sovay: (Claude Rains)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2012-04-08 02:44 pm

I want a room and a fire

The seder worked out very nicely. We got Alison and her family; Audrey read the Four Questions. Each year the actual retelling of the Exodus is an exercise in improvisation, because I can never remember quite what I included the previous year or left out and in any case the audience is different each time. Miriam and Aaron got walk-ons this year. Hershel of Ostropol didn't. Moses' mother says, "I gave you to the river and to God, and they have brought you back to me." The old scoured bowl and chopper inherited from my great-grandmother are still what I use to make charoses. It's funny that I don't think of having children except when I'm reminded by friends who marry or reproduce, but I do imagine someday I'll pass down the chopper and I hope the bowl doesn't break first. I want there to be that link of generations.

(My father just unearthed his uncle Bill's flight computer from the U.S. Army Air Forces. World War II. He ran a flight school. The metal is slightly greening, but the wheels still spin.)

Today, I feel like I'm dragging my brain up by its bootstraps just to type without getting the letters in all the wrong order. I dreamed I was watching Psycho (1960) in an antique-looking little theater where the walls angled around the audience, so that there was always something happening over your shoulder, in your peripheral vision. I don't recall that it contributed much to the movie, but I suspect I should reserve judgment until I've seen Psycho when I'm awake.

Possibly this is because I recovered from last night's seder by watching Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933). I'd never seen it before. What a lovely, lovely mad scientist he is. Coming alone to snowbound Sussex, heavily bundled and curtly spoken, at first he looks like only the tormented, mistaken kind; there's real anguish in his voice as he clutches at his bandaged head and stares at his notes through his bug-eyed motorist's goggles: "There must be a way back—there must be!" But then he bubbles into such delightful, shocking mania as soon as he's confronted by the landlord and the police, unwrapping himself gleefully as his laughter climbs into the classic hysterical giggle, it doesn't really matter that the unknowing use of monocaine is supposed to have sent Dr. Jack Griffin mad, it's hard to imagine he started turning himself invisible for the sheer scientific principle of the thing. Thoughts of bank-breaking and undetectable armies must have crossed his mind when he was running his experiments; doesn't everyone with a project flash on its most illicit possibilities, never mind how much we're not supposed to? The chemicals just accelerated the process: "The drugs I took seemed to light up my brain." He's so cheerfully unrepentant, hanging on to just enough of his sanity to give the sense that he's really enjoying himself for the first time in his life, impulsive and murderous, sometimes merely naughty, an unfettered id in a pair of stolen trousers. "Here we go gathering nuts in May, all on a frosty morning—whoops!" There are darker scenes than I expected even from James Whale in 1933: the contemplative savor Griffin gives to his plans for random murder ("Just these fingers round a signalman's throat, that's all"), the fire-trailing plunge of the train when he begins to carry them out. The dispatching of a former colleague is actually very nasty, especially as Griffin explains how the first few crunches of the car off the cliff won't immediately kill him. And that last little glimpse of Rains, dead against the pillows: he's so young.

Famously, Rains was given the part on the strength of his voice—his first screen test was a stage-mannered disaster—and with no actor in sight for the audience's eye to fix on, saving the occasional, eerily inhabited suit of clothes, his voice is the film's great showpiece. It's not as urbane here as in later roles; he sounds rougher and not quite so well-bred, but he can roll an r with the disdainful best of them, curling delectably with scorn every time he uses the phrase "you fools." Anyone can sound megalomaniacal with lines like "He's got the brain of a tapeworm, a maggot beside mine!" Rains can wrap a corroding amount of contempt around even a peremptory "Come on, there's no time to waste." Visually, he might still have been too broad for the camera, but on the ear that same theatricality is precisely right for the way Griffin toggles between despair and dictatorial lunacy: "Even the moon is frightened of me—frightened to death." He can be vulnerable, pleading with his landlord for just a little more time to continue his research, the familiar ironic grit suddenly crumpling into something hoarse and wild before flaring into frustrated violence. He's so subdued and fragile with his still-loving fiancée (Gloria Stuart), for a moment you think the film might be the kind of science fairy tale where the beauty's love can recall the prince out of the beast. All the hauteur drops out of his voice, nearly a mumble with an older accent under the words: "I was so pitifully poor. I had nothing to offer you, Flora. I was just a poor, struggling chemist—" but the next instant he's on his feet with his arms clenched across his chest like a burn-unit Napoleon, making the aforementioned declaration about the moon. Yes, there is the obligatory line at the end about, literally, the things man was not meant to meddle with, but Rains still delivers it with the right amount of bewildered regret, as if he can't quite understand how he came to be bleeding out in a hospital bed instead of ruling the world, or at least marrying Flora and being recognized as a genius.

