Is it the Tale?

Or the telling?

By Lex, on Sun – August 7, 2005


I’ve often wondered. Larry McMurtry writes what I believe to be wonderful westerns , even though I’m not a particular fan of the genre. He loves words, clearly, and uses them like precision instruments, and if you don’t find yourself falling (in a completely heterosexual way, if it do ya) for Captains Gus and Call of the Texas Rangers, then I don’t know what it might take. Colmac McCarthy has a new book out that I can’t wait to read – well, once it comes out in paperback that is – it’s not that he doesn’t deserve to have it read in hardback, it’s just that, well – I’m cheap, that way. His “All the Pretty Horses ” told another evocative tale of the American west, updated to the middle of the 20th century. The reading of it, and the falling in love with his talesmanship caused me to run through his entire back list a few years ago. I’ve read the late Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series about the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars straight through more times than I’d care to admit, and laughed at all the usual places every time. And right now, I’m running through Paul Johnson’s “Modern Times ,” and I’m loving every moment of it – except that, coming in at almost 900 pages, it has become obvious to me that Mr. Johnson has found a great deal more to write about in his chosen era – the period between the end of the First World War and the end of the Cold War – than I have found time in which to indulge him. And so I am occasionally distracted by Mark Helprin’s “The Pacific,” a collection of short stories suitable to modern attention spans (I do not exclude myself) having learned to love his writing in a book called, “A Soldier of the Great War ” – perhaps the greatest war novel I have ever read, and one I loved so dearly that for years I gave copies as gifts to the friends I loved the most.

Based on the recommendation of another friend, I’ve recently renewed my library card and borrowed two books on CD: Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” and Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes.” (No link for Faulkner, sorry. You’ve read him already. Right?) Having downloaded them on to my iPod, and having one of those (sweet) iPod charger/FM transmitter adapters for the auto-voiture, I am now prepared, over the course of the intervening days and weeks ahead spent grinding up and down Hwy 5 going to work (Waagh!), to refresh my appreciation of two very wonderful, very different books.

Why did I choose two books that I had already read for my experiment in “reading” books by audio? To compare the experience with that of actually reading them, silly. Tell you how it went, David. Once you’ve given me that url 🙂

And just the other night, switching to visual arts, we rented Baz Lurhmann’s “Romeo and Juliet, ” and Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.” Now, either of you are probably aware that W.S Shakespeare is the god of my secular admiration, especially when it comes to the written page. No one has ever put quill to parchment (or any writing device to any other media, for that matter) as well as he did, and I very much doubt that anyone ever will again. Shakespeare took stories that were in modest circulation in Italy and France, as well as patriotic histories suitable for the court of a religiously divided England and turned them into his own immortality. On his quality and contributions, you are free to disagree of course, this being, after all, a free country. Just so long as you do so privately, I beseech you. And give you thanks.

So it was with some trepidation that I rented the movie starring an astonishingly young Leonardo DiCaprio and the nearly translucent Claire Danes (what ever did happen to her?) some years ago. I was prepared to be outraged, and found myself enchanted instead. Oh, Lurhmann did skip over vast paragraphs of wonderful material in the original text, and whole lines were transplanted from the final act into the first or second as though no one would be watching, but as for myself? I objected not at all: In the opening chorus, Shakespeare asks us to attend to the “Two hours traffic of our stage,” and if any Elizabethan retinue could get through all of that play in 120 minutes, with scene changes, then they must have set a damned frenetic pace doing so. As for updating the set and characters from the 15th century to the 20th, I was inordinately pleased: Shakespeare’s audiences saw the original as being of their time, as up to the moment as the striking clock in your hallway. Why should his enthusiasts some five hundred years later be denied the same immediacy? The music, both modern and antique was wonderful as well (Juliet kills herself to Wagner’s “Liebestod” or “loves death” from the opera “Tristan und Isolde.”) The cinematography and staging were inspired, although I did have some critiques: The camera sometimes dwelt too lovingly on the purchased star of DiCaprio’s Romeo, even when another speaker (Harold Perrineau’s Mercutio – himself last seen in the last two “Matrix ” sequels) is holding center stage in soliloquy – we are left, strangely, looking through the speaker’s back into the face of a befuddled and bemused DiCaprio – raw youth had given him a kind of elfin beauty, but not yet gravitas or depth. But these are mere trifles, and I’ve watched the VHS cassette (and now DVD) a dozen times – I would watch it again tomorrow.

“Raging Bull” I had been advised to see, having missed it in its theatrical release a quarter century ago. The first thing that struck me was the sad ravages of time: De Niro looks almost shockingly young, and the black and white stock he’s filmed in only serves to telescope the distance between then and now. There is no doubting Scorsese’s technical competence of course, as every scene is perfectly lit, and often wonderfully directed. But De Niro’s character, the boxer Jake LaMotta is anything but sympathetic, and I could not watch him straight through. I shut the DVD down after an hour’s investment, unwilling to throw good time after bad.

So, is it the tale, or the telling?

Yes. Yes, it is.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Media, Movie Review

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