Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful by Deborah Kay Davies

Grace Tamar and LaszloGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, the 2009 Wales Book of the Year, is officially listed as a book of short stories by the acclaimed Welsh author Deborah Kay Davies, but it is much, much more than that.  In fact, I struggle to use the term “book of short stories” because the connection of the stories featuring the sisters Grace and Tamar is so tight and integrated that I am inclined to call it a novel.  This is a mature and powerful work of art intended for adult readers.

The first story, “Stirrups,” actually begins with their mother on the event of Tamar’s birth, showing how the woman’s fragile mind tries to deal with the baby girl who is Grace’s younger sister by two years.  She struggles to give her love to more than one person at a time, missing Grace and wondering if she can ever relate to this new child.  The next story, “Point,” finds Grace at the age of six already somewhat ethereal and hating her four year old sister, Tamar, for being so feral.  It is a relationship newly formed, but one that will be a part of their lives until they are adults.

From one story to the next, told in chronological order, the relationship between the two sisters dominates the book as the point of view weaves back and forth.  As a child, Tamar spends most of her time alone, creating strange games for herself, becoming fascinated with the weird neighbors, pushing her sister Grace to exasperation.  Grace lives in a world where she was the only child.  She can barely stand Tamar, yet there is a bond between them that is extremely tight.  Grace pushes Tamar from a tree, Tamar beats on Grace, they push each other back and forth and stand united in only two things: first, their amusement that their mother seems to be going insane (“Radio Baby” is a powerful reminder that their mother’s hold on reality is tenuous at best) and second, the great common dream that they share of being together as adults with their own baby.

As they grow up, Tamar’s perversity is intensified by an incident with a brutal pedophile in “Whinberries” that turns out much different than one would expect in the follow-up story “Stones.”  That perversity comes back out in her childish sexual display to her bedridden grandfather in “Fun and Games.”  Grace’s reaction is to pull back away, growing more and more distant.  In her adolescence, she seems to have difficulty understanding the banal, meaningless action of the boys around her, especially so in “Laszlo the Beautiful,” a story about her first crush.  Tamar also has difficulty relating to boys, but she is far more open sexually.  Grace acts out her sexuality in “Kissing Nina,” “Thong,” “Negligee,” and “Grace and the Basset Hound” while maintaining a strange distance from it.  She becomes engaged, gets married and divorced and seems untouched by the whole cycle.  Tamar reaches out for life in “Thong,” “Whatever,” and “Wood.” 

There is a stark parallel to Grace’s retreat from the world and Tamar’s reach to embrace it.  The importance of Tamar’s dream of the baby comes full circle in the final story, “Cords,” a taut, emotional reach between the two adult sister.

The writing throughout is beautiful, a real pleasure to read.  Lean and well-constructed, the stories are each absolutely compelling portraits of two sisters adrift in the world.  The sentences are spare, concerned only with what is most important.  Sometimes they drift, like the sisters, but they drift with a singular intensity that always reaches back to the heart of the book.

And that’s really what makes me think of this is a novel.

In a novel, one looks to see a compelling story arc, from one place to another from the beginning to the end, with an integrated theme throughout the book.  Even though Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful jerks from one story to another, I see a very powerful, overarching story arc that binds the stories together into one, long cohesive tale that stands up to the highest scrutiny.

The jacket contains the following epithet:  “moving, hilarious and terrifying.”  I found the book to be less hilarious and more moving, but, yes, at times it is also terrifying.  I found it to be one of the more emotionally disturbing and satisfying books that I’ve read over the last twenty years.  The combination of such beautiful, powerful writing with such original, distinctive characters is quite unusual.  In fact, after I finished reading the book, I found myself drawn back to one story or another just to lose myself in the prose.  I haven’t had that feeling since I first read Salman Rushdie.

This is a great book that I highly recommend to all adult readers.

Advertisements

Jane Eyre 1997

Samantha Morton2_Jane EyreThis film adaptation of the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was originally aired on Great Britain’s ITV in March of 1997 runs approximately one hour and 45 minutes.  Obviously, a great deal had to be cut from the story in order to fit it into that kind of time parameter, but Kay Mellor’s script concentrates rightly on the romance between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester and the Gothic suspense of Thornfield.

This review contains plot spoilers.

Orphaned ten year old Jane Eyre (Laura Harling), horribly mistreated by her father’s family, is bundled off to the Lowood Institution, a terrible school for orphan girls, ran by the evil Reverend Brocklehurst (Michael Denigris).  She makes one close friend who dies of typhus, but grows up to become a teacher.  The adult Jane Eyre (Samantha Morton), looking to see more of the world, takes a position as governess at Thornfield Manor.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Gemma Jones) treats her kindly and she takes charge of a little French girl, Adele (Timia Berthome).  The master of the manor, Mr. Edward Rochester (Ciarán Hinds) is a rough man who has been greatly disappointed in life.  He takes an interest in Jane and they become friends, gradually falling in love.

