Twenty-four years after the release of his first feature, “Metropolitan,” and two years after the release of his fourth, “Damsels in Distress,” Whit Stillman—the cinema’s novelist of manners, who reveals deep and enduring patterns beneath the shimmer of apparent frivolities—has written, directed, and produced the twenty-six-minute pilot of a TV-like series, “The Cosmopolitans,” for Amazon (where it premières tomorrow). It has a classical setup—Americans and other foreigners, members of a self-anointed social whirl, tripping through Paris—that, from the start, Stillman makes entirely his own, rendering it both contemporary and anachronistic, of the moment and rooted in time.
Archive for the 'Film' Category
Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too by Claire Berlinski
I read this book shortly after it came out in 1996, and just re-read it in the light of the anti-Semitic ranting and violence which is now ranging across Europe. It is an important book, deserving of a wide readership.
The author’s preferred title was “Blackmailed by History,” but the publisher insisted on “Menace.” Whatever the title, the book is informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing. Berlinski is good at melding philosophical thinking with direct observation. She holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, and has lived and worked in Britain, France, and Turkey, among other countries. (Dr Berlinski, may I call you Claire?)
The book’s dark tour of Europe begins in the Netherlands, where the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim upset at the content of a film was quickly followed by the cancellation of that movie’s planned appearance at a film festival–and where an artist’s street mural with the legend “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was destroyed by order of the mayor of Rotterdam, eager to avoid giving offense to Muslims. (“Self-Extinguishing Tolerance” is the title of the chapter on Holland.) Claire moves on to Britain and analyzes the reasons why Muslim immigrants there have much higher unemployment and lower levels of assimilation than do Muslim immigrants to the US, and also discusses the unhinged levels of anti-Americanism that she finds among British elites. (Novelist Margaret Drabble: “My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux…”) While there has always been a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, the author notes that “traditionally, Britain’s anti-American elites have been vocal, but they have generally been marginalized as chattering donkeys” but that now, with 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Britain (more worshippers at mosques than at the Church of England), the impact of these anti-Americans can be greatly amplified. (Today, there are apparently more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than serving in the British armed forces.)
One of the book’s most interesting chapters is centered around the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship”….”European men and women still confront the same existential questions, the same suffering as everyone who has ever been born. They are suspicious now of the Church and of grand political ideologies, but they nonetheless yearn for the transcendent. And so they worship other things–crops, for example, which certain Europeans, like certain tribal animists, have come to regard with superstitious awe.”
The title of this chapter is “Black-Market Religion: The Nine Lives of Jose Bove,” and Berlinski sees the current Jose Bove as merely one in a long line of historical figures who hawked similar ideologies. They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common. They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones. Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives. Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves” have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.” She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included. The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…” (See also this interesting piece on environmentalist ritualism as a means of coping with anxiety and perceived disorder.)
Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, France, Germany, History, Immigration, Islam, Judaism, Leftism, Middle East, Religion | 7 Comments »
PJ Media has a post that lists “10 films that teach important lessons for leading in tough times.”
I think there are quite a few other movies and TV series that could be placed in this category. For starters:
Once an Eagle, which follows the comparative careers of Army officer Sam Damon–an excellent leader–and Courtney Massengale, an officer whose ambitions exceed his abilities and performance.
Friday Night Lights, focused on leadership in a sports, school, and community context.
The Caine Mutiny, which is indeed about leadership, albeit of a not very effective kind. ”No one is totally useless, you can always serve as a bad example.”
I see, from a brief news release, and the subsequent minor bloggerly hyperventilating about it, that the story of the 60 Minutes-Dan Rather-faked TANG memo is going to be made into a movie, starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchette as Mary Mapes, his producer. If it were a cautionary tale about what happens when those who report our news content so desperately desire items of dubious provenance to be the genuine article and so skip merrily past every warning signal in their hurry to broadcast a nakedly partisan political hit piece on the eve of an election … well, I might be tempted to watch it. No, not in a theater – are you insane? I might opt to pay a couple of bucks to stream it through Amazon and watch it at home … but alas, likely I will give it a miss, altogether. It’s going to be based on Ms Mapes’ own account and defense of the indefensible, and frankly I am not all that interested in someone engaged in a lengthy justification of their own gullibility and/or willingness to wink at obvious forgery in service to a partisan political cause.
