Perturbation

Love stories with a happy end follow more or less four/five main patterns. There are the fireworks of first sight love but also its reverse,  that is,  first sight hate,  in other words,  that kind of dislike that  grows into you and makes you forge a series of unmotivated prejudices on the object of your aversion only to discover  that aversion was actually love and you end up with the ring on your finger( Mr Run and I have been masters of this scheme). Then there are those who after  having been friend for long realize that that innocent feeling has actually turned into something more involving and completely new, or those who have lost, for some reasons, what they believed to be the love of their life and  fate gives them a second chance with the same person or another one. Think about it, these are the main patterns of the love stories  we enjoy reading, but what makes us prefer a novel to another with a similar storyline? What makes the difference? My answer is: nuances.  The ability of an author to understand and depict the nuances of characters thus showing with craft  their contradictions, weaknesses, depths, hopes and, of course, the accuracy of the context they are made interact in makes a huge difference. The multiple colours of those nuances are so marvellous that hook the readers’ minds forever. This is what  has made me, like many others, become  a “vestal “of Jane Austen and this is why I cannot stand  the way screen adaptations keep making havoc of those fine colours only to  produce dull grey  versions unworthy of such writer.

The peak in matter of screen adaptation quality for what concerns Jane Austen’s works was reached in 1995 with the release of iconic BBC Pride and Prejudice with the unforgettable couple Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle  and the movie Persuasion with a super manly Ciarán Hind and a convincing Amanda Root. After that I have observed a slow and inexorable decline,  which has coincided with the first attempts to give a modern take to old Jane. I have nothing against modern interpretations of old classics, but  there should be a reason,  a message to convey, something that should  justify the necessity  of overturning what to my eyes represents perfection. Tell me, what is the point of transforming Mr Darcy into a sort of Heathcliff in 2005 successful version of Pride and Prejudice with Matthew Mc Fadyen  and Keira Knightley?  What does that walk on the moors at daybreak add to the story and why is Elizabeth awake at six o’clock in the morning? This choice has a great impact, I admit it, but it is so pointless and in a way overlooks Darcy’s  true self-controlled nature who would have never showed up in such a state , no matter how overwhelming his passion for his Lizzie might be.  And  talking about workout, why did Sally Hawking,  who acted as Anne Elliot in 2007 version of  Persuasion, have to run up and down Bath in search  of her Captain Wentworth? I guess they must have taken into consideration the ratio: 10 minutes run and 1 minute kiss. The director, in fact, thought it was a fabulous idea  to make the camera dwell on the two reunited lovers’ lips, when they were on the point of touching, for an endless embarrassing minute. Well, an entire minute is not romantic, it is just unbearably long!  Yet, these versions were, as Mr Darcy would say ,“tolerable”.

Nothing remarkable will I remember about 2020 Emma but the unnecessary scene when Anya-Taylor pulls up  her gown to warm up her butt by a fireplace. The cast was  wrong and  Mr Knightley too young. While watching the movie I couldn’t help but wonder: “have they read the book”? But in the case of the recent release of Persuasion on Netflix of one thing I am sure, if they have read the book – which I doubt, unless they got the abridged version – they have not understood it.

Anne Elliot is the most reserved  amongst Jane Austen’s heroines. Intelligent and endowed with  common sense,  a unique case in her family. At the age of 27 she is a spinster who  lives confined to the edge of society.  8 years before, Anne was persuaded  to refuse Captain Wentworth’s offer of marriage as he was not her station or rich enough and she regrets it.  After all this time Captain Wentworth returns a wealthy man and has in mind a mild revenge,  but he can’t perform it as he is still in love with her. Persuasion is, actually, a delicate story of second chances rich in tension as the two step by step discover they still have feelings for each other. It is built up in a sort of crescendo, whose climax is the Captain’s famous passionate letter: “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever………”Can you hear the sighs at this point?

Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliot is nothing of the kind. She is playful, outspoken and speaks wryly to the camera. She is used to drinking straight from the bottle, speaks loudly  and her behaviour is often inappropriate, in short, this Anne Elliot is somebody I don’t know. This “Fleabag” style of narration has nothing to do not only with the character itself but also with the conventions typical of Regency time. Deprived of all her nuances I found myself unable to find this modern Anne interesting and be involved in the story. Much of the fault lies on this new Captain Wentworth too. The chemistry between Cosmo Jarvis and Dakota Johnson, in fact,  is of that degree possible between a fennel and a potato – I can’t say who was the potato and who the fennel, but I hope I gave you an idea – . The acting was so poor that it was possible to detect a  certain inconsistency sometimes between words and body language,  that lack of empathy I normally see in my students when I give them lines they don’t fully understand. 

