Monday, April 30, 2018

Infinite Avengers in Infinite Combinations

I went to the Marvel trough and fed on the nondescript paste called Avengers: Infinity War yesterday. It wasn't really bad or really good, but felt like an overproduced, late career album from a wealthy rock star. With so many hands in the mix also collectively constrained to strands of continuity, the mandated beats of a modern blockbuster, and the general lifelessness of so much cgi, there's little chance for distinguishable flavour to rise from the soup. But the filmmakers did manage to find a unifying theme.

Spoilers after the screenshot

This is a movie about sacrifice. Duh. I suppose there might be two or three people who missed that after it was hammered home again and again and again. Maybe Drax (Dave Bautista) missed it. Not since "With great power comes great responsibility" has a superhero movie so heavily slathered its theme over the top of everything else. One character after another arrives at the point where they must choose between killing another character or allowing disaster to occur.

Let's see if I can remember them all.

Quill (Chris Pratt) has to kill Gamora (Zoe Saldana)--he tries but Thanos (Josh Brolin) prevents it.

Scarlet Witch (Elisabeth Olsen) has to kill Vision (Paul Bettany)--she finally tries but Thanos prevents it.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) failed to let Thanos kill Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and gave up the Tesseract instead.

Gamora failed to sacrifice Nebula (Karen Gillan), giving up the location to the Soul Stone instead.

Thanos successfully sacrificed Gamora.

Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gave up the Time Stone instead of allowing Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) to die.

This one seems the fishiest, though I don't for a moment believe Loki died trying to stab Thanos with a little dagger. If he really is dead it was the most underwhelming end for any Marvel cinematic character to date.

But Strange giving up the Time Stone for Tony Stark seems really weird. They'd just met--plus there was the earlier scene that abruptly ended when Strange said there was one way out of--I think it was--fourteen thousand they could win. And just before Strange was wiped from existence he said something about how "this was the only way."

I do like that the filmmakers seem to have turned the aspect people complain about most into part of the main idea--the movie's overcrowded and suffers from it; Thanos sees a universe that's overcrowded and suffering for it. So his solution is a seemingly random wiping out of 50% of the population of the universe. Thanos becomes the central figure of the film because of how he factors into everyone else's stories and it's nice that he actually seems conflicted about what he's doing. Josh Brolin delivers a good performance through the veil of cgi, too. So I suppose if one flavour does distinguish itself in this movie it's grape.

The point of all the sacrifices seems to be to ponder the idea over and over--the good of the many outweighs the good of the few but can you put that knowledge in practice if it means killing someone you love?

It's a worthy subject to ponder but diluted a bit in how repetitive it is, and even more by the really really lame wisecracks. Having all these people together did also highlight some of the flaws in the too consistent Marvel formula--suddenly instead of one dopey funny guy and his long suffering, beautiful, and dull girlfriend, we have a hundred dopey funny guys and their long suffering, beautiful, dull girlfriends. There's dopey Quill who won't grow up for Gamora, there's Vision who stumbles over his words while trying to talk to Scarlet Witch, and there was dopey Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who can't get his Hulk up and his almost girlfriend Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who, when a foe is vanquished, quips, "That's rough." To be fair, Black Widow is usually more interesting but, then, most of these characters are. I guess this movie helps you appreciate the circus Joss Whedon ran in the first Avengers.

So the movie ends with a bunch of people dying we know won't remain dead. Unless Spider-Man Homecoming 2 is going to be about Miles Morales. Something that obviously was meant to be a gut punch feels like a waste of time. But the performances were entertaining and some of the comedy from the Guardians of the Galaxy folks was genuinely effective.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