But Thornfield holds a great secret, which Jane gradually becomes aware of: a seemingly crazy servant, Grace Poole, wanders the house at night, giggling insanely.  Mrs. Fairfax informs Jane that Ms. Poole is kept on due to her long service to the family.  Mr. Rochester brings some of the local gentry to visit him, including a beautiful young woman, Blanche Ingram (Abigail Cruttenden) who is determine to marry Rochester.  Jane is nearly at her wits end when she receives word that her aunt is dying and has requested her presence.  While Jane is gone, Rochester misses her terribly and when she returns he proposes to her.  They have some happiness before the wedding, which is interrupted by a Mr. Mason stating that they cannot be married because Mr. Rochester already has a wife.  Rochester drags them all back to Thornfield to reveal his insane wife that he married in Jamaica, through the deception of her family.  The marriage called off, Jane runs away and is discovered unconscious in a field by a young, handsome minister, St. John (Rupert Penry-Jones) who begs her to marry him and follow him to India as a missionary.  Jane, still obsessed with Rochester, goes back to find Thornfield burned to the ground, Rochester’s wife dead, and him a blind man wallowing in his own misery.  She surprises him, they marry and have two children.

Obviously, to anyone familiar with the novel, the film leaves out a great deal of the story.  It rushes through Jane’s childhood, skips through the Lowood years, eliminates the Reeds as viable characters, leaves out her inheritance and shoots through her association with St. John, all to serve the purpose of the romance, which is quite successful.  In this adaptation, it is not a deep story, but it is skillfully told.  The direction by Robert Young is deft, using creative camera angles, deep colors, and excellent editing.

Samantha Morton really carries the move from beginning to end.  Beautiful, passionately attached to her character, she wraps the movie around her and makes everything work.  Ciarán Hinds is a fine actor, but gets carried away sometimes with his passion.  The other supporting actors, including the wonderful Gemma Jones, all add to the strong ensemble.

In this version, we may miss major parts of the story, but the arc has been honed into something that somehow works altogether.  It’s sad that a knowledge of the full work by Brontë might hinder enjoyment of this movie, but that simply can’t be avoided in any adaptation of a major novel.  The one thing we call all be thankful for is that the preachiness of the book is cut along with everything else.

I think this movie should be seen, if for no other reason than the excellent performance by Samantha Morton!


Jane EyreRead my review of the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte!

This 1847 classic novel both delights and confounds a modern reader.

Told mostly in first person past (with brief lapses into first person present) by the heroine, Jane Eyre, the book was originally subtitled An Autobiography.  It begins with Jane as a young girl of ten years as an orphan living with her Aunt Reed at Gateshead Hall.


Jane Eyre 1996Read my review of the 1996 movie Jane Eyre by Franco Zeffirelli!

Adapting a classic novel to the big screen is always a dicey proposition.  The screen writer and director have a limited amount of time, yet there is so much in a classic novel that readers depend on for a satisfying experience.


Jane Eyre 2011Read my review of the 1997 Cary Fukunaga movie of Jane Eyre.

This adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre was produced in 2011.  Directed by Cary Fukunaga from a script by Moira Buffini, this is clearly the best of the recent movie versions of the novel.  Ms. Buffini’s script is faithful to the novel, yet innovative in the way it tells the story, bringing a passion lacking in the other attempts.

This Gentle Land Will Own Me

Prairie-Canada

*

I was born on this prairie that I call home

The last of my line, bound to be alone

Lost in this world, I just had to roam

And try to find a peace to call my own

*

Tomorrow, this gentle land will own me

My spirit flowing through this haze of beauty

And I will find my peace in your loving memory

And the grasses waving in the prairie breeze

*

I was lost in the memory of days gone by

Riding in the sun, riding to the sky

You came upon me, a glimmer in your eye

And promised to stay until I died

*

Tomorrow, this gentle land will own me

My spirit flowing through this haze of beauty

And I will find my peace in your loving memory

And the grasses waving in the prairie breeze

There are things between us I need to say

Before tomorrow makes another day

You gotta keep giving when I go away

And don’t blame the prairie where I lay

*

Tomorrow, this gentle land will own me

My spirit flowing through this haze of beauty

And I will find my peace in your loving memory

And the grasses waving in the prairie breeze

Music and Lyrics by Paul Wake Baker © 2014

Baby Is As Baby Does

Baby in Baby Is As Baby DoesI’m sipping a zombie martini at the marina in Huntington Beach, waiting for Daddy. He’s bringing a cashier’s check for $40,000 as a down payment on my new condo, but, as usual, he’s late. I’ve been watching the yachts coming in for the last hour, but there’s no sign of Daddy. I’m about ready to order a Cobb salad when, in the category of Things That Do Not Belong Here, a nasal voice interrupts the pleasant babble of the idle rich. It comes from the bar.

