January 2015 Criterion Titles

Two days ago, the Criterion Collection announced their January 2015 titles. Here they are:

The Sword of Doom

The Sword of Doom – January 6

Tatsuya Nakadai and Toshiro Mifune star in the story of a wandering samurai who exists in a maelstrom of violence. A gifted swordsman plying his craft during the turbulent final days of shogunate rule in Japan, Ryunosuke (Nakadai) kills without remorse or mercy. It is a way of life that ultimately leads to madness. Kihachi Okamoto’s swordplay classic is the thrilling tale of a man who chooses to devote his life to evil.

Special Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary featuring film historian Stephen Prince
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – January 13

In the early 1970s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder discovered the American melodramas of Douglas Sirk and was inspired by them to begin working in a new, more intensely emotional register. One of the earliest and best-loved films of this period in his career is The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, which balances a realistic depiction of tormented romance with staging that remains true to the director’s roots in experimental theater. This unforgettable, unforgiving dissection of the imbalanced relationship between a haughty fashion designer (Margit Carstensen) and a beautiful but icy ingenue (Hanna Schygulla)—based, in a sly gender reversal, on the writer-director’s own desperate obsession with a young actor—is a fully Fassbinder affair, featuring exquisitely claustrophobic cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and full-throttle performances by an all-female cast.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Michael Ballhaus, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interviews with Ballhaus and actors Margit Carstensen, Eva Mattes, Katrin Schaake, and Hanna Schygulla
  • New interview with film scholar Jane Shattuc about director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the film
  • Role Play: Women on Fassbinder, a 1992 German television documentary by Thomas Honickel featuring interviews with Carstensen, Schygulla, and actors Irm Hermann and Rosel Zech
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Peter Matthews

My Winnipeg

My Winnipeg – January 20

The geographical dead center of North America and the beloved birthplace of Guy Maddin, Winnipeg is the frosty and mysterious star of Maddin’s “docu-fantasia.” A work of memory and imagination, Maddin’s film burrows into what the filmmaker calls “the heart of the heart” of the continent, conjuring a city as delightful as it is fearsome, populated by sleepwalkers and hockey aficionados. Take part in Winnipeg’s annual epic scavenger hunt! Pay your respects to the racehorses forever frozen in the river! Help judge the yearly homoerotic Golden Boy pageant! What is real and what is fantasy is left up to the viewer to sort out in Maddin’s hypnotic, expertly conceived paean to that wonderful and terrifying place known as My Hometown.

Special Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Conversation between director Guy Maddin and art critic Robert Enright
  • “My Winnipeg” Live in Toronto, a 2008 featurette
  • Various cine-essays by Maddin on Winnipegiana
  • Three Maddin shorts, with introductions by the director: Spanky: To the Pier and Back (2008), Sinclair (2010), and Only Dream Things (2012)
  • Deleted scene
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Wayne Koestenbaum

The Palm Beach Story

The Palm Beach Story – January 20

This wild tale of wacky wedlock from Preston Sturges takes off like a rocket and never lets up. Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert play Tom and Gerry, a married New York couple on the skids, financially and romantically. With Tom hot on her trail, Gerry takes off for Florida on a mission to solve the pair’s money troubles, which she accomplishes in a highly unorthodox manner. A mix of the witty and the utterly absurd, The Palm Beach Story is a high watermark of Sturges’s brand of physical comedy and verbal repartee, featuring sparkling performances from its leads as well as hilarious supporting turns from Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor as a brother and a sister ensnared in Tom and Gerry’s high jinks.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with writer and film historian James Harvey about director Preston Sturges
  • New interview with actor and comedian Bill Hader about Sturges
  • Safeguarding Military Information, a 1942 World War II propaganda short written by Sturges
  • Screen Guild Theater radio adaptation of the film from March 1943
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek

La Ciénaga

La Ciénaga – January 27

The release of Lucrecia Martel’s La ciénaga heralded the arrival of an astonishingly vital and original voice in Argentine cinema. With a radical take on narrative, disturbing yet beautiful cinematography, and a highly sophisticated use of on- and offscreen sound, Martel turns her tale of a decaying bourgeois family, whiling away the hours of one sweaty, sticky summer, into a cinematic marvel. This visceral take on class, nature, sexuality, and the ways political turmoil and social stagnation can manifest in human relationships is a drama of amazing tactility and one of the great contemporary film debuts.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital film transfer, approved by director Lucrecia Martel, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with filmmaker Andrés di Tella about Martel and the film
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • More!
  • PLUS: An essay by critic David Oubiña

Recreating a Tabula Rasa: Dysfunction, Memory, and Domestic Dissolve in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

Recreating a Tabula Rasa: Dysfunction, Memory, and Domestic Dissolve in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night

Side effects: high blood pressure, nausea, numbness, seizures, coma, euphoria, memory loss, psychosis, death. Modern medicine is a marvel. Even though there are usually many side effects of drugs, they are, overall, here for our benefit. What becomes alarming is the misuse of drugs. Whether for prescription or recreational purposes, improper drug usage can have serious, if not life-threatening, side effects. Eugene O’Neill brings the misuse of drugs to the forefront in his 1956 play, Long Day’s Journey into Night. The central characters of the play—James, Mary, Jamie, and Edmund Tyrone—are all drug addicts. The three men—James, Jamie, and Edmund—are alcoholics, and Mary is addicted to morphine. This drug misuse is a means to an end: after the shocking, measles-induced death of Eugene, the middle Tyrone child, the family is compelled to start anew, to recreate a blank slate, a tabula rasa. The regeneration of a tabula rasa, unfortunately, has devastating results. The consequence of such explicit drug use within Long Day’s Journey into Night directly causes a terribly dysfunctional family dynamic. These central characters continually quarrel, though there are moments of sincere love and encouragement; those moments, however, never take root, and the family members continuously react to each other in a love-hate rhythm. The cyclical nature of the Tyrone family dynamic seems to stem from their individual drug use. Familial dysfunction is not the only side effect of drug use; memory plays an important role within this debilitation. The desire to reconstruct a tabula rasa demands an erasure of memory. Unfortunately, this family dysfunction and memory loss leads to the deterioration of the home; the concept of the home, which the Tyrone family attempts to rebuild, falls into disrepair. The family’s use of drugs effectively creates internal dysfunction, memory loss, and the destruction of the family and home in order to start over, in order to recreate a familial tabula rasa.

