Rep. Weiner’s Relativism

When Bill Clinton said his contact with Monica Lewinsky had been “inappropriate,” he started something:  the displacement of  the word wrong.  Words, of course, reflect attitudes, and moral relativism here posts another triumph.  We have the spectacle of Rep. Anthony Weiner saying that his online amours were inappropriate.  Not plain old unvarnished wrong, just inappropriate, which means unfitting, the wrong style, the wrong setting, the wrong time.  Poor form, old chap.  When inappropriate itself is considered too moralistic, too “judgmental”—as the relativists like to put it—what weaker word will we turn to?  For the answer, just watch Washington.

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Virginia is for Haters?

       I used to love the state of Virginia.  The scenery was beyond beautiful, history seemed to live in every corner, and I found the love of my life in the borders of Virginia.  As great loves often do, my love slipped away; but that was not the fault of the state.  It was mine. 

         But that, as they say, is another blog. 

         I once took a train trip from the Deep South back to New York City.  In the morning of the second day on the rails, I sipped coffee in the diner just as the sun rose.  The fog lifted like a curtain to reveal horses in the golden light; they continued sleeping as they stood in the grass.  No one had to tell me that I was passing through Virginia. 

         But now I’m afraid of the place.  There’s a lynch-mob mentality underneath the beauty of the land and the graciousness of the people.  Woe be he who violates community preferences. 

         Let me give a monstrous example.  A famous photographer named Bob Shell lived in Radford,Virginia.  He was mostly a writer, with journal articles constantly published and dozens of books in print. Virginia is hospitable to writers, but Shell also was an active photographer and a part of his work was in glamour.  Meaning:  shots of naked and half-naked models.  For this, Shell was cordially disliked. 

         Shell hit his 59th birthday just after his mother died, and the double blow left him looking for a sense of life to keep him going.  You see, the highest risk group for suicide inAmerica is men over the age of fifty.  The risk increases for men in correlation with advancing age.   The desire to live is slipping away from them, and men will try to find new ways to enjoy life.  Sometimes the way is simple and socially approved, such as restoring old cars or exercising madly; but sometimes the choice can strike people as creepy or sick. 

         The new sense of life for Bob Shell showed up, all too fatefully, in the form of a young model named Marion Franklin, 19 years old, the possessor of good looks and a drug habit.  She was also bright and charming—as I can attest, for I once met this girl.  She had good bones, as photographers say, and beautiful brown eyes.  Shell was smitten, so much so that he failed to see the danger attached to her.  He tried to help her beat the drug habit; but anyone who has tried to do the same for someone knows how futile the efforts are.  In time, Shell gave up on reforming Marion and took her as she was.  He paid her to work in his studio and to do some modeling, but she spent the money on drugs.  Jury members would later be told that Shell “gave her money for drugs.”  She was on an express train for disaster, pulling Shell aboard with her.

         One night, she overdosed and died.  As Shell was mourning her, the police came to arrest him for “causing” her death.   For the viciousness of the prosecution and the disengagement of the judge Shell faced, I refer you to Shell’s website:  bobshelltruth.com.  But let me summarize what happened in trial. 

         Keep in mind that Shell loved this girl and was emotionally dependent on her for his commitment to life.  Losing her, he not only got no sympathy, he was accused of being her killer.  A jury of angry locals found him guilty on a manslaughter charge, and added on enough petty charges with consecutive sentences to imprison him for 32 years.  For him, that is a life sentence, which is what the jury wanted.

         The Radford area newspapers printed mistaken information about his case and never retracted it.  The papers poured it on until local opinion in the case was solidly hostile.  It had been hostile already. 

         I invite you to study Mr. Shell’s website closely to see just how he was railroaded and pilloried in this case.  It is such an ugly story that you might come away, like me, determined never to set foot in Virginia again.  You will rightly fear that somehow you too might displease a small town and end up at the mercy of the police, prosecutors, judges, and juries. 

