Manipulation in film, not only of the objects within the frame but of the audience as well, has been the practice of film makers for decades. In Philip Kaufman?s Quills (2000), a biopic loosely based on the last years of life for the18th century author, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), the audience becomes not just an observer but an active participant in particular sexual acts through overtly suggested voyeurism. For what purpose does Kaufman so conspicuously manipulate the audience into committing these acts? In an ambitious argument for uncensored art, even when pitted against the utmost controversial fiction of the Marquis de Sade (a man who RollingStone.com calls ?one sick twist? (Travers)) Kaufman wants his audience to actively lust for things they cannot have. For this reason, I examine the transition from the experience of fictional freedom in the first scene involving Mademoiselle Renard (Diana Morrison) with the oppression of that freedom within the rest of the film. By beginning the story here, Kaufman demonstrates that in order to understand what can be lost through censorship, one must understand, first hand, what exists prior to that loss.
The poem ?The Critick and The Writer of Fables? published in 1713 by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, is an ambitious attempt at a satirical play on gendered and formal limitations of Augustan poetry. The critick is representative of a male poetic society, and yet by acquiring a voice from Finch within the poem, it appears to represent one side of Finch?s own internal debate in deciding where her writing belongs. She makes a case for a new style of writing by satirizing the forms already in existence. The poem, at once, exemplifies an Augustan commentary about poetic definition while it inserts the thinly veiled female object of Finch, the fable writer, as the subject in the style of the Romantic poets. Finch carves a place for her own poetry between the satirical, warring poet and the pastoral, peaceful muse, making room for her various resulting combinations. Finch?s poetry resides somewhere between two chronological, poetic traditions, as well as a gender division, without fully occupying any one more than another. It is in her displacement that she finds her own space.
From the beginning of Berman and Pulcini?s American Splendor (2003), we are presented with many versions of Harvey Pekar:
- A comic strip frames Harvey Pekar (Daniel Tay), an uncostumed kid on Halloween in 1950. When asked what he?s dressed as, we learn that this kid is no super hero. He cranks off, ?I?m Harvey Pekar. I?m just a kid from the neighborhood? and storms off with the voices of kids mocking his name in fading echos.
- If memory serves correctly, we hold that same external comic frame and fade the content to actor Paul Giamatti walking that same street?playing the film?s character “all grown up.”
- A voiceover of the real Pekar tells us Harvey Pekar is also a real guy and we eventually meet that guy in a sound studio being interviewed, documentary style, by Shari Springer Berman.
- Interspersed are comic renditions of the character talking to us in bubbles, telling us about who he is.
- Giamatti thinks in bubble text at the supermarket where the idea for American Splendor was born.
- We meet?the comic renditions?of Pekar again at the the train station when Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) arrives for the first time.
- Later, we get clips of the real Pekar on ?Late Night with David Letterman.?
- Giamatti?also stages Pekar?s volatile GE/NBC blast on the same show.
- Last but not least, we see one more permutation when Giamatti acts repulsed while watching a play about Pekar played by Donal Logue when the voiceover adds that he, the real Pekar, wonders how he?ll feel seeing Giamatti play him in this movie.
The genious mix of reality and fiction is?enough to make my head spin…
Taking stock, a reflective exercise often assigned at the end of a class, is also a graduation requirement. This is my first draft. Tweaking to follow… although?references to?”navel gazing” and “mental masturbation” are definitely keepers.
The Collegiate Experience and My Intellectual Cosmos
This reflective essay has been assigned to help connect my Senior Seminar experience, with its focus on pre-romantic poetry, to the greater Saint Rose experience and thus my intellectual cosmos. To be honest, I find this task rather difficult. My trouble stems from the Senior Seminar portion of this ponderance. Let me first say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual, in-depth conversation every class has offered and that I find significant value in the exploration of early literary theory and the ability to measure today?s ideas by comparison. Still, I struggle to kindle some sort of greater passion for the subject matter in a present-day application that brings new awareness to light.
In my ideal world, Senior Seminar should be more than an entertaining intellectual exercise. I had hoped for a topic that would engage my passion, inspire me to action in righting some contemporary wrong and raise my own awareness as well as the awareness of those who read what new discoveries my research has to offer. Instead, I am reminded time and again, as we jest about the many ways in which poets have continually pondered their navels, that the struggle of the human experience merely shifts at a snail?s pace. Looking to history offers little more than greater historical knowledge of humanity?s slowly morphing circumstances, faulty attempts at understanding through overly general categorization, and constant repetition of these mistakes. While history is a fantastic place to begin, traveling back in time is not necessarily the best place to finish, at least in the opinion of this Saint Rose senior.
Having selected Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000) as my ?Writers in Motion? film of choice, I watched it twice, first to take in the entire story and again to take notes. For further insight, I watched the DVD extras on screenplay writer Doug Wright’s commentary, costuming, setting and casting, searched for the text of the screenplay to read for sheer literary value, and hit JSTOR for some scholarly direction. I also found accounts of the Marquis de Sade?s real life on the Time Warner True Crime site and discovered another devoted to PVC fetish wear designed in the Marquis? name. Before I knew it, I had shoved so much material into my feeble little brain that my ability to create a single thesis ground to a screeching halt. I screamed, ?TOO MUCH INFORMATION!? and took a break. This is how I roll.
Reading Barsam?s last chapter of Looking at Movies offers the perfect springboard for this paper I have yet to begin. With graduation looming just 15 days away, that?s what I call salvation in print. One method Barsam suggests is a tracing of dualisms or binary oppositions. In Quills, that could include things such as:
- freedom of speech/censorship
In Brian Gilbert?s Wilde (1997), we discover the early nature of Oscar Wilde?s fame (played by Stephen Fry) from a conversation between the characters of Ada Leverson (Zo? Wanamaker) and Lady Mount-Temple (Judy Parfitt):
Lady Mount-Temple: I know your friend is famous, Ada.
Ada Leverson: Notorious, at least.
Lady Mount-Temple: But I don’t understand for what.
Ada Leverson: For being himself, Lady Mount-Temple.
In Alan Randolph?s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), this type of fame is said to be true of Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as well. The repetition of this notion (in?these and other?films)?suggests that writers have a?larger-than-life personality and high social profile in addition to the work they produce. While we know this to be untrue, particularly?since writers lead much of their lives behind a desk?writing about subjects other than themselves, only those eccentric, dramatic?and often tragic figures?lead lives worthy of having films made about them. Unless we look beyond the film portrayals, what an audience is left with is the notion that all authors must experience adventurous escapades to craft good work.