January 1st, 2010

Feb 2008, at British Museum

My favorite year-end meme, version 2009

Happy New Year to you all! I was just commenting to someone a couple days ago how mild a winter it's been. I need to stop making American friends. Well, this is progress, at any rate. I got a standing O today. In a week and a half I will mark my one-year anniversary in my studio flat. Occasionally, a few of my friends post first lines of songs for us to guess the songs. Spot the difference: In the past Pollard (and others) have commented they like my coloratura (vocal agility). Fuckin' 'ell, Derek, what are you doing messing around with a 22-year-old?! I have to thank my f-list. I am amused by people who friend people they don't know on LJ. I think I just will reach my unofficial reading goal for the year.
Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 32

    Collapse )
  1. Duffy-Korpics, Lisa — Tales from a Dog Catcher (255 pages)
  2. Laclos, Choderlos de — Dangerous Liaisons (437 pages)

Page count: 7568.

I've been reading Dangerous Liaisons off-and-on since the summer. (The advantage of an epistolary novel, I suppose, is that one can argue that, since the post can take several days between letters, so can the reader!) I began to read it in preparation for my performance as Begearss in the Figaro project at Grimeborn. A comment in the preface to the Beaumarchais plays suggested a reading of Dangerous Liaisons might help my understanding of the character.

I can't say that it did anything for my characterization. Yes, Begearss, Valmont, and Mertueil are all ruthless schemers, but Begearss is a two-dimensional, cookie-cutter villain whereas Valmont and Merteuil come across as real and complex people.

I really enjoyed Dangerous Liaisons. As the preface to the Beaumarchais pointed out, it is as dramatic as any play written at the time. The plays have one advantage over the novel, though: conciseness. There were times when I found the content of the letters tedious or turgid. I understand they fulfill a function, building up the waters of the metaphorical dam to its eventual bursting point. But it got to be a bit much for me at times, and I had to take breaks.

Here's where at least two of the movies get it right. (There have been four or five movie adaptations, and I have recently watched three of them.) The movies perhaps lack the richness of the book, the intricacy of detail, and many of the compelling subplots. But by distilling the story to its essentials, they improve the pacing and drama and crystallize the depravity of the story's poles, Valmont and Merteuil.

Of the movie versions, I liked the 1988 film starring John Malkovich and Glenn Close and the 1999 adaptation, Cruel Intentions, best. Malkovich in particular brought the character of Valmont to life with an immediacy, luridness, and depth of character that escaped even Laclos. I rarely like movie adaptations better than the books, but in this case Malkovich's performance and Frears' directorial choices bettered an already fascinating tale.

Ryan Phillippe in Cruel Intentions, surprisingly, is not too far behind Malkovich in his portrayal of Valmont, but sadly the 1989 Valmont was a dud, despite all its potential: it was directed by Milos Forman and starred Annette Bening, Colin Firth, and Meg Tilly. I don't know if Forman (who seemed more intent on making a period costume piece than telling a good story) set out to compete directly with the previous year's Dangerous Liaisons or whether the timing was coincidental. The result was disastrous. Annette Bening would have been a worthy counterpart to Glenn Close had the adaptation not so completely emasculated the story. Instead, this felt like watching a great actress fighting to make gold out of a pile of shit. Meg Tilly's character lacked all the virtue and sophistication of Michelle Pfeiffer's Madame de Tourvel, who in Forman's adaptation became practically a girlish slut instead of a paragon of virtue, and Fairuza Balk's convincing naïvete (as if not more effective than Uma Thurman's) was lost in all the contrived trappings of Valmont.

If you have the time and the patience, I do recommend reading Laclos' novel. There is so much more richness (and the scandal depicted therein is so much more complete) than the movie adaptations could accomodate. Yet Frear's 1988 film is as effective a distillation of a novel as I have seen, one which doesn't lose any of the essence of the story while quickening the drama.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 33

    Collapse )
  1. Duffy-Korpics, Lisa — Tales from a Dog Catcher (255 pages)
  2. Laclos, Choderlos de — Dangerous Liaisons (437 pages)
  3. Sagan, Françoise — Bonjour Tristesse (100 pages)

Page count: 7668.

This slim volume caught my eye a few months ago. It sounded positively saucy and scandalous, recounting the reaction of a liberated teenaged girl when she perceives that her way of life is threatened by her new step-mother-to-be who will bring order, discipline, and respectability to the family.

Unfortunately, I had difficulty connecting with the protagonist. We are such different creatures! Instead, I found a closer affinity with those who presented as obstacles to her.

The story had a feeling of inevitability throughout, as though the plot and outcome didn't matter at all. Perhaps they didn't: the narrative perspective was that of one looking back on a previous event. What was fascinating, though, was observing as the protagonist wrestled with her decisions and accepted their consequences. It made for an insightful and unsettling account of her psychological makeup.

I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the 1958 film adaptation by Otto Preminger starring Deborah Kerr, David Niven, and Jean Seberg, but I look forward to it.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 34

    Collapse )
  1. Duffy-Korpics, Lisa — Tales from a Dog Catcher (255 pages)
  2. Laclos, Choderlos de — Dangerous Liaisons (437 pages)
  3. Sagan, Françoise — Bonjour Tristesse (100 pages)
  4. Stephenson, Neal — Snow Crash (440 pages)

Page count: 8108.

My first exposure to Neal Stephenson came about four years ago when I read Cryptonomicon. I loved it (except maybe for the ending) and decided I couldn't wait to read my next Stephenson novel. However, I kept getting scared off by the lengths of his books. (Most of his novels are over 900 pages in length.) So it wasn't until now that I finally cracked open Snow Crash, at a mere 440 pages one of his shortest novels.

Snow Crash is an adrenaline rush. It's an exciting read and, as one would expect from Stephenson, is imaginative, well researched, and packed with fascinating information (about neuro-linguistic viruses, Sumerian mythology, and more). As with Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash is a fascinating, sense-overloading, brain-stretching experience. My only complaint is the ending. It just ends.

And this seems to be a common complaint with Stephenson's books. Would it kill him to write a proper ending???

Still, in the grand scheme of things this seems a minor consideration. And I am left hungry for my next dose of Stephenson. Anathem is sitting on my bookshelves, and I'm curious about the Baroque Cycle as well. I don't think it will be four years before I dip into one of his worlds again.