The Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico

The  Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico
The Model for the Maitre d'Armes

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Dear Old Sheep of the Lake District...

When I was a boy, about 13 or so, I found at a tag sale two lovely Oxford poets works edition, Milton and Wordsworth. Handsome maroon volumes, from the 1920s (I still have them). And I remember lying on the floor and reading, falling in love with the sound as much as the sense:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.
I still have an affection for them both, especially Wordsworth, whom Horace Rumpole famously termed "the dear old sheep of the Lake District. And yet his reading of the poem showed his true feelings.

Look outside tonight. It is a beauteous evening--calm and free, with a slight, invigorating bite in the air. Pause for a moment, and relish it.

Good night, until tomorrow.

{Edited to remove the awesome typo depicting Wordsworth as the "dear Ood sheep of the Lake District." That's a Doctor Who ep I'll pass on, thanks!}

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Democracy (If You Can Keep It)

I've been on sabbatical from political commentary, now, for much of 2014. I occasionally comment on legal matters, and in that respect have touched on the evisceration of both the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the 15th Amendment by the Roberts Court.

And I'm leaving it there; I am trying to break myself of being a political animal. That said, this is epic:

Good God, Rick Scott's an imbecile. That is all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Both Sides Now

Read those lines for yourself:
Adelaide:But you said we die. For the future. For the human race!
The Doctor: Yes, because there are laws. There are laws of time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It's taken me all these years to realize that the laws of time are mine and they will obey me!
That's it. The moment when the Doctor unconsciously (?) echoes the catchphrase of his long-term nemesis, the Master.

I wrote about this parallel back in June; but I think it's worthwhile to reaffirm that the best villains often have more in common with of their adversaries than meets the eye. That's certainly true in Phineas Redux, and, by extension, Phineas at Bay, in which I brought back the Rev. Joseph Emilius.

When you have a character like Emilius, who contains stereotype and rote villainy, but also--something more, what else can you do but explore the something more? In Emilius's case it's his coolness under fire, his nerve, and his surprising ability to survive adversity. There's a real grit to the man, beneath all the playacting; he never cracks, displays fear, or loses his head. And so, in Trollope's novels, he escapes conviction of murder, only to get caught up in bigamy.

He's also a rather distorted mirror image of our hero--name games on Trollope's part: Phineas, Emilius. He's an outsider, like the Irish Roman Catholic, who makes his way by charisma and charm--especially charming women. You could say that Emilius is Phineas as seen through Kennedy's or Bonteen's eyes. In the television adaptation, as I have pointed out, Anthony Ainley goes with that, works the charm and charisma of the inferior copy as much as he can, and hints at a very different man belief, whose nature we don't see--because neither Trollope nor Simon Raven in scripting the adaptation have gone so far as to provide it. But this left me with the task of trying to intuit what lay beneath.

How well did I succeed? Ah, that judgment is for you to make, not me.

By the bye, within a week, the Kindle edition of Phineas at Bay will reflect the changes currently made to the paperback; the Rare Misprint Edition will only exist in the hands of the lucky few who have purchased it, and all new copies will reflect the corrected text.

Parody and Purity

A song came up on my iPod that was used in the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Myster, which reminded me of how much fun that first film was and how unrepeatable the utter triumph of the original parody has proven to be. I think that's because that first movie was built on Mike Myers's genuine love of the late 1960s movies he so marvelously takes off--the Connery Bond movies, The Avengers, Beatlemania--even Blow-up gets a shout out, and that's all during the opening credits. In fact, the credits reinforce the gag--seeing Michael York's and Robert Wagner's names in the credits adds to the period flavor while reinforcing the joke--the actors become references to their own earlier work, and establishing the appropriate feel for the early scenes.

The later two credit sequences feel progressively more forced, lacking the spontaneity, the fun, the sheer wealth of things to do in the movie that Myers can scatter some of his best gags in the first two minutes. But in that first movie, his comic invention is boundless, and his zest is contagious.

Similarly, while Mel Brooks did many enjoyable parodies, none has measured up to Young Frankenstein:

Note the details of the laboratory, the Monster's awakening, the drawing room comedy and then Gene Wilder going the full Colin Clive. Seriously; here's the original:

Brooks immerses himself in the world of the 1930s Frenkenstein movies at the sam time he mocks it--the love for the movies shows through in a coherent, berserk plot that is both hilarious, and yet gets you rooting for the characters:

Like that first Austin Powers movie, it's willing to throw references around carelessly, do burlesque, comedy high and low, all in the name of good fun, and honoring the movies the young Brooks loved.