None of the side characters has been fully developed. They have been reduced to the role of puppets who seem to have lost their function in Austen’s original framework , that is,  revealing Anne’s character and growth when they interact with her. Anne’s friend in Bath has been cut off from the movie, for example. Very likely they have not understood that the very moment Anne rebels her father refusing to visit their aristocrat relations to visit her poor and sick friend is the sign of her change, an important development in her character. She won’t be any longer persuaded by anybody and that episode marks this growth in self-awareness. Lady Russel, who should be like a mother to Anne and is responsible for having persuaded her to break up with Captain Wentworth , never shows a sign of  real empathy. As I said, a puppet.

Adding confusion to confusion, it has become now customary to see white characters played by black actors on movies, and this Persuasion winks at Bridgerton on this matter. I really can’t understand what is the point of depicting the society of the past  as perfectly integrated, it is not only a historical distortion but  it does not help raise the issue of ethnicity at all.  Do we really think we can make amend for racial  discrimination of the past (and present) giving white roles to black actors. Is it so easy, Shonda?

If this the best it can be done in adapting Jane Austen’s masterpieces, I would suggest to give a break and turn all the efforts to future seasons of Bridgerton and similes. There is no need of further profanations.

456

What was that line like? “The man is the head of the family and the woman is the neck, so she can turn him wherever she wants”. Well, nothing is more fitting especially when it comes to stubborn Mr Run.  The man in time has developed a very interesting strategy  – which I am often satisfied with, I have to say –  that is, whenever I propose something he is not pleased with, he offers something in return, he is sure I would not say no:

Mrs Tink: “What about going with Mario and his wife to their friend’s  restaurant Saturday night?”

Mr Run: “Saturday? Oh, I’d thought about spending the week-end in Florence!”

Of course, he knows how much I adore Florence, hence, in this way,  he is able to skip what he believes to be an unpleasant night for him.  But it’s not always so easy to find a comfortable way out. He had been trying for weeks to ignore my wish to watch “Squid Game” on Netflix,  forcing himself to enjoy romantic series set in the Victorian Period in exchange. He was even open to watch all the six seasons of Downton Abbey plus the movie again. Since I didn’t mean to wait that much, I decided to act as the “neck” this time using my wild card:

Mrs Tink: “But Love, even Baricco says it is a remarkable series”

Mr Run: “Baricco?”

Mrs Tink: “Indeed”

It wasn’t Baricco, actually, but Gianluca Vacchi, a well-known billionaire , who has become famous for his crazy dances on Tik-Tok  and with over  20 million followers on Instagram.20 million! What is  Baricco  compared to Gianluca Vacchi, he can’t even reach 30 thousand on Instagram !  So, it happened that one day I came across one of his videos, whose theme was one of the games of the show and I was absolutely impressed:

Mrs Tink : “10 minutes, only 10 minutes and if you don’t like it , we’ll switch to something else!”

Mr Run: “Only 10 minutes!”

Mrs Tink: “Ok. Ah, I forgot……………..it’s in Korean”

Mr Run: “Korean!!!”

After those 10 minutes we were totally hooked and I couldn’t imagine but watching it in any other language but Korean.  Squid Game is about 456 people who choose “freely” to participate in a series of competitive games in which the alternative to winning a prize pool of 45.6 billion is “elimination”.

The last to be recruited is Seong Gi-hun,  a lazy but well-meaning man who’s living on the back of his elderly mother’s meagre income. Because of his betting habit, he loses his family, constantly disappoints his young daughter and  is even  forced to sign a physical contract promising his organs in case of any more delays in payment by some debt collectors.

All the other 455 contenders share stories of failure, desperation , exploitation, loneliness and they believe the game to be their ultimate  chance  of social redemption. They are taken to a distant island  and secluded in  a sort of alienating labyrinth  which has clearly  the form of Esher’s staircase. The  players always proceed in line, like Dante’s defeated souls of the Purgatory.

They are under the control of  workers/soldiers  who are dressed in red and wear black masks with 3 signature symbols: circle, square and triangle.  A circle means a straight forward worker, who is at the lowest level of the hierarchy, those with a  triangle are soldiers with weapons, while a square refers to managers with the most power. The presence of such a strict hierarchy  and the  idea of  identifying the rank  and the task of the workers through a symbol seems to be borrowed  by Edwin A. Abbot ‘s “Flatland”, which was, actually, meant to be a satire against the oppressive hierarchy of Victorian England which reduced lower classes and women into submission.

