Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Wisdom

"People read to know they are not alone." C.S.Lewis

Book Burning!

I just finished re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and it spoke to me on the power of books and the importance of authenticity. In this book, the firemen burn books to keep society from thinking, so people can have fun and get lost in their entertainment wall panels and made-up “families.” Some of the best quotes in the book are things the fire chief Faber says, as for example, when he describes books that have quality: “To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features . . . the more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are . . . the good writers touch life often.”

In the Afterward, Ray Bradbury discusses making the book into a play and some of the things that changed from the novel. The Fire Chief, Faber, says “Why, life happened to me . . . the love that wasn’t quite right, the dream that went sour, the sex that fell apart, the deaths that came swiftly to friends not deserving, the murder of someone or another, the insanity of someone close, the slow death of a mother, the abrupt suicide of a father . . . nowhere the right book for the right time to stuff in the crumbling wall of the breaking dam to hold back the deluge.” The books offered “no help, no solace, no peace, no harbor, no true love, no bed, no light.”

Bradbury discusses, in Coda, how he found that his editors were shortening his stories as well as others for anthologies. They aimed at “Simplicity itself. Skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy. Every adjective that counted, every verb that moved, every metaphor that weighed more than a mosquite--out! Every simile that would have made a sub-moron’s mouth twitch--gone! Any aside that explained the two-bit philosophy of a first-rate writer--lost!” And Bradbury then fired the whole lot, “By sending rejection slips to each and every one.” As he goes on to say, “The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” Another comment, worthy of mention: “For, let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winder would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer--he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Hours--A Movie based on Michael Cunningham's Book

The Cleveland International Film Festival showed "The Hours" and honored Michael Cunningham for the success of a book made into a movie. When I found out the book was inspired by Virginia Wolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," I had to see it.

Mrs. Dalloway and Virginia Woolf, a fictional character and and the creator, are intelligently and thoughtfully interwoven in the movie “The Hours.” Add another element--the effect of a work of art on the vulnerable psyche--and the movie becomes a rich, moving, and sad tapestry of the lives of three women.

The book of the same name, written by acclaimed writer Michael Cunningham, bears the working title of “The Hours.” The hours drip by for Woolf’s protagonist, Mrs. Dalloway, during a life of boredom and inconsequence.

The tortured life of the mentally ill but artistically solid Virginia Woolf, as brilliantly portrayed by Nicole Kidman, is the story of the writer. The second story spotlights a 1950s Mrs. Dalloway (portrayed by Julianne Moore) who lives a doll’s existence under the constant vigilance of her sentry son with a husband who sees her as a beautiful object; the sad tale ends when she fails to commit suicide even while knowing life will be unbearable. The third plot line opens on Clarissa's day while she plans a party for her former poet lover, to whom she’s devoted and who is dying of AIDs—she’s the modern-day Mrs. Dalloway who finally figures out her own life has been on hold. Ed Harris is also wonderful as Clarissa’s ex-lover and best friend.

The dialogue between Virginia and Leonard Woolf and between Clarissa and Richard is wrenching and deeply real. Michael Cunningham wrote a novel based on Virginia Woolf’s book and in doing so explored the inner life of a troubled story master, the effects of the storyteller’s work on others, and how Mrs. Dalloway's day would unfold in today’s New York City. The movie does the book justice, and is probably better than the book.