Classic parody can only exist where the object of the parody is loved.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Forsyte Changes

So, after viewing the entire 1967 adaptation, I decided to re-engage with the 2002-2003 adaptation of The Forsyte Saga, the first season of which I had not liked when I first saw it. Upon re-viewing, the reasons for my half-remembered distaste became clear: The series tilts the balance of the equities stiffly against Soames, who begins as an obsessive and degenerates over the first season to a Quilp-like grotesque. Seriously, Damian Lewis plays the part of the older Soames with a sneering, jerky mien, mouth twisted into a snarl, voice constricted. His virtues do not evolve as in Galsworthy's novels--his art collection is solely about possession. In the early episodes, he is given a non-Galsworthian role as a trustee for Young Jolyon which enables Soames to smugly and moralistically deny his cousin the opportunity to buy even a modest home. Soames keeps Young Jolyon in poverty, off-loading some of the blame from Old Jolyon. (Soames likewise, in this version, keeps Winifred and her rakish, gambling husband poor, thus off-loading some responsibility for that marriage's failure onto Soames--the default position of this adaptation.)

Irene, by contrast, is considerably warmed up from Galsworthy's remote, rather abstract heroine whose thoughts and should we are never afforded access to. Gina McKee is given far more to work with than was her predecessor, Nyree Dawn Porter, who played pretty much Galsworthy's Irene; McKee does a smashing job (as does Lewis, by the way), but she's playing a very different woman.

In the second season, The Forsyte Saga: To Let, this continues for much of the run. Monty Dartie, the extremely unsatisfactory husband to Winifred, is sentimentalized further, being allowed a magnificent last run of luck, in which he wins enough money to leave Winifred an income after he is killed in accident due to a panicky horse in a car in which he is not even driving. His last words are about wanting to take Winifred away--a far cry from Galsworthy's unredeemed, but not entirely lacking in charm, sot, who dies under mysterious circumstances, in Paris, "which no one had quite known what to make of, except that it was certainly not suicide."

Soames goes down to plead for Fleur as in the novel, but (unlike in the novel), corners Irene, and almost begins making advances on her again. It's a betrayal of Soames's one virtue: his unselfish love of Fleur, and leads to Jon slamming him up against the wall, seeing his mother physically menaced by the man who raped her (albeit with social and legal sanction). At a stroke, all of Soames's slow, and hesitant growth in the novels, is denied, and he remains a caricature, despite Lewis's best work. Likewise, Fleur's subsequent one cruel explosion at Soames becomes an extended estrangement. She is cruel to him because, as Soames's wife Annette observes, she can be.

Yet the second series complicates the moral absolutes of the first series. Early on, when Jolyon confronts Soames about the inappropriateness of Fleur and Jon coming together, Lewis has a field day stripping the hypocrisy of Graves's exponent of free love (when it suited him) falling back on the exact possessiveness that Jolyon had despised in Soames. Graves plays Jolyon as stricken by this accusation against which he cannot defend himself. Soames wins that round, fairly.

And Soames's relationship with Annette has some complexity, too. After her lover Profond ditches her, he hesitantly, shyly, offers comfort, which she recognizes and is grateful for. She runs back to Profond later, but when Soames, desperate for the well-being of the daughter who has rejected him, calls for her help, she returns, and helps not just Fleur but Soames as well. He pays Annette a simple, shy tribute, thanking her with patent sincerity.

Jon and Irene are cruel, too--she plays piano to drown out Fleur's despairing cries at having been rejected by the man who abandoned her minutes after taking her virginity; Jon no longer fully loves her (thanks to the doubt his mother has sown) but does not want her to marry someone else--he is possessive in the most Forystean way. Soames wanted Irene, but wanted her to be happy with him; Jon wants Fleur to suffer with him, without alleviating her suffering.

