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A Jane By Any Other Name

Last week I started reading Jane Eyre since we made plans to see the new movie adaptation, directed by Cary Fukunaga. I had read Jane Eyre many years ago, but didn’t have a good memory of it at all, which became more and more apparent while Mark was reading it for one of his classes this semester. I finished the book the day before we went to see the movie and loved the story all over again.

Before I go on, let’s just get some things clear: First, I do not expect a movie to strictly adhere to any book it might be based on, especially if said book would require an epically long film or miniseries to squeeze in every last character and story thread. I don’t think movies *should* try to follow the book closely because a movie is a different animal altogether.   Secondly, here be spoilers. Lots of spoilers. About book and movie. So if you’re planning to either read the book or see the movie soon, just go ahead and add this little blog post to your Read It Later or Instapaper and we’ll meet again sometime.

Okay then. You caught that part about the spoilers, right?  Just checking.

Let’s start with the casting.  In short:
Jane (Mia Wasikowska) – too timid, not enough “direct glare” as she’s famous for in the book. Though the kid playing young Jane was perfect, I thought.
Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) – too handsome, but the voice was right on, better than I expected.
St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) – not handsome enough, but adapted well. This is a character that could have been simplified into really annoying or really tyrannical, but was handled very well and given a good balance.

The too handsome / not handsome enough complaint might seem petty but it struck me as an important distinction in establishing Jane’s feelings for the two men. On this point the movie actually added a scene that didn’t appear in the book but was superb for the film [spoiler]: when Jane is alone in her schoolmarm cottage on a bleak snowy winter night, she hears a pounding on the door and opens it to find Rochester in all his dark, brooding, sexy glory storming in to kiss her passionately. Alas, it turns out this was just a fantasy for Jane and it’s actually St. John at the door. The difference and disappointment for her is made unmistakable in that scene. Beautiful addition.

Another change that helped the movie was near the very end when Jane returns to Thornfield to find a burnt out ruin. In the book, she hears from the innkeeper at the pub what happened, and Mrs. Fairfax is explained away by a line from Rochester. In the film, Mrs. Fairfax finds Jane at the ruins and tells her what happened. I like this much better. But maybe that’s because I think Dame Judi Dench is the bomb and I loved seeing her show up again.

I found special pleasure in seeing this movie with a crowd.  It was pretty clear that many folks in the theater either hadn’t read the book or hadn’t read it recently. I heard murmurs and giggles during certain key dialogues that came straight out of the book, and one of my favorite moments was when Jane returns to Thornfield and the camera pulls back to reveal the damage.  Audible gasps from the crowd. Loved that.

This is all to say that the film did get some things right. Unfortunately, on the whole, the film was weak. I think it assumed that the audience would have read the book, and tried to fit in pieces from every storyline without actually developing any of them. Where the book had time and space to follow these story lines carefully and develop some delicious tension between Jane and Rochester, Jane and Blanche Ingram, and Jane and St. John, the film just flitted from one snapshot to another without finishing a thought. I wish someone had suggested to the filmmakers, “You don’t have to cover everything in the book.  Leave out the whole childhood, for example, and make the relationship  between Jane and Rochester stronger.” With such a great Rochester, I feel cheated that we didn’t get the gypsy fortune teller scene, or the duet between Rochester and Blanche. In fact, we only see Blanche for maybe 5 minutes? No jealous tension whatsoever.

The filmmakers also seemed to be scared of scaring us. The novel of Jane Eyre has plenty of creepy bits, and to leave those out is to deprive the story of half its identity.  The movie weakened everything that should have been spooky —  the red room at Gateshead was not actually red or dark or gloomy or haunted in any way whatsoever. We never hear a single crazy laugh at Thornfield, just the occasional thump on the floor upstairs. We don’t get crazy Bertha ripping up Jane’s bridal veil. Rochester has both his hands at the end.  Why soften it so much? Why hold back on these parts?

Overall, I guess I have to give it a B for effort. It was beautiful to watch.  If you see it without reading the book, I’d love to hear whether or not it made any sense to you. For me the film, like its Jane, needed to be much bolder.

