We are in London now. We arrived a little over a week ago*, on the first day that planes were allowed through the Atlantic passage to northern Europe. When else, other than in the last month, could I have uttered the words "I will see you at XYZ, volcano permitting" not once, but multiple times? Life offers some strange opportunities.
We were lucky to be able to travel when we did. If they had waited a mere twenty-four hours more to open British airspace, we wouldn't have been able to rebook our tickets for weeks. I tried to take an attitude of Zen flexibility to events which almost exemplify the term "act of God" (specifically Vulcan), but I admit to being quite nervous about the 24 or more nights of non-refundable theatre tickets I had already booked for this trip.
So I embarked on our fifteen hours of plane travel from Los Angeles** with an unprecedented degree of glee, and (despite having gotten only an anxious two hours of sleep the night before, thanks to a blasted grading deadline) settled in to watch as many movies as possible on the journey.
What did I see?
- I started with the delightfully meta experience of watching Up in the Air from the window seat of an airplane. Eventually D began to tire of my poking him every time George Clooney looked out over the clouds from his (considerably cushier) seat, and then pointing to the identical view from my window. I was like a toddler who first discovers the likeness between art and life: Look- a cat on the page, and a cat sitting next to me! Mimesis! (This picture actually exists of me as a toddler, in my first ever moment as a reader. I am pointing with one hand - like a chubby, Oshkosh-clad medieval Christ-child - to the cat on the cardboard page of my picture book, and with the other to my childhood pet Tyke.) I know that George Clooney is a divisive figure. My students (particularly my male students) speak with disgruntlement of the way he turns in the same chiseled, dimpled performance in every film. I, by contrast, find his choice of projects remarkably canny and his performances nuanced, if not chameleonic. Frankly, I think he is the Cary Grant of our day, and this film moved me profoundly in a way that I cannot describe in any detail without spoiling its central generic trick.
- Next I watched Precious, which left me too abysmally traumatized to get any sleep on the remainder of the flight. There were some highly effective performances here, but I didn't feel convinced by the coherence of the film as a whole. The fantasy sequence struck me as a little creakily done - looking more like a television show that had been rushed through production than like a film of the caliber that I felt Precious could be. And as excellent a character as Precious herself was, I didn't know what to do with the concatenation of extreme suffering that was her lot. It began to seem a bit like narrative cruelty rather than meaningful representation of real social problems. I don't know - I would like to hear other reviewers' thoughts on this question. Does her suffering (and her responses to it) cohere into something both meaningful and unexpected?
- Thinking that far too many hours remained in my flight, and that my soul was aching from my encounter with Precious, I turned to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for solace. I am beginning to think (after this film and my non-retch-inducing encounter a few weeks earlier with New Moon) that a certain type of film is actually improved by being seen on the small screen of a seat-back television. It makes it impossible to take the pretensions of the film too seriously, but also provides a circumstance in which you are exceedingly grateful for a film that entertains and passes the time quickly and engrossingly. At any rate, this proved to be one of my favorites of the Potter films so far: the kids' acting has improved immensely over the years, and I found their nascent romantic conflicts well rendered. But (as I am sure every critic has already noted) they bungled the most important plot-line (the question of Snape's adolescence and current loyalties) badly by barely treating it at all. Why, film-makers, why? Alan Rickman is an impeccable and magnetic Snape, and this was the aspect of the books that consumed endless discussion between the penultimate and ultimate installments. Why squander our opportunity to settle into a good, long exploration of the Snape character, even while exploring the parallel moral quandary that Draco finds himself in? Boo.
- In the few minutes I had left, I watched a little medley of Oscar-nominated short films: the tremendously witty and profane Logorama, a quintessentially Gallic piece of quirk called French Roast, and a bleak reflection on alienation called Miracle Fish. I am going to have to seek out the rest on Netflix when we get back to the States in a couple of months.
And then we slept. And slept and slept.
*I am running, I know, a bit behind on the "London journal" portion of my blogging, quite apart from the huge reviewing backlog.
** We had been in LA for D's last few days of filming and my friend JL's wedding in Malibu, which featured stunning views of the historic Adamson house in one direction and the long line of the beach in the other. After a delicious dinner, we all Bollywood-danced the night away, instructed by some professionals who showed us the basic steps....