Oscar Wilde

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He was a flamboyant fop, a man ahead of his time, a brilliant playwright and rebel of the Victorian period. He was a staple in the Western literary tradition since I’ve been alive, so I was amazed the other day when a few younger colleagues had never heard of him.

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FOP: a man who is concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way; a dandy.

Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 and died at the age of 46. He was raised by intellectual parents from Dublin. He was a scholar from Trinity College and Oxford College, and he was an advocate for the rising literary movement called aestheticism. He rubbed elbows with the wealthy. He was popular and funny. Because he was a homosexual, he was sent to prison for hard labor and exiled from both London and Dublin. Sadly, he died destitute in Paris from an ear infection and meningitis.

His epigrams and aphorisms abound with wit and sarcasm. Which one resonates with you?

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

The heart was made to be broken.

Twenty years of romance makes a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage make her something like a public building.

Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

There is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.

The only way a woman can ever reform her husband is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life.

Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief.

Men always want to be a woman`s first love – women like to be a man`s last romance.

No man is rich enough to buy back his past.

The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.

Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.

In the world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

The biography of Wilde by Richard Ellmann, is a staple even though controversy surrounds his account of Oscar’s demise. Ellmann suggests Oscar died of syphilis instead of meningitis. I’d like to read about other Irish writers like Yeats and James Joyce by Ellmann, too.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). It’s the manual for aestheticism.  He worshiped the Romantic poets of the 18th century. In the prelude, Oscar described the tenants of aestheticism. Natural beauty, created by God, and conceived beauty by humans are linked. To surround oneself with beauty is essential for happiness. The artist strives to reveal beauty, and in doing so, the artist’s profession is elevated. “Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated.”  Ah, well, cultivation has problematic side effects. Taken to extremes, surrounding oneself with luxury could create a pompous and shallow personality. It is a spooky classic–the book and the 1945 film contains a great cast: Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray, George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton, Lowell Gilmore as Basil Hallward, Donna Reed as Gladys Hallward, Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane, Peter Lawford as David Stone, Richard Fraser as James Vane, and Douglas Walton as Alan Campbell.

 

The Importance of Being Ernest (1895)His famous play is lighthearted fun and full of witticisms and puns. It was a favorite choice for high schools and colleges productions for a hundred years. If you liked the recent 2016 Jane Austen film,  Love & Friendship,  you would enjoy the 2002 period comedy adaptation starring: Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, and Frances O’Connor. 

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I few years ago when I visited Paris, I had to visit the tomb of Oscar Wilde at Père Lachaise cemetery. Marked on a pane of glass in front of his tomb was my favorite epigram:

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Unconventional and smart, he was an entertaining character.

4 Films Worth Watching

Summer is over. A new teaching year has begun. So long international travel, spontaneous naps, extended walks, and the chance to catch up on movies and read books. What about my working manuscript, Inside the Gold Plated Pistol? I made steady progress and am pleased with its evolution. As I acclimate now to bells and loud, teenage voices, today I wanted to squeeze in some thoughts about my favorite summer films I’ve seen:

absurd fun
absurd fun

The Lobster (2016) Knowing it was a farce going in, I let the strange love story unfold. I’ll admit it took a bit for me to warm up to the monotone delivery and set aside logic and realism as the absurd premise worked itself into something plausible and universal. People at an asylum complex must find a mate in 45 days or be turned into an animal. What was the message of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos? Love and loyalty are blind and limited? Society represses the individual and instills herdlike mentalities, or in this case, the crustacean? I loved the ambiguous ending and Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz gave fine performances. 4/5. 

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Hail, Caesar! (2016).  Since I adore classic Hollywood, it won’t be a surprise to hear this Coen Brothers dark comedy thoroughly entertained me. Which parody was the best: George Clooney as Charlton Heston in Ben Hur? Channing Tatum as Gene Kelley in On the Town? Alden Ehrenreich with that Ricky Nelson western charm? Scarlett Johansson imitating swimming queen Esther Williams? Ralph Fiennes as fussbudget director Laurence Lorenz had me laughing aloud. So, too, did Frances McDormand in the editing room. Stuff in the communist writers and the art vs. crap argument, the tabloid cover-ups, the Orson Welles camera tip–perhaps that’s the fault of the film. The fragmented salute to all things Hollywood stumbled around and shortchanged a weak storyline. It was still a lot of fun and laughs. It’s a film I could rewatch many times.4/5.

background-twitterMidnight Special (2016The chemistry between Dad (Michael Shannon), Mom (Kirsten Dunst) and their special son (Jaeden Lieberher) was convincing. It’s an X-Files plot delivered with cool authority at the hands of director Jeff Nichols. Can you imagine how different this film would have been if directed by Steven Spielberg? Without a score that spoons out the sap, and believable performances with a very cool ending, Nichols is able to bring out the best of his actors. I can’t wait to see Loving. 4/5 

The Sunset Limited (2011) American writer Cormac McCarthy‘s play adapted into an HBO film, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. Nihilism vs. Religion. I loved the dark dialogue between two opposing men. White, hopeful (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to keep Black, the professor (Tommy Lee Jones) from committing suicide. A tough 90 minutes to film and capture the arguments. Jones delivers his lines with apathetic resolve. Jackson is exuberant and funny. One rules with their head. One rules with their heart. The final chilling rant by Jones still hurts my heart weeks later. Want to be intellectually stimulated? I highly recommend it. 4.5/5 

You’ve probably seen these films before I did. Which ones from this list did you like best–or not? What’s the best film you’ve seen lately? 

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

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Agatha Christie (1890–1976)

As a British national treasure, this 1920s short story/play eventually became a Billy Wilder film in 1957. Ben Lawrence’s July 2015 article published in The Telegraph  is helpful for those who know little about Agatha Christie‘s sleuths such as the married couple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Why is Dame Christie the most translated, the third most published author–behind Shakespeare and the Bible–and whose 1952 play, The Mouse Trap, still shows in London at ST. MARTINS THEATER? She was able to hit a nerve for supplying intelligent stories, suspenseful plots and comedic characters without offense. She is an icon of the modern detective story. All things that are yummy and cheeky and beautifully expressed by the English language are represented in her stories. In short, her 65 detective novels provided entertainment and influenced multiple generations in the 20th century. For me, her work functions as a perfect insight to 20th century culture, like ethics, gender norms, and how a dominant culture dealt with limited technology.

Is she prosaic and dated today? Oh, I suppose so, if you compare her stories with today’s obsession for shocking realism, technological “advances”, and our androgynous world. Agatha Christie is still classy in my book. Will younger readers and lovers of a good mystery story appreciate her?  Shakespeare and the Bible are still read, so why not Agatha Christie?  I suggest a modern biopic to boost awareness of this marvelous woman. Has anyone heard anything about director Will Gluck’s action/drama, Agatha

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) 

This post is for my friend Rob at MOVIE ROB who is featuring the theme of courtroom dramas in film. I chose this Billy Wilder drama starring Tyrone Power in his last role, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton because I hadn’t seen it before. Thanks, Rob, for giving me the excuse to explore this provocative film.

Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering an older woman after she bequeaths a large sum of money to him. Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) is the curmudgeon barrister who agrees to defend him. Enter his wife, Christine, who is the core of the film–is she an ally or foe? The film progresses at a steady pace as the mystery unfolds. It’s the ending where all the shocks and significant twists come into play. If you like surprise endings, the film is worth following. Adapted and written by Billy Wilder and Harry Kurnitz, the sharp dialogue and witticisms highlight Wilder’s talent.

Charles Laughton (Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein) as his nagging nurse are the comic relief and show the human side of “the fox” Sir Wilfrid. His antics to smoke and drink while ignoring his doctor’s orders is a charming balance to the austere Christine; one would expect her to help her husband, but she decides to be a witness for the prosecution. She is a callous, manipulating she-cat. Or is she? Marlene is perfect in the role. 9/10 

     Miss Plimsoll: Is there too much of a draft? Should I roll up the window?

     Sir Wilfrid: Just roll up your mouth, you talk too much. If I had known how much you talk I’d never have come out of my        coma. 

I don’t dare reveal spoilers, so I will share some fun trivia from IMDb:

Did you know that Laughton and Lanchester were real-life husband and wife?

In order to show just one of Marlene Dietrich’s famous legs, an entire scene was written that required 145 extras, 38 stunt men and $90,000.

Orson Welles helped Marlene Dietrich create a fake nose and scar for her Cockney disguise.

Alfred Hitchcock said “Many times, people have told me how much they enjoyed Witness for the Prosecution. They thought it was my film instead of Billy Wilder’s. And Wilder told me people asked him about The Paradine Case (1947), thinking he had done it.”

When the film was released, Agatha Christie said it was the only movie based on one of her stories she had actually liked. Later, after Murder on the Orient Express (1974) was filmed, she said she liked that one, too.

What do you think of Agatha Christie? What do you think about Witness for the Prosecution? 

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