From the Netherworld to Scotland

And so I come by Sir Walter Scott via H.P. Lovecraft. Perhaps this is not a common statement nowadays. But Barnes and Noble has put out a collection of stories called H.P. Lovecraft Selects, a compilation of Lovecraft's recommendations from his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature". I'd always meant to go through all of Lovecraft's recommendations so this was pretty handy and I've been slowly making my way through the tales since October between all the other things I've been reading. This is how I first read Sir Walter Scott because an 1828 story of his, "The Tapestried Chamber", is included. Set just after the American Revolutionary War, it centres on a veteran of that war returning to England and staying at the home of an acquaintance near "a small country town, which presented a scene of uncommon beauty, and of a character peculiarly English." Scott, a Scotsman, is known for his works of fiction involving Scotland so I guess it's kind of funny my first exposure to him is a story clearly meant to evoke a particularly English nostalgia. The supernatural element, the fact that the room the protagonist stays in turns out to be haunted, isn't explicitly linked to how the incident is couched, but maybe there's something in being on the losing side of a war that was in many ways ideological that makes sense of a ghost who's frightening because of how little it seems to make sense on the surface.

Issues that come to the surface for reasons outside discernible, rational logic are of course a hallmark of H.P. Lovecraft's work so it makes sense he'd consider this story to be an influence. I was surprised how effective it was; it starts off pleasant enough with Scott's descriptions of his protagonist's journey. The tranquil, pastoral tone is very suddenly replaced by something bizarrely visceral in a description of the walking, seventeenth century corpse of an old woman that disturbs the soldier's sleep. This is followed by a discordantly mild denouement that leaves an eerie after-taste; a couple of friends affably discussing the matter that suggests the ways in which terrible issues are suppressed by the commonplace.

So this sure won me over on Walter Scott. I looked through the list of novels he wrote, probably I should've started with Ivanhoe or Waverley, but I've been reading his 1822 novel The Pirate. I'm only seven chapters in, just under a fourth of the way through. The first couple of chapters weren't especially interesting, introducing the environs and some of the history of Zetland in the seventeenth century--the place and time in which the novel's set--and the old man and his adult son who come to live there. The son, Mordaunt, is a barely sketched romantic figure who's described as befriending the two beautiful daughters of the local landlord. An entire chapter is spent describing the daughters but remains ploddingly abstract throughout, using no dialogue and few anecdotes to establish that one daughter is serious and the other fun and Mordaunt has no way of choosing between the two or any apparent desire to.

But then things start to get colour when Scott spends a series of chapters concentrating on a house Mordaunt's forced to take shelter in during a bad storm. We're given the entertaining backstory of its residents--an eccentric horticulturist who failed in an attempt to become a pastor and his miserable sister named Baby. And then another mysterious visitor arrives and Scott gives this wonderfully gothic description of the witch, Norna:

“I say to you beware—while Norna looks forth at the measureless waters, from the crest of Fitful-head, something is yet left that resembles power of defence. If the men of Thule have ceased to be champions, and to spread the banquet for the raven, the women have not forgotten the arts that lifted them of yore into queens and prophetesses.”

The woman who pronounced this singular tirade, was as striking in appearance as extravagantly lofty in her pretensions and in her language. She might well have represented on the stage, so far as features, voice, and stature, were concerned, the Bonduca or Boadicea of the Britons, or the sage Velleda, Aurinia, or any other fated Pythoness, who ever led to battle a tribe of the ancient Goths. Her features were high and well formed, and would have been handsome, but for the ravages of time and the effects of exposure to the severe weather of her country. Age, and perhaps sorrow, had quenched, in some degree, the fire of a dark-blue eye, whose hue almost approached to black, and had sprinkled snow on such parts of her tresses as had escaped from under her cap, and were dishevelled by the rigour of the storm.

After the airless exposition on the landlord's daughters, this was a welcome change. After this, even the kinds of descriptions of gloomy landscape and buildings I wasn't particularly enjoying suddenly seemed awesome and absorbing. I look forward to the rest of the book.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Incidental Nyssa Paradox

Following from 2013's Lady of Mercia, a Fifth Doctor audio that barely featured Nyssa, the also 2013 audio play Prisoners of Fate is all about Nyssa. Writer Jonathan Morris satisfyingly ties together several plot elements that had accumulated for the lady from Traken over the course of a variety of audio plays, offering some resolutions along with a starting point for some new ideas in a nice time paradox puzzle story.