The concept of the blank slate, this tabula rasa, extends far back into history. Aristotle’s On the Soul (De Anima), a treatise on the intellect and nature of living things, describes how the human mind is an “unscribed tablet” at birth. Aristotle writes: “What it thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing-tablet on which as yet nothing actually stands written: this is exactly what happens with [the] mind” (82). Aristotle argues that, in order to write upon this “unscribed tablet,” one must experience the world and profit from it intellectually. John Locke’s 1689 book, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, continues Aristotle’s thoughts. Locke discusses that infants are brought into the world without any innate principles, and that “there is not the least appearance of any settled ideas at all in them; especially of ideas answering the terms which make up those universal propositions that are esteemed innate principles” (67). According to Locke, it is impossible for infants to enter the world already having inherent thoughts or ideals. Locke also suggests that the construction of an identity can take place through experience. By writing upon this blank slate, an individual is able to create an identity for himself or herself. Identity through experience is also seen in the realm of psychology. Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis touches upon how a person’s identity is created. He states that “mechanisms of the unconscious—resistance, repression, sexuality, and the Oedipus complex” are significant in the creation of an individual’s character (Flitterman-Lewis). Whether these forces are conscious or unconscious—though Freud would argue the unconscious mind holds total power—they all directly influence any person’s unscribed tablet. Thus, it is rather counterintuitive that every member of the Tyrone family wishes to revert back to his or her blank slate in order to wipe away the memory of their lost son and brother. The Tyrones turn to powerful and addictive substances in order to numb the pain and attempt to reconstruct their broken lives.

Although drug use can be seen as a way to experience a higher sense of self-discovery and understanding, the usage of drugs seems to have the opposite effect for the Tyrone family. The Tyrones use drugs, namely alcohol and morphine, in order to feel something in their tempestuous lives; unfortunately, the drug use only creates familial dysfunction, and any moments of feeling alive are cut short. Instead of the Tyrones realizing their full potentials by using drugs, the substances become safe havens for them, places where they can retreat. Mary Tyrone relapses into a morphine addiction after her recent release from rehab, and this is instantly clear from the play’s onset. O’Neill writes: “What strikes one immediately is her extreme nervousness. Her hands are never still…. [O]ne is conscious she is sensitive about their appearance and humiliated by her inability to control the nervousness which draws attention to them” (933). Mary’s fidgeting and paranoia, her “extreme nervousness,” allows the reader to infer that something is indeed affecting her, both physically and mentally. Mary originally needed this narcotic analgesic in order to lessen the pain caused by Edmund’s birth; even though Edmund is not responsible for causing Mary’s relapse, there is an undoubtable link between Mary’s condition and Edmund’s existence. Mary confesses: “But bearing Edmund was the last straw. I was so sick afterwards, and that ignorant quack of a cheap hotel doctor— All he knew was I was in pain. It was easy for him to stop the pain.” (O’Neill 967). Mary later tells Edmund: “You were born afraid. Because I was so afraid to bring you into the world” (O’Neill 979). Mary and Edmund have the strongest relationship within the family—she even states, “I loved you most”—but Mary’s use of morphine obviously puts strain on their relationship (O’Neill 982). Edmund, full of rage, subsequently responds, “It’s pretty hard to take at times, having a dope fiend for a mother!” (O’Neill 983). The tension between them comes to a harrowing conclusion as Edmund leaves her presence. Emotionally distraught, Mary states her desires, her need for morphine: “I must go upstairs. I haven’t taken enough. [She pauses—then longingly] I hope, sometime, without meaning it, I will take an overdose. I never could do it deliberately. The Blessed Virgin would never forgive me then” (O’Neill 983). Mary is so far gone into her morphine addiction that she wishes for death. The loss of Eugene, and the difficult birth of Edmund, has created a powerful dependence that destroys the relationships between her and her family members, which she is desperately trying to salvage.

The Tyrone men’s incessant drinking of alcoholic beverages creates colossal distress on the entire family. The three Tyrone men are constantly consuming alcohol, which influences their violent actions and remarks. They rationalize that drinking alcohol is acceptable as long as it is in moderation. James tells Edmund that “It’d be a waste of breath mentioning moderation to you” after the latter pours a large drink against the former’s wishes (O’Neill 957). Their concept of alcohol moderation, however, is rather excessive. As Stanley Kowalski would say, “Some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often” (Williams 695). The constant ingestion of alcohol leads to verbal abuse toward the other family members. The most tragic consequence of this alcohol abuse is Edmund’s diagnosis of consumption. Mary believes that Edmund is only suffering from a minor illness: “Of course, there’s nothing takes away your appetite like a bad summer cold” (O’Neill 935). However, she fails to acknowledge the possibility of consumption, which is easy to understand once one considers that Mary’s father died from the same disease; she decides to ignore the current circumstances of Edmund’s health. James states that Mary should never know of Edmund’s diagnosis: “I wish to God we could keep the truth from her, but we can’t if he has to be sent to a sanatorium. What makes it worse is her father died of consumption. She worshiped him and she’s never forgotten” (O’Neill 945). Thus, it makes sense for Mary to disregard Edmund’s plummeting health because she figuratively lives within the past. The present and future do not register within her mind, unlike her husband and sons who are future-oriented. Alcohol also spurs memory loss, and so James, Jamie, and Edmund often unknowingly repeat themselves. Hence, the Tyrone men are more inclined to erase their memories of the death of Eugene through memory-affecting alcohol. Unlike Mary, who uses morphine to dull the physical pain of the loss of her child, the Tyrone men use drugs in order to psychologically repress any thought of Eugene and Edmund’s consumption in order to create a new tabula rasa.

The Tyrone family’s drug use spawns dysfunction in their day-to-day lives; the Tyrones constantly struggle to live. In Stella Adler on America’s Master Playwrights, Stella Adler states that the central characters within Long Day’s Journey into Night are heavily isolated and lonely, even though they interact with each other constantly; the characters struggle, and their loneliness and sense of being lost directly influence the dysfunction of the Tyrone family. However, it is not just these faulty interactions that affect this familial chaos. Normand Berlin, in The Cambridge Companion to Eugene O’Neill, posits that there are two essential and climactic events that play into the Tyrone family’s dysfunction: Mary slipping back into morphine use and the diagnosis of Edmund’s tuberculosis. Berlin writes: “O’Neill rivets our attention to what the characters are saying (as each Tyrone uncovers a little more of the past or modifies someone else’s view of the past) and what the characters are feeling (as the rhythm of accusation-regret, harshness-pity, hate-love, beats throughout the play)” (89). No matter how much these family members try to come to terms with their pendulum-like feelings, it appears that they will remain forever within this unforgiving rhythm. “As the play journeys into night,” Berlin writes, “time will be moving toward revelations and confessions, but the circles of repetition will also be felt, resulting in a strange kind of stalemate” or frozenness (90). Even if these “revelations and confessions” occur, the Tyrone family remains static, doomed to repeat the entire day for the rest of their lives. The dysfunction, therefore, is a never-ending cycle, promulgated by their extensive drug use.

