Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tales of Innocence

No, I didn’t just mistype Age of Innocence. I’m writing about the episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles called “Tales of Innocence.” In this roughly 90 minute episode, a young Indiana Jones meets a young Ernest Hemingway (called “Ernie” in this show), a young Lowell Thomas (the writer known for popularizing the story of Lawrence of Arabia), and an older Edith Wharton. The episode as a whole is a little hard to follow, but the act concerning Edith Wharton (and to some degree Lowell Thomas) was quite enjoyable.

The year is 1918, and Indiana Jones is serving as an undercover agent in the French Foreign Legion (a branch of the French military composed of foreign nationals). He is trying to figure out who is stealing weapons from a Moroccan armory. (Kind of tame in comparison to his film journeys, I know.) While stationed in Morocco, Indy is assigned to be the escort for Edith Wharton as she takes a break from France to get a taste of Africa. 

Immediately the two hit it off. Wharton doesn’t like to travel alone in a horse-drawn carriage, so she invites Indy aboard. Almost immediately, Jones reveals his true identity (Henry Jones Jr.), how he came up with his nickname, and that most people call him “Indy.” Wharton puts herself at Jones’ level by telling him to address her by her first name.

The two talk through a scene change about relationships. Indy does most of the talking, while Edith listens and offers the occasional bit of wisdom. He tells her about a time when he wanted to marry a gal, but she turned him down because she didn’t want to give up her independence. (Sound familiar?) Eventually, the conversation leads to talking about the more physical side of things. He mostly hints at it, which causes Wharton to bluntly say, “You mean sex?”

As the two prepare to meet the ruler of Morocco (or maybe he’s just a lesser government head. This was unclear to me), Lowell Thomas shows up saying he’d like to write a story on Wharton. He tells her that she’ll get final approval of what he puts out, but she doesn’t seem concerned in the least.

The three get together with the government official from Morocco (he seems like he’s the big cheese, but I may be wrong), where they are treated with dinner and a belly dancing performance. The Moroccan leader apologizes to Wharton if the dancing shocked her, but she assures him that she rather enjoyed it.

Wharton is portrayed as very open minded and comforting. While she is dressed well, she doesn’t seem at all snooty. 

From here, Indy solves the case and all is well with the government. Jones and Wharton meet up at a fountain where they talk about how they wish their fling could last forever. (They had a fling going on? Must have been offscreen.) They decide that it can’t continue as they are on two separate paths in life.

Scene change and Wharton is loading up her carriage to go back to France. Thomas says he won’t write that article after all, to which Wharton replies that she never thought he would anyway. Before the episode ends, Wharton and Jones share a passionate kiss. She hops on her carriage and the credits roll.

This was a neat story. The first time watching it, I was a bit confused. I didn’t realize that Edith Wharton had divorced her husband five years prior to the year this episode took place. (She apparently grew tired of his chronic depression.) Even if she hadn't divorced him, Indiana Jones is clearly better. Sure, he wasn't yet Harrison Ford, but he would be eventually.

[If you'd like to watch this, go check it out on Netflix, but skip to the last 30 minutes or so.]

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Suicide is What You Are

When Dr. Campbell asked us how we thought House of Mirth would end, I knew it would end in either a suicide or murder. Even removed from the context of this particular story, I knew it would end poorly simply due to the nature of all of the other stories we’ve read. Transcendental Wild Oats ended with the farming community failing, The Blithedale Romance ended with Zenobia’s suicide, Moby-Dick’s ending involved the death of most everyone, and McTeague had murder and eventual death in Death Valley.  The only one that strayed was Behind a Mask. Jean Muir didn’t die (despite threats of suicide), but the lives of everyone around her were definitely worse off.

What’s interesting about this story is that it could have ended with a “happily ever after” ending. Lily could have married Selden. I figured that she would not, though, because that would be too Disney. It is no fun to analyze a book that is happy and jolly in the end. Good analysis comes from seeing people fall. (Or maybe I’m just warped?)

I didn’t know she would poison herself, though. At least not until later in the novel. For a while, I thought maybe Mr. Trenor might get a little too rapey (to use the parlance of our class). Then I thought maybe Bertha would kill her as a way to silence Lily, but then she just went the route of trying to destroy her, socially.

I first figured out that poisoning would be her death sentence in Book 2, Chapter 10 when she went to the pharmacist (or chemist, as the book called it) to use Mrs. Hatch’s prescription. (This is on pg 225 in the Norton Critical Edition.) The clerk said, “You don’t want to increase the dose, you know. . . [I]t’s a queer-acting drug. A drop or two more, and off you go--the doctors don’t know why.”
“Aha!” I shouted in my head. “This is how she goes!” Wouldn’t you know it, she did. Along with her corpse leaves behind two questions: 1) Did she intentionally overdose? 2) What singular word did she want to say to Selden that would clarify their relationship?