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book cover

book cover

Three books have been spinning in my head for a little while now — especially since last Friday, when I bought a copy of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being in an airport bookshop on my way home.  I thought I had read it a few years ago, but it was not the same book. I was confusing it with Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, which – strangely enough – takes its title from a line in the Milan Kundera book I bought.

But at the same time, I kept mixing these titles around in my mind with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, which – as far as I can tell from the jacket summary – has nothing in common whatsoever with the Foer or Kunera books.

Why?

That is what I aim to find out.  So I’ve been reading Kundera all week, almost done.  Perhaps I was confusing this book with the one by Dave Eggers because this book by Kundera is, in fact, heartbreaking and has many moments of genius.   The way he plays with language, the reality he gives his characters. It’s Prague in the 1960s but it might as well be today, you and me.

[ spoiler alert! ]

Vicky Christina Barcelona poster

Vicky Christina Barcelona poster

But for the purposes of this blog post, let’s pretend the story can be summed up thus:

Love triangle
wife is a photographer
mistress is a painter
mistress coaches wife on her art

Compare that to the very simple summary of another story this week, from Woody Allen’s newest movie (go see it) Vicky Christina Barcelona:

Love triangle
ex-wife is a painter
mistress is a photographer
ex-wife coaches mistress on her art

A lot of reviews for the Woody Allen movie said it was about love and sex.  I didn’t see that.  And I don’t see it in Kundera’s novel either.  I see in both Allen’s film and Kundera’s novel a struggle for expression.  Personal expression. Creative expression.  What have you.  The characters are all struggling to figure out how to SHOW something, anything to other people and be understood.  Love conveniently figures into the stories because it is one of the most misunderstood expressions humans deal with on a regular basis.  But to confine the tension of these stories to love is to be too simplistic.  In Kundera’s case, especially, there are themes of stifled expression explored on numerous fronts: sexual, sensual, political, familial, artistic and patriotic.

Am I projecting?  Well, sure, I’m the reader.  That’s what I get to do.  It’s my role as the reader to project myself onto the characters and into the story.  None of us know how to read any other way.

Expression, as I was saying, is the crux.   At one point in Vicky Christina Barcelona, Scarlett Johannson’s character blurts out that she has no talent.  That she has ideas, she has feelings she wants to express, but she can’t because she has no talent. The film’s tagline:  “Life is the ultimate work of art.”  The Unbearable Lightness of Being has so many examples, I don’t know where to start, but I’ll give you one of my favorites:  Tereza, the wife in the fore-mentioned love triangle, has a habit from childhood of staring at herself in the mirror, willing her soul to show itself in her face, searching for some sign of the soul in the body.  The only time she is truly happy is when she takes photos of the Russian tanks invading Prague.

Both stories end without conclusion.  No one ever really gets what they want because they never actually know what they want.  In order to express something sufficiently, wouldn’t you have to already know what you want to express?  Kundera’s answer:

“We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.”

and

“Einmal ist keinmal … what happens but once might as well not have happened at all.”

I’ve seen two very different movies in the past two days that have one thing in common: the actors were also musicians, and the films worked music into the stories in such brilliant ways that the performers could look perfectly natural and pleased to be playing their music.  And I saw something in these two movies and their use of music that has been sadly missing from many a story these days.

The first film was the new indie flick Once that has the obvious music plot of two starving musicians trying to make music.  Sure, you can read that and think it sounds pretty cliché – I did, too – but the movie is beautiful in its simplicity.   And the music is … sad and happy.  I really liked it.

