Entries tagged with “Moby-Dick” from Patell and Waterman's History of New York
Tristin Lowe's life-sized sculpture Mocha Dick, executed in industrial felt covering a specially designed balloon, is tribute to the whale that served as one of the inspirations for Melville's Moby-Dick. You'll have to travel south of New York to Philadelphia to see it, though: it's on view at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, which is devoted to "creating and exhibiting new work in new materials and new media in collaboration with emerging and established international artists."
The whale Mocha Dick terrorized sailors in the waters near Mocha Island off the coast of southern Chile in the early nineteenth century, and he was, according to legend, almost entirely white. You can read first-hand accounts of the whale in a piece by the explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds entitled "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" and published in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker magazine. Reynolds notes one unusual feature of this particular sperm whale:
Viewed from a distance, the practised eye of the sailor only could decide, that the moving mass, which constituted this enormous animal, was not a white cloud sailing along the horizon. On the spermaceti whale, barnacles are rarely discovered; but upon the head of this lusus naturae, they had clustered, until it became absolutely rugged with the shells. In short, regard him as you would, he was a most extraordinary fish; or, in the vernacular of Nantucket, "a genuine old sog", of the first water.The barnacles feature prominently in Lowe's depiction of the whale. According to The Artblog, "Terraced scars are carved into the felt, and zig-zag in stitches across the body. Beautiful barnacles are appliqued, flowering across the old survivor's skin in colonies. In Melville and in Lowe, it is man's nemesis, man's alter-ego, and the engine of man's greatest folly." [You can read their full account of the sculpture here.]
"By July 1846 even the Knickerbocker Magazine had forgotten its earlier version [of Reynold's article], reminding its readers of 'the sketch of "Mocha Dick, of the Pacific", published in the Knickerbocker many years ago...'. That account may well have led Melville to look up the earlier issue, in the very month he rediscovered his lost buddy of the Acushnet and fellow deserter on the Marquesas, Richard Tobias Greene, and began 'The Story of Toby' [the sequel to Typee]. May not 'Toby Dick' then have elided with 'Mocha Dick' to form that one euphonious compound, 'Moby Dick'?"If you're interested in venturing down to Philly to see Mocha Dick, take a look at this recent New York Times article, which discusses a variety of exhibitions currently on view in the city.
The show is a brilliant remake of the late 1970s series starring Lorne Greene about a race of robots called Cylons who destroy all of humankind's colonies, forcing the few surviviors to embark on a quest to find their mythical home planet -- Earth.
The new series, which began in June 2005, is a gritty update that is one of the smartest "political" shows on the air today. Full of Biblical overtones with its lost tribes searching for a promised land, the series is also about the ancient struggle between the Greeks and the Persians -- between a polytheist culture and a monotheist culture -- with the added twist here that it's the humans who are the polytheists. ("Praise the Gods!") In addition, the new show offers a further twist: the robots have evolved so that many of them look identical to humans (that there is a robot at the right), and they believe that they're on a mission to do God's will in cleansing the galaxy of humanity -- or at least converting humanity to their fundamentalist point of view.
Another reason for readers of this blog to be interested in the show: one of its lead characters, a fighter pilot played by Katee Sackhoff, is named "Starbuck." (In the original series, Starbuck was a man, played by Dirk Benedict, who went on to star with George Peppard and Mr. T in The A-Team.)
The show left us with a mid-season cliffhanger last June, in which the humans and a group of Cylons have in fact discovered Earth. But a promised land, it is not, as the episode's title, "Revelations," turns out to be a pun:
When I first saw this post-apocalyptic image last summer, I immediately thought: It's New York -- and a homage to the conclusion of Planet of the Apes, in which the protagonist (played by Charlton Heston) sees the ruins of the statue of Liberty and realizes that the planet ruled by apes on which he' thought he had been stranded is actually Earth after some future war. (You can see that scene here on YouTube.)
Compare the image above to this one of the Brooklyn Bridge:
In the intervening months, fans of the series have studied that image, looking for clues about the future of the series in it; apparently, many have also suggested that what we're seeing is a ravaged New York City.
