Showing posts with label David Edgerley Gates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Edgerley Gates. Show all posts

28 October 2020

Fortune & Men's Eyes


We have a mixed attitude toward history, and toward historical fiction, particularly fictionalized biography. I think the issues are compounded when the subject is familiar to us, through myth or received wisdom, and we take it personally. We can mislike having our habits of mind disturbed. Look at Shakespeare. He rests in a somewhat shallow grave; we know so little about him, the early years, certainly, that we’re each free to imagine him on our own image.

Which is what Kenneth Branagh does in his movie All Is True, not Shakespeare early on, but in old age. I don’t agree with much of Branagh’s speculation, but I don’t fault him for it. We can conjure up ownership out of affection for the plays, or the poetry, or fixed ideas, and resist a different interpretation. The difficulty I have with Branagh’s reconstruction isn’t that his Shakespeare is unconvincing personally, but his characterization of a working writer is inauthentic and reductive.


By contrast, Shakespeare in Love seems right to me, but probably because the filmmakers were less constrained by known quantities, and both convention and hard facts were elastic. They used playfulness to their advantage, and the picture lets in air and light.


My personal favorite is Anthony Burgess’ extraordinary Shakespeare novel, Nothing Like the Sun. He later published a straight-up biography, which I also devoured.

Burgess characterizes the late Elizabethan as a word-drunk age, and Nothing Like the Sun is profligate. Burgess was always drunk on words – Clockwork Orange, anybody? – but his Shakespeare book is written in a headlong Elizabethan stream-of-consciousness that bends the laws of physics. It was like nothing I’d ever read, and still is. It takes some balls to write Shakespeare in first-person, to imagine yourself into Will’s doublet and hose, and his voice.

That being said, All Is True has a lot of good stuff. The candlelit interiors were apparently shot by candlelight, for one, which is no small trick. The settings and the art direction are terrifically authentic. People were paying attention. The cast is wonderful: Branagh himself, Judi Dench, Kathryn Wilder as the older daughter, Ian McKellen’s cameo as Southampton. I think the picture suffers simply from being too earnest; I can’t buy the conceit that Shakespeare was treated like a monument in his own lifetime. He brought himself notoriety, and financial security, but how could he not still be, in his private and less secure moments, the upstart crow?


There’s one close to sublime moment in All Is True, a little past the halfway mark, when McKellen shows up as the Earl. It’s already been established in a conversation between Will and wife Anne that Southampton is widely thought to be the Dark Lady of the sonnets – they’re dedicated to him – and late at night, the two old boys slightly in their cups, Will reels off the whole of “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” as a sort of swan song or even perhaps reprimand. And then, astonishingly, Southampton quotes it back to him, from memory. The scene is done in tight close-up, a long single take for each of them, with no reaction shots. Every seamed furrow of their age shows in the firelight. These are men in their waning years, and the bloom of youth is long past, yet, “Like to the lark arising at break of day/From sullen earth,” we see them lit from within, luminous and transparent.


This is the last piece I’ll be posting before November 3rd is upon us. I’d ask that each and every one of us exercise our responsibility to vote. Take care and be well.

14 October 2020

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)


I saw Tony Richardson’s Charge of the Light Brigade in London, the year it came out, and was enormously impressed.  (Apparently the U.S. release was cut by some six minutes, and the DVD is missing that footage.)  Watching the picture again – has it really been fifty years? – I recognize its strengths and weaknesses, but I think I gave it more credit than it was due, at the time.

 

For example, what is Vanessa Redgrave doing in the movie?  She was big box office, after Blow-Up and Camelot, but her character in Light Brigade is a superfluous distraction.  She sleeps with her husband’s best friend, but other than demonstrating the impenetrable superficiality of the ruling classes, it has no dramatic purpose.  For another, they don’t manage to make it entirely clear why Cardigan leads the Light up the wrong valley, and charges directly into the Russian cannon, instead of flanking them – which leaves a pretty big hole in its pretense to historical accuracy.

 



That being said, the movie has wonderful virtues.  The production design, which conjures up the dense ecosystems of David Lean’s postwar Dickens adaptions, and the cinematography by David Watkin, he of Robin and Marian, Chariots of Fire, and Night Falls on Manhattan.  But chiefly, the inspired casting.  Some of the actors weren’t even Richardson’s original choices – amazingly, Trevor Howard as Lord Cardigan, a part Richardson offered to Rex Harrison.  No disrespect to Rex, but seriously?  In a career that includes Brief Encounter, The Third Man, The Roots of Heaven, and Sons and Lovers, watching Howard chew on his mustaches in this performance is nothing short of heart-stopping.  His glaring matches with Harry Andrews as Lord Lucan (in life they were brothers-in-law and cordially disliked one another) are sulphurous.

