The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is it…The Master?

(Sorry Sue. couldn't resist!)

So, this post could be well and truly Jossed on Saturday, but the more I have been watching it, the more I have come to think that Missy may be the Doctor's old friend and enemy the Master after all.

First, a helpful rundown from Phil Sandifer:
Eh. I mean, sure, let’s look at the major Missy guesses, and we can show why I’m 99% certain she’s the Master.

The Valeyard. First of all, it’s not clear to me that it’s possible to do a good Valeyard story. Nobody ever has, certainly. But second, Moffat has never done a Master story. And the Master is your base state for “evil Time Lord.” And one that Moffat has suggested he doesn’t think usually works that well. So to skip to an even thornier and less workable dark mirror of the Doctor seems unlikely.
The Rani. Everything said about the Valeyard applies here, with the added note that nobody even thinks she’s a good idea.
River. I think this is rejected in Deep Breath when Missy calls the Doctor her “boyfriend,” a label that sets up a marked contrast with River.
Clara. I suppose, but I’d be surprised if Moffat did another destiny loop so soon, which is what Clara being chosen by Missy and then becoming Missy amounts to. But the bigger problem is, why would you do evil Clara and cast someone other than Jenna Coleman to do it? After all the breadth and flexibility she’s shown, if Clara gets a villainous turn, giving it to another actress would frankly be insulting.
The Master. The one big villain Moffat’s yet to touch. He’s said he’d need a good idea for the Master. He’s gone further than any other writer in establishing genderswapping regenerations as things that happen. And, let’s face it, is there any idea more self-evidently Steven Moffat than revamping the Master by making the character a woman? Missy = Mistress. This is by far the most likely outcome.
Elsewhere, he answers a commenter who sarcastically asks "There was a point that the Master DIDN’T think of the Doctor as his boyfriend? When?!" by saying "Yes, I think that’s pretty much the joke here. I mean, this is Moffat, writer of the sublimely funny “rubbish beard” joke."

And, indeed, the new series has already feinted in that direction:

So, yeah, it's on the cards. But here's what makes it even more probable is the fact that it's a story Moffat has already shown an interest in the basic story structure implied by such a gender-flip with a soupçon of FoeYay, in The Curse of Fatal Death, which ends with the Doctor (Joanna Lumley) walking off with the Master (Jonathan Pryce). Here, see for yourself:

So, yes, I could see it. Really. And, it would get us a step closer to a female Doctor, too--much more so than the never-seen Corsair did.

Of course, the question I earlier posed remains--how do you top the Master's sacrifice of himself in The End of Time, which brings the character to the original ending planned for him in The Final Game?

Well, we'll know more in just a few days...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Favorite Hallowe'en Flick

It was a movie you could only make in the 1970s, and seeing it again on the big screen on Hallowe'en a few years back at FilmForum with some good friends, I realized how much all that 1970s stuff shaped me, in ways I didn't realize at the time. There is a part of me that will always assume that Jon Pertwee was well dressed. No man was more elegant than Major The Hon. John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed MC, OM, no woman more elegant than Emma Peel (unless it was Cathy Gale--tough call, that.) And horror movies meant the cultured, sinisterly-chucking maestro, Vincent Price. All of his movies have their charm; some, such as The Raven almost overdose on it. (I mean, come on--this is a movie where Price--who certainly looked the part--basically gets to play Doctor Strange:

Seriously, the whole scene, but especially 7:17 on, is a classic Doc-Mordo throw down.)

But Theater of Blood is his classic. Occasionally crass, sometimes stereotyped and even nasty, it is also funny, intelligent, and stars a cluster of Britain's finest character actors.