We didn’t watch the second movie for its music but for its connection to the famous Groucho Marx letter to Warner Brothers.  The movie is, of course, A Night in Casablanca.  I’ve never been a big Marx Brothers fan, too much slapstick for my taste.  This movie had two magical scenes, however, that both involved music.  First we have Chico covering for a bandleader at the piano.  You know a musician is good when he makes it look so easy.  Chico plays as though he’s just doodling on a piano, improvising a little something for the camera, teasing his audience with a little Liszt.  Later on, Harpo is alone with a Rembrandt of a lovely woman and a harp.  He plays to his Rembrandt mistress, but it’s the only time in the whole film when he’s absolutely serious.  That is what struck me most about Chico’s and Harpo’s performances – the way their faces completely change while they’re playing.  For those few moments, all the slapstick is finally gone and the over-the-top pranks are put aside and they just play.  They just make music, and it’s downright beautiful music.  For me, I feel like I had to put up with the rest of the 85 minutes just to see those two performances.

But the song in my head for the past two days is “Romeo and Juliet” by Indigo Girls, which has nothing to do with either movie… except perhaps the line “it’s just that the time was wrong” which would fit into Once perfectly.

My first year of graduate school is over!!  Gaah!  As you can see from the activity on this blog, I haven’t really had any time to myself for a few weeks now.  So as is my style, a few bullets:

– I’ve sort of reconciled myself with the whole idea of my dad going to Iraq.  We’ve talked quite a bit more on the phone in the last couple weeks than we usually do in two months.  We’ve reached the deal-with-this-through-humor stage, and I’m teasing him about getting Prince Harry’s autograph while he’s over there.  I think what helped the most was looking ahead to his homecoming in August and we’re already planning on a nice little family reunion, so we all have something to look forward to.  Something as simple as a goal or a plan can be wonderful therapy.

– I haven’t read blogs or RSS feeds in almost a month, so my apologies to all my friends who posted earth-shattering news on their blogs and haven’t heard from me.  This weekend = catch up.

– With classes over, I’ve done two things this week that I never thought I would do …

– First, I have wholeheartedly listened to and enjoyed some country music.  My lovely girlfriend checked out the video “Shut up and sing” about the Dixie Chicks, which was a great film, and afterward we listened to “Not ready to make nice” in various YouTube editions from the video to the Grammys.  It was such a perfect song for the whole situation with my dad — and so fitting in light of where the song came from.  Mind you, I’m not angry at my dad at all. I’m still worried sick about him.  As I said in the last post, I’m dumbfounded that our government has let all this happen.  But anyways…

– Second, I signed up on Facebook.  Two reasons went into this – for starters, I’m taking a class in the Fall on Social Networks, specfically the online kind (as opposed to the theory) so I figured I should know something more than just blogs and Flickr.  Secondly, I’ve met some great people in a class this term who use Facebook a lot, so much so that it comes up in conversation regularly.  Some of these people are graduating and it appears that Facebook will be the best way of keeping in touch.  Why was I resisting?  Well, I used to work with a couple people who were giving MySpace a try, and it seemed like the whole idea was a great big meat-market-singles-bar type thing.  And the bar was primarily inhabited by teenagers, to boot.  So I wasn’t interested.  Facebook, at least, seems a little better organized and, I don’t know, grown-up maybe.  We’ll see.

– It’s summer!  Such glorious long sunlight hours!  I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can now, because I know I’ll be miserable in about a month when the heavy, heat-laden, humid air returns and suffocates us all.  Hopefully this year won’t be so bad since we’re not coming straight from Oregon.

– I have lots of thoughts about library-related matters, but that will have to be a separate post.  Although this term was crazy busy, it was also extremely rich in information and ideas. More to come. For now, I leave you with a cheeky fun music video that I lifted from Unexpected Librarian:

I almost let it go by! Two days ago, Librarienne turned one year old. Oh, what a stormy year it has been. My head is a spinning cloud of many different thoughts right now so I’ll just pull a few out of the air and paint this post with random colors (how’s that for mixing metaphors!):

– As of this moment I have at least 5 posts in draft status … the oldest one was a comparison of Google Books vs. Google Scholars, another one looked at the paradox of librarians protecting patron confidentiality when so many people are so blatantly public these days, and the most recent post to go on draft status was a look at some movies we watched over Spring Break and which all seemed eerily related somehow (Sherrybaby, Lady Vengeance, Possession, Match Point).