 


Howard and Harry Andrews aside, there’s the gloriously nasal John Gielgud as Raglan; the inimitable Peter Bowles (later of Rumpole) at his most fatuous, and Jill Bennett as his lion-hunter of a wife; tragically memorable, Norman Rossington, Albert Finney’s best mate in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the Beatles’ manager in Hard Day’s Night, as the Sergeant Major compromised by his commanding officer, Cardigan, and broken to the ranks – one of the more brutal and graphic flogging scenes in any movie.  David Hemmings, though, is disappointing in the pivotal role of Nolan, too languid and too pretty.  (And reportedly insufferable during filming.)

 


The other point to make is of course the context.  Like many pictures from the late 1960’s and early 70’s, Charge of the Light Brigade falls under the shadow of Viet Nam.  In this case, not so much metaphorically, because the Crimean War was itself a huge folly.  The mismanagement of the war, and the management of public opinion, were two sides of a coin.  Cardigan was a hero in Great Britain after Balaclava; Lucan was in disgrace.  It was years before Cardigan’s reputation began to suffer, and even after he was exposed as an incompetent, there were people who refused to believe it.  (Cardigan’s bravery wasn’t doubted, but his leadership was a joke.)  The very real benefit that came out of the Crimea’s “confusion of purpose” was the reform of the British Army that did away with the purchase of commissions and brought in a policy of promotion by merit.  Not perfect, but a start.

 


Viet Nam was often seen at right angles, or in reflection, not in our direct gaze.  Lost Command, Mark Robson’s version of Larteguy’s The Centurions, came out in 1967, and The Green Berets in ‘68.  They weren’t box-office bombs, but opinion was divided on their merits.  The more common approach was peripheral.  M*A*S*H supposedly took place during KoreaNicholas and Alexandra is a lot more about the year of its release, 1971, than it is about the fall of the Romanovs: it’s Nixon, Cambodia, and Kent State.

 


Charge of the Light Brigade came out in 1968, after the Tet Offensive.  The timing is coincidental, but the movie’s antiwar sentiments were sharpened considerably by what was widely viewed as an American military and political embarrassment.  (Historically, it was a defeat for the NVA and Viet Cong, but the public perception in the U.S. and Europe was quite different.)  Light Brigade, then, becomes a provocation, and a warning against foreign adventurism.  It’s not about a war a century old, but a war very much in the here and now.  And the generals bickering over who gets the blame for the slaughter remind us uncomfortably of the tone-deaf Westmoreland, with his talk of a light at the end of the tunnel.  No accident. 

 

We imagine we made peace with Viet Nam.  Not with Viet Nam per se, a country that makes us sweatshop sneakers, but with Viet Nam as an American failure, which is complete nonsense.  Missing in Action is psychological denial, Chuck Norris fighting the war over again, but winning this time.

 

Charge of the Light Brigade is a moment frozen in time.  Not the Crimea, but 1968.  It betrays its own period.  I don’t think it’s a bad picture, far from it, but I think it shows its age.  You look at a movie like The Thin Man, and admire or indulge its representation of its own time and place, but still think it has a universal charm, whether or not it’s dated.  You give it the benefit of the doubt.  Light Brigade is too much the product of its own particular period; it can’t breathe.  It’s trapped in its immediate context.  That immediacy, which made it seem so genuine and alive back then, makes it an artifact now.  It’s a fossil.

23 September 2020

Moby Dick


Moby Dick, the movie.

My grandma Ada had a summer house in South Dartmouth, Mass., and I used to go to the New Bedford whaling museum.  In the 1800’s, New Bedford was the capital of the New England whaling industry – with Nantucket and Provincetown close behind – and the whaling museum is terrific.  Their main draw is a half-scale model of a whaling ship, indoors, that kids or grown-ups can clamber all over and in. 


The world premiere of John Huston’s 1956 movie of Moby Dick was in New Bedford, in June, and my dad scored us tickets.  It was a big deal, both for him and me, and for New Bedford, which never really recovered after the boom days of whaling were over.  Looking up the event, all these years later, it turns out the picture premiered at three downtown theaters simultaneously, and Gregory Peck showed up at all three.  I remember him, vaguely, and I’m sure we bought the souvenir program, but I don’t remember the movie itself making that big an impression.  