In fact Squid Game’s target  is  clearly the capitalistic system and  its rules . The contests are nothing but metaphors of our competitive society, which is unpredictable, unfair and deceptive.  No game is ever explained to the competitors before they may choose the means (or companions) to play with and  first time the protagonists of  Squid Game choose to take part into the competition,  they do not know the consequences of the defeat.

But the second time, even though they are no longer unaware, they feel “forced”  to go back to play.  Why? Because the labyrinth  of  their life has just one way out possible: that game. This is how they feel. Despite the organizers  do not miss an opportunity to point out that the competitors have “freely and consciously” joined the competition, we know that  that freedom  is just illusory. In fact,  are  we really “free” to choose when we have to accept an underpaid  job,  or to end up into debt, because we made an investment without knowing the conditions and consequences?

The awareness that only one of them will be destined to grab that chance makes the game more violent and ruthless. The competitive and selfish side of human nature  takes over  any form of cooperation and compassion.  Men turn  into those Hobbes’s wolves who move circumspectly  according to the saying “mors tua vita mea“.

In this moral downfall,  there are beautiful lyrical  moments when those half buried sentiments of piety, compassion, friendship,  brotherhood and love  surface  intensely  in a last desperate fight between hope and disappointment. It will fall on  Seong Gi-hun  – our picaresque hero, whose number 456 symbolizes, according to numerology,  the need to take steps forward to reach a new level – the task to take us to the that level offering a sparkle of hope.  I can say no more, otherwise I would reveal too much; but it is truly a great product and it is worth watching it. If don’t trust me, trust picky Mr Run.

Alluring and Entertaining

I often  wonder what response I would get if I taught in the way I used to do at the beginning of my career. Because one thing teachers must learn quickly – and those who don’t will end their days behind a desk or screen bitterly disappointed –  : the communication model has to be modified again and again to be effective and have a positive feedback. Generations change and necessarily we have to change with them.  Any teacher’s repertoire, because we have one, has to be updated, refreshed, modernized in order to be appealing and above all, we always need to find new forms of expression to connect with our public. When I was a student, I was the one who had to find a way to connect with my teachers and if I did not, well, the problem was mine. Now it is just the opposite. If it was much easier to teach decades ago, I can’t say. What I know is that now we are mostly required to be entertainers, as adolescents cannot, must not be bored.

Hence, since it was time to deal with the theme of the double narrator in Wuthering Heights, I wondered how I could connect with my audience without being  boring, but catchy and  entertaining. My addiction to Netflix helped me in a way.  Recently I have noticed that the flash forward device, for example,  has become increasingly popular among series. Flash forwards are effective, if you want to create a certain suspense, which originates in the initial disorientation due to the lack of familiarity with the characters and the usual breathtaking event, of which we have only partial knowledge.  We are given just the few necessary tiles to leave us confused enough to want for more. At that point the chronological, explicative narration begins. I also noticed that if the use of such device is not well calibrated, it may often result quite annoying, as in series I loved like “How to get away with murder”  or “How I met you mother”, in fact, sometimes I found myself wishing to scream: “Enough!”

And what are the first three chapters of Wuthering Heights but one of the first experiments in using flash forwards in a narration? When the novel starts, 98% of the events have already happened. Emily Brontë chooses apparently the most unfit of narrators to introduce us to Wuthering Heights, in fact Mr Lockwood is a total stranger to the story. He has just arrived from London to go to Wuthering Heights and call on Heathcliff, the landlord whose house he has rented: Thrushcross Grange. In a way, he forces Heathcliff lo let him in, feigning to ignore his scarce sense of hospitality and due to adverse weather conditions, he is allowed to stay the night. Through the eyes of Lockwood we are introduced to the weird characters who inhabit Wuthering Heights, even those who are dead. The general  atmosphere is unfriendly and scary. That place seems to be hiding secrets everywhere. When he reads some diaries he finds in the room he has been left, we are acquainted with a certain Catherine, who will be the other central character of the novel. That very moment something seems to be tapping at the window and suddently a sequence of unexpected events follow: a scream, a ghost, Heathcliff’s tears and desperation, till dawn arrives.  