But perhaps Manhattan won't turn out to be the island at the center of the world, as far as Battlestar Galactica is concerned. One of the special-effects gurus who worked on the Battlestar shot reveals that original scene was filmed in Vancouver. Check out his blog for an interesting account of the creation of the shot and a peek into the world of special visual effects.
We'll learn more tonight about post-apocalyptic Earth. If this sounds interesting to you but you haven't been watching the show, don't worry: you can still hop on board the Battlestar. There's a marvelous 13-minute recap available called "Catch the Frak Up" ("frak" being a swear word in the BG universe). The amusing video is narrated at breathtaking speed by Sackhoff and is available on the show's website, as well as on iTunes (free) and amazon.com (free and downloadable to your Tivo). And the first three-and-a-half seasons are available on DVD if you find yourself getting hooked!
Okay, you say, but what does Ricardo Montalban have to do with this website's ostensible subject, the history of New York City's literature and culture? Bear with me.
Some of you may remember Montalban from the series of ads that Chrysler ran during the mid-1970s for its Cordoba luxury sedan. Here's the 1975 version:
Others may remember Fantasy Island, which starred Montalban as Mr. Roarke, the owner of an exotic island where guests would arrive in a small plane each week to go on adventures or play out fantasies that would change their lives. The show co-starred the late Hervé Villechaize as Montalban's major domo, Tattoo, who would open each episode by ringing the island's bell and exclaiming, "Da plane, da plane!" Here's an opening from a 1978 episode:
(If watching this video brings on a wave of nostalgia that will require you to view complete episodes of the series, don't worry: it's now available on DVD.)
For me, however, Montalban will always be Khan Noonien Singh, one of the villains in the original Star Trek series starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, a role that Montalban memorably reprised in the second Star Trek film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).
We've established on this site that Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick is an important subject if you're interested in the history of New York literature and culture. Over the years, I've been collecting allusions to the novel in later texts and in popular culture. And Star Trek II is chock full of them. Thus, the memorial to Ricardo Montalban here.
Montalban first appeared as Khan in "Space Seed," an episode from the television show's first season (1967), in which the Starship Enterprise discovers the Botany Bay, a derelict ship that contains cryogenically frozen super-beings exiled from Earth in the aftermath of the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. (Don't you love the way the 1960s imagined the 1990s and beyond? Question: are things better or worse than expected?) Khan is their leader, an imperious intellectual with a taste for Milton and Melville. When Kirk and his landing party board the ship, the super-beings are awakened and complications ensue.
After a failed attempt to take over the Enterprise, Khan's group are exiled on a planet called Ceti Alpha V. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan opens when Pavel Chekov (played by Walter Koenig -- and no that's not a typo, that's the way the series spelled the surname), the former navigator for the Enterprise, is surveying what is supposed to be an uninhabited waste land of a planet in the Ceti Alpha system. What Chekov and his captain (played by Paul Winfield) discover to their horror is that the planet is in fact Ceti Alpha V, laid waste when another planet in the system exploded, and that Khan and his mates have become very bitter indeed. Just before Khan reveals himself, Chekov surveys the ruined ship that he and his captain have discovered and sees a bookshelf that holds a copy of Moby-Dick .
Khan will spend the rest of the film chasing down his white whale -- now-Admiral James T. Kirk -- and quoting Ahab's speeches from Melville's novel. In the trailer below, you'll hear the film's adaptation of these lines from Ahab:
Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the horn, and round the norway maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.
The film's plot involves the theft of a terraforming device called "Genesis," which Khan realizes can also be used as a doomsday weapon. As the film draws to its close, Khan launches Genesis at Kirk and the Enterprise, and his final words are Ahab's: ""To the last, I grapple with thee; from hell's heart, I stab at thee; for hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee."
Melvilleans may find it a nice, though I'm sure unintended, touch that the shock waves from the explosion of the Genesis device echo the vortex that Ishmael describes in his epilogue:
So. floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the half-spent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another ixion I did revolve. till gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin like-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side.