It wasn’t, in fact, a huge hit.  I think it made its money back, but that’s about it.  The reviews were lukewarm.  Peck took the biggest beating.  He was too young for the part, and he didn’t have the chops, but more than that, he was Greg Peck, he wasn’t supposed to play some looney tunes with a peg leg.  (That would be Robert Newton.)

Huston cast Orson Welles as Father Mapple, in a cameo.  Andrew Sarris remarked that Huston should have hired Welles to direct, and played Ahab himself.  There’s a certain poetry in this.  Huston’s clear first choice for the part would have been Walter Huston, his father, but his dad was now dead.  Welles went on to do a very interesting stage adaption, where he played Ahab - I saw a later production of the play with Rod Steiger, and trust me, no scenery went unchewed. 


Going back and watching the movie now, though, I have to say it’s unfairly maligned.  Ray Bradbury did the screenplay, with Huston, and it’s very judicious – they emphasize the spectacle, and lean only lightly on the Old Testament aspects.  Peck is actually not embarrassing as Ahab; he’s pretty good.  John Wayne as Genghis Khan it ain’t.  Richard Basehart is wrong for Ishmael, let’s admit, and Woody Strode was going to be the harpooner Queequeg, but had a scheduling conflict.  Leo Genn gets a lot of mileage out of Starbuck, the sympathetic First Mate.  In the long run, what Huston does with the casting is to use faces.  You probably didn’t know then who Harry Andrews or Bernard Miles or Noel Purcell or Mervyn Johns were, but you knew a great face when you saw one.





You get a careful choice of detail.  The movie shows the doldrums, when the wind dies and the sails flap idly, the ship in irons.  You see routine, both the boring and the terrifying: a spooky scene with St. Elmo’s Fire playing through the yardarms, a Nantucket sleigh ride, the harpooned whale dragging a longboat.  There’s a strong sense of how the ship functions, as a mechanism, or a community.  Bluntly, everything In the Heart of the Sea got wrong, this picture gets right. 

One particular thing of note, the cinematography, by Oswald Morris.  You can look this guy up.  He did eight pictures with Huston, Moby Dick was the third.  He worked with Carol Reed and Tony Richardson and Sidney Lumet.  Very much a pro.  But they used a special process, famously, with Moby Dick.  They shot the picture, and desaturated the images.  This is something that’s gotten more common nowadays, because you can do it post-production.  If you’ve seen John Boorman’s The General, for example, the picture loses more and more color as Brendan Gleeson loses more and more of his moral center; at the end it’s black-and-white.  Band of Brothers uses a similar technique: the combat footage has little or no color.  Moby Dick isn’t digitally manipulated.  They apparently printed a black-and-white negative over a color separation, and the result is similar to looking at a hand-tinted illustration, of the period.


So, something perhaps to revisit.  A lot of times we go back, and suffer disappointment.  It’s nice to go back, and be pleasantly surprised. 





09 September 2020

Exiles


I’m not sure what started this train of thought.  I might have been thinking about portrayals of the Raj, or the relationship between colonials and Empire, A Passage to India, Shakespeare Wallah, The Man Who Would Be King, and I drifted into more personal reminiscence.

My dad grew up in the wilds of Elyria, Ohio, and was sent East to boarding school when he was fifteen.  He was the youngest of five boys, and followed in his brothers’ footsteps.  I think plainly my grandmother Ada thought they’d get a better secondary education; it almost certainly helped them get into a good college.  My own experience with boarding school started at the same age, but I didn’t profit from it nearly so well.  I’m bringing this up because it has a parallel in Rudyard Kipling’s exile and return – you could definitely do something with this as metaphor, but I mean it literally, Kipling at five years old, uprooted from the heat and light of Bombay, packed off to the damp south coast of England, abandoned to the rigid torments of an unyielding Evangelical orthodoxy.

I don’t in any way mean to suggest my experience, or my dad’s, was anything like Kipling’s.  I idealize my father’s childhood, in fact, as some sunny upland of innocence, an unshadowed place out of Booth Tarkington or Don Marquis, gigging for frogs and going barefoot and swimming nekkid in the turbid shallows of the Black River, but this is utter nonsense, nobody’s childhood is unshadowed.  As for his years at Milton, he remembered them with enough affection to encourage me to apply there.  I wound up going somewhere else, and I wasn’t crazy about the whole prep school formula, either, but it was a long way from Dickensian horror.  Kipling wasn’t so lucky.  The years in Swansea, in the care of a retired Merchant captain and his wife, were manipulative and abusive.  Kipling’s own account, sixty years later, in Something of Myself, unflinchingly conveys his bewilderment and terror, the House of Desolation, he calls it.  “Often afterwards, [my] beloved Aunt would ask me why I had never told anyone how I was being treated.  Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established.”  The despair is absolute, a lifetime after, the injury never forgiven.