– I wish I had made a screen shot of all the looks/skins/appearances I put my blog through in the past year. I must have tried a dozen different WordPress themes at one time or another with different widgets and what-nots. It would be nice to look back through them and remember what I liked or didn’t like about each one. For those of you reading this on an aggregator, I recently added a widget to my sidebar for my Google Reader shared items. That little box is *way* more active than this blog, I’m sorry to say, but it’s also a good place to see what I probably wish I had time to blog about.

– Which reminds me… I’m toying with an idea for a little class research project, but I’m not sure how well it would work so let me know what all you bloggers think of this. I’d like to find a lot of different blogs that feature a link or widget to the blog writer’s Google Reader shared items list and compare the number of items they share to the number/frequency of posts they write. Long ago in another land I had read something about the large number of content readers vs. the comparatively small number of content creators. I’m wondering if the amount of stuff we, as content creators read, affects the amount of our output. Of course it does, but how? I’m not sure exactly how to measure that. Number of links or citations per post? Number of shared items against words per post? At first I thought it might be better to look at Bloglines lists instead to know how many feeds blog writers subscribe to, but – with myself as a great example – I know that subscribing does not necessarily equal reading. The idea is still in its infancy.

– I’ve recently subscribed to a blog that is completely out of place in my blog reader – it’s not techie, not about libraries, not news … it’s about … (wincing in embarrassment) romantic comedies. Well, it’s from a guy who edits and writes screenplays for these bizarre little tokens of pop culture. And I, for one, think his blog posts are really fun and witty reads. He includes so many “what were they thinking??” quips when he discusses the latest script he had to suffer through, but he doesn’t go completely cynical, which is refreshing. One of my favorite posts of late has been his combination of “petting the dog” with “jumping the shark” thus creating “posting the pet” … I am plenty guilty of this over in Flickr (slideshow recommended).

– Some big changes at home of late. Very positive changes that raise big questions about the future, which is always closer than I think. In some ways my partner and I are complete opposites, but one of the things we have in common is that we’re both rather reserved, private people. It takes us some time to really integrate ourselves into a new circle of people. I’m thinking of this now in light of a theory I read about way back in high school, that has constantly popped up in my mind over and over since then. I like Erikson’s ideas but disagree with some of the values he includes in his stages of development. For example, my partner and I are on the cusp between two stages right now. The corresponding “crisis” per Erikson is “intimacy vs. isolation” and “success vs. stagnation” (… actually, Erikson uses the term “generativity” where I use “success” because he was referring more to producing children which has no interest for us whatsoever). So here we are, still trying to iron the details of “intimacy vs. isolation” as we look ahead to “success vs. stagnation” and I can see how a person’s methods of dealing with the former will significantly affect the latter. I can see we’ll have a lot of details to figure out in the next couple years but I think a lot of these details are going to figure themselves out, too. I’m wondering, in an excited what-will-I-get-for-Christmas way, what our backgrounds will make of us.

When I started this blog (almost a year ago!) I had some pretty big events to look forward to – I was about to move across the country with my partner and I was about to start graduate school.  I began this blog with noble ambitions of documenting these big events and providing a running commentary on the library school experience.

Yes, well… we can see how successful that’s been, can’t we?  (this sarcastic tone implies that I am not happy with my progress on this goal)

I think I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like because I feel like I should go back to all the trains-of-thought I’ve missed and catch you up on everything.  Ridiculous, I know.  That’s why I am simply starting with the here and now. The past is the past, as they say.

First of all, where does this renewed interest come from?  Well, I watched a movie called The Devil and Daniel Johnston with my honey the other night before I had to run to a night class.  She watched the DVD extras while I took notes about operating systems.  I guess one of the comments from the extras was about just how incredibly well Daniel had documented his life – he even tape recorded his own arrest – and how this then makes viewers feel woefully underdocumented in their own lives.  And the film is one of the best examples I’ve seen for *why* we document our lives – to be understood.  If we didn’t have all those audio diaries and old films, would we have sympathized with Daniel half as much?  Who knows.  I think having all that visual and audible information certainly helped.

