Archives for posts with tag: genre: literary origins

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“When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing.”

– Saul Leiter

Manhattan in the 1950s: a metropolis of fog and early-morning commutes; grey days of rain thudding on the pavements and stray cats surveying from the fire escapes; overcoats and umbrellas, tartan sensibilities and Rockefeller glamour, and through the faded drizzle of it all, the flash of a fur coat and carmine lipstick. Very much a seamless component of the urban landscape, yet unmistakeably distinct from her surroundings, Cate Blanchett’s Carol is as captivating as the subject of Edward Hopper’s “New York Office”. Hopper’s gift lay in capturing the still-life moments of the city: that moment in which the animation of urban life is briefly suspended, haste and unrest come to a standstill, revealing rare and unexpected beauties. Similar to Hopper’s paintings, Carol is not so much a film, but an observation of the rare intimate moments of life: an absent glance, a feather-light touch, a forgotten word…While its exquisite attention to detail renders the film ever-so slightly overly mannered, its documentary-like portrayal of a mutual fascination and courtship make for an unhurried and ruminative viewing.

The influence of master photographer Saul Leiter is undeniable, and perhaps even a bit of David Hamilton and Frank Oscar Larsson: a muted tapestry of city life as though seen through a gauze veil, forging an intimacy between the viewer and subject through masterful use of the grainy Super 16 film. The excellent screenplay wastes no time in establishing exposition – we are in the middle of an ongoing narrative almost immediately, at once immersive and organic. Like voyeurs, we simply observe the daily lives of the characters as they happen, who need hardly go into detail establishing their narrative significance.

It is, perhaps appropriate then, that the camera and the act of photography plays a central motif in the film. Therese’s interest in the camera is her conduit into Carol’s world, one that is slightly removed from her own and entices with the promise of the unknown. The incrementally intensifying nature of the relationship between the two women is both subtle and satisfying, punctuated by lingering looks and gestures. Their relationship is not ‘forbidden’ in the traditional sense of societal pressure as the inclination would be, but rather by the characters’ own reticences and insecurities. When they at last come together, the film carefully avoids the cliche of making a political statement, but merely follows the action where it leads, as natural as you like. There are no explosive moments, and instead the film revels in the quiet moments that seethe with latent intensity and longing. Things are not said, but implied. Indeed, the relationship is instigated by the forgetting and returning of gloves – there is much to be said about the reserved yet erotically charged language of gloves in Victorian society; as in dropping a handkerchief, leaving behind one’s gloves was clearly a flirtatious indication of romantic intent.

Carol is a careful and considered film, very much a mirror of the social circumstances in which the relationship takes place, cautious yet brimming with passionate reserve. It is lazy and reductive to denote it as a ‘lesbian romance’ (as Highsmith herself would have no doubt loathed), but rather the spark of a chance encounter that is blown into something more. It is the story of connections and strangers, that curiously erotic moment of locking eyes with eyes with someone with little thought for how one’s world might be transformed from that instant.

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As Gregor Samsa woke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect…“What’s happened to me?” he thought. It was no dream.

– Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1915)

The concept of “the other self”, or the doppelgänger, has fascinated art, literature, and mythology for centuries. Conceptually, it can be rooted into a schizophrenic manifestation of self-idealisation; that is, the ‘improved’ version of oneself. One’s better half, as it were, can be more confident, more accomplished, and more self-assured. In contrast, while desired attributes are realised, it is often the case that one’s fundamental morality and sense of self is inverted in the double; the doppelgänger is often amoral if not outrightly wicked, and usually possess some desire to essentially erase the original, or even subsume the original entirely. Variations on the evil twin trace back to the mediaeval epic Beowulf, who faces a host of monsters which figuratively reflect and distort Beowulf’s own personal attributes. Moreover, the Romantic poets Shelley and Byron made use of doppelgänger imagery to conceptualise the internal struggles of the self, while Poe’s own grotesque short story “William Wilson” tells the tale of a man plagued throughout his life by a sinister shadow of himself. Indeed, the projection of one’s hidden and often malevolent qualities onto another being are endless throughout literature – the perpetual Jekyll/Hyde conundrum – and is a theme revisited often.

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The work of Stefan Zweig enjoyed a welcome renaissance in 2013 after years of neglect in Western art. A prolific artist, Zweig became something of a Dostoevsky figure for early twentieth century writing in Europe – not because of length, but because of acute psychological insight and harrowing themes of passion and obsession within the societal confines of pre- and post-war mores. Writing in the milieu of fin de siècle Vienna, it is small wonder that he was acquainted with Freud and Schnitzler, and it is not difficult to imagine that conversations of psychological repression and expression, mania,  and suffering featured prominently. As a result, Zweig’s work was focussed on the psychological deconstruction of human emotion and fallibility and the universality of such feelings. Two of his works, Journey into the Past (Widerstand der Wirklichkeit) and Maria Stuart were adapted into A Promise and MARY Queen of Scots respectively, and although they may seem superficially dissimilar, their respective filmmakers take veritable cues from Zweig’s oeuvre in remaining true to the verisimilitude of his psychological acuity.

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This is likely the most mainstream film you’ll see me discussing here, and I do so only because of my lifelong love of the novel and the musical. By all accounts, Les Misérables is a thoroughly depressing, yet emotionally and intellectually moving affair which translated beautifully to the stage, complete with beautiful and technically complex music. The move to cinema was rather less successful, as one thing becomes terribly clear – Tom Hooper wants a second Oscar, badly.

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Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi

(“To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.”)

– Newton’s Third Law of Motion, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

When one thinks of psychology, very few would think to associate it with physics. Yet, the origins of Sigmund Freud’s elaborate theories in human dynamism and motivation stem from late 19th century progress in applying principles of energy conservation to thermodynamics, electromagnetism and nuclear physics. Bit of a stretch, you may think, but not so when one considers the very early considerations of Freud’s work, before his work on sexuality and childhood repression. This is the stuff of dynamic physiology and subsequent ‘psychic energy’ which Freud considered the means by which the human personality is transformed, and eventually upon which he would eventually found psychoanalytic theory.

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I should hate you
But I guess I love you
You’ve got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

Terence Rattigan’s women always appear to me like figures in Edward Hopper’s atmospheric oil paintings: solitary, sitting alone at some dreary cafe or empty room in silent contemplation. An infinite sadness emanates from them all, a sense of resignation and ‘what was it all for?’ Hester Collyer of Deep Blue Sea is arguably one of Rattigan’s finest heroines, frank in her sexuality and unguarded in her emotion. In the capable hands of the criminally underrated Terence Davies and swathe in Britain’s postwar gloom, it should be all means be a success – well, I should rather switch those lyrics around: I should love you / But I guess I hate you. Read the rest of this entry »

Wuthering Heights is not a romance, and I shudder to think of all the previous film adaptations that have treated it as such. Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is both a departure from the romanticized adaptations of the past, and a welcome return to the cruel and unflinching narrative of modern Gothic, perfected with a stark realism evident in Red Road and Fish Tank.

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