Saturday, February 25, 2006

Nothing to be done

From here

Of elegant females and pigs in the house

Having finally watched the movie version of Pride and Prejudice, I have come to the conclusion that Austen is impossible to ruin. That said, the movie was strangely...wrong.
Matthew McFayden's an attractive man, but to ask any actor to step into the role that Colin Firth played in the BBC adaptation is just cruel. Not because Firth was brilliant (though he was very good), but because he defined the role for so many people. I've never met any straight woman who wasn't at least partially in love with him at that point. McFayden has a lovely deep voice that somehow doesn't sound like it belongs to him. He also has a habit of gawking when Elizabeth is being particularly charming. This makes him look a little like an English football player. (Yes, I adore English football players but they're not exactly known for their aristocratic demeanour, are they?)
Keira's a very pretty girl and a decent actress, but she doesn't work as Lizzie for me. The face perhaps, but the skinniness and the wild hair are just not what I'd imagined. Ah well. She plays her part reasonably well, which is all one could really expect of her.
Rosamund Pike doesn't have that big of a role, but she suits it well.
The guy who played Bingley...good grief, what were they thinking? 5,000 a year and the man can't afford a comb? He looks like the simpering assistant of a mad scientist.
Wickham was better...though he had the kind of weakness about his face that Orlando Bloom has. Not my type.

The scenery is lovely - though a lot of the Derbyshire shots reminded me more of Bronte than Austen.

Some things seemed terribly inaccurate to me. Surely Bingley wouldn't just barge into Jane's bedroom when the'd just met? Surely the Bennets weren't so poor as to have a pig in the household? Etc.

I think the only real problem I have with the movie is its seeming inability to trust Austen. Charlotte's marriage to Mr. Collins and its various pros and cons are brought out in the book without the need for a melodramatic scene in which she cries about how scared she is and how she hates being a burden on her parents. Mr Collins' proposal to Elizabeth is one of the most sublimely funny scenes in all of literature, but what the movie gives us is Elizabeth running away chased by a flock of geese and her mother. The subsequent scenes by the lake ("I won't marry him! You can't make me!") made my friend clutch my arm and whisper "ohmygod. It's a Bengali soap opera!". I am yet to see a Bengali soap opera so am unable to comment on the truth of this statement.

I love how the scenes the audience laughed most at were the ones that use the original dialogue. I realise there are people in the world who don't really like Austen (cretins, the lot of them!) but whether you throw Keira Knightley or Aishwarya Rai into the picture, whereever her dialogue is featured the sheer brilliance of her shines through.

Monday, February 20, 2006

headstones ahoy

Quite apart from the high number of deaths in GRR Martin's fantasy series, those books are as huge as stone grave markers. Remain forewarned, gentle readers: beyond the Wall, there are spoilers.


At some point of time last weekend - the third such of my life I have spent with GRR Martin's A Song Of Ice and Fire - I did not think these books would ever, ever get over. It was annoying. Whatever gave him the idea that having thousands of PoV characters and each of their chapters ending in a cliffhanger would sustain interest over three thousand pages? All through A Game of Thrones, I sat chewing my nails. Halfway through A Clash of Kings, my mind started wandering. It's taken me over two weeks to make any headway with A Storm of Swords because I just can't be bothered.

Having said that, I did finish them. And I am going to read whatever he throws out next. I am intrigued, in spite of the fact that too much plot is no plot at all. It's a bit like reading intricate historical documents of cause before effect before cause before effect. Martin sacrifices the traditional trope of the battle between good and evil to something exterior to the story's bare bones and more central to the reading itself: perception and reality. It's standard fantasy elements put me off. I have come to realise that I do not like dragons or cold dementorish wights. But as all my friends - Martin fanboys to a man - said, the characters keep you going. Wearying as it is to turn a page and see that a chapter in Character A's PoV has been cut off just as something exciting is about to happen, it's difficult to let go once you've begun.

Before I finished the first book, I thought Martin's habit of turning his characters a million shades of grey would never stand him in good stead. The books are all about one long power struggle over Westeros, after all, and power has to have a purpose, which none of these people discernibly have. But its exciting to be challenged in your perceptions as a reader, to see why the Aragorn types shouldn't always win, or why its okay, sometimes, to be a reckless, amoral, incestuous oathbreaker. Martin's strength doesn't lie in worldbuilding - he seems to be depending on straight lines and medieval-English history for the most part. He has some great writing: battle scenes are clearly his forte, as one would expect of any epic fantasy writer, and I thought the Eyrie - a mountain fortress that is treacherously difficult to get in and out of - was conceptualised extremely well.