In a review of Theater of Blood, Kim Newman wrote:
he crowning glory of Vincent Price’s career as the screen’s horror-comic bogeyman, this develops the ‘body count’ plotting of his Dr Phibes pictures as he slaughters his way through an almost-embarrassingly distinguished supporting cast while tossing off Shakespearean soliloquies even Sir Donald Wolfit would have found overblown and doing a series of in-disguise ‘turns’. Among the most priceless Price moments: got up in fab gear as gay hairdresser ‘Butch’, promising client Coral Browne ‘ash with flame highlights’ before setting fire to her head; in enormous false nose as Shylock carving chunks out of Harry Andrews, prompting Ian Hendry to muse ‘it must be Lionheart, only he would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare’; dressed as Richard III, haranguing tippling critic Robert Coote for drunkenly falling asleep during one of his greatest performances and then dumping him headfirst in a barrel of wine; as a TV celebrity chef, forcing bouffant-haired fusspot Robert Morley to choke on his beloved poodles in a crime derived from Titus Andronicus.

Price is partnered wonderfully by the equally versaitile Diana Rigg, who brings a moment of poignance to the fiery finish as the murderer’s Cordelia-like daughter, and among the acting greats siezing a welcome opportunity to caricature hateful critics and be bloodily despatched are Arthur Lowe (severed head), Dennis Price, Michael Hordern (stabbed like Caesar) and Jack Hawkins (duped Othello-like into strangling wife Diana Dors). With Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes (who gets a funny death) as the plodding plods, and ‘70s pin-up Madeline Smith as pompous, foulard-wearing hero Hendry’s girl Friday. It’s a key influence on later gimmick serial murder pictures like Se7en.
Price met and married actress Coral Browne through Theater of Blood (he kills her in the move); they were together until her death in 1991; he died in 1993.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Development on Development

In yesterday's post, I made a comment about Newman's Development of Doctrine that I now think was overly facile, and a bit misleading. A long-time commenter called me out on it, and in responding to him, I think I put the matter rather better. I wrote "Now, as a threshold matter, I would point out that Douthat should probably re-read (if indeed he has read) Newman's Development of Doctrine (New Edition, 1878). Because Douthat seems to suggest that views once held by the Church cannot ever be reversed, a notion that is not consistent with Newman, nor with, I should add, modern Catholic practice." My reader gave a very reasoned rejoinder, arguing that in Newman's thought, "an idea does not 'develop' into its opposite."

I originally wrote that Newman gives several examples of exactly that--but that's flip, too. It's more correct to say, I think, that Newman gives examples of positions being reversed by the better understanding of the ultimate idea. In chapter 1, Section 2 [in my original comment , I erroneously referenced this as Chapter 2], he gives a series--the Long Parliament, the Elizabethan Settlement, Locke on Revolution as a "true guide". But here's one in particular; in section 2(6), for example, he gives the example:
The admission of Jews to municipal offices has lately been defended on the ground that it is the introduction of no new principle, but a development of one already received; that its great premisses have been decided long since; and that the present age has but to draw the conclusion; that it is not open to us to inquire what ought to be done in the abstract, since there is no ideal model for the infallible guidance of nations; that change is only a question of time, and that there is a time for all things; that the application of principles ought not to go beyond the actual case, neither preceding nor coming after an imperative demand; that in point of fact Jews have lately been chosen for offices, and that in point of principle the law cannot refuse to legitimate such elections.
As I take Newman here, the application of the idea of citizenship and qualifications for public service was in error, but experience and time showed that the present application was flawed, and the underlying idea was poorly served thereby. So the change is a reversal of the application, but truer to the underlying principle.

Now, my article linked in yesterday's post is pretty clear that I disagree with the easy dismissal of the prohibition against usury, but it provides an example of a moral doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church being distinguished effectively into the grave after over a millennium of adherence to it. It was abandoned because it did not conform to the felt necessities of the culture, and its rescission made possible a wholly new kind of commerce and economic order.

A Newman-style defense of the development would suggest that the position (the prohibition against usury) was not the idea--the idea was that one should not oppress the financially vulnerable, and that the prohibition was the implementation of the idea. The argument would be that implementation showed that the prohibition was too stultifying and did not adequately serve the purpose, or did too much damage in trying to serve the purpose. So it's about the refinement of the application of ideas, which themselves can cause a reversal of perviously held ideas.

