Review: I Am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin

Review: I Am Not Your Negro, James BaldwinI Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin, Raoul Peck
Published by Vintage on February 7th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 144
Format: Paperback
Buy on Amazon

To compose his stunning documentary film I Am Not Your Negro, acclaimed filmmaker Raoul Peck mined James Baldwin's published and unpublished oeuvre, selecting passages from his books, essays, letters, notes, and interviews that are every bit as incisive and pertinent now as they have ever been. Weaving these texts together, Peck brilliantly imagines the book that Baldwin never wrote. In his final years, Baldwin had envisioned a book about his three assassinated friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. His deeply personal notes for the project have never been published before. Peck's film uses them to jump through time, juxtaposing Baldwin's private words with his public statements, in a blazing examination of the tragic history of race in America.

We need James Baldwin right now. It’s strange to read words he wrote in the 1960’s and 1970’s and find so much around you that you recognize. He is maddening, frustratingly incisive about America.

To look around the United States today
is enough to make prophets and angels weep.
This is not the land of the free;
it is only very unwillingly and sporadically
the home of the brave. (97)

Reading this book and watching Raoul Peck’s accompanying film brings to mind this poem by Claude McKay:

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Baldwin’s relationship with America is equally complex. He left for France to escape. As he explains in an excerpt from Dick Cavett Show in answer to philosopher Paul Weiss, brought on the show to rebut Baldwin:

You talk about making it as a writer by yourself, you have to be able then to turn off all the antennae with which you live, because once you turn your back on this society you may die. You may die. And it’s very hard to sit at a typewriter and concentrate on that if you are afraid of the world around you. The years I lived in Paris did one thing for me: they released me from that particular social terror, which was not the paranoia of my own mind, but a real social danger in the face of every cop, every boss, everybody. (88)

But Baldwin returned to America. As Baldwin says,

But I had missed my brothers and sisters
and my mother.
They made a difference.
I wanted to be able to see them,
and to see their children.
I hoped that they wouldn’t forget me.

I missed Harlem Sunday mornings
and fried chicken and biscuits,
I missed the music,
I missed the style—
that style possessed by no other people in the world.
I missed the way the dark face closes,
the way dark eyes watch,
and the way, when a dark face opens, a light seems to go everywhere.
I missed, in short, my connections,
missed the life which had produced me
and nourished me and paid for me.
Now, though I was a stranger,
I was home. (13-14)

Of course, he returned to France and lived there until his death. Baldwin was clearly frustrated by America’s inability to change. I wonder what he would make out of America today. I guess I don’t need to wonder. I know. What he said to Dick Cavett in 1968 still holds true:

I can’t say it’s a Christian nation, that your brothers will never do that [kill you] to you, because the record is too long and too bloody. That’s all we have done. All your buried corpses now begin to speak… [W]hen… any white man in the world says, “give me liberty, or give me death,” the entire white world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad nigger, so there won’t be any more like him. (81-82)

That was 50 years ago.

As Baldwin so aptly and succinctly concludes, “The story of the Negro in America / is the story of America. / It is not a pretty story” (95). So what do we do? Even Baldwin is not without hope. As he says near the end of the book, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; / but nothing can be changed until it is faced” (103). We do need to face who we are and who we have been. Baldwin makes this request:

What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a “nigger” in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man. But if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need him… If I’m not the nigger here and you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that, whether or not it is able to ask that question. (109)

This book should definitely be paired with Raoul Peck’s film. The book is a loose collection of notes and snippets of transcriptions. What it offers that the film doesn’t is a chance to slow down and savor Baldwin’s language. He was truly a gifted writer and thinker. However, it is when the word is paired with image and film (as well as music) that Baldwin’s words truly come alive. Samuel L. Jackson narrates Baldwin beautifully (I admit I wasn’t sure about how that was going to be until I listened). I viewed the film through my Amazon Prime subscription as it is unavailable on Netflix, but here is a trailer:

For the Author Love Challenge, I am reading the work of James Baldwin.
This month’s motif is Book to Screen.