When Janet Fielding came back to play Tegan, the makers of the audio plays naturally wanted to assemble the Fifth Doctor's (Peter Davision) best team of companions--Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan, and Turlough (Mark Strickson). The trouble was, any story featuring Turlough before Enlightenment had to include the subplot about him being in league with the Black Guardian, a story arc from Five's second season, and Nyssa had left the show in the story previous to Enlightenment. So in the audio Cobwebs, Nyssa was reunited with the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough after the events of Enlightenment. The makers of the audios also took the opportunity to age up Nyssa to something close to Sarah Sutton's actual age, featuring her decades later in the process of trying to find a cure for a disease called Richter's Syndrome.

The trouble with this was, in an earlier audio play, Winter, the Fifth Doctor had already encountered an older Nyssa who had not met up with him after Terminus. Winter had taken place inside the Fifth Doctor's mind while he was undergoing the regeneration seen in his final television serial, The Caves of Androzani. The Doctor and Nyssa essentially share a dream as part of his visions of previous companions and she tells him about her grown children and her life since she'd left the TARDIS. So when Nyssa rejoins the group in Cobwebs, she realises she can't tell the Doctor about her kids because the regenerating Fifth Doctor she'd encountered already didn't know about them yet.

Then people decided it was no fun having an older Nyssa around--and made things difficult because, since her voice sounded the same, it had to be explained somehow in every story that she looked older. So in The Emerald Tiger she finds a sort of fountain of youth and she's back to familiar television Nyssa, presumably enabling any casual listener to then pick up in the next story without needing to be filled in on why Nyssa's there and Turlough's not working for the Black Guardian.

But Jonathan Morris decided to turn all these convoluted band-aids and plot reroutings into a plus for a deliberately confusing paradox puzzle plot. So the group actually runs into one of Nyssa's kids, as an adult, on a planet where the rulers are able to see the future. To add to the confusion, Nyssa's son is named Adric (Alastair Mackenzie) and when he sees Nyssa on camera he assumes he's seeing her from earlier in her time stream, from before Terminus, before she left the Doctor. In his mind, she disappeared, presumed dead, when she left with the Doctor again in Cobwebs. The audio tries to confront the awkward truth that Nyssa, despite obtaining the cure for Richter's Syndrome, never returned home with it, choosing instead to wander with the Doctor. Both she and the Doctor try to explain this but no explanation ever quite holds water. I'm not sure what Morris could have done but I admire the effort.

Adric II is also working on the cure for Richter's Syndrome his mother never delivered so naturally the issue comes up. Parallel to this tangle is the one involving the oracle that allows the local authority to try criminals before they commit crimes. There's a nice courtroom scene where the Doctor points out the subjectivity in the premonitions the wordless oracle chooses to show--and of course this is borne out later in the story when we see them come true but in contexts that greatly modify the guilt.

There's the old fashioned, very understated, possibly romantic tension in this one between the Doctor and Nyssa and also between the Doctor and Tegan but it doesn't aspire to anything as blatant as some of the earlier stories. I always had the feeling that Tegan, on television, was sort of meant to be the possible romantic partner that never came close to coming off due to the number of companions Five usually had at once. The audios where it's just him and Nyssa travelling go a long way to take Five out of his "older brother" image into something like romantic chemistry, though it's never quite as overt as Four and Romana or Ten and all his companions. Maybe once all paradoxes are cleared away, then there'll be time for love.

