21 May 2007

Americans to play the Bronte sisters?

Admittedly, this is a silly post, but I don’t get it this casting choice.

A new film about the Bronte sisters is in the works. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain), Bryce Dallas Howard (Spiderman 3) and Evan Rachel Wood (13 [or is it Thirteen?]) will play, respectively, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

As The Daily Mail notes:
"The film will be the latest to feature Americans as English writers, following The Devil Wears Prada star Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in this year's Becoming Jane and Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter in Miss Potter. "

"Bronte will be directed and written by British filmmaker Charles Sturridge, who recently directed the Lassie remake. "

There are so many wonderful British actresses out there, how is it that these roles go to Americans? Okay, Zellwegger produced the Beatrix Potter movie, but you get the point.

I’d love a Bronte movie, and the players named are solid actresses, but I wonder if the Yanks can carry off a convincing portrayal of the Yorkshire trio.

At the very least, let’s hope the producers turn the glam off.

15 May 2007

The late Dr Falwell

Good-night doctor.
Falwell did some good things, and he did some dubious ones, but both came from the same conviction: he was doing it for God. His God.

He was a devoted evangelical, fundamentalist minister.
He opened up homes for unwed mothers, alcoholics, and drug addicts.
He opened up an AIDS hospice.
He got the Christian right politically involved (even if I disagree with their perspective, it's better to have greater than fewer points of view under discussion--especially in politics.My only wish is that more would base their choices on reason than Christian principles. The two can--and do--go together, but many on the extreme right abjure the former).

But he also helped kickstart the Great Polarization of the 20th century's closing years, the cultural binary that has turned "red" and "blue," "right" and "left" into warring factions, both of which prefer irrational arguments steeped in derision and hatemongering over debate.

He argued against individual rights--prioritizing "family" and "community" values over the personal choices of gay men and women.
He opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa
He funded and distributed "The Clinton Chronicles," which accused the Clintons of everything from drug smuggling to murder. He later claimed that he wasn't sure about the work's accuracy (but he funded and distributed it).
He said the Antichrist is probably here, and he must be Jewish.
He supported segregation in the USA.
He argued against unions (moreover, his idea that those who read their Bibles became better workers and, therefore, earned higher wages, speaks of the bourgeois heresy).
He saw homosexual conspiracies in children's programming.
He called global warming "a hoax"
After September 11, 2001, he said: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

He wanted, in other words, a return to a past that never existed--the golden age where premarital sex never happened, men never found other men attractive, women never desired anything more than motherhood or volunteering in her community as a hobby, and, most chilling of all, he desire for a country controlled by a religious force implies a desire to return to the nineteenth--or eighteenth--century (after all, isn't this when "secularization" began?). Was this "God's" word, or the wish of a man who watched his country undergoing social changes ?

No, I didn't very much like Dr. Falwell (sometimes he said some ridiculous things--Tinky Winky ?--and sometimes he said some hateful things--9/11?), but he was a force in our country, and it will be intriguing to watch how his passing plays out politically. He was a massively galvanizing force. Now that Falwell is gone, will the bloc disintegrate into various sects, or will someone just as powerful emerge to fill the preacher's boots?

13 May 2007

"Brokeback" for 12 year olds?

Something is seriously wonky here.
A 12 year old’s grandparents filed a lawsuit against her school because a substitute teacher, a Ms. Buford, showed students--get this--Brokeback Mountain. In class.

Now, personally I think Brokeback is a pretty exceptional film. Ang Lee, Heath Ledger, and Jake Gyllenhall are to be commended for their work. That being said, it’s hardly an appropriate film for eighth graders. It’s rated R for a reason. At the very least, permission slips should have been distributed and collected.

What the article fails to mention is whether the teacher showed clips or an edited version, which could be both acceptable and appropriate (depending on her purpose in showing it), and I hope that this is the case. I find it hard to believe that someone would be so foolish, so unthinking, so, well, stupid to show an R-rated, controversial film in our current socio-cultural atmosphere. For crying out loud, teachers are losing their jobs for far-less significant matters.

