Finished: Don Quixote

Reading a novel the size of Don Quixote (944 pages) is quite an achievement, certainly in the time you need to throw at it.

This was a re-reading: I first read it in the autumn of 2002 and loved every page. Keen to revisit, this time I started around the end of May and got to the Hidalgo’s deathbed last night. So six months to do it again (I laboured most of a year each over Vanity Fair and Middlemarch).

The first time, I found the first part, which is more knock-around (the scenarios where Don Quixote’s madness prompt him to interject invariably end in tears, cuts and bruises) and literary (both the interpolated stories and the criticism provided by both Don Quixote and the priest), to be less satisfying than the 2nd part: I found myself mesmerised (“mindfucked”) by the passages where Don Quixote attacks the puppet show and also his journey to disenchant the bearded Duenna’s.

This second time, the shocks of the 2nd part didn’t strike me as vividly as before; more the characterisations of Quixote and Sancho as the 2nd part progresses: in contrast to the first part with all its collisions with reality, in the second, our two protagonists become known and respected, in the course of their adventures: Quixote, in practicing his knight-errantry and Sancho in gaining his island.

From his high point in the encounter with the lions, Quixote’s pitch becomes less, mutating into reflection and his ongoing embodiment of goodness as he gradually encounters his increasing impotence. Sancho however gains in power, his increasing articulacy facilitating his adopting by the Duke and Duchess (the narrative is shared between the two characters at this point).

So the re-reading, instead of blowing my mind again with his philosophical tricks, produced an appreciation of Cervantes’ handling of the characterisations. The book is staggeringly rich and yeah, if you like, is the classic western comic and philosophical novel.

Backlog #30: Detective (1985)

The DVD Backlog I wrote about last? I’ve ranked them by personal preference (judged mainly on enjoyment rather than objective quality) and will (try) to outline my view on each, from bottom to top, over the months/years/millenia to come.

First up:

Detective (1985, Jean-Luc Godard)

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Shady goings-on in an upmarket Parisian hotel. Outwardly this is a crime thriller with a starry cast (hence it exists). This however is a Godard picture: it doesn’t doff anything in the way of convention, most certainly regarding any narrative: the plot follows small cells of characters, trapped within the claustrophobic confines, struggling to relate to anything (beyond their own problems). As none of the people in this film are particularly interesting or sympathetic, depending on one’s mood it can make for a impassive watch (it is definitely a successor to Sauve Qui Peut); however Godard’s inventiveness and motifs (the choice of music is superb) make it rewarding, if not a film to return to very often.

DVD Backlog 2010-2013: A Look Back

Christmas shopping yesterday afternoon in Nottingham saw £50 spent for the love of my dearest ones and £120 going my way in books, music and blu-rays (bfi and Masters of Cinema: nice).

Something of a tradition, mind: the first DVD I ever bought (Doctor Who: The Robots of Death) was in the run up to Christmas 2000.

So, I bought six blu-rays, which gives me a pile of films to watch in 2015. The last time I stocked up on classic cinema was a few years back when I bought twenty-six films off Amazon for £120. Box sets and a few individual titles. It took over three years to watch the lot, along with a few other films I’d picked up.

This post is in the main a chronology of what I watched (later I’ll come to what I made of them):

2011

17th January: Une Femme est Une Femme (1961)

6th February: Anne et Muriel (1971)

11th February: Les Biches (1968)

1st August: The Devil, Probably (1977)

7th October: La Femme Infidèle (1969)

8th October: Le Petit Soldat

1st November: This Beast Must Die (1969)

21st November: The Red Shoes (1948)

26th November: The Milky Way (1969)

2nd December: La Boucher (1970)

2012

18th February: Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

10th March: Tristana (1970)

24th March: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie (1972)

1st April: Juste Avant La Nuit (1971)

2nd July: Red Wedding (1973)

17th July: The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

19th July: Daisies (1966)

15th September: Nada (1974)

19th October: La Chinoise (1967)

19th October: The Silence (1963)

27th October: That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)

2013

18th February: Madame Bovary (1991)

2nd March: Detective (1985)

16th June: Four Lions (2010)

3rd August: Edvard Munch (1974)

19th August: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

21st September: Police (1985)

Also: Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), Belle De Jour (1967) & The Searchers (1956)

More thoughts about 2001

The film has remained with me since Wednesday evening – the first thing I did on Thursday morning was look up the music on spotify.