Twitter Sonnet #1108

Horizons crowd with plastic figment trees.
The outer edge of hardened clouds condensed.
A question writ on stationed eyes was seized.
The song of tangled trumpets soon commenced.
A sturdy figure hauled the cable up.
A row of stars descends across the board.
Acclaimed in blue, at times we lately sup.
At silent docks the hulks are always moored.
An artist claims succeeding slides of brooks.
A creek could glitter red for peppers near.
The lamps along the bank were casting looks.
A darkened knot became the birch's deer.
At last, a synthesized recorder played.
The old electric bed was never made.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Old and Simple Tale Repeats

Mikio Naruse had one consistent statement throughout the decades of his varied career as a filmmaker: the necessity of making money to live has a long term, fundamentally destructive influence on families and individuals. His 1933 silent film, Nightly Dreams (夜毎の夢), like several of his other silent films is a more simplistic take on this idea than the more psychologically complex films he would make in the 50s and 60s. The story of a Ginza waitress struggling to raise a child taking on the added burden of an ashamed and jobless husband doesn't get much more complicated than that but Naruse shows his talent for creating tension with shot sequences and subtle blocking of actors.

Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima) is barely getting by, her job as a waitress not even giving her enough money for her own place. She and her five or six year old son, Fumio (Teruko Kojima), live with some friends whose home seems to be little more than a shack.

Omitsu's work involves having to indulge the attentions of misbehaving drunks. One night a sea captain overhears her asking her boss for money and immediately offers her a wad of bills. She has to accept it but the worried look on both her and her boss's faces communicates to us they know this will inevitably lead to trouble.

Her husband, Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saito), Fumio's father, shows up one night--he'd apparently left her and the kid some time ago for reasons the film never explains. But given his difficulty finding work throughout the rest of the film, and his shame at being a burden, perhaps it's easy to guess. His possessiveness of Omitsu also makes it even harder for her to do her job.

The actors are good and Naruse has great skill but there's not much deviation from or florish to this very straightforward story except for one scene where Omitsu's friend is eating sushi. I keep seeing old Japanese movies where people eat sushi all wrong according to the rules I hear at sushi restaurants--they almost never eat whole pieces with one bite, for example. This woman also finds hers has too much wasabi--the title cards doesn't need to explain why she suddenly winces and holds her nose.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Someone's In the Kitchen with Naomi

There were lots of great character moments in last night's new episode of The Expanse, an episode that used a series of good scenes to show overlapping political, personal, and social issues and the unpredictable ways they play off each other.

Spoilers after the screenshot

There were two someones in the kitchen with Naomi (Dominique Tipper) in two separate scenes that contrast with each other in a nice way. Both are scenes where someone tries to make peace with her, one more successfully than the other. First Alex (Cas Anvar) offers her some food, this coming after a scene where he finally hears back from his wife on Mars.

This was a scene that showed why Cas Anvar is one of the standout performers on this show as the rapid sequence of emotions that pass through him after his wife has told him she's left him are completely clear. So his motive for making peace with Naomi is also clear--he's suddenly realised, without Mars and without his wife and kid, his misfit shipmates on the Pinus are the only family he has. I like that he still made it clear that he's still furious about Naomi for giving up the protomolecule, but there's a basic human need that transcends that. It's a very sweet scene.

The episode began with another Martian, Bobbie (Frankie Adams), in a nice, dialogue-free scene that establishes her own feelings. With a relaxed smile she sits down, happy to be in the familiar Martian surroundings, until she sees the defaced Martian flag and she's furious.

Despite her own experiences that have cut her off from Mars, the symbols are too personal for her, and it's especially a cruel shock coming when she was feeling a sense of peace at being some place, somewhat like home.

Feelings of family and loyalty are too deep rooted and complex to be cast aside even for very clear logical reasons. The other person to have a scene with Naomi in the kitchen is Avasarala and it was a pleasure watching Shohreh Aghdashloo and Dominque Tipper doing a scene together. Outside the more restrictive political scenes and voluminous costumes, Aghdashloo seems to be taking the opportunity to give a more physical performance, her poses simultaneously theatrical and reminding me a bit of Marlon Brando.

She gives a very political line to Naomi about how she understands that not all Belters support the actions of the OPA--it's a familiar line one might hear from someone talking to an Irish person about the IRA or a Muslim about ISIS. There's insight in it and maybe a real effort at sympathy but of course it's patronising and Naomi demonstrates why with her angry reaction--she might not agree with OPA all the time but there's a history of personal and philosophical dialogue that Avasarala's political speak is tone deaf to.

