again explored. Despite what was fast becoming a mechanical society – where everything operated within the bounds of natural constraints – there was still an irresistible urge to scrutinize the inexplicable. The old ways of the alchemists still adhere – hardly surprising as modern science had only existed for about a hundred years- and therefore there is a continuous attraction towards the fantastic. Written in 1886 “Jekyll and Hide” is only ten years younger than “The Time Machine” of H.G. Wells. It would seem that the progression of modernity is simply allowing for the fulfillment of ancient enlightenment if only between the pages of the novel.