– the journey across the moon surface to the excavation, where Floyd and Halvorsen disscuss sandwiches; their section of the craft is bathed in silver light, the cockpit in red.

– the following scene in the excavation, where the humans approach the monolith, is in its realisation an incredible piece of filmmaking. Six men waking down a ramp towards a block made awesome, by the set design, music and direction.

– this film is not a human drama: only in brief moments, such as Floyd’s chat with the Soviet scientists and Bowman and Poole’s quandary over HAL’s actions. They are characterisations of (20th century) American power: the capable, unflustered, slicked back government agent and the rational, unemotive, detached astronauts. It’s the computer (who dominates the exchanges) who shows emotion and who breaks down – what is this saying?

– browsing through some information and reviews etc. has realigned me a little with regard to how some of my preconceptions about the film played out when watching it: that it was a base under siege, that the first chapter was a brief prelude about human evolution and it was a straightforward good vs evil affair (even if the computer won). As I put down in the earlier post, it’s far, far, far more enigmatic and rewarding than that. Some of the paths I went down whilst sat in the Broadway were: wondering about the fate of Floyd (and compatriots) after the monolith’s signal transmission, siding with the astronauts, at least up to the point where HAL recites “Daisy”. I perhaps shouldn’t chastise myself here: it’s just that the narrative, and the four sections that the film is made up from, are distractingly detached.

2001

Skipped the office christmas party tonight and ended up going to the Broadway in Nottingham to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. A film I’ve known about since I was about eight or nine, instantly associated with the brass and timpani of Richard Strauss (Also Spake Zarathustra). Since I read Barry Norman’s 100 best films from the school library, I’ve followed his advice to not (“DO NOT”) watch it on a television and wait for a cinema run. I walked up to the screen room rather excited to see this film (which doesn’t often happen), I’ve kind of been waiting twenty years for it.

Wise advice, it is quite an experience. It’s enigmatic to say the least: it’s an play in four acts, none of which follow into each other and which are linked by the present of the monolith, a perfect rectangular cuboid which is left behind by extra-terrestrials and has some influence on the human race, from the beginning of the species, to the attempts to trace it back to Jupiter. The plot and themes, which cover an evisioning of a mature space exploration period and also of the presence and influence of artificial intelligence.

There isn’t much drama here, but what there is is very tense (such as the two astronauts face up to the fact that HAL is playing with them). Visually, this is beyond question one of the greatest films ever made – the production: the realisation of the environment, the space craft and station, the staggering pre-historic and the moon excavation touch perfection. And Kubrick’s visuals, it goes without mentioning, are without equal.

So, in summary, not a disappointment.

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier

I read Le Grand Meaulnes by chance. On the final day of a long weekend break in York, following habit I sidestepped into a branch of Oxfam and browsed the literature section. Generally I pick up anything in a near mint condition that takes my fancy (avoiding dedications or annotated copies). On this occasion I stretched to a fiver, for Twelth Night, Pericles and a thin French novel in the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics line (in the cool blue covers of the nineties, not the silver). Probably it was picking up Francois Mauriac’s Therese in similar circumstances a decade earlier that tipped me into taking the novel, being in complete ignorance of the work or of Alain-Fournier.

It took another three years to get around to reading it (I haven’t read my two Shakespeares yet).

And wow! The dreams, the fantasies that we harbour into adulthood – the enigmatic, heroic companion, the wandering into a neverworld of fog and coming out at the threshold of a chateau of curdled, crumbling grandeur, in the midst of a costume ball. The girl, that one will lose, then search for across the earth, eventually win after all seems lost and finally leave behind in order to follow a quixotic honour.

Whatever it is that we dream of, that we want as a romantic adventure within our lives, Alain-Fournier nails. Meaulnes is heroic; he transcends his background, surroundings, circumstances. His dream he will live and follow. Seurel is content to support and observe him (the hero) and in turn allows his own life follow its natural course.

That’s enough for now; the companionship between a dull boy and a enigmatic hero is a reoccuring theme: Brideshead in 20th century English literature and Seurel and Meaulnes are mirrored in Grass’ Cat & Mouse: for Meaulnes here read Mahlke.