Through their drug use, the male Tyrone family members are intentionally trying to erase the memory of Eugene and his tragic death. Asim Karim, in his essay “Trauma of Subjective Memory in Stranger Interlude and Long Day’s Journey into Night,” posits that trauma extensively affects memory. Karim states, “The traumatized responses in [O’Neill’s] persona vary, but are definitely regressive [and] assume psychotic urge[s] for repetition that obstruct individual harmonious integration with the self and others” (156). The traumatic event of losing Eugene, in conjunction with Mary’s relapse into morphine use and Edmund’s recent consumption diagnosis, creates a desire to repress any negativity within the lives of the Tyrone family. The past, present, and future collide when Mary and James argue about their automobile, in which Eugene is coincidentally brought into the discussion. James pleads, “Mary! For God’s sake, forget about the past!” (O’Neill 967). Mary responds, “Why? How can I? The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us” (O’Neill 967). He asks her: “Can’t you let our dead baby rest in peace?” (O’Neill 967). The Tyrone men are more adept at erasing their minds than Mary; one could argue that they have a better tool to do so: morphine eliminates pain and does not affect memory. Mary, who is so “far gone in the past already…in the beginning of the afternoon,” cannot help but think of her dead child; Mary’s inability to forget the past, however, creates an even bigger tension between the family members (O’Neill 966). The men demand to completely eradicate memories of the past, without any acknowledgement of what could occur if they did remember. Near the play’s end, Edmund insists to wipe his memory clean by drinking:

EDMUND: It did pack a wallop, all right. On you, too. [He grins with affectionate teasing.] Even if you’ve never missed a performance! [Aggressively] Well, what’s wrong with being drunk? It’s what we’re after isn’t it? Let’s not kid each other, Papa. Not tonight. We know what we’re trying to forget. [Hurriedly] But let’s not talk about it. It’s no use now.

TYRONE: [dully] No. All we can do is try to be resigned—again.

EDMUND: Or be so drunk you can forget. (O’Neill 988)

Edmund and James (equally referred to as Tyrone) desperately wish to forget their current circumstances and their past lives. Each man desires to forget Edmund’s recent diagnosis and, on a larger scale, the death of Eugene. The most effective way in which James, Jamie, and Edmund can eliminate their memories, is by recreating a tabula rasa through alcohol consumption; they wish to forget their less-than-happy circumstances and, with alcohol as their solution, they are able to revert back to their non-experienced lives.

Through the extensive drug use and dysfunction of the Tyrones, and the male characters’ memory loss, the family is bound to fall apart. And, indeed they do. O’Neill’s play is fashioned around cycles, and so, like the cycle of day and night, the repetition of their conversations and arguments only perpetuates the destruction of the family unit. The play’s title suggests the cyclical nature of the Tyrones’ lives: this long day will ultimately culminate into a horrifying night, only to begin again the next morning. Even if the Tyrones wished to recover themselves, it would be impossible to do so. Once in the swirling maelstrom, it is difficult to get out. And, just like the cyclicality of nature, the Tyrone family’s addictions slowly revolve, as well. Edmund is literally killing himself by drinking alcohol; he will eventually go to a sanatorium, but, once released, he will undoubtedly resume drinking that which nearly kills him. Initially, Edmund is never told he has consumption; James and Jamie want to spare the truth from Edmund and Mary, though they eventually do discover the disease that affects Edmund. Jamie does not want Edmund to go to a cheap sanatorium, but that is all the Tyrones can afford. At the play’s end, however, Edmund accepts James’s offer to go to any sanatorium. James says, “You can choose any place you like! Never mind what it costs! Any place I can afford. Any place you like—within reason” (O’Neill 997). Even though this is the kindest gesture James gives, he still qualifies where Edmund can go: it must be “within reason.” While their relationship is getting better, James is still restricting Edmund’s life; this is just another twist in the maelstrom. Likewise, Mary returns from rehabilitation only to begin using morphine again. This chaotic family life is built upon Mary’s shoulders, which is rather alarming. Mary should never have married into the family because “she could not take the life,” or, more particularly, this family life (Adler 68). Her original dream was to be a nun, but once she “fell in love with James Tyrone, and was so happy for a time,” she decided to marry him instead (O’Neill 1012). Mary, however, cannot merge into the life of a wife and mother. Adler writes: “Who could take such a life? It was rootless. It was without any desire to have a home. It was children brought up without a base or a nest, which makes for unhappiness” (68). Mary leaves her idealized childhood home, and her second home at the monastery, in order to attempt a creation of a new home for James and herself. The results, however, are devastatingly morose.

The concept of the home is tipped on its side in Long Day’s Journey into Night. “Home” becomes increasingly problematic, due to the familial dysfunction, memory loss, and the destruction of the Tyrone family. O’Neill’s stage directions note that the Tyrones are currently residing in their summer home, and so the setting is already temporary. Removing the family from their first home allows for the resurgence of chaos. This summer home is filled with culturally relevant novels, plays, and anthologies, pieces of art and agreeable furniture, but it is cold and distant, uncomfortable and foreign: a petri dish for anarchy. The concept of the home changes due to James’s fixation on houses. James speculates in real estate, but he is so obsessed with his finances that he deprives his family of a livable household. In James’s view, he lives within a house, not a home. When Edmund returns at the beginning of Act 4, he turns on the hall lamp, and James becomes furious. James states, “I told you to turn out that light! We’re not giving a ball. There’s no reason to have the house ablaze with electricity at this time of night, burning up money!” (O’Neill 985). James is fearful of being a “wasteful fool,” and so he never gives his family the opportunity to live freely; he suffocates his family by controlling how the home is run (O’Neill 985). In his essay, “The Spare Room: Long Day’s Journey into Night,” Kurt Eisen argues that Mary is the cornerstone of this “homeless” household. If Mary is the cornerstone of the home, then the family’s vitality is already fated to perish. He writes:

Her desire for a home, along with the Tyrone men’s simultaneous feelings of a sincere love and an equal despair that she will ever escape her addiction, generate the play’s central thematic conflict. ‘Home’ is ironically an absence at the center of the Tyrone family, and O’Neill’s postmelodramatic vision offers very little comfort from God, home, or country. (128)

The separation from the Tyrone family’s first home permits a strange atmosphere. For instance, Edmund states, “As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death!” (O’Neill 1000). Edmund, with his recent diagnosis and torn relationships with his family members, feels detached from his home. Mary, who longs for a home that is comparable to the idealized one she grew up in, works belligerently to make a happy home; however, due to James’s constriction of running the household, her morphine use, and the resulting familial dysfunction and destruction, she never finds solace or a home. The concept of the home, therefore, crumbles before the Tyrone family without any hope for its repair.

