Film

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Three endings to the same story. First, the ending to William Wyler’s film The Heiress, adapted by Ruth and Augustus Goetz from their own 1947 stage adaptation of James’s 1880 novel. Olivia de Havilland won an Oscar for her portrayal of Catherine Sloper, the homely daughter of an overprotective father, played by Ralph Richardson. (As in several other categories, The Heiress‘s supporting actor nomination for Richardson lost out to All the King’s Men. Montgomery Clift, for what it’s worth, wasn’t nominated for Best Actor.)

Here’s another take, from the 1997 adaptation of Washington Square directed by Agnieszka Holland and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ben Chaplin. Just as Clift was, Chaplin seems too handsome in the final scene: I want to see Morris fat and bald. I don’t remember much else about this adaptation — it’s been years since I’ve seen it — except for my impression that it seemed to get the provincialism of 1850s Washington Square North dead on. The parties seemed so small town. In any case, its final scene:

And here’s how the novel ends:

“You treated me badly,” said Catherine.

“Not if you think of it rightly. You had your quiet life with your father–which was just what I could not make up my mind to rob you of.”

“Yes; I had that.”

Morris felt it to be a considerable damage to his cause that he could not add that she had had something more besides; for it is needless to say that he had learnt the contents of Dr. Sloper’s will. He was nevertheless not at a loss. “There are worse fates than that!” he exclaimed, with expression; and he might have been supposed to refer to his own unprotected situation. Then he added, with a deeper tenderness, “Catherine, have you never forgiven me?”

“I forgave you years ago, but it is useless for us to attempt to be friends.”

“Not if we forget the past. We have still a future, thank God!”

“I can’t forget–I don’t forget,” said Catherine. “You treated me too badly. I felt it very much; I felt it for years.” And then she went on, with her wish to show him that he must not come to her this way, “I can’t begin again–I can’t take it up. Everything is dead and buried. It was too serious; it made a great change in my life. I never expected to see you here.”

“Ah, you are angry!” cried Morris, who wished immensely that he could extort some flash of passion from her mildness. In that case he might hope.

“No, I am not angry. Anger does not last, that way, for years. But there are other things. Impressions last, when they have been strong. But I can’t talk.”

Morris stood stroking his beard, with a clouded eye. “Why have you never married?” he asked abruptly. “You have had opportunities.”

“I didn’t wish to marry.”

“Yes, you are rich, you are free; you had nothing to gain.”

“I had nothing to gain,” said Catherine.

Morris looked vaguely round him, and gave a deep sigh. “Well, I was in hopes that we might still have been friends.”

“I meant to tell you, by my aunt, in answer to your message–if you had waited for an answer–that it was unnecessary for you to come in that hope.”

“Good-bye, then,” said Morris. “Excuse my indiscretion.”

He bowed, and she turned away–standing there, averted, with her eyes on the ground, for some moments after she had heard him close the door of the room.

In the hall he found Mrs. Penniman, fluttered and eager; she appeared to have been hovering there under the irreconcilable promptings of her curiosity and her dignity.

“That was a precious plan of yours!” said Morris, clapping on his hat.

“Is she so hard?” asked Mrs. Penniman.

“She doesn’t care a button for me–with her confounded little dry manner.”

“Was it very dry?” pursued Mrs. Penniman, with solicitude.

Morris took no notice of her question; he stood musing an instant, with his hat on. “But why the deuce, then, would she never marry?”

“Yes–why indeed?” sighed Mrs. Penniman. And then, as if from a sense of the inadequacy of this explanation, “But you will not despair–you will come back?”

“Come back? Damnation!” And Morris Townsend strode out of the house, leaving Mrs. Penniman staring.

Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy work, had seated herself with it again–for life, as it were.

I plan to write a little bit about that last line for Wednesday. In the meantime, what do you make of the contrasts between these wrap-ups? Which one do you prefer?

Previously on PWHNY.

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Reblogged from the excellent Dangerous Minds — the BBC4 documentary Once Upon a Time in New York: The Birth of Hip Hop, Disco, & Punk (2007):

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Happening from Django's Ghost on Vimeo.

From Ubuweb: “An irreverent portrait of America of the 60s seen through the experiences of artists of the Beat Generation and Pop Art. The America of the Vietnam war, ploughed by contradictions and explosive social tensions but potentially saturated with expectations for the future. With: Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Gregory Corso, Marie Benois and Leon Kraushar.”