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Today I watched the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson. While the movie was not intended to be an historical record, in some ways a fictionalized representation of life in the 1930′s and early 1940′s is a better way to humanize the elements of the conflict that can be lost broader sweep of the cataclysmic events known to all. The movie also works to include the postwar elements and even the post-communist years into a long a complicated narrative.
After the movie was done I started explaining how I saw the movie to fellow movie-goers and, to them, I almost seemed like the narrator that the movie didn’t include. I just overlaid my own understanding of the participants in that era and, since it is fiction, my own interpretation is likely as sound as anyone else’s.
I will try to limit the “spoilers” in this post and recommend that anyone interested in Zweig (to whom the movie was dedicated) and / or that era in history go to see the movie. You have to be a fan of the Wes Anderson style of movies and his set pieces are clearly not supposed to be realistic but they are tools for great visual cues and inspired situations.
The protagonist in the movie, Ray Fiennes, plays a concierge for a major hotel in the capital city of a declining empire in the 1930′s as war time approaches. He mainly seduces older women but also is open to other sorts of encounters with men. Ray is plainly an intellectual and stickler for protocol and process in an era where that is reaching the end of the line. He and his fellow concierges represent the type of society that Zweig would fondly recognize (as does the process-following attorney who runs into serious trouble later).
The country could be an Austria or Czech type republic that is about to be swallowed by Germany. The borders are in the process of being closed to adjacent countries due to political challenges and incipient war. In an early scene, soldiers in grey accost and check the papers of the concierge and his “lobby boy” (who is non-white and obviously from one of the provinces) on a train and start to beat them up when they are stopped by Edward Norton, who plays an aristocratic officer who recognizes the concierge. To me this officer clearly represented the orderly and (relatively) law abiding German army. He even wrote a note giving safe passage to the lobby boy.
In the early scenes the soldiers are in Grey and when they stop the train their have early model armored cars. They are not intended to be realistic per se but they seem like vintage 1930 era inspired vehicles.
During the contesting of the will, a lawyer who also represents the old era brings a process and fairness to the executor’s role (along with a Kafka-esque level of bureaucratic documents) until he meets up with a thug in a black trench coat who clearly represents the evolving SS. That individual, played by Willem Defoe, engages in more and more grotesque crimes throughout the movie and is not impeded by morals or the rule of law. At one point the Edward Norton character orders the civilian Dafoe away from an investigation that Norton is running, but it is clear that Dafoe is not intimidated and is part of the (hyper violent and aggressive) new order.
Later the protagonist against the concierge is seen to be in a long leather coat and is obviously a civilian leader of the Nazis. They have 2 letter flags and armbands in the SS “style” but the movie does abstract them so as to not be completely blatant. The hotel becomes a barracks for the military regime, and the standards of the staff decline as the hotel is militarized.
When the train is stopped again later in the film the “death squads” are taunted by the concierge with results that are far less pleasant than the early encounter with Norton. The soldiers in black and the more sinister looking hulking vehicles (which seem to be gun mounted half tracks) are also in black and this clearly represents the SS militarized and not the old nobility-led military.
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I must have been in college (or possibly even just high school), when I read a thoughtful essay in TV Guide, of all places, to the effect that people all over the world who had never met an American, or been to the United States, almost always formed their impressions of us based on what they saw in the movies, or in television shows. As one of our AFRTS public service announcement tag-lines had it – foreigners don’t know America, they just know Americans – and the Americans which the overseas movie and television audience saw was usually not a very favorable one. This essay must have been put out in the early 1970s, so I imagine the general picture is even less favorable now. Just think of current popular TV shows with an American setting – and consider how America would look to you if that was all you saw, and all you knew was Breaking Bad, a dozen cop shows set in big cities, and half a dozen sit-coms where the characters spend most of their time in suspiciously well-decorated living rooms.