Kipling says a couple of very interesting things about this period.  First off, remember that he was imprisoned there for six years, aged five to eleven.  He says, Turn a boy over to the Jesuits, for that time of life, and they’ll own him for the rest.  He also says, There were few books in that house.  But when they found this out, his parents sent him books, and they were rescue.  Lastly, he talks about his strategies for combating abuse.  “If you cross-examine a child of seven or eight on his day’s doings (specially when he wants to go to sleep), he will contradict himself very satisfactorily.  If each contradiction be set down as a lie and retailed at breakfast, life isn’t easy.  Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell, and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort.”  Well, yes.  This is a very sly admission on Kipling’s part, that the cruelty he encountered here was an engine for his imagination.  You don’t have to be a survivor of domestic dysfunction to recognize the coping mechanics; even a pretty healthy family dynamic can require navigation.  Kipling is saying that the habit of secrecy, of concealment, of lies, is a survival mechanism, it’s protective coloration.  Oh, and he sings for his supper.  He begins to make up stories. 

Happily, this isn’t taking place in a complete vacuum.  He doesn’t have close relatives in England, but there are a few close enough to see the kid’s miserable, and his mother shows up finally to effect his escape.  (He never seems to blame them for this, by the way, Alice and John, his parents.  They identify as Anglo-Indian, overseas English, and it’s common practice to send your children home to Great Britain so they don’t go native.  The problem being that the foster family Kipling and his sister Trix were lodged with are opportunistic scum.)  We can all too easily imagine the twelve-year-old boy’s apprehension that he hasn’t broken free, that this is all a cruel joke, that the House of Desolation will open its jaws to him again, but no, this isn’t an imaginary release, they spend a careless spring and summer near Epping Forest, and we can’t help but think this is remembered in Puck of Pook’s Hill.


(One of Kipling’s gifts, it seems to me, is his enormous sympathy with childhood.  He re-imagines it.  Reading his children’s stories - or having them read aloud to you - The Just-So Stories, The Jungle Book, Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, Stalky & Co., you can hear how each of them are pitched for a different ear.  The Just-So Stories are clearly aimed at four to six, Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies aimed at a slightly older audience, say  seven to ten.  But he’s never condescending.)

Kipling was twelve going on thirteen when he went to public school at Westward Ho!  It was of course a curriculum that emphasized muscular Christianity, but the boy, Beetle in the Stalky stories, got his growth.  We imagine it was tough at first – did they even have hot bath water? – and there was caning, and institutionalized bullying by the upperclassmen, and for all of that, he pulls up his socks and soldiers on.  This isn’t the torment of Swansea, it’s a discipline he can embrace. 

He wasn’t, however, a terrific academic success.  His grades weren’t good enough to get him a scholarship to Oxford, and his parents didn’t have the means to pay his tuition, so John lined up a job for his son back in Lahore, assistant editor of The Civil and Military Gazette.


Kipling docks in India in October, 1882.  He’s just shy of seventeen, and he’s been away for eleven years.  “I found myself at Bombay where I was born, moving again among sights and smells that made me deliver in the vernacular sentences whose meaning I knew not.  …My English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength.”

These next seven years account for Plain Tales from the Hills, Soldiers Three, Under the Deodars, The Phantom Rickshaw, and Wee Willie Winkie, along with poetry and six days a week of newspaper content.  The boy, once bereft and cast out, is home again.  His engine burns furiously.

Kipling was always full of industry, and his energies never deserted him, even if age slowed him down a little in the last five or so years of his life, but nothing matches the fever of that time in India. Both the Gazette and its sister publication, the Pioneer in Allahabad, were dailies, and he refers to the newspaper work as Seven Years’ Hard. He clearly wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything else.
     Try as he will, no man breaks wholly loose

          From his first love, no matter who she be.

     Oh, was there ever sailor free to choose,

          That didn’t settle somewhere near the sea?

I admit I have a real weakness for writers like Kipling, and Sir Walter Scott, and Dickens, or for that matter John O’Hara, who just pour it on.  Their invention, their freshness, their sheer concentration, is astonishing.  I’m sure they have their moments of despair and doubt.  But they lace up their God damn game shoes, and go out to play, with the score against them.