From the Ginsberg Project:

“The prophecies of Marinetti are coming true some of them, the wilder, more poetic ones”, so, gleefully, declares Allen in this quintessentially 1967 documentary film by Antonello Branca, What’s Happening? What, indeed, is happening? Poets and painters and a brash New York City just for that moment in time and space come together. Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg candidly speak (Andy speaks!). Allen appears first (around six and a half minutes in) being interviewed as he walks along the street and then (circa 3o minutes in) is seen holding forth at a street cafe. Gregory Corso makes a cameo appearance right at the very end (with a baby!). He gets the punch line. “War makes people crazy”.

“We have all come here together. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, poet Gerard Malanga, over here, if you move your camera, poet Ed Sanders of a rock n roll group called The Fugs [unfortunately mis-translated on the screen by the Italian translator as The Fags!]..over (t)here, Tuli Kuperfberg, a poet and singer in The Fugs, over there, writing at the table. Peter Orlovsky with the long hair, who is a poet and also a singer, behind him, his brother, who was in a madhouse for 14 years. He’s a superstar of the Underground. Oh, and Jonas Mekas, Jonas Mekas, head of the Filmmakers Cooperative. He’s the one who puts together films like Flaming Creatures and The Brig and sends them around Europe and in America, the impresario. He also makes films, which he’s doing now.”

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Music by Lou Reed, images from a number of Warhol’s films.

Ellen Willis writes in 1979, a year after “Street Hassle” was released:

Though Lou Reed rejected optimism, he was enough of his time to crave transcendence. And finally — as “Rock & Roll” makes explicit — the Velvets’ use of a mass art for was a metaphor for transcendence, for connection, for resistance to solipsism and despair. Which is also what it is for the punks; whether they admit it or not, that is what their irony is about. It may be sheer coincidence, but it was in the wake of the new wave that Reed recorded “Street Hassle,” a three-part, eleven-minute anti-nihilist anthem that is by far the most compelling piece of work he has done in his post-Velvets solo career. In it he represents nihilism as double damnation: loss of faith that love is possible, compounded by denial that it matters. “That’s just a lie,” he mutters at the beginning of part three. “That’s why she tells her friends. ‘Cause the real song — the real song she won’t even admit to herself.”

Previously on PWHNY.

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One of our students snapped this photo in class today while Cyrus was lecturing on Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. With our building not fully converted to cooling yet, it certainly felt like the hottest day of the year. And that’s the double truth, Ruth.

If you want to get a flavor of Cyrus’s take on the film — which both draws on the history of racial politics in the making of modern Brooklyn and thinks about the breakdown of civility in American public discourse — you can scroll through the #wny11-tagged Tweets from our Twitter feed. Over time we’ve written about the film here on the blog. Cyrus gathered many useful links around the time of the film’s 20th anniversary, in 2009. Earlier that year he blogged a few of his thoughts about the civility question and wrote briefly about the thought experiment he routinely conducts by asking our students to compare the openings of this film and Allen’s Manhattan. We’d love for you to leave your thoughts about the film in the comments section here. Is Do the Right Thing still relevant to NYC, more than two decades on? And what are we to make of this image, posted to Twitter by another of our students?

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We’re closing in on the end of our Writing New York semester with some texts that explore utopian and dystopian elements of New York City at the end of the 20th century and start of the 21st. When we first taught this course in 2003, most students hadn’t seen Kushner’s Angels in America because they had been too young for its Broadway run. The HBO version hadn’t been made yet, either. But now we’ve seen both that adaptation and a Broadway revival and can reflect on two decades’ worth of the play’s impact on our culture:

When Angels premiered, critics hailed it as bringing salvation to the declining American theater — and to Broadway in particular. Our Cambridge Companion contributor Robin Bernstein quotes the critic John Clum on the play’s role in reframing American literature in relation to gay culture: the play marked “a turning point in the history of gay drama, the history of American drama, and of American literary culture … remov[ing] from the closet once and for all the enlivening relationship of gay culture and American theater and the centrality of the homosexual gaze in American literature.”

We’re now accustomed to see Kushner as a literary giant of the new millennium:

I haven’t seen that 2007 documentary. Have you? Any thoughts you’d like to share on Kushner’s place in American literature at the turn of the 21st century?

Here’s our post from last year offering a round-up of our Angels-related blog content over the years.