Stranger Things

Stranger Things Title Card
Image via Lowtrucks, Wikimedia Commons

I think I was about a week later than just about everyone else in starting Stranger Things. I finished it today after not having a lot of time to watch Netflix over the last week or so. There is a lot to like in this series, and if you were an 80’s kid like me, you definitely need to watch it. There are, of course, ubiquitous (and finely parsed—Google search it) nods to 1980’s books, movies, music, and pop culture all throughout. I was actually shocked to learn the Duffer Brothers, creators of the series, were born in the 1980’s instead of teenagers because they really captured the era. Who didn’t know boys like Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will? I went to middle school with those guys, I swear it. Actually, it’s set in 1983, which is exactly when I would have been their age.

I understand this series was rejected by anywhere from 15 to 20 networks, all of which are probably kicking themselves hard right now. I don’t know anyone who isn’t buzzing about this series. Well, anyone my age, anyway. Some of my favorite things:

  • All the “see if you catch them” references. I love that the title card looks like a 1980’s Stephen King novel. That’s only one among many a Stephen King reference. Lots of nods to IT, Firestarter, and The Body (aka Stand By Me). Actually, I think that the actress who plays Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown, looks like she could be Wil Wheaton’s kid. He played Gordie LaChance in Stand By Me if you forgot or haven’t seen it (you should really see it if you haven’t—it’s probably one of the better Stephen King adaptations).
  • The child actors. They’re actually really great. All of them.
  • Winona Ryder as a mom character. I know she was Spock’s mom in the Star Trek reboot, but you know what I mean. We first really met her in the late 1980’s when she was a teenage actress. It seems appropriate that she’s the mom.
  • The kids’ amazing science teacher. He’s geeky, but man, with all the complaining folks do about education and teachers today, it was refreshing to see such a recognizable, honest, and positive portrayal of a teacher. He actually reminded me a bit of my middle school science teachers.
  • Barb. Because if you grew up in the 80’s you either were someone like Barb or knew a Barb. She is perfect. For the record, I my personality as a teenager resembled hers, but I didn’t have her compelling glasses and mom-jeans look.
  • The storytelling. It’s paced well, and for some crazy Stephen King/Steven Spielberg (think E. T.) type stuff, the characters sell it all and make it completely believable.

I actually think my husband’s description of the binge-worthy nature of this series is the best one I’ve seen.

We didn’t get our stuff together to actually watch it together. I totally recommend watching it with a friend. Particularly a friend who was about your age in the 1980’s—if, you know, you are like me and grew up then. If not, find a friend who did grow up in the 80’s and watch it with that friend.

I volunteer because I kind of want to watch it again and see what I missed the first time.

Here is the trailer if you want to check it out.

Sunday Post #43: Unfilmable Books

Sunday Post
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my AP Literature students are reading both Mrs. Dalloway and The Remains of the Day this year. Knowing there are film versions of both books (and that The Remains of the Day in particular was well regarded), I decided to watch them this weekend and see if I want to use any parts of either film in class.

The first thing I thought after I finished watching Mrs. Dalloway, which had a great cast—Vanessa Redgrave is Clarissa Dalloway and Rupert Graves is Septimus Warren Smith—is that some books are just unfilmable. The movie stuck to the plot well enough. In a book where not a lot happens, at least on the exterior, that’s not to hard to do. What is nearly impossible to do is to capture the interior monologues of both Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. I thought for sure perhaps some brilliant cinematography would capture the breathtaking imagery in Mrs. Dalloway, but not really. I was particularly disappointed in the scene in which Clarissa buys the flowers. In the book, it’s a master class in imagery that leads directly to memory, but in the movie, it’s a brief scene that is stripped of almost all of the punch it packs in the book. I might show clips of the film precisely so students can discuss why it isn’t filmable or how they might have filmed it instead.

