Category Archives: D — VIEWING

FILMSMARCH 2019

(Joffe 2017) Tin Star: Ep.1 ― Fun and (S)Laughter
(Rye 2011) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.91 ― Mur­der of Inno­cence
(Sil­ber­ston 1998) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.3 — Death of a Hol­low Man
(Rye 2012) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.92 ― Writ­ten in the Stars
(Tay­lor 1998) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.4 — Faith­ful Unto Death
(McNaughton 1974) Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus: Ep.41 ― Michael Ellis
(Moore 1976) Mur­der By Death
(Tay­lor 1998) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.5 — Death In Dis­guise
(McNaughton 1974) Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus: Ep.42 ― The Light Enter­tain­ment War
(Besson 1997) The Fifth Ele­ment
(Sil­ber­ston 1999) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.6 — Death’s Shad­ow
(Cur­tiz 1933) The Ken­nel Mur­der Case
(Cen­ter for Inquiry 2018) Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins in Con­ver­sa­tion
(Laugh­land 2013) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.93 ― Death and the Divas
(Sil­ber­ston 1999) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.7 — Strangler’s Wood
(Thiele 1943) Tarzan Tri­umphs
(Sanders 1973) Inva­sion of the Bee Girls
(Weitz 2007) The Gold­en Com­pass
(Row­land 1953) The 5,000 Fin­gers of Dr. T.
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(Richardson 1965) The Loved One

This is the kind of film that should be seen by hap­pen­stance. A delib­er­ate view­ing can’t match the deli­cious plea­sure of stum­bling upon it by chance. I real­ly shouldn’t even be telling you about it.

In 1947, the British nov­el­ist Eve­lyn Waugh was approached by Hol­ly­wood for a pos­si­ble film­ing of his nov­el Brideshead Revis­it­ed. The book’s two essen­tial com­po­nents were a heavy dose of the mys­ti­cal upper-class Catholi­sism which exists only in Eng­land and bears no resem­blance to Catholi­cism any­where else, and a steamy homo­sex­u­al yearn­ing that man­ages to nev­er men­tion homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. The idea that this would have been made into a film even vague­ly resem­bling the orig­i­nal was ludi­crous, but Waugh was hap­py to let Hol­ly­wood give him an all-expense-paid trip to Los Ange­les to hag­gle. Waugh had no inten­tion of going through with the deal. Waugh was a snob — he was revolt­ed that “low­er-class” ser­vice peo­ple spoke to him as an equal, detest­ed Amer­i­can infor­mal­i­ty, and com­plained about every­thing. But snobs often write the best satire (think Thack­er­ay), as they have no com­punc­tions about hurt­ing people’s feel­ings. Hol­ly­wood is a bizarre, arti­fi­cial, and goofy place even for Amer­i­cans, and Waugh found plen­ty of mate­r­i­al for his next satir­i­cal nov­el, The Loved One, which appeared in 1948. He was par­tic­u­lar­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by Amer­i­cans’ pecu­liar atti­tudes towards death and (to a Brit) weird funer­al cus­toms. The plot is sim­ple: A young Eng­lish­man with a posh edu­ca­tion but no par­tic­u­lar ambi­tion wins a trip to Hol­ly­wood, and stays with an Uncle who is a stal­wart in the expat British com­mu­ni­ty in the film stu­dios. His host com­mits sui­cide, leav­ing him to fend for him­self on this alien plan­et. Attend­ing to his uncle’s funer­al, he becomes involved with Aimée Thanatogenos, an embalmer work­ing at Whis­per­ing Glades Ceme­tery, a spec­tac­u­lar­ly vul­gar Dis­ney­land of Death cre­at­ed by the mega­lo­ma­ni­ac Blessed Rev­erend Glen­wor­thy. He encoun­ters an assort­ment of lunatics, all of them dis­play­ing extreme ver­sions of Amer­i­can cul­ture that Waugh found offen­sive and laugh­able. As in many of Waugh’s books, and many of the same ilk, the “hero” dis­plays no notice­able virtues oth­er than not being one of the loonies. 

Tony Richard­son, a British direc­tor who had scored big with crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed and finan­cial­ly suc­cess­ful films (Look Back in Anger; The Enter­tain­er; A Taste of Hon­ey; The Lone­li­ness of the Long Dis­tance Run­ner; Tom Jones) filmed the book in 1965. The script was writ­ten by the wild­ly unlike­ly com­bi­na­tion of Ter­ry South­ern and Christo­pher Ish­er­wood. South­ern is not much read now, but in 1965 he was in lit­er­ary vogue, and usu­al­ly paired with Kurt Von­negut as a satirist. Ish­er­wood was a gay play­wright and nov­el­ist who had chron­i­cled the sex­u­al under­ground of Weimar Ger­many, and would lat­er reach a wide audi­ence with Cabaret. Waugh had vicious­ly car­i­ca­tured Ish­er­wood in one of his nov­els, but in that cat­ty lit­er­ary crowd such things appar­ent­ly did not mat­ter much. The film script sticks fair­ly close to the book, but adds a some scenes that make it fit in bet­ter with 1965. These addi­tions would, I sus­pect, have been fine with Waugh. Visu­al­ly, the film is a feast. Every shot fills the eye with details just as fun­ny as the sit­u­a­tions and the dia­log. Every cut serves a satir­ic pur­pose. But the real bonan­za is the cast­ing. Aimée Thanatogenos is played to per­fec­tion by Anjanette Cormer, whose remark­able tal­ent was nev­er well-used by Hol­ly­wood. The Eng­lish hero is played by Robert Morse, one of the few Amer­i­can actors at the time who could con­vinc­ing­ly play an Eng­lish­man — while the vul­gar Amer­i­can film mogul is played by Rod­dy Mac­Dowall, then still best known as a for­mer Eng­lish child star. Lib­er­ace turns in a hilar­i­ous per­for­mance as a funer­al direc­tor — he real­ly missed a chance to be a great com­ic film actor. Jonathan Win­ters plays both the Rev­erend Glen­wor­thy and his incom­pe­tent twin broth­er, mak­ing each char­ac­ter a gem. Rod Steiger chews the scenery with the moth­er-obsessed and near­ly psy­chot­ic Mr. Joy­boy. Paul Williams is a child rock­et sci­en­tist. The actu­al Hol­ly­wood Eng­lish Con­tin­gent (reg­u­lar­ly cast as “Lords and but­lers”) essen­tial­ly play them­selves: John Giel­gud, Robert Mor­ley, Alan Napi­er. Mil­ton Berle, James Coburn, Mar­garet Leighton, Bar­bara Nichols, Lionel Stander, and Bernie Kopell do well-craft­ed bits. There are numer­ous Hol­ly­wood in-jokes that the audi­ence could hard­ly have been expect­ed to catch. For exam­ple, the cow­boy film star who is being absurd­ly voice-coached by the stu­dio to play an Eng­lish Lord is played by Robert Eas­t­on. Eas­t­on was him­self a voice coach, and one of the worlds great­est author­i­ties on Eng­lish dialects. Many in the cast were clos­et­ed gays. Tab Hunter plays a tour guide! 

It’s extra­or­di­nary that this satir­i­cal film, made 54 years ago, based on a book writ­ten 71 years ago, remains rel­e­vant and bit­ing­ly fun­ny.

FILMSFEBRUARY 2019

(Kagan 1974) Judge Dee and the Monastery Mur­ders
(Malle 1971) Mur­mur of the Heart [Le souf­fle au coeur]
(McNaughton 1973) Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus: Ep.37 ― Den­nis Moore
(McNaughton 1973) Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus: Ep.38 ― A Book at Bed­time
(Ware­ing 1988) Doc­tor Who: Ep.678 ― The Great­est Show in the Galaxy, Part 1
(Ware­ing 1988) Doc­tor Who: Ep.679 ― The Great­est Show in the Galaxy, Part 2
(Ritt 1963) Hud
(Ware­ing 1988) Doc­tor Who: Ep.680 ― The Great­est Show in the Galaxy, Part 3
(Ware­ing 1989) Doc­tor Who: Ep.681 ― The Great­est Show in the Galaxy, Part 4
(Seltzer 1986) Lucas
(Guð­munds­son 2014) Ártún
(Sil­ber­ling 2004) Lemo­ny Snicket’s A Series of Unfor­tu­nate Events
(Lourié 1953) The Beast from 20,000 Fath­oms
(Elston 2013) The Oth­er Pom­peii: Life & Death in Her­cu­la­neum
(Mar­cus 2007) Roman Mys­ter­ies: Ep.3 ― The Pirates of Pom­peii, Part 1
(Hitch­cock 1936) Sab­o­tage
(Liu & Li 2008) Jus­tice Bao [包青天; Bāo Qīng Tiān]: Ep.1 ― Beat­ing the Drag­on Robe
Read more »

FILMSJANUARY 2019

(Melville 1950) Les Enfants Ter­ri­bles
(Arkush 1979) Rock’n’Roll High School
(Cross­land 2011) Mur­doch Mys­ter­ies: Ep.41 ― Kom­man­do
(Dante 1984) Grem­lins
(Trelfer 2016) Dark Cor­ners Review: (54) Grem­lins: The Great­est Christ­mas Hor­ror Film
. . . Ret­ro­spec­tive
(Dante 2011) Joe Dante Intro­duces Grem­lins for the Ciné Nasty Series
(Sawall 2010) Etr­uscans: Glo­ry Before Rome
(Hough 1978) Return from Witch Moun­tain
(Grin­ter & Hawkes 1972) Blood Freak
(Trelfer 2018) Dark Cor­ners Review: (332) Blood Freak
(Copp 2010) Inside the Milky Way
(Man­cori & Mann 1964) Son of Her­cules in the Land of Dark­ness [Riff­Trax ver­sion]
(Wise 1951) The Day the Earth Stood Still
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FILMSDECEMBER 2018

(Ward 1988) The Nav­i­ga­tor: A Medieval Odyssey
(Clough 1987) Doc­tor Who: Ep.665 ― Drag­on­fire, Part 1
(Bole 1991) Star Trek, the Next Gen­er­a­tion: Ep.89 ― First Con­tact
(Steven­son 1974) The Island at the Top of the World
(Clough 1987) Doc­tor Who: Ep.666 ― Drag­on­fire, Part 2
(Clough 1987) Doc­tor Who: Ep.667 ― Drag­on­fire, Part 3
(Bill 1980) My Body­guard
(Moore 1990) Demon Wind
(Trelfer 2018) Dark Cor­ners Review: (329) Demon Wind
(Pal 1960) The Time Machine
Read more »

FILMSNOVEMBER 2018

(Hunt 1982) The Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger
(Hon­da 1957) The Mys­te­ri­ans [地球防衛軍; Chikyû Bôei­gun]
(Trelfer 2014) Dark Cor­ners Review: (175) The Mys­te­ri­ans
(Wright 2010) Mur­doch Mys­ter­ies: Ep.39 ― The Tes­la Effect
(Break­ston & Crane 1959) The Manster [双頭の殺人鬼]
(Trelfer 2018) Dark Cor­ners Review: (322) The Manster
(De Felit­ta 1981) Dark Night of the Scare­crow
(Mor­gan 1987) Doc­tor Who: Ep.654 ― Time and the Rani, Part 1
(Mor­gan 1987) Doc­tor Who: Ep.655 ― Time and the Rani, Part 2
(May 1940) The Invis­i­ble Man Returns
(Mor­gan 1987) Doc­tor Who: Ep.656 ― Time and the Rani, Part 3
(Mor­gan 1987) Doc­tor Who: Ep.657 ― Time and the Rani, Part 4
(González 1965) The Fool Killer Read more »

FILMSOCTOBER 2018

(Young 1962) Dr. No
(Shel­don 1981) Love­ly But Dead­ly
(Trelfer 2018) Dark Cor­ners Review: (321) Love­ly But Dead­ly
(Schaffn­er 1965) The War Lord
(Ray­mond 1931) The Speck­led Band
(Wright 2010) Mur­doch Mys­ter­ies: Ep.38 ― In the Alto­geth­er
(Mann 2008) Les enquêtes de Mur­doch: Ep.1 ― D’un courant à l’autre
(Elve­bakk 2014) Bal­let Boys
(Seil­er 1939) Dust Be My Des­tiny
(Waters 1994) Ser­i­al Mom
(Pavlou 1986) Raw­head Rex
(Tenold 2018) Brandon’s Cult Movie Reviews: Raw­head Rex
(Sachs 2016) Lit­tle Men
Read more »

FILMSSEPTEMBER 2018

(Kon­chalovskiy 1997) The Odyssey
(McNaughton 1972) Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus: Ep.34 ― The Cycling Tour
(Cim­ber 1984) Yel­low Hair and the Fortress of Gold
(Trelfer 2018) Dark Cor­ners Review: (313) Yel­low Hair and the Fortress of Gold
(Bridge 2017) How the Uni­verse Works: Ep.42 ― Strangest Alien Worlds
(Betuel 1985) My Sci­ence Project
(Williamson 2018) How the Uni­verse Works: Ep.43 ― Are Black Holes Real?
(Greene 1959) The Cos­mic Man
Read more »

27492. (Homer) The Odyssey [tr. Stephen Mitchell]

Ulysse et Télémaque massacrent les prétendants de Pénélope. (1812) Thomas Degeorge

Ulysse et Télé­maque mas­sacrent les pré­ten­dants de Péné­lope (1812) by Thomas Dege­orge

Before the fatal attrac­tion of Sci­ence Fic­tion, my ear­ly child­hood read­ing was dom­i­nat­ed by dinosaurs, jun­gles, vol­ca­noes and tales of explor­ers and sci­en­tists. But there was also a niche set aside for ancient myth, par­tic­u­lar­ly Greek myths. I read a crum­bling old copy of Charles Kingsley’s The Heroes: Perseus, Jason, The­seus, and Jason in par­tic­u­lar appealed to me, a taste firm­ly cement­ed by repeat­ed view­ings of Har­ry Harrihausen’s mag­i­cal stop-motion effects in the film Jason and the Arg­onauts. I also pos­sessed (I’m not sure how) a lit­tle blue book, some­thing pro­ferred as “edu­ca­tion­al” from a Cana­di­an pub­lish­er, enti­tled Clas­si­cal Mythol­o­gy in Song and Sto­ry: Part Two, Epic Heroes. It was choc full of line draw­ings from some uncred­it­ed artist. These were rea­son­ably good, and some were quite sexy. But most delight­ful of all, the two end­pa­pers were maps, show­ing in a ser­pen­tine dot­ted line the jour­ney — it actu­al­ly said “wan­der­ings” in the map ― of Odysseus. The land of the lotus-eaters was Tunisia. Scyl­la and Charib­dis stood fero­cious­ly on either side of the straight sep­a­rat­ing Sici­ly from Cal­abria. No doubt this explains the pre­pon­der­ance of Ital­ian immi­grants to Cana­da from those two provinces. I can’t express how much maps meant to me at that age. Maps were my cat­nip. Put a map on the end-papers of any­thing, and I would read it. 

The retellings of the myths in these two books were in old-fash­ioned styles, a mix­ture of late 19th cen­tu­ry British and 1930’s Cana­di­an prose. I rat­ed the var­i­ous heroes dif­fer­ent­ly. Her­cules, a mere mus­cle­man with obvi­ous­ly lim­it­ed intel­li­gence, struck me as more of a “hero” for the bul­lies that wait­ed to pounce on me on the way to school. The pompous char­ac­ters of the Ili­ad did not impress me at all, and the Tro­jan War didn’t seem very inter­est­ing. For all that I liked Jason, he was too depen­dent on help from var­i­ous gods, ora­cles, and crew­men. The Arg­onau­ti­ca is a pret­ty good sto­ry, but Jason him­self is basi­cal­ly just a gener­ic teen adven­ture hero. It’s with the retelling of the Odyssey that the book hit gold. Odysseus was no pink-cheeked ado­les­cent, cer­tain­ly no wimp, and obvi­ous­ly had a brain… though not nec­es­sar­i­ly the best judge­ment. The adven­tures were not a mere parade of mon­sters. The Cyclops was not just a dan­ger­ous ani­mal, but a par­tic­u­lar­ly grue­some oppo­nent that Odysseus could con­verse with and out­wit. There were sub­tler per­ils, most­ly vari­ants of the femme fatale, and the temp­ta­tions of drug-induced ecsta­sy and time­less­ness. Odysseus even goes to Hell ― the mor­bid cold and misty Hell of the Greeks, not the sil­ly bar­be­cued Chris­t­ian Hell. 