         And one final note: Virginia has the death penalty and is one of the most active states in using it. Think about it.

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Sonia Sotomayor, Bigot on the High Court

Several years back, I saw an advertisement for a part-time teaching post at Marymount Manhattan College, here in New York.  The job was a perfect fit.  They wanted someone with at least a Masters Degree; I had one and was finishing a Ph.D.  They wanted someone with college teaching experience.  I had eight years of it.  They wanted someone who had worked as an actor.  I had made my living as an actor for ten years.  They wanted someone who had worked as a theatre director.  I had done a little of that.  Not much, but some. 

I sent in my application, and then heard nothing.  My application wasn’t even acknowledged.  I had expected at least an interview, but no, nothing.  I couldn’t believe Marymount had found someone even closer to a perfect fit, so I wrote the college to ask whom they had hired and what were that person’s qualifications.  The college refused to release the information.  I went to the EEOC for help.  They said they could get the information for me, and they did. 

Marymount, it was revealed, had hired a black woman with only a bachelor’s degree, with no teaching experience, no acting experience, and no directing experience.  The only thing Marymount had underlined on her resume was a reference to her race.  They not only underlined it, they put a star in the margin alongside. 

I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so I filed a lawsuit on my own, charging Marymount with racial discrimination.  When I got my day in court, the judge was Sonia Sotomayor.  I didn’t know it then, but the sight of me determined the case for her.   

Sotomayor asked me to make a chart comparing my qualifications with those of the successful candidate, and to send the chart to her.  I did.  When I returned to court, she glared at me and said, “You and this woman have the same experience in directing.”  That was untrue; but, worse, the judge was ignoring how different the black woman and I were in the other categories.  When I tried to speak, Sotomayor cut me off.  She said that if I did not drop the case, she’d make me pay the legal expenses of the other side.  I had no choice but drop the case:  I couldn’t pay for a lawyer for myself, much less for the team of lawyers arrayed against me. 

 I went back to EEOC.  They refused to help any further.  The Hispanic man who spoke to me said that this was clearly a case of Affirmative Action, which was a good thing.  As I left, I noted that everyone who worked there was a minority.  I was wasting my breath.      

My point?  Judge Sotomayor ignored the evidence in my case and blackmailed me into dropping the suit.  When she was nominated for the Supreme Court some years later, it came out that she had a history of anti-white-male statements and rulings.  I was hardly surprised.  Do I need to remind you that Sotomayor is a minority? 

 Now, think about the students at Marymount.  When they entered the classroom of this black woman who was hired, they were expecting a fully qualified professor.  That’s what they had paid for. 

 They got a quota clown.

And this is the situation that the EEOC considers “good” and that Sotomayor goes to bat for.   And Sotomayor has been elevated to the Supreme Court where she can vote bigotry into law for the rest of her career.  How do you like your federal government now?

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Three New York Chiselers

I don’t mind economical people; I don’t even mind tightwads; I hate chiselers.  Chiselers save small amounts of money by taking advantage of other people–by milking them of cash or services.  Chiselers have no shame; on the contrary, they consider themselves smarter than their victims. 

There are three chiselers in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, the area where I live.  Each has a different modus operandi; each would sell their parents for a nickel. 

 First we have the pear-shaped lady.  I first noticed her twenty years ago, when she was middle-aged.  I used to go to the same coffee shop each morning for breakfast:  they charged reasonable prices, and they had grits.  Good coffee, too, and they’d refill your cup for free.  I noticed this odd lady who sat at a table for hours every morning.  She had short hair and wore ornate glasses; her skin was pale and her eyes a watery blue.  Her shoulders were narrow, and her pelvis was super-broad.  She was fat, and rocked from side to side when she walked back to the restroom. 

Now, here’s how she chiseled the coffee shop.  She’d order a bowl of corn flakes and a cup of coffee.  She’d finish the cereal and start reading a stack of newspapers.  As soon as she gulped down her coffee, she’d say “Hey!” and wave her cup at the waiters.  They’d give her a refill.   She’d sit there demanding refills, hour after hour, then put down one dime for a tip and waddle out with her newspapers.  The waiters detested her; they probably started detesting pears. Unfortunately, the owner of the shop didn’t care and told them to go ahead and give her the free coffee.  By the way, she got the newspapers from garbage cans.    

 The coffee shop closed, and the pear-shaped chiseler vanished.  I don’t know where she went for breakfast after that, but it wasn’t any place I patronized.  Or maybe she couldn’t find a free-refill place and swore off breakfast.  Twenty years have passed.  A few weeks ago, I saw her again—now an old lady—at a new diner in the neighborhood.  You guessed it:  the new place gives free.  She’s in there with her newspapers every morning, waving her cup and yelling “Hey!”  Ignoring inflation, she still tips a dime. 

 Our next chiseler is a little old man in a white suit.  He carries two shopping bags.  He frequently rides the M50 bus that brings people from Times Square over to Turtle Bay.  What’s his game?  He gets on the bus and reaches into his pockets for the fare.  No money.  He shows exaggerated surprise, and checks all his pockets again.   Then he pretends to rummage around in the shopping bags for money, quietly whimpering.  At this point, the driver either says “O, forget about it,” or another passenger pays the fare for the poor old guy.   His routine is badly acted.  You should see him scratching the bottoms of the bags, pretending to search.  But it fools enough people that he keeps on doing it.    

 Finally, we have the supreme sicko, a middle-aged lady with a retarded teenage son.  My wife knows her, so I have a spy on the case.  Let’s call her Rachel.   No matter where Rachel goes, she takes her son with her and uses him to beg for discounts.  Even when she’s buying items only for herself, she says, “But I should get a discount.  My son is retarded.”  At a restaurant, she demands a fifty percent price break if she didn’t finish her food.  “But I didn’t eat all of it!”  She manipulates her friends into paying for her at restaurants—by pretending to have left her purse at home—or she’ll offer to split the check.  She only splits the check when she’s had a huge meal and her friend has ordered almost nothing.  And even then, she complains to the waiter and the manager that the food is overpriced.  She’ll complain that she wasn’t told dessert costs extra.  On and on and on until she wears the manager down  to a dollar or two off the bill. 

 Public transport?  She demands that her huge son have free fare, and sometimes she’ll sneak onto the bus through the back door.  On commuter trains, she moves from seat to seat and car to car to evade the ticket collector.  She has no ticket, of course.  When she’s caught, she’s got a sob story about, you guessed it, forgetting her purse.  In taxis, she tells the driver that she doesn’t want to pay according to the meter.  She wants to bargain about the price, and she offers almost nothing.  She doesn’t start this scam until she is almost at her destination—just in case the driver won’t agree.  When the drivers do refuse, she jumps out of the cab and hurries away without paying.  She doesn’t dare do this with female drivers, because they, being unchained by chivalry, will chase after her. 

She’s not poor.  She collects a huge amount of alimony and child support from her ex-husband.  She has never worked in her life, going from her parents’ home to her husband’s and then onto the alimony wagon.  She lives in a luxury apartment that her ex pays for. 

 And the final touch?  Her son grew so large and got so old that he was no longer useful in getting discounts—so she sent him to live in an institution.  It’s a dismal state institution that costs nothing.  The boy will be entombed there for the rest of his life.  Of course, even though the boy is off her back, she still wants child-support:  “I have to go visit him, and travel isn’t free!”

 I hope you don’t know people like this; but I’ll bet you do.    

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Will the Japanese riot like Haitians?

After natural disasters in Haiti and New Orleans, we saw people rioting, looting, and raping.  Will the Japanese follow their lead?

 

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A train trip across North Carolina, Christmas 1948

Prior to the 1950s, Americans avoided really long journeys in cars.  There was no Interstate highway system; the roads were narrow and went right through the middle of cities, which meant slowdowns and wrong turns.  Car trouble was common, which left you at the mercy of crooked mechanics.  When tires exploded (they had tubes inside), you had to fight the sudden drag without power steering.  Once you got the car stopped, you had to change the tire yourself.  And those flats were as frequent then as they are rare today.       