The play culminates in a series of confessions, which allows the members of the Tyrone family to understand each other more fully. Yet, it is entirely ineffective. After Mary’s confession, O’Neill then writes: “[She stares before her in a sad dream. TYRONE stirs in his chair. EDMUND and JAMIE remain motionless.]” (O’Neill 1012). The family members become stagnant, and any hope of changing their lives is impossible. They endlessly wait for the beginning of the cycle to start again. No matter what is said during this long day, the night resets their lives and their dysfunction. The inability for the characters to move at the end of the play signifies their inability to resolve their family issues, an incompetence to recreate a familial tabula rasa. Since they cannot move at all, they will undoubtedly remain in the past-ridden present, without any hope for a future. In addition, the possibility of Edmund’s death would only recreate this familial chaos twofold. The remaining family members would have an even more difficult time with living. O’Neill’s play, though autobiographical, taps into the American conscious. The play was first performed and published in 1956, but it was written in the early 1940s when America had just entered the war. With the world in chaos, the focus of the play on a dysfunctional family makes sense. The Tyrone family is a representation of a world in conflict: one that wishes to forget the past while simultaneously fighting various demons and planning for a future. Long Day’s Journey into Night is a warning of what can occur when a world is in pandemonium and drug use is the only way to numb the problem. Just as the Tyrone family is having difficulty recreating a tabula rasa, the world will too.

Works Cited

Adler, Stella. “Five: Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956).” Stella Adler on America’s Master Playwrights. Ed. Barry Paris. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 61-80. Print.

Aristotle. “Book III.” On the Soul. Trans. J. A. Smith. The Internet Classics Archive. The Internet Classics Archive, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

Berlin, Normand. “The late plays.” The Cambridge Companion to Eugene O’Neill. Ed. Michael Manheim. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 82-95. Print.

Eisen, Kurt. “The Spare Room: Long Day’s Journey into Night.” The Inner Strength of Opposites: O’Neill’s Novelistic Drama and the Melodramatic Imagination. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1994. 124-153. Print.

Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy. “Psychoanalysis, Film, and Television.” n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://journalism.uoregon.edu/~cbybee/j388/psych.html&gt;.

Karim, Asim. “Trauma Of Subjective Memory In Strange Interlude And Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Asian Social Science 6.9 (2010): 156-167. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/locke/humanund.pdf&gt;.

O’Neill, Eugene. Long Day’s Journey into Night. The Norton Anthology of Drama, Volume Two: The Nineteenth Century to the Present. Ed. J. Ellen Gainor, Stanton B. Garner Jr., and H. Martin Puchner. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 933-1012. Print.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. The Norton Anthology of Drama, Volume Two: The Nineteenth Century to the Present. Ed. J. Ellen Gainor, Stanton B. Garner Jr., and H. Martin Puchner. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 686-751. Print.

“Foreign Correspondent” Blu-ray Unboxing

A new, Blu-ray only edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent is being released today by the Criterion Collection. The film was originally released as a Blu-ray/DVD set back in February of this year. And, since I prefer digipaks, I decided to purchase the older edition. And, here we go:

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The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 3

Part 1    Part 2

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 3

Lolita - Novel American Beauty - Film

In comparing these first encounters between the novel and the film, through the poetic prose and the visual surrogate of it, it becomes undeniably clear that both Humbert and Lester are obsessed with their respective nymphets. This is the core aspect that has been adapted from the novel to Mendes’ film; true, American Beauty is not a visualized replica of Nabokov’s novel, but the heart of the novel is translated seamlessly into this particular film—much more seamlessly than the two previous adaptations of Lolita. There are obvious parallels between the two texts, and each character acts in rather similar ways. The descriptions of the events, though the events themselves are different, are constructed in a way that elucidates the protagonists’ obsessions. Humbert’s obsession for younger girls remains whereas this is obsession is a singular occurrence for Lester and it does eventually end. Although there are distinct parallels between the two texts, this is a notable exception that must be addressed.

Lester Burnham is representative of a modernized version of the postmodern Humbert. While both Humbert and Lester are obsessed with young females—equally latching onto these girls as ideas of love that they believe will fulfill their desires and fantasies—the former acts on his obsessions whereas the latter does not because his morals stop him in his tracks. Lester transforms into this modernized character when he realizes that the flesh-and-blood Angela is not the Angela he constantly envisions, and he is no longer fascinated or in love with her. Humbert does not make this transformation. When Humbert visits Lolita at the end of the novel, he sees her as “hopelessly worn at seventeen” but that he still “loved her more than anything [he] had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else. She was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of the nymphet [he] had rolled [himself] upon with such cries in the past” (Nabokov 277). Yes, Lolita is his sin, but he still loves her and he cannot erase the various sexual encounters he had with her. When Lester attempts to have sex with Angela, he is struck by an epiphany and knows that his love for Angela is a farce. Angela is not who he thought she was; he cannot continue in his quest of youth-attainment and sexual fulfillment and recognizes that he must stop. The real frailty and innocence of Angela is seen and this reminds Lester of his estranged daughter, Jane, the one person he wants to reconnect with. He senses that if he were to consummate this fantasy relationship, he would essentially be harming Jane. “Lester’s seduction of the girl at the film’s end, thwarted by the realization that she is a virgin, gives way to a more paternal posturing, where he feeds and covers her and uses the opportunity to inquire about the well-being of his daughter” (McKittrick 6). Lester must grow up and he tries to connect with his daughter through Angela. She is no longer Lester’s obsession and he attempts, in a roundabout way, to reform his broken family; he discovers that happiness lies within his family, and he desires to reclaim that happiness (as seen when he is staring at a photo of Carolyn, Jane, and himself directly before he is killed). The process of fragmentation he slowly spiraled into, sparked by his sexual obsession with Angela, is now reversed, and Lester becomes a modernized version of his postmodern counterpart, a morally “improved” character who is appropriate for contemporary cinema-goers.

There are entirely too many factors present within Sam Mendes’ American Beauty to state that it is a direct film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Yet, there is an interesting and obvious comparison when one focuses solely on the relationships between the two central characters of each text—Humbert/Lolita and Lester/Angela. While Lolita remains in the postmodern present, Mendes reimagines the characters in the modern past; Lester has specifically been transformed from a postmodern character to a modern character. This is certainly not revelatory, but this modification can be seen as an “improvement” for modern-day audiences. American films, generally, like to present obstacles and come to a solution. This adaptation of Humbert to Lester does not simplify the character, but bases him within a moral confine that is, perhaps, easier for 21st century viewers to handle. Adaptation is tricky, and changes must be made because of the two differing media. In saving only the core relationship between Humbert and Lolita in this adaptation, there is a lower risk of Mendes “betraying” his audiences who have read the novel and a higher risk of accepting this film as its own, with obvious influences from Nabokov’s novel of course.

Works Cited

McKittrick, Casey. “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 47 (2001): 3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. Print.

