Nora (2001)

“Nora” is well acted but a bit contrived. It’s about James Joyce’s relationship with Nora Barnacle. Ewan McGregor plays James Joyce and Susan Lynch plays Nora Barnacle.

The film does at least make the sexual relationship between Nora and James seem plausible. And some things in the film make more sense than Paul Strathern’s historical take.

Strathern says Nora was a virgin when she first met Joyce, but the movie depicts Nora as having lovers before Joyce. That makes much more sense. What virgin would get a man off in public after just meeting him? And why would Joyce have been so crazy with jealousy if he truly believed Nora was a virgin?

Strathern distances Nora’s story from “The Dead” in Dubliners, but the film explicitly says that “The Dead” is based on Nora’s previous relationship with a boy who died of typhoid. It seems strange that Joyce would write a story that was so closely related to Nora’s without already knowing about it. Why did Strathern feel the need to separate Joyce’s “The Dead” with Nora’s experience?

I probably need to add Richard Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce to my list.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

My husband and I went to a late night showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Saturday. Although there were several “veterans” in the crowd and we were prepared with props, it was a pathetic audience compared to the audiences I was part of during my college days. Very few of us remembered the callback lines and those who did kept it a little too clean.

When I was in college, my neighbors across the hall in the freshman dorm thoroughly prepared me for my first show. They had the soundtrack and went through a large number of the callbacks with me so I was ready to yell at the screen with the best of them. I should have reviewed the callbacks for the Saturday showing. Next time…

Rocky Horror Picture Show began as a musical on stage in London in the early 1970s. Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff in the movie) wrote the play. He said he wrote most of it one winter when he was bored. The inspiration was the unintentional humor in Sci-Fi and Horror B-rated movies. The glam era was popular in Britain at the time so he used that as the backdrop.

The play made it’s U.S. debut in Los Angeles in 1974 and then made it to Broadway in 1975. Little Nell, Patricia Quinn, Tim Curry, and Richard O’Brien who are in the film were also in the original stage show.

Little Nell, Patricia Quinn, Tim Curry, and Richard O’Brien

The film began production in 1974. It was directed by Jim Sharman who had recently directed the popular stage play, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. A lot of the film was shot in 1974 at a country house in Berkshire, England built in 1857 in Victorian Gothic Style. Most of the actors were British and had been in the play, but Sharman insisted on having American actors play Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon).

Oakley Court

Androgyny is a major theme. When I first saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, I was attending a very conservative private Christian college and was completely shocked by Frank N. Furter’s bi-sexuality. Despite growing up in the glam rock era, it was a very new concept to me. When my kids were growing up, it wasn’t shocking at all. (I think my daughter first saw the movie with a group of kids when she was 12.)

It’s still such a fun movie and while I couldn’t remember all of the callbacks, I remembered quite a few. And I remembered almost every single word to every song. Next time I go, I’ll find an area in Austin where the crowds get more involved and I’ll make sure to review the callback lines.

Here is Tim Curry in his Frank. N. Furter glory…

The World of James Joyce: His Life and Work (1986)

The World of James Joyce: His Life and Work, was full of videos & audio recordings of people who knew Joyce (siblings, friends, family members, associates, photographers, pupils, etc). The actual sites where Joyce lived, went to school, and worked are also shown. And there is actual footage of Joyce!

I started to take notes but my computer was being glitchy so I only have a few thoughts to relay…

One of the things that really interested me is how connected James was to his father, John. I’m a good way through Ulysses and Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s biographical counterpart in the novel, barely mentions his father at all. It fascinated me to learn that James felt so connected to his dad and that a significant amount of characters and ideas in Joyce’s books were inspired by his father.

According to James’ sister, however, it was easy for James to feel a connection because their father gave James more than he gave the rest of the children. John saw James as a genius so put him in the best schools. (I’m assuming, based on the sister’s comment, that he didn’t put any of his other kids in good schools?)

John had inherited a lot of money from his family, but squandered all of it on alcohol. James originally attended Conglowes, which is still considered to be Ireland’s premier boarding school. However, as John’s money dwindled, he had to take James out of Conglowes and put him in the lesser, but still very adequate, Belvedere. James did extremely well at both schools.

The Jesuits at Belvedere wanted James to become a fellow Jesuit, but James felt that there was a net that kept him from realizing his freedom. The net was composed of Roman Catholicism, societal family norms, and the renewed cultural nationalism of Ireland.

James appreciated Henrik Ibsen of Norway who dealt with reality as it was, rather than turning it into a fantasy about what it was he wanted it to be. Joyce thought that what Yeats and others were doing in trying to renew a cultural nationalism in Ireland was an attempt at elevating empty forms of the past rather than the actual living people of the present.

All of James Joyce’s books take place in Dublin, which for Joyce is local, but he also sees it as universal. In Ulysses, the hero is Leopold Bloom, a friendly man who feeds the cat and brings his wife breakfast in bed. He’s an ordinary man: son, father, husband, would-be lover, friend. He also happens to be a Jew.

