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!!