Archive for November, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1

I’ve just been to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and I honestly must say that of the seven movies, this one was by far my favorite; naturally, it didn’t feel nearly as hurried because it was planned to be spread over two parts, but even so, I felt the explanations about elements of the plot–the story of the deathly hallows, for instance–were detailed enough to allow anyone unfamiliar with the books to follow along, but not too revealing.
The only thing the film didn’t touch on in as much detail, which I suppose will have to be dealt more with in the second half, was the new regime under Voldemort–specifically its impact on Hogwarts and the magical community. Voldemort’s sneering comments about mating with muggle-borns was a bit in the vicinity of Hitleresque eugenics, but numerous readers have commented upon the parallels between the pureblood philosophy and ethnic cleansing. I think the idea of compulsory education for all children in the magical community underscores the level of governmental control under Voldemort’s regime, but again, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about the way these issues are being treated without having seen both parts of the film.
The dynamic among the treo was fabulous; the tension was palpable; Daniel Radcliffe’s performance in particular was spot-on. The balance between humor and horror was managed well, though I did feel at times that there wasn’t enough time allowed for audience reaction; my laughter had hardly died away in places before I had time to brace myself against the shcok of an attack, but I think that served as a means of drawing the audience into the constant tension–the unpredictability of the bouts of calm and storm that the readers and characters alike experience.
I did think it ended rather abruptly; I rather thought stopping just after Ron destroys the horcrux and the three reunite might have been a less awkward point, but thinking about it, that would have meant leaving off before we get to the story of the three brothers that explains the legend of the deathly hallows. I don’t suppose there could have been a non cliff-hangerish way to leave off.
In short, very well-worth the wait, and highly enjoyable!

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Jane Eyre (1983)

I’ve just finnished watching the BBC Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Jane Eyre, and I must say that for the first time, I’m sadly disappointed with the BBC; as a general rule, I find their film adaptations far superior to any other.
First off, who’s idea was it to cast Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester? I have a feeling I’m alone on this one, but his performance just did nothing for me; it was far too overdone. He’s either far too rough, or far too overly dramatic.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: the first few scenes are, I think, the best; they depict Jane’s Gateshead life accurately. Once she reaches Lowwood, things start to deteriorate pretty rapidly; Jane’s relationship with Helen is underdeveloped (to say the least); Miss Temple is slightly too severe, and we never really get a true sense of her impact on Jane’s life as a maternal figure. The one exception is, perhaps, the scene directly following her marriage, when she promises to write to the girls as they bid her farewell.
Every aspect of the story from the point at which Jane arrives at Lowwood to the final episode just seems far too rushed; quite a bit is glossed over, especially concerning Adelle and, later, jane’s arival at Marsh end and the discovery of her relationship to the Rivers’s; plot-wise, the details were tied together sloppily in my opinion. They seem to have endeavored to remedy that problem with the occasional interjection of voiceover, but even that was so infrequent as to be jarring and awkward–like an afterthought or trying to watch the film with someone’ who’s read the novel and is hurriedly trying to fill in the gaps.
The only element with which I was really pleased, aside from the first few episodes, was the adaptation’s treatment of Bertha; it manages to heighten the suspense for cliffhanger effect while also highlighting the gothic element of the mysterious madwoman of thornfield Hall. I was intrigued by the fact that directly after Mrs. Fairfax shows Jane to her room, we hear the chilling laughter, and to an audience unfamiliar with the story, it might seem as if she herself is the culpret; for who else could it likely be, at this point?
Then, of course, there’s the moment just before Bertha flings herself from the battlements: “I hate you! I hate you!” Charlotte Bronte never tells us precisely what Bertha shouts–and we’re left to assume that it’s just the unintelligible ravings of a madwoman, but we know, if we read closely, that Bertha can speak; Mason indicates as much. yet we can’t really say that Bertha has a voice because she’s never permitted to engage in any dialogue herself; all of her dialogue is recounted after the fact by the individual with whom she had spoken–be it Rochester, Mason, Grace, etc. Now, she does have a voice of her own, even if it is only to declare, with her dying breath, how much she despises her husband (which we could probably have deduced anyway…people typically don’t enjoy being shut away in an attic for an indefinite period of time).
In short, not the BBC’s best work.

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Hale the conquering hero

As I move toward the end of the semester with my students, it has occured to me that one of the topics to which we keep returning is the concept of the hero; it began during the Romantics unit, when I gave a brief lecture on the Byronic hero.. Then, of course, while discussing the various social constructions of gender during the victorian period– the rise of the age of imperialism–naturally the subject of the hero, specifically the battle hero/the conquering hero, emerged yet again. Now, as we study the literature of the twentieth century–a century strewn with the carnage of multiple wars–we return once again to the subject of the hero. Yesterday morning as I walked to class, I found myself pondering why it is that we continue returning to this subject, and I wonder if perhaps it’s a reflection of the fact that, given the current state of war, that heroism is naturally at the forefront of social consciousness–especially with the current generation of college students.
Now, admittedly, I’m not much older than the traditional college student, but it’s only just struck me how young some of my freshmen were on 9/11 and later when we declared war on Iraq. Some of them were probably just beginning middleschool and have been living in the shadow of war for almost half of their lives. some of them have probably lost fathers and brothers to the war, and now, six and a half years later, they find themselves and many others of their generations standing on the frontlines. I think it says a great deal about the fact that, for some reason, times of war call us to reexamine and sometimes redefine our concept of heroism more so than in times of peace. Of course, the war hero is only one construction of the hero; there are many models of heroism, some more subtle than others: the single father who works three jobs but never misses his son’s baseball games; the woman who pulls over onto the side of the road to rescue a stray puppy; the child who befriends the social outcast on the playground.
But right now, it’s obvious that for many people–if my students are any indication–heroism is mostly bound up in patriotism, which is hardly surprising. Once again I find myself confronting the paradox of being a teacher–that more often than not, I’m the one who learns something. I’m reminded yet again that every day, my students are sharing themselves with me, and that sometimes, interwoven with talk of child psychology in Jane Eyre or the gender politics of Pride and Prejudice, are the stories that they bring with them every day for me to listen to and learn from.

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