If you'd like to watch the whole film, it's available in a 2-disc director's cut edition on DVD.
Rest in peace, Ricardo!
WNET Channel 13, our local PBS affiliate, recently launched a blog/online video series/vlog, "The City Concealed," in which they send film crews and producers into New York's hidden nooks and crannies. (They also take requests for where to go next; and they have a distinguished blogroll to boot!)
Two episodes have appeared so far, the most recent a fascinating underground tour of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery:
Green-Wood Cemetery is best known as the final resting place of famous New Yorkers like Boss Tweed, the Steinway family, and Leonard Bernstein, but it's also a treasure trove of hidden sculpture and architecture.
Established in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery became a destination for American and European tourists. Every year, thousands flocked to the cemetery to enjoy its lush gardens, rolling hills, and stately tombs. Unfortunately, during New York City's financial woes of the late sixties and early seventies, the cemetery restricted public access and lost its reputation as an urban oasis of art and nature.
Over the last decade, however, the cemetery has made efforts to invite the public back inside, hosting concerts, film screenings, and tours. Still, access to the most fascinating sites -- inside the tombs and catacombs -- remains extremely limited. That's why we called Jeff Richman, Green-Wood Cemetery's historian, who wields the massive, dungeon-like key ring that unlocks the granite portals behind which lie the dead.
Viewers may be most interested in the peek inside the cemetery's vault system, whole rooms of family coffins stacked like that final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Okay, so not quite that bad; and though the cemetery does host "catacombs," they're not quite on the scale or model of the ones in Paris.) The vault system features prominently at other old NYC cemeteries -- notably Trinity Church (which is why the graveyard towers so high above Church Street in the rear: it's hollow and filled with bodies, not the secret underground tunnels of the Illuminati!) and one of my favorite small, private cemeteries, the New York City Marble Cemetery on East 2nd Street (between First and Second), where a good friend was married -- not buried -- last fall.
In case you were wondering, though: You won't find Melville at Green-Wood, in spite of the fact that the cemetery's chapel hosted readings of the Father Mapple sermon last year. No, for a Melville pilgrimage (you know you've always wanted to make one!) you'll have to head up to Woodlawn, in the Bronx, the city's other magnificent "rural" cemetery.
Speaking of Moby-Dick . . . Barack Obama's favorite novel was published one hundred-fifty-seven years ago today -- November 14, 1851 -- by Harper & Brothers. The book had been published a month earlier in London with the title The Whale (the book's working title). Melville had found the proofs for the British edition to be riddled with errors, some of which he chose to correct and others of which he left alone, allowing them (as he later put it in Pierre) to provide "a rich harvest" for future "entomological critics" poring over the book.
Unfortunately, many of Melville's revisions to the proofs were ignored and other, unsanctioned changes were made. For example, the Extracts (intended to serve as a kind of overture to the novel) were placed at the end, and the Epilogue, which tells us how Ishmael survived the wreck of the Pequod, was omitted altogether. Many British reviewers were puzzled, therefore, by the fact that the novel was being narrated by someone who was ostensibly dead; many cried foul.
The edition that Harper & Brothers published had the Extracts and Epilogue properly in place, but by then American readers had already learned about the negative British reviews and were predisposed to find fault with the (correct) ending that they read.
Melville gave Hawthorne a copy of the book right away, and the older author read it immediately. He wrote a letter, now lost, praising the book. Melville responded:
Your letter was handed me last night . . . I felt pantheistic . . . A sense of unspeakable security is in me this moment, on account of your having understood the book. I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as a lamb. . . . I shall leave the world, I feel, with more satisfaction for having come to know you. Knowing you persuades me more than the Bible of our immortalityHawthorne offered to write a review of the novel, but for some reason Melville asked him to keep his praise private. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake: when the reviews began to appear about two months later, many of them were scathing, although there were some positive notices (in contrast to the reception of Mardi two years earlier, which was universally panned.)