And then the series does something even more startling in its last hour. Soames, still receiving the cold shoulder from Fleur as they get ready to depart for her wedding to Michael Mont, finally snaps. He tells her that "It's far better to be with someone who loves you more than you love them. There's nothing worse than always trying to please someone; hoping they'll look at you, smile at you…" And then, in his concern for her, speaks the hitherto unspeakable truth:
Fleur Forsyte:I don't want to hear about her!
Soames Forsyte: I'll tell you anyway, shall I? The great sin your father committed? Then you can write me off altogether.
Fleur Forsyte: I said, I don't want to hear!
Soames Forsyte: I married her because I loved her! Very simple. It's why Michael's marrying you. She abused my trust; she denied me my rights as a husband. She ignored me. She flaunted her lover in my face. She locked me out of her life, her body...
Fleur Forsyte: Please!
Soames Forsyte: One night, her door was open, and she was lying there, looking very beautiful. She is very beautiful, don't you think? I whispered her name, but she was asleep.
Fleur Forsyte: Stop!
Soames Forsyte: I must have been mad. I think I was; Mad for her. So I took her, forcibly... as punishment! And now when I see her, whenever she looks at me, I know she's thinking only of that.
[breaks down in tears]
At this point, Fleur empathizes with her father's years of agony, and cannot withhold forgiveness; she knows only too well what he has felt, and what drove him t uncharacteristic behavior.

But the story is not yet over. Father and daughter reconciled, Fleur off on her honeymoon, Soames is tasked by her with destroying a copy of a Degas painting that looks like her. (In Galsworthy, the painting is a Goya, but Emma Griffiths Malin really isn't a Goya type, I guess--although in the novels, this painting is the one that topples toward Fleur, leading the 72 year old Soames to push her out of the way, and be fatally injured by it--so the adaptation goes decidedly AU here.)

Rather than destroying or discarding or selling it, he takes one last trip to Robin Hill. Irene answers the door, expecting a potential buyer or renter for the house. Soames offers Irene the painting, as a gift for Jon, and she asks him in. They speak a little bit. Irene, who is appalled at what has befallen their respective children due to the older generation's possessiveness, asks if they had really hurt their children. Soames, unwilling to betray Fleur's broken heart, asserts quietly that Fleur is happily married, and that grandchildren are expected. Irene smiles, understanding his loyalty and finding his reserve a little comic under the circumstances. Soames, leaving the painting, says goodbye--"I don't expect we shall ever meet again," he says, with which she agrees, and he then says that he will leave her to her packing.

Soames is almost out of the door, when Irene calls his name. She offers her hand--having rejected hers at their last meeting, before his old obsessiveness flared up--and he, awkwardly, humbly removes his glove, as a gentleman should, and takes her hand for a moment. The moment ends, and Soames leaves. Parfitt, Irene's butler comes in and asks what the caller had wanted. Irene smiles, a little wonderstruck. "He didn't want anything," she says, a bit amazed.

We join Soames, as he walks away from Robin Hill. His sneer is gone, his taut face relaxed; he looks normal, healed. Irene and Soames have communicated--his compassion for her son, who has lost his own love, and evoked Soames's inarticulate, preposterous offer of the painting as a comfort to Jon, has in turn evoked her forgiveness. The Man of Property's spontaneous act of unselfishness, however clumsy, has freed Irene to forgive him, and give him silent absolution.

They are, at long last, at peace.


It isn't Galsworthy's ending--in fact, Soames's having unloaded the picture that later is supposed to kill him rather negates Galsworthy's ending--but there's something to it. It has a form, and a kind of fittingness of its own. That's the thing with adaptations; once you start playing with them, there's no knowing where they will lead you--here, far from the original, and yet to a stopping point that honors the characters as they have come to life in the hands of new writers, new actors. Not Galsworthy's, but with a new perspective and life of their own.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Visit From an Old Friend: Return of "The Great Race"

The Times has a nice appraisal of Blake Edwards' The Great Race:
dedicated to “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy,” it was a similarly self-conscious, super-deluxe homage to American slapstick, as well as an evocation of primitive cinema, set in the early-20th-century world of horseless carriages and hot-air balloons.

Tony Curtis, always in white, plays a Houdini-like daredevil, the Great Leslie, lured into an around-the-world automobile race against the mustache-twirling, accident-prone villain, Dr. Fate (Jack Lemmon). Natalie Wood is on hand as a cheroot-smoking suffragist (with a phenomenal wardrobe), but the movie is largely powered by Lemmon’s energy, roaring like Jackie Gleason as the bombastic Dr. Fate and later appearing as his double, the klutzy crown prince of a Ruritanian kingdom.

A live-action cartoon, full of jokey names (a lustful Baron von Stuppe, a Western town called Boracho), “The Great Race” is surprisingly light on its feet. The action moves from New York (site of a seemingly continuous feminist demonstration) to the Wild West (where Dorothy Provine’s song-and-dance routine provokes a barroom brawl), pauses at intermission on an Arctic iceberg, then passes through pre-Revolutionary Russia (allowing Wood to show off her Russian), before settling down for a spell in “Prisoner of Zenda” land.

