Thursday, July 02, 2009

I love that.

This will be quite the strange post, I’m sure, but here’s a collection of fabulous quotes about characters I’ve read recently in other articles.

First, The Hurt Locker, which has been on my radar for some time.

I loved
A.O. Scott’s review of the film and in particular, his character descriptions. That he gets the characters so well and feels compelled to articulate excitedly the distinctive differences in the personalities of the characters already tells me that the writer has done a good job:

“The Hurt Locker” focuses on three men whose contrasting temperaments knit this episodic exploration of peril and bravery into a coherent and satisfying story. Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is a bundle of nerves and confused impulses, eager to please, ashamed of his own fear and almost dismayingly vulnerable. Sgt. J. T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is a careful, uncomplaining professional who sticks to protocols and procedures in the hope that his prudence will get him home alive, away from an assignment he has come to loathe.

The wild card is Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who joins Delta after its leader is killed and who approaches his work more like a jazz musician or an abstract expressionist painter than like a sober technician. A smoker and a heavy metal fan with an irreverent, profane sense of humor and a relaxed sense of military discipline, he approaches each new bomb or skirmish not with dread but with a kind of inspired, improvisational zeal.

Scott also delved a bit into the
depth of William James:

And Mr. Renner’s performance — feverish, witty, headlong and precise — is as thrilling as anything else in the movie. In each scene a different facet of James’s personality emerges. He can be callous, even mean at times, but there is a fundamental tenderness to him as well, manifest in his affection for an Iraqi boy who sells pirated DVDs and his patient solicitude when Eldridge, under fire and surrounded by dead bodies, has an understandable bout of panic.

I love that. [I should also mention that
Mark Boal, the screenwriter, wrote an article about his experience writing The Hurt Locker in the new July/August issue of my beloved Script Magazine. I loved his opening sentence: Embarking on an embed with the troops seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’m seriously reconsidering now that I’m on an Army C-130 cargo plane that is plummeting to the earth. Hehehe... That’s fabulous. Good job, Mark.]

I read not too long ago about the
two-year first look deal between Focus Features and Sam Mendes that may have Mendes directing Andrew Davies's adaptation of George Eliot's book, “Middlemarch,” a project that, as Arifa Akbar reminded us in the Independent, Martin Scorsese had hoped to get around to himself. In any case, I was reading about “Middlemarch” on Wikipedia to refresh my mind about the story, and I loved what was written about self-delusion, which may be one of my favorite aspects about characters:

Most of the central characters of this novel have a habit of building castles in the air and then attempting to live in them. Because they are idealistic, self-absorbed, or otherwise out of touch with reality, they make serious mistakes. These mistakes cause them great unhappiness, and eventually their illusions are shattered. Some characters learn from this process, and others do not. Those who learn not to build castles in the air generally end up happy, while those who persist in ignoring pragmatism are miserable.

Dorothea, who wants nothing more in life than to do good, rejects a young man who would have been a reasonably good match for her in order to marry the aged scholar Mr. Casaubon. She does this because she likes the idea of being an assistant to him and helping him with his great intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately, she is so much in love with her image of Mr. Casaubon that she fails to notice he isn't actually writing anything. He is supposedly working on a great work that, when completed, will link together and explain all world mythologies. However he is so obsessed with creating a perfect work of scholarship, and so afraid of criticism from his peers, that he never publishes anything. He is not interested in contributing to the discipline for its own sake; rather he uses scholarship to enhance his ego and improve his image. Dorothea, in her youth and enthusiasm, does not recognize this. Later, when she meets people who genuinely do love knowledge for its own sake (Ladislaw and Lydgate come to mind) she cannot help but notice the discrepancy between what she wanted and what she actually chose. Yet this discrepancy does not keep her from marrying foolishly a second time, to Ladislaw whom she hardly knows. Based on a few days' acquaintance developed during her honeymoon and a handful of occasional conversations, Dorothea is attracted to Ladislaw but does not have an opportunity to get to know him. Their mutual love is developed apart from one another.

Lydgate, the other tragic character in this novel, chooses his wife based more on physical attraction than on a knowledge of her character. He marries the materialistic, self-absorbed Rosamond Vincy who, unbeknownst to Lydgate, has been harboring her own delusions and misconceptions about who Lydgate is. Once safely married, they each find out exactly how poorly they suit one another. He cannot free himself of Rosamond, yet he is unwilling to set aside his (and her) upper-class pretensions to buy himself the time and resources to conduct the medical research he wants to do. He ignores the basic financial reality of life in Middlemarch, does not dispense prescriptions, and alienates patients by not filling what they believe to be his proper role as a doctor. Eventually he succumbs to Rosamond's desire to leave Middlemarch, and turns into the kind of doctor he never really wanted to be, his research permanently abandoned. He becomes financially successful, which appeases Rosamond. After Lydgate dies, Rosamond marries someone better suited to her tastes, who can indulge her materialism and who never asks her to do anything difficult…

Rosamond Vincy Lydgate never abandons her delusions about herself, and persists in viewing herself as a perpetually wronged princess even though she's scheming and manipulative. Yet she does eventually realize that being married to an idealistic doctor is not easy, and that marrying into a wealthy family does not guarantee that she and her husband will be rich. She also realizes that Lydgate, whom she decided she loved because of his upper-class background and distant origins, is not the meal ticket to which she felt entitled. At the end of the book, after Lydgate's death, Rosamond correctly identifies the attributes most desirable to her in a husband: a fat wallet and an indulgent nature. She obtains such a husband and lives happily ever after.