Again, I'm not advocating that particular one, but think it makes more clear what I'm saying, and why I think Douthat is not reading Newman right. The idea is not "ban gay marriage"; that's the application of an idea, "Christian marriage should be the norm." OK, what is Christian marriage--

--now here the conversation can veer off into one of two directions. It can anchor the idea in complementarianism or fertility, and stay in the traditional course, or it can define marriage as the spiritual and physical union of two people for mutual aid and comfort, and find that heterosexual Christian marriage works for heterosexuals, but what do we do about those who do not fit that paradigm? Now, eliminating the prohibition against marriage is not the opposite of the tradition of Christian marriage, it's accommodating within that framework those previously excluded.

I'd like to thank my reader--a regular, if too infrequent, commenter--for once again making me think through a point as to which I was previously too glib.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

More Catholic Than the Pope?

I seldom agree with Ross Douthat, and this is not one of those times. I'm just writing to point out his column for today, and the fossilized nature of Douthat's Catholicism:
Not surprisingly, then, popes are usually quite careful. On the two modern occasions when a pontiff defined a doctrine of the faith, it was on a subject — the holiness of the Virgin Mary — that few devout Catholics consider controversial. In the last era of major church reform, the Second Vatican Council, the popes were not the intellectual protagonists, and the council’s debates — while vigorous — were steered toward a (pope-approved) consensus: The documents that seemed most like developments in doctrine, on religious liberty and Judaism, passed with less than a hundred dissenting votes out of more than 2,300 cast.

But something very different is happening under Pope Francis. In his public words and gestures, through the men he’s elevated and the debates he’s encouraged, this pope has repeatedly signaled a desire to rethink issues where Catholic teaching is in clear tension with Western social life — sex and marriage, divorce and homosexuality.

And in the synod on the family, which concluded a week ago in Rome, the prelates in charge of the proceedings — men handpicked by the pontiff — formally proposed such a rethinking, issuing a document that suggested both a general shift in the church’s attitude toward nonmarital relationships and a specific change, admitting the divorced-and-remarried to communion, that conflicts sharply with the church’s historic teaching on marriage’s indissolubility.


In the end, the document’s controversial passages were substantially walked back. But even then, instead of a Vatican II-style consensus, the synod divided, with large numbers voting against even watered-down language around divorce and homosexuality. Some of those votes may have been cast by disappointed progressives. But many others were votes cast, in effect, against the pope.


The pope wishes to take these steps, the synod managers suggested. Given what the church has always taught, many of the synod’s participants replied, he and we cannot.

Over all, that conservative reply has the better of the argument. Not necessarily on every issue: The church’s attitude toward gay Catholics, for instance, has often been far more punitive and hostile than the pastoral approach to heterosexuals living in what the church considers sinful situations, and there are clearly ways that the church can be more understanding of the cross carried by gay Christians.

But going beyond such a welcome to a kind of celebration of the virtues of nonmarital relationships generally, as the synod document seemed to do, might open a divide between formal teaching and real-world practice that’s too wide to be sustained. And on communion for the remarried, the stakes are not debatable at all. The Catholic Church was willing to lose the kingdom of England, and by extension the entire English-speaking world, over the principle that when a first marriage is valid a second is adulterous, a position rooted in the specific words of Jesus of Nazareth. To change on that issue, no matter how it was couched, would not be development; it would be contradiction and reversal.

SUCH a reversal would put the church on the brink of a precipice. Of course it would be welcomed by some progressive Catholics and hailed by the secular press. But it would leave many of the church’s bishops and theologians in an untenable position, and it would sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents — encouraging doubt and defections, apocalypticism and paranoia (remember there is another pope still living!) and eventually even a real schism.