It is there that Edwards staged the movie’s famous, nearly five-minute pie fight. Heralded with a two-page color spread in Life magazine, the scene required five shooting days, involved 4,000 strawberry, blueberry and lemon-cream pies, and cost $200,000. The money is on screen, particularly in this excellent restoration of the original Technicolor.
I admit it; I love this movie. It ain't deep, but Lemon's brio is outstanding, aided and abetted by Peter Falk; Curtis sends up every annoying hero in every film of the kind, and Natalie Wood lights up the screen.

Oh, and Leslie does pretty well in the fencing scene:

(But, kids, always wear a shirt when you duel at home!)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Answers to Readers # 1: "Rushforth & Bindtheboy?"

A reader of Phineas at Bay has enquired about the provenance of the name of Lady Eustace's solicitors, "Rushforth & Bindtheboy."

Well, I didn't want to reveal all my easter eggs in the postscript, so this one wasn't spoiled, but for those who'd like to know, here goes. There is, it is true, and as my reader suggested, a certain thematic resonance in the name, in view of the nature of the action at law Lady Eustace is filing (breach of promise), and in view of Lady Eustace's own relationships (an example of my taking a direct but subtle thread in Trollope, and projecting it out). There is, however, also a double-barreled literary reference of which I am rather fond, and that no one has (at least that I have seen) remarked on.

As the late Sir John Mortimer explained in an interview:
Ramona Koval: I'm interested in that first interest in the arts and interest in theatre, because from your writing, you say that basically you weren't really encouraged by your parents in this area.

John Mortimer: Oh, well I was, because my father went blind when I was a bit older than that, about sixteen. And I had to read aloud to him, so I read a lot of poetry and things I might not otherwise have read. But there were two things I didn't have to read, which were the Sherlock Holmes stories and the plays of Shakespeare. And my father knew all the plays of Shakespeare by heart and he used to quote Shakespeare at very inapposite moments. Some people hum popular tunes when they're lonely, but he would say Shakespeare. And every time the cook brought him the breakfast - which we had, a cook to bring in the breakfast - my father used to say to her, 'Nymph in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.' And the cook would say, 'Well here's your breakfast.'

And every time he caught sight of me, when he could see, when I was about five, he used to say, 'Is execution done on [Cawdor]?' Well, I mean, when you're five, it's a pretty tough question to have to answer. And he also loved to take quotations and use them for something totally different. There's a quotation from King John when Hubert the Jailer has to take out Little Arthur's eyes. And the executioners are behind the curtain. And Hubert's line is, 'When I strike my foot upon the ground, rush forth and bind the boy.' And my father used to say, 'Rush forth and bind the boy - sounds like a rather unsatisfactory firm of solicitors.'

And then every time he saw a solicitor he didn't know, he'd say, 'Are you from Rushforth and Bindtheboy?'
I had not read the interview, then, but had read the same story in Mortimer's memoir Clinging to the Wreckage.

So--Rushforth & Bindtheboy.

Another reader--a fellow lawyer, and clearly an astute one--observed that the analysis the partners give of the doctrine of consideration is incorrect. Quite Right. The reader in her generally favorable review kindly suggests that "since Wirenius is a lawyer, one can assume that the inaccurate description by Lady Eustace's lawyer of 'consideration' as an element of a contract is a deliberate tribute to Trollope's tendency to fudge a bit on legal details when convenient to the plot." Well, yes, and no. Yes, in that my intention was that both Rushforth and Bindtheboy are not very good academic lawyers (In English law, the ring is generally not deemed to be consideration for the promise at all, but at most a gift that is conditional upon the marriage taking place--just to give one forum's similar approach; a more general analysis, with some American cases finding the ring to be consideration, while noting that is a minority position, is here).

Notably, Bindtheboy, in particular, is so eager to ingratiate himself with Lizzie that he does not think through what he is saying either consequentially or jurisprudentially. Rushforth, more energized by cupidity than Cupid, is a pragmatist. He is less inaccurate than his partner, aware that an exchange of executory promises is increasingly (in the 1890s) acceptable as consideration each for the other, but has no idea why. He also realizes that the engagement ring Lizzie is sporting is far too out of fashion to have been given to her by Jack, and deduces that it originated from Lizzie's first husband, Sir Florian Eustace, and does not want to have the ring play any part in the action. So Rushforth is no fool; just not a legal scholar.