I love that. Plus, I once dated a girl just like Rosamund Vincy. Hehehe… “Middlemarch” is in the public domain and available
for free at Project Gutenberg. (See my other post on adaptations.)

Above is a vid of Disney characters who have imbibed some tobacco. There's another vid here about smoking in the top ten films of 2008.

I was at my new favorite cigar hangout smoking a Partagas 160 (I save the 150s for special occasions), and I was flipping through various cigar magazines. In the
Winter 2008/2009 (volume 14, no. 1) issue of Smoke magazine, with a cover image of libertarian Tucker Carlson (bow-tie free, thankfully), there’s an article about smoking characters in comic books, called “Smoke & Ink,” by Max Gartman.

Pretty interesting read. Gartman covered The Comics Code, which was similar to cinema’s old Hays Production Code and had set standards for both editorial and advertising content in comics to protect children from “corrupting influences.” Just as Sidney Lumet’s film, The Pawnbroker, paved the way for change to the Hays Production Code, Stan Lee also did battle with The Comics Code in 1971 when he was approached by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to do a story on drug abuse. Here’s Gartman:

Lee agreed, and wrote a Spider-Man story where drug abuse was portrayed as unglamorous and dangerous – and the Comics Code Authority had a fit. Despite the fact that the story was written with the intent to act as a cautionary moral tale, the Code was against it: “no drugs” meant no drugs. Lee published the comics anyway, without the Code’s stamp on the book, and upon the success of this story, the Code backed down, paving the way for change...

Here’s a sampling of comic book characters who smoke cigars.

First, the GOOD GUYS:

Hellboy: Red demon who fights for the U.S. government (and MM has it on good authority that the cigars were Nicaraguans).
Wolverine: (Logan) The hard and wise one from the X-Men.
Puck: The little guy in the black onesie of Alpha Flight.
Sgt. Nick Fury of the Howling Commandoes and later of the clandestine S.H.I.E.L.D.
Grey Hulk: (Joe Fix-it) One of the many Hulk incarnations.
Cable: The fire-arm-hauling-leader, for a time, of X-Force.
The Thing: (Ben “Clobberin’-Time” Grimm) of the Fantastic Four.
Howard the Duck: Yes, he really was a duck – and a cab driver, too.

Second, the BADDIES:

Kingpin: (Wilson Fisk) The master manipulator who ran the New York City crime scene.
J. Jonah Jameson: (JJ) Peter Parker’s boss at the Daily Bugle.
Gen. Thunderbolt Ross: Hulk’s antagonist.

Here’s the bigger point: what’s the significance of a character who smokes? What does that convey about the character?

Here’s what Gartman had to say:

Smoking, first a luxury, then the demon-spawn of society, has now become a marker of those who operate outside of the norm. These are people who partake of a substance that can damage health – and knowingly accept that risk, like the adults that they are.

Cigars and cigarettes still carry meaning as symbols… The cigars that our characters smoke mark them as not-one-of-the-herd, as one who is capable of making decisions solo, without Big Brother to look over each and every step. They’re still markers of class, of elegance, and of power. Nobody who knows what they’re doing will treat a good cigar like trash, because there’s an implicit knowledge of everything that goes along with the cigar – the history, the culture, the weight of the world against each smoker. And still, they shoulder the burden, and march on, smoke in hand.

Interesting. I love that.


[thiago] said...

fun post mystery man.

and just to let you know, i don't think the link to script magazine is working. was it a direct link to boal's article? i searched the site but couldn't find anything.


Luzid said...

I have to disagree with Gartman -- it's not a risk that it can damage your health, it's a certainty that it will.

And I'm not so sure that in this day of the CEO-as-reviled-greedhead (a usually apt description) that power and class go together. Power seems to mostly equate to subjugation of other people for personal, wildly out-of-control gain. I don't think most people see that as something to aspire to (at least, I sure hope they don't).

Anonymous said...

Is that video of Disney characters smoking supposed to impugn the reputation of Disney? The vast majority of the clips show either A) villains or B) the negative effects of smoking.

Matt said...

Interesting to contast all the smoking talk with the Hurt Locker trailer, which features a character smoking a cigarette after defusing a bomb. Even in the trailer, it tells you a lot about the character; you could say that his job serves as an almost-sexual release that he caps off with a cigarette; or, it shows that the guy loves engaging in high risk activities.

Mystery Man said...

[thiago] - thanks for that. I fixed the link, which was just to the magazine. Boal's article is not available online.

luzid - Truth be told, I don't have much sympathy for cigarrette smokers. That's just madness. But cigar smoking is different, because you never inhale. You just puff on a cigar. That's it. I've been smoking cigars for years. I'm not addicted. I can go weeks without a cigar. It's just a pleasurable experience no worse than having a drink.

Anon - I didn't take it as a way of impugning Disney. I just thought it was interesting how the times have changed. Nowadays, you will not see smoking in animated films, and yet, I see nothing wrong with its use in those clips.

Matt - Great points. It does come across as an after-sex smoke, doesn't it?


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