Those adherents are, yes, a minority — sometimes a small minority — among self-identified Catholics in the West. But they are the people who have done the most to keep the church vital in an age of institutional decline: who have given their energy and time and money in an era when the church is stained by scandal, who have struggled to raise families and live up to demanding teachings, who have joined the priesthood and religious life in an age when those vocations are not honored as they once were. They have kept the faith amid moral betrayals by their leaders; they do not deserve a theological betrayal.
A long series of quotes; I'm sorry. But I felt I needed to reproduce enough to make it clear that I am not caricaturing Douthat's position, which leads him to conclude that conservative Catholics "might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him."

Now, as a threshold matter, I would point out that Douthat should probably re-read (if indeed he has read) Newman's Development of Doctrine (New Edition, 1878). Because Douthat seems to suggest that views once held by the Church cannot ever be reversed, a notion that is not consistent with Newman, nor with, I should add, modern Catholic practice. The Church in 2007 relegated the once firmly established doctrine of Limbo to "a possible theological hypothesis," on the basis of study, experience, and the Magisterium:
The treatment of this theme must be placed within the historical development of the faith. According to Dei Verbum 8, the factors that contribute to this development are the reflection and the study of the faithful, the experience of spiritual things, and the teaching of the Magisterium. When the question of infants who die without baptism was first taken up in the history of Christian thought, it is possible that the doctrinal nature of the question or its implications were not fully understood. Only when seen in light of the historical development of theology over the course of time until Vatican II does this specific question find its proper context within Catholic doctrine. Only in this way - and observing the principle of the hierarchy of truths mentioned in the Decree of the Second Vatican Council Unitatis redintegratio (#11) – the topic can be reconsidered explicitly under the global horizon of the faith of the Church. This Document, from the point of view of speculative theology as well as from the practical and pastoral perspective, constitutes for a useful and timely mean for deepening our understanding this problem, which is not only a matter of doctrine, but also of pastoral priority in the modern era.
Now, I don't fault the Church for this analysis--indeed, it's not that far off from Richard Hooker's classic (and much debated and interpreted) use of tradition and reason to understand scripture--as a means of trying to not allow past understandings that were once helpful and informative, to stay in place long after their illumination has ceased, and become a stumbling block--as W.R. Inge describes outworn metaphors in his Christian Mysticism.

No, the Catholic Church may unhelpfully raise the Magisterium overmuch, but the basic idea of the development of doctrine is sound, and Douthat is simply limiting it in a self-dealing fashion to prioritize his issues, sexual mores, as opposed to other moral issues where it has demonstrably changed, whether for weal or for woe, such as usury and abortion (permissible up to 40 days after conception until 1869, see linked article at p. 278).

Simply put, don't rely on a man who thinks he's a better Catholic than was Cardinal Newman. Odds are, he isn't.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Purview" Has Been Ruined for Me

The other day, I was having a perfectly pleasant discussion with someone, and the question of whose "purview" a certain task fell within was mooted. I immediately flashed on "In the Loop" and had to restrain giggles:

(Have you noticed that this is an epic battle between Doctor Who and Irene Forsyte (Gina McKee)?)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Assurance of Age...

Look above, and watch John Houseman receiving the Oscar for best Supporting Actor in The Paper Chase (1973) Catch how nervous he is, under the patrician demeanor--he stumbles in his words, he stammers just a bit. This, from one of the most superbly self-confident men I've ever seen on screen or met (and by great good fortune, I did both).

When I was in my teens, and watched Houseman in the TV adaptation, I used to think--look at bloody him. So at one with himself, so poised. Awful, sometimes, of course, but still--not anxious, not busting a gut trying to impress/please people. When I'm old--maybe when I'm middle-aged, even--I can be like that--not giving a damn. And so I looked forward to the serenity of growing older.

It doesn't happen, though, at least not on its own. Look at how nervous Professor Kingsfield is at the acme of his career right there above.

