Jane Austen’s Bath

CLICK HERE to read my newest post on Bath:  Bath’s Persuasion

In early December, my travels took me to another World Heritage Site: Bath, England.  Jane Austen lived there from 1801 – 1806 after her family moved from her birthplace Steventon when she was 26.  The City of Bath at that time was a meeting place of high society, the centre of fashion and the hub of stylish urban development, with elegant and spectacular Georgian buildings and Palladian architecture.  What’s interesting is, today’s Bath remains more or less the same as it was in Jane’s time.  The buildings have been maintained in such immaculate condition that a visitor to Bath today can actually walk the paths of Jane’s and behold the city and landscape she had seen, and eat at a place that she could have frequented, the Sally Lunn’s.  This little bakery and eatery is located in the oldest house in Bath, dating back to the 1400’s, a historical site even for Jane.

Jane Austen chose Bath as the setting for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both novels published posthumously.  According to sources, in particular Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life, Jane did not like the City of Bath.  The superficiality and frivolity of high society were met with her satirical critiques.  Further, her disdain could well be caused by the very purpose she suspected of her parents’ decision to move there:  opportunities to meet favourable suitors for their daughters.

Nevertheless, for me as a modern day visitor to Bath, and a Janeite at that, I’m impressed to learn that most of what I see have lasted through hundreds of years.  The Roman Baths, the Bath Abbey where the first king of England Edgar was crowned in 973 A.D., the Pump Room, the Gardens, The Royal Crescent, Queen’s Square, The Pulteney Bridge, the same streets and architecture are situated just as they were in Jane’s time.

Here are some of the famous places in Jane Austen’s Bath.

Jane Austen’s first residence in Bath 1801 – 1805, No. 4 Sydney Place:

Jane Austen’s Residence 4 Sydney Place

Jane Austen’s Residence No. 4 Sydney Place

Jane Austen’s second residence in Bath, No. 25 Gay Street, now a dentist’s office:

JA’s second residence No. 25 Gay Street

Gay Street:

The Street Where Jane Lived

Queen’s Square across from Gay Street: Good spot for people-watching for Jane and Cassandra:

Queen’s Square across from Gay Street

The Pump Room: The meeting place of the Who’s Who in Jane Austen’s Bath:

“In the Pump-room, one so newly arrived in Bath must be met with…”  –Chapter 9,  Northanger Abbey

The Pump Room

The Pump Room Exterior

The Royal Crescent:  Georgian buildings spectacularly arranged in a crescent form, where the rich and fashionable took their Sunday afternoon stroll in Jane’s time.  Jane’s view is satirically clear:

“…they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.” –Chapter 5,  Northanger Abbey

The Crescent

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon:

Pultney Bridge Over the River Avon

Sally Lunn’s:  Famous buns since the 1680’s:

Sally Lunn’s

All photos originally taken by Arti of www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com

Text and photos All Rights Reserved, December, 2007.

More interesting posts coming up…and for Janeites, look for Lacock Village in my next post.

Update:  Due to the keen interest from readers of “Jane Austen’s Bath”, I’ve published another post, “Bath in December“, with more photos of my recent visit to that beautiful City.  After you’ve finished reading this post, you’re welcome to visit “Bath in December” and… enjoy!

Petra: Indiana Jones On Location

I’m still travelling in far off places, but just a few pictures to whet the appetite of those who have been so eagerly waiting.  Thanks for your patience.  I’ve been longing to share with you all my experience, the sights and sounds of distant lands, obscure to North Americans but definitely very popular places to explore for those in other parts of the world.  I feel like a wanderer in the Tower of Babel, hearing a myriad of unknown languages, not only from the natives of those lands, but from the crowds of visitors around me.

 The most amazing sight so far I must say is Petra, the city carved out of rocks, right in the red mountains of southern Jordan, about 3 hour’s drive southwest of the capital city Amman.  Petra was the land of the Edomites, descendants of Esau, twin brother of Jacob in the Old Testament of the Bible.  The ancient city was first constructed by the Nabataeans, and later came under Roman rule.  Earthquake and flooding had destroyed much of the city and it remained obscure for centuries until rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812.

The ancient ruins of Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.  Excavation has been an international effort towards which Brown University’s archaelogy and anthropology departments have contributed substantially.  Follow this link to their fabulous website  http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Anthropology/Petra/

Petra was the location for parts of the film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989).  You might recognize the famous facade of the ancient temple (The Treasury) which is the entrance to this amazing city in the rocks.