Even­tu­al­ly, I read the actu­al epic, first in the Richard Lat­ti­more trans­la­tion, then lat­er in the Pen­guin Clas­sics ver­sion trans­lat­ed by E. V. Rieu. But it wasn’t quite the same. As a teenag­er and an adult, read­ing could not have the same sense of spon­ta­neous rev­e­la­tion that it had for a small child. The Odyssey ceased to be a “sto­ry” and became “lit­er­a­ture,” con­sumed with the same pedan­tic indus­try that I read Chaucer, Hem­ing­way or Tobias Smol­lett. That is to say, not with­out appre­ci­a­tion and plea­sure, but not with the wide-eyed gus­to of a small child unwrap­ping a Crispy Crunch bar. 

Clas­sics are sel­dom reread, even by omniv­o­rous read­ers. Most of the book­ish peo­ple I know have read an assort­ment of clas­sics in their high school or col­lege years, then filed them away in mem­o­ry, feel­ing lit­tle urge to look at them again with the per­spec­tive of age. There are far too many new­er things com­pet­ing for atten­tion. Grad­u­al­ly, such clas­sics dim into vague impres­sions, sta­t­ic snap­shots of par­tic­u­lar scenes, or trun­cat­ed plot sum­maries. Moby Dick the whale is God. Anna Karen­i­na throws her­self under a train. Gar­gan­tua wipes his ass with a duck.

But I’m a chron­ic reread­er. Even some appar­ent­ly sim­ple books nev­er seem to come out the same on suc­ces­sive read­ings. I’ve read Edgar Pangborn’s A Mir­ror For Observers eight times. I’m look­ing for­ward to the ninth. I would no more be fin­ished with it than I would cease lis­ten­ing to “St. James Infir­mary Blues” because I’ve already heard it. So I’ve just reread The Odyssey, after many years, this time in the 2013 trans­la­tion by Stephen Mitchell, whose prodi­gious indus­try has already pro­duced an Ili­ad, a Gil­gamesh, and a Bha­gavad Gita. Any­one tak­ing on the task of trans­lat­ing an ancient work is faced with a basic choice at the very start: whether to use “ele­vat­ed” lan­guage or “col­lo­qui­al” lan­guage, or some com­pro­mise between the two. Mitchell chose the col­lo­qui­al approach with­out com­pro­mise, notice­ably more than either Lat­ti­more or Rieu. I can under­stand this, because an “ele­vat­ed” style does not come eas­i­ly either to an Eng­lish lan­guage read­er or to an Eng­lish lan­guage writer. In soci­eties where caste and class are inte­gral to every aspect of life the use of a spe­cial “high” lan­guage in poet­ry or prose comes nat­u­ral­ly enough ― in some lan­guages there is an entire­ly dif­fer­ent sys­tem of gram­mar for aris­to­crat­ic or poet­ic speech. But most Eng­lish-speak­ing soci­eties do not hold class and caste as sacred ideals, and in Eng­lish such a lin­guis­tic dis­tinc­tion con­veys only insin­cer­i­ty. As a triv­ial, but illus­tra­tive exam­ple, con­sid­er record­ings of pop­u­lar songs by opera stars. Oper­at­ic singers are taught a very spe­cif­ic for­mu­la of enun­ci­a­tion, based on the Ital­ian val­ues of vow­els and con­so­nants, designed to make opera lyrics clear­er and show off the exact­ing vocal dis­ci­pline of oper­at­ic singing. We are not expect­ed to fall into a sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief in which we are tru­ly expe­ri­enc­ing the pow­er­house lungs of the diva as a frail con­sump­tive waif com­mit­ting sui­cide. Opera singers can’t aban­don this dis­ci­pline and enun­ci­ate like a Cana­di­an accoun­tant, a sheep ranch­er in the Aus­tralian out­back, or a teenag­er in Van Nuys, Cal­i­for­nia. So no mat­ter how much verve or tech­ni­cal skill they put into a pop­u­lar song, it is bound to give an impres­sion of arti­fi­cial­i­ty and false emo­tion. The pop­u­lar singer’s enun­ci­a­tion match­es that of col­lo­qui­al lan­guage, and thus sounds more sin­cere. How­ev­er, an Ital­ian oper­at­ic aria does not sound the least bit insin­cere to an Ital­ian. The same dis­ci­plined enun­ci­a­tion can be applied to an Ital­ian folk­song or pop song, and Pavarot­ti could switch from Verdi’s De’ miei bol­len­ti spir­i­ti” to the folksy Neapoli­tan Fen­es­ta vas­cia” with­out bat­ting an eye. The clos­est that one usu­al­ly comes to see­ing the use of the “ele­vat­ed” lan­guage con­ven­tion in Eng­lish is in 1950’s his­tor­i­cal movies set in ancient Rome, where the Sen­a­tors all speak in British Shake­spear­i­an Stage accents, the cen­tu­ri­ons are Amer­i­cans, and the slaves are Cock­neys or come from Brook­lyn. This is not a viable tem­plate for trans­lat­ing the Odyssey if one expects it to be read with­out laugh­ing.