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Just some posts I found amusing:
Well, the early critical reviews are out and the knives are in: the latest movie remake of The Lone Ranger looks to be tanking like the Titanic,(the original ship, not James Cameron’s movie fantasy) although the some of the reviews posted at Rotten Tomatoes are favorable, most of them are entertainingly vicious. Jerry Bruckheimer again goes over the top from the high-dive with a half-gainer and a jackknife on the way down, all with the noisy special effects, Johnny Depp was promised that he could wear bizarre hair and a lot of makeup and it appears as if the ostensible lead character is just there…
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
It didn’t work out that way, though.
I recently discovered this British TV drama from the late 1980s, which is focused on British underground agents operating in occupied France during WWII. The series is based on activities of the real sabotage-and-subversion organization which was known as Special Operations Executive. I think it is quite good.
The first agents we meet are Liz Grainger (acted by Kate Buffery) and Matty Firman (Suzanna Hamilton.) Liz is an upper-crust wife and mother who comes to the attention of the SOE recruiters when she responds to a BBC request for holiday photos of France to help in military planning…her excellent French language skills and experience living in that country make her highly desirable as a prospective agent. Matty, from a much less-affuent background, is of mixed French-British parentage (also Jewish) and is eager to contribute to the war effort as an agent, partly because she hates Naziism and partly because of boredom with the factory work she has been doing.
Various newly-recruited agents and French local people make their appearance over the course of the series; continuity is provided by Colonel James Cadogan (Julian Glover) and his deputy Faith Ashley (Jane Asher) in London, in the roles that in real life were played by Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins.
Some reviewers have said that the series has too much of a soap-opera quality, and some have attributed this to the fact that it was created by two women (Lavinia Warner and Jill Hyem.) But people don’t cease to have personal lives when they go to war, and there are also subplots which could be viewed as soap-operatic in many male-written novels about WWII….Nicholas Monsarrat’s naval classic The Cruel Sea comes to mind. (See also Vera Atkins’ comment, at the above link, about a real-life British agent who fell inconveniently in love.)
Wish Me Luck is available from both Amazon and Netflix.
For those interested in learning about the real SOE, a good introduction can be found in Between Silk and Cyanide, the memoir of SOE Codemaster Leo Marks. I reviewed it here…the review also contains links to posts about several individual SOE agents.
Hat tip to Kanani Fong of Kitchen Dispatch
At the Siskel Center, 164 N State St, Chicago. IL. 60601
In the year of the Centennial of the United States, the last of the West left relatively unscathed by the forces of law and order was that part of present-day Oklahoma set aside as homeland for the native Indian tribes. This was a 70,000 square mile territory in which anything went … and usually did. Among what was called the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) there were native law enforcement officers, who upheld the law among their own. But they had no jurisdiction over interlopers of any color, or tribal members who committed crimes in company with or against an outsider, and the Territory was Liberty Hall and a refuge for every kind of horse thief, cattle rustler, bank and train robber, murderer and scalawag roaming the post-Civil War west. Just about every notorious career criminal at large for the remainder of the 19th century took refuge in the Oklahoma Territory at one time or another, including the James and Dalton gangs.
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I’ve said it over and over again, that what really happened in history is very often even more bizarre and dramatic than any fictional account of events, either written or cinematic. A book or a movie has to make sense, after all – and have some kind of logic and believability about it, whereas in reality chance and coincidence do not have to make logical sense in the real world. To put it in short; reality frequently trumps imagination. Going back to contemporary accounts, records and memoirs often turn up all kinds of interesting nuggets, which very often contradict conventional wisdom.