I think she committed suicide. Right after she measures out her medicine in 2:13, increasing the dose beyond her limits, she remembers what the pharmacy clerk had told her about the dangers of overdosing. Right afterwards appears the line, “She did not, in truth, consider the question very closely--the physical craving for sleep was her only sustained sensation.” Sure, this is ambiguous, but I see it as Lily not only being tired in the sense of lacking sleep, but being tired of the whole game of life. She was tired of trying to find a husband. She was tired of trying to find money. She was tired of trying to find her place in society.

As for the word, I think it was “love.” She loved Selden, but was too afraid of losing her place in society by being with him. In the end, she wouldn’t have to deal with that anymore. “She had been unhappy, and now she was happy--she had felt herself alone, and now the sense of loneliness had vanished.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Money! Money Changes Everything!

“[S]he belonged to him forever and forever. Nothing that he could do (so she told herself)...could change her in this respect.”

This is the quotation I brought up in class. Trina has, at this point, convinced herself that she is in love with McTeague despite liking anything that defines him. She does not like his oafishness. She does not like how sloppy and lazy he is. She does not like how he drinks lowly steam beer over bottled beer. She does not like how he dresses.

It seems as though she is more in love with the idea of the man than she is the man. McTeague, at this point, is dedicated to her and does not seem to be after her money, so perhaps this makes her feel safe with him. (A poor decision, had she been able to possess future sight.)

Not only does she feel safe in that, she feels safe in belonging to someone. She was the property of her parents, then McTeague, then, as pointed out in class, money. She won the lottery, and with the money came greed.

She hoarded money. It became more important to her than even McTeague. After an argument with McTeague where she refused to pay her half of the $35 of rent, she decided it would be nice to give him $10. Then she decided, “I can’t do it. It may be mean, but I can’t help it. It’s stronger than I” (pg 119). She even admits that she’s lost control over her own self.

She then admits, “I didn’t used to be so stingy... Since I won in the lottery I’ve become a regular little miser.” Money changed her. It caused her to become a skinflint. Ultimately, when McTeague becomes an abusive drunk, her stingy ways cause her lose her life. She decided it was more important to have money than to live.

Also, the title of my post is in reference to an amazing Cyndi Lauper song. YouTube it!

Friday, October 19, 2012

19th Century Film

Consider this a bonus entry for the week! I was just on AV Club and they had an article on the best films of the 1890s.,87648/

In particular, I want to point you to The Haunted Castle. Filmed in 1896, this short film came out twenty six years before Nosferatu, the movie often credited as being the original horror movie. Like Nosferatu, it's not a talky; it's all silent. Unlike Nosferatu, The Haunted Castle doesn't feature any narration titles. It's all up to the view to interpret what's going on.

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What I find most interesting are the special effects. While the frame rate of the video is a bit choppy, the effects are smooth. They look far more natural and real than many of the horror movies from the 1950s. Part of that could be because of the limitations of the medium. Since it is grainy with a choppy frame rate, they were better able to hide the strings and cutaways.

On the other hand, that is a part of film making. One should understand their medium. In this era, things are expected to be photorealistic, so when lighting is off, or when textures/coloring are off, the audience loses the immersion.

As a horror buff (1950s B-horror in particular), this amused me. It's not literature, per se, but it gives a little insight into what was occurring in the latter part of the 19th century, so I thought I would share it with you guys.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dismissing the "Other"

Pudd’nhead Wilson has left me with many things to think about, but for the purpose of this blog entry, I’d like to focus on the idea of “dismissing the other.” Since the book is titled after him, let’s just start with Pudd’nhead Wilson himself. When David Wilson moved to Dawson’s Landing, he saw it fit to tell a joke about this annoying dog that had been bothering him: “I wish I owned half of that dog…Because I would kill my half.” The townspeople did not understand his joke. Confused, they began to speculate. Did he mean he would keep one half of the dog alive? Why would he want half a dog? Which half would he keep alive? Instead of asking him for clarification, they assumed he was some kind of idiot. If they cannot understand what he means, then the problem is with him, not with them.

David was an other, or outsider. He is different. With the Us vs Them mentality, if you are not one of us, you must be one of them. Since we are good, that must mean you are bad. So David was labelled Pudd’nhead because they considered him to be a fool. The lawyer side of his business flopped hard, even though he was actually quite good at his job. At the end of the novel when he solved the crime, the people realized that maybe he was no longer such a Pudd’nhead. But that was two decades later. Two decades of not giving this poor guy a chance because he failed to assimilate upon first contact.
Roxy is also outright dismissed. Although her skin is quite white, she is considered black, and therefore a slave, because she is 1/16 black. Because she’s a slave, she is not entitled to an education, and thus is assumed to be ignorant or childish. 