“Yes, sir,” it bleats. “A hundred grand! I shit you not! And there’s Charlie Sheen glarin’ at me across the poker table–you know he’s got those beady little eyes–and I’m thinkin’ he’s gonna whip out a pistol or somethin’, but he just grins at me and says, ‘Tripper, my boy, let’s go to Cabo.’ Next thing I know, we’s buddied up with El Patron…” He lowers his voice so only people inside the city limits will hear him. “…smokin’ the biggest goddam doobie I ever set my eyes on.”

I can tell he’s completely full of it. It isn’t just that he won a hundred grand in a poker game or went to Cabo–it’s that he hooked up with Charlie Sheen. Usually a bullshit artist does okay until they introduce the first celebrity into their story, then everything goes south. In this case, literally.

I have to look.

Oops. Eye contact. It’s a mistake I seem to make over and over. He’s confident, I’ll give him that. He comes right over to the table like he owns the place. Damn eye contact. It gets me every time.

“Hey, there, little girl,” he beams. “You’re lookin’ mighty lonely.” He pulls up a chair without asking and plunks his butt down, leaning across the table. He’s a good looking guy, skinny,  with oily black hair, and he’s wearing a Polo shirt and tan slacks. If he just kept his mouth shut, he’d fit right in with this crowd.

“Name’s Fern McGee,” he says, “but everybody calls me Tripper.” Fern McGee? Who the hell is named Fern any more? Nobody, that’s who. And Tripper? Didn’t that nickname go out in, like, the seventies?

I laugh out loud and stare at the big hand he’s holding out to me. Already, he wants to touch my skin. That’s a big no-no. I look back out at the yachts along the pier. Come on, Daddy! I may not like you, but at least you’re mine.

“You know Charlie Sheen’s a personal friend of mine?” I glance up to see a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.

“Listen, Jethro,” I say, “go sling your hash somewhere else. I don’t have time for you.”

I cross my legs and turn away from him, both sure indications that he’s wasting his time, but that’s a mistake, because now he can’t take his eyes off my skirt.

“Listen,” he says, his voice finally soft and silky, “I’m just a country boy who got a little lucky, but I got me some operatin’ cash right now and I want to have some fun. How’d you like to help me spend it?”

I’ve got to admit that helping Jethro blow a hundred grand sounds like fun, but I’m not convinced he’s really got the money. A bullshit artist will say anything to hook his fish. I swivel back to face him, legs still crossed. Opening my eyes wide, I use my best little girl voice, kind of breathy with disbelief.

“Charlie Sheen?”

There’s just a brief look on his face, like maybe he knows I’m full of shit, too, but then he blinks and smiles.

“By the way, my name’s Fern, not Jethro. You can call me Trip.” He waits for a moment, but I remain still.

He’s on high alert now, but it doesn’t stop the bullshit. So here’s the whole scoop. He met Charlie while was he was working as a grip on some movie I never heard of and got invited up to his mansion where he got into a card game with a director, a couple of producers, and Charlie. He turned his beer money into a hundred grand by hustling them all night long. I’m starting to believe him now because I can just see his aw shucks game working on a bunch of Hollywood bigwigs.

After Cabo and meeting El Patron, they went bow hunting in the Brazilian rain forest. It turns out that Jethro just happens to be a world class bow hunter (who could have seen that one coming?) and he brought down a puma whose head now adorns the playroom of Charlie’s Hollywood mansion.

I check my watch. 2:30. Where the hell’s Daddy? I need that fucking money and I need to dump Jethro in a big way. Standing up, I slide the glass panel open and pop a couple of quarters in the machine. I take a good long look across the bay. No sign of Daddy. Apparently, he’s decided to jerk me off. Asshole. I step back inside, sit back down, and re-cross my legs.

Damn. I’m really between a rock and a hard place.

“So where’s your money?” I ask.

He looks around and lowers his voice. “In the trunk of my car. I only got about eighty grand left after Cabo, even though Charlie picked up most of the tab.”

“Let’s see,” I say, daring him with my eyes. I uncross my legs and he takes a good long look, holding his head sideways like maybe I don’t notice.

It’s there, all right, in a goddam brown paper bag from Safeway. I flip through a stack of bills. All hundreds. Turning my head, I look down the street like someone’s coming, so he turns and peers down the block while I slip a stack into my purse.

The old Honda looks pretty beat up, but right there in the back seat, next to his crummy brown suitcase, is the most complicated bow I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m convinced now. Jethro really is on the level.

“Let’s go to Vegas!” he says. “I got a tank full of gas and a bag full of money. Let’s go have some fun.”

I’m really torn. Will Daddy still give me the money if I take off now? I’m dependent on him, but I’m looking at freedom in a brown paper bag. Of course, if we blow eighty grand in Vegas, then poof goes the freedom, but now that I know Jethro is on the up and up, I have an advantage. From his point of view, it’s probably easy come, easy go. And half of it could easy go to my new condo. If I’m gonna pull this off, I have to stop by my apartment so I can pick up my thirty-eight, but it looks like full speed ahead.