But, God, I never realized the man had so many registers of maniacal laughter in him. Such a pleasure to listen to.
gwynnega: (Ernest Thesiger)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2012-04-08 09:35 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm so glad you finally saw The Invisible Man! One of my very favorites. Great to read your impressions of it! Rains' Griffin really is a marvelous mad scientist...

[identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com 2012-04-08 11:27 pm (UTC)(link)
So much poetry in this entry!

heavily bundled and curtly spoken, at first he looks like only the tormented, mistaken kind

a corroding amount of contempt around even a peremptory "Come on, there's no time to waste."

with his arms clenched across his chest like a burn-unit Napoleon

And this made me smile: doesn't everyone with a project flash on its most illicit possibilities, never mind how much we're not supposed to? --I suppose yes, you're right!

[identity profile] moon-custafer.livejournal.com 2012-04-09 01:02 am (UTC)(link)
Those who don't are probably dangerously naive.

[identity profile] ap-aelfwine.livejournal.com 2012-04-09 03:42 am (UTC)(link)
I'm glad the Seder worked out well.

That's cool about your great uncle's flight computer.

Fascinating dream, that. Interesting that you'd dream of seeing a film you've not seen.

I'm glad Rains' portrayal of the Invisible Man pleased you.

[identity profile] hylomorphist.livejournal.com 2012-04-09 08:37 am (UTC)(link)
Thinking of last year's seder and of having coffee with you at Harvard.

Wait - you actually haven't seen Psycho? Really??? OMG!

[identity profile] ap-aelfwine.livejournal.com 2012-04-11 05:53 am (UTC)(link)
I dream of films I haven't seen all the time. What's unusual is that this one actually exists.

Exactly.* I'll be curious to hear how the reality of the film compares to your dream, whenever you do see it.

*I'm thinking that I'd somehow intended to say "an actual film existing in our world", but that it didn't come out properly when I wrote it.

[identity profile] ladymondegreen.livejournal.com 2012-04-09 05:28 pm (UTC)(link)
I like the idea of the seder as a story improvised by the teller, instead of told from a book. I have always had a hankering to do this, as I frequently do it with fairy tales and ballads, and often encourage people to 'tell me your version of ____' usually well known story, just to hear what they remember and what they leave out.

If I were running a study on this phenomenon, I suppose I would want to do that multiple times to see which story elements lingered. I suspect it's good for the world at large that I didn't go into academia.

I am reminded by your review of The Invisible Man of the bit in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen where the invisible man goes rampaging through various places, including a brothel, which turns into a tip of the hat, simultaneously to proto-YA literature and Victorian pornography.

Lovely review!

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2012-04-09 10:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Brothel/finishing school. And one of the girls he's playing around with, pretending to be a ghost, is an always-looking-on-the-bright-side young American miss named Pollyanna.

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2012-04-09 11:31 pm (UTC)(link)
I think it kinda was.;)

I like a lot about the first Legion of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though you kind of have to push past the fact that Mina almost gets raped within the first ten pages. But the things I like most, hands down, are Hyde, Nemo and Hawley Griffin, sole citizen of the Empire of "Invisible Man the First". He's an amazing little sociopath, heh heh heh.
Edited 2012-04-09 23:31 (UTC)

[identity profile] ashlyme.livejournal.com 2012-04-09 10:28 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh. I need to revisit the Rains! I remember the eighties BBC version, and that's it.

[identity profile] teenybuffalo.livejournal.com 2012-04-10 12:10 am (UTC)(link)
I'd never seen it before.

High time then! In retrospect this film seems almost designed for you (and me as well). Very true observations about Rains and the film as a whole. You're making me feel the need to watch it again.

All the hauteur drops out of his voice, nearly a mumble with an older accent under the words: "I was so pitifully poor. I had nothing to offer you, Flora. I was just a poor, struggling chemist—" but the next instant he's on his feet with his arms clenched across his chest like a burn-unit Napoleon, making the aforementioned declaration about the moon.

Poem! This review is halfway there already.

[identity profile] teenybuffalo.livejournal.com 2012-04-10 01:14 am (UTC)(link)
Perhaps him, or perhaps the sort of people who utter phrases like "You fools!"

[identity profile] strange-selkie.livejournal.com 2012-04-10 02:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, if you don't breed or clone, you do have a godchild and an ungodchild!