Monday, 17 September 2007

Feras no Povoado (1947)

I recently finished a book that made me wonder if it wasn't better forgotten: “Feras no Povoado” (published 1947, something like “Beasts in the Village”) by portuguese writer Gomes Monteiro. I had neither heard of the author or the book until a few months ago when the publisher announced its release on their website. Try google it and all you get is a list of sites where you can buy the book. Nevertheless, I bought it because I like the publisher, because I know they are small and because they produce in the same series books that I treasure for their quality.

To be honest, these are the only arguments I can use to make anyone buy the book.

Mixing history and fiction, wanting desperately to be a serious historical novel but never really achieving being more than dull, the book tells the story of a man during one of the most violent and less talked about periods of Portuguese History, the civil war in the XIX century and political chaos that followed.

There are three main problems with the book in my opinion. One is that the story is never really that interesting, mostly because the characters are one-dimensional and sometimes disappear for long periods of time. The second, which bugged me a bit more were the long (very long) passages which are nothing but very subjective and highly arguable takes on the history of the period. Finally, he wants to be a famous writer. Not just any writer but Camilo Castelo Branco (1825-1890) one of the greatest figures of Portuguese literature of any century, and from whom he draws considerably.

Scarface (1932) and other Pre-Codes

For a long time I ignored American cinema of the early thirties, the so-called Pre-Code films. There were a few exceptions: several Garbo films and Lubitsh's "Design for Living" come to mind. I don't think there was a reason for this other than limited availability and a few bad experiences, the most "memorable" being Katharine Hepburn's first Oscar winning performance in "Morning Glory" - the style of acting of those first sound years isn't always to my liking.

Recently I have became interested in these films. And the more I see of them, the strongly I feel that I missed some brilliant films for far too long. Yes, there were some flops, including some big titles, but also masterpieces like "The Public Enemy", "Baby Face", "Shanghai Express", and in particular "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang". And "Scarface" (the Howard Hawks version, of course). Violent and sexually charged, it amazed me. It included heavy suggestions of incest, a maniac leading character and a ending has to be one of the greatest in film history (Gangster films always had such powerful endings).

Less achieved but still with many interesting aspects is "The Bitter Tea of General Yen". Two years later and it couldn't have been made: it contains an inter-racial love affair between a white woman and a chinese man, something that wasn't allowed by the Hays Code. At some stage in the film there's a dream sequence where Barbara Stanwyck reveals her most secret desires, and by any standards these are very explicit. For those who are in London and never had a chance to see it, the London film festival next month is showing a restored print. Otherwise there is an OK R2 DVD in a Barbara Stanwyck collection.