Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Wuthering Heights (1847)

There are books which are so famous that their reputation and the preconceptions around them precede them. I think “Wuthering Heights” is one such a book – for years I avoided it based on the urban legend of what it really was: a heavily romantic story about Heathcliff’s obsessive love for Catherine.

Its authoress’ biography didn’t help. The Brontë mythology is a bit too much for me, designed as it was by Charlotte to highlight the sisters’ mystique, where the three of them have nearly become a whole rather than three separate entities. So after having it sitting on my shelf for over 18 months I finally decided (half heartily) to give it a go (and no, 18 months is not a terribly long time in my overcrowded shelves and my decreasing available reading time). “Jane Eyre” also suffered from similar prejudices, and despite the fact that I loved its first two thirds, it didn’t help Emily’s book. I still knew I wasn’t going to like it…

… And obviously I was blown away – it was nothing of what I expected. In all fairness, I didn’t really like the book. But I am still fascinated by it and I was endlessly drawn to it. Along with “Nineteen Eighty-four” it now belongs to a category of books I didn’t like but can’t help classify as masterpieces and wish someone would make them compulsory reading.

This is the story of two houses, or rather within two houses. Never does the action really leave them or the path between the two. To this self-contained environment only a few foreigners are allowed in – first Lockwood, to whom the story is narrated and who is clearly despised by his creator (the pomposity of his narration in the opening chapters of the book is so brilliantly ironic); then Heathcliff in the main story, and finally Hindley’s wife. And while the first and last are there to fulfil a function and then leave, Heathcliff’s arrival from nowhere is the catalyst of the novel and he is the main force behind the events of the novel.

This is also the story of two generations, where the actions of those in the first generation have a huge impact on the lives of their descendants. And in this world, with the possible exception of Ellen who narrates the story within the story and therefore is perhaps placing herself under a better light, all characters are unredeemable, from Heathcliff and Catherine, to Hindley and the Linton children in the first generation, to their three offspring in the second. Each character brings out the worst in the others and there is no escape except death.

To summarise the plot is to due a disservice to the novel, which is so much more than just that. It’s the darker side of humanity – revenge, obsession, necrophilia, incest (or large hints of it anyway). Is this what kept attracting me to the book? I don't know, but I would say it is likely. Whatever it was, it made me wish that Emily could have had finished and published her second novel, or if legend is true, that Charlotte hadn’t burnt it down. It might just about been even better…

I think I should probably thank R who almost forced me to buy it in the first place...

Monday, 25 August 2008

20 years ago

20 years ago, Lisbon burned. I was 10 years old and I still remember the huge column of smoke and where I had lunch that day...

(photo: Diário de Notícias)

Sunday, 24 August 2008

47 hours in Chocolateland

Just came back from 47 hours in Chocolateland, known to the rest of the world as Brussels. In 47 hours I managed to spend quality with dear friends, buy chocolate, go to an exhibition on the Smurfs' 50th anniversary, get overly nostalgic about them (my favourites when I was young), decide to buy some of the books, proceed to buy four of the books (and in doing so go through most bookshops in Central Chocolateland as this seemed to be nearly sold out, although did get it in the end) plus this (which I hope my French allows me to understand), buy more chocolates (these being a very special treat), read one of the books, decide I wanted more and proceed to buy three more.

Not much sight seeing this time, except for the odd art nouveau building, but hey!, seven smurfs' books, plus Fabrice Tarrin's newest, plus the latest from Dupuis collected Fraquin's Spirou et Fantasio is not too bad for such a short of time. As an added extra, the imense pleasure of leaving some of my worries behind...

With many many thanks to V and G for their hospitality, company, patience, sharing of memories and V's fantastic friendly sholder.

Views from Chocolateland

Thursday, 21 August 2008

After 12 years...

In 1996 I stayed up till around 4am to see Portugal win their 3rd ever gold in Olympic Games. Today, 12 years later, after what seemed an eternity, we got our 4th...

So to celebrate at the office, as well as the UK's silver (and other 17 golds) there were cookies on me.

Congratulations to Nélson Évora who got the gold in the triple jump, Vanessa Fernandes who got silver in the thriatlon, Gustavo Lima who got a very good but unlucky 4th in sailing and all others who did (will do) their best, despite the usual or even creative excuses... With a bit more support and training conditions we might even do better in London 2012.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Imitation of Life (1959)

From the beautiful opening credits to the tear-inducing ending, Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life is one of the great American melodramas of the 1950's. It's the story of two single mothers, one black (Juanita Moore) and one white (Lana Turner), who form a bond to better survive. This being Hollywood in the 1950s means that the white character wants desperately to be an actress and the black just wants a job, so being Lana Turner's maid will do. And then there are their daughters, the perfect teenager (Sandra Dee) and the not so perfect one (Susan Kohner). It is also the remake of a 1934 film of the same name directed by John M Stahl and starring Claudette Colbert.

In both films, there are two main story lines. One concerns the white characters, with the daughter falling in love with the man that is in love with her mother (who really is in love with herself in the 1959 version). The other, far more interesting to me is the complex social and racial issues raised by the relationship between a black mother and her daughter who wants and can pass off herself as white (I'd say there is a hint that daddy was white, but because of the Hayes code he just had very white skin). In the 1959 version, is really hard for me to take sides. The mother does not want her daughter to be like her. She wants her to be better off, only she has limited goals. The daughter on the other hand just wants to be like everyone else and fit in. It reminded me of a line in Guess who's coming for dinner, when Sidney Poitier turns to his father and says "You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man. " - only that was still 8 years into the future (and a lot of real events separate the two films). All this is much better than it sounds, especially the Juanita Moore-Susan Kohner relationship. The two actresses excel and both got Oscar nominations (they lost to Shelley Winters for The Diary of Anne Frank).

The film also proves that there are exceptions to the rule: I think the remake is much better than the original. Annie is a much better and rounded character than her 1934 counterpart Delilah and Sirk has a much better grasp of how to touch an audience than Stahl did - the best example is how both directors treat the ending of the film: Sirk finishes at the climatic moment, Stahl continues for a few more minutes to assure the audience that Claudette Colbert does end with Warren William. Which we already knew...

However, it is not without is faults. Sandra Dee is irritating every time she appears on screen (ok, one exception, when she says to her mother to stop playing the martyr), Lana Turner looks way older than her 38 years (I'd say she looks more like 48, so desperately is she to look young), and her character is rather annoying at times. Still, like in her most famous, deadliest and sexiest role the first thing you see of her are her legs.

The film is widely available on DVD, and often is paired with the 1934 version. I have the French DVD from this Douglas Sirk Boxset. And there's a second volume coming in November.