In reality, she is one of the smartest characters in the novel. She knows that if she is sold in town, her child will eventually be sold down the river, so she devises a Prince and the Pauper scheme to ensure that her son not have to face that harsh life. (The fake “Chambers” was never sold down the river. While her prediction was wrong in that regard, she was justified in feeling that way as the real Chambers was eventually sold down the river upon the scheme being revealed). Later, she comes up with a blackmailing plan to get her ruined son to do anything kind for her.

After "Tom" sells her down river, she is abused for a while, then pulls off an impressive escape. She headed back up to Dawson's Landing and disguised herself as a man, knowing that nobody will recognize her that way. She then uses blackmail again as a way to get what she wanted out of "Tom".

I guess I'm so drawn to this idea because I've been the "other" who has been dismissed many times before in my life. One of the worst things, to me, is to be dismissed without letting me get the chance to prove myself. It's so easy to dismiss those you don't understand, but it's so much more worth it to take the time to understand these people.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Battery Died

My2007 MacBook's battery has died, and I apparently forgot to pack a power cord, so I'm attempting to rewrite my entry on my iPhone. It was about my visit to the MASC.

Upon hearing we would be going to the MASC, I didn't really know what to think. I hadn't been there before, and have never really looked at too many old books outside of a museum.

When Tuesday had rolled around, I was not too happy with my situation: my head was pounding with pain from a migraine that developed between my break between English 302 and 368. When I get migraines, I become very irritable. My vision blurs, i become dizzy, my head hurts, and it's all made worse by the light, reading, and noise (both volume and high frequencies). Needless to say, the MASC was not a good place for me to be at that time.

I never know when to quit, though, so I dug through my bag and found some Excedrin Migraine. Was it still good? I don't know. I didn't want to have to read the bottle. The pills did the trick, but they took a half hour or so to work. Boo! So I had to read an old book with a throbbing head. That was t so much fun, but I was able to gather some interesting details. The book was a dime book, yet was still mostly in one piece, thanks to its rusted staples

As we move on, my headache began to fade, and my ability to enjoy the place increased. The temperature/ humidity controlled archive library blew me away. As did the Virgina Wolfe library. I had no idea we had that. I also had no idea Dolph Lundgren went to WSU.

My phone is now dying, so I'll finish this up quickly. The room with the moveable shelves was amazing. I felt like I was touring Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. This feeling continued when he showed us the giant scanner. I would make excuses to scan things if I had that expensive piece of technology.

Sorry if auto-correct ruined any of my words. I'll have a better entry next week.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Moby Dick In Media

I am a regular reader of a website called AV Club. It’s a subsidiary of The Onion that factually reports on pop culture news in a comedic fashion. Anyways, in the past couple of days, two new Moby-Dick projects have popped up in the news.

The first of which is a new Moby-Dick In Spaaaaaaaaaaaaace movie. Sound familiar? That’s because, as Cecilia showed in class, Futurama already did this (albeit as a 22 minute episode of television and not a 90+ minute movie).
That episode of Futurama (entitled “Mobius-Dick”) was a really great episode (which is rare for the current era of the show). I think fleshed out, a space Moby-Dick could be very entertaining. As Star Trek and various other Sci-Fi shows and movies have shown us, outer space and the ocean are very similar. They both consist of vast amounts of nothingness. If your space ship or ship ship bust, you could be stranded, or worse, be pulled into the void. There’s also the aspect of exploring the unknown. Space is the final frontier! (The band Iron Maiden, however, would argue that death is in fact the final frontier.)
So this movie has a lot of potential. Will I see it or will it ever go beyond the development stage? Who knows? If it’s done right, it could be great. If it’s done poorly, literature types may riot.

The second project is an M. Night Shyamalan (Shimalamadingdong, as he likes to be called) television series. This one I’m not so optimistic about. First of all, it’s M. Night Shyamalan. Everything he does is so pretentious and so reliant on gimmicky twists. This could work with a more mystery oriented novel, or even a novel full of secrets like Behind a Mask, but it doesn’t play well with Moby-Dick. It’s a “dense symbolist tome” full of whale descriptions. Unless they take lots of creative license, the series will be very unbalanced. One week will explore the possible sexual relationship of Queequeg and Ishmael, whereas the next, it’ll be like a 19th century version of an episode of a whale-centric Nova episode.
The only positive I can think of is that this might give them the opportunity to explore Ishmael a bit more. We know nothing about the guy. We don’t even know if Ishmael is his real name. It would be nice to see an Ishmael who isn’t just a guy who is there. (Though based on the last chapter, it certainly seems like he was but a guy who happened to be there and live to tell about it.)