There were airplanes then; but they were expensive and didn’t reach a lot of places.  On buses you jolted and bumped on a hard seat and prayed you could make it to the next stop without peeing yourself.  There were no bathrooms aboard.  And breakdowns?  My mother once made a two-hundred-mile trip that took fourteen hours and three buses.  Yes, two of the buses gave out and each time she had to wait hours for a replacement.  

Trains, on the other hand, were comfortable and reliable and went everywhere.  They were the best choice for anything beyond local hops.    

I lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina, in the late 1940s.  If you wanted to drive a car eastward, you needed a pioneer spirit.  First you labored over the Continental Divide at Ridgecrest; then you dropped down a steep highway to the town of Old Fort.  This was a two-lane road, maybe twenty feet wide, that coiled around the edges of the mountains.  It  wound along for 22 miles to cover a distance of only 9 miles as the crow flies.  Driving down that corkscrew was ticklish work:  you were constantly downshifting and pumping the brakes.  If there was an accident, traffic froze for hours.  People turned off their engines, put on parking brakes, and read magazines.  The only place to get help—in case of car trouble—was a restaurant/gas station called Point Lookout, on the brink of the Royal Gorge about halfway down the big hill.

So much for car travel out of Black Mountain.  Airplanes didn’t come near us, and the buses that rolled through were on their last axles.  Fortunately, North Carolina’s principal east-west train line came right through our town.  Without that, we’d have gone barefoot and forgotten English.       

My mother’s parents lived in Sanford,  in the sandy soil and pine trees of eastern North Carolina.  To get there, we took the Southern Railway from Black Mountain to Greensboro, which was about fifty miles from Sanford.  Mother’s parents would pick us up at Greensboro Station and drive us the rest of the way.  The time to Sanford was an hour and a half, the train trip was a little over six hours, so the whole journey took eight hours.  When I went to bed at my grandparents’ house, I could still feel the motion of the train. 

I’d like to describe a trip in December of 1948, when I was four years old.  It is the first rail journey that I can clearly recall.  If you were around in the 1940s, you may remember train journeys much like it. 

The train rumbled into Black Mountain after originating in Asheville.  It arrived exactly at noon.  A lot of railways still ran on steam, but the Southern was modern; it used diesel locomotives.  These were huge black units in 1948; they shook the earth coming into the station.  I struggled  to hold my ground as one of these monsters pounded in on that December day.  The noise of the thing!  The mass! 

When the big beast came to a squealing stop, I noticed a conductor shouting, “New York cars!  New York cars!” as he pointed to the back of the train.  I had heard about the fabulous city of New York, and it seemed incredible that you could get on this very train in my little town and end up in fairyland.  There were some coaches for New York at the back of the train, and—my mother told me—a couple of Pullman cars.  What are Pullmans?  Mother said they were cars with beds in them so you could sleep all night going to New York.  Magic!  I vowed to make that trip someday.

We got aboard and found our seats in a coach car.  There was an antimacassar on each seat, a bathroom at each end of the car, a row of round lights on the long ceiling, and a water fountain with room-temperature water and paper-cone cups.  Our party was my mother, my older sister, and I.  The other people in the car were mostly women.  They were dressed up as if attending church, and so was my mother.  She even had on a hat with netting.  My sister and I also wore Sunday clothes.   

After a quick stop up at Ridgecrest Station, we plunged into the Swannanoa Tunnel.  The tunnel pierced through the mountains at the Continental Divide; it was 1800 feet long.  It was barely larger than the cars and engine, so everything went black when we entered.  It was like sunny noon snapping to moonless night in a half-second.  Only when we got near the end of the tunnel did spots of light filter in and we could see water trickling down solid rock just outside our window. 