(First a word about COPYRIGHT:  I’ve travelled far, walked great distances and ridden on a donkey to take the following pictures, PLEASE DO NOT COPY.) 

Entering the red mountain region:

Entering the Mtn Region

A glimpse through the crack:

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Beholding the real wonder:

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The City carved out of rocks:

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Again, photos taken by Arti of www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com 

November, 2007.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

More to come in future posts.  Thanks for waiting.

Reading and Rereading

Update: As this post is published, the National Endowment for the Arts releases the results of a national reading survey.  Click on the post “To Read Or Not To Read” on December 29, 2007 to find out more. 

A recent poll in the UK revealed that 77% of 2034 people surveyed reread books.  Further, a fifth of them re-read their favorite book more than five times.

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According to this survey conducted by Costa, here’s the list of the most reread books in the UK:

1.  The Harry Potter series, JK Rowling

2.  The Lord of the Rings Series, JRR Tolkien

3.  Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

4.  The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

5.  Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

6.  1984, George Orwell

7.  The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

8.  The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

9.  Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

10. Catch 22, Joseph Heller

Interestingly, there’s yet another survey polling UK readers’ choice of ‘books they can’t live without’.   And here’s the list:

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
8 Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

 Who says the classics  are no longer relevant in today’s day and age? 

Out of curiosity, I wanted to find out whether similar research had been done in North America.  I found nothing for either the US or Canada.  I wonder if that is indicative of something. 

However, I did manage to locate one book-related poll for the US.  According to an Associated Press-Ipsos study conducted in August 2007, one in four adults in the US, or 27% of those surveyed, read no books at all in the past year. 

Again, I wonder if that is indicative of something…umm… just another poll.    

Miss Potter for Christmas

It’s not too early to make up a Christmas gift list, or actually start some Christmas shopping. I’ve a recommendation here for a DVD that you can safely watch with your children. But you’d also want to watch it by yourself too, because then you can savour in solitude the touching moments an adult can appreciate, and yes, shed a private tear, and let the movie work its magic freely in your heart.

Miss Potter (2006) is the story of Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit, one of the best loved children icons of all times. The film is a gem glittering with acting talents. As Beatrix, Renée Zellweger (Oscar for Cold Mountain 2003) brings to the screen a most delightful character, her genuine and innocent demeanor captures the audience’s heart the very moment she appears. She receives nominations this year for a Golden Globe and a Saturn Award for her role in Miss Potter, and well deserved.

Ewan McGregor (of Star Wars and Moulin Rouge fame, no relation to farmer McGregor) plays the slightly comical first-time publisher who has made history with his appreciation and confidence in the talents of Beatrix. The two naturally fall in love. Like a Jane Austen novel, such a relationship is frowned upon by Beatrix’s upper-middle class family and openly forbidden. But this time, a hundred years after Jane, Beatrix boldly confronts the inequitable and restrictive Victorian values and norms.

Emily Watson, herself an Oscar nominee for her role in Gosford Park, (and she is excellent in Angela’s Ashes), plays a lively supporting role as McGregor’s unmarried sister. The social issue of the unmarried female in a male-dominated society is freely explored through her outspoken character, but not without poignancy.

I must mention the song written for the movie, which has won the 2007 World Soundtrack Award for Best Original Song Written for Film. “When You Taught Me How To Dance” is sung by Ewan McGregor in the film during a mesmerizing and moving scene. As the credit rolls in the end, this touching tune is heard again, this time in its entirety performed by Katie Melua. Now, she’s another story to write about.

The captivating soundtrack matches the beautifiul scenery and period costume, together with the excellent script and the whimsical animation of Beatrix’s animal friends, make the movie utterly enjoyable and gratifying, but still delivering effectively the depth of sentiments and the dramatic twists and turns.

The DVD includes background on Beatrix Potter, commentary by director Chris Noonan and a making-of documentary with extensive interview with Renee Zellweger, plus a music video performed by Katie Melua singing “When You Taught Me How To Dance”. A valuable collection and I’m sure, a welcomed gift.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Beatrix Potter: A Journal (2006)

Beatrix Potter A Journal Book Cover

As a companion to the movie, and another great gift idea, is the book Beatrix Potter: A Journal which came out last year. A visual journal in the vein of Nick Bantock, the book is an imaginary scrapbook Beatrix would have made to chronicle her own life, with handwritten entries and notes, amusing drawings, little attached booklets, photo albums, and letters that can be taken out from envelopes. The book corresponds amazingly well with the movie, like a visual commentary.

