Archive for June, 2013

Adultery Week

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Animal Planet’s got Shark Week, and I have Adultery Week, including my first re-read of Anna Karenina since I was 18 (!) and a viewing of the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby—written by Frances Ford Coppola and directed, badly, by someone named Jack Clayton.

Adultery is often portrayed as No Big Deal in the movies, and sometimes in books; we’re even supposed to root for it. But you can’t accuse either AK or TGG of taking it lightly, which I appreciate. As it happens, John is currently away on a (mostly) silent retreat for 16 (who’s counting) days, and all I can think of when I watch/read about people committing adultery is Give me my husband back.

I’m only 20% through Anna Karenina and surprised to discover that the major plot point (Anna + Vronsky) has not only already happened but has already begun to sour. Hard to believe that we’ll be hand-wringing for the remaining 80%, but that seems to be the set-up, save for the Levin/Kitty plot. (Newsflash from current Melissa to 18-year-old-Melissa: Levin is not a Jew.) When I read the book at 18, I had no context for any of it—not the history or the book’s literary context or what it was like to be in love and/or married. Now I’m a little more knowledgeable and a lot more experienced, and what I find mind-blowing is Tolstoy’s mastery of interiority. He’s pretty effing brilliant about feelings, frankly. I love that. Also, how?

My verdict on Clayton’s Gatsby: a few good choices and a lot of poor ones. I like that everybody’s sweating the entire time. The sets and costumes seem pretty spot-on. Bruce Dern is perfect as Tom, really devastating, and I like Sam Waterston as Nick. But oh, Mia Farrow. Mia Farrow, Mia Farrow, Mia Farrow. Is Daisy supposed to be insipid? Maybe, but it tends to throw the entire plot off, since you start to wonder why in the effing eff Gatsby ever cared about her, or still does. There has to be something compelling about her. I do know that she’s not supposed to have an accent that wanders from Southern Belle to East Coast aristocrat in turns.

Meanwhile, the pacing is way too slow. Sure, there’s a hot summer languor falling all over everything, but once things start to happen, things really start to happen, and the movie never picks up the pace. In fact, Myrtle gets killed something like 24 minutes before the end of the movie. Speed it up, Coppola.

ETA: I’d never seen a movie version of Gatsby, and it gave me an insight into the book. You know the very famous opening few paragraphs of the novel? Where Nick talks about having learned from his father to reserve judgment of others? Here they are, as a reminder:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

And a few lines later:

Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.

When you see the movie, it becomes very, very apparent that Nick witnesses bad behavior, again and again, for his entire Gatsby summer. And you see it in a way you don’t when you’re reading the book. Because when you’re reading the book, you receive Nick’s voice as the voice of the narrator, and you’re used to a narrator’s voice. Sure, you know somewhere in your mind that he’s actually there, watching despicable things happen, but that gets muted by the fact of the narration. When you watch the movie, on the other hand, you see him witnessing things it’s hard to believe that anyone would tolerate. At some point, you feel, pretty much anyone with a conscience (or self-respect, for that matter) would stop hanging out with these people. But Nick doesn’t. And the conceit starts to fall apart, a little—the idea that he would have stuck around until the bitter end.

What I’m trying to say is, those opening lines make more sense to me than they ever did—in that Fitzgerald has to explain how Nick becomes, and remains, a passive participant-observer.

Then there’s the issue of hope, which comes up again at the end of the novel (which is, of course, a major theme in the novel, or rather the major theme), when Nick talks about Gatsby’s genius as being a capacity for infinite hope. I just now noticed that it’s at the beginning of the novel, too. Nick is identifying himself as intoxicated by that kind of hope; it’s no wonder he falls in love with Gatsby.

Am I going to see the new Gatsby? Nope. The preview makes it look abysmal.

In other news, my friend Carey (Hi, Carey!) and I saw Frances Ha. It’s a funny little gem, purposefully jerky and awkward, just like its not-yet-fully-formed protagonist. At one point Frances says something like, “Sorry, I’m not a real person yet,” and that’s the theme of the movie. I appreciated that it’s not a love story between Frances and a boy but a love story between Frances and her best friend, which to me is a very twentysomething experience for women. Also that Frances never gets rescued by anyone, even her best friend. Yeah, the ending is a little too easy and overpromising, but mostly it’s a good watch.