Consider Tresa Waggoner. A music teacher in Bennett, Colorado who was placed on administrative leave because she showed clips from an old video about Gounod’s opera Faust to her class. The video was produced for children (featuring Joan Sutherland and sock puppets). Waggoner was called a devil-worshipper, a lesbian, and lord knows what else.

Or the Texas teacher--Sydney McGee--who was reprimanded and removed from teaching after taking her class to an art museum where, horrors! They saw sculptures of nudes. It was a school-approved field trip, and she’s asked the principal about it beforehand. The school district claimed that McGee’s performance was sub-par, and that the field trip only played a small role in their decision to remove her.

But while these stories exemplify the silliness of so many “protect the children” arguments, Ms. Buford’s actions--if she did, indeed, show the film in its entirety--reinforce those arguments; she’s given more ammo to the curriculum police, which only further “justifies” concerns about “devil-worshipping” music teachers, and “inappropriate” museum trips.

10 May 2007

'Bye Tone. Hello, Gordo

After ten years as Prime Minister, Tony Blair is stepping down at the end of June.

Although this announcement has long been expected and, for many, hoped for, it still comes with a bit of surprise (that he'd actually release the top job) and a bit of sadness (the war and TB's support for it) .

The British people ushered Blair--and New Labour--into office with such great joy, such hope for change and rejuvenation after years of Conservative rule (remember the Blair family marching through the streets, being cheered on by the crowds, [and Cherie Blair in that brown --brown!--suit?).

Pop stars and famous actors began to hang at Number Ten. Blair was part and parcel of the "Cool Britannia" years, but, like Blur, Pulp, and Elastica, New Labour was bound to implode.

New Labour's surrender to petty corruption (donatations for honors), and Blair's loyalty to the Iraq War (and to GWB) has cracked his popularity; he's lost the people's faith. If Blair doesn't go, the people will lose faith in Labour as well.

So, Gordon Brown finally gets his chance at the golden ring. And good luck to him. He'll need it. Look at what he'll inherit.

09 May 2007

Wyndham Lewis: forgotten man

Miles Johnson, in The Guardian's arts blog, notes that the 50th anniversary of Wyndham Lewis's passed recently. It did so without television specials or special anniversary editions of Lewis's work. Apparently, we've forgotten the man, the (ahem) seminal figure, behind some of the early twentieth century's most vibrant, vigourous, and unconventional art. The avant-garde's master at arms.

The silence might well be due to Lewis's regrettable, abhorrent fascism and racism. But if we can recover and "rehabilitate" Yeats and Eliot, for example, why not "recover" Lewis? Let's investigate how his fascism seeps into his aesthetic, and how that aesthetic seeps into "high" modernism.

I wonder, however, what would happen if we excised all of the modernists with fascist inclinations? How many great Anglo-American writers of 1900-1940 would we have left (that, surely, is telling)?

Addendum 5/3/08
And months later, I discover another tribute to Lewis that questions his status as "forgotten modernist"; the blogger also includes a poem he wrote that references the "men of 1914." And Eliot. You can read both items at "My Life."

08 May 2007

Remember "Cool Britannia"?

Blur v. Oasis v.2?

It appears that (by now middle-aged) Britpop relics Oasis and Blur will issue new CDs next spring. Jon Wilde at The Guardian wonders if we’ll be treated to a fresh burst of feuding. Wahey!

And on a sadder note, Isabella Blow, R. I. P.

The Amazonian fashion goddess Isabella Blow, she of the magnificently impractical hats and, well, unconventional style, has died at the age of 48 from “cancer and depression” (from that description, take what you will).

07 May 2007

Stephen Joyce v. Carol Schloss

I’m a Jane-come-lately on this issue, but here it is nonetheless.