On the other hand, The Remains of the Day was brilliant in all respects save one: the ending. In the book, you see a slightly different ending when Stevens realizes how he has spent his life, and it crashes over him. His stiff upper lip barely quivers in the film. To me, that’s a pretty substantial change, and I don’t like it at all. As to the acting, though, brilliant, of course (what would you expect out of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?). The scenery and sets are absolutely gorgeous. I thought more than once of Downton Abbey and the passage of all those old manor houses. I suppose many of them are now basically open for tours and are sorts of historical monuments to another time. This book, as it turned out, was quite filmable, or at least resulted in a really good film. You probably knew that, though, because I think I’m the last person to see that movie.

In other bookish news, I’m wondering what is wrong with me for not really liking Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun much. I’m going to finish it, I guess, because I’m pretty far in, and I do sort of want to see what happens to everyone. I’m really annoyed by how long the chapters are. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere when I’m reading because the chapters are so long. So many people I know have loved this book. I am just sort of bored with quirkier-than-thou teenagers, erudite and intelligent beyond their years. John Green is responsible for this trend, and I think I’m going to complain about in the march #ShelfLove entry on tropes I’m sick of in literature next month. After John Green made it so lucrative, it seemed like every other YA author had to copy it. I know plenty of smart teenagers. I’m not saying kids like these kids don’t exist. I just… don’t think I’m the audience for these books anymore.

My book club is reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and all I can say is holy heck! How did this guy get me interested in something I have zero interest in? That is one helluva trick. The writing is fantastic. I’m not too far in, just about 50 pages so far. I can really see the people he’s describing. They are real, flesh-and-blood people, and I already care a lot about them, and even though I know they won the Olympic Gold in 1936, it’s still unfolding like one of those mysteries, where you can’t see how it will turn out in the end. That is another neat trick. Plus, two interesting connections already: Brown mentions rowers practicing at Lake Quinsigamond, which is literally right where I live. My attention was caught immediately. But then, he delves in the background of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, who grew up poor and down on his luck in Spokane, WA., which is where my grandfather was born. The family stories were so similar in some ways, I found myself immediately rooting for Joe Rantz. What a great book! And see, only about 50 pages in, whereas with I’ll Give You the Sun, I’m about halfway through and still not really sure how I feel.

I’m still working on Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and dipping into other books here and there. I bought myself two books. I couldn’t resist. Neither of them has been on my TBR list very long, but I do really want to read both of them.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set in Papua New Guinea before (Euphoria), and after reading both A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway, I fell in love with Virginia Woolf.

In other news, I was quite sad to hear of the passing of Harper Lee, though it is true she hasn’t been in good health, and she was advanced in years. I wrote about her influence on my decision to become an English teacher on my education blog. To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite books to teach. Sad, too, that Umberto Eco has died. I have a copy of The Name of the Rose, I haven’t read it yet. I have seen a film adaptation, though, and really enjoyed it.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share our own exciting news. My husband has written a book tie-in to the show Better Call Saul (a spinoff of Breaking Bad) called Don’t Go to Jail!: Saul Goodman’s Guide to Keeping the Cuffs Off. I’m really excited for him. This book is the realization of a lot of really hard work (I know—I was there!), and it’s something he’s dreamed about doing for some time. It’s available now for pre-order, and it will officially be released on April 5, so run out and get it! You will love it, especially if you like the show already.

So that is how my reading week is going. How about yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to be Made into Movies

Top Ten TuesdayI am having trouble with the plugin that handles Amazon links, but I decided I should publish this anyway before the expiration date on this topic is too long past.