As I am now solidly middle-aged, I don't hanker for my youth. I'm pretty content now, by and by. But that unearned serenity I thought would be dropped off with the gray hair? Hasn't come yet, worse luck. Or maybe not. Maybe serenity only comes when we train ourselves to it. Or maybe it never comes at all, if we haven't made it a part of who we really are. Because I doubt that our professional personae hold up that well as we age; I suspect that Robertson Davies had it right when he wrote that "As we neared our sixties the cloaks we had wrapped about our essential selves were wearing thin."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Clearing the Decks, Back to the Mines

Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but the next few months should be interesting. In my writing life, I have an idea for a second novel. Which is not to give up on the first--later this year, there will be a long-standing Trollope-19th Century book group online (founded and led by by the redoubtable Ellen Moody, whose excellent book Trollope on the Net discusses the group's early days) reading Phineas at Bay, and there should be some very exciting news for May 2015.

--which promises to be a very large month for me, because, independent of the very exciting news (to be shared later), there is, barring unforeseen circumstances, also, on the morning of May 16, my ordination to the vocational diaconate. It's been 7 years in the making, and the goal is in sight.

Of course, the goal is a way station--ordination begins a different phase of life, not an endpoint. It is extraordinary to be nearing that moment of transition.

So as summer is now most decidedly over, and I am settled into the new gig, it's time for me to begin my winter project--beginning the next novel. Working title: Taffy Was a Welshman. Back to Pontnewydd, and the mines.

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 wreathèd 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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Now My Doctor: Peter Capaldi

In the book versions of his Tardis Eruditorum posts, Philip Sandifer ends each volume with an affectionate essay devoted to what he calls the best case to be made for each Doctor. The essays are entitled, "Now My Doctor," followed by the name of the actor who is being saluted. I'm borrowing that title here, but with a different shade of meaning.

Because, after being a Doctor Who fan since the early 1980s, and having seen all of the episodes from the Pertwee Era through the present (and a lot of Hartnell and Troughton, though by no means all), I have come to a rather surprising realization:

Peter Capaldi is my Doctor.

When I was new to the show, I missed much of the brilliance of Tom Baker; I had entered at a bad time, when the episodes being screened were his last series, where he is visibly glum, and moments of brilliance and fire are eclipsed by the melancholy of the longest serving Doctor's reign coming to a close. Baker was a damn sight better than I realized, and watching his series from the beginning gave me a new appreciation for him. But--he's not my Doctor.

Jon Pertwee I have a lot of time for. His banter with the Brig, the great comic rivalry with Roger Delgado's Master--the byplay with his predecessors--yes, I have a lot of time for Pertwee. But--no…very like my Doctor, and a favorite, but not quite.

Troughton? Wonderful. Himself a gifted actor, but--all those bases under siege get a bit the same, and so many missing episodes. I love Patrick Troughton, mercurial little genius that he is, but--

Hartnell, then. The original. The man who, even though his health was impaired by the arteriosclerosis that was soon to kill him,made one last appearance in his show's tenth anniversary story, summoning the last flickers of the old fire?

I loved the idea of Hartnell more than the execution--lots of his stories have dated badly, though some are better than I would have expected--The Time Meddler, with the Meddling Monk, say, or The Gunfighters. Yes, Hartnell was wonderful. As were Davison (the cricket-cricket!), Colin Baker (although, God, that poor man had some of the shaggiest scripts), Sylvester McCoy (the spoon-playing chess master), Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston (just watch him in Dalek), David Tennant (just watch him in School Reunion) and Matt Smith (how'd so young a man incarnate so old a soul?).

But Peter Capaldi, now, the fanboy made good, has the advantage of a great reconception of the character, a run (so far) of stories that have all been well above the series' average, and Steven Moffatt finding a whole new way to write Doctor Who. Oh, and Jenna Coleman is showing herself to be quite possibly the most underestimated actress to play the companion since Katy Manning.

At the center, though, is Capaldi's Doctor, unafraid to be abrasive, funny, obsessive, absent-mindedly doing good, seemingly despite himself--and absolutely riveting. Now my Doctor. These are the good old days.