We continued dropping down the grade.  After twenty minutes, we saw Andrews geyser on the left, in a deep valley.  We saw it four more times before we got to the foot of the mountain.  The train kept curving in and out of tunnels and cuts; we got views from different sides and elevations.  I thought I was seeing five different geysers.

Pulling into Old Fort, we saw a massive stone arrowhead up on a pillar. This was a monument to an actual fort once built here as a shelter from Indian attacks.

We had dropped a thousand feet from Black Mountain, right down into a different growing season and a different landscape.  Moving out of Old Fort, we entered a stretch of gently rolling hills, North Carolina’s Piedmont.  The train picked up speed.  We passed a series of those Burma Shave signs with divided jingles.  A man came into the car with funny-books in a wooden box. (We called comics magazines “funny-books.”)  We bought two for a total of ten cents; one was “Archie and Veronica,” and the other “Little Lulu.”  Another man came in with kid-size containers of ice cream.  My sister and I wanted some, of course, but my Mother said she wanted to get it in the dining car.   “We’re going there right now.“

Now I had to face the vestibules.  Vestibules were the junctures between cars, and they were like the cabinets of Dr. Caligari.  The freezing wind roared in, metal screeched, and the iron floor shook and jumped.  At the first of these torture chambers, I froze on the brink, my teeth chattering in my four-year-old head.  Mother picked me up and carried me over.  After several of these hellish crossings, we made it to the stainless-steel door of the dining car. 

The diner had maybe fourteen tables covered by dazzling white covers.  The dishes and silverware and sugar bowls and salt shakers were marked with the logo of the Southern Railway.  All were weighted to keep them from sailing off the tables.  The waiters wore white smocks like doctors and carried trays of food on their fingertips.  They were graceful as dancers.  When the train abruptly swayed, they compensated by bowing, turning, and deftly shifting their feet.   They didn’t drop a crumb. 

My sister wanted the ice cream, but I wanted a drink.  I hadn’t been able to swallow that lukewarm, flat-tasting water in the coach.  Mother said I was old enough for Coca-Cola and ordered one.   I had no idea what a “Coca-Cola” might be.  It arrived in a bottom-weighted glass with lots of chopped ice; it smelled of dark fruit.  I will never forget the first sip.  It was the best thing I ever tasted, better even than watermelon.  It made a busy fizzing in my mouth, which startled me but made the flavor even sweeter.  To this day, a sip of Coke takes me right back to that dining car.  Again I’m seated to the right of my mother with my chin just above the tabletop and a weighted glass in my hands.  If I ever have to choose my last meal on death row, I’ll ask for a Coke.   

Now we traveled by stops and starts.  There seemed to be a small-town station every five miles.  I don’t recall their names, but we’d hardly get up to speed after one station before stopping at another.  The conductor came through the diner at each stop, calling out the names of the towns.  Finally, the conductor came through calling “Barber! Barber Station!”  His tone suggested that Barber was more important than the other towns.  I soon found out why.  Our stop was followed by a lot of backing up and bumping; I could see cars on tracks all around us.  Mother said they were taking the New York cars off the train and sending them to Salisbury.   

This cutting took ten minutes, and then we were off for Winston-Salem and a half-hour stop, probably for a change of crew.  We used the pause to hurry back to the coach.  The train wasn’t moving, so Mother didn’t have to carry my quaking body through the vestibules. 

When we reached our seats, it was getting dark outside.  Yet another man came through with a  box.  He had coloring books and crayons.  Mother said no thanks, we’d be getting off the train soon.  We made a few more stops at small places, and then we entered open fields with huge tanks in clusters.  Oil tanks, Mother said; we were close to Greensboro.  There was a flash of city streets, and then we slid into the station squarely on time at six-fifteen.  My fantastic grandparents were waiting on the platform; they spotted us and waved. 