Here are a couple sample pages from the journal:

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~~~3 Ripples for both Movie and Book

Batman Sequel: The Dark Knight on Location in Hong Kong


From Beowulf to Batman, we are a people of hero seekers, real or imaginary.  Our incessant quest seems to be even more acute in recent years as Hollywood plays a major role in fanning the flame.  The latest frenzy is in Hong Kong, where the new Batman movie The Dark Knight is filming on location.

To be released in July, 2008, the Batman sequel will again feature Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman, Lucius Fox.  Reportedly, Jack Nicholson was furious to find out that Heath Ledger will be replacing him as The Joker.  For the first time, Batman is going to venture out Gotham City, and the Metropolis of Hong Kong is the very location (plus Chicago and England) director Christopher Nolan finds most suitable for the superhero’s new crime fighting scenes to take place.

Thanks to my Hong Kong correspondent, I received these fresh photos, taken near the filming location in Hong Kong Central.  Crowds gathered to watch from a distance, many eagerly taking pictures of the filming.  The insatiable quest for the hero figure is indeed universal:

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The International Finance Centre (IFC), where Batman reportedly will jump off:

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Filming inside the famed Central-Mid-Level Escalator Walkway System:

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Photos copyright:  IPTV, November, 2007.

Used by Permission.

Update Jan. 22, 2008: Heath Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment today.  He was 28.

Adora Svitak: “Tiny Literary Giant”

“Knights!  Clear the square of townsfolk!” the Duke cried.  Within a few moments, the square was empty except for the Duke, the Duchess, Myles, Didoni, and the large, burly knights who were guarding the Duke.  The men put the litter down, and the Duchess lay down to rest.  The Duke was telling Didoni what he wanted on his portrait.

“Make me look strong and majestic. I want no one to think that I am a weakling, like my soft older brother the King,” the Duke said imperiously.

“Knights! Clear the square of townsfolk!” the Duke cried. Within a few moments, the square was empty except for the Duke, the Duchess, Myles, Didoni, and the large, burly knights who were guarding the Duke. The men put the litter down, and the Duchess lay down to rest. The Duke was telling Didoni what he wanted on his portrait.  

“Why not paint a suit of armor?” Myles suggested before he could stop himself.

“Yes! The lad has quite the idea!” the Duke exclaimed. “Paint me in a suit of armor, with nothing amiss. Make my eyes as sharp as an eagle’s, and my nose straight and curved at the end. My lips I care for not— but make them solemn.”

Didoni nodded.

“It shall be done of course, your Grace,” Didoni said, already beginning to sketch on his canvas.

                                —- Excerpt from Adora Svitak’s Historical Fiction

  

 Adora Svitak Website

Just as I was saying in my last post that I’d never come across any literary prodigy, the name Adora Svitak came up on my computer screen last night.  The above excerpt is one of the sample writings from her website,  where you can also find her poems and fantasy writing.  Adora is a 10 year-old girl from Redmond, Washington.  Whether you want to label her a prodigy or not really does not change what has taken place in her life.  Here are the milestones so far:

Age 2.5: 

Could read and write simple words.

Age 3.5:

Read her first chapter book.

Age 4:

Started writing short stories.

Age 6:

Got a laptop from her Mom, writing began to take off.

Age 7:

Published 296-page Flying Fingers, a collection of her own fiction and writing tips for others (with her Mom).  Appeared on Good Morning America, interviewed by Diane Sawyer, who called her “Tiny Literary Giant”.  Met Peter Jennings and was given his book The Century For Young People, which remained her favorite.  Started Adora’s Blog.  http://www.adorasvitak.com/Blogger.html

Age 8:

Had written over 400 short stories and 100 poems, typed 60-80 words per minute, read 3 books at a time, 18 books a week.  Oh, that’s nothing, you might say, “My kid could do that.”  Just wait, Voltaire’s Candide?

Another book in the work, a collection of her poems called Dancing Fingers.

Promoted literacy to children in the UK.  Here’s The Guardian report: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1713183,00.html

Age 9:

Completing her first full-length novel Yang in Disguise,  serving as a spokesperson for Verizon Reads campaign for literacy, working on an animated computer program to help develop childhood literacy.