Kipling is one of those guys who’s anything but transparent.  In disguise, he takes on other voices, he protects himself.  He’s still in a boxer’s crouch.  Restless and forlorn.  The boy, abandoned, finding refuge in stories, a larger fate, a secret destiny.  Kim.  Kipling the spy.  The writer as double agent, infiltrating his own narrative, reporting back to us at great personal risk from an occupied country, where the real enemy is trust. 

Famously, he says of Bombay:
     The cities are full of pride,

          Challenging each to each –

     And she shall touch and remit

          After the use of kings

     (Orderly, ancient, fit)

          My deep-sea plunderings.

This is a man who put regret aside, but regrets color his life.  He forgets nothing, and forgives less.  Kipling absorbs, and apologizes.  Not even Dickens is less himself, or more.  Hidden, he rings true, as clear as water.



26 August 2020

Exiles


From March through August is a long time to have a void in your socializing. It's enough to make you start talking to strangers in a park, regardless of what your mother told you about not doing that sort of thing.

The situation finally got so bad that one morning the wife and I decided to hit the drive-up at Starbuck's for coffee and lemon bread snacks. Of course, the people in line behind whoever is being served at the window tend to get a little perturbed if you pause for very long to converse with the window employee, so we soon knew it was time for us to move along. Now, we needed a place to enjoy our morning coffee. This led us to a nice, little, hidden-away park with some elbow room and a beautiful view of nature. A place called Fox Run.

We had barely settled in at a metal picnic table, sipped our coffee and opened our sealed packets of lemon bread, when a young fellow with camera and long lens walked up and inquired if he could use the far end of the table for a short while. Well, I had my large, red, Harley bandanna down around my neck and my wife had her surgical mask off so we could eat and drink in comfort, but it was a large table with plenty of room for social distancing, so we told him to go ahead and use it.

Naturally, one thing led to another and a conversation ensued. It started with cameras and photography. On this particular day, he was shooting photos of the turtles in the upper lake. That led to the usual where are you from, where did you go to college and what kind of work do you do. After all my years of subtly interrogating people as a Special Agent, I don't mind asking questions, and I've found that most people like talking about themselves if you can once get them started. Strangely enough, they get so involved talking about themselves that few of them ask questions back.

We soon found he was an artist painting in the abstract style and had also tried his hand at a little writing. We then had an interesting conversation on such topics as creativity and inspiration. At the end, we swapped get-in-touch information and went our separate ways.

Michael DePalma is his name.

WALKS -in the Goddess series
Over the next couple of weeks, I went to his two websites:http://www.waveformexpressionism.com/and http://www.thewaveformexpressionist.net/ . And, while I know very little about painting and the techniques involved, not to mention the various styles, I do know if something is pleasing to my eye. If we had the money to buy paintings, the wife and I would now be owners of a couple of Michael's paintings which spoke to our artistic interests one way or another.

In some of Michael's blog articles, I found pieces on inspiration, writer's block, creativity and other topics of interest for writers. For myself, I have always found it interesting and motivating to discuss creativity with someone in one of the other branches of the Fine Arts. It seems that the inspiration and creative process in other branches is often comparable to what writers go through for a completed manuscript. It is all art in different forms.

But, like all in the Fine Arts, success is a pyramid with limited room at the top for only a few artists (writers/musicians/actors/etc.) to make big money. Artists are lucky if they can even be high enough on the pyramid to make a living. Some don't become successful and their works valuable until after they are dead and gone, as if they were just then discovered. For many of us writers, it's a good thing we have a steady income, or 9 to 5, or even a retirement pension to pay the bills while we create. For those who don't have that safety net to fall back on, it can be an insecure world.

So what we have here, is a graduate from a prestigious university who is trying to exist on his creative talents, but still needs to live on more than thin air. What he is looking for now, is a job in the graphic arts field where he can put his creative talents to good use.

Check out his two websites, observe his artistic talent and read some of his blog articles. Then, if you like what you see and happen to know of an opening in the field of graphic arts, e-mail him through one of his two websites. Or, if you wish to remain anonymous, send the info to me and I'll pass it on to Michael.

In the meantime, keep on creating.