When Joyce was trying to publish Ulysses, Harriett Weaver sent him money anonymously to help him get it published. She saw in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man all the ideals she stood for. She had money she didn’t need, so why not give it to Joyce? (Maybe artists are always at the mercy of benefactors? I suppose Joyce was no different.)

A few more random thoughts from the film:

  • Paris was more of a home to Joyce than Dublin.
  • Both brother Stanislaus and benefactor Harriet Weaver were appalled by Finnegan’s Wake.
  • A Jewish man, Alexis Leon, worked with Joyce on Finnegan’s Wake. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Bloom?
  • James married Nora so she and the children would inherit his estate.
  • Nora knew Joyce was unique. but she never went so far as to say he was a genius.
  • Even though James turned against the church, he remained a very Christian man.
  • His daughter, Lucia, was put in a sanatorium. James visited her every Sunday afternoon. He never lost contact with her. (Apparently, Nora gave up on her altogether.)

I Heart Huckabees (2004)

We had a lovely Thanksgiving meal, yesterday. There were lots of leftovers so we all stayed home and watched “I Heart Huckabees”, tonight. (My daughter wanted to see it.) I don’t remember the last time I saw this movie, but it has been on my list of all-time favorites since it first came out. I am quite certain I understood it far better this viewing than I have previously, however.

SPOILER WARNING!!!

Albert goes to the Existentialist detectives to make sense of a series of coincidences.  It can’t just be a coincidence that he’s bumped into the same man three times in three different places, can it?  The Existentialist detectives (played by Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) keep telling him that everything is connected. I took this too literally on my previous viewings.  What I now think they mean by this is that Albert has made all of these connections in his mind.  So what the detectives do is help him work through his constructed meanings.  It is not as though coincidences are necessarily meaningful in themselves (as if God or the universe or whatever is trying to send him a special message).  Their meaning is dependent upon the meaning that has been constructed by the person experiencing the coincidence.

You have to be honest about your thoughts and actions if you are going to deconstruct the meaning you have created.  Albert continually lies to the detectives about various circumstances.  He even lies to them about what he claims to be coincidence.  They claim he is betraying himself.  That’s pretty much how it goes, isn’t it?  We deny certain aspects of our being because we are too ashamed to reveal them, and then that denial gets projected outward onto others. In Albert’s case, he projects it on to Brad.

The French nihilist claims nothing means anything.  The world is chaotic, full of anger and suffering, and ultimately meaningless.  The Jaffe’s are constantly countering this view, but in the end it is clear that they are actually in cahoots with the nihilist.  And this makes sense!  Yes, everything is meaningless.  But that doesn’t mean everything is meaningless!!

For centuries, we’ve been under the assumption that meaning exists outside of ourselves.  So when we discover that there is no meaning being imposed by God or the universe, the automatic assumption is that the world is meaningless.  But the only reason this idea would make someone nihilistic is if they were still wishing that an external source provided meaning for them. They would rather have meaning imposed upon them than take responsibility for it.  So when they discover it isn’t imposed upon them, they default to “nothing means anything, it’s all meaningless”.

I think you sort of have to go to that dark space of meaninglessness in order to discover that just because there is no externally imposed meaning, that doesn’t mean everything is meaningless.  You have created that meaninglessness.  It hasn’t been imposed upon you by some external source.

It made sense for Albert and Tommy to “defect” to the “other side” and work with the nihilist who says the world is nothing more than a chaotic mess of anger and suffering.  I think in my own development, that’s kind of how it has worked for me.  I started with a sort of superstitious belief in God that I finally had to let go.  I turned to A Course in Miracles, but I didn’t really understand it because I had managed to take my belief in a personal God with me into my studies of ACIM.  Lots of ACIM students do this.  You see it all the time.  It becomes nothing more than a shallow New Age religion that you use to keep suffering at bay.  But despite my efforts, life happened and there were many difficult things that put me into a seriously dark place for a while.  That’s when I started reading the existentialists (Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Hesse, Conrad..)

The main thing I got out of reading the existentialists was the idea that we need to stop denying the darker sides of our natures – that it is the attempt to rid ourselves of what we see as our more animalistic side (the Karamazov side in The Brothers Karamazov, the wolf in Steppenwolfe, the “savages” in Heart of Darkness, etc.) that has created the horrors of the current age.  For centuries we have been assigning “sinful” to our animal nature thanks to Augustine’s fallen man theory (or more likely, a misinterpretation of Augustine’s fallen man theory), but this assignment has not served us.  It has hurt us.  And now that the Enlightenment has killed off the traditional worldview of God, we are destined for nihilism if we don’t also finally let go of the idea that meaning is somehow externally begotten.  The rationalists and empiricists may adamantly claim they don’t believe in God, but they still hold on to the idea that there is some sort of external meaning giver.  There is an external absolute Truth just waiting to be discovered by science.