Montel Interview: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/439176/adora_svitak_9_year_old_author_criticize_george_bushs_iraq_pol/

Note: According to her interview on Montel, the proceeds of her book Flying Fingers will be going to the National Education Association and she would auction off some of her works to raise money for the victims of hurricane Katrina, rebuilding libraries in schools.

All in all, I feel that this gifted little girl doesn’t really care whether you label her “literary prodigy” or not.  She’s having the time of her life in her reading, writing, cooking, playing, and helping others how to read and write…  And, how many 10 year-olds can have the terms “Writer, Poet, Humanitarian” to describe themselves on their website?   http://www.adorasvitak.com/Main.html

But is this Art?…But is this Prodigy?

The comments in my last post have spurred some insightful ideas on the whole notion of what Art is, and whether a child’s production can include such inherent elements as soulful expression, and purposeful creation driven by theoretical stance.

I think a more appropriate question is, “But is this Prodigy?”

In his review of the documentary My Kid Could Paint That, New York Times film critic A. O. Scott acknowledges that it is natural for parents to cherish their children’s work. Those doodlings and finger paintings posted on the fridge door are priceless. He goes on to say:

The untaught sense of color and composition that children seem naturally to possess sometimes yields extraordinary results, and the combination of instinct and accident that governs their creative activity can produce astonishing works of art.

Except that these magical finger-paint daubings and crayon scribblings aren’t really works of art in any coherent sense of the term, but rather the vital byproducts of play, part of the cognitive and sensory awakening that is the grand, universal vocation of childhood.

The influential abstract art critic Clement Greenberg had made the following controversial remark: 

In visual arts, prodigies don’t count. In music and literature, yes, but not in art.”

The statement reiterates his view that:

The making of superior art is arduous.”

I tend to agree with him. 

I have seen music prodigies, not having reached the ripe old age of 10 or 12, performing complex pieces of classical compositions.  In contrast to a child pouring paint and spreading it out intuitively with her fingers, I saw behind those performances the countless hours of excruciating practice, the intricate and sometimes impossible eye-hand coordination, the mastery of the theory and the appreciation of the structure of the work, to ultimately evoking the very spirit intended by the composer as they perform. 

Not only that, the best of them make it deceptively simple.  They make the audience feel that they are watching a natural, born with such ability and talent, rendering hard work an oxymoron.  I’m not doubting there’s intuition and instinct involved.  But in every superb playing I see intuitive musicality alchemized with extraordinary mastery of skills and discipline. 

As for literary prodigies?  Maybe because of my limited exposure, I have yet to read one.

My Kid Could Paint That

If you type in “Marla Olmstead” in your Google search, 37 pages of information will come up. From these pages, you’ll know that she is a painter, born in Binghamton, New York. Her paintings have been compared to Wassily Kandinsky (the pioneer of modern art) and Jackson Pollock (the legendary drip artist). You’ll also learn that her works have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars. And soon enough, you’ll learn that Marla Olmstead is 7 years-old.

Nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, My Kid Could Paint That is director Amir Bar-Lev’s quest to find out the true story behind this little girl who has been hailed as a “pint-size Picasso”. In the film, we see her using professional paintbrushes and other art accessories to work on canvases over 5 feet tall.

The first half of the documentary we see Marla Olmstead having her first showing in a NY Gallery, she was only 4 then. Her paintings sold like hot cakes, with a waiting list of more than 200 buyers, ready to snatch up anything she would produce. No need to worry about getting work for the next few years. As a 4 year-old, Marla had already earned more than $300,000, which her parents said had been put aside in a college fund. (Would she be going to college?)

Marla Olmstead Marla’s Burning Blue Ball

Then came the bombshell half way into the film. In a February, 2005, CBS’s 60 Minutes reporting, Marla and her parents were painted in a very different light. In the program, Charlie Rose interviewed Ellen Winner, a psychologist who has studied gifted children and specializes in visual arts. She saw a video tape taken by a hidden camera in the home of the Olmstead’s, unobtrusively recording Marla at work. What she suspected was a coach behind the child, someone prodding her on, even directing her moves. After the airing of the CBS program, a once beautiful art prodigy was overnight turned into an ordinary child with manipulative parents in the background steering her purposefully towards financial gain.

