Revolutions reviewed

The reviews for Revolutions: Essays on Contemporary Canadian Fiction have been really good. I thought I’d post links to some of them here:

Dooney’s Café (Stan Persky)
National Post (Phil Marchand)
Toronto Star (Robert Wiersema)
Carte Blanche (Laura Frey)
Literary Review of Canada (Dennis Duffy)


Re-reading Shakespeare: Othello

(1) We all know about goats and monkeys. But what about wolves? Iago throws them in too, talking of lovers who are “as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, / As salt as wolves in pride.”

I had forgotten all about the wolves, and not without reason. I think in a lot of productions they get dropped. I was recently watching the 1951 and 1995 film versions and both leave that line out. The meaning is the same as for the goats and monkeys, but I don’t think the particular usage was ever common. “Salt” for lecherous seems to have been known, but there aren’t many instances of “in pride” being used to mean “in heat.” Today, of course, I think it’s a line that doesn’t register at all, which is why it’s usually cut.

(2) Iago is so good at what he does. He is the arch seducer, which means that he understands that people only ever seduce (or fool, or deceive) themselves. You just have to give them a bit of a nudge, or tug, and they’ll do all the work.

And you don’t even have to be dishonest – just selective in your telling of the truth, and the timing of it. This is the point Iago makes when, after leading Cassio on, he says to us

And what’s he then that says I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give, and honest,
Probal to thinking, and indeed the course
To win the Moor gain?

In much the same way, it’s because Iago is a jealous man himself that he can be so earnest and convincing in warning Othello of the green-eyed monster. Who can play an honest man so well as someone who is being honest?

(3) I find Emilia to be one of the most frustratingly short-changed characters in Shakespeare. The text gives a great deal of leeway in interpreting how she is to be played. Is she just a silly tool of Iago? She suggests as much when she finds Desdemona’s handkerchief and remarks that she’ll have the work taken out and give it to her husband. Then, “what he will do with it / Heaven knows, not I: / I nothing but to please his fantasy.” I suspect we’re supposed to read this ironically. Emilia isn’t as innocent. If she were she wouldn’t express herself in such a way.

But how much is she aware of? Is she like Carmela in The Sopranos or Skyler in Breaking Bad: an enabling wife who chooses to look the other way when it comes to her husband’s villainy? She does get one big speech at the end of Act IV, but this is usually just read for its declaration of a feminist principle akin to Shylock’s defence of Jews. Men should be aware that women have feelings too, and that “their ills instruct” women on how to be bad. I think what’s more telling, however, is the earlier part of that speech, which reveals a certain level of cynicism, bitterness, ambition, and duplicity that give us some idea of what Iago might have seen in her. She definitely has a rough edge, and she knows her husband. She’s mad at him at the end because he went too far and wrecked the good thing they had going.

Damned kids

So young. But such wisdom.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching adaptations of John Wyndham’s classic SF novel The Midwich Cuckoos. The first of these was 1960’s Village of the Damned (they sure weren’t going to stick with Wyndham’s title). This was followed by the Cold War parable Children of the Damned (1964), a film very different in tone. Then John Carpenter took a turn with an uninspired remake of the original in 1995. I guess the 1960 version is the best of these, and the only one really worth watching. None of the movies, however, really digs into the main theme of Wyndham’s book, which has to do with a battle for survival between incompatible species.

The last picture show

Last week I went out to see a movie in a cinema for the first time in close to fifteen years. The movie was Blade Runner 2049, and you can read my notes on it here. But I thought I’d write something on my response to the moviegoing experience. These are my notes.

It was expensive. My ticket cost $14.99. This was for a mid-range matinee. Mid-range meaning between a “general” showing ($11.99) and the deluxe treatment ($22.99). The deluxe pricing is for a theatre with larger seats that, I am told, jerk around and vibrate to match any turbulence on screen. People actually pay more for this!

Yes, I said 3D. I didn’t want to see this movie in 3D, but at the time I wanted to go it was the only format available. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie in a theatre in 3D. The latest 3D craze only started after I gave up on moviegoing.

I found it to be an annoying gimmick, but you can’t just take off the glasses and watch the movie normally. I know because I tried. About the only time where the 3D impressed me was a shot looking into a room through a window that was wet with rain. But I don’t know if my noticing the effect added anything to my enjoyment of the scene.

The volume was a physical force. I mean the gunshots were so loud I literally felt them in my teeth and in my stomach. Making matters worse, the bass was making a speaker in the ceiling vibrate noisily every time the soundtrack got really loud. Had no one complained about this? Did the theatre managers not know? I mean, the rattling was really annoying.

Remarkably, despite being so loud I still couldn’t hear some of the muttered dialogue. There was a scene at the beginning where someone said something to Ryan Gosling that seemed really important but I couldn’t make out a word of it. When they flashback to the same scene later in the film I really strained to catch what was being said but missed it again. I don’t blame my hearing. As I say, the speakers were set way too loud. It’s just that so few actors seem capable of delivering their lines clearly. At home I always watch movies with the subtitles on.

Matinees aren’t very popular, even on weekends, but even so there were only seven other people in attendance. Someone behind me said to their friend that it was like a “private showing.” Normally this would make me happy, but it’s hard not to feel like I was taking part in an antique ritual. And really, even given the eye-popping big-screen visuals I would have much preferred staying at home.

Denis Villeneuve

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the movies of Denis Villeneuve. I like his work, but think that he needs to start choosing some better projects to work on. His one great movie thus far, Enemy, is also the only one with a really strong script. Even Blade Runner 2049 struck me as deeply flawed just on the level of its basic concept. Anyway, here’s the line-up:

Incendies (2010)
Prisoners (2013)
Enemy (2013)
Sicario (2015)
Arrival (2016)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)