12 August 2020

Pudd'nheads


Mark Twain's essay, 'Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses,' is one of the more definitive take-downs, rude, exacting, and murderously funny. Twain's subject was always America, the American narrative and the American imagination. Cooper, for all his faults, is clearly the first American novelist. An infelicitous writer he may be, but he's more or less trying to invent a New World literature, and in this sense, we wouldn't have Twain if Cooper hadn't ploughed the ground beforehand. Twain means what he says about Cooper's stylistic clunkers ("use the right word, not its second cousin"), and certainly there's a generational difference, Cooper an inflated literary monument who's fallen out of fashion, Twain the more spirited and energetic voice, but Twain's real quarrel seems to be with the tradition of Romantic literature itself. Cooper's themes are vigorous, but his execution is lazy, and generic conventions sand off the rough edges. Twain argues for a greater muscularity.


Cooper's dates are 1789 to 1851. Sir Walter Scott's are 1771 to 1832. They're almost contemporaries. And you can see similarities, their discursiveness on the one hand, and too many easy outs on the other - what you might call the With-One-Gigantic-Leap school of hairbreadth escapes. (In all fairness, Scott is a much livelier and more inventive writer than Cooper; credit where credit is due.) I'm also bringing up Scott because Twain's got a score to settle with him, too. Twain wrote Life on the Mississippi some years after the fact, and although he has a soft spot for the river and its steamboat culture, he's not at all nostalgic for the slave economy of the prewar South, and he puts the blame for the elegiac folderol of the Lost Cause squarely on Walter Scott. Nor does he mean it as metaphor. Twain says expressly that the sentimental goop in Scott's romances - in particular Bonnie Prince Charlie and the failed Stuart uprising of 1745 - leads not only into the failed enterprise of Secession, but that it influences the historically revisionist nonsense that the slave states were some kind of agrarian Eden, unsullied by grasping capital and crude industrial instincts, a benevolent plantation economy, where the darkies of some mythic bygone age were happy to know their place.


Twain has no patience with this crap at all. Remember that he was born in Missouri twenty-five years before the Civil War, and was no stranger to slavery as a commonplace of everyday life. Twain seems to be the first American writer to integrate slavery (no pun intended) into the fabric of his fiction. I don't mean to scant Harriet Beecher Stowe, but Uncle Tom's Cabin is agitprop. It was enormously successful, at the time second in sales only to the Bible, but let's be honest, it's not seriously coherent, or anything like realistic. It rings every phony bell. If we take Twain's critical yardstick as a useful measure, Uncle Tom's Cabin is flabby, and Huckleberry Finn is muscular. Twain represents slavery as a constant in the social dynamic, it's simply there. Harriet Stowe preaches. Twain is more subversive. If slavery is the lie at the heart of America, the original sin, Twain disinherits our creation myth. This country wasn't founded on the altar of liberty, he tells us, it was established with a crime.


Huckleberry Finn is celebrated for its vivid invention: Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, Moses and the Bullrushers, praying for fishhooks; Huck's escape from his father, his deceptions, disguises, and improvisations; the long, somnolent days adrift on the river; the abandoned boat, and the House of Death; the Grangerford feud, easily the single most terrifying episode of the book; the killing of Boggs, and the public shaming of the lynch mob; the horrifying vigilante violence that overtakes the Duke and the King; even its farcical ending, the over-elaborate plot to free Jim. What knits it all together, through its eventfulness and Quixotic structure, the shifting landscape of shore and water, is Huck's shifting internal landscape, his moral antagonisms. Jim is clearly human, Huck sees him as a person; but Jim is chattel, he belongs to somebody else. There's a moment when Jim talks about trying to rescue his wife and children from their new owner, and Huck is scandalized. Jim's talking about doing an injury to a man Huck doesn't even know - this is how Huck puts it to himself - stealing another man's property. The irony passes without being labored. Another example is that that Duke and the King can trade Jim off as a fugitive (he is, of course, having run away from Miss Watson), but it doesn't matter whether Jim is a particular fugitive, on a wanted poster. The fact that he's black, and on the loose, and nobody lays claim to him, is enough. He's guilty by virtue of who he is. Once they miss the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio at Cairo, the tip of Illinois, they're drifting into the Deep South. Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas. Jim's exposure is greater, his hope of rescue that much less. The comedy begins to sink, and the inevitable weight of despair settles on Huck's shoulders, a long-held, guilty secret.


