Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Weekly Lit Quote 7/30/12-7/36/12

"For echo is the soul of the voice exciting itself in hollow places"
                                                                                 --Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jane Eyre 1952 and 1957

There are 10 basic English adaptations of Jane Eyre that are widely available to the world, stretching all the way back to the first talkie version in 1934. From various sources, I had heard that there was a 1952 and 1957 TV adaptation, but after snooping around the internet for any chance to watch it or even buy it, I fell short and was resigned to keeping the two adaptions out of conversation.

It didn't stop me from being a little curious, however, so last night I tried again and this time I didn't come out empty handed. In fact, I found the proposal scenes of both. I thought some of you JE enthusiasts might be interested, so I took the liberty of sharing.

Jane Eyre 1952

Jane Eyre 1957


Ok, so they're absolutely horrible. If I had to rearrange all of the previous comparisons and rankings of Jane Eyre adaptations I've done in the past, you might find that the 1934 has moved from it's perpetual spot in last place. I could give some bit of credit to the '52 because it was surprisingly true to the source material (however horribly the lines were delivered and disregarding the fact that you can barely see anything because of the screen quality), but the '57 was ridiculously unfaithful and altogether so strange that all I could do was laugh.

Suffice it to say that I understand why these two adaptions were hidden in obscurity for so long. They weren't worth the trouble of going to find. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Weekly Lit Quote July 23 - 29 2012

This weeks two quotes (I couldn't choose between them) are from the 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, directed by Alfonso Cuaran. 

"Magic has to be believed. That's the only way it's real." --Captain Crewe (Liam Cunningham)
"I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags. Even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young. They're still princesses. All of us." --Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews)

This film is truly inspirational. If you're looking for something uplifting, I would really advise you give it a watch because there is so much you may learn from this film.

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley Review

Why haven't I read Frankenstein sooner?

Sometimes I feel this overwhelming apathy when it comes to picking up books I know I should have read by now. I read books on my own terms, whether every self-proclaimed lit lover has read them or not. For some reason, I just never had a sense of urgency when it came to digging my face into Frankenstein. I think it had something to do with the fact that it's used as in allusion in so many other books/movies/etc that the novel itself almost screams "cliche."

But the day did come when I felt that overwhelming motivation to read Frankenstein, and it came yesterday morning when I looked at the calendar, noted when school started, and hyperventilated because I was incredibly behind on my summer reading. Nothing works as potently as the fire of procrastinated summer reading under the butt.

Yesterday, I journeyed via two planes and a four-hour drive back to my home from a college tour in St. Louis, and knowing that I had to get a good head start on the book in order to keep reading, I delved straight into it on plane #1 while the lady next to me indulged her fantasy in Fifty Shades of Grey. By the end of the first flight, I was a third of the way through. I finished the second third on the next flight, and the last bit I read on the drive home. So mission accomplished, summer reading back on track, and Ari the lit lover is supremely happy.

For all of you who aren't acquainted with the specifics of Frankenstein and have only the stigma of a monster with a crowbar through his neck that the average human has, let me first address a common misconception: Frankenstein is not the monster. I've heard the monster called "Monster Frankenstein", but I don't remember seeing him being called such in the novel, so I'm not sure that's correct. The named Frankenstein is the narrator, who begins his story in the most seamless and normal of ways; a history of his mother and father.

Victor Frankenstein comes from the noble roots of a loving family. His father is a doting husband and daddy, his mother is a fragilely beautiful woman with the tenderest compassion, and he is the first child to whom all love and caresses are given. As he grows up, his family becomes larger. His parents adopt a strikingly beautiful and well-tempered little girl to bring up as Frankenstein's sister and potential wife, and afterwards more children follow. Frankenstein matures happily and normally, but one hitch in his character is revealed plainly from the start.

Frankenstein is allured by the source of life and the natural philosophy and chemistry behind how Adam came into being from nothing. Captured by the works of discredited ancient scientists, he keeps within him this inborn desire to change the world by finding the key to life and becoming a creator. As he studiously proves himself the best scientist in his college, he begins fashioning a human that might change the face of science. Driven by some kind of animalistic obsession for glory, knowledge, and success, he finishes his creature and jump starts it to life, only to regret that he created such an ugly thing and rue the fact that he breached the limits of scientific knowledge. The monster escapes, and initially Frankenstein's guilt seems almost dissolved until the thing he created comes charging back into his life causing misery wherever his creator goes.

The audience finds that the monster is not the illiterate, unintelligent brute that movies and allusions paint him to be, but rather an articulate and eloquent user of words. He insists that he is not bad by nature. In fact, he aspires to be a noble and loving creature like the people the world smiles upon. He is lonely, however. His vile appearances make him incapable of receiving human sympathy, even when his heart is loving and his deeds are good. He turns to Frankenstein, the creator that hates him, for one last plea for happiness by asking the scientist to fashion him a mate that might love him and provide him company since humanity has determined to spurn him and the creator who was supposed to love him has turned his back on him.