I like this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic. Which books should be made into movies? Here’s my list:

  1. [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link], Erin Morgenstern. I think this book would be great in Tim Burton’s hands. It wasn’t my favorite read, but it has such strong imagery that it’s begging to be made into a movie. I think I heard somewhere that it actually has been optioned.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link], Diana Gabaldon. It would probably only work as a miniseries, and God knows who they would cast, but it’s such a great series. I’d love to see the books made into films à la [amazon_link id=”B0000Y40OS” target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link].
  3. [amazon_link id=”0142402516″ target=”_blank” ]Looking for Alaska[/amazon_link], John Green. I didn’t like this book a whole lot, but I could see it making a pretty good teen movie like [amazon_link id=”B000FZETKC” target=”_blank” ]Some Kind of Wonderful[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B001D0BLTA” target=”_blank” ]Pretty in Pink[/amazon_link].
  4. [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link], Ransom Riggs. Another one with a lot of visual imagery and some great humor that would be fun to watch.
  5. [amazon_link id=”B007C2Z5EU” target=”_blank” ]The Eyre Affair[/amazon_link], Jasper Fforde. I’ve actually talked about this one before.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0316769177″ target=”_blank” ]The Catcher in the Rye[/amazon_link], J. D. Salinger. It would be tricky to pull off, but I think if the director did internal monologue voiceovers, it might work.
  7. [amazon_link id=”0060558121″ target=”_blank” ]American Gods[/amazon_link], Neil Gaiman. This could be a sprawling sort of epic with the right cast and script.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0141439610″ target=”_blank” ]The Woman in White[/amazon_link], Wilkie Collins. If this has been made into a successful movie, then I haven’t heard about it, but it would be a great gothic tale.
  9. [amazon_link id=”0061862312″ target=”_blank” ]Wicked[/amazon_link], Gregory Maguire. Why not? They brought it to Broadway. Would be fun to cast [amazon_link id=”B00388PK1U” target=”_blank” ]Wizard of Oz[/amazon_link] lookalikes where possible, too.
  10. [amazon_link id=”074348276X” target=”_blank” ]King Lear[/amazon_link], William Shakespeare. Seriously, why hasn’t one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays been made into a huge movie. They’ve done just about every other major play and even minor ones. I have seen filmed stage versions of this, and there’s a good PBS one, but not exactly major motion pictures.

What about you? What books do you think should be made into movies?


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Depending on how long you’ve been reading this blog (or perhaps my other main blog,, you may not be aware I am a serious Harry Potter geek. I mean really. For instance, I know I’d be in Ravenclaw, and I have it all worked out in my head. I even think Ancient Runes would be my favorite class. I have actually written seriously on the subject of Harry Potter a number of times, but not often here. I used to regularly update a Harry Potter blog. No lie! It lies dormant at the moment, and I can’t think what to do with it aside from perhaps post some of my favorite entries over here and then let it sit. I just don’t know. I can’t foresee updating it again, and it’s a bit of a hassle to keep up with the WordPress upgrades (if you don’t do that, hackers can more easily break in to your site, which is NOT something I’d like to happen). But I’m not sure if I can delete it. Honestly, it would be a good topic for a Tumblr, but I don’t need more stuff to keep up with in my life. I’ll think about it.

Anyway, what I really came here to do is squee about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, and the following squee has spoilers, but honestly, spoiler alerts should really be expired for [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link], and if you have been watching the movies instead of reading the books, what on earth are you doing on a book blog? Just wonderin’.

AlwaysImage source: I Go to Seek a Great Perhaps

So, my favorite character in the series is Snape, and you can imagine that after [amazon_link id=”0439785960″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince[/amazon_link] came out, things looked very bad for Snape. He had killed Dumbledore, the man who had trusted him and protected him. I actually had a bit of an argument with someone about Snape because she said I was blind for believing Snape would come out all right in the end, and I was positive she just wasn’t reading closely enough. Look again at the language Rowling uses to describe what Harry feels as he is forcing Dumbledore to drink the potion in the cave (which he did on Dumbledore’s orders)—he is filled with loathing for what he is doing, but a casual observer might think the look on his face told another tale: that he felt contempt for Dumbledore. The same kind of language is used to describe the look on Snape’s face as he kills Dumbledore. It clicked. I knew somehow that they had done a deal. I had no idea Snape loved Lily. That surprised me because he had called her “mudblood” when she tried to defend him when James and Sirius were bullying him. I have to hand it to people who figured that one out. I did figure out that Snape had somehow known Petunia, but I couldn’t flesh out my hunch further than that.