This is what late amateur historian George W. Hufsmith did with a very readable account of a lynching in the Sweetwater River Valley of Wyoming over a hundred and twenty years ago. Hufsmith originally came to the project as a composer, commissioned to write an opera about it all. But what he found in various dusty public records was sufficient to overturn what had been put out as the conventional wisdom in the wider world beyond Wyoming … and demonstrates very well what happens when an overwhelming interest in a particular subject takes hold of a person. Just so, the topic of the only woman ever lynched in Wyoming gripped Hufsmith, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it – or as close as one could, given the decades that had passed.
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A long while ago, I kicked off a discussion about the military in movies, which resulted in uncorking a raging stream of opinion among blog commenters about movies, and how the military was generally portrayed therein—and lest anyone in Tinseltown be patting themselves on the back on their sterling record, let me break it gently to them that if I could figure out a way to distill and bottle most of the feedback, I’d have a dandy product on sale at Home Depot or Lowe’s, suitable for peeling varnish or paint off furniture. Generally, movies dealing with the military were derided for gross improbabilities in military practice or custom, faulted for violations of uniform regulations, general appearance and grooming standards, the presence (or absence) of inventory items in a movie represented to be set in a certain historical period, and over-egging the pudding, so to speak, when it came to explosions, ricochets, gunfire and engine sound effects.
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A few years ago, I was offered an opportunity to review a new movie about the Donner Party – which turned to be one of those arty flicks, with some moderately well-known actors in the cast. It was screened at a couple of film festivals and then went straight to DVD. The plot actually focused on a small group of fifteen, who called themselves the Forlorn Hope. As winter gripped hard, in November of 1846, they made a desperate gamble to leave the main party, stranded high in the mountains, and walk out on snowshoes. They took sparingly of supplies, hoping to leave more for those remaining behind, and set out for the nearest settlement down in the foothills below. They thought they were a mere forty miles from salvation, but it was nearly twice that long. (Seven of the Forlorn Hope survived; two men and five women.) The poster art made it seem as if it verged into horror-movie territory – which I usually avoid, having an extremely good imagination and a very low gross-out threshold – but I did watch it all the way through. The subject – a mid 19th century wagon-train party, stuck in the snows of the Sierra Nevada – is something that I know a good bit about. The ghastly experience of the Donners and the Reeds, and their companions in misery, starvation and madness has horrified and titillated the public from the moment that the last survivor stumbled out of the mountain camp, high in the Sierra Nevada, on the shores of an ice-water lake.
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I recently saw the retrosilent film The Artist (which I thought was pretty good), and by chance, a couple of days later I picked up a magazine with an article on the history of early talking-picture technologies. This in turn led me to do some Internet searching. One of the early sound-movie technologies was something called Vitaphone. With this approach, the sound was recorded separately from the film, using a very large (16 inch diameter) phonograph record.
“How on earth did they ever keep the sound and the picture in sync?” you may well be asking. During recording, the camera and the record-cutting machine were both driven by AC synchronous motors powered by a common line; during exhibition, a direct mechanical connection between projector and record-player was employed. Lots of detail about the process, as well as a review of the pioneering talking movie Don Juan, in this 1926 NYT article.
Vitaphone was heavily used by Warner Brothers and its sister studio First National between 1926 and 1931–in addition to feature films, the technology was used for over 1000 short subjects. While the technology offered good fidelity by the standards of the times–electronic amplification was used–the separation of picture media and sound media made editing difficult, and during exhibition of a film it was necessary to change the records every 10 minutes or so.
When Vitaphone was displaced by the sound-on-film approach, circa 1931,some–but by no means all–of the Vitaphone movies were transferred to the new technology. The Vitaphone Project, which has been active since 1991, is dedicated to finding the old films and old disks and bringing them together in playable format again.
Czarist Russia, in color (the first link at this post doesn’t work anymore, but the rest of them do)
One time I had an out-of-town visitor and he asked me “What is unique about Chicago?” My response was – “Have you ever seen the movie the Blues Brothers?” He said no, and I asked random bar patrons as they passed by how many times they’d seen the movie, and the answers ranged from 3 to 10+ times each.