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Cyrus will be lecturing Monday morning on Allen’s 1979 film. As has been our practice for much of this semester, I’ll be live-tweeting the lecture (#wny11). Here’s last year’s round-up of content from the blog related to the film and our takes on it. We certainly welcome readers who aren’t in the course to play along from home. A warning to our students: you’ll see the opening sequence, above, several times before the end of the semester. Start thinking about it now.

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Previously on PWHNY. Also. And.

A few people and/or pieces mentioned in this morning’s lecture on Downtown Scenes from 1950 to 67 or so.

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A guide to posts we’ve written in past years about Ginsberg’s Howl and the history of hipsters in New York:

In last year’s roundup post, I offered additional thoughts on some contexts I’d brought up in lecture but hadn’t explored fully: Diana Trilling’s famous reflections on her attendance at a 1959 Beat poetry reading at Columbia University, boycotted by several faculty members, including her husband, Lionel — in spite of the fact that he had been Ginsberg’s teacher. Last year’s post also includes some discussion of Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” (also 1959), in which he defines the hipster as born from the confrontation of young white intellectuals in the Village (many of whom were raised Jewish) with black American culture. Both pieces are worth thinking about for their discussions of race and their competing desires for assimilates “whiteness” and for the freedom to cross racial lines. I suggested in that post that Mailer’s essay may be considered a forerunner of Patti Smith’s use of cross-racial fantasy in “Rock & Roll Nigger,” but it should also be seen as a forerunner of this famous photo of Smith’s contemporary, Lester Bangs.

Since then we’ve considered a variety of other Howl-related material, from Eric Drooker’s illustrated edition of the poem (drawn from his animation sequences for the recent film) to my initial take on the film itself. I also posted some thoughts about Ginsberg in relation to the intensive seminar I taught last summer, “The Downtown Scene, 1960-1980.” As part of that course we watched the early Beat film “Pull My Daisy,” and my post about it elicited comments from one of its actors, the musician David Amram. (I’m teaching that course again this May if anyone’s up for it.)

Part of our consideration of Ginsberg’s “angelheaded hipsters” (and Mailer’s “White Negro”) has included lighthearted looks at hipster history here at PWHNY. My favorite has always been our consideration of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog’s role in this cultural formation. We’ve also noted a contemporary graffiti writer called “White Negro” take to the streets. We wish we had been able to attend this panel, which is now published as this book, which we wish we’d had the time yet to read. We’ve pondered whether contemporary Williambsburg attire is indebted to Mose and the Bowery B’hoys, but I’ve also wondered whether or not Sesame Street might have had something to do with it:

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Bryan was lecturing today about Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl (1955) and spent a portion of the lecture unpacking the poem’s figurative uses of the ancient Semitic god Moloch, who was associated with child sacrifice. Students helped him to tease out the idea that Moloch might represent capitalism or or what would come to be called the military-industrial complex or simply war itself. Bryan reminded the students that at the end of his chapter “Robert Moses: The Expressway World,” from All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, Marshall Berman associates Moloch with Robert Moses: “When my friends and I discovered Ginsberg’s Moloch, and thought at once of Moses, we were not only crystallizing and mobilizing our hate; we were also giving our enemy the world-historical stature, the dreadful grandeur, that he had always deserved but never received from those who loved him most” (p. 311). Bryan pointed out that both Ginsberg’s Howl and Berman’s All That is Solid might be seen productively as jeremiads.

Bryan played an excerpt from Ginsberg’s 1959 Pacifica radio broadcast, in which Ginsberg does come across as a prophetic voice crying out in the wilderness. You can get a sense of how Ginsberg would read the poem from this YouTube clip:

Shortly thereafter, Bryan played an excerpt from Ric Burns‘s New York about Moses’s program of urban renewal, which includes a reading of a portion of the “Moloch” section of Howl followed by some commentary from the master himself.

We e-mailed Ric to find out who was performing the lines, and he was kind enough to write back promptly (in fact, while the lecture was still going on): “That’s Josh Hamilton. He’s extremely gifted.” I wrote back, pointing out that Hamilton’s reading was rather than different from Ginsberg’s and asking whose idea it was to take that approach. Ric’s reply: “I directed him that way. I wanted people to hear the insides of the words, not the outside of the emotion. Also, there’s a spent quality, as if through repeated bludgeonings this world had worn him down.”

I think both approaches to the verse work very well, a testament (as it were) to the richness of the poem.

Bryan ended the class with an excerpt from the recent film Howl starring James Franco. Here’s how the film dramatizes “Moloch”:

You can find links to many audiovisual materials related to Ginsberg and Howl at allenginsberg.org.

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