So, Snape. Alan Rickman was wonderful in this film. The death scene and Pensieve scene were my favorite part of this film, probably because Snape is my favorite character. Oh, I boo-hooed through that part.

Trust SnapeImage credit: You the doormat, then?

I had, of course, read that Alan Rickman was brilliant in this film (really, isn’t he always? I mean, he almost made [amazon_link id=”B002VWNID6″ target=”_blank” ]Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves[/amazon_link] watchable, and who could forget “Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad” from [amazon_link id=”0800141660″ target=”_blank” ]Sense & Sensibility[/amazon_link]?):

Colonel Brandon rescues MarianneImage credit: Fanpop

So, yes, I have probably been a fan of Snape’s because of Alan Rickman’s portrayal. Sue me. Anyway, it was perfect and fairly faithful to the book.

Other favorite moments in no particular order:

  • Neville in practically every scene. He is amazing during the battle, particularly when he kills Nagini, but my favorite quote might be when he says he has to find Luna to tell her he’s “hot for her” since they’re going to die by the morning. That was awesome, and frankly, I always thought they belonged together (but he winds up marrying Hannah Abbott, and she marries Rolf Scamander, Newt Scamander’s grandson—ah, well).
  • “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” Yeah, that was awesome, and I’m so glad they didn’t try to duck around the word. Bellatrix Lestrange is a bitch. Even if I did name my cat after her. My Bella is much nicer: Bella Huff
  • The way they magnified Voldemort’s voice during the Battle of Hogwarts. It was freaking scary—much scarier than I imagined.
  • The dragon-back escape from Gringotts was pretty epic, and actually seeing the carnage—well, let’s say they improved on my imagination, there. Ditto with the scene in Bellatrix’s vault.
  • Helen Bonham-Carter pretending to be Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix. That was awesome and quite well done.
  • Hermione destroying the horcrux made from Hufflepuff’s cup and Ron and Hermione’s kiss. I cheered a little.
  • The whole scene at King’s Cross was just awesome, and just as I imagined it. Plus, it contains one of my favorite lines from the series: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” I actually have had that quote on my classroom wall at school. Guess it will go in my office now.
  • Dan, Emma, Rupert, and Tom Felton’s acting in this one is just brilliant. Really. They have come a long way, particularly Daniel Radcliffe. He can just sit back and enjoy his money if he wants to, but I think he has a fine future ahead of him. And they all seem so nice and even-keeled in interviews.
  • Albus Severus Potter. So cute! So was Hugo Weasley (little Ron clone). By the way, did you know Tom Felton’s girlfriend plays his wife, Astoria Greengrass, in the film? I think that’s cool. Although I wanted a better look at Scorpius’s face. Also, I wanted Harry to say the words “It did for me,” which he came close to saying, but did not actually say.
  • The scene when Harry bravely marches into the woods to let Voldemort kill him.
  • Voldemort pushing Bellatrix over when she tries to help him up after he AK’s Harry in the woods.
  • Ralph Fiennes. He’s absolutely terrifying and brilliant in this. Really. And his death, while not quite as it was described in the book, was awesome and terrible to witness.
  • Goyle (it was Crabbe in the book, but the actor who plays him was busted for marijuana, and I assume that’s why his part was cut) setting the Room of Requirement on fire with fiendfyre and Ron and Harry rescuing Draco and Blaise Zabini. Oh, Goyle. You shouldn’t play with fire.
  • Draco’s hesitation to go over to the Death Eaters, and Voldemort pulling Draco into that gross, awkward hug. Ew.
  • McGonagall dueling Snape. That was awesome.
  • McGonagall saying, “I always wanted to try that spell.” Maggie Smith delivers a punchline, let me tell you.