For the first time, I smile at him and try to blush.

“Okay, Trip,” I say, my voice almost purring.

Baby’s got a new Daddy.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty-in-Pink-Duckie-AndieIt’s very rare in the realm of popular movies (outside of period pieces) that costumes play a major role, but Marilyn Vance is largely responsible for the success of the 1986 John Hughes script Pretty in Pink.  The third of the “Brat Pack” trilogy of movies, following Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, it closely resembles the first film, Sixteen Candles, and if Hughes had had his way by casting Anthony Michael Hall in the pivotal role of Duckie, it might have been even closer.

The following review contains total plot spoilers, so beware.

The film is about a high school  senior, Andie (Molly Ringwald), with a great fashion sense.  Coming from the poor side of the tracks–a fact that is bluntly stated in the opening shot when the camera actually crosses the said tracks–Andie lives with her father (Harry Dean Stanton) and struggles against the conformity in her high school.  By frequenting thrift shops, she puts together an amazingly fresh and offbeat ensemble every day.  Of course, the rich girls at her school are complete snobs and they all wear expensive (or looks expensive) clothing and they make fun of her attire.  Her best friend, since they were kids, Phil “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) is also loose from head to toe, wearing outfits as outlandish as Andie’s are stylish.  Also poor and outside the circle of the rich kids, he follows Andie around like a puppy dog and seems oblivious that she’s not interested in him romantically.

In spite of her outcast status among the girls at school, she seems to be an object of interest to some of the wealthiest boys, including Steff (James Spader), who she rejects near the beginning of the movie, and Blane (Andrew McCarthy), who seriously interests her.  She works at a record store called Trax, for a beautiful, outlandish girl in her thirties, Iona (Annie Potts) and she seeks Iona’s advice a lot.  Blane shows up at the store one day and seems to be returning Andie’s feelings.  When he asks her to go out with him, Duckie is cut to the quick, goes into a serious depression, and even backs out of his friendship with her.

Blane takes her to a party at Steff’s where the girls’ antipathy toward her is obvious and makes her totally uncomfortable.  Taking her upstairs, they blunder into a room where Steff is lolling around with the coolest girl in the school, Bunny (Kate Vernon) who makes fun of her.  They leave and go to a club that Andie hangs out at, but Duckie is there with Iona and he picks a fight with Blane, so they leave.  He asks her to the prom and she gets excited about going with him.  They commit themselves to the relationship, but Steff keeps bothering Blane about it until Blane finally backs out and embarrasses Andie in school.

Her father buys her a pretty ugly prom dress and she combines it with Iona’s old prom dress to make a new creation that is pretty cool.  She goes to the prom alone, but sees Duckie there and they go into the prom together.  Blane, who has also come alone, both apologizes and at the same time blames her for their relationship not working and tells her that he loves her.  In a reversal of character, Duckie tells her to go after Blane, then a beautiful girl, the Duckete (Kristy Swanson) gets his attention and he’s off with her.  The movie ends with Blane kissing Andie in the parking lot.

If some of this plot seems a little muddled, it’s partly because the entire ending was re-written and re-shot after preview audiences booed the ending.  In the original script, Andie ends up with Duckie.  It’s really weird and creates a lot of confusion.  For one thing, the entire film has built toward Blane’s complete screw up with Andie and her moving beyond him–and that includes his blaming her at the end for something that was entirely his own fault.  How she could go with him after that is anybody’s guess.  Part of the issue, too, is that while her friendship with Duckie is strong and deep, there isn’t any romantic attraction on her part, which negates the original ending.  In an interview on the DVD, Molly Ringwald admits that Robert Downy, Jr. almost got the role of Duckie and that she had a strong chemistry with him that would have made the original ending work, but that she herself did not like ending up with Jon Cryer because they didn’t have any kind of romantic chemistry.

So the ending is compounded by multiple mistakes and it really screws up an otherwise engaging, funny, and hip movie.

The script by John Hughes was written for Molly Ringwald and the character of Andie is fully realized, fueled by a dynamic and engaging performance by the actress.  The direction by first time director Howard Deutch is loose and fun.  He creates a great little, believable world for Hughes’ characters to inhabit.  Jon Cryer is outstanding as Duckie, always funny and charming.  Harry Dean Stanton is terrific as Andie’s father and Annie Potts gives an amazing performance as Iona–probably the best performance of her career.  James Spader is both beautiful and slimy, a combination that he has made into lifetime’s work.  And the cast is sprinkled with terrific cameos, including Andrew Dice Clay, Dweezil Zappa, and Kristy Swanson.

Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer’s costumes are wonderful.  The only other movie I can think of that made such a fresh fashion statement was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  The use of pink in all of Molly’s costumes tactfully underscores the title of the movie and every outfit is innovative and fun.  The final ingredient that makes the movie special is the well chosen soundtrack that captures that great late eighties indie rock sound.