The poor notices cast a pall over Melville's career, and he never got over them. He inserted sections into his next novel, Pierre, lambasting the literary establishment. He even proposed to Harpers, who had reduced his royalty arrangement in the aftermath of Moby-Dick's poor sales, that the new novel might do better if it were published anonymously. By the end of 1852 (according to a letter written by one of Hawthorne's cousins) the Harpers came to think of Melville as "a little crazy."
Yglesias thought what set him apart was his comic book collecting, and I'll agree that's cool. (But Spidey? Conan? Not earning points with this DC kid.)
What makes this man great is his choice for favorite novel: Moby-Dick.
[Begin weird English professor victory dance.]
The science-fiction series Hakugei: Legend of Moby Dick aired in Japan between 1997 and 1999 and spanned 26 episodes. The series is set in the year 4699, when the galaxy is ruled by a totalitarian Federation that uses its giant white warship, Moby Dick, to make sure that planets tow the line. Ahab, still peg-legged, is transformed into a more light-hearted, slightly piratical figure (complete with eye-patch) who leads a motley, futuristically cosmopolitan crew in the hunt for "whales" -- derelict ships that can be salvaged. Ahab has fought against Moby Dick in the past: "For the first time in my life," he eventually tells his crew in the fifth episode, "I experienced fear. I thought that white bastard was terrifying . . . but also beautiful. Our ship was blown to bits. I saw my crew torn apart, blown right into space."
Ahab, his leg torn off, one eye blinded, survives, for reasons that he still does not understand. He spends time in prison, then escapes, spending his time hunting "whales" and running from the Federation. And then a boy named Lucky, an Ishmael figure, who isn't quite what he seems, tracks Ahab down: he needs Ahab and his ship, the Lady Whisker, to help him save his home planet, Moad, from the ravages of Moby Dick. And Ahab gives in to his desire for revenge.
The Pequod's collection of "isolatoes federated on one keel" is amusingly transformed into a group of oddballs who would be at home in any number of anime extravaganzas: a laconic, tatooed, muscle-bound savage with an unlimited (and not too discerning) appetite (Queequeg?); a strangely precocious little kid (Pip?); a computer geek; a speed freak; a fat cook; a saturnine swordsman; and a doctor who's never seen without his armor on; and Dew, an android in search of a purpose (who has no real analogue in Melville's novel).
All 26 episodes of Hakugei have just been released in the U.S. in a six-disc box set by ADV films. In an interview that accompanies the discs, series creator Osamu Desaki says, "I did this work thinking I'd like to depict something from the point of view of a group who's been excluded from the world." It is also, he says, about the fact that "humans have feelings or longing, or rather awe, for gigantic things." Desaki takes great liberty with Melville's story, but from what I've seen so far, his vividly frenetic style captures something of the novel's unruly and inventive spirit. I can't wait to see how it turns out. I'll have more to say when I've finished watching the series.
Last November, Sterling Publishing brought out Moby-Dick: A Pop-Up Book, created by Sam Ita, who studied graphic design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and apprenticed for five years with Sabuda and Reinhart, working on pop-up titles such as America the Beautiful, Encyclopedia Prehistorica, and Mommy?. He's created some fabulous Christmas cards for the Museum of Modern Art too.
Ita retains Melville's dialogue and dramatizes some of my favorite scenes. Here's a taste, though no 2-D picture can really convey what it's like to open the book and see the Pequod popup up from its pages.
Left: "Call me Ishmael"; right; Ishmael in bed at the Spouter Inn.
The thing is, Hollywood has already made the Demi Moore version Moby-Dick -- twice.
The first was a silent adaptation called The Sea Beast (1926), adapted by Bess Meredyth and starring John Barrymore, Sr. as Ahab Ceeley (yes, they gave him a last name); George O'Hara as Ahab's brother, Derek (yes, they gave him a brother); and Dolores Costello as as Ahab's love interest Esther Harper (yes, they gave him a love interest!). Plus, there's a dog.