The episode also featured some nice moments of nuance with two of its more villainous characters, Mao (Francois Chau) and Errinwright (Shawn Doyle). Even Mao has a moment of conscience after he, like Alex with his shipmates, has a transference of familial connexion, in his case to Prax's daughter. And in his case, he does allow his personal feeling to influence his policy decision.

Errinwright, meanwhile, shows he really is as conflicted as he seemed last season. He's clearly shaken by the over two million people who died because one Martian missile got past Earth's defence systems. Then he does something really petty with that feeling and goes and tells Anna (Elizabeth Mitchell) that it could've been avoided if the president had had firmer resolve--implying that it was she who swayed him. It's unclear if Errinwright's insinuation is right but we see by the look on her face that Anna knows he could be. And Errinwright walks away with a bitter smile at the knowledge that he's spread some of the misery. So he's not a total psychopath--he does feel bad about people dying--but he's too weak not to abuse others for his own pain management. I think he's an asshole, but then, it's hard to imagine what it would be like feeling responsible for two million deaths.

There were also some nice scenes on the UNN flagship. I love those classic space opera corridors. I definitely like the more complex lighting after the endless blue of the Pinus/Rocinante.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Hyde Solution

Is it necessary for our well being to commit rape and murder? The vast majority of us would say no but Henry Jekyll takes it as read in the extraordinary 1980 BBC adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. With a great performance by David Hemmings in the title role and several wonderful supporting performances--including Diana Dors and Clive Swift--this adaptation's perspective on sex and society clearly and cleverly reflects the punk groundswell of its day.

It begins with Jekyll seemingly addressing us directly before we realise he's recording a monograph. He puts forth the familiar theory about human beings being composed of a good and evil duality but then he directly says, "If the twin sides of my nature could be separated then the unjust could go its own way without disgracing its more upright twin." What? So the idea isn't to get rid of evil so much as to make sure he can have his evil cake and eat it too. It brings the concept a little closer to Dorian Gray at heart--goodness is imputed to be an entirely superficial thing even by the most virtuous. So ingrained is the concept of an abstract morality governing all things that characters in this story don't even consider that it could be related to real actions or conditions. Jekyll figures he's going to be under the evil column anyway for the impossible to anticipate shifting goal post of "good" so he may as well see himself as a murderer.

This is the first one I've seen to directly connect this with Protestantism. When Utterson (Ian Bannen) speculates that Henry has some past sin or disgrace haunting him, Lanyon (Clive Swift) dismissively replies, "There speaks the voice of John Calvin."

I'm always happy to see Diana Dors, one of my favourite actresses, and I knew without having to look she'd be playing the brothel madam. We meet her ensconced behind a beautiful elevated desk like a judge. An appropriate impression because this version amusingly portrays Jekyll as a regular visitor already--he pays to have prostitutes beat him. Presumably for Original Naughtiness.

Jekyll and Hyde both talk about how the moral duality also might exist in women and this is reflected in Jekyll's fiancee, Ann Coggeshall (Lisa Harrow), who unlike the ciphers of earlier versions seems like a very good match for Henry. She's shocked by the suggestion of improprieties but also leads the men on one of the sadly enduring displays of Victorian hypocrisy, the slum tour.

This version combines the Suave Hyde with the Wolfman Hyde. Hemmings gets heavily made up as Jekyll so he can look younger and more handsome as Hyde but in the transition sequences, and when things start to go wrong, he gets more hair and weird teeth.

As in the novella, there's absolutely nothing to suggest that there's anything but a cosmetic difference between Jekyll and Hyde, Hyde merely representing Jekyll under the cloak of anonymity and, in this case, with better looks and a charm that comes with self-confidence and ease of manner. So his insistent belief that he has become two separate people seems especially mad, just as unvarnished as Boris Karloff's version in the Abbott and Costello movie but much more disturbing in this context.

