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Writing, Reading, Rambling

11 September 2011:  the writing’s mostly taken a back seat this last few weeks – probably the right thing in the bigger scheme of things.  Although I continue to scribble down observations on life & characters.

We found ourselves in a local pub last night & although I’ve already stored away youths at the JobCentre with tattoos creeping up their necks & out of their sleeves, this time I had to capture (for posterity) the fist-sized spider with an inky egg-shaped body on the forearm of a lad whose hair must be thinning – he had one of those almost skinhead crewcuts.  His other arm had black, branching lightning forks.  At least, he will have, maybe.  Just now, most are just outlined.    Couldn’t resist wondering whether he ran out of money or reached his pain threshhold.

I Read about the US gangs who have gang tat’s on the back of their neck,  As well as meaningless scribbles, he had MUFC on the side of his neck – too high up to be hidden by most shirts.  Brave or foolhardy?

Three young women behind the bar, & another perched on a barstool, all pregnant.  There’s got to be a story in there somewhere.  Science fantasy like Midwich Cuckoos?  Juicy bit of incest?  Hmm – stored.

Friday 13th January:  developing the habit of starting the day writing.  Sometimes from the heart, sometimes to order, sometimes just ramblings – which other authors seem to big up with the label “essays”.

So what about the title “Social Mores & Fiction”?    I’ve been watching/listening to  a fair few classics over the Christmas period:  its been a ripe time  for Brontes, Jane Austen, Dickens.  I saw James Jones’ From Here to Eternity and Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter.  I saw “The bridges of Madison County”  a 1995 film of a 1992 book set  1960’s Iowa farmland.

This time around, while the feeling part of me still suspends belief & shares the emotions – lots of love found & then given up rather than lost is the overwhelming impression for the 20th century work – still, the reflective part of me is looking at what the author/screenwriter is saying about the social mores of the time.  I’m also sensitive to what they are saying about the different rules for men & women.   When Anne Bronte published  “The Tennant of Wildfell Hall” in 1848, she even used a male pseudonym.   Austen’s early 1800’s work resonates with the need to make a good match & follow the money.

Laura in Coward’s 1945 film of his 1936 play has a comfortable affectionate marriage but is overwhelmed when she finds love.  She chooses to give it up & do her duty to the marriage.  All the while, her husband is so out of tune with her that he has no idea that she is devastated, either during or after her affair.  No idea of the strength of will needed to give up her chance of love, to go on being the homemaker her family expect.

The “doing one’s duty” concept comes out in “from Here to Eternity”.  a 1953 film of a 1951 book of 1948 (just pre-war for US) army in Hawai.  Private Robert E Lee Prewitt loses his life trying to reach the barracks & help defend against the Pearl Harbour attack.

There’s lots of class comment in this, by comparing Private Prewitt’s relationship with that of First Sergeant Warden and the Captain’s wife.  In a now loveless marriage, the much-wronged Karen Holmes offers to divorce the Captain & thinks she’s persuaded Warden to take the officers exams.  As a noncom, he cannot marry the ex-wife of an officer.  yes, that’s right.  still, when it comes down to it, Warden has no respect for the officer class, of which Captain Holmes is a particularly abhorrent example.  He decides that he cannot make a move so untrue to himself & as a result, denies himself & Karen their one true love.  I’m not convinced that this falls in the “far far better thing that I do now …” category.  Now, Casablanca, which was on recently too, that certainly does – together with the dash of country-before-self.  1942 & WWII still going on, so a helping of propaganda.

Then, The Bridges of Madison County:  isolated & taken-for-granted housewife meets world-weary photographer & shares 4 magical days before her family is due home.  Francesca gets as far as packing her bags to leave with Robert, but decides that it would break her uncaring husband & heap scandal on her family, so she chooses to stay.  Later, after she has nursed her husband through his final days, she cannot track Robert down, but goes on loving him.  After his death, his treasured possessions are sent on to her, so it is some cold comfort to know that that he went on loving her.  What resonataes for me though all these is the terrible waste of lives.  The stories can only hint at the years of dragging paralysing greyness of only living half a life.  Of moments when the right person is not there to share with.  But that’s another story.

There is a piercing irony which matches one in Brief Encounters:  Francesca sees Robert’s pickup as he is about to leave town finally.  Robert knows that it’s her & waits to give her a last chance.  But finally, Robert drives off & she can’t hide the tears from her husband.  He does want to know what’s wrong, but is easily put off with “just give me a moment”.  So unimaginative, so in his own world.