The film was remade with sound as Moby Dick (1930), with Barrymore reprising the role of Ahab Ceeley, though the writing credits are given to Oliver H.P. Garrett (for the adaptation) and J. Grubb Alexander (for the dialogue and screenplay). Lloyd Hughes now plays Derek, and Ahab's love interest is renamed Faith Mapple and played by Joan Bennett.There's still a dog.
But this time, with the Melville Revival underway, the filmmakers decide to acknowledge that Moby-Dick is a classic book, so the film opens with a book opening:
And then we get some text. If you're expecting "Call me, Ishmael," you're going to be disappointed, though if you paid attention to the open credits, you've already realized that there can't be a "Call me, Ishmael," because -- well, there's no Ishmael.
So here's the text we see. It's not particularly Melvillean:
The next screen is a little bit better (but not much):
I often show clips from this version to my American Lit I classes, which have read Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and learned about Hawthorne's remark about "d___d scribbling women." I suggest to them that what Hollywood does to Moby-Dick in these two adaptations is to transform the novel so that it fits into the tradition of sentimentality against which Melville was positioning his novel. Gone, with Ishmael, are any hints of the homosocial, though Queequeg is retained -- as Ahab's buddy.
I found a copy of the Sea Beast on DVD from amazon.ca. It's not a very good print. The opening credits identify it as a transfer from a print held by the George Eastman House, originating from the Henry A. Strong collection, and it interpolates some of the opening of the 1930 Moby Dick. Unfortunately, the later sound version does not seem to be able on any kind of video. I was lucky enough to tape a copy years ago when it was shown on TNT.
I figure if Moby-Dick can survive its sentimentalization in these two early Hollywood films, it can survive the new anime adaptation as well.
But, guess what: when I write "new anime adaptation" I mean "new anime adaptation" and not "new, anime adaptation." You see, there's already been an anime adaptation -- and it takes even more liberties with the story than the new version promises to do.
Stay tuned for a later post in which all will be revealed.
Is it indulging in Ivory Tower elitism to join Matt in thinking: "Terrifying!" -- and not in a good, White-Whale-crushing-your-boat way?
Part of what's to be lamented, apparently, is that the writers are conceiving this as "an opportunity to take a timeless classic and capitalize on the advances in visual effects to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story" -- something more akin to dramatizing a graphic novel.
Actually, Melville wrote that version of the story himself. And then he spent a year rewriting it into Moby-Dick. Biographer Delbanco draws on Melville's own words to set the scene as a vampire story:
Looking back at his labors on Moby-Dick, Melville saw "two books ... being writ ... the larger book, and the infinitely better, is for [his] own private shelf. That it is, whose unfathomable cravings drink his blood; the other only demands his ink." Moby-Dick was Melville's vampire book. It sapped him -- but not before he had invented a new kind of writing that, we can now see, anticipated the kind of modernist prose that expresses the author's stream of consciousness without conscious self-censorship.So what's lost in reducing Melville's two-in-one grand-slam to a film adaptation of a graphic novel? Lots, I suspect, as is true with all other film versions of the book. This time they're jettisoning the first-person narration, for one -- something most of the graphic novel adaptations of the book don't even manage, as far as I can tell.
The news of the new adaptation -- and its conception in relation to graphic novels -- led me to do some poking around. I quickly realized the graphic adaptation of Melville's book had gone through many more versions than I was aware of. I grew up on the old Illustrated Classics rendition; my wife picked up one for our kids when she worked for Scholastic. We own the pop-up version, of course. What self-respecting Am Lit professor under age 50 doesn't?
But I hadn't realized until this morning that there's a Will Eisner version, along with two others that feature major figures from my experience as a teenage comic book collector in the 1980s: Dick Giordano and Bill Sienkiewicz. And just this year Marvel published a six-installment adaptation, due for single-volume hardcover release next month (see illustration to the left). I've just put in orders for all of the above -- of course there are many more -- but I have to say that list of names here heartens me. Certainly some of these adaptations are smart? Maybe this will turn out better than the 90s version of The Scarlet Letter, before filming which Demi Moore didn't even feel the need to read the novel.