Archive for December 2012

Poem(s) for the New Year: DH Lawrence's New Year's Tryst

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D.H. Lawrence, now mostly remembered for Lady Chatterley's Lover and the censorship trial that followed, also had a stellar career in poetry (which many regard as superior to any of his novels). They possess an animal vibrance that stands in sharp contrast to his more cerebral contempories (T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was published in the same year, 1917).

One can easily imagine that the narrator of the two poems below would not only dare to eat a peach, he would eat it off his lover's body and spit it in the face of his enemies. Kick off your new year with a little bit of passion. Enjoy!

"New Year's Eve" by D.H. Lawrence

There are only two things now,
The great black night scooped out
And this fire-glow.

This fire-glow, the core,
And we the two ripe pips
That are held in store.

Listen, the darkness rings
As it circulates round our fire.
Take off your things.

Your shoulders, your bruised throat!
Your breasts, your nakedness!
This fiery coat!

As the darkness flickers and dips,
As the firelight falls and leaps
From your feet to your lips!

"New Year's Night" by D.H. Lawrence

Now you are mine, to-night at last I say it;
You’re a dove I have bought for sacrifice,
And to-night I slay it.

Here in my arms my naked sacrifice!
Death, do you hear, in my arms I am bringing
My offering, bought at great price.

She’s a silvery dove worth more than all I’ve got.
Now I offer her up to the ancient, inexorable God,
Who knows me not.

Look, she’s a wonderful dove, without blemish or spot!
I sacrifice all in her, my last of the world,
Pride, strength, all the lot.

All, all on the altar! And death swooping down
Like a falcon. ’Tis God has taken the victim;
I have won my renown.

Oscarbait 2012: Les Miserables

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Every review I've read of Les Miserables compares it to the musical that birthed it, which feels slightly like comparing Texas to Louisiana without any mention of the rest of the United States, let alone the world. So I'm gonna be the nerd who talks about the book, which only seems fair since, at the end of the day, the movie is a translation to a new medium, just as the musical was a translation from a novel, which in turn was translated and mistranslated from the original French.

What we're seeing on screen, ultimately, is the videotape of the videotape of the videotape. They've taken the original text and carved it up into strangely shaped pieces, excising character and context and leaving in the glossy bits. This approach worked fine for Mamma Mia (disagree in the comments) because at least Mamma Mia was a fun romp. Oscarbait Les Miserables is a series of soul-destroying set-pieces grounded in not even an iota of human agency.

It finds a humanity with its side characters (Thenardiers, Enjolras, many other nameless revolutionaries) that it never matches with the leads. There goes Anne Hathaway's snotty nostril, there goes the ever-pinkening bags under Hugh Jackman's eyes, and Cosette? Oh Cosette. I never knew you (though I knew you so well in the novel).

What frustrates me most is how little this film paid attention to the prime rule of film - economy in storytelling. Now, economy doesn't simply mean cutting out portions of the text, it means that you boil the story down to the essentials.

Character Slaughter


At the end of the film, here's what I'd have thought of the characters if I hadn't read the novel:

1. Jean Valjean is a Panglossian do-gooder whose relentless commitment to "morality" has no foundation in reality (which couldn't be further from his character in the novel, who's deeply conflicted at all turns. If you remember, when Jean Valjean goes to the battlements, he's undecided whether to save Marius or to kill him).

2. Marius is the shallowest romantic on the planet (this hurts, because Novel Marius was my first great love, the literary reflection of my idealistic/suffering 12-year old self). Seriously, what a wet wanker is FilmMusical!Marius.

3. Cosette? WHAT COSETTE? All I see is an OBJECT who is barely even half of a person (In the novel, she gets her own book for a reason. She's the optimistic striver who is tired of being an object, and makes choices. CHOICES). This hurts even more because Amanda Seyfried sounded TERRIFIC. Couldn't you give her a role, you guys?

Les Miserables as a Film

There's plenty of commentary elsewhere on Les Miserables filmic failures (oh those closeups. What really burns me is that Tom Hooper actually had multiple cameras on each actor, AND STILL CHOSE THESE DAMNED CLOSEUPS. Like, "Guys, forget the plot. What we really need now is an establishing shot of Eddie Redmayne's nasal freckles.").

Guys, this burns me to say. I really looked forward to the movie, and am sad that it isn't something I can rewatch over and over. But quite frankly, by the time we hit Valjean's seventh song, I was ready for him to die, and die swiftly (and don't get me started on Russell Crowe's "singing").

I've seen the musical, and I don't remember it being such an poorly thought out adaptation of the novel. But perhaps this is a reflection of the rule of Chicago - you can't just film the damn stage musical, you have to alter it to fit the new medium.

Oncoming Hope out. Play nicely in the comments.

Charles Dickens' Christmas Drinks

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This Christmas, we wanted to add some literary spice to your drinking.

Part of what made Dickens's work come so vividly to life was his attention to small details in small lives. This Christmas, you too can drink like Scrooge and Cratchit.

1. "Charles Dickens's Own Punch"

The man himself wrote the instructions for his eponymous punch in an 1847 letter to one "Mrs. F." (aka Amelia Austin Filloneau):

Peel into a very common basin (which may be broken in case of accident, without damage to the owner's peace or pocket) the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double handful of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass of good old brandy; if it be not a large claret glass, say two.

Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. Let it burn three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again.