There is, however, a certain hitch to his proposal. The monster insists that if he is given a companion to act as a source of love and similitude, he will peacefully resign to the deepest jungles of South America and never be heard from again or cause any harm or grief to any living creature. But if Frankenstein chooses not to give him a mate, the monster swears to avenge himself by terrorizing him and everyone connected with him so that Frankenstein might feel the wretched loneliness that the creature himself has been fated to live with forever. The conflicted Frankenstein must choose to either perform a revolted task in order to save his family and friends from what he created (while potentially releasing another danger into the world) or not comply with the brute's request and see those he loves plagued by the freak of nature to which he gave life.

This novel is a breath of fresh air for anyone in search of a short and invigorating read. I wouldn't rank it amongst my favorite pieces of literature, but I would happily read it again if the opportunity presented itself.

The thing about Frankenstein is that it was one of the first. It is the sci-fi/horror novel that set the standard for the genre. It's the stuff of legend. But, when you strip away that piece of overwhelming information and just read it for what it is--a book--it is solid, but rather unspectacular in my opinion. The plot is enticing, but predictable. The literary elements are all there where they should be. The protagonist has all the components of the average dynamic main character. Mechanically, it is just a good book. But there is nothing that ups the ante and makes it the incredibly conflictual and paralyzing tale that everyone paints it to be.

On the other hand, I don't mean to say that I didn't like the novel or didn't appreciate it. I found the underlying content to be very interesting and quite thought-provoking. Frankenstein's creature provides an outside view of humanity and asks basic questions that we all ask ourselves throughout many points in life. How can humans be so filled with nobility, goodness, and kindness, and then at times prove to be the most barbarous and unfeeling species? The monster's relationship with his creator also has a strange resemblance to the conflicting sentiments humans feel in relation to a God or what they believe to be the spring of life. Frankenstein causes one to reexamine the basic questions of life and revel in thought. But perhaps, as Frankenstein himself asserts, that is the potential danger. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Under Construction

There are obviously some facelifting experiments being conducted on the blog right now. I figured that it was time for change, so I'm just dabbling with this and that until I find something that sticks. The basic white background will stay the same. It'll be mostly the header and the font coloring that I'll be messing with. Sorry to those who don't like the white, it just makes everything seem spacious and simplistic. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jane Eyre 2006 Review

I had a feeling after posting my new poll that this would win out. I'm happy though, because I've been itching to review this for a while. All I needed was the proper excuse to put my lazy fingers (and brain) to work and pull myself out of this horrible writing lull into which I've fallen. Nothing excites me more than Jane Eyre reviews.

So, to commence my usual off-topic and slightly longwinded preamble, I'll start by saying that this is the first adaption of the novel that I ever saw. Ever. And when I found out that countless others existed, I was about as excited as a little kid overdosed on caffeine (to say the least). The miniseries was running late on the BBC during a sleepless night and I feasted my eyes gladly. I watched the first portion one Sunday, the second part the next, and then immediately ordered the DVD. I'm well versed on every detail of this adaptation. After all, before the 2011 version came and stole my heart, this is what satisfied me most.

                                                                                                        Casting: 

Jane: Ruth Wilson is a perfect choice for various reasons. The duck-like lips, lightly freckled cheeks, and darting eyes are all separate facets of the Jane that I personally visualize. Wilson possesses a unique and "sharp" beauty by which the Jane in my imagination is defined. Her ability to naturally imbue the character with that innate sense of self-respect and autonomy while also managing to capture the vulnerability and loneliness of the character when demanded is, without a doubt, stunning. Her imperfections only arise in the technicalities. She's obviously too mature to pull off being eighteen, too tall to earn the "little" description, and sometimes from certain angles even too extraordinarily stunning to merit the "plain" illustration. But then again, if we Jane Eyre fanatics pay too much attention to Jane's physical attributes then we'll never like an adaptation. Ruth Wilson does, however, do a great credit to the mental and emotional aspects of the character. Her Jane is composed, visually strong, and unafraid of those who try to intimidate her. She maintains all these essences of the character while also managing to make Jane a person that modern women can somehow relate to. The only downside I could find--and perhaps this is just me being picky--is that sometimes Ruth appears much too comfortable with Rochester in their first few conversations. I'm very particular about the first conversations between the two characters in an adaptation because they essentially set the groundwork for the rest of the film or miniseries. Jane is not supposed to be timid, but at the same time I wouldn't describe her as a person completely at ease. She and Rochester are both extremely guarded; jaded by their previous knowledge of a cruel world. By the second conversation I think Ruth's Jane is already getting too familiar with Rochester.