For all that I recognize Huckleberry Finn as a great book - I agree with Hemingway, among others, that it is in fact the Great American Novel - Huckleberry Finn is not Twain's closing argument about slavery. That book would be Pudd'nhead Wilson, a novel Twain began as slapstick, or farce, but which descends into utter darkness, a bottomless sinkhole of cruelty and shame.
Pudd'nhead Wilson is a murder mystery, and it turns on themes of doubling. The two Italian twins, who appear to be working a parapsychology con, and the two boys switched at birth, Tom Driscoll and Valet de Chambre. The resolution depends on fingerprinting, very much a novelty at the time of the action, the mid-1800's. (Twain was fascinated by technology. A picture shows him in Nikola Tesla's lab.) By his own report, Twain started out with a comic premise. but the social savagery crowded out social satire, and the unresolved tensions of race, privilege, and clan loyalties are redeemed in brute violence.


The peculiar institution, a coinage of John C. Calhoun's, had by the 1880's become completely racialized, an American refinement. The practice of indentured servitude, common in colonial times, was by definition a term of indenture with a set expiration date or a buy-out price. But slavery was an inherited station; you were born into it, and would die as property. Your children, no less, were livestock. None of slavery's advocates made a secret of its racial foundation, and of course breeding was encouraged - slaves were a cash crop. The flip side of this, and generally accepted, was that slave women were used for sex by their white owners, and they got pregnant, and these children were born slaves, too. The high-yaller gal was appreciated for having her more African characteristics diluted.
By the time we get to Pudd'nhead Wilson - to clarify, Twain wrote the book in the 1890's, but the story takes place some fifty years earlier, before the Civil War - these racial norms are well established. Roxana, owned by the Driscolls, is one-sixteenth black, and nursemaid to Thomas Driscoll. Her boy Chambers has a white father (possibly Percy Driscoll, her master), and he's but one-thirty-second black, which still condemns him to slavery. He looks white; in fact, Chambers is almost indistinguishable from Tom, but born on the wrong side of the blanket. Roxy exchanges the babies. Her son grows up as heir to the Driscoll fortune, and Driscoll's son grows up in the slave quarters - that hint of the tarbrush is enough. Later in the story, when Roxy explains his clouded birth to her grown son, masquerading as Tom, and threatens to expose him, he eliminates the threat by selling his mother downriver to the Delta cotton fields. Nothing if not resourceful, Tom murders his uncle, and frames one of the visiting Italian twins for it. In the end, he's too clever by half, and the pretense unravels. The false Tom is himself sold on the auction block. The real Tom, raised as the slave Chambers, is restored to his family legacy, but he's neither fish nor fowl: he loses the one tribe he knows, the slave community, and can't assimilate as a white slave-holder. The well has been poisoned.


Twain seems to suggest that the false Tom is corrupted by privilege,  although he doesn't quite come down on one side or the other, nature or nurture. In the story, race is destiny, but not in the sense that one boy has a sunny outlook because he's secretly white, and the other has a temperament tainted by residual blackness. Some of their character can only be hard-wired, some is learned behavior. Perhaps the slave Tom has a native innocence, or a talent for it, and Chambers, the spoiled child, enlarges into bullyhood. Twain is ambiguous on this score. He's unambiguous in saying that circumstance itself - the iron conventions, the conditions of life, the immobility - creates a fatal lack of choice. Tom and Chambers are bound to one another by blood debt; both of them are trapped.
The longer shadow cast by Pudd'nhead Wilson is historical, the dark bruise of our national grief, spreading underneath the skin. The most pernicious aspect of historical denial is selective memory, and the evasion of responsibility. Glamorizing the South in defeat, and pretending race wasn't at issue, allowed for lynch law and Jim Crow, disguised as state sovereignty. It may have been coded language, but it was unapologetic white supremacy.


Not addressing the buried past - the unburied past, as it happens - or underlying social frictions, stresses any political system. It's generally accepted that the unequal terms imposed on Germany at Versailles in 1919 led to economic ruin and the rise of Hitler. Weimar was too weak to contain the tensions between the Red factions and the revanchist Right that played out across Europe. Much the same happened after the second war, the sentiment that the German Army was stabbed in the back again, even though this time they didn't have any Jews left to blame it on.
We see something familiar, then, in the grievance politics of our dislocated present. The vocabulary is different, to a degree, but the clamor, the intemperance, the hardening of the arteries, echoes the slave state sympathies of John C. Calhoun and his uncompromising belligerence. We seem ready to revisit the Lost Cause, not through the rosy lens of Gone with the Wind, but with a constipated whiner who got pushed off the swings. "George Porgie, pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry. When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away."
The question is ownership. Who controls the narrative? If we surrender the narrative, somebody else tells the story. Twain's lesson is that we can recover it, but we have to trust an unreliable narrator, a device as old as Homer. So we listen to our hearts. The rest is noise.