But his people are what really drive his piece, and he puts them through the wringer, alright. Talking over the books, a friend mentioned that what she loved about them was how a character's strengths could turn so easily into his weaknesses, which is true. I was especially struck by the rise and fall of Eddard Stark, the aforementioned Aragorn figure, in the space of a single book: his unyielding sense of honour that makes him the best man for a tough job at the start of the book is what finally drives him and the kingdom he guards under. There is Cersei Lannister, scheming and beatiful (and, I must admit, one of my favourites), who seems to hold all the cards in her hand, but finds plan after plan backfiring upon her as she underestimates her enemies. And there is the puzzling, brittle Stannis Baratheon, who is simultaneously a king and a pawn.

There are some books, like The Great Gatsby, that you can read and talk about and love, and excuse of all its attitudes towards sex and women by stating, simply, that it is not a feminist novel. I've been trying to decide if that can be said of Ice and Fire. It's a medieval world, its a hard life, women are treated much the way they are in feudal societies everywhere. There's really not much space to break gender stereotypes, and I'll say it for Martin, he doesn't try too hard. There's the Cersei, the evil bitch, the forbearing maternal Catelyn Stark, the tomboyish Arya, the crazy Jocastan Lysa, the irritating-as-hell exotic princess Daenerys (talk about stupid magical names!) and so on. Still, they don't all put me off dinner. I love Catelyn, who is proving rather tough to kill, and I can't wait to see what becomes of Brienne the Maid, a mannish, innocent knight-wannabe who is currently providing a foil to one of the book's central figures, Jaime 'shit-for-honour' Lannister.

I was a Stark supporter at the end of the first book, but the next two have put me firmly in the court of the Lannisters. Honour and righteousness is all very well, but this isn't Tolkien. It's almost Carrollian: remain interesting, or have your head cut off. I can't see Arya or Sansa survive the series, although I would like to see Sansa Stark get a pair of balls and rule the world with Tyrion, who, predictably, I love almost as much as I do Jaime. Other favourites include Davos Seaworth and the likely hero of the series, the somewhat less-than-Aragornian Jon Snow.

The good thing, however, is that there's a lot further to go before we get to the end. And never before have I meant the following words so intensely: anything could happen.

Some predictions:

- Jon Snow and Daenerys meet, make love and tiny dragonwolf babies.
- Cersei meets a sticky end. Jaime has something to do with it.
- I hate to say this because its so damned obvious, but: Jaime and Brienne. Do something.
- Bran becomes something.
- Stannis wins the Iron Throne.
- But Tyrion becomes the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. Because Tyrion rocks beyond belief.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

..because we all love Wendy Cope. Right?

Reading Berryman's Dream Songs at the Writers' Retreat

Wendy went a-swimming. It was dreadful.
One small boy careless under her did surface
and did butt her on the chin.
Of space to swim was hardly any,
fearful shoutings, bodies from the springboard
splash when jumping in.

Why no school? cried agey Wendy
to herself, not loud. Why little beggars
swimming into me on Friday afternoon?
Why not in cage, learn tables?
Out and dress and buy bananas.
Yogurt? No. Need spoon.

Once more to Hawthornden through Scottish fog.
Back up to poet's lair and sit on bed.
Is you bored, Bones, all by youzeself
wif read and write and bein' deep?
Not for a moment.
Now, a little sleep.


Somehow this always reminds me of June. I think it's the combination of Berryman and swimming.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Narnia. (Spoiler warning? No, I expect you to have read the book)

I'm not sure how I feel about the new Narnia movie. It got a lot of things wrong, certainly. I suppose the war scenes were necessary for a number of reasons, but it felt weird having them there. Also, they seemed to be trying to make it into an epic - I think the association of Tolkien and Lewis makes people think Narnia is somehow grander than it really is. It's closer to the fable than the epic form and doesn't really need sweeping landscape shots, battle scenes in slow motion or exciting man-vs-beast psychological struggles on a frozen (though rapidly melting) river. It also does not need hot pouty-lipped Susan contributing almost as much to male guilt as Emma Watson, though I enjoyed that particular addition.

But there's a lot the movie gets very very right. Edmund is actually given a reason to be angry with his family, and it's far more visible than in the book. Most of the casting is perfect. (Does anyone know who plays adult-Edmund? I'm too lazy to check, and he's rather attractive.)
Aslan's death is beautifully done. He has to be brought down completely, made scared and humiliated, that's the only way the glory of the religious analogy will really be felt. This was probably the only point where I was really drawn into the story.

Narnia isn't brilliant, at least not consistently. But there are moments when it blazes through, and even if I don't agree with the Christin subtext I think it's beautiful and I can't imagine Narnia without it.