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 2

Part 1

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 2

Lolita - Novel American Beauty - Film

Where Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Lolita falters and Lyne’s adaptation slightly improves, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty shines brightly. The interior monologue-ness of the novel is nearly erased in Kubrick’s film; while it is improved upon in Lyne’s film with the use of relevant voice-over, it is reimagined in Mendes’ film with the use of dream sequences. The novel’s prose is highly poetic, and, at times, almost lyrical; it brings the reader into the novel and seduces him or her into the stylized web of thinking that is Humbert’s consciousness. From the novel’s beginning, the reader is caught into believing Humbert’s obvious obsession with his prized possession: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta” (9). Not only is this a way in which Humbert can describe his obsession with Lolita, but it is also a stylistic modality that beautifully forces her name into the reader’s mouth; now the reader can mentally and physically understand the importance of Lolita. Nabokov’s highly stylized diction is entertaining in and of itself, but it also conjures up sympathy for Lolita’s protagonist. Through this prose, the reader can connect—to some degree—with this pedophilic murderer: “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style” (9). One cannot help but connect with Humbert. Furthermore, the intermittent use of French—the language of love—also helps to build a relationship with Humbert, even if the reader does not know the language; it presents the protagonist as a sophisticated debonair, making it difficult to not be seduced. Nabokov’s prose is essential to understanding Humbert’s character; however, it is difficult to translate prose into dialogue, a central means of relating information to the viewer. While voice-over can be effective in reproducing Nabokov’s poetic style and the interior mind of Humbert, as seen in Lyne’s film, it would more than likely be intolerable if used constantly throughout the film. Instead, a filmmaker must decide how to properly convey this style. In “Pistols And Cherry Pies: Lolita From Page To Screen,” Dan Burn states that “[v]isual references function in place of the dense texture of verbal punning and allusion which Nabokov uses throughout the novel” (246). To represent the verbal texture through visuals, as Burn suggests, is a way in which Lolita’s atmosphere and poetic context can be reproduced. Through the use of dream sequences, Mendes is able to replicate Nabokov’s highly sophisticated writing style as a visual surrogate.

The poetic prose Nabokov uses in his novel is reinterpreted in Mendes’ American Beauty as dream sequences, usually involving rose petals. These dream sequences take the viewer directly into the mind of Lester, and so we are able to instantly recognize that this is within his head. This effectively replaces the voice-over (though it is used throughout the film as well), and gives us a visual representation of Lester’s obsession with Angela; visuals, one can argue, hold a greater importance in this medium. The rose petals, a common trope in poetry and literature, come to symbolize Lester’s love and sexual desire, a “represent[ation of] a pleasurable fragmentation (McKittrick 6). However, the rose petals do not just symbolize the sexual desire Lester has for Angela. Carolyn is seen cutting and pruning her roses—demonstrative of their failing relationship and marriage, which is, according to Lester, Carolyn’s fault. Jane wears a rose-covered shirt at one point in the film, which suggests possible incest between Lester and Jane, illustrative of the father/(step)daughter relationship in Nabokov’s novel. Yet, Angela is usually most associated with rose petals. Multiple dream sequences with Lester and Angela contain rose petals in one way or another and easily correlate to the poetic prose of the novel, a visual substitute. One instance in the film that beautifully represents Mendes’ use of a dream sequence is directly after he first encounters Angela:

INT. BURNHAM HOUSE – MASTER BEDROOM – A FEW HOURS LATER

CLOSE on a solitary red ROSE PETAL as it falls slowly through the air.

We’re looking down on Lester and Carolyn in bed. Even in sleep, Carolyn looks determined.

Lester is awake and stares up at us.

LESTER: It’s the weirdest thing.

The ROSE PETAL drifts into view, landing on his pillow.

LESTER (cont’d): I feel like I’ve been in a coma for about twenty years, and I’m just now waking up.

More ROSE PETALS fall onto the bed, and he smiles up at…

His POV: Angela, naked, FLOATS above us as a deluge of ROSE PETALS falls around her.

Her hair fans out around her head and GLOWS with a subtle, burnished light. She looks down at us with a smile that is all things…

Lester smiles back and LAUGHS, as ROSE PETALS cover his face.

LESTER (cont’d): Spec-tac-ular. (Ball)

The sight of Angela has wakened Lester from a twenty-year coma; he is, essentially, reborn. This dream sequence illustrates Angela both as an innocent angel, complete with halo, and as a sexually desirable female. The deluge of petals, falling onto Lester’s body, signifies Lester’s desire for Angela. He smiles and laughs, knowing that he has found a new object of desire, a new obsession that can reactivate his life and be his fountain of youth. Lester, in a very Humbertian way, enunciates each syllable in “spectacular,” just as Nabokov does with “Lo. Lee. Ta” (9). Humbert’s desire for Lolita forces the reader to read her name in a specific manner; likewise, Lester’s reaction to seeing this rose petal-clad young woman forces him embrace and linger on his newfound obsession. Even though this is a vision, Lester is confident and now wishes to include Angela in his life. This dream sequence, one of many, shows Lester’s intense fixation on Angela.

Another dream sequence, which occurs in in the latter section of the film, again illustrates Lester’s desire for and fascination of Angela. The use of rose petals surfaces once more, bringing the poetic quality of Nabokov’s writing back to the forefront. Alan Ball writes:

She reaches inside the refrigerator to grab a bottle. As she does, she moves to place her other hand casually on Lester’s shoulder. He sees it coming. Everything SLOWS DOWN, and all sound FADES…

EXTREME CLOSE UP on her hand as it briefly touches his shoulder in SLOW MOTION. We HEAR only the amplified BRUSH of her fingers against the fabric of his suit, and its unnatural, hollow ECHO…

BACK IN REAL TIME: She grabs the root beer and smiles at him.

CLOSE on Lester: his eyes narrow slightly, then:

He cups her face in his hands and kisses her. She seems shocked, but doesn’t resist as he pulls her toward him with surprising strength. He breaks the kiss, looking at her in awe, then he reaches up and touches his lips. His eyes widen as he pulls a ROSE PETAL from his mouth right before we SMASH CUT TO:

INT. BURNHAM HOUSE – KITCHEN – CONTINUOUS.