Some criticisms:

  • Fred’s death was sadder in the books. I felt the movie gave it a bit of a short shrift.
  • Harry not repairing his wand before breaking the Elder Wand and chucking the pieces. In the book, he repairs it and doesn’t destroy the Elder Wand, but keeps it safe (presumably until he dies so that no one can win it from him).
  • Teddy Tonks is mentioned only once. Ooops.

So, my overall verdict is that I LOVED IT!

Mischief managed.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—June 20, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Do you like movies made from books? Which ones do you think have been done well—kept mostly to the plot of the book, etc?

I do like movies made from books, and I find that it is OK for them sometimes to veer a little from the book. I think books and movies probably need to be viewed as separate entities and enjoyed accordingly. Even though the [amazon_link id=”B001UV4XHY” target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] films have cut some of the things I like best about the books, and sometimes even added details that were not in the books, I have still enjoyed them immensely. Most of the Jane Austen films I have seen have been pretty good. I even liked the 1999 [amazon_link id=”6305907145″ target=”_blank” ]Mansfield Park[/amazon_link] (but will admit the Fanny Price in the movie was not the Fanny Price in the book). My favorite? Eeesh. I don’t know. It’s hard to pick between Ang Lee’s [amazon_link id=”0800141660″ target=”_blank” ]Sense and Sensibility[/amazon_link] and the two Pride and Prejudice films. ([amazon_link id=”B00364K6YW” target=”_blank” ]Colin Firth[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B000E1ZBGS” target=”_blank” ]Matthew Macfadyen[/amazon_link]? You see the dilemma.) [amazon_link id=”1451635621″ target=”_blank” ]Gone With the Wind[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0061990477″ target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link] were great both in print and on film.

I almost always say the book is better than the movie, but there are some exceptions. Because of its superb casting, I felt that the film version of [amazon_link id=”B000TJBNHG” target=”_blank” ]The Princess Bride[/amazon_link] improved on the book. I also thought the film based on [amazon_link id=”B00005JOC9″ target=”_blank” ]The Da Vinci Code[/amazon_link] was better than the book, perhaps because Dan Brown’s strong suit is not character development, which is something actors can compensate for. Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” was great, but the [amazon_link id=”B00005JOFQ” target=”_blank” ]film[/amazon_link] fleshed out the characters and storyline more, and I thought it was better (one of my favorite films, actually). I haven’t read [amazon_link id=”0743453255″ target=”_blank” ]Forrest Gump[/amazon_link], but I did read [amazon_link id=”0671522647″ target=”_blank” ]Gump & Co.[/amazon_link], the sequel, and if Forrest Gump was written similarly, let’s just say that the film was probably an improvement.

On the other hand, no one can deny that films sometimes butcher the story badly. Perhaps because I haven’t seen it, I should not speak about the latest [amazon_link id=”B0011NVC98″ target=”_blank” ]Beowulf[/amazon_link] film, but come on—Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother? And Grendel is the—well, one hesitates to use the word love child, but—love child of Hrothgar and Grendel’s mother? And the dragon is the unholy offspring of Beowulf and Grendel’s mother? Nope. That’s playing too fast and loose with the material for my liking. I don’t even care that Neil Gaiman wrote it. And do you remember the [amazon_link id=”B003RACGZM” target=”_blank” ]evil Disneyized version[/amazon_link] of Lloyd Alexander’s [amazon_link id=”080508049X” target=”_blank” ]The Black Cauldron[/amazon_link]? No? Good. I’m trying to forget it. I am saddened by the notion that plenty of people never picked up those wonderful books because of that horrible film. [amazon_link id=”0679751521″ target=”_blank” ]Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil[/amazon_link] is one of my favorite books, but [amazon_link id=”B003ASLJQ8″ target=”_blank” ]the film[/amazon_link] stank. A lot. Funny story about that, too. John Berendt was the keynote speaker at Georgia Council of Teachers of English conference in 1998. He was asked what he thought of the film, and he replied that he had been so good… then diplomatically added that he liked the film for many reasons, not the least of which was that it sold a million copies of his book. The [amazon_link id=”B00005JKKY” target=”_blank” ]film[/amazon_link] based on A. S. Byatt’s [amazon_link id=”0679735909″ target=”_blank” ]Possession[/amazon_link] was OK, but there are too many layers to that book to capture on film.