22 July 2020

Charlotte Gray


My sister gave me Charlotte Gray, and I left it lying about for a while. I wasn't familiar with Sebastian Faulks, nor was I terrifically compelled by the jacket copy,  and when I did start reading it, I resisted. It seemed too domestic, it didn't appear to have much urgency, but then I fell into the rhythms of the story, and it caught me up. Charlotte Gray isn't a thriller, quite, although it has thriller elements, and it isn't a romance, either, although it's enormously romantic, in its own way. It's more of a meditation on those themes. Which doesn't mean Faulks is trying on literary costumes, or condescending to the genre; he's feeling his way into it, as if it were new to us.



The story is about a young Scots woman who's recruited to the Special Operations Executive during WWII and dropped into Occupied France to service a Resistance network. SOE did a lot of dodgy stuff in the war, some of it marginal, some of it extremely effective, and they had no problem using women for clandestine work. More than a few of their number were compromised, tortured, and then executed by the Germans.

As with an Alan Furst novel, or a le Carre, we learn about tradecraft, and the threat environment, and the strengths and flaws of character, but there's an interesting simplicity about Charlotte herself. As she inhabits her French cover story, she uses 'Dominique' as a counterpoint, one step removed, a frame of reference at right angles - not an alibi, but a different narrator, somebody else telling her own story. Charlotte is herself well aware of the ironies, but as a device, it allows her to hold the story up to the light and reexamine it. This isn't studied or self-conscious: the author isn't breaking in, it's the character who wonders what part she's playing. I found it compelling, and more than that, completely convincing. You might think, Jeez, c'mon, the SS and the Vichy milice are hot on your trail, you don't have time to second-guess your place in all this, but it makes Charlotte real.

There's an authenticity of feeling, throughout the book. I think what threw me, in the beginning, is that the story isn't told as a narative of event. The episodes are emotional, which just sounds unlikely, coming from a male writer. You're used to the idea that a guy is going to present building blocks, a structure, rising action. It took me by surprise to realize the story lay, not in what was happening, exactly, but in how people engaged with what was happening. Even a fatal hinge point, the moment where Charlotte and Julien realize they have to assassinate a collaborator, is necessary because of who they are, and its inevitability lies in their sympathy for one another.

Of course, the book is not entirely interior, and there's more than enough razzle-dazzle, as it develops, but I'm still struck by the method, the lack of the literal, even though the story is full of concrete, obdurate detail. There is, as it happens, a movie adaption. The novel came out in 1999, and the movie in 2001. I'm now curious to see it. Movies are nothing if not literal, in the sense that you see an object presented. I can't quite imagine how this reconnaissance of a story, this narrative of suggestion, would translate. Charlotte Gray isn't dreamlike, it's in fact very specific, but not specifically about the visible. It's specific about the heart.

08 July 2020

Widdershins


People have commented about what kind of entertainment is appropriate - if appropriate is even the word - for this odd time. Do we embrace it, Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, or Camus, or turn to escapism? Conventional wisdom has it that screwball was so popular during the Depression because it didn't reflect actual living conditions. On the other hand, during the polio epidemic, there was a brief vogue for the iron lung as a story element. Noir mirrors a specific postwar unease, which overlaps Cold War nuclear anxiety. Kiss Me Deadly or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Godzilla is the atomic metaphor writ large and reptilian.

I seem to be in retreat, myself, falling back on comfort food. Instead of post-apocalyptic, I set sail instead with Dorothy Sayers and her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.

Now, right up front, let's admit some of these are pretty lightweight. Whose Body?, the debut, is contrived and gimmicky. Clouds of Witness is stronger, mostly because the stakes are higher. Unnatural Death seems labored, to me, and basically unconvincing - although it introduces the estimable Miss Climpson. I don't think Sayers (and Wimsey) really hit their stride until The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and I think also this is because Bellona is to some degree about the effects of the Great War on Wimsey and his generation.

Sayers wrote novels of manners; contrivance is less important than character. Wimsey is himself nowhere near the foppish dilettante he affects to present - this is a Scarlet Pimpernel device. (You can easily imagine Leslie Howard in the part, deceptively languid.) Wimsey was a major in the Rifles, and was invalided out. There's a scary moment in Whose Body? when he imagines hearing German sappers digging below, and Bunter has to talk him down and put him to bed. The relationship between Wimsey and Bunter is the spine of the stories.

The other thing we have to acknowledge, which for some readers could be a deal-breaker, is that the language of the period singes the present-day