Lockwood accomplishes his task of exciting our curiosity, keeping well locked at the same time, as his name anticipates, the secrets of Wuthering Heights. To unveil all the dynamics of the story a second narrator will be needed, a witness to the entire saga, one of the few who survived, actually, as Nelly Dean, the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange, who will answer all Lockwood’s curiosities and ours. At this point we could also say that Wuthering Heights has been structured in such a way to make the first three chapters of the novel  the catalysers of the reader‘s attention and curiosity, as a good pilot episode of a modern drama series would. It is up to the reader to say whether Wuthering Heights’s novel keeps up to the expectations aroused by the three chapter pilot episode, but certainly Emily Brontë’s craft and modernity will never be questioned. It is otherwise questionable, whether such an approach may work with my public made of bored adolescents. Well, I’ll let you know about it.

Bridgerton

Reviews often depend on expectations. If we consider Bridgerton, recently issued on Netflix, merely a Christmas show, a well packed fruit salad made of a bit of Gossip Girl, a bit of Pride and Prejudice, a pinch of Little Women and flavoured with some drops of Les Liaison Dangerous, I could even venture to say: “well, a tasty fruit salad”,  but if the show has the presumption of being defined a historical drama, well, Bridgerton is absolutely ridiculously disappointing. 

Bridgerton is based on the fortunate series of novels written by Julia Quinn and it is set in the early nineteenth century, that is Regency time, have you understood? Regency. That time which has become iconic thanks to Miss Austen’s  characters like Mr Darcy and his Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Knightley and Emma Woodhouse , Capt.  Wentworth and many others, remember? That time. In Quinn’s novels I think it was, actually, Queen Charlotte, George III’s wife, whom I had never had the chance to hear about before – my fault -,  to have captured the creative genius of Shonda Rhimes. Why? Because some historians swear that this queen had black blood running in her veins and an accurate analysis of her features in her portraits proved for many this hypothesis.

By the ways, that was enough for Shonda, to imagine and I want to repeat it, imagine, an interracial society where black and white enjoyed the same rights, indeed, the former held the dominant stations in that aristocrat society, in fact, besides the Queen there is the Duke, the central character of the story, an uncommon species of man in the likeness of one of the doctors of Shonda’s hit, Grey’s Anatomy, doctor Jackson Avery. Of course, such strong revision of Regency times, as nothing of the kind is even mentioned in Quinn’s book, as many other such choices, make the drama so fastidiously inaccurate, that I thought, it ought to be a reason, a message of some kind, that is why I watched the entire season: to find that reason, which eventually I did not find. What I found is a series of imprecisions I was mostly annoyed with.

1) Setting. The story is set in London, but from the very first shot you clearly understand that we are in Bath ( and I am Italian!). It is as if somebody wanted to convince me that we are in Rome, while the hero is feeding the pigeons at St Mark’s Square in Venice, after all, what all the fuss is about Bath or London, it’s always England, after all.

2) Clothes. It seems they did accurate research about the Regency style of clothing, studies that they must have thrown away as soon as they started to shoot. The dresses are too colourful and shiny. Pages and pages about Lydia Bennet’s scheming about her laces to find here matrons attending balls with their boobs well exhibited and squeezed in corsets. By the ways, there is a lot of lingering on the pains caused by wearing corsets, but the dominant Regency fashion style was imperial, hence, there was no emphasis on the size of the waste and no such dreadful corsets were needed.

3) Dirty talk. I understand the necessity of modernizing stories to be more appealing and particularly refresh the dialogues a bit, but could you imagine Darcy whispering to Elizabeth, when they barely knew each other, if ….she gave herself pleasure and how? During that dance at Netherfield, for example, when Darcy finds himself wordless and so, to fill that silence he asks: “Miss Elizabeth, has it ever happen to you…hem… to touch…, you know what I mean”, could you? Well, Shonda did.

4) Interracial society. No need to say that there was no black aristocracy at the time, but the point is why such a choice? What did she want to demonstrate? Because those black in the show are actually white, but born black. There is no cultural difference at all, the theme of ethnicity is not even touched, maybe once, but just slightly by the Duke’s father. Besides, the interracial society represented in the drama is far more advanced than ours, of the kind we won’t reach even in a hundred years, I am sure. It has recently become customary to see white characters played by black actors on movies, as Anne Boleyn will be, but again, but I don’t understand the point. Let’s take a classic like “Amistad” for example, or “Roots”, would it be the same if some of the slaves were played by Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Matt Damon, for instance? I guess it would not.

5) Beauty. The Duke is not only the most powerful man of the lot, but also the most handsome. He is the lighthouse whose blinding gorgeousness obscures all the other characters both male and female, even her beloved, Daphne, whom Jane Austen would have defined nothing more than… plain. For some reasons the viewer cannot understand why she is admired and desired by everybody, but it is clear that Shonda’s intent was to put in the limelight her hero rather than her heroine.