The DVD contains many special features that enhance viewing pleasure and they go into fine detail on the problems of the ending.

Even though the movie is deeply derivative of Hughes’ earlier success Sixteen Candles, it remains fresh and charming, but the uncertainty of the filmmakers regarding the ending creates a true confusion that was simply never addressed, either by Hughes or Deutch, and that makes it difficult to enjoy.

Even so, I highly recommend this movie for an evening’s light entertainment.

The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey

White DragonBeginning several more Turns after the end of Dragonquest, The White Dragon shifts character perspective slightly away from Benden Weyr to concentrate on the maturing of Jaxom, the rider of the white dragon, Ruth and itinerant Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold. A number of stories are intertwined around the Renaissance of the planet Pern and The White Dragon is both a tremendously compelling story on its own and it sets up the events to occur in the final three books of main saga, The Renegades of Pern, All the Weyrs of Pern, and The Skies of Pern

The emphasis on youth is not accidental and Anne McCaffrey develops both of her young men, Jaxom and Piemur, extensively in the final novels, adding strong, bright young women as their mates, in the form of Sharra and Jancis. But The White Dragon is almost exclusively about Jaxom, beginning in his adolescence as a ward under the guidance of Lord Warder Lytol.  He is frustrated about a number of things.  His milk brother, Dorse, teases him mercilessly about his “runt” dragon.  He has not been allowed to fly Ruth while the white dragon matures.  Ruth shows no interest in mating.  Neither a Lord Holder, because of his age, nor a dragon rider, because he is a Lord Holder, Jaxom is caught between everything.  Gradually, he gets to fly Ruth, so he can escape Dorse, he cultivates his own relationship with a farm girl named Corana, and he teaches Ruth to chew firestone so he can fly with Fort Weyr against Thread.

When D’ram, Weyrleader of Ista, retires, he disappears and no one knows where to find him.  Jaxom, on a hunch that D’ram may have returned to a certain cove on the Southern Continent where Robinton and Menolly had been shipwrecked, goes with Menolly to the cove to get the impressions of the fire lizards there.  On another hunch, Jaxom goes back 25 Turns to find D’ram, so that F’lar can bring him back to usefulness.  Through this experience, Jaxom learns that Ruth always knows when he is in time, a remarkable and important talent.  The Oldtimers, exiled to the Southern Continent, are all getting old and their queens no longer rise to mate, so they pull off a clandestine operation to steal Ramoth’s hardening golden egg and hide it somewhere in time.  Coating Ruth in black river mud, Jaxom goes back through time to find the egg, steal it back, and successfully return it to Benden Weyr without anyone realizing he was the one who did it. 

War between the weyrs is averted due to Jaxom’s bravery and Ruth’s cunning, but both he and the dragon run into Thread during their jumps between times to return the egg. Seeing the damage to Jaxom and Ruth, N’ton finally agrees to let him train at Fort Weyr to fight Thread.  Even though he has the symptoms of a cold, he is so excited that he and Ruth go ahead and fly their first Fall together, but the cold gets worse.  He remembers the warm cove and decides to go there because he thinks it will make him feel better, but he utterly collapses once he gets there.  Concerned, Ruth alerts everyone and when Jaxom awakes, his eyes are covered and he is being tended by Brekke and a girl with a wonderful voice.  This turns out to be Sharra, Southern Holder Toric’s sister, whom we met in Dragondrums.

As he recuperates, a mating flight takes place at Ista to determine who the next Weyrleader will be, but two Oldtimer bronze riders show up, T’kul and B’zon.  When T’kul’s dragon Salth dies trying to mate with the new queen, he goes mad and attacks F’lar.  During the duel, F’lar kills the Oldtimer and Robinton has a major heart attack.  Robinton collapses and only the voices of the dragons keep him alive until Master Oldive arrives to treat him.  They decide to move Robinton south for his recovery with Jaxom at what will be called Cove Hold.  Jaxom, Sharra, and Piemer have had the place all to themselves, but now they must deal with hordes from the north coming in to build the new hall for the Harper. 

Jaxom falls in love with Sharra and is determined that she will soon become his lady. Once Robinton is installed in Cove Hold, he recruits the young people to continue to chart the Southern Continent.  On impulse, Jaxom goes to investigate the gigantic mountain that dominates the view.  Sharra, Piemer, and Menolly go with him and they discover the site of the original landing of the planetary colonists, their ancestors.  When Toric objects to a match between Jaxom and Sharra, Robinton and the Weyrleaders intervene and distract Toric while discussing what Southern lands should be his.  Jaxom, meanwhile, goes to Southern Hold and rescues Sharra from Toric’s men, bringing her back to Landing, where Toric has no option but to approve.  Jaxom reveals that it was he who returned Ramoth’s egg after the Oldtimers had stolen it and, in an afterward, Jaxom is confirmed as Lord Holder and Lytol will move south to work with Robinton.

