Every once and a while somebody dies and his or her death makes you reconsider what you know of the deceased.
Such was the case with John le Carré (1931 –2020). At first I thought he was just another spy fiction writer and that my relationship to him was probably nothing.
I found the opening lines of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and found them appealing, put them on my encyclopedia but I still did not know what to post on my blog.
Then I read that the recurring Smiley character was a sort of anti-hero but most of all an anti-James Bond, badly dressed, bald, overweight, bespectacled, unattractive. With a wife that cheats on him more than once. Also with a Russian spy.
And then today, in my local press, I read Marc Reynebeau (born 1956):
“If the setting of Le Carré’s work changed after the Cold War, his theme remained. This is anchored in a pronounced skepticism about institutions and the corrupting effect that is inherent in every institutional dynamic.”
The corruption. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” said John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton. There is no escaping the corrupting power of power.
Skepticism about institutions. I recently read Paul Collier and he put me on to this. It’s fairly obvious, but somebody needed to point it out. There are two kinds of societies. Societies with high level of trust and societies with low level of trust.
The former develop.
The latter stall. For example, Collier says in Exodus: How Migration Is Changing Our World (2013):
“It is not possible for Nigerians to get life insurance. This is because, given the opportunism of the relevant professions, a death certificate can be purchased without the inconvenience of dying.”
And then, diggin deeper still, one founds an interview of le Carré which shows him critical of consumerism that makes you wonder whether Michel Clouscard was awareof it:
“I dislike Bond. I’m not sure that Bond is a spy. I think that it’s a great mistake if one’s talking about espionage literature to include Bond in this category at all. It seems to me he’s more some kind of international gangster with, as it is said, a license to kill… He’s a man entirely out of the political context. It’s of no interest to Bond who, for instance, is president of the United States or of the Union of Soviet Republics. It’s the consumer goods ethic, really, that everything around you, all the dull things of life, are suddenly animated, by this wonderful cachet of espionage. With the things on our desk that could explode, our ties that could suddenly take photographs. These give a drab and materialistic existence a kind of magic.”–John le Carré interviewed by Malcolm Muggeridge, first broadcast on February 8, 1966, 16:45
Argentina-born French writer and filmmaker Nelly Kaplan died in Geneva. She turned 89.
She taught, wrote, assisted Abel Gance and directed her own films.
She is best known for a 1969 film, La Fiancée du pirate, “the pirate’s sweetheart”. You can see large parts of that film in a documentary by Zo Anima (they make quite interesting documentaries about film history) that mainly talks about the feminist and witch-like aspects of that film.
But also, it would seem, YouTube has the entire film online:
Kaplan also wrote and directed two film documentaries about artists’ lives, a genre that is barely practiced today. Those artist films are Gustave Moreau (1961) and Rodolphe Bresdin (1962). If I am not mistaken, Moreau has his own museum in Paris, just like Wiertz in Brussels, with whom Moreau bears similarities, Moreau was the better painter.
The opening credits of Gustave Moreau states that quotations from the oeuvre of Breton, Huysmans, Racine, Jarry, Lautréamont and Baudelaire can be expected.
Michael Lonsdale was a British-French actor who mainly worked in France, one of my favorite actors. He played in many films, though rarely as the protagonist. He turned 89.
In the English-speaking world, he was known for his role as the villain Hugo Drax in the James Bond film Moonraker, and for his appearances in The Day of the Jackal and The Remains of the Day.
As a character actor with a penetrating gaze, he can be admired in auteur films such as Le fantôme de la liberté (1974) by Luis Buñuel, Glissements progressifs du plaisir (1974) by Alain Robbe-Grillet and the unforgettable 5×2 (2004) by François Ozon.
I would like to take this rather sinister opportunity to highlight the story “Bartleby” (1853) by Herman “Moby Dick” Melville. That short story was adapted for film four times, and in the 1976 French version, Lonsdale plays the bailiff.
The hero in “Bartleby” is called Bartleby. He is a clerk who is recruited at a law firm to copy documents, but soon after his arrival at the firm refuses an assignment with the legendary words “I would prefer not to”. From then on, Bartleby the clerk basically refuses everything, which means that he refuses to live.
This hero is reminiscent of other impossible, frustrated novel characters such as the nameless hero in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground (1864) and Julien Sorel in Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (1830).
In the clip, Lonsdale visits Bartleby in prison where he urges the latter to make a last effort to live. In vain. We see Bartleby die while standing up.
“This painting owes its existence to prior paintings. By liking this solution, you should not be blocked in your continued acceptance of prior inventions. To attain this position, ideas of former painting had to be rethought in order to transcend former work. To like this painting, you will have to understand prior work. Ultimately this work will amalgamate with the existing body of knowledge.”
In his own analysis, he said he would be best remembered as “the guy who puts dots over people’s faces.”
Jerry Herman was an American composer and lyricist, known for his work in Broadway musical theater. He composed the scores for the hit Broadway musicals Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. He was nominated for the Tony Award five times, and won twice, for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles.
By pure coincidence I was watching Paris Is Burning (1990) this afternoon, it features the Jerry Herman-penned gay anthem “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles.
Perhaps an offending passage is this one, in which Sethe pays the tombstone engraver with sex:
“You got ten minutes I’ll do it for free.
Ten minutes for seven letters. With another ten could she have gotten “Dearly” too? She had not thought to ask him and it bothered her still that it might have been possible–that for twenty minutes, a half hour, say, she could have had the whole thing, every word she heard the preacher say at the funeral (and all there was to say, surely) engraved on her baby’s headstone: Dearly Beloved.”
Margaret Atwood in Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose: 1983-2005 (2009) remarks:”Sethe wanted “Dearly Beloved [on the tombstone],” from the funeral service, but had only enough strength to pay for one word. Payment was ten minutes of sex with the tombstone engraver.”
He was also known for his on-set conflicts. While filming Maidstone for example, Torn struck director and star Norman Mailer in the head with a hammer. With the camera rolling, Mailer bit Torn’s ear and they wrestled to the ground. The fight continued until it was broken up by cast and crew members. The fight is featured in the film.