sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2015-07-05 10:43 pm
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But who the hell cares . . . after this?

And this year was a very busy, but very fun Fourth of July. Including myself and [ profile] derspatchel, eleven people showed up to my parents' house for the traditional hand-churning of strawberry ice cream and grilling, if not all, then at least most of the things; a respectable majority of the above plus people who hadn't been able to make the afternoon later reunited to watch the fireworks from Prospect Hill Park. They were an especially nice display this year. I am still coughing from an insect I inhaled while walking up Walnut Street, but at least we weren't rained on. I am extremely tired, however, and so all of these notes are brief.

1. My poem "Firebrands" has been accepted by Through the Gate. This is the poem that exists because Warlock (1989) reminded me of my husband's family connection to the Salem witch trials: one of his ancestors was Nicholas Noyes, officiating minister at the trials—and executions—and later an inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne. It has Yiddish in it, because why shouldn't it?

2. I should have posted when the table of contents for Wilde Stories 2015 was revealed, but copies are now on sale and the book itself is forthcoming this month! It reprints my story "The True Alchemist," originally published in Not One of Us #51 and dedicated to [ profile] ashlyme.

3. Earlier this afternoon I saw King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925) with live music at the Somerville Theatre. John Gilbert had such an interesting face! I'd never seen him before: clean-shaven, not yet thirty years old, he has a lanky, quizzical face that goes along with his springy body; he does a weird, wonderful piece of physical comedy interacting with Renée Adorée while he has a barrel over his head (he's on his way to construct a field shower) that would have earned him my admiration even without the later scene in which chewing gum plays a central role in their courtship. He's good-looking, but I wouldn't have said conventionally so; he has a profile like Lloyd Alexander and he can look as bewildered as a comedian just by raising his brows. I think his mustache must have given him some of the distinction of his time. As with Ronald Colman, I suspect I'll like him better without it.

It's not surprising that the film itself reminded me of Raoul Walsh's What Price Glory? (1926), because both movies were adapted from source material by Laurence Stallings; the later film is more consistently, cynically comedic and more of a buddy picture than a romance, but they share a determinedly anti-romantic view of warfare, undercutting the flag-waving idealism of "going over" with the horror and humor of the realities. The boys enlist amid the cheers of the crowd and the embraces of patriotic women and the first thing their company does on arriving at their billet in France—the farmhouse in Champillon where Gilbert's Jim and Adorée's Melisande will meet—is literally shovel shit. Army life in the first half of the film is narrated by the recurring refrain of "You're in the Army Now" (the intertitles read "You'll never get rich, / You son-of-a-gun," but the marching soldiers are singing the version that rhymes) and the bored doughboys get themselves in more trouble with the French locals than they look forward to fighting "Fritzie." Once the action shifts to the front, there's a dramatic night scene in no man's land, lit hellishly by exploding shells and mortar fire, but first there's an interminable daytime push through German-occupied woods, sunlit, eerily empty except for the corpses in the grass, slow and fatalistic as a dream. Pinned down in a shell-hole with a young German soldier he shot, our hero gives his last cigarette to the pathetically wounded man—and when his enemy dies after barely a puff, pragmatically retrieves the cigarette from the dead man's mouth and finishes it himself. Isaac Rosenberg would be proud. The entire movie is like this, not so much avoiding all of the conventional beats as making sure to give equal or greater time to the less familiar ones; it's a surprisingly effective defense against melodrama, especially considering the archetypal scope of the plot. (The film runs 141 minutes, which I realized only afterward while trying to figure out where my afternoon had gone.) For every thematically significant, spectacularly filmed moment like the desperate parting of Jim and Melisande in the dust-raising chaos of American troops moving out or Jim's scream of despair and fury in the blasted night of no man's land, there's another where Vidor's camera just appears to be hanging out, looking around while two people with a language barrier flirt via pocket dictionary or two doughboys shower happily butt-naked, unaware of the French farmgirl watching them with amusement. Even moments of sentiment are unusually done—the image of a war-wounded G.I. enfolded in his tearful mother's arms is an invitation to schmaltz, but the memories of his childhood that flash in montage through her mind, the quick, curious, whole child who had no idea what was in store for his youth, are not. I can see how it set the template for both anti-war pictures and war epics to follow. I don't think it can be an ancestor of Jean Renoir's The River (1951), since that's based on the 1946 novel by Rumer Godden, but some elements of the ending make it feel like it should be.

At this point I should probably look for Gilbert in some of his iconic "Great Lover" roles—he starred several times opposite Greta Garbo, with whom he had legendary chemistry onscreen and off—but I confess I am more interested by his unsuccessful sound films, now that the myth of his unsuitable voice has been comprehensively debunked. Downstairs (1932) sounds like an amazingly nasty comedy of manners and the three minutes I could find of Fast Workers (1933) really intrigue me. This resolution sponsored by my supportive backers at Patreon.

P.S. Courtesy of [ profile] strange_selkie: 1776 gifsets. Huzzah, John.
kore: (Default)

[personal profile] kore 2015-07-06 03:33 am (UTC)(link)
Fuuuuuck, I need to see that movie, sounds like. I saw He Who Gets Slapped and I think Merry Widow aaaaages ago, back when AMC was running a lot of silent films (don't know if they still do).
umadoshi: (kittens - Jinksy - peer)

[personal profile] umadoshi 2015-07-06 02:23 pm (UTC)(link)
Sounds like a great Fourth of July tradition! ^_^
yhlee: Sandman raven with eyeball (Sandman raven (credit: rilina))

[personal profile] yhlee 2015-07-06 11:41 pm (UTC)(link)
Yay poem! Yay story!

[identity profile] 2015-07-06 03:11 am (UTC)(link)
Hmmm, that sounds really interesting--but then again, I've liked everything I've heard about King Vidor. My local BMV has three copies of The River. Would you say it's worth the buy?

[identity profile] 2015-07-06 04:26 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, cool! I've already got a Criterion Cries and Whispers to work my way through from the same source, but hey.;)

Haines sounds fascinating as well. I've literally never heard of him. Will try to educate myself post-haste.
gwynnega: (Default)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2015-07-06 04:12 am (UTC)(link)
Congratulations on the poetry sale! Your Fourth of July sounds lovely.

I haven't seen The Big Parade in a long time, though I remember liking it. I really need to see it again.

[identity profile] 2015-07-06 11:08 am (UTC)(link)
Well done on the sale and reprint! The cover for Wilde Stories is sumptuous.