Monday, January 05, 2009

Watching Bleak House

We didn't get around to playing Robo-Rally. I made pizza and ginger cookies and it all took a long time. But we did watch 3 episodes of Bleak House while we ate dinner, and that was fun -- the older four kids and I -- the youngers were in their bedrooms, and Kevin was working. Usually it is me off somewhere while Kevin is watching movies with the kids, but Clare knows I am more likely to sit down for a classic book adaptation than for most anything else.

A couple of years ago we got this Charles Dickens collection. So far we've watched Martin Chuzzlewit, which the kids absolutely loved and have watched twice, and Our Mutual Friend, which was quite good too.

Our Mutual Friend was fun because we watched it during Lent, the year before last, I think; we had given up videos and most sweets for Lent so we watched an episode each Sunday and Clare planned a round of teas and dainties -- like, lemon bread and lemon ginger tea for one week, chocolate caramel chai and oreo-frosted tea cake another time, and so on. She printed it out on a pretty itinerary, and we would bring our little tea pot and goodies upstairs every Sunday afternoon. The second to last episode, we were visiting Liam at college and bringing Sean to a football combine in the same area, so we stayed at Ventura beach overnight and watched the penultimate episode along with almond poppyseed muffins and chicken salad rolls and some kind of tea which we brought with us and made at the hotel. It is a nice memory.

Bleak House is a bit odd.... quite dark in the filming. The London scenes are so slimy and grey and grotesque that it feels to me a bit like the second Pirates of the Caribbean. You expect to see people growing barnacles or merging into walls. The pacing is odd in places, and you can really feel the persona of the director in the way he plans the camera shots. We're on the 5th episode now and all the multiple Dickens characters that make these movies quite brisk to keep up with visually are moving towards their Dickensian plot revelations and unravellings of mystery. It's very worthwhile to watch, but not quite so much a tea and muffin type movie, nor quite as hilarity-inducing as the kids found Martin Chuzzlewit. Of Bleak House, Chesterton writes:

Bleak House has every characteristic of his new realistic culture. Dickens never now, as in his early books, revels in the parts he likes and scamps the parts he does not, after the manner of Scott. He does not, as in previous tales, leave his heroes and heroines mere walking gentlemen and ladies with nothing at all to do but walk: he expends upon them at least ingenuity. By the expedients (successful or not) of the self-revelation of Esther or the humorous inconsistencies of Rick, he makes his younger figures if not lovable at least readable. Everywhere we see this tighter and more careful grip. He does not, for instance, when he wishes to denounce a dark institution, sandwich it in as a mere episode in a rambling story of adventure, as the debtor's prison is embedded in the body of "Pickwick" or the low Yorkshire school in the body of "Nicholas Nickleby." He puts the Court of Chancery in the centre of the stage, a sombre and sinister temple, and groups round it in artistic relation decaying and frantic figures, its offspring and its satirists, An old dipsomaniac keeps a rag and bone shop, type of futility and antiquity, and calls himself the Lord Chancellor. A little mad old maid hangs about the courts on a forgotten or imaginary lawsuit, and says with perfect and pungent irony, "I am expecting a judgment shortly. On the Day of Judgment." Rick and Ada and Esther are not mere strollers who have strayed into the court of law, they are its children, its symbols, and its victims. The righteous indignation of the book is not at the red heat of anarchy, but at the white heat of art. Its anger is patient and plodding, like some historic revenge. Moreover, it slowly and carefully creates the real psychology of oppression. The endless formality, the endless unemotional urbanity, the endless hope deferred, these things make one feel the fact of injustice more than the madness of Nero.

Also, I did finish Kant and the Nineteenth Century today as I had hoped to, though I had to stay up late to do so (and once dozed off with my reading glasses on my nose, and now it's even later and I'm wide awake).

No comments: