Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Book or The Movie

I am currently reading Life of Pi. Having seen the movie and the vivid images it contained, only the strong recommendation of a friend now brings me to the book.

Two very different media. Strange bedfellows. My copy of Life of Pi bears a still from the movie on the cover and the words "Now A Major Motion Picture". People who have experienced neither book nor movie better get cracking here it seems to imply.

The usual progression is book to movie. We'll ignore those sad novels that are written from a script, following a movie or television show.

So which is better, the book or the movie? Since one is a spoiler for the other, which should it be? Is there a strategy for choosing which to experience first? Should I be scanning the news of upcoming films to see if I need to get in a book quickly?

A great book is no endorsement of the movie. One of my favourite novels is The Magus by John Fowles. Woody Allen once quipped that the only regret he had in life was going to see the film of The Magus.

I have always loved Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. At some point I read the source material, The Luck of Barry Lyndon, published in 1844 by William Makepeace Thackery. The disparity between book and movie is huge, but both creators achieve something unique. Kubrick gives us a straight rendering of the story, with only an unknown narrator joining in from time to time, all his words taken from Thackeray. And so Kubrick's skill as a film maker sweeps us along in the story. The final scene, two and a half minutes long, has four people around a table and although not a word is said the drama is
intense. Only a master could do this. Thackeray on the other hand has the main character tell the
story, and we quickly see two realities, his subjective rationalizations and biased views, versus the negative reactions of those around him to his raving egotism, which he continually misreads. This is the sort of social satire Thackeray was famous for, and that Kubrick has decided to not attempt in his film. The two men have largely created two different Barry Lyndons.

Books leave so much to the imagination, can interweave the exterior and interior worlds, handle great subtleties, use the poetry of words, say so much more in 350 pages than a film in ninety minutes, or even three hours. In a movie the characters are separate from us, there on the screen. In a book we are often aware of their thoughts and emotions and perhaps able to see them as ourselves.

Movies present us with ravishing images, can be wonderful blends of sounds or music. The sheer visual drama of a movie can be breathtaking, it's hard to imagine a writer doing equal justice to the Sun's Anvil sequence of David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia. But perhaps someone could describe it, that immense space of heat, dryness, blinding light and flat nothingness.

I love both books and film but prefer books. That someone made a movie of a boy and a tiger adrift in a lifeboat on the Pacific, and managed to create so much visual interest, is impressive. But I'm finding the book richer, my identification with Pi more meaningful. Nevertheless some images from the film haunt me, in particular the liquid eyes of the adult Pi, the actor Irrfan Khan.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Some Thoughts on the Novel Away, by Jane Urquhart

For some reason I was expecting this book to full of mood and poetry and clever language with little plot. Wrong on the last point! It's a wonderful tale of an inter generational family saga moving from Ireland to the shores of Lake Ontario and including historical events such as the Irish potato famine of 1845 and the politics of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Confederation. Urquhart is a master of description, and the endless details she precisely presents of the natural world, or the everyday objects of people's lives, counterbalance the intense longings of the characters. Magic and mystery are liberally included, especially regarding the two young ladies who are "away" or spellbound, but Urquhart kept me sufficiently grounded that it never felt like a fairytale. I appreciated seeing the world through Irish eyes. And as someone who grew up on the shores of Lake Ontario, not so far from the book's O'Malley farm, albeit a hundred years later, the descriptions of lake and shore resonated deeply.

Friday, 4 March 2016

My (Brief) Time As a Poet.

In the Seventies my best friend was a poet, about to be published. Through him I met a gorgeous woman, also about to be published, who invited me to live with her. It only lasted a year, but during which time we went to many poetry readings and had writers over to our apartment, including her half brother, son of one of Canada's foremost poets. Despite all the verse swirling around me, I felt no urge to start stacking phrases vertically on the page.

Several decades later I found myself composing a poem in my head, wrote it down, and soon found a second one following it. I started going to a weekly reading series held in the corner of a bar, where I made a number of new friends. The poems kept coming, sometimes just a vague feeling that I had to explore to find out what it wanted to say. At other times some experience of mine provided the material, although I often felt uneasy, wondering to what extent I'd tampered with the details to serve the poem. Nevertheless I loved writing.

It was a time of wonderful poems and wonderful people. The poetry community in Toronto at that time was inclusive of all and every gathering was a celebration of our creativity. I was particularly pleased when I could perform from memory, or read something that made the audience laugh. Eventually over eight years I had about two hundred poems, and published a little chapbook. I was convinced that everyone should play with poetry.

Then it stopped. I kept trying to write but the poems fell flat. I think I had reached a certain level of ability and was stuck there. Perhaps I should have switched to a new style or a new challenge.

Recently I felt something inside trying to express itself and ended up with the best poem I've written in years. I hope that feeling comes again.