As usual, we don’t know where to start reading.
The Last Saturday. New installments published in the Guardian every Saturday.
As usual, we don’t know where to start reading.
The Last Saturday. New installments published in the Guardian every Saturday.
How does a shut-in consumptive English spinster get to write Wuthering Heights? It is the most intense love story ever written, and Cathy and Heathcliff the craziest lovers in literature. Their relationship goes beyond possession, desire or wanting to live happily ever after: what they call “love” is the stuff of psychotherapy. It’s not just obsessive love—they can’t even be jealous of other people because as Cathy says, “I AM Heathcliff”.
This situation does not make for happy endings, nor do they expect one. Cathy makes an effort at a healthy, “normal” life, marrying a decent man and playing the devoted wife and mother-to-be. Of course it doesn’t work. She basically starves herself to death, but even death will not end her pain. Heathcliff meets her weeping housekeeper and asks if Cathy is dead. The housekeeper says she sleeps with the angels or something, and Heathcliff cries, “May she wake in torment!” Then he bangs his head on a tree, leaving bloodstains. He curses her for leaving him, and then he calls on her to haunt him. He asks her to give him no peace. And the amazing thing about Emily Bronte’s novel is that you believe this extreme emotion could exist.
Writing teachers always advise their students to “write what they know”—what about Wuthering Heights? It is a triumph of the imagination, fueled by powerful feelings that had no other outlet but the written page.
In Abismos de Pasion, Luis Buñuel’s film adaptation from the 1950s, the tale is set in Mexico. This does away with one of the things we love about the Emily Bronte: the atmosphere. Misty moors, howling winds, ghostly faces in the window—it’s not called Wuthering Heights for nothing. (Note that her sister’s novel is called Jane Eyre and not Thornfield Hall, though the sisters both created dark, mysterious, Byronic, unpleasant leading men. We’ve never read their youngest sister Anne—will look up The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.)
The Buñuel also dispenses with the “ghost story” and the love story involving the second generation terrorized by Heathcliff, who really is not a nice man. Though if we were to go by national stereotypes, the “passionate” Latin-American nature is a closer match to Bronte’s characters than the “polite, repressed” Brits. Instead of squelching around in the mud and contracting tuberculosis, you’ve got people in arid, dusty farms and blazing sunshine. But the emotion is the same: the passion that drags the lovers to hell.
Writers are already shut-ins by definition, maybe there is something to the reclusive life.
* In Career Girls by Mike Leigh, two friends divine the future by asking a question and opening a copy of Wuthering Heights to a random page.
* * We’re going to read Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own.
We’ve seen the movie three or four times but have never read the comics. Substantial changes have been made in the film adaptation, Peter Quill’s background, etc, but who cares? We love the movie, and the comics are terrific.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2013) by Bendis et al, Php799; Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) by Abnett et al, Php1395; and Guardians of the Galaxy: Realm of Kings by Abnett and Lanning, hardcover, Php1515 (but we found a copy on sale at Php350 yay!) at National Bookstores.
It occurred to us after our sixth viewing of Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan (for a total of one day and one hour spent watching the movie) that our life had begun to resemble a remake of Annie Hall, in which we were Alvy Singer (Woody Allen).
In Annie Hall, Alvy and Annie meet at the cinema where he plans to see The Sorrow and the Pity for the nth time. The guy behind them in the queue starts holding forth about cinema and literature, and when he brings up Marshall McLuhan, Alvy produces McLuhan himself to correct him.
The Sorrow and The Pity, Marcel Ophuls’s documentary on French collaboration with the Nazis in WWII, has about the same running time as Norte, but even fewer laughs. It leaves you with the impression of having spent several years in Vichy. Norte gives you the impression of having spent several years in Ilocos Norte.
In our real-life remake, we’re waiting to see Norte for the nth time when the guy behind us starts holding forth about cinema and literature, and when he brings up Lav Diaz we produce Lav Diaz himself to say, “You know nothing of my work.”
Then we point out that Lav was named after Lavrentiy Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police, and we all crack up.
It hasn’t happened yet, but it could.
By the way, Woody Allen’s Love and Death is a spoof of Russian literature. Our involvement in Norte is a direct consequence of our fixation on Russian novels. We heard that our friends were adapting Dostoevsky and we said, “Game!”
Tina saw Norte today and she says there should be another Dostoevsky adaptation centered on the character of Hoda Viduya (Angelina Kanapi), Fabian’s sister: The Idiot. She can be Myshkina.
We can’t write at home all the time because we get stir-crazy and the cats sit on the pages and engage us in a staring contest. We end up watching DVDs, binge-watching TV series, or reading books we forgot we had, or taking naps.
We write in restaurants and noisy coffee shops where we’re forced to block out the noise and concentrate. When we get tired of sitting, we walk around the mall. This works for us, but we end up buying stuff we hadn’t planned on buying, and there are too many distractions.
Recently we discovered the Filipinas Heritage Library at the Ayala Museum. The library used to be at Nielson Tower on Makati Avenue, the beautiful old building now occupied by the restaurant Blackbird (Go have weekend brunch in the tower, it’s nice). Now the library with all its collections is tucked away on the sixth floor of the Ayala Museum down the street, accessible by its own elevator.
It’s a great place to work because it’s very quiet, very cold (the books, manuscripts, microfilm etc have to be kept in a temperature-controlled environment), and working among bookshelves scoots you back to school when you had to finish your assignments. There are computers to access the online library and the internet, or you could bring your own computer. There’s a washroom on the premises, not far from the tables so you have no excuse to wander off.