This is easily best novel of the three that make up the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy.  It reflects a maturity in Anne McCaffrey’s writing that was missing in Dragonflight and merely growing in Dragonquest.  Part of this maturity comes from the depth of the characters and the evolution of the entire planet of Pern as a completely and faithfully realized world.  The love for her characters that reflected a big step forward in Dragonquest blooms in The White Dragon and finally explodes in The Harper Hall Trilogy that followed hard on the heels of this great novel.

The White Dragon, together with The Harper Hall Trilogy and All the Weyrs of Pern, represents the best writing about Pern that Anne McCaffrey was to accomplish in a long and distinguished career as a science fiction writer.

Marnie

Marne 01Marnie is undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock’s most unusual film.  There’s no murder, no spies, no sabotage, and practically no suspense.  It is a straight up psychological drama.

The movie begins with a theft.  A young woman, Marnie (Tippi Hedren) goes under various aliases as she moves from one company to another gaining trust and then stealing money from their safe before disappearing into a new identity.  She has just robbed an accounting firm that represents Rutland and Co., owned by Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), who remembers seeing the girl on a visit.  Following her robbery, Marnie washes the black dye from her hair to reveal her own stunning natural blonde.  She makes her way into the country where she has a standing relationship with a stable and a horse all ready for her to ride.  She also visits her mother (Louise Latham) in Baltimore, where we see her acute jealousy for a little girl that her mother looks after.  She wonders why her own mother hates her so much.

Throughout the early set-up of the film, we are shown glimpses of Marnie’s fears and phobias.  The color of bright red, for example, puts her into a blind, mindless panic.  Her mother urges her to stay away from men, because they will only hurt her and Marnie acknowledges that she’s never had a relationship with a man and never will.

In Philadelphia, she begins her life as a thief yet again, this time taking a job at the Rutland Company, not realizing Rutland’s relationship with the accounting firm she’s recently robbed.  Mark decides to hire her over the objections of his manager.  A woman named Susan (Mariette Hartley) is secretary to the manager, who keeps the combination to the safe in her locked desk.  On her first day in the office, she meets Mark’s former sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker) who obviously has designs on Mark.  He asks Marnie to come into his office on a Saturday to work, but they are disturbed by a thunderstorm.  The lightning terrifies Marnie and sends into another blind panic.  Mark comforts her and drives her home.  Discovering her love of horses, he arranges a date with her at the horse races in Atlantic City.  Afterwards, he drives her home to meet his family.

Finally seeing her opportunity, she steals the key to Susan’s desk, stays late in the office, and steals a substantial amount of money from the safe.  Realizing the situation, Mark replaces the money and tracks her down at the stable where she rides her horse.  He blackmails her into marrying him and takes her away for a honeymoon cruise, where he rapes her.  Lil becomes suspicious of Marnie.  Snooping around while Mark and Marnie are away, she discovers that Mark has paid off the accounting firm where Marnie previously stole money.  Upon their return, she invites the manager of that firm to a party at the Rutlands.  When Marnie sees her former boss, she freaks out and tries to leave.

Ultimately, Mark must force her to re-live her past and come to terms with the reason for all of her fears.

This is a very uneven film, even though Marnie’s character offers the kind of drama that might have intrigued Tennessee Williams.  The first problem is the length of the movie.  At two hours and 11 minutes, it is simply too long for the subject matter and it becomes deeply bogged down and very difficult to watch.  It seems to me that as Hitchcock became more and more popular as a director, he allowed himself to include many things in his movies that were not essential to the film.  Not only does Marnie suffer from this, but so does North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and others.  These films all required a firm hand in the cutting room, but Hitchcock was a demanding director and editor George Tomasini, who worked with him a large number of his American films, was quite obliging.

There are other technical issues as well.  Hitchcock’s reliance on rear projection and matte painting fails him quite dramatically here, especially in the scenes where Marnie is riding a horse, coming off as very unrealistic.

Marnie 03Although he was dedicated to the elevation of model Tippi Hedren to stardom, her fine performance in The Birds does not carry over well into this psychological drama.  At times she seems rather wooden and signals her emotions, rather than using nuance to fill in the blanks.  Sean Connery, a very accomplished actor, does okay in the movie, but one is always aware that he is Sean Connery.  I don’t think there was a single spot in the movie where I actually thought he was Mark Rutland.  In addition, I don’t sense any kind of chemistry between the two stars in this movie and I didn’t really care what happened to them.  Without any real suspense to drive the movie–and with constantly looking at my watch and wondering when it would be over–it really felt forced.

Marnie 02There are two really good performances in the film.  Louise Latham is simply outstanding as Marnie’s mother, bringing the kind of nuance that makes for a starkly realistic character.  And Diane Baker is excellent as Lil, the jilted sister-in-law.

This might have been a great film, with sufficient editing, perhaps with a different leading actress as Marnie and maybe an American actor as Mark, with some of the action sequences done more realistically.  As it is, the movie looks like an overblown Hollywood version of what should be a compelling drama.

