So Much to Do; So Little Time

Here goes –

1. Two films – “Ossessione” and “Deadline”. I like to think that I can rely on imdb.org to tell me whether a film is good or not. Imdb.org rates “Ossessione” with a 7.9 (very high), and “Deadline” with a 4.3 (very low). I think neither is particularly engaging or particularly bad, but…..

“Ossessione” was an early Luchino Visconti film (1943), based on the American novel, “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, but reset in Italy, somewhere near Ferrara. An attractive young woman, hardened by the times, lives in a rural area with her older, coarse husband, running an inn and restaurant. A handsome itinerant shows up, looking for a little free food, and finds true love. After a little this and a little that, they decide to murder the husband. The crime, an arranged auto accident, appears to go smoothly, but in fact the authorities are building the case. The relationship between the two grows a bit rocky, and seems to be improving just as the authorities are ready to amke their move. They escape the inn only to have a second accident.

It is a black and white film, evocatively set perhaps even earlier than 1943 (based on the lack of any form of modernity), but is a very long, and very, very slow and somewhat stylized movie. I understand its historical significance (it was repressed by the fascist government and, because of a copyright dispute, could not be released in the US until the 1970s), but don’t think, as a movie, it is a 7.9.

“Deadline” was filmed less than ten years ago, starring the late Brittany Murphy. Murphy was a screenwriter on a deadline, who decided to hole up in a large, country house, which her friend recently bought. She was somewhat fragile from suffering some sort of breakdown caused by her ex-boyfriend’s violent reaction to her pregnancy, when she suffered a miscarriage. While at the house, she believes she hears noises, she finds some old video tapes of a couple who used to live in the house, but it turns out (perhaps) that she imagined all of this, and was having a post-traumatic reaction to her own trauma. While she was imaging this (if she was), it also became the script of her screenplay. Needless to say, at the end of the film, Murphy was not in very good shape.

This is not a perfect play, although the story line’s uncertainty between reality and imagination at various levels was quite complex. I am not sure why it gets a 4.3; it deserves better than this.

2. Book – “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. This was the last book Charles Dickens ever wrote. Actually, as Schubert had his last work the “Unfinished Symphony”, Drood is the unfinished novel. Dickens’ books were published in magazines as serials, and after the publications of several chapters, his pen went silent. Drood, a young Englishman who had been affianced to a young woman years before, found that he had unexpected competition just as his ardor wanes. He decides to go off by himself for a while, but is soon found murdered. Who done it? This is the mystery of the mystery, as Dickens never tells us. It’s an interesting story. There has been a great amount of speculation over the last 140 years as to what really happened to Drood. Why this is important, I am not certain.

3. Lecture – Another of the OLLI lectures, this one by Tappan Wilder, nephew and literary executor of Thornton Wilder, author of The Bridge at San Louis Rey, The Skin of our Teeth, and Our Town. A combination of a talk about the literature and about the author and his family, it was a very interesting hour. Thornton Wilder was clearly a very bright and talented individual. He was a bachelor, and a member of a family where three of five siblings never married. The family remained close. There has been a lot of speculation that Wilder was gay – the speaker said that there was no clear evidence, that he wished that there were, either way. When Wilder wrote San Louis Rey, he and his publisher worried that it was so short, it wasn’t worthy of a book. It was published with large print and extra-large margins. No one expected it to be the immediate, enormous success that it was. Similarly, Our Town, after a good (but not exceptional) Broadway run, became unbelievably popular, with school groups even today putting on performances every day and, although this is considered the quintessential American play, it has been as popular elsewhere in the world as it has been at home.

4. The plays. “Argentina” and “Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet”. “Argentina” was the first of Theater J’s “Changing Middle East” festival, and it was a good start. A reading of a work-in-progress by Israeli playwright Boaz Gaon, the play deals with the period in the 1970s and 1980s when Argentina was ruled by a military junta, where presumed regime opponents mysteriously “disappeared”, when Argentina would kidnap young children in order to have leverage against their parents, and when Israel was providing arms to the junta under the encouragement of the United States, to earn profits from their arms business, and to have some ability to protect as many Jews as possible. It will be interesting to see how this play develops. The finished product should be even better.

“Marcus”, the final play of the trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney (the others were “In the Red and Brown Water” and “The Brothers Size”), now at the Studio, is an absolute success, as were the first two plays. Building on African mythology and life in Louisiana Bayou country, and telling the story of the two Size brothers and their family, this is American drama at its best. McCraney is a master of story, and dialogue and staging, and just about everything else. What a career he should have.

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