As Nietzsche said, faith is constantly placed in a future world, not in this world.  This is why he said nihilism was unavoidable.  The Christians put their faith in getting to a perfect future place called Heaven.  In order to get there, they have to deny this world and their animalistic urges.  Empiricists place their faith in a future world made perfect by science and technology.  Perfect nature, perfect the human being, and the world will be better in the future.  Either way, the faith is in something otherworldly and external and promises a world free of suffering.  This world must be denied in order to “achieve” this otherworldly, pain-free futuristic place.  The denial of this world is what concerned Nietzsche and why he said we were headed toward nihilism.  These days, there are Christians who have reason to destroy the environment because they see it as bringing on Armageddon which will get them to Heaven faster.   Others (like Brad) distract themselves with the material pleasures provided by science and technology and turn a blind eye to what is happening to themselves and their environment in the pursuit of this material success.

Buddhists talk about the middle way and I think that is what Tommy and Albert discover and what the Existential Detectives and the Nihilist want them to discover.  The Existential detectives gloss over human suffering, but the Nihilist goes straight to the heart of it, even creates suffering in order to help Tommy and Albert understand.  Yes, everything is ultimately meaningless and the world is full of senseless suffering, but that doesn’t mean life is not meaningful.  Brad and Albert are very different people, but they are the same in their suffering.  Albert and Tommy describe this interconnection as absolutely fantastic, but also nothing special because “it grows from the manure of human trouble… No manure, no magic.”

There is also the existential issue of authenticity.  Brad’s dismantling finally starts to occur when the existential detectives point out repetitive behavior Brad uses as propaganda to promote himself.  He repeatedly tells a story about Shania Twain and tricking her into eating a chicken salad sandwich with mayo.  The story helps to project a certain image he likes to portray.  But when he does this, is he being himself?  The question is repeated over and over again – “How am I not myself?”

How can you be anything other than yourself?  You are who you are, there is no one else you can be.  And yet, we all engage in behavior attempting to be someone we are not.

Everything Is Illuminated (2005)

Everything is Illuminated is a film directed by Liev Schrieber based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is about Jonathan’s search for the gentile woman who saved his Jewish grandfather.  He travels from the U.S. to the Ukraine, looking for a town called Trachimbrod which was wiped off the maps by the Nazis.  Trachimbrod is a fictional name, but it refers to a real place known as Trokhymbrid (Trochenbrod is the Russian name), which was a Jewish village located in western Ukraine.  The Nazis killed almost everyone and liquidated the entire village.

Not everyone was thrilled by Foer’s portrayal of Jews in the Ukraine.  Some claim it is an offensive and pointless fabrication, which may be true.  But the film doesn’t include scenes from the past as does the novel.  It stays primarily focused on the present.  The beginning of the film is hilarious, but the end is both dark and moving.

Alex is actually the main character and he makes the movie.  He’s from the Ukraine and serves as Jonathan’s translator.  But Alex’s English is a bit off.  Instead of everything being understood, everything is illuminated.  He describes Jonathan’s search as “rigid” rather than thorough.  And he is never able to get Jonathan’s name quite right.

The music in the film is a lot of fun, too.  The character who plays Alex, Eugene Hutz, is the lead singer for Gogol Bodello, a Gypsy Punk band.  This is the band that shows up in the train scene.  They also perform the song when the credits are rolling at the end of the film, “Start Wearing Purple”.

I give it 4 1/2 stars.

Hereafter (2010)

My daughter, husband and I went to the movie theater last night and saw Hereafter.   My daughter said it was “pretty good”, my husband said that it seemed like a Spiritual Cinema film and that there were too many French subtitles, and I thought it was enjoyable but hokey and forgettable. Overall, we gave it a C-.

My daughter thought that had they focused on the story of the little British boy, Marcus, it would have been a much better movie.  She wasn’t at all interested in the French journalist, Marie, or Matt Damon’s character, George.  I think she’s right.  The only interesting drama was the drama going on with Marcus and his family.  George and Marie were B-O-R-I-N-G.

It had potential to be thought provoking.  I mean, it probably is a royal pain to be a psychic.  I can see how that might get in the way of your relationships.  And a near death experience is nothing to scoff at.  But in the end, the film made no sense to me, whatsoever.   I thought the film would be a study of how different people deal with death.  Instead, it turned out to be nothing more than good old Hollywood feelgood sentimentality.

Oh well!

The Kids Are All Right

My daughter started school today.  I realize this isn’t a big deal, but bare in mind that she was previously a homeschooler with only 1 year of middle school under her belt and is re-entering as a sophomore in high school so it’s not exactly the same as simply going back to school. Thankfully, her day went well and she has friends in each of her classes.  She also got the theater teacher she was hoping for. The school has “A Days” and “B Days” so her classes will be different tomorrow. Hopefully her day, tomorrow, will go just as well as today.

Last night, to take her mind off of the first day of school, we went to see The Kids are Alright (directed by Lisa Cholodenko). It is an absolutely fantastic film! Annette Bening and Juliana Moore play a married lesbian couple with two children (played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). Each woman gave birth to one child by using the same sperm donor. When their daughter turns 18, the younger brother talks his older sister into calling the sperm bank so they can meet their biological father, played by Mark Ruffalo.

The film is not about a lesbian relationship. It’s about what it means to be married and especially what it means to be family.

This is one of the most enjoyable, intelligent movies I’ve seen in a long while and I watch a lot of movies!