Sales began to drop, and warm praises turned into damning accusations. Loving parents are now seen as manipulative frauds. The Olmsteads have since made their own DVD to disprove the detrimental claims. You can see some of the clips showing Marla painting at home in the website http://www.marlaolmstead.com/

Director Amir Bar-Lev has successfully captured the emotional reactions Marla’s parents had in response to the 60 Minutes interview, and their attempt to defend their name in denying their invovlement in Marla’s artistic productions. Interestingly, the film does not take a stand. Rather, it has raised more questions than provided answers:

For those of us who are parents, what are our motives in raising our children? How can we decide what’s ‘best’ for them? How much influence should we or do we have over our children’s development? Where is the line between nature and nurture, pleasure and porfit? What’s more, what is art anyway? And the definition of modern art? Or, talent, for that matter? Does talent has to be associated with a monetary value or fame before it can be recognized?

Every one would have very different view of this story, and his/her own personal set of queries. I went to see this movie with a painter friend of mine. Not surprisingly, as we came out of the theatre, we had very different reactions to the film. Well one question I know I have, and it’s for my mom. Mom, if you’re reading…why wasn’t I given the big canvases and professional paintbrushes and those huge tubes of paints when I was a kid? How come I only got pencil crayons?

~~~3 Ripples

Lust, Caution: The Original, The Translation, The Movie

Let me jump on the bandwagon and join in the discussion of the latest Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000; Brokeback Mountain, 2005) movie. Lust, Caution has garnered much praise and recently won the Golden Lion at the 64th Venice International Film Festival.  Before my review, I’d like to offer some background here relating to the original short story on which the film is based, as well as its translation.

THE ORIGINAL

Eileen Chang 1920 - 1995“Lust, Caution” is a short story written by Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing), a writer born 1920 in Shanghai. Chang attended the University of Hong Kong from 1939 to 1941, majoring in Literature.  As the Japanese invasion advanced to Hong Kong, Chang had to cut short her education there and return to the then Japanese occupied Shanghai in 1942, where she began her vigorous writing career.  In a few short years she had gained popularity as a novelist, short story writer and essayist.

Eileen Chang had been compared to Eudora Welty and Katherine Mansfield, and was considered one of the few eligible contemporary Chinese writers as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature.  In 1952 she went back to Hong Kong and continued to publish, finally moving to the United States in 1955. A year later she married the scriptwriter Ferdinand Rehyer.  After Rehyer’s death in 1967, Chang continued to be prolific as a writer and translator of her own works, many of which had been turned into screenplays.  The more well known ones include Red Rose White Rose (1994), and Love in a Fallen City (1984), garnering numerous nominations and awards.  Apart from writing, Chang had also taught at Radcliffe College and UC Berkeley.  She lived reclusively in the latter part of her life and in 1995, died alone in her apartment in Los Angeles.

Chang’s style is crisp and explicit, her choice of words sharp and sensual, her subject matter contemporary.  Considered progressive in her days, Chang boldly dealt with the dichotomies of eastern and western cultures, tradition and modernity, and inevitably, male and female power relations, love and betrayal.  “Lust, Caution” the short story exemplifies her style and encompasses these subject matters.

In ‘Lust, Caution’, Chang has demonstrated that she is a master of story-telling.  Her talent lies in her succinct and incisive descriptions, the economy of words.  It is this feature that the 39-page short story is so compelling and memorable.  The story moves swiftly, effectively spilling the thrill and suspense, and bringing its reader to an intense and hard-hitting climax and ending.

Following the succinct style of Eileen Chang, here’s a synopsis of the story.  Wang Chia-chih, a university student, was recruited by a group of amateur student resistance to play a role in the assassination of Mr. Yee, the head of the secret police in the collaborative government in Japanese occupied Shanghai during the 1940’s.  Her mission was to seduce Mr. Yee and gain his trust, setting the stage for her fellow resistance members to strike.  Throughout the story, Chang intertwined the elements of love and lust, loyalty and betrayal, mass patriotism and individual desire to effectively move the story to an explosive climax.

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The Special Limited Chinese Edition I have is some sort of a movie tie-in edition.  It includes the 39 page short story, printed pages of Chang’s orginal handwritten manuscript, an article written by herself in defence of her story against a critic, and another short story published posthumously.  It is published by Taiwan’s Crown Publication, just freshly out in September, 2007.  If you read Chinese, this is a valuable collector’s item.

THE TRANSLATION

Lust Caution English TranslationThis movie tie-in English edition (New York: Anchor Books, 2007) is aptly translated by Julia Lovell, professor of Chinese history and literature at the University of Cambridge.  True to the style of Chang, Lovell’s translation is succinct and incisive, moving the story swiftly and thus enhancing the suspense and intrigue.

I find her Forward particularly helpful in that she included her own insight on the characterization, furnishing her readers with the essential background to Chang’s own life, which paralleled the protagonist Wang Chia-chi.  Her discussion on Chang’s writing style and the political realities during the Japanese occupation of China in WWII is particularly useful for one to appreciate the story.

Lovell’s commentary is lucid: “…[the climax and ending] give the story its arresting originality, transforming a polished espionage narrative into a disturbing meditation on psychological fragility, self-deception, and amoral sexual possession.”