I was out for dinner near Division street on Saturday night and we saw these guys in their Blues Brothers mobile, with the Jake / Elwood license plates, to boot (but not the megaphone on the roof).
Then on Sunday when I was walking through the Loop I saw piles of police cars wrecked and stacked up and blocked off with police tape (for a movie set, I am assuming). These cars definitely reminded me of what remained after the famous Blues Brothers chase through downtown Chicago.
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The above question was asked in a post by a contributor at Ricochet; no point in linking directly to the post, however, since it’s in the members-only section of the site.
Suggestions so far have included Johnny Tremain, The Crossing, The Alamo (both versions), Gettysburg, Band of Brothers, The Patriot, Last of the Mohicans, John Adams (miniseries), and the various Ken Burns miniseries. I suggested The Awakening Land (miniseries), to which I now add Far and Away and Once an Eagle.
Poor Mexico, runs the saying usually attributed to long-time Mexican strongman Porfirio Diaz, So far from God, so close to the United States. I was thinking of this, when we went to see the movie For Greater Glory – mostly because I had seen brief mention of it here and there on the libertarian-conservative side of the blogosphere, and the whole premise of it interested me, mostly because I had never heard of such a thing as the Cristero War. Never heard of it, and it happened in the lifetime of my grandparents, in the country right next door … and heck, in California we studied Mexico in the sixth grade. It appeared from casual conversation with the dozen or so people who caught the early matinee at a movie multiplex in San Antonio, only one of them had ever heard of it, either. Was there some cosmic cover-up, or did we have troubles enough of our own at the time … or was it just that Mexico was so constantly in turmoil that one more horrific civil struggle just blended seamlessly into the one before and the one after?
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Last week I reviewed Hans Fallada’s 1932 novel about a young couple enduring hard times in late-Weimar Germany. The book was made into an American movie, released in 1934, which I watched last night. Here is the original NYT review of the the film.
The movie generally follows the book, with one huge exception. At the end of the book, the unemployed Sonny (who has come into Berlin to pick up his dole payment) is taken by a policeman for an undesirable tramp and is shoved off the sidewalk. Utterly in despair, he returns home and is at first unable to confess his humiliation to Lammchen. But when he finally does, he is lifted up and given hope by her love and understanding. In the movie, Sonny is also shoved by the cop…but when he returns home, his friend Mr Heilbutt has arrived to tell the couple that he has moved to Holland, started a business there, and is offering Sonny a job. The couple’s problems are solved.
Psychologically, the messages of these two alternative endings are about as different as you can get.
Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Screenwriter Robert Avrech has posted the first part of his Emmy-award-winning film The Devil’s Arithmetic, which is based on Jane Yolen’s book of the same name, for on-line viewing.
The DVD is available from the usual sources, including Amazon and Netflix. Highly recommended.
I am an avid user of Facebook, for better or worse. The last few weeks many of my friends have been engaging in a large amount of slacktivism by linking a video called Kony 2012.
Some of the scenes in this video may be disturbing, as the topic is general violence and exploitation of children in Africa.
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I knew that Fanny Kemble was a 19th-century British actress, but that’s about all I knew about her prior to encountering her description of an 1830 train ride and thoughts about the contrasting attributes and social values of George Stephenson the engineer and Lord Alvanley the aristocrat. Fanny seemed like an astute observer and a good thinker, and one of the first things I did after getting my Kindle was to download her very extensive memoirs. She was born in 1809 to a noted theatrical family, achieved fame as an actress in both Britain and America, wrote two plays and a novel, married an American plantation owner and lived in coastal Georgia, and throughout her life recorded her thoughts and observations in her journal and in letters to friends. Publication of her impressions of America (in 1835) created quite a stir, as did the 1863 publication of her plantation journal, with its searing observations about the realities of slavery.