One thing I noticed this time around is that the Odyssey is noth­ing like a “folk epic”. I’ve read or heard quite a few exam­ples of gen­uine folk epics, and this work doesn’t even remote­ly resem­ble them. It gives every indi­ca­tion of being the con­scious prod­uct of a sin­gle author who con­ceived of it as a uni­fied work, in short of being “lit­er­a­ture”, even if it was com­posed and per­formed oral­ly. That is not to say that it doesn’t con­tain folk­loric ele­ments. I think what Homer (or whomev­er) was doing was tak­ing a body of exist­ing folk song, itself based on an estab­lished mythol­o­gy, and embed­ding it into a coher­ent nar­ra­tive, which is in turn framed by an over­ar­ch­ing meta-nar­ra­tive. There is noth­ing impromp­tu about any of this con­struc­tion. Every­where in it one sees the fin­ger­prints of a writer, some­one care­ful­ly select­ing ele­ments, view­ing them from mul­ti­ple angles, cal­cu­lat­ing their tim­ing and effect, and using them as instru­ments of emo­tion­al manip­u­la­tion. The “hero” of the con­struct­ed work is not Odysseus, but young Telemachus, who occu­pies a large part of the total nar­ra­tive, and whose trans­for­ma­tion from inef­fec­tu­al youth to effec­tive adult is deter­mined at first by the absence of his father, then by his uncov­er­ing indi­rect evi­dence of his father’s adven­tures from tes­ti­mo­ny, then final­ly by Odysseus’ return­ing and re-estab­lish­ing his her­itage. As a reflec­tion of this process, Telemachus is guid­ed by Athena in the form of the vis­i­tor Men­tor. Odysseus’ fan­tas­tic adven­tures are embed­ded in this meta-frame in frag­men­tary form. Every­where in the nar­ra­tive it is the psy­cho­log­i­cal, not the phys­i­cal events that are empha­sized. No mat­ter how many mon­sters appear, most of the nar­ra­tive is like a real­is­tic nov­el:

While they were speak­ing Eurýnome and the nurse were mak­ing the bed by torch­light, spread­ing upon it soft sheets and blan­kets. And when they had fin­ished their work, soft sheets and blan­kets. And when they had fin­ished their work, Eurycléa went back to her room for the night, and Eurýnome, hold­ing a torch, accom­pa­nies them to the bed­room and left them there. And in great joy the two of them lay at last in each other’s arms. Telemachus and the cowherd and swine­herd stopped danc­ing, and told the women to stop as well and dis­missed them, and then they went to sleep in the shad­owy hall. When Pene­lope and Odysseus had tak­en their plea­sure in the joys of love, they told each oth­er their sto­ries. She told him of every­thing she had endured in the palace with the despi­ca­ble crowd of suit­ors encamped there, using her as an excuse to slaugh­ter so many cat­tle and sheep and to drink so much of their wine. And Odysseus told her of his great exploits in war, the suf­fer­ing he had inflict­ed and what he had suf­fered on his way home, and she lis­tened to him, enchant­ed, and she did not close her eyes until he had fin­ished.

