Sunday, October 19, 2008

"All of my friends are dead"

So says Harold Ross, one evening eight years after the death of his frenemy Alexander Woolcott. It's a poignant moment in a memoir that manages both to celebrate a life and convey the pain of its loss. One wonders how much of Ross' early death (he was barely 59) had to do with the disillusionment he felt with McCarthyist America of the 50s. Would he have fought harder for his life if he had not felt so discouraged? "Also writes for the New Yorker" had become then (as it is once again) a snide denigration of perceived 'unAmerican' values.

James Thurber's The Years with Ross is full of entertaining anecdotes about New York literati but it's also a tale of friendship between two men. Amicitia was the binding force of most emotional relationships in pre-christian Rome, but the fervent declarations of friendship read oddly to my students. It seems to me that one does not get books written about friendship anymore, nor does it appear to be celebrated in other media. Love, passion, egotism, anger - these are the emotions that drive today's publishing. Friendship seems undervalued. I can't think of any major work of art that celebrates non-sexual friendship that postdates the 60s.
I am wrong? Let me know if I'm overlooking something really obvious.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Date With Lady Kaede

Autumn is closing in, and with it comes evenings snuggled up with the cat to watch movies. I saw Ran the other night. I saw it years ago in the IFC and thought it was great, but for some reason I'd never gotten it out on DVD, although I love historical epics.

I couldn't remember if it was Ran or Throne of Blood that contained one of my Favourite Scenes Ever, in which a scheming woman falls weeping to the feet of a man in order to get him to do something awful and while he looks away, stricken, she takes the opportunity to crush a moth on the floor in the folds of her kimono. Well, it's Ran, and the woman in Lady Kaede.

Aah, Lady Kaede, how could I forget you? Your absolute stillness and grace, your glacial beauty, your pathological hatred of the Ichimonji clan. She really is a great character, the sibilant whip-wheep sound of her silk robes is nearly as terrifying as Asami's 'ichi ichi ichi' in Audition.

But having watched the film with its audio commentaries (Film Studies professor and a mate of Kurosawa's) I find I object to the characterisation of her as a great schemer. Kaede does work towards the destruction of the Ichimonji but she hardly needs to plot their downfall. It is Hidetora who puts events in motion, all it takes for Kaede is to direct those events just a little, vanity, greed and ambition of Hidetora and his sons do the rest for her. Where Kaede's real skill lies is in her ability to exploit her moment. When Jiro plots the death of his brother with his vassals they laugh at the easy pickings until Jiro says 'His wife, the Lady Kaede, is a different matter' and then they all go silent.

A different matter indeed.