Which reminds me of the Up series from the BBC about the group of kids who have been interviewed every 7 years since they were 7.  Something from those films I still marvel at — at 14, most of the kids were totally against whatever they had claimed to want at 7 years old.  By 28, they were almost all doing what they had originally projected for themselves at 7.  How about that.

But here’s the kicker:  can you remember what you wanted to be when you were 7?  I can’t.  Haven’t a clue.  It wasn’t documented.  But these kids have the documentaries made about them (for better or worse) and Daniel has his home movies, his drawings, his tapes.  I wonder how many lessons we lose and learn over and over just because we haven’t recorded enough of our experiences.  Sure, some people have terrific memories.  But even memories can be suspect.  We have a convenient way of altering our memories to suit us at any given time.  That’s why the information recorded while you’re in the moment, while the experiences or feelings are fresh, is the most important.

Yes, so, anyway.  That’s why I’m keen on blogging again.  The challenge will be stealing a few minutes here and there to post about whatever interesting idea comes up in class before I run off to another class or to work.  That has always been the challenge.

Influences, suggestions, and eavesdrops of late:

— a viewing of the French film Far Side of the Moon, wherein a struggling PhD candidate repeatedly defends his thesis arguing that space exploration was a manifestation of man’s narcissism; in contrast, a scientist argues that it was not narcissism so much as soul-searching, self-exploration, and man wanting to know himself.  I could see this same argument being made for blogging.  Vanity vs. personal vetting. The space race as metaphor for our race against time, hoping to know ourselves before we’re gone.

— “nuking” – my girlfriend’s word for my habit of thinking about something until it’s been blown into ity bitty pieces to the point of not existing anymore, which reminds me of …

— “slow fires” mentioned in a library class, the steady deterioration of something from exposure to light, as often seen in libraries where books are in the direct light of windows and slowly get eaten away; along those same lines…

— acid paper … “a book with it’s death built into it”

— “digital death” … formerly new technology going obsolete

— “I could have died just then” … another view of deja vu

We watched the movie Adaptation a couple days ago.  One of the little details that caught my attention was the Charlie Kaufman character using a typewriter.   At first, I thought maybe the filmmakers were going after an 80s feel – what with Charlie's bad hair and flannel shirts.  But no, his twin used a computer, the Susan Orlean character used a computer, and even strange LaRoche had his computer-porn business.  Why give Charlie a typewriter?  My interpretation was that his character does everything the hard way, makes everything harder for himself, so… naturally… he'll compose his screenplay on a typewriter.  'Course it could be even simpler than that – maybe it just seemed to suit the character in general. 

Anyway, the point is I related to Charlie via his typewriter.  I recognize that sometimes I do things the hard way, whether I mean to or not.  But where Charlie must have been aware of the computer option, I'm usually using the "typewriter" because I don't realize there's an easier/better way (not to say anything against typewriters; I even have a pin made out of old "shift" and "tabular" keys).    

 P.S.  Curious what the real Susan Orlean thought of the Meryl Streep Susan Orlean?  Read here.  

Snapshots from this past weekend that stick out for me:

– watching The Nomi Song on Friday night. I'd never heard of Klaus Nomi before we watched the movie, and now I want a CD (sucka). As far as the movie itself … why doesn't anyone ever point out that Klaus' early look is straight out of a Fritz Lang movie? Did anyone else catch his "Falling in Love Again" sounding almost EXACTLY like Marlene Dietrich? Do I just get excited about that stuff because I haven't practiced my German in, oh, decades?

– Thursday night we were in Eugene, stopped at a funky place for pizza where – just a few minutes later – a band starting pounding out electronica. We couldn't see them since we sitting on the other side of the order counter, but we stopped to watch on our way out. They were playing *laptops*!!

– Ugly gaudy fashion is in. Extreme gender roles are in. Ick, ick, ick.

– I saw this in one of the Ugly Gaudy stores. Felt humor and horror at the same time:

Retro Headset

ULIV 1S … this was the license plate of a car we passed on the interstate. When I figured out it meant "you live once" I smiled.

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