I haven’t seen Water for Elephants yet. I don’t have major problems with the casting, as some folks seem to have had, but I’m scared it will stink. And I loved [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]that book[/amazon_link]. The reviews have been mixed.

Some book-based films I’m looking forward to seeing are The Hunger Games and The Help.

It Might Get Loud

It Might Get LoudI know I usually limit my discussion on this blog to books, but I watched It Might Get Loud yesterday and absolutely loved it. Of course, it’s not a new film, and if you’re a fan of any of the guitarists featured, you’ve probably already seen it. If you haven’t seen it, though, it’s a documentary by David Guggenheim about the guitar, and it features three virtuoso guitarists from different generations: Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White. All three are on Rolling Stone‘s list of the greatest guitarists of all time, although I’m not sure I necessarily agree with their placements on the list. Both Jimmy Page and the Edge should be higher up, in my opinion.

I love the way film opens as Jack White makes a guitar out of not much more than a few pieces of wood, nails, and a Coke bottle. It was interesting to learn about the Edge’s use of effects. Jimmy Page’s reflections on recording Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange were not necessarily new to me, but were still interesting to watch. I have been a fan of Jimmy Page’s for about 23 years when I discovered Led Zeppelin shortly before my sixteenth birthday. My Bon Jovi posters pretty much came down and were replaced with Led Zeppelin ones. Of course, that was also right about the time that Rattle & Hum was out, and I really enjoyed The Joshua Tree. As I’ve aged, my appreciation for both Led Zeppelin and U2 has only deepened. The guy I was not as familiar with was Jack White, and I have to say I really enjoyed learning about him and came away with a notion of buying some more of his music. I just sounded really old right there. Once there was a time when I knew what was going on in music, but that pretty much stopped about 10 years ago. I never would have believed you when I was a teenager if you had told me that day would come. New music just about needs to be put right in my face for me to notice it now.

My favorite part of the whole documentary came near the end when the three guitarists played “In My Time of Dying,” during which I picked out strains of “With or Without You,” and if Jack White contributed something original, I am afraid I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to recognize it. It was a great documentary, though, and it reminded me again why I love music.

Miss Austen Regrets

Miss Austen Regrets

Miss Austen Regrets
Fanny Knight (Imogen Poots) with Jane Austen (Olivia Williams)

The BBC film Miss Austen Regrets has a bit of a misleading title. As Austen’s niece Fanny reaches an age at which she is considering marriage to Mr. John Plumptre, she seeks her Aunt Jane’s advice regarding the potential match. The film examines Jane’s choices as she reflects on the potential of her niece. Fanny fears marrying too soon only to discover “Mr. Darcy” later. As Jane tells Fanny, “My darling girl. The only way to get a Mr. Darcy is to make him up.” The movie centers on the last few years of Jane Austen’s life, as she publishes Emma and writes Persuasion.

What I liked about the movie was its beautiful shots and costumes. Fanny was especially pretty. It was also refreshing to see a film portray the author as clever, attractive, and witty. I think too often the conclusion is drawn that because Austen never married she must have been uninteresting to men, especially as she aged. Indeed, Olivia Williams’s Jane Austen attracts men younger than herself. I also enjoyed seeing Jane and Cassandra’s close relationship and Jane’s relationship with her brothers Henry and Edward.

What I didn’t like is the pervading gloom and doom. Worries over money plague Olivia Williams’s Jane Austen, which was probably true in life, but in this film, these concerns are rarely leavened with moments of joy or even contentment.