AS well as starring as Robert, Clint Eastwood directed The Bridges of Madison County & I’ve come to have much respect for a man who more or less started in spagetti westerns.  He’s known for reducing the background information about his characters, because he expects the audience to engage their imaginations.  There is one scene in it where his confidence in himself came across strongly to me, because he’s putting himself at a time of high emotion into a fairly clumsy position, which felt very true to life.  Robert & Francessca are at the table & he is coming to realise that she will not leave with him.  She stays seated, half-turned from the table & he tries to kneel, hold her around the chair, & have his head  in her lap at the same time.  Somehow the clumsiness of it made the high emotion of the moment even more believable.

“From Author to Screenwriter: Lost & Gained in Translation”? I’m happy to be able to watch/listen to adaptations of some novels – having listened to “The Tennant of Wildfell Hall” on radio 4, I now have it as my own reading at bedtime.  That means I only get a little further each night – in a story which includes much to enhance the background without progressing the story, and language to match.  One feature of the adaptation which is panning out true to the original is Anne Bronte’s examination of the inequalities women were locked into – both by men & by other women.  It’s very reassuring to find that this is not just an artifact introduced by the adapter.  So some adaptations support the original in ways that make them more accessible.

Some films  I will also prefer to think of as not related to the original book at all.  I’ve enjoyed at least 3 adaptations of Jane Eyre over the years & felt each of them diverted so much from the original which I read & emoted over as a girl,   that giving the actors the same names as the characters in the books was an unecessary distraction.  The settings, the physical looks of the characters are so different from the ones in  my head & together with the deletion of scenes I found crucial, & emphasis of others made it hard to suspend belief.

Because of this, I chose not to watch Great Expectations this Christmas.  Back in the 1980’s we saw Robert Lindsay star in a stage version iat the  Manchester Exchange.  A matinee, it was full of schoolgirl groups who couldn’t lose sight of his heartthrob status when he came into the audience.  No suspending belief there then.  No imersing in the issues of wealth, haves & have-nots, henpecked husbands.  and the horror of the escaped convict was totally lost.   That’s one of the chapters which stays stark in my mind.  Not only do I not want it spoiling, I also want to choose when to expose myself to it.

So from a position of only partially trusting adaptations, I have to question the interpretations I’m putting on the underlying isues.  I’m happy that Bronte was exploring early feminism, because I’ve seen it in the original.  Then when James Jones wrote From Here to Eternity – as a soldier who served on Hawai only a few years earlier & adapting his own book for the film, it’s immersed in his interpretation of society as it was then.  But even Robert James Waller, when he wrote The Bridges of Madison County in 1992,  was writing about a time 30 years’ earlier, & that’s been reinterpreted by the several screenwriters & rewrites it took to get it to the box office.  With our older classics, hundreds of years have passed & the authors are not available for consultation.  Perhaps better for them.  So where we see/hear the adaptation first, do we take them at face value, or make time for the original?

Then what about science fiction/fantasy set in the future, or some parallel world?  Like heaven, that can wait.

14 January 2012:  Surrender Dorothy – a film about a woman who lost her only grown-up daughter & the way she tried to take over the lives of her dead daughter’s friends for a time.

14 February:   Perfect  Match by Jodi Picoult – Finished this in the early hours – that part of the day that is too late to call night & too early to call day.  This is only the second Jodi Picoult book I’ve read  – for a long time, the modern design of her covers convinced me that this was going to be chick lit & best avoided.  Not true at all.  Both books so far have had meaty storylines & moral issues.  Both  also frequently switch between different narrators, so different points of view.  “House Rules” was particularly good at compartmentalising these – making it clear which  narrator knew what & effortlessly showing how that differed from another character.

I seemed to have a dialogue with Perfect Match – some responses came easily, without having to think – “I wouldn’t have done that”.  At other times, the dialogue was with myself – more “what  would I have done?”

A book I committed to & by half-way through,  needed to know where it got to – hence the early-hours reading.  Although set in the US, the strong female character was – most of the time – a woman I would like to be, although I wouldn’t wish the circumstances on anyone.  Not going to spoil your reading pleasure by telling you any more than that, but there is a little more to be found on her website.

For admirers, she will be on a UK tour in March & April.

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