I have to rank this near the bottom of Hitchcock’s American films and I find it hard to recommend it to anyone but die-hard Hitchcock fans.

The Dragonriders of Pern

 

Anne McCaffrey

The Dragonriders of Pern Saga

(An Introduction to the World of Pern)

REVIEWS

The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy

DragonflightDragonflight

This first book of The Dragonriders of Pern saga began as two novellas, “Weyr Search,” which won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novella and “Dragonrider,” which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1969, making author Anne McCaffrey the first woman to ever win either one of the prestigious science fiction writing awards. It is the only Dragonrider novel that focuses exclusively on the relationship between F’lar and Lessa 

dragonquestDragonquest

The sequel to Dragonflight and the second book in the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, Dragonquest substantially expands the range of featured characters.  Where the first book concentrated almost exclusively on F’lar and Lessa, the second novel spreads its point of view far and wide.  Masterharper Robinton, Menolly, F’nor, queen rider Brekke, and the boy who is to inherit Ruatha Hold, Lord Jaxom, all take center stage at one point or another, while the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman continue to expand their leadership roles.

White DragonThe White Dragon

Beginning several more Turns after the end of Dragonquest, The White Dragon shifts character perspective slightly away from Benden Weyr to concentrate on the maturing of Jaxom, the rider of the white dragon, Ruth and itinerant Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold.


 

The Harper Hall of Pern Trilogy

DragonsongMcCaffrey Dragonsong

The youngest daughter of Yanus, Holder of Half-Circle Sea Hold, on the wild Eastern part of the northern continent, Menolly is 15 years old at the beginning of the novel.  Petiron, the Hold Harper, had found her to have an exceptional musical talent when she was very young.  Even though girls were not allowed to be Harpers, he taught her how to play all of the instruments and encouraged her to write her lovely songs.

.

DragonsingerDragonsinger

Dragonsinger is the sequel to Dragonsong and the second book of the Harper Hall Trilogy.  In the main Pern timeline, it occurs roughly at the same time as the later sections of Dragonquest (the second novel of the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy).  It continues Menolly’s story from the ending of Dragonsong as she arrives at the Harper Hall to begin her new life as a musician.  It is highly recommended that one read Dragonsong before reading Dragonsinger.

Dragondrumsdragon-drums-det_0

Piemer’s voice breaks just as he is preparing to sing the role of Lessa in a new composition by Domick and Menolly, written especially for Lord Groghe’s Spring Festival.  Without his voice, the boy’s world is turned upside down.  Fearing for his future he visits his voice master, Shonagar, only to find that he will be replaced as the man’s apprentice.  Shonagar sends him to the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton, for reassignment.  His depression over his change of circumstances changes to elation as he finds that he will become Robinton’s apprentice now, but there are, of course, complications.


 Other Books in the Series

dragonsdawnDragonsdawn

Dragonsdawn is a prequel to the entire Dragonriders of Pern saga.  This novel tells the story of the group of colonists who actually settled Pern and it explains most of how the society devolved into what readers encountered when they opened their first Pern book, which is normally (and should be) Dragonflight during the Ninth Pass of the Red Star.  If readers had any difficulty understanding that world, this will explain all, from the difference between a wherry and a watchwher to how the dragons were evolved from fire-lizards.


 

Renegades of PernThe Renegades of Pern

The Renegades of Pern is splintered into lots of little stories and covers the time period just before the beginning of the main Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, running all the way up to the very beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern.  It contains both vital information regarding the main story line and vast amounts of story that just don’t really matter at all.


All the Weyrs of PernAll the Weyrs of Pern

In what many thought might be the last of the Pern 9th Pass novels, the computer AIVAS (Artificial Intelligence Voice Address System) serves as a major character in the fight to end Thread forever.


Skies of Pern Les EdwardsThe Skies of Pern

In this final book in the 9th Pass saga of The Dragonriders of Pern, the story turns to the aftermath of events in All the Weyrs of Pern.  F’lessan, son of F’lar and Lessa, rider of bronze dragon Golanth, has settled into the ruins of ancient Honshu Hold and is looking for an occupation for the time After the last fall of Thread.  Researching his hold at Landing, he runs into Tai, rider of green dragon Zaranth at Turnover and their meeting changes both of their lives–and the future of Pern.

Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a DoubtIs this Alfred Hitchcock’s best movie?  The Master thought so.  Of all the films Hitchcock made in his lifetime, this was his very favorite.  It combines many of his best filmmaking techniques, it is tremendously suspenseful, and the very heart of the movie is loss of innocence.  This review contains plot spoilers, so beware reading the entire summary below if you want to be surprised!

The opening credits show a ballroom with couples dancing to “The Merry Widow Waltz,” an image that will be reprised throughout the movie.

Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotton) lies on his bed in some nameless Eastern city, a pile of money laying on his bedside table.  His landlady tells him that two men have been looking for him, so he languidly gets himself together, goes downstairs and immediately loses the two men who are following him.  He sends a telegram to his family in Santa Rosa, California, informing them that he will soon arrive for a visit.

