Monday, January 12, 2009

Bad Girls and Wild Women

   

Blame it all on the full moon.

This weekend was spent wallowing in pop culture, with a focus on the darker side of femininity. Two films, two books, with some unusual parallels and some striking contrasts between them.

First up: Black Snake Moan. This 2007 film is a morality play of sorts, with Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson both seeking some sort of redemption. Set in the modern south, it would be a mistake to watch this as a "realistic" drama. Almost every scene is charged with symbolism and layered with centuries of meaning. Ricci's character, Rae, is a sexual addict with a bad family history. Jackson's Lazarus is a blues man turned farmer whose wife has just left him for his brother. They meet through fate and the rest of the film has them struggling with each other and the voids in their lives. Despite having Ricci's character clad only in underwear and a 40 pound chain for the middle third of the movie, this is a serious examination of race, gender and relational abuse. It ends with some hope of redemption for its characters, but no promises. The whole cast (even Justin Timberlake!) is excellent. The DVD has a feature about the making of the movie which really adds a lot to understanding some of the themes. A big surprise for me and well worth renting.

Next was In This Our Life, a 1942 melodrama starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. Set in Richmond Virginia, it was based on the Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Ellen Glasgow and was directed by John Huston. Davis' character Stanley Timberlake (how about that coincidence?) steals her sister Roy's fiance in her frenzied pursuit of attention. The implied incest with her rich uncle suggests the cause of the sexual hysteria present in Stanley's behavior. There is also a racial theme, quite progressive for its era, with a grim, moralistic outcome. This movie is quite "stagey", but Davis really tears into her role.

Turning from the screen to the page, I was thrilled to discover that Lise Erdrich (Louise Erdrich's sister) is also an exciting author in her own right. Night Train is a collection of 31 short (some very short) pieces of "flash fiction" full of wild imagery and uncensored expression. There is a strong undercurrent of American Indian experience. Perhaps best taken in small doses. Were this a blog I'd definitely link to it. Strong stuff, a real trip.

Finally, Last Rituals is a mystery novel by the Icelandic author and civil engineer Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. In it, Þora Gudmunsdóttir, a struggling lawyer and single mother in Reykjavík, is asked to assist a wealthy German family investigate the bizarre, ritualistic murder of their son. This book was a bit of a let-down for me, the writing, while competent, was a bit mundane, thin on psychology; the story's Icelandic backdrops were not very atmospheric. As a mystery there were a few too many quirky plot details resulting in a bit of a messy, improbable ending. It's worth a look- I thought it better than most mysteries I've read lately- but my perception may have been tainted by Arnaldur Indriðasson's superior Inspector Erlendur series.

By Professor Batty



6 Comments:

Blogger Móðir, kona, meyja said...

Last Rituals is better than that! Surely it must have suffered through translation.


Blogger Professor Batty said...

K~ I wondered about that as I was reading it. It did seem to be a bit stilted and flat- no Icelandic idioms or sensibility, It could have been set almost anywhere, even the Icelandic witchcraft references weren't very well handled. Part of it may be that any references to the Icelandic alphabet were deleted, I much prefer have the (eth), (thorn) and accent marks retained.
(this comment was written at work, where I don't have access to Icelandic characters)


Blogger Móðir, kona, meyja said...

Well, hang the translator, then. Tricky business I'm in...


Blogger Professor Batty said...

I wonder if it was a marketing decision- dumbing it down for an American audience?


Blogger Rose said...

I'll have to watch In This Our Life--I see it's by Glasgow. Unfortunately, it appears to have been filmed all in the studio :-(

I've been waiting to read Last Rituals. Did you buy it, or get it from the library?

We saw the most terrific film the other day: Born Yesterday (1950).


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Rose~ I got it at the library, it's been fairly popular, I had to get on a waiting list for it.
In This Our Life is a studio production, only a few scenes were even shot "Outdoors". Tobacco industry sub-plot, and of course everybody's smoking. Great clothes, however...

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