ETA: Almost forgot to mention: rewatched Pretty in Pink for the first time in a bazillion years! It holds up, for the most part—although I’m sure my various frissons de la coeur were at least partially attributable to muscle memory. Oh, to be 13 and utterly manipulable by John Hughes! Also, from this vantage point, it could not be more obvious that a) Jon Cryer is a miracle in that role, and b) Andie should end up with him and not Douchey Blane. The perfect ending of that movie is Andie and Duckie at the prom, making out, with Blane nowhere in sight.

Quick Hits

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Before Midnight continues to grow on me. I was initially a little disappointed, because I felt that Delpy’s character was bearing the brunt of the blame, or at least being portrayed as crazy. Then John and I hashed it out, and I think that’s only slightly true. Or maybe not even true at all? Meanwhile, the script is excellent at justifying pretty much every turn of event (or, in this case, conversation). It’s also wonderful at making references to itself, and to its predecessors, in hilarious and enjoyable ways. Through a parallel with Jesse’s novels, it even admits that it’s pretentious. Good stuff. Because, you know, it is pretentious, at times.

A word to the wise: Short-form Jonathan Goldstein is not long-form Jonathan Goldstein. The ONE TIME I decide to download a book without previewing a sample, it’s a dud. (Or at least, a piffle.) I don’t think it’s Goldstein’s fault: There’s just no room in the super-short essay to do any delving. Anyway, I was blindsided by the title (I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow), which Goldstein didn’t even come up with. His friend Howard came up with it! Who is this Howard, and does he have a book?

I’m nearly through with Sam Lipsyte’s story collection, and it’s both brilliant and excruciating. Part of the time I’m reading with just one eye open; sometimes I have to skim. Mostly I love his language and his sense of humor, but once in a while I want him to have some mercy and let a good thing happen. To somebody. Please. It must be very hard to live inside his mind.

I keep hearing good things about Frances Ha, which fascinates me because I so very much want Noah Baumbach to do something as good as The Squid and the Whale, and is maybe Greta Gerwig the answer? If so, is this going to be a Mia Farrow/Woody Allen thing where it turns out she was behind all the good movies?


Back in Line

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Hey, apparently this blog was all code-y for a while there, with lines of HTML tags and other random weirdness interrupting your otherwise silken experience. It came to my attention only the other day, at which point I promptly had it fixed. (Thanks, Nico!) Now all three of you loyal readers can once again have access to my indispensable opinions.

Speaking of which, if it’s showing where you are, go see Stories We Tell. I’ve long loved Sarah Polley for her performance in The Sweet Hereafter and her extremely intelligent interviews on Terry Gross. Then she started making smart (if sometimes emotionally infuriating) movies. This one’s a documentary about her own life, and it’s really, really good. It does a few genre-redefining things (well, one in particular) that I found breathtaking. I mean, I gasped when I realized what it was. SO good.

Most of my other movie news concerns things I am very much aching to see and which we have not had time to see: Frances Ha, Before Midnight, etc. It seems likely that we’ll manage one of those this weekend.

We did happen to see The Sapphires, for various reasons involving contingencies such as a) my mother was in town (Hi, Mom!); b) John hasn’t yet watched Before Sunset; and c) it was showing at  The New Parkway, which I’ve been trying to get to for months. Verdict: sweet, enjoyable movie, and pretty good food to boot. BUT the couches, they are not as numerous or as comfortable. Why you gotta make the entire first floor just tables and chairs, The New Parkway? Everything should be couches!

Oh, and I caught Behind the Candelabra on HBO. I’m not a Soderbergh fan, but I was curious to see how the performances were. Answer: excellent, particularly Matt Damon. (Liberace strikes me as not terribly difficult to play, given his consistent affect, but I could be wrong.) The movie isn’t anything you wouldn’t expect, but I enjoyed it. (Funny: Rob Lowe allowed a little Chris Traeger to creep into his portrayal of an unctuous plastic surgeon. Oops.) (Marvelous: the makeup!)

I also read Quiet, about introversion and its gifts. The book is a polemic and as such maybe a little overreaching, but there’s a lot to like it it and a lot to learn from it. The stuff about Harvard Business School was terrifying, as perhaps we might have expected. Harvard, doing everything in a group is not a good idea!