This is a Hyde who preys on children, too, in ways much worse than trampling them. He takes one twelve or thirteen year old girl back to her hovel where she regularly sells her body, talks to her in a broad, amiable manner like a TV presenter before cheerfully telling her to undress. I had to wonder, were the makers of this film trying to say something about Jimmy Savile? In any case, they manage to say something much bigger about society with the casual revelation that Hyde is far from the first to abuse her in this way.

Another of Hyde's victims is Jekyll's housemaid played by Toyah Willcox with a nice, understated simmer. She can't read and Hyde tricks her into taking mescal--which is also a component of his potion in this film. Someone who commented on one of my earlier reviews, Evan S Ent, told me that the formula for mescaline is written on Jekyll's chalkboard in this version, which would explain why the first transformation sequence has the inverted colours and other camera effects associated with drug trips in other films. I suppose it's possible the whole film after that first dose is one long hallucination. I'd hope so, for a lot of people's sakes.

Twitter Sonnet #1107

A silver shadow traced a fabric bird.
A stencilled night behind the curtain sleeps.
The paint not dry the morning reads the word.
A nodding bowler boards the train it keeps.
The early metal pings for walking phones.
Across a marble street the blind've blinked.
Betimes the shuffling egg could make the bones.
Preserve a brain of grapes beneath the rink.
The ancient face remakes the new to back.
A timely flame appeared a cent'ry gone.
As punching cards dissolve to painted wrack.
A pigment gave a sun to canvas dawn.
A shiny mustard bullion fills the hold.
The endless columns do resemble gold.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

It's a Strange World, Jekyll

Decades before she starred on Showtime's revival of Twin Peaks, Laura Dern appeared in another Showtime series, desperately trying to catch the eye of Henry Jekyll on Shelley Duvall's short lived anthology series, Nightmare Classics. With a teleplay by J. Michael Straczynski, this version of Jekyll and Hyde, like the Jack Palance version, takes a cue from The Nutty Professor but even more obviously. With an ending that's a bit too abrupt and a misguided conception of Hyde, the episode does have some nice performances from Dern and Anthony Andrews as well as some disappointing supporting performances. In comparison to other examples of the "shy Jekyll" and "suave Hyde" type, this one functions mainly in agreement with the original argument of the novella.

Andrews plays a shy and awkward Dr. Jekyll. Unable to muster the courage to return the earnest and obvious affections of Rebecca Laymon (Dern) he throws himself into his research. This neatly ties in with his repression leading to the creation of the psychopathic Hyde.

Makeup is minimal in this one but Andrews does a good job with his performance making Jekyll and Hyde seem like different people. Unfortunately, his decision to play Hyde as exceedingly stiff and aloof doesn't really make sense for a persona that's supposed to be without any restraint or inhibitions. He kind of comes off as a cross between Jeremy Irons and Klaus Nomi.

Rue McClanahan appears as the brothel owner with a broad French accent, her performance more suited for oversized comedy; she's a bit out of place here. Laura Dern has the seemingly effortless natural charm she's known for though it's a bit of a mystery why she's so attracted to Jekyll. She mentions admiring his work--it could've been an intriguing bit of irony if she loved him for the very work that's tied into his destructive repression. In this version, Jekyll speaks quite plainly of good and evil, something that causes a character to remark he seems more like a priest than a doctor. In this Straczynski might have been attempting to neatly wed the Nutty Professor premise with the novella's original idea of the destructive nature of artificial, imposed codes of moral conduct.

But after a climax that features an abrupt confrontation with quite of issues unresolved, nothing feels adequately fleshed out. The impression is of a two hour script with roughly half of it removed. But there are some nice elements in what there is.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Prison of Hyde

I hardly expected the cruellest adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde I've seen thus far to be a 1990 TV movie starring Michael Caine. But it is, simply by going with the premise that Jekyll really is a decent fellow whose life is being ruined by his experiment gone wrong. This is another Jekyll who sees morality as unscientific but unlike the Jekylls in Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll or the 2003 adaptation, the character isn't given this belief so the movie can make a counterargument. Instead, he finds he was right all along but there's no pleasure in being right as the consequences are horrific and sad.