There are as many female char­ac­ters in the Odyssey as there are male, and the nar­ra­tive either puts them in fore­front, has them behav­ing proac­tive­ly, or attempts to describe their points of view. It is Helen, not Menelaus, who tells Telemachus and the assem­bled ban­queters the tale of Odysseus’ fight­ing at Troy. Folk epics sim­ply don’t do these things, and they are not the prod­uct of the sim­ple accre­tion of folk tales or folk songs into a col­lec­tive tra­di­tion­al epic. This is a delib­er­ate, uni­fied work of lit­er­a­ture. Yes, there is a body of mythol­o­gy and song already known to the audi­ence, just as Her­mann Melville expect­ed his read­ers to already know the bible sto­ries that make Moby Dick com­pre­hen­si­ble, but they are made into some­thing which the audi­ence under­stands exists for and of itself. In fact, when­ev­er Homer is about to use a pre-exist­ing seg­ment of nar­ra­tive, he telegraphs this by his phras­ing and the way he leads into it. These ele­ments are like film-clips. We are invari­ably told how they are known, and why we are being told them — some­thing which folk epics rarely, if ever, do. The result is no more a folk epic or a col­lec­tive endeav­our than is Milton’s Par­adise Lost.

Anoth­er thing I noticed is the promi­nent role that drugs play in the nar­ra­tive. There are more than the Lotus Eaters and the potions of Circe:

And as they were wash­ing, Helen had an idea. Into the wine that they were to drink, she slipped a drug that dis­solved all grief and anger and ban­ished remem­brance of every sor­row. Who­ev­er drank this, once it was mixed in, would not be able to feel a moment of sad­ness that day, or to shed one tear ― not even if both their moth­er and father died or if some­one came and stabbed his son or broth­er in front of his eyes and he looked on as it hap­pened. It was one of the potent drugs that the daugh­ter of Zeus had been giv­en by Poly­dám­na, the wife of Thon, a woman of Egypt, the land where the rich earth pro­duces the great­est sup­ply of drugs, of which many are ben­e­fi­cial, and many are poi­so­nous.

A Roman mosaic portraying the Odyssey. Its stories were known to everyone --- literally thousands of murals, mosaics an painted pottery portraying it have survived, doubtless a tiny fraction of those that once existed.

A Roman mosa­ic por­tray­ing the Odyssey. Its sto­ry was known to every­one — lit­er­al­ly thou­sands of murals, mosaics and paint­ed pot­tery ves­sels por­tray­ing it have sur­vived, a tiny frac­tion of those that once exist­ed.

It’s not clear how much of the Odyssey can con­nect with a mod­ern read­er. The motives, val­ues and behav­iours are, after all, those of the ancient world, and these over­lap, but are not con­gru­ent with those of today. The Renais­sance and espe­cial­ly the Enlight­en­ment read­ing audi­ences were much more inter­est­ed in Telemachus’ role than in Odysseus’ mon­sters and dal­liances. It is not at all obvi­ous to the mod­ern read­er why Telemachus was seen by Voltaire and Thomas Jef­fer­son as a sym­bol of lib­er­ty and rea­son, enshrined in Fénelon’s Les aven­tures de Télé­maque (1699), which earned its author polit­i­cal exile. In the tumul­tuous 18th Cen­tu­ry, there were operas about Telemachus by Scar­lat­ti, Gluck, Destouche, Sor, Gaz­zani­ga, Le Sueur and Mayr.. far more than there were about Odysseus. Gluck’s Telema­co is still wide­ly per­formed. But the 19th Cen­tu­ry saw lit­tle of inter­est in either Telemachus or Odysseus, and despite the pres­tige of Homer, an atti­tude set­tled in that the Odyssey was an embar­rass­ing vul­gar com­mer­cial work that Homer must have ground out for the plebs to pay the rent while per­fect­ing the high­er-pres­tige Ili­ad ― or bet­ter yet that he didn’t write at all. So it was the Odyssey for the kid­dies and the Ili­ad for the adults. Only James Joyce, so it seems, thought oth­er­wise. This was quite log­i­cal in an age when “seri­ous” was equat­ed with “real­ist” and pres­tige lit­er­a­ture was not sup­posed to have mon­sters in it. Half the best books of the 20th Cen­tu­ry were ignored under the influ­ence of that premise. The 21st Cen­tu­ry has seen a renew­al of inter­est in the Odyssey, along with all forms of imag­i­na­tive, non-real­ist lit­er­a­ture.