This little book includes as well an Afterword by director Ang Lee, and a provocative essay by screenwriter/producer James Shamus, who also teaches at Columbia University.  A good read on its own.  If you read English, this is a keeper.

THE MOVIE

Lust Caution

I must admit, I had read the story in its original Chinese version twice and the English translation once before I went to see the movie.  Whether this could have affected my opinion can well be a possibility.  I went into the theatre with high expectations after reading the numerous reviews and comments from LC fans.  I was also aware that a movie should be judged on its own merits as a different artistic genre from the literary work.  After all, I had written on this topic in my post Vision not Illustration.

As a Chinese film director, Ang Lee has the advantage of visualizing Eileen Chang’s story as an insider, one who is in touch with the language, and the sociocultural and historical background.  Armed with these qualifications, Lee has successfully created an appealing atmosphere of nostalgia and exotic visualization through cinematography and symbolism.  He has laid out for his viewers a delectable visual feast.

But maybe because of his very attempt at perfecting the mood and setting up in details the scaffold of the story, Lee (or should I say the screenwriters James Schamus and Hui-ling Wang) had taken a bit too much time in the process.  I feel the 158 minutes could be shortened to keep alive the element of suspense. Further, being an experienced and talented director as Ang Lee, I’m sure if he so chooses, he can think of different ways to portray passion and possession without explicitly telling so by mere graphic eroticism scene after scene.  Ironically, the raw erotic displays may have robbed the viewers of the very emotions the director has intended for them.  I long for the swiftness of Eileen Chang and the subtlety of Wong Kar Wai as he did with In the Mood for Love (2000, also with Tony Leung).  Especially when one considers the laconic and intense climax bursting out at the end, the earlier part of the movie seems to be disproportionately long and off-balance.

As far as the delectable feast goes, the period costumes and setting, the cinematography, as well as the performance by the highly skilled actors Tony Leung and Joan Chen are all laudable and must be given credits.  As a first time actor, Tang Wei is proficient in capturing the ambivalence of conflicting emotions and longings as Wang Chia-chih.  American born singer/actor Lee-Hom Wang is adequate as an amateur student resistance leader.  Ironically, just because of his lack of experience in acting fits well with his role, depicting the raw naivety of the young patriots of the time.

Despite the concerted efforts of the cast and crew and the well intentions of the director, the film is bogged down by a script that ought to have been shortened by at least a half hour to bring out the element of suspense, and keep the integrity of the spy-thriller genre.  In her defence of the brevity of description in her story, Eileen Chang wrote, “I never underestimate the critical thinking skill of my readers.”  If the screenwriters had marked her words, the film would have been much more effective and gratifying.

~~2 1/2 Ripples

Snow Cake: Autism and Beyond

Snow Cake

Snow Cake (2006)–For those who wait for a movie to come out on DVD before seeing it, here’s a recommendation. Snow Cake came out a few months ago on DVD but is still on the current release shelf. It opened the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival with a gala screening, and was shown at numerous film festivals last year including the TIFF.

Seems like a long wait, but well worth it. And for those who have already seen it in theatres, the DVD release could well be the second wind. Considering all the special features of interviews with director and cast, as well as the quality deleted scenes, you might want to keep this one.

Filmed in Wawa, northern Ontario, the Canadian and British collaboration is one of those gems that can be found quite readily in the indy batch. Welsh director Marc Evans has won several European film awards. On top of his sensitive handling of the story, the film benefits greatly from an amazing cast.

Alan Rickman is Alex Hughes. While driving through Ontario to Winnepeg,  he picked up a young hitchiker, Vivienne (Emily Hampshire, who was nominated for a Genie for this role).  During the trip they got into an accident and the girl was tragically killed.  Propelled by guilt and responsibility, Alex went to look for Vivienne’s mother Linda, played by Sigourney Weaver, in the town of Wawa.  Upon finding her, it did not take long for him to notice that she had received the news with a very different light. Linda was autistic. From his short stay with her, coming to invovle in Linda’s life and getting to know her mysterious neighbour Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss), Alex drove on to his destination a few days later with a new perspective on himself and his ordeal.

Even though short-lived, Vivienne’s character is memorable. Her enthusiasm for life and acceptacne of those around her underscores the film.  The sound of Broken Social Scene adds a touch of lively, contemporary flare, like a tribute to the affable character of Vivienne. In contrast, Alan Rickman’s role as Alex is painfully affective. At times it is heartwrenching to watch as he deals with his internal torments as the story reveals itself.

Sigourney Weaver had spent a whole year researching on autism to ready herself for the role of Linda.  And for most parts, she has delivered a convincing performance. But it is the screenwriter Angela Pell that has so poignantly depicted the limitations but also the different views and insights an autistic person can offer those who are considered ‘normal’. Pell has mingled her characters, autistic or not, into a pool of humanity, revealing the indistinguishable, common thread joining them all.  Her script is at times very funny, and at times permeates with pathos. Through the words of Linda, the punchline is delivered ever so aptly at the end. Angela Pell has indeed written from her heart and her own experience.

She is mother to a nine-year-old autistic son.