The library is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9am to 6pm. The Php1,000 annual Ayala Museum regular membership fee entitles the cardholder to unlimited use of the library, free WiFi access in the library, and unlimited visits to the museum with one guest. That’s less than ten coffees at a coffee chain where we usually end up writing. Members also get a 10 percent discount on cash purchases at the museum shop, on museum-produced lectures (including ours) and workshops, and at M Cafe.
Ask about museum membership at the lobby, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We tried working there on Tuesday, and we finished writing two articles. It’s so cold, you have to keep your fingers moving so you get more work done. Bring a jacket.
* * * * *
Thanks to everyone who came to our Game of Thrones and Geekery talk at the Ayala Museum last Saturday. We hope we were coherent; sometimes the link between brain and mouth breaks down, brain flies somewhere else, mouth goes on automatic pilot. What happened was, five minutes into the talk we realized that not everyone in the audience had finished watching the four seasons of the TV series Game of Thrones and we didn’t want to spoil their viewing. Then again if you come to a talk about Game of Thrones you pretty much know what to expect. We apologize to the guy in the bird costume because no one else thought to appear in character. We would’ve brought a sword but it was too hot.
There’s one more talk in October, and a two-session writing workshop.
At the bookstore we ran into a lady who said her daughter read our books and asked about our next talk. We said it was about World Domination. “Don’t you have a topic for old people?” she said. “Uh…no,” we said, because we didn’t know there were old people topics and young people topics.
Interesting question, because we do hang out with people who already have senior citizen cards, and they talk about the same things people 27 and below talk about with us: literature, tennis, cats, the cinema. Or maybe we’re all just immature.
You can’t stop aging, but fight feeling old! There are advantages to being older than the general population. You can have actual conversations with your friends instead of sitting around the table taking pictures of yourselves or the food. And you have more money. As Raul says, “Luxury is the revenge of Age upon Youth.”
Theatre has a sense of urgency and spontaneity that films have to work hard to match; cinema has the intimacy of the close-up, not to mention that it democratizes the view. Short of having gobs of blood land on your popcorn, we do not know how the film of the National Theatre Live broadcast of the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus could’ve had a more visceral impact.
Interesting that a lesser-known tragedy by Shakespeare should find new and vibrant life in the 21st century. A couple of years ago there was the film adaptation by Ralph Fiennes, set in the Balkans. This production directed by Josie Rourke is in contemporary dress, but set nowhere in particular. We are constantly reminded that it is a play—a bare stage, chairs, lines drawn in paint, and ladders used to great effect. There is even a 15-minute intermission, with a clock counting down the seconds. The lines of the play appear as subtitles, which is much appreciated (“So that’s what that line means.” “So that’s how it’s pronounced…”)
They do not need an elaborate set. They do not need a location. They have a brilliant star and superb players to deliver words written four centuries ago by a man whose identity academics still argue about. (Of course we know very little about William Shakespeare, he was writing all those plays and didn’t have much time for anything else.) Tom Hiddleston may be the boyfriend of the Internet circa 2014, but Shakespeare speaks to all times. You could set his plays in any century, in any country, in any culture, and they will work. When people colonize other planets, they will stage Shakespeare and it will still tell them more about the human condition than any number of textbooks. Costumes and settings change, but not love, hate, greed, envy, ambition. (Maybe we should quit trying to write because Shakespeare’s done pretty much everything.)
Coriolanus is especially relevant in this era of popular revolutions and the ever-present threat of militarism and fascism. Its hero-antihero is Caius Martius (Hiddleston), a great warrior who takes the enemy city Corioles almost single-handedly and returns home to the accolades of the Senate and his bloodthirsty mother Volumnia (Deborah Findlay). Volumnia takes in his wounds with a pleasure that is almost sexual—it is she, not the dutiful Virgilia (Birgitte Sorensen) who seems to be his wife. (Given the influence of Shakespeare on psychoanalysis, Hamlet’s mother etc, we wonder what Shakespeare’s own mummy was like.)
The Senate, composed of aristocrats, gives Caius Martius the honorary nickname Coriolanus after the city he conquered. (In an interview Hiddleston compared this to calling Andy Murray “Wimbledonus”; how could we not be impressed by the tennis analogy?) His mother and his mentor Menenius Agrippa (Mark Gatiss, who also got squeals from Sherlock fans) want him to run for Consul.
But in order to become Consul, he has to get the vote of the common people. Not only is Coriolanus a terrible elitist, but he is the worst politician imaginable. He cannot hide his contempt of the masses. He cannot lie to save his life. There is something admirable in that kind of brutal honesty. And the common people are fickle, gullible, a herd easily manipulated by the tribunes Sicinia and Brutus. That is why Coriolanus has been viewed as a dangerous play, and sometimes banned as a fascist tract.
There’s the outstanding scene in which Coriolanus stands in the shower, gasping as the water hits his wounds and washes off the blood. (We thought the viewers were going to throw 500-peso bills at the screen.) You are repelled, and you are turned on. Because, admit it, it is very attractive to think of a leader who will destroy your enemies and tell you what to do. When you hand over your rights to such a leader, you buy into the idea of fascism.
TO BE CONTINUED (We have a movie to sell the hell out of. We are happy to talk about Tom Hiddleston all week, but you have to go and see Norte. Deal?)
Meanwhile, something from 2012: Our review of Ralph Fiennes’s film of Coriolanus