Fantasy qualities are apparent within this portion of the text, as seen in the use of slow motion and the “unnatural” aspects of sound and jumping in time These features help set a specific dreamlike atmosphere. The rose petal, as representative of poetic style, reemerges. The petal, however, holds even more significant meaning here because Lester and Angela kiss; as a symbol for sexual desire, and winning Angela’s affections, Lester receives that youthfulness and sexuality that he longs from her. As Kurt Fawver, in his essay “Little Girls and Psychic Fiends: Nabokov’s Lolita as Vampire Tale,” states, it’s “possible that Humbert’s aberrant sexual proclivities are…attempts to drain Lolita’s essence so that he may be spiritually resurrected and renewed” (133). Just as Humbert sucks the blood out of Lolita’s body—“not simply as a dermatological aid, but as sustenance”—a similar representation is presented here with the transference of the red rose petal (Fawver 133). Now that Angela is the trigger for his reawakening, he can, through these physical interactions—though they are solely within his mind—“drain” Angela’s youth and sexual libido. Lester is using Angela in an uncannily similar way that Humbert is using Lolita. He is restoring himself with the aid of his prey. This dream sequence, again, is a visual representation of Nabokov’s prose; his poetic style and the usage of these roses are analogous. That fact that these petals emerge time and again within American Beauty suggests just how deeply rooted Lester is in his obsession with Angela.

The visualization of Nabokov’s poetic prose facilitates Lester’s obsessive thoughts of Angela. Just as the novel depicts Humbert’s initial nymphet obsession—that is, Annabel—Lester’s initial obsession with Angela is just as impactful. Humbert’s obsession with Annabel is taken over by his obsession with Lolita, however, who he sees clearly, almost as if she is a projection on a screen. However, Annabel and Lolita are actually one in the same; much like in Poe’s fiction, Nabokov presents both these characters as dream figures, ciphers for Humbert’s imagination—although they are real entities, they do not fully exist except in Humbert’s mind. Humbert first sees Lolita in a garden, in “a sudden burst of greenery…in a pool of sun” that frames the “half-naked” Lolita (Nabokov 39). Thus, one can immediately connect Lolita to nature, especially when one considers Humbert’s remark to Charlotte Haze’s presentation of her daughter and her lilies simultaneously; Nabokov writes, “‘That was my Lo,’ she said, ‘and these are my lilies,’” in which Humbert responds, “‘Yes,’ I said, ‘yes.’ They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!’” (40). Humbert is obviously commenting on Lolita rather than the lilies, but, here, the two bleed together, becoming one in the same. As Paolo Simonetti states in his essay “The Maniac In The Garden: Lolita And The Process Of American Civilization,” the reader, because of this simultaneous presentation, “inevitably associates the garden with Lolita” (155). Painting Lolita as an innocent yet desirable character—almost like Eve in Eden—gives her significance for Humbert and he is immediately entranced. This becomes even clearer when one considers how cinematically Nabokov is writing; his descriptions are fully formed in one’s mind. The effect of meeting Lolita for the first time creates an earth-shattering obsession. Nabokov writes:

I find it most difficult to express with adequate force that flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition. In the course of the sun-shot moment that my glance slithered over the kneeling child…while I passed her by in my disguise (a great big handsome hunk of movieland manhood), the vacuum of my soul managed to suck in every detail of her bright beauty. (39)

Humbert’s fascination and obsession of Lolita is instantaneous. He wishes to drink up every detail of her—in vampiric fashion—which enables him to constantly have a mental picture of her. Humbert is unable to, with “adequate force,” fully illuminate his complete enthrallment with Lolita. The striking “impact of passionate recognition” seen in Nabokov’s novel makes a reappearance in American Beauty where terms of nature—that is, the rose petals—bloom into view.

Lester Burnham’s first encounter with Angela is just as affecting and entrancing as Humbert’s first meeting with Lolita. The metaphoric connection between Lolita and nature rematerializes here; what is even more interesting, though, is that nature is used in a nature-less setting. The use of the rose petals, thus, makes Angela unique in reference to the other individuals in the scene; she easily becomes the focus for Lester and he can imagine her in his own terms. Mendes’ film relocates the action to a gymnasium where, during halftime, Jane, Angela and the rest of the Dancing Spartanettes perform their routine:

His POV: Jane performs well, concentrating. Dancing awkwardly next to her is Angela.

Suddenly Angela looks right at us and smiles… a lazy, insolent smile.

Lester leans forward in his seat.

His POV: We’re focused on Angela now. Everything starts to SLOW DOWN… the MUSIC acquires an eerie ECHO…

We ZOOM slowly toward Lester as he watches, transfixed.

His POV: Angela’s awkwardness gives way to a fluid grace, and “ON BROADWAY” FADES into dreamy, hypnotic MUSIC. The light on Angela grows stronger, and the other girls DISAPPEAR entirely.

Lester is suddenly alone in the stands, spellbound.

His POV: Angela looks directly at us now, dancing only for Lester. Her movements take on a blatantly erotic edge as she starts to unzip her uniform, teasing us with an expression that’s both innocent and knowing, then… she pulls her uniform OPEN and a profusion of RED ROSE PETALS spill forth… and we SMASH CUT TO:

INT. HIGH SCHOOL GYMNASIUM – CONTINUOUS

Angela, fully clothed, is once again surrounded by the other girls. The HIGH SCHOOL BAND plays its last note, the Dancing Spartanettes strike their final pose, and the audience APPLAUDS. (Ball)

Ball, just like Nabokov, writes in cinematic terms. “[M]uch of the film’s mise-en-scène,” such as this first encounter scene, “is devoted to his fantasy of ‘getting’ the adolescent girl” (McKittrick 5). The music changes from The Drifters’ poppy-soul track to that of dreams and hypnosis; again, Lester is completely spellbound by Angela. The crowded stadium becomes virtually empty and Lester becomes the sole voyeur of Angela’s erotic dance, now brightly illuminated in her own pool of sun. Everything begins to slow down and the viewer is able to see how close Lester and Angela symbolically get, even with the vast emptiness surrounding them. In wiping the slate clean—by eliminating the crowd of spectators—Angela becomes Lester’s, at least in his mind. Additionally, one could argue that in eliminating his competition, the budding flower that is Angela can flourish. Likewise, the fact that she is “both innocent and knowing” plays with the concept of seeing her as a part of nature; so, quite expectedly, when she unzips her uniform, “a profusion of RED ROSE PETALS spill forth” (Ball). This scene, as do the other dream sequences, provides the interior monologue aspect from the novel and transplants it into the film. We are able to get a glimpse inside Lester’s head, just as we are able to read Humbert’s thoughts on the page.

 

Works Cited

American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. Perf. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari. DreamWorks Pictures, 1999. Film.

Ball, Alan. American Beauty. N.d. Final draft. Dailyscript.com. Web. 1 May 2014.

Burns, Dan E. “Pistols And Cherry Pies: Lolita From Page To Screen.” Literature Film Quarterly 12.4 (1984): 245. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Fawver, Kurt. “Little Girls And Psychic Fiends: Nabokov’s Lolita As Vampire Tale.” Notes & Queries 58.1 (2011): 133-138. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 May 2014.

McKittrick, Casey. “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 47 (2001): 3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. Print.