Hence, had the show been a fantasy, I would have had nothing to say, but when you claim it to be a historical drama set in Regency time, you must admit that there is but one queen, Shonda, and that’s Jane Austen. There is no place for anybody else.

A Christmas Fairy Tale

Even that year a beauty contest was held among the firs of the snowy valleys of the North of Italy in order to spot the most luxurious, majestic tree worthy to represent the Christmas spirit in the capital; yet, something really extraordinary happened for the first time: the contest got deserted. The sad story of the winner of the previous year, which was of a stunning beauty, as far as everybody could remember, had been the talk of the those valleys for months and months. How could it be that such a magnificent tree had become the object of worldwide derision so that to be named: “Spelacchio”(Mangy)? Nobody could explain it. There were also rumors about its having been turned into lumber to build a wooden house, where, it seemed, mothers could change and breastfeed their children. “Mothers in Rome don’t have proper places to perform those operations?” they murmured. “Strange, indeed.” “How had they called it?” “Oh, I know it: “Baby Little Home“.Those stories were too scary to remain indifferent. That was not exactly the destiny that a winner of a beauty contest deserved, everybody believed. “Turned into logs to make a hut?” “No way!”

So, when Christmas time approached, all the firs made their best to look as shabby as possible in order to avoid to be chosen. Those which were easily affected by these tales, turned soon grey with fear, while others thought about asking the help of some birds which hovered nearby for : ” Could you pluck some of my pine needles, please?” the fir asked some finches, which had just comfortably perched on one of its branches. “But, isn’t it going to be too painful?” “Don’t worry. You would save my life!” “Pluck as many as you can, please!” The finches were so touched by the imploring tone of its voice, that they demanded no more explanations and promptly set to work. They knew the poor fir was suffering, even if they endeavoured to be as delicate as possible. The brave tree bore it, without saying a word.

“What’s happened here?” said one the organizers of the contest. It seemed as if some sort of virus had spread among the firs of the Alps. “So weird! It has infected only the firs, as the pines, the larches and even those chestnuts look perfectly well !” “What shall we sent to Rome?” “Oh, they might use an artificial tree!” said another one. “An artificial tree! After what happened last year! Nonsense!” While they were walking through that desolation,wondering about what was the best option they had, they couldn’t believe their eyes! What a stroke of luck ! Before them stood a strong, healthy, fabulous tree. “Quick, pull it down!” said one of the organizer, as they were already late in delivery and after a few hours they left the place. It was only when all the men and the unfortunate tree were far enough that the firs recovered their bloom,vigor and serenity. At least for a year.

The winner had recently emigrated from a Southern valley of the Apennines and knew nothing of the sad story of Spelacchio. He had been fully informed by the trees nearby too late to put in place the strategies of its neighbors and now, there it was. Just like the previous year, the fir was accurately prepared and delicately placed on a lorry on a bed of cushions and tied, but this time, as it was too long and big for that lorry, many of its branches were cut. The tree heard some men saying that those branches would have been nailed to the stem once arrived at “Piazza Venezia” in Rome. “What a barbarous treatment!” he thought , “Being crucified at Christmas! That’s intolerable!” But nothing could be done, it was decided.

When it eventually arrived in the capital, it was so tired and looked so ruffled and poor after having been mutilated that not even in its wildest dreams the fir believed it might become that Christmas tree the capital deserved and had been waiting for years. A group of people were made curious by that scene, gathered around it and started frantically to take pictures: “This is even worse than Spelacchio” they sneered “at least, it had its branches on. Let’s call it Spezzacchio (from to cut= spezzare)” and went away laughing. It was mortified.

But that night, after the workers had reassembled its branches, something extraordinary happened. While it was sleeping as it was too worn out, a fairy, named Netflix, came by moved to pity and sprinkled some of her magic dust all over the fir. In a bit the tree found itself covered with Christmas ornaments, thousands colorful balls and a myriad of lights. When it opened its eyes, the fir could see only happy faces that looked on it in admiration. It could even feel a warm touch. It was a child who was petting its left branch tenderly and exclaimed: “Look mum, what a wonderful Christmas tree!”

This story has a moral: there is always hope. After almost three years of this adminstration we have eventually succeeded in having a decent Christmas tree, maybe in 20 years pot-holes and garbage won’t be a problem any longer of this city. We must learn to be patient and believe that a fairy one day will make things right. You’ve got to believe it, at least at Christmas time.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone!!