This is underlined by one of the most nightmarish Hydes I've seen. I think Michael Caine is a good actor but not one with a lot of range. Fortunately the makeup here more than makes up for it, his Hyde being this strange trollish creature with an oversized bald head who can barely talk. I really like the transformation sequences, too, where the man's flesh seems to boil from a great internal heat.

We find this Jekyll a widower, his late wife the daughter of his professional rival, Dr. Lanyon (Joss Ackland). Now Lanyon's other daughter, Sarah (Cheryl Ladd), has her heart set on Jekyll, a fact complicated by the fact that she's already married.

She sure doesn't look period accurate, does she? This is the first shot of her--I couldn't restrain a "Wow." The hair immediately launches a powerful salvo of anachronism. I love how every generation seems to have a completely different idea of what's fair to put into the Victorian aesthetic.

It's Dr. Lanyon in this one who's obsessed with appearances and reputation, an aspect of the plot fleshed out with several supporting society characters giving the story something like the feel of an Oscar Wilde play. There's also a substantial amount of time spent with a tabloid reporter, desperate to catch every hint of sexual scandal so he can blow it up in his paper. In contrast, Jekyll and Sarah embarking on an affair seems a great breath of fresh air. It's more remarkable because it happens after Hyde brutally rapes Sarah and Jekyll confesses to her his secret.

Some more time could have been spent conveying her trauma from the incident--though Ladd's performance can also be interpreted as admirable fortitude--but it is clear that this is a Jekyll with no similarity to Hyde. So her willingness to become his partner as he tries to cure himself of Hyde makes sense.

His initial goals are a little more vague than usual--something about curing madness. When he starts to gain some insight into a possible future in genetic manipulation he becomes disgusted with his own work.

He also has a room at a brothel for Hyde, who, incredibly enough, seems to have behaved himself well enough until a prostitute named Lucy (Kim Thomson) gets the scratches on her back that Miriam Hopkins and Ingrid Bergman got before her in the same role.

The colour scheme for prostitutes in this film is a bold red and white. I love the bug eyed madam played by Miriam Karlin.

She seems to be the prototype for the character played by Glenn Close in Mary Reilly and there's another similar madam in the 2003 movie.

When Lanyon finds out what his daughter is doing with Jekyll he throws her out in the rain, a fact gleefully reported in the papers, his effort to preserve his reputation earning him no sympathy. But, as in the novella, when Hyde goes to Lanyon and transforms in front of him, it seems to inflict a terrible psychological blow to the older man. In this case, it seems to come from the revelation that the cruelty of his own actions, in the interest of preserving social morality, is useless and pales in comparison to a far crueller reality. When Lanyon tells Jekyll only God can help him now, he can only weep when Jekyll replies, "Then why doesn't He?"

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jekyll for God

Even by Victorian standards, the 2003 television adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is very conservative. Like The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, this version deliberately reframes the story to make a philosophical statement opposite to Robert Louis Stevenson's and it also takes a cue from Mary Reilly in its focus on the servant class. In this case, it does so to argue that some people are meant to be servants and others are meant to be aristocrats, that it's something possibly determined by inherited genetic traits. Other than the levels of violence portrayed, at the heart of this story is a perspective that might have been applauded by an ardent Victorian Royalist. It has lousy dialogue and a mediocrity in composition, editing, and music typically associated with TV movies but it also has some decent performances and some really pretty sets.

Early in the movie we get what seems like some really clumsily expository dialogue--Dr. Jekyll explaining how society celebrates carefully composed surface over the reality of human nature, which is partly the point of the novella. But this adaptation introduces the idea to make a point that this superficiality is really one of the best achievements of the human race and is fully necessary for a properly functioning society. I don't agree but I'll admit the movie makes some good points.