Simonetti, Paolo. “The Maniac In The Garden: Lolita And The Process Of American Civilization.” Critique 53.2 (2012): 149-163. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 May 2014.

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 1

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 1

Lolita - Novel American Beauty - Film

Adapting popular short stories, plays, and novels to celluloid is an inevitable phenomenon. For some pieces of literature, it takes years to produce a film; for others, like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, it takes just months to go from page to screen. Various obstacles appear in adapting literary works, especially those known the world over, so certain choices are made in order for the film to be produced and reach the global market. This means that changes are unavoidable. One must remember that making films is a business, thus films must be made in order to appeal to the widest ranging public as humanly possible—at least for the larger studios. This is ever so much the case in the various adaptations of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita. Nabokov’s novel details thirty-something Humbert Humbert’s pedophilic obsession with a twelve-year-old “nymphet,” the eponymous Lolita. Humbert’s constant obsession with this young girl is fascinatingly intriguing in the novel, but is less apparent in the first film adaptation. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1962, the Humbert of this film, played by James Mason, is a simplified version of Nabokov’s psychologically complex Humbert. Humbert’s obsession with Lolita (Sue Lyon) seems to be the first of its kind, and he appears more as a father figure rather than an older lover; while their relationship is present in the film, Humbert’s obsession is less of a focus. Adrian Lyne’s 1997 adaptation of Nabokov’s novel presents a more “faithful” depiction of the novel’s plot and of Humbert (Jeremy Irons) and Lolita’s (Dominique Swain) relationship, but it is devoid of the novel’s romanticized passion; unlike the novel’s Humbert, this Humbert does not seem fully entranced with this Lolita. Perhaps a more accurate illustration of Humbert and Lolita’s relationship is seen in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999). While neither character directly appears in the film, they are equivalently portrayed in the characters of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). While there are several differences between Nabokov’s Lolita and American Beauty, the relationship between these two characters, as depicted through Mendes’ poetic visuals and obsession-obvious first interactions, illustrate a comparable relationship.

One may question whether or not American Beauty actually is an adaptation of Lolita; and, yes, it does seem difficult to define it as such. Yet, it also seems remarkably uncanny that Lester Burnham is an anagram for Humbert Learns and that Lester falls in love with a girl with the last name of Hayes. American Beauty is undoubtedly inspired by Nabokov’s novel, if only when one considers the relationship between Lester and Angela. The novel Lolita focuses mainly on the relationship between Humbert and the titular character, and this central focus returns in the form of Lester and Angela’s relationship; more precisely, it is the obsession Lester has with Angela that is undeniably similar to that of Humbert’s obsession with Lolita. Mendes’ film, however, incorporates other factors and characters that complicate the notion that it is an adaptation of Lolita. Lester’s life is in shambles and he is having a mid-life crisis. He is in a crumbling marriage with Carolyn (Annette Bening) and his relationship with his daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is, to put it mildly, distant. He quits his magazine-writing job of fourteen years and finds employment at Mr. Smiley’s, a fast-food restaurant. While Humbert is married a few times, his marriages are relatively short and do not cause any immediate consequences; additionally, Humbert does not have a biological daughter, just a stepdaughter, Lolita. These differences certainly complicate the Humbert/Lester parallel.

Thus, more direct comparisons between Humbert/Lolita and Lester/Angela should also be considered in viewing American Beauty as an adaptation. In the novel, Lolita is twelve—a definitive nymphet, a maiden “[b]etween the age limits of nine and fourteen” (Nabokov 16). However, Angela is not technically a nymphet. While her exact age is not given, she is in the latter part of her high school career. Even though Angela is older and is more cognizant of her flirtatious advances toward Lester, she is still a virgin, which places her in the realm of youth and innocence. While Humbert has had an obsession with nymphets for decades—beginning with the Poe-etic Annabel in his early teens—this is, to the best of our knowledge, Lester’s first occurrence of loving or fantasizing about a minor. Furthermore, Lester and Angela never end up having sex, which is in complete contrast to Humbert and Lolita. Casey McKittrick, in his essay “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness,” posits that these changes are too drastic to identify Angela as Lolita’s double. McKittrick writes:

The specularization of her body, combined with her adultlike knowingness, may tip the scales from perceiving her as a ‘woman-child’ to identifying her as a woman. Finally, the sexual relationship never comes to fruition; Angela’s ‘deflowering’ never takes place. Thus she remains an object of erotic fantasy, but her (filmic) body remains untouched or, at least, unpenetrated. (6)

McKittrick is correct when he states that a viewer may identify Angela as a woman, far removed from the cusp of initial puberty; yet, since Angela is not “deflowered” by Lester, she actually retains her innocence, which essentially tips the scales back to perceiving her as the “woman-child” figure. Nevertheless, Angela does remain “an object of erotic fantasy” for Lester, which undoubtedly signals the immoral obsession he has for her. While the novel’s Humbert is morally ambiguous—a trait indicative of postmodernity—Lester seems to have more of a moral compass, exemplified in his fight with Carolyn, who threatens him with divorce: “On what grounds? I’m not a drunk, I don’t fuck other women, I don’t mistreat you, I’ve never hit you, or even tried to touch you since you made it so abundantly clear just how unnecessary you consider me to be” (American Beauty). This not only illustrates Lester and Carolyn’s marital problems, but it also depicts that Lester has moral obligations to his family, even when his family members are unresponsive to his desires. Similarly, the fact that Lester does not end up having sex with Angela—he refrains from acting upon his obsessive desires—further demonstrates his morality, widening the gap between Humbert and Lester. Even with all of these notable differences, Lester’s obsession with Angela is easily correlated with Humbert’s obsession with Lolita. The obsession itself is the crux of interpreting these characters as a single unit. All of the noted factors play a role within American Beauty and the character of Lester, but the obsession seen within the film outshines the same depiction in direct adaptations of Nabokov’s novel—that is, the films directed by Kubrick and Lyne. The base of the novel is Humbert’s obsession with Lolita, and this is beautifully illustrated in Mendes’ film. Thus, American Beauty is not an adaptation of Nabokov’s entire work, but strictly of the obsession Humbert has for Lolita.

Works Cited

American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. Perf. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari. DreamWorks Pictures, 1999. Film.

McKittrick, Casey. “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 47 (2001): 3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. Print.

Criterion Announces November 2014 Titles

Well, it’s the middle of the month, and Criterion has announced its November 2014 release titles. Here you go:

The Shooting:Ride in the Whirlwind

The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind – November 11

In the mid-sixties, the maverick American director Monte Hellman conceived of two westerns at the same time. Dreamlike and gritty by turns, the two films would prove their maker’s adeptness at brilliantly deconstructing genre. As shot back-to-back for famed producer Roger Corman, they feature overlapping casts and crews, including Jack Nicholson in two of his meatiest early roles. The films—The Shooting, about a motley assortment of loners following a mysterious wanted man through a desolate frontier, and Ride in the Whirlwind, about a group of cowhands pursued by vigilantes for crimes they did not commit—are rigorous, artful, and wholly unconventional journeys into the American West.