His niece, Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) lies around her bedroom bored to tears with her life in the small town and wonders if anything exciting will ever happen.  Her father, Joseph (Henry Travers) can’t understand her, but promises that things will get better.  Charlie decides to send a telegram to her uncle Charlie hoping that he will come visit them to make things more exciting and she is stunned when the telegram from her uncle arrives–she calls it mental telepathy that they were thinking of the same thing at the same time.  Uncle Charlie’s sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge) is young Charlie’s mother and the family is completed with brainy little sister Ann (Edna May Wonacott) and a younger brother.  When Uncle Charlie arrives by train, they are all excited to see him, especially Charlie who feels that they are like twins, partly because she was named after him and partly because he seems to bring that excitement that she really wants out of life.  During dinner that night, Emma begins to hum “The Merry Widow Waltz,” but no one can remember what it is called.  Uncle Charlie distracts them so that no one does actually give us the title.

Uncle Charlie gives everyone gifts, including a ring to Charlie that has an inscription inside, but one from someone else to someone else.  A neighbor, Herbie (Hume Cronyn) shows up to discuss crime fiction with Joseph.  Uncle Charlie finds something in the newspaper that disturbs him.  He pretends to play a game with Ann where he tears up the section of the paper he was reading.  Stuffing it into his pocket, he goes upstairs, but Charlie is curious.  Claiming that they have nothing to hide, she steals the bit of paper, but can’t make anything out of it.  Ann tells her that the library is open until 9 PM, so Charlie runs down and finds the paper.  There is an article about the “Merry Widow Killer,” a man who marries rich widows and then kills them for their money.  When two government agents, Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) and Fred Saunders (Wallace Ford), show up posing as a national survey team, Uncle Charlie gets nervous and refuses to have his picture taken, but Charlie agrees to go out with Jack to show him Santa Rosa and he admits that he is a detective on the trail of the “Merry Widow Killer.”   Uncle Charlie is one of two suspects they are investigating.

Suspicious and torn between family loyalty and fear that Uncle Charlie really is the killer, she proceeds cautiously.  When the suspect on the East Coast is killed trying to run away, it is assumed that the man was the killer, but Uncle Charlie begins to arrange “accidents” for Charlie, including a broken stair step and finally locking her inside their garage with the car running and the key in his pocket, trying to kill her with carbon monoxide poisoning.  The family all go off to a speech that Uncle Charlie is giving, so Charlie tries to call the government agents to no avail.  Later Uncle Charlie announces that he is leaving.  He has carefully arranged to run off with a family friend, who just happens to be a rich widow.

As the train moves off, he holds Charlie prisoner and tries to throw her off the moving train, but as the struggle, he loses his balance.  A little push from Charlie and he falls into the path of an oncoming train.  The final scene shows Charlie talking with Jack at Uncle Charlie’s funeral.  She remarks that Uncle Charlie thought the world was an evil place, but Jack tells her that there is only some evil in the world.

One can understand, especially from a thematic point of view, why this would Hitchcock’s favorite film of his entire canon.  The story develops Charlie’s arc from being an innocent, bored with her simple hometown life, to understanding that evil can lurk in the most unexpected places.  The viewer sees her grow as a person from an immature girl into a mature woman and that is always eminently satisfying.  But the film offers much more than this.  Uncle Charlie and Emma’s wistful view of the past as a beautiful waltz contrasts sharply with his perception that the world has grown into an awful place, full of stupid people who only eat and talk and display their jewelry.  His own bitterness at the world fuels his murder spree and when he sees his hope of that innocence of youth, his niece Charlie, turning cold to him, he can only respond with the despair that leads him to try to kill her.

In addition, the suspense is so finely crafted in this film that the viewer is pulled to the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens to the girl Charlie.

The performances are uniformly good, but Joseph Cotton is magnificent as Uncle Charlie.  He leads us through all of his moods, from that painful yearning for innocence to the fear of being caught, to the despair of losing his niece’s good graces.  It is a powerful performance.  Teresa Wright is wonderful as the girl Charlie, capturing the essence of a soul at the turning point of her life between childhood and maturity.  Hume Cronyn is delightful as the family friend Herbie, who is always trying to find the perfect murder.  One of the best performances in the film is given by Patricia Collinge as Emma, who may miss the innocent past even more than Uncle Charlie and whose love of him creates the central challenge to Charlie’s struggle about revealing her uncle’s identity as the killer.

However, Macdonald Carey failed to make an impression on me as Jack.  Perhaps the character was written with too many contradiction or maybe I just didn’t buy his romantic interest in Charlie.  For whatever reason, his performance did not ring true for me.  It is the only blip in an otherwise great cast.

All of Hitchcock’s best film techniques are present in Shadow of a Doubt, some of them never more finely executed, and it will remain as one of the best films he ever made.  His best?  That question is still open for debate.