Rochester:
       Like Timothy Dalton and Michael Fassbender, Toby Stephens is much too sexy. Even beneath those brown hair extensions and 19th century muttonchops he is decidedly swoon-worthy. Once again, I make allowances for that. Who doesn't like a little extra sex appeal in a Rochester?
       Toby Stephens is great. He is the "bad boy" Rochester; the actor that reminds the audience again and again that Rochester's record is not squeaky clean. He plays the world-weary cynic perfectly (with extra help from lines like "I've been all over the world, Miss Eyre, and it's vastly overrated"). Toby isn't afraid to dive straight into the character and emphasize aspects of Rochester that other actors chose to gloss over in the majority of other JE adaptations. He boldly signals to the audience that Rochester isn't the image of some morally upright Romantic hero. He takes care to bring the defects of the character to light; his shameful sexual rap sheet, his spoiled and all too flattered ego, and his suave way of manipulating Jane's emotions (seen when Blanche comes to town). I love this projection of Rochester because it creates a stark comparison to the man he gradually becomes when Jane enters his life and alters things. That take captures one of the essential keys of his love for Jane. On the other hand, Stephens' portrayal of Rochester could be taken by some critics as not nearly as deep as it should be. If you don't look at it the way I just described, from the surface all you might see is a natural "pretty boy" persona that over-romanticizes the character. So from the same performance you might gather two completely polarizing viewpoints. This isn't a statement to take away from Toby's portrayal,  but merely a warning not to rely completely on what I've said here.

St. John: 
      Boy, did I love Andrew Buchanan as St. John! He is hands down my favorite portrayal of the character; perhaps because he adds an element to St. John that actually resembles a human being. After all, that is what St. John is. He's a cold, chauvinistic, "holier than thou" human being, but a man nonetheless. Every other actor who has portrayed St. John (to me) has either had about as much personality as driftwood or is cold enough to freeze over the Sahara. And St. John isn't cold. Quite the contrary. "He has a heart; [Jane has] seen it overflowing with passion...he just keeps it buried in stone with a tenacious willpower." Buchanan is that description manifested in reality. When St. John professes his love for Rosamund Oliver, everyone sees that flash of passion and the proof that he is capable of great warmth. In another second, however, he is back to the unbendingly pious antagonist we all love to hate. Great performance.

Others:
    Adele: Annoying. Didn't like this one at all.
    Fairfax: Solid performance. Not my favorite, but very close. A very nice maternal figure.
    Mrs. Reed: Tara Fitzgerald's bitterness permanently marked her as evil in my mind. Great.

Screenplay/Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costumes: 
     This is where the words of praise begin to see a decline. The screenplay is my major qualm about this adaptation. The dialogue is just not faithful enough to the novel. It's much too modernized, and because of the absence of the original language, that extra spark that could have been failed to ignite in this version. Then there's the problem of missing and fabricated scenes. For example, the conversation after Mason's injury, which isn't exactly integral but is definitely something worth keeping, is gone. Then there's the highly controversial leaving scene, which has been moved to Jane's bedroom, stripped of all Bronte's dialogue, and converted to a steamy kissing scene completely unlike the novel. Of course, I love seeing the physical chemistry between Toby and Ruth, but it doesn't do Jane's character justice and artistic license shouldn't go as far to alter such an essential part of the novel in that way. It's especially disappointing to feel so harshly about the screenplay because I enjoyed Sandy Welch's script from the 2004 BBC North and South miniseries and I had my hopes set high.
     There isn't much to say about the cinematography. It isn't very good, but then who really expects it to be? It's a BBC miniseries. Then again, it still could have been better. I did like how the director and camera crew made great use of the landscape surrounding Haddon Hall.
    Soundtrack. I didn't really notice it that much, but once I actually took the time to listen to it I didn't like it. Much too dainty for a gothic novel such as Jane Eyre. However, there are various sound samples during some particularly gothic scenes that change the tone and add an extra scary edge to the miniseries. This is the first adaptation to really take a peak into the "horror story" side of the novel since the 1944 and the 2011 film followed suit.
     Costumes: Ok. Not amazing. Not bad. Once again, were we really expecting much from a low budget miniseries?


     I believe I've already voiced them beneath the individual categories, but just to clarify, my only major problem with this adaption is the screenplay. That's a major letdown, but despite that, the 2006 JE is a solid adaptation. It has, debatably, the largest following of any adaption. A lot of that has to do with placing. This miniseries was released in the prime of a younger generation of Jane Eyre lovers. For lit lovers my age that were too young to appreciate the '96 and '97, the '06 came at a time when we needed it. I'm not the only one who's able to credit the '06 for pointing me to prior adaptions. This is, overall, the JE that ushers to a younger crowd. Toby and Ruth have a raw and realistic emotional chemistry that speaks to everyday people and makes this particular version of the novel one that reminds readers that 19th century literature can still connect to the modern world. Yes, it sacrificed some of the beautiful language in order to prove that point, but it is nonetheless endearing. Like any other adaptation, you have to learn to appreciate it for its strengths.

Please Comment and it's great to be back again. Love, Ari.

P.S: Just for our mutual viewing pleasure...