Olivia Williams’s portrayal of Jane Austen rings true. Imogen Poots as Fanny also displays some fine talent, particularly when she realizes her Aunt Jane is dying. Of the portrayals of Jane’s life I’ve seen on screen, this one is probably closer to the truth, but the fact is that there is much we can never know about Jane’s private life: her passion, her love interests, her flirtations. In all, I felt the movie a little uneven. I didn’t feel the sense of contentment I usually feel connected with Jane Austen. I said on Twitter the other day that she’s my literary comfort food, and this movie is a bit too ambiguous to feel comfortable. It was certainly a pleasure to see Jane penning my favorite of her novels—Persuasion.

Here’s a clip from the movie. Jane is talking to former love interest Brook Edward Bridges.

You can read more about the movie, including reviews from other Janeites:

Rating: ★★★½☆

Everything Austen Challenge

I viewed this film as part of the Everything Austen Challenge.

Image © BBC and used here according to the Fair Use doctrine.


The Beguiling of MerlinYet again, it seems that King Arthur has become inspiration for a new work. The BBC ran the series Merlin in the UK last year, but it has only now reached the US. I just watched the first two episodes on Hulu. I didn’t hate it, and that’s a pretty ringing endorsement. Let me explain.

When I was a junior in college, I took Medieval Literature the same quarter as a special Topics in English class on Celtic Literature. The two often crossed, as when my Medieval Literature professor assigned Le Morte D’Arthur (volume II) while my Celtic Literature professor assigned The Mabinogion. Our version of The Mabinogion, like many others, includes not only the four branches of the Mabinogi, but also some early Welsh Arthurian Romances, such as “Culhwch and Olwen,” “The Lady of the Fountain,” and “Peredur son of Efrawg.” In these early tales, readers will meet some familiar characters, including Arthur himself, Gwenwhyfar (Guinevere), Gwalchmai (Gawain), Cei (Kay), Peredur (Percival), and many others. My Medieval Literature professor used to require outside reading (in addition to required texts), and he recommended Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. I didn’t read the entire book: just the parts about Arthur. This text also contains the story of King Lear (called Leir in this book, and possibly derived from the Welsh god Llŷr). I think I can definitively trace my interest in King Arthur to that quarter in winter 1991 when I took those classes. The cross-pollination of ideas served to make the subject much more interesting to me.

I am not as widely read in the subject as an expert, but for a layperson, I’ve read a lot. I know the canon. I really don’t like non-canonical Arthurian legend… unless it’s clever. For instance, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon happens to be my favorite Arthur novel precisely because Bradley ingeniously tells the story of Arthur through the eyes of the women in his life: his mother, his wife, and most importantly, his much maligned sister Morgan le Fay. I also really liked the TV movie Merlin, starring Sam Neill. That film told the story through the eyes of Merlin, as this new TV series does (after a fashion). I absolutely detested the film First Knight, which should have been wonderful: Sean Connery as Arthur and Julia Ormond as Guinevere. What could go wrong? Well, for starters, Richard Gere as Lancelot. Also, let’s not offend American sensibilities. Instead of including an important plot point involving incest—Mordred is often portrayed as the result of a Arthur’s seduction by one of his sisters—the character Malagant is introduced as an antogonist raping Guinevere’s country of Lyonesse. Whatever.

I am not sure why deviation from canon bothers me so much. I only know that it does. Merlin isn’t bad. It clearly isn’t period, but most King Arthur stories aren’t, even the great Le Morte D’Arthur, so period detail doesn’t bother me as much. Arthur stories have never been period because each period seeks to make an Arthur after its own image, I think. I find some of the casting a little weird. The choice of making Guinevere Morgana’s servant is baffling. The Renaissance faire geek in me doesn’t mind some of strange sets, either. I will keep watching. I discovered Hulu lets you subscribe to a show via RSS, which is probably something everyone out there but me already knew.

At any rate, I think it’s inspired me to pick up some Arthurian fiction I haven’t read and dip back into The Idylls of the King, which can’t be bad at all.