Kirk Douglas and Rossana Podestà in Ulysses (1954)

Kirk Dou­glas & Rossana Podestà in Ulysses (1954)

As well as reread­ing the great epic, I also indulged in view­ing some of its cin­e­mat­ic inter­pre­ta­tions. First, I watched the Ital­ian-made Ulysses [Ulisse (1954) d. Mario Cameri­ni], with most of the minor roles dubbed, but the parts of Kirk Dou­glas and Antho­ny Quinn act­ed in Eng­lish. Sil­vana Man­gana appears as both Circe and Pene­lope. Telemachus is played by Fran­co Inter­lenghi, who is lit­tle known out­side of Italy, but began a pro­lif­ic film career at age 15 in Vit­to­rio De Sica’s Scius­cià, and for years rivaled Mar­cel­lo Mas­trioan­ni as a roman­tic lead. Rossana Podestà is a sexy Nau­si­caa. Dou­glas’ usu­al­ly annoy­ing smirk is well suit­ed to a Wily Ulysses [Odysseus], and he does quite a good job. The script doesn’t stray far from the orig­i­nal, though it selects a few seg­ments to con­cen­trate on and omits some oth­ers. The Cyclops devour­ing Greeks scene is pret­ty graph­ic for the 1950s. Next, I saw the 1997 tele­vi­sion minis­eries The Odyssey star­ring Armand Assante, who por­trays Odysseus as not so much wily as grumpy. The series is lit­tered with celebri­ty walk-ons: Isabel­la Rosselli­ni, Eric Roberts, Irene Papas, Geral­dine Chap­lin, Christo­pher Lee, some of which are rather strange cast­ing, e.g. Bernadette Peters as Circe, and Michael J. Pol­lard as Aeo­lus (!) As with the 1954 ver­sion, this minis­eries is rea­son­ably faith­ful to the orig­i­nal. The same can­not be said for Odysseus: Voy­age to the Under­world (2008, d. Ter­ry Ingram), a Romania/Canada/UK co-pro­duc­tion filmed in Cana­da. It bills itself as ” the tale Homer felt was too hor­rif­ic to tell; the miss­ing book of The Odyssey”. Yup. There is also a long French minis­eries from 2013 that I haven’t been able to find. 

FILMSAUGUST 2018

(Salkow 1940) The Lone Wolf Strikes
(Hellings 1985) Doc­tor Who: Ep.631 ― The Mark of Rani, Part 1
(Hellings 1985) Doc­tor Who: Ep.632 ― The Mark of Rani, Part 2
(Hon­da 1966) Franken­stein Con­quers the World [aka Franken­stein vs. Baragon]
(Tenold 2018) Brandon’s Cult Movie Reviews: Franken­stein Con­quers the World
(Bridge 2015) How the Uni­verse Works: Ep.28 ― Mon­ster Black Hole
(Mof­fatt 1985) Doc­tor Who: Ep.633 ― The Two Doc­tors, Part 1
(Mof­fatt 1985) Doc­tor Who: Ep.634 ― The Two Doc­tors, Part 2
(Mof­fatt 1985) Doc­tor Who: Ep.635 ― The Two Doc­tors, Part 3
(Gian­co­la 1994) Time Chasers [Mys­tery Sci­ence The­atre Ver­sion]
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