Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Awful Truth and the pleasure of the (old) text

First of all: a belated happy Fourth of July to all.
According to my Sitemeter meter, people find Blog Meridian most often these days, after the URL itself, via the Technorati tag to my recent post on The Revenge of the Sith. That is The Way Things Are in the ol' blogosphere, I suppose, what with its up-to-the-second-ness and all. But long-time readers of this blog know that, more often than not, what hold my attention in the realm of film and books are older things that I'm discovering either through research or my friend Larry's gracious loaning of items from his film collection. Especially with regard to film, I found myself nodding in agreement with Roger Ebert in this recent interview on NPR as he said that so many filmgoers' awareness of film exists primarily in the present, that they have little memory, much less knowledge, of film's history. I've not done my homework for this post, but I've blogged in the past on, maybe, 2 or 3 "recent" films--Big Fish, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Coffee and Cigarettes immediately come to mind, but I'm sure there are others. Leave the new stuff to others for the most part, I say; I'll delve back into the mustier stuff and talk about that.
It's in that spirit that I want to mention The Awful Truth, which Mrs. Meridian and I had the pleasure of watching this past weekend. We've been on something of a Cary Grant kick of late: Larry has many of his comedies, some of which I've had something to say about elsewhere in this blog (I don't have time to find and link to them today, but I encourage the curious to use the PicoSearch box on this page to seek out said posts), and just about all of them are worth seeking out if you are lovers of comedies that mix truly witty dialogue and first-rate physical humor. As good as Grant is in this film, though, the revelation for me was Irene Dunn, who plays Grant's not-so-estranged wife. The IMDB link above can give you a run-down of the plot, which, admittedly, doesn't sound like much; but, as we all know, stories gain their power to hold us through their telling--and, in film, in their acting. The couple has no children but a dog they are both quite fond of, and so they work out a visitation schedule for Grant; this allows each to reamin involved in the life of the other as each seeks out new companionship but signals, through their interference in the other's relationships, that they still love each other. Grant, with his usual playing-Cary Grant-manner, is fine; one deadpan line, "I've only just met her," is absolutely devastating. Dunn has this manner in her of being aware of the chaos that surrounds her in various scenes but not reacting to it in shock or horror or fear, a manner most effective when, in front of Grant's bride-to-be once the divorce with Dunn is finalized, she pretends to be Grant's sister whose finishing-school finish might be most generously-described as "flat." Some of the plot devices in this film, as above, are familiar, but what's done with them often is not. This is a film that will surprise and, thus, delight.
On to other old texts now . . .
On Saturday, Mrs. Meridian and I, as we drove around town, chanced on Delano Book Co., a bookstore on the near west side specializing in "the new, used, and unexpected." It more than lived up to its boast. As those of you who frequent used bookstores know, the real pleasure is not that they have what everybody else is looking for but that they create in the visitor the strong sense that the best of them have what only YOU are looking for (which, as often happens with me, I hadn't known I was looking for in the first place). Such was my feeling when I saw an old Doubleday 3-in-1 volume of novels by Edna Ferber, these days most remembered (if at all), for writing two novels that became famous films and/or musicals: Giant and Show Boat. The musical and film based on Show Boat, to the best of my knowledge, are the first to depict an interracial romance (such relationships have been the subject of novels in this country almost since there have been American novels); and, given my research interests, I've been wanting to have a look at the novel for some time now. But I'd had no luck finding it in the bookstores (new or used) that I've browsed. Some, but not all, of her work is currently in print, and though she was popular in her day, she doesn't have the sort of stature that would make her work easy to come across in the big chain stores. But as a hugely-welcome surprise, the Doubleday also contains Cimarron, a less-well-known novel by her set in Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma) that also depicts an interracial romance. As if that weren't enough to make me happy, Mrs. Meridian stumbled on a critical study on American romance (in the Hawthornian sense of the word)--a concept that, I've been thinking lately, might have some bearing on my research into miscegenation narratives. "Unexpected," indeed. And, as is always the case with us bookish people, we saw much more that we would have liked to have lingered over longer. But: rest assured, we will return soon.
I'm often surprised and saddened to hear younger people say that that, for example, they've never heard of Hithcock or don't like black-and-white films because they think of them as boring or too talk-y, or they admire certain writers but seem reluctant to read what those same writers say they themselves admire and have learned from. Perhaps we're too afraid of learning the origins of things. I have to say, though, that learning about the old helps me see the new differently and, even better, gives me a better sense of what is REALLY new.

Technorati tags:
, ,

5 comments:

sutrix said...

It's saddening indeed. What bugs me more, though, are people who've only seen Psycho and consider that to be only movie they need to see in order to know Hitchcock's genius.

Raminagrobis said...

I feel sorry for Larry. Stop exploiting the poor fellow! What, like there isn't a video rental store in Kansas City?

Raminagrobis said...

I mean Wichita

Drew said...

Note to self: must start using technorati tags...

John B. said...

Drew,
Thanks for visiting. I hope you'll visit again.