A few months back, the New Yorker published an article, “The Injustice Collector,” by D. T. Max, which questioned whether Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s grandson, was “suppressing scholarship” with his aggressive attempts to control Joyce-related materials (he even claims to have destroyed family documents). Because of his reluctance to permit Joyceans access to materials related to his grandfather, or to cite such materials, the Stephen Joyce has acquired quite a bitter reputation amongst scholars.

However, Joyce lost a recent case involving scholar Carol Schloss, who has written a biography of Lucia Joyce, James’s daughter and Stephen’s aunt, titled Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. Stephen Joyce forbade Schloss to cite from copyrighted materials (both published and unpublished), which effectively rendered some of her claims insupportable. Schloss, however, took Joyce to court and won. You can read the press release here.

Now, if only Mrs. Valerie Eliot would allow scholars to access and cite TSE’s work without obtaining special permission (which, apparently, she isn’t eager to grant), all would be well. Of course, with Ronald Schuchard's new endeavour (to publish a multi-volume collection containing all of Eliot's prose), and Mrs. Eliot's hiring of a fresh editor for the second volume of letters, that day might not be too far off. Fingers crossed, anyway.

06 May 2007

Reviews of Raine's Monograph on T. S. Eliot

I must admit I've not read Raine's work yet, and I probably won't get around to it for a while, but I found the following reviews fascinating in their foci.

Raine’s Sterile Thunder” by Terry Eagleton for Prospect Magazine.
Eagleton's review, which dismisses Raine as an "acolyte" bearing offerings to the "high priest," seems rather peculiar. Eagleton takes Raine to task for neglecting to address TSE’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, purported homosexuality, etc., but then he reminds us that the poetry itself is what matters.

and a review by Tom Paulin for The Guardian.
Paulin also wonders why Raine doesn't investigate Eliot's private life or socio-political views.

Both reviews evoke, to me, the flamethrowing years of the 1980s and 1990s when any critic worth his or her salt (Gilbert & Gubar, Pinkney, Ellman, etc.) took a potshot at Eliot. Studies of Eliot's misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, sexuality, psychology, etc. triumphed over rather moderate, less-politicized explorations of his work. The tide has, of course, shifted, and scholars are publishing critiques that study Eliot's poetry, drama, and social criticism that illustrate the man's complexity rather than casting him as a strictly reactionary figure.

The impetus for this shift, I believe, lies in the extreme positions that several critics maintained in the latter half of hte 1990s. For example, Suman Gupta wrote an essay for The Times Higher Education Supplement in 1996. Gupta he argued against a “liberal consensus” that admitted Eliot’s numerous personal faults “[did] not make him a bad poet.” Gupta disagrees, for the as the aesthetic remains tightly bound with the social, and “all evaluative acts are social,” then a writer's personal politics should affect his or her literary status. Consequently, Gupta maintains, the canon requires a re-evaluation of “great” writers.

Gupta’s argument focuses on modernists (including Joyce, an author typically excluded from charges of racism and anti-Semitism), and he asserts that their works “should not be given to any students as 'great’ any longer--they provide neither social-cultural nor aesthetic-literary models.” On other words, get rid of 'em.

I found it curious then--and now--that Gupta's critcism focsed on racism alone. Why not misogyny? homophobia? Like I said, curious.

Furthermore, how far back should we take such revisions? Should we eliminate Shakespeare, Chaucer, Swift, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston? If you apply it to one author, you should apply it to all. If we're going to trace out negative stereotypes, we might as well dismiss the canon altogether. Yes, it's a slippery-slope argument, but I do think that Gupta's suggestion crests such a slope and begins a downward slide.

This is not to say that readers should ignore such issues; instead, we might consider how questionable portrayals of human beings--be it a "simple" stereotype (Lydia Languish) or blatantly racist (Bleistein)--informs a work. What socio-cultural or historical context permitted or encouraged such views? And how can we use these works to shatter still-extant myths about human beings? This seems to be the current of contemporary scholarship, and long may its course run.