I recall two things from the trip most especially.  One is how the toilets startled me.  When you pushed the flush lever, a flap dropped from the bottom of the bowl to reveal roadbed rushing underneath.  You were dumping on the tracks!  Also, the conductor made a  big impression.  He was in his sixties, with close-cropped hair, rimless glasses, a silver chain across his vest, and a military bearing.  He punched our tickets as though he disliked them.  Mother said he was in charge of everything and could put us off the train if we misbehaved.  Immediately, I imagined being put off the train in the middle of a forest with wolves lurking around.  I hid behind Mother every time the conductor came near. 

In 1971, I traveled to New York for the first time.  I could have taken an airplane and saved both time and money; but I booked a Pullman.  I had made a  promise to myself in 1948, and I was going to keep it.  I caught the Southern Railway’s afternoon train in Charlotte and traveled overnight to New York.  The journey wasn’t the seamless magic it would have been to a boy of four, but it had some splendid moments.  After I went to bed, I pushed up the shade and looked out at the night.  Orion was alone in the sky, following along as we headed northeast.  Moonlight gleamed on the side tracks.  Occasionally we would flash through a small town and I’d see a group of kids watching the train go by.   I wondered what restlessness had called them trackside in the middle of the night.  Sometimes these groups would wave, in case someone on the train might be awake to see it. 

When the conductor woke me up the following morning, we were speeding across a maze of  tracks and the blackened earth and smokestacks  of northern New Jersey.  I looked east across the tangled ugliness for something of New York.  I strained to see anything of the city, any sign; and then miles away through the smog, I saw the top of the Twin Towers.  That was my first glimpse of Manhattan.  Thirty years later, I would see the towers fall. 

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“Firelight,” Gothic Masterpiece Film

In this space, I’d occasionally like to mention a movie that never won a large audience but which everyone should see.  The film in review today is Firelight, a gothic drama starring the great French actress Sophie Marceau in the lead role of Elisabeth. 

The highest achievement of the film is William Nicholson’s, who is screenwriter and director.  He is brilliant in his creation of visual systems.  Fire and light are set off against snow and darkness; as are life and death.  The most potent visual element is a glass gazebo located in the middle of a pond.  The gazebo goes from cold to warm as the movie progresses, and the pond creates isolation for it and danger around it.  Some of the most haunting moments of the movie are pantomimes involving this gazebo.  And just when you think that Nicholson has used the gazebo for all its potential, he uses it a final time with unforgettable poignance. 

No amount of directing brilliance can save a weak story; but here Nicholson the writer has given Nicholson the director a powerhouse tale. The script could be called unoriginal because of its debt to the novel Jane Eyre and to any number of stories with old houses, a gloomy hero, a vulnerable heroine, and a wife in the attic; however, this view overlooks how Nicholson has exploited and transformed these archetypes.  His skill in building suspense and creating powerful scenes is aided by the gothic tradition, yes, but that tradition has been around a long time because of its great potentials.  It does not guarantee a powerful novel or film, but it gives the writer tested sources.  The writer can handle the ingredients unoriginally to create hackwork—and many trees have been felled to publish hackwork gothic stories–or he can arrange the elements in a new pattern with fresh  meaning; Nicholson has done the latter.  He has also added to the gothic mix another traditional story:  that of a woman bearing a child for pay.  I have never heard of these two traditions in the same story, but in Nicholson’s hands they mesh perfectly 

 Granted, Nicholson in his overall effort was immensely aided by two brilliant actors; but you can’t forget how important to actors, even seasoned actors, is a director who knows how to work with them.  If a director doesn’t, you get a miscarriage movie like Jerry Maguire, where good actors were led into terrible performances.  

 Nicholson brings Sophie Marceau, especially, to a level of artistry that I’ve not seen from her before. The actress has many difficult scenes to play, but you don’t see her performance as a series of brilliant successes.  She plays challenging moments with such skill that her choices seem inevitable.  It is only later, as you reflect on the movie, that you realize what she has accomplished.  Her choices are tasteful, right, and beautifully realized.  Her great moments do not obtrude because they are part of a single effect.  George Bernard Shaw once wrote that a good actress will achieve two or three good “strokes” in a role.  A very good actress will achieve a whole series of strokes.  But, with a great actress performing, her entire role is one stroke.  By Shaw’s measure,  Sophie Marceau belongs in the pantheon of great actresses.   