~~~3 Ripples

Vision not Illustration

Read a post entitled “It’s All About the Story” on the Austenblog relating the controversial remarks the Welsh filmmaker Peter Greenaway made recently in an international film festival.  He criticised modern blockbusters like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, dismissing them as “not films but illustrated books”.  As for all the Austen movies sprouting up in recent years, Greenaway said:

Cinema is predicated on the 19th-century novel.  We’re still  illustrating Jane Austen novels—there are 41 films of Jane Austen   novels in the world.  What a waste of time.”

This is my response.  I recognize that not all attempts of turning books into films are successful, many far from being effective.  However, a good movie should be the portrayal of a vision, not mere illustration or graphic representation of the written words.  As I have commented in that post, let’s just say a film is the visualization of the novel, not mere illustration.

And there is a major difference between vision and illustration: the former is seeing through an interpretive lens, rather than simply transferring images from one medium to another like the latter.

That’s why we may like a certain adaptation over another of the same Austen novel, and that’s why there can be more than one movie on the same story… Just as Bach had created Theme and Variations, we can have Story and Adaptations. That’s the reason why we still go to the concert hall and listen to different masters playing the same pieces of music, infusing into their performance their own unique persona and interpretation.  As an art-house filmmaker, Mr. Greenaway should have grasped this very fundamental notion.

As for future endeavors to turn Austen novels into films, I say, “All the best!”

Field of Dreams: Baseball for the uninitiated?

Saw Field of Dreams (1989) on AMC last night, and this time, it hit me harder.  Watching the movie again has stirred up some ripples, deeply and belatedly.  To say that Field of Dreams is about baseball is like saying Cinderella Man is about boxing.  Movies like these speak to us not because we are necessarily sport enthusiasts, baseball or boxing fans, but that we, every one of us, belong to a family, or at least in memory, and that we are a part of the human race.

By heeding a voice telling him to build a baseball field in his cornfield, Ray Kinsella unknowingly began a journey of reconciliation.  Using baseball as a springboard, and through the characters and the ingenious twists in the story, the movie leads its viewers, who are as unknowing as Ray, to taste the almost mythical reality of dreams fulfilled, past yearnings realized, and lost relationships redeemed.  The film satisfies by simply portraying the very possibilities that these miracles can happen.

It is because of these universal themes that the film can reach far beyond nationalities and borders.  In fact, the original story is not written by an American.  The movie is based on the book Shoeless Joe, which is written by a Canadian author, W. P. Kinsella.  Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Kinsella used to teach English at the University of Calgary.  (I still remember listening and taping his interview on a CBC radio program…oh, those were the days.)  Among the numerous awards and nominations the movie has garnered including an Oscar Best Picture nomination, it won the 1991 “Best Foreign Film” category in the Awards of the Japanese Academy.

Critics who love to associate Kevin Costner only with Waterworld should at least remember that, he is the man who brought us such American modern classics as Field of Dreams and Dances with Wolves….all other failings are forgiven, easily.

~~~3 Ripples