This would be the punch that young David Copperfield offers Mr. Micawber:

“But punch, my dear Copperfield,” said Mr. Micawber, tasting it, “like time and tide, waits for no man. Ah! it is at the present moment in high flavour.” (Chapter XXVIII - Mr. Micawber's Gauntlet)

2. "Smoking Bishop"

"A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!" (A Christmas Carol)

Smoking bishop was not actually a Dickensian creation. It was a popular tavern drink, which Dr. Johnson defines as "a cant word for a mixture of wine, oranges and sugar." I'd give you the recipe but there's a variety on the web, from Jonathan Swift to Dickens' own father.

3. "Negus"

"Mr. Feeder, after imbibing several custard cups of negus, began to enjoy himself." (Dombey and Son)

Negus might be found all over English literature (Jane Eyre drinks it when she heads to Thornfield Hall, it features at a Mansfield Park party, and it's ALL OVER Dickens).

But the definitive version comes from Mrs. Beeton herself, who describes it as "a beverage usually drunk at children's parties." If that were the case today, I imagine children's parties would look a hell of a lot like Buster Bluth on grape juice:


Let's just say, the drink's not exactly virgin. Per Mrs. Beeton:

INGREDIENTS: To every pint of port wine, allow 1 quart of boiling water, ¼ lb of sugar, 1 lemon and grated nutmeg to taste.

DIRECTIONS: Put the wine into a jug, rub some lumps of sugar (equal to ¼ lb) on the lemon rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the port wine with the grated nutmeg; pour over it the boiling water, cover the jug, and, when the beverage has cooled a little, it will be fit for use.

Enjoy your Dickensian drinks, and a happy holiday to all!

Music Video of the Day: Free Winona!

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The song may be balls, but watching Craig Roberts perv out over a deanimated Winona Roberts is more than a little mesmerizing.

In The Killers' "Here With Me," Winona Ryder's actress character slides in and out of doll-hood, a prisoner of one young man's Pygmalion-esque fantasy. You may have seen Craig Robert's remarkable performance in Submarine (if not, get thee to your Netflix queue), as an overeducated teenager in 1970s Wales.

If only the song were half as interesting. Watch it anyway:

The Worst Movie Review Ever, or, Fire This Reporter Now

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Yesterday, the once venerable Guardian published an execrable pile of garbage entitled "Will America be able to stomach the Les Misérables film", by a hack named Hannah Betts (a list of her credits include other such useful commentary as "Why I'm happy to wear fur," and "Feminism and flirtation are by no means unlikely bedfellows").

In a piece that even 13 year old bloggers would be ashamed to write, Betts tags her piece: "The new Les Mis film plays down the bromance and plays up the pox, boils and bad European teeth."

God forbid a socio-realist novel about French poverty attempt to look somewhat authentic!

But it gets worse:

I'm not sure how it's going to play in the US, though. For a start, the bromance is subdued for a nation that brought us Top Gun's bros riding bros' tails.

Moreover, the various poxes, STDs, boils and not just British but also French teeth are likely to inspire hysteria in the neurotically sanitised US of A. And this before the male leads spend several scenes literally covered in shit. Still, it will serve to confirm everything Yanks feel about contemporary Europe.

Has Ms. Betts been lying in a coma since 1984? Are there no movies between Top Gun and Les Miserables? And who the hell think there's a bromance between Javert and Valjean?

Finally, what does this film have to do with what Yanks may or may not feel about contemporary Europe? The only thing this article serves to confirm is that Hannah Betts should be banned from the printed word. The Guardian should be ashamed of itself for allowing such tripe to bear its name.

As a side note, the Guardian appears to have some sort of vendetta against Les Miserables, running a "trailer review" that perfectly complements Ms. Betts in wretchedness and sour grapes. It's not even worth quoting, given that Stuart Heritage appears to never have heard of the book, the musical or Victor Hugo before being paid, somehow, to write a bit of unfunny nonsense.

Videogame Company Fights the Diversity Fight

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Life-affirming pleasures often come from the strangest places: in this case, Gaslamp Games' blog on a new project based on the Victorian era:

We feel it’s important to have people of all colours in the game, basically. I’m not going to get into the exceedingly grim history of 19th century colonialism here, but I assure you we’ve had a lot of internal discussions about how we can possibly approach making a game vaguely based on the Victorian era without being ridiculously offensive.

I've written elsewhere about how writers seem to choose to set their work in certain eras because they want to pretend there was a world before integration, where white men could be white men and society celebrated even their worst excesses. But as David Baumgart points out, that world NEVER EXISTED. It's heartening to hear Gaslamp engage with the issue, even though I have no doubt that the outcomes won't be perfect.

I've only recently began to engage with the politics of the video game world. To tell the truth, until I played Half Life 2, I had no idea there was a place for lead characters who aren't white male jocks. I recall years of playing Goldeneye as Natalya, the only character in any video game who felt in any way relevant to me (and she's still white, so really not that relevant), given that she looked like an actual scientist and not, let's say, Lara Croft (or Mileena/Kitana, or Chun Li, etc).

Happily, this ignorance allowed me to enjoy years of games like Zelda 64, which are almost completely intolerable when looked at through any kind of feminist lens (look at all the women who exist only to coo at Link or be rescued from their fates!).

But I'm glad to see a new world where developers are actually thinking through how world-building impacts audiences who play their games. Would you really want to spend 40-60 hours in a world where no one looks like you? Why would you spend that kind of time in a world that explicitly gives zero thought to you? In this day and age, those are safe spaces for the writers to exercise their own privilege, where they don't have to engage with messy issues like gender and race.

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