Fanny’s writing is a valuable source for anyone interested in the social history of Britain and America during her era; she also has many thoughts about the theater and especially about the plays of Shakespeare; her writing is vivid, intelligent, and often quirky. She can quickly segue from an aesthetic observation of a railway journey to thoughts about governance and religion:
The road from Birmingham here is quite pretty; the country in a most exquisite state of leaf and blossom; the crops look extremely well along this route; and the little cottage gardens, which delight my heart with their tidy cheerfulness, are so many nosegays of laburnum, honeysuckle, and lilac.
The stokers on all the engines that I saw or met this morning had adorned their huge iron dragons with great bunches of hawthorn and laburnum, which hung their poor blossoms close to the hissing hot breath of the boilers, and looked wretched enough. But this dressing up the engines, as formerly the stage-coach horses used to be decked with bunches of flowers at their ears on Mayday, was touching.
I suppose the railroad men get fond of their particular engine, though they can’t pat and stroke it, as sailors do of their ship. Speculate upon that form of human love. I take it there is nothing which, being the object of a man’s occupation, may not be made also that of his affection, pride, and solicitude, too. Were we—people in general, I mean—Christians, forms of government would be matters of quite secondary importance; in fact, of mere expediency. A republic, such as the American, being the slightest possible form of government, seems to me the best adapted to an enlightened, civilized Christian community, a community who deserve that name; and, you know, the theory of making people what they should be is to treat them better than they deserve—an axiom that holds good in all moral questions, of which political government should be one.
Fanny’s father Charles, himself a noted Shakespearean actor, unfortunately took an investment and management interest in the Covent Garden Theater–which position carried personal liability for the theater’s debts and kept the family in scary financial straits for many years. It was largely in the hope of creating a new star who would bring in ticket revenues and head off financial disaster that Fanny was first put on stage, in the role of Juliet, in 1829. She quickly achieved great popular acclaim, but the bottomless quicksand of Covent Garden’s finances led Charles to organize a theatrical tour in the United States for himself and his daughter.
The decision to publish Fanny’s journal describing her impressions of America was driven by the need to generate money for the care of a beloved aunt who had suffered a serious carriage accident. The publishing project was vehemently opposed by Fanny’s new American husband, Pierce Butler, whom she married in 1834, and the conflict set the tone for what was to be a disastrous marriage.
The “Journal of a Residence in America” got a lot of attention, much of it negative. Edgar Allan Poe objected to Fanny’s “dictatorial manner” and felt that the self-confident tone of the book was contrary to “American notions of the retiring delicacy of the female character”…yet he went on to speak of the “sound sense and unwelcome truth” of much of her comment and the book’s “vivacity of style” and “beautiful descriptions.” On the other side of the Atlantic, soon-to-be Queen Victoria told her diary that the book was “very pertly and oddly written…not well bred”…”full of trash and nonsense which could only do harm”….yet a few days later she was admitting that there were “some very fine feelings in it.”
After 13 years, acclaimed writer/director Whit Stillman returns to the big screen with Damsels in Distress, a “comedy of manners” that echoes his previous work in Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco. The Post’s Nathalie Atkinson convened this week’s TIFF-centric Culture Club to ask whether Whit’s wit has been missed.
Enough with my “regular” series of topics. I am becoming a bore on the subject, even to myself. (Especially to myself.) At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving! What a joy it is to share my thoughts with you from time to time. I like this corner of the internet.
An article by Keith Oatley, in Scientific American/Mind, asserts a connection between exposure to fiction and the development of empathy. It’s not a new idea–IIRC, the idea that seeing plays and reading novels has tended to increase empathy throughout entire societies has been asserted by Harold Bloom, among others–but Oatley describes empirical research he’s done to test this assertion.
In one experiment, Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality.
Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.
Oatley argues that “Good social skills require having a well-developed theory of mind…the ability to take the perspectives of other people, to make mental models of others, and to understand that someone else might have beliefs and intentions that are different from your own.” He says that children start to acquire this ability at about 4 years old, and that “the ability to gauge emotion from pictures of just the eyes correlates with theory-of-mind skills, as does the capacity for empathy.”