 Stephen Dillane portrays Charles, the man who hired Elisabeth to bear his child.  He has the difficult acting task of presenting several dark elements in a character without making the character unsympathetic for an audience.  I imagine this role was the most difficult to cast; any undue emphasis, even the wrong voice or features in an actor, could make Charles a villain.   If it is possible to apportion credit, Nicholson deserves a considerable portion for finding the right actor and for assisting him in a role that demands finely tuned work.  Mr. Dillane, or course, deserves the larger part of the credit.  When the camera rolled, it was up to him to deliver the goods, and he did. 

 The balance of this review should be read only after you have seen Firelight.  The following passages contain spoilers and depend on  references that make no sense if you’ve not seen the movie.   

 Firelight takes a classical three-act form.  The primary plot concerns the relations between Elisabeth and her daughter.  This is the most emotional plot; it charges the entire movie and provides the peak moments.  The dramatic question of the principal plot is, as such questions always are, simple and strong:  in this case, Will Elisabeth get to be a mother to her own child? 

 Let me break down the primary plot into its three parts.  Act One, which runs about thirty minutes, as it should,  ends when Elisabeth finds her daughter after years of searching.  Act Two ends when bankers arrive to seize the assets of Charles’s estate. Act Three ends with the death of Charles’s wife.  All after that is postlude.  The movie’s final images are of Charles, Elisabeth, and the girl leaving the huge house that has become a symbol of loss and death.  The primary dramatic question is now answered with a yes.  Yes, Elisabeth gets to be a mother to her own child.   

There are a number of subplots.  The most important of these is the relationship of Charles and Elisabeth.  The theme of the Charles-Elisabeth line is “love reclaimed,” which repeats the major theme of the story’s primary plot.  Another subplot is the tragic relationship of Charles and his former wife.  This is the plot that presents such extraordinary challenges to Mr. Dillane.  The major theme is “some loves cannot be reclaimed.” Its minor theme is “life cannot be held hostage to death.”  These two subplots have more than just thematic importance:  they shape the main plot. 

The least successful subplot concerns an old-maid sister of Charles’ former wife.  The plot does nothing to affect the main line of development—or of any other plot—and its theme is unimportant.  The competition between the beautiful Elisabeth and this unattractive old sister is one-sided enough to become cruel.  If this lady is meant to provide comic relief, I must say I didn’t find myself laughing.  And at the end of the film, we have no idea what will become of her.  She is left without means or home, discarded like so much rubbish by Charles and Elisabeth–and dropped from the plot in the same unfeeling manner. 

This cruelty does not help us forget that Charles is actually a murderer nor does it help us forget the harsh views he occasionally expresses.  You could argue that Charles is an evasive man and that his harshness surfaces when he pulls away from a painful subject.  However, an audience doesn’t have time to make a psychological analysis during the rush of story events, and Charles comes across as callous.  Dillane minimizes this character element, but no actor could erase it:  it is built into the role.   Fortunately, these dark moments are few.  Were this not so, the murder that Charles commits would be seen as consistent with a cruel character. He would be a villain and Elisabeth his accomplice! 

 There are other subplots and other characters in the film, and Nicholson has made all of them contribute to the central effect of the story. 

The cinematography by Nic Morris is on par with the direction of Nicholson.  The lighting creates compelling moods, and the camera movements are so well motivated that you don’t notice them. 

 If you enjoy being almost hypnotized by the beauty of a story and its telling, Firelight is something you must see.  Its visual elements alone will create a deep impression on you, and you will never forget the performance of Sophie Marceau.  Time, I am sure, will see Firelight’s being honored beside the greatest art of film’s first century.   

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