Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.5 (Herman Melville)

Melville, Herman
Billy Budd and Other Tales

(Note: apologies for the strange new formatting. Something changed on flickr, where I write these posts) overnight that is causing the change. I tried rewriting the html code, but I am not slick enough in that regard to figure out where the problem lies. I can get the old layout correct, but I can't seem to shrink the photo.)

Once again I have no idea where I bought this. I seem to remember my father giving me Billy Budd when I was a kid, but I have a hard time believing this is the copy. It could have been picked up at any new or used bookstore the world over. I wouldn't know. So there.

It's funny, I can remember the film versions of this story, but I have no memories created by the reading of the actual story.

I can remember Terence Stamp and Robert Ryan in the 1962 version.

I can also remember Claire Denis' highly homo-eroticized 1999 adaptation, Beau Travail.

I went to see Beau Travail at the Market Arcade Cinema in Buffalo in the summer of 2000. I think the cinema may have still been living out its brief life as an extension of the Angelika in NYC. I was thrilled that the Angelika had come to Buffalo. They rehabbed an old multiplex and turned the lobby into a semi-hip knockoff of the original. Sadly, I think they assumed that Buffalo would just fall all over itself to have a hip New York-style theater downtown. As a result of this presumption, they did a terrible job marketing it to Buffalonians. It went under after a year or so.

But it was a good year, and for a brief moment Buffalo had an indie/foreign film multiplex. Most of that kind of cinema is now spread out over seven screens at three theaters, one of which is way out in the suburbs. It's nice that they exist here, they're all we have. Unfortunately, they are businesses and so there are times when all three screens run academy award nominees like Black Swan. Nothing wrong with that, but it's also playing at the mall and it would be nice to have an alternative.

Anyhow, I saw Beau Travail with my friend Isabelle. Her partner, Jonathan Skinner, was out of town for an extended period of time, possibly in South America. We decided to go to the movies one night. This may or may not have been the summer she was teaching me French.

I remember lots of sexually charged images of male bodies and I remember the harsh brush cut of the sadistic Master Sergeant. He was short and muscular, with dark hair. I think we both agreed that it was a pretty good, if not a great, film.

To be honest, I have a hard time with Claire Denis' films. They are so abstract and the narratives are so opaque that I can't really figure out what is going on. People tell me I need to just follow the images and so forth but I don't find them satisfying enough to justify the layers of obfuscation clouding the narrative. I've watched L'Intrus twice, and even after reading a plot synopsis before the second viewing, I still could not understand what was going on.

I remember having a short email correspondence with the late Michael Gizzi on the subject of L'intrus. He was quite taken with it and when I shared that I was not, he suggested I watch it again. He was scheduled to read in Buffalo in the spring of 2007, and we had planned on discussing my second viewing then, but snow got in the way and he had to cancel. I had just written to re-invite him last fall when I heard he had passed away. I wish we could have had that conversation, if only because I liked to hear him talk.

Now that I think about it, there is no way this could have been the copy my father gave me. I distinctly remember the title of that copy being, Billy Budd, Foretopman. I can remember staring at it on the shelf in my bedroom, depictions of old frigates sailing across the wallpaper, wondering what a "fore-top-man" might be.

According to the dictionary it is "a sailor on duty on the foremast and above." I'll bet he has a nice view.

from Billy Budd

IN THE time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable sea-port would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war's men or merchant-sailors in holiday attire ashore on liberty. In certain instances they would flank, or, like a body-guard quite surround some superior figure of their own class, moving along with them like Aldebaran among the lesser lights of his constellation. That signal object was the "Handsome Sailor" of the less prosaic time alike of the military and merchant navies. With no perceptible trace of the vainglorious about him, rather with the off-hand unaffectedness of natural regality, he seemed to accept the spontaneous homage of his shipmates. A somewhat remarkable instance recurs to me. In Liverpool, now half a century ago, I saw under the shadow of the great dingy street-wall of Prince's Dock (an obstruction long since removed) a common sailor, so intensely black that he must needs have been a native African of the unadulterate blood of Ham . A symmetric figure much above the average height. The two ends of a gay silk handkerchief thrown loose about the neck danced upon the displayed ebony of his chest; in his ears were big hoops of gold, and a Scotch Highland bonnet with a tartan band set off his shapely head.

1 comment:

o said...

I like the bigger picture