The Shooting
In this eerie, existential western directed by Monte Hellman and written by Carole Eastman (Five Easy Pieces), Warren Oates and Will Hutchins play a bounty hunter and his sidekick who are talked by a mysterious woman (Millie Perkins) into leading her into the desert on a murkily motivated revenge mission. Things are further complicated by the addition to their crew of an enigmatic drifter (Jack Nicholson) who seems to delight in sadistically toying with the two men. Hellman’s singular odyssey is a vision of the weird old west unlike any other, a spare and challenging work leading to a provocative ending.

Ride in the Whirlwind
Working from a thoughtful script by Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman fashioned this moody and tense western about a trio of cowhands who are mistaken for robbers and must outrun and hide from a posse of bloodthirsty vigilantes in the wilds of Utah. A grim yet gripping tale of chance and blind frontier justice, Ride in the Whirlwind is brought to life by a compelling cast, including Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell, Millie Perkins, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restorations of both films, supervised by director Monte Hellman, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentaries on both films, featuring Hellman and film historians Bill Krohn and Blake Lucas
  • New interviews with actors John Hackett, B. J. Merholz, Millie Perkins, and Harry Dean Stanton, assistant director Gary Kurtz, and chief wrangler Calvin Johnson, all in conversation with Hellman
  • New conversation between actor Will Hutchins and film programmer Jake Perlin
  • New video essay on actor Warren Oates by critic Kim Morgan
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Michael Atkinson
  • More!

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night – November 18

Opposites attract with magnetic force in this romantic road-trip delight from Frank Capra, about a spoiled runaway socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a roguish man-of-the-people reporter (Clark Gable) who is determined to get the scoop on her scandalous disappearance. The first film to accomplish the very rare feat of sweeping all five major Oscar categories (best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay), It Happened One Night is among the most gracefully constructed and edited films of the early sound era, packed with clever situations and gags that have entered the Hollywood comedy pantheon. Featuring two actors at the top of their game, sparking with a chemistry that has never been bettered, this is the birth of the screwball comedy.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New conversation between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate
  • Frank Capra’s American Dream, a 1997 feature-length documentary
  • Director Frank Capra’s first film, the 1922 silent short The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House
  • American Film Institute tribute to Capra from 1982
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme
  • More!

L'Avventura

L’avventura – November 25

Michelangelo Antonioni invented a new film grammar with this masterwork. An iconic piece of challenging 1960s cinema and a gripping narrative in its own right, L’avventura concerns the enigmatic disappearance of a young woman during a yachting trip off the coast of Sicily, and the search taken up by her disaffected lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend (Monica Vitti, in her breakout role). Antonioni’s controversial international sensation is a gorgeously shot tale of modern ennui and spiritual isolation.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring film historian Gene Youngblood
  • Selected-scene commentary by filmmaker Olivier Assayas
  • Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials, a fifty-eight-minute 1966 documentary by Gianfranco Mingozzi
  • Writings by director Michelangelo Antonioni, read by actor Jack Nicholson, plus Nicholson’s personal recollections of the director
  • New English subtitle translation
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, along with the statement Antonioni made about the film and the letter that circulated in support of it after its 1960 Cannes premiere

Tootsie

Tootsie – November 25

In Tootsie, the character Michael Dorsey lands the role of a lifetime—as does the actor playing him, Dustin Hoffman. This multilayered comedy from director Sydney Pollack follows the increasingly elaborate deception of a down-on-his-luck New York actor who disguises himself as a woman to get a coveted soap opera gig; while his female persona skyrockets to fame, he finds himself learning to be a better man. Hoffman’s ball-busting yet disarmingly sweet Dorothy Michaels is a sensational comic creation, given support by a stellar cast including Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Teri Garr, George Gaynes, Bill Murray, and, in her first Oscar-winning role, Jessica Lange. Imbued with poignant drama, Tootsie is a funny and cutting film from an American moment defined by shifting social and sexual identities.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring director Sydney Pollack, taken from Criterion’s 1991 laserdisc edition of the film
  • New interviews with actor Dustin Hoffman and comedy writer Phil Rosenthal
  • Interview with Dorothy Michaels by film critic Gene Shalit, from the film’s production
  • Making of “Tootsie,” a 1982 documentary directed by Rocky Lang
  • A Better Man: The Making of “Tootsie,” a 2007 documentary directed by Charles Kiselyak and featuring interviews with Pollack; actors Dabney Coleman, Teri Garr, Hoffman, and Jessica Lange; and writers Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal
  • Screen and wardrobe test footage of Hoffman
  • Deleted scenes and trailers
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Michael Sragow

Les Blank - Always for Pleasure

Les Blank: Always for Pleasure – November 25

An uncompromisingly independent filmmaker, Les Blank made documentaries for nearly fifty years, elegantly disappearing with his camera into cultural spots rarely seen on-screen—mostly on the peripheries of the United States, but also occasionally abroad. Seemingly off-the-cuff yet poetically constructed, these films are humane, sometimes wry, always engaging tributes to musicians, food, and all sorts of regionally specific delights. This collector’s set provides a diverse survey of Les Blank’s vast output, including the warmly funny The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins, about the legendary Texas musician; Always for Pleasure, which captures the vivacious spirit of New Orleans; Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, a hilarious celebration of the pungent, flavorful “stinking rose” of the title; and eleven other unexpected features, plus eight of Blank’s short films.

Films Include: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968); God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance (1968); Spend It All (1971); A Well Spent Life (1971); Dry Wood (1973); Hot Pepper (1973); Always for Pleasure (1978); Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980); Sprout Wings and Fly (1983); In Heaven There Is No Beer? (1984); Gap-Toothed Women (1987); Yum, Yum, Yum (1990); The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists (1994); Sworn to the Drum (1995).

Special Features:

  • New 2K digital restorations of all fourteen films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays
  • Excerpt from Les Blank: A Quiet Revelation, an upcoming documentary by Gina Leibrecht
  • New interviews with director Les Blank’s sons, Harrod and Beau; Blank documentary subject Gerald Gaxiola (a.k.a. the Maestro); filmmakers Skip Gerson, Maureen Gosling, Taylor Hackford, Tom Luddy, and Chris Simon; and chef and author Alice Waters
  • Blank’s short films Lightnin’ Les (1968), Mr. Charlie, Your Rollin’ Mill Is Burnin’ Down (1968), The Sun’s Gonna Shine (1968), More Fess (1978), Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge (1991), My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge (1995), and The Maestro Rides Again (2005)
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Andrew Horton