I knew David Warner would turn up in one of these eventually. He plays Sir Danvers here in an expanded role--in the novella he's just the MP whom Hyde randomly murders in the street. In many film versions, he becomes the father of Jekyll's fiancee--here he's the father of Sarah (Elodie Kendall) who would very much like to be Jekyll's fiancee but for unexplained reasons he always declines her attentions. This is also the first adaptation I've seen that actually focuses on Sir Danvers' career as a politician.

Warner plays the role as halfway to villainous. We're meant to recoil at the obvious hypocrisy of this guy who uses the poor as a publicity opportunity and he has a lot of dialogue about the importance of maintaining his reputation and avoiding scandal in order to keep his career. By the end of the movie, though, we're clearly meant to sympathise with him as we see that, yes, he's had an illegitimate child but he really has tried to help her and her mother. Obviously he couldn't help them if he didn't have his position and he couldn't have his position if it weren't for his reputation. But the movie's not as convincing when Danvers deliberately overlooks a rape in order to preserve his status--does letting the rapist continue, unfettered and unrepentant, really serve the greater good?

The rapist is Hyde, of course. John Hannah plays both Jekyll and Hyde, playing Jekyll a little more convincingly. Like the Jekyll in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, he doesn't believe in the "good and evil" moral dichotomy which the novella Jekyll subscribes to. Hannah's Jekyll believes in coexisting "high" and "base" personalities and directly rejects not only the idea of good and evil but of the existence of God. The movie could hardly more clearly set up its position as anti-Nietzschean/Byronic. He goes further by arguing that all people are biologically part of the same species, something Sir Danvers' wife (Mel Martin) scoffs at, pointing out there's a world of difference between her daughter, Sarah, and the girl serving peas at that moment, Mabel (Kellie Shirley).

Mabel is Jekyll's servant and essentially occupies the Mary Reilly role as she takes on more and more heroic qualities in the story and as an influence in Jekyll's life. She tells him about the grace of God and patiently indoctrinates him on the idea of good and evil. And just in case you think this is the movie refuting the idea that roles are biologically determined part of the movie's climax is a revelation that Mabel has at least one very distinguished parent. Mabel is definitely no Rey.

Meanwhile, another of Jekyll's servants, a boy named Ned (Jack Blumenau), gets wind of Jekyll's opinions on human equality and it inspires him to blackmail Jekyll when he learns he and Hyde are one and the same. This is what happens when people get ideas above their station!

Integral to the movie's unselfconsciously misanthropic idea is that liberated people naturally want to hurt people for no reason. Part of the point of the novella is that repression by a superficial morality inspires a contrary impulse to transgress. The point of this TV movie is that this superficial morality is all that stops us from killing and raping one another.

There's no change in appearance between Jekyll and Hyde in this version but in this case people actually do recognise Hyde as Jekyll. Which removes the idea of Jekyll glorying in the license of anonymity. He basically takes a potion that makes him into an asshole. Like the Abbott and Costello version, this is a Jekyll who takes the drug seemingly with the idea, he won't quite admit to himself, that Hyde will dispose of his enemies. Despite a lot of scenes where Jekyll hallucinates actually having dialogue with Hyde--Hyde screams in pain at the mention of God at one point--the main difference between the two seems to be levels of cowardice. Yet we're supposed to take it as a good thing Sir Danvers wanted Jekyll to marry his daughter? Incredibly enough, I think that was the idea.

Twitter Sonnet #1106

Discarded warnings make a good return.
Imploring eyes belong to lily pads.
For sev'ral hundred years we must relearn.
The spirit's purse concedes so much for fads.
In veins of quartz a string of words descends.
The watchful rock replaced the plaster wall.
In dragon woods a lantern late ascends.
A living house contains a changing hall.
A temple sunk between tomato hills.
The sails are slack, siesta turns around.
For burning tracks and time and turning mills.
The pond conducts its power over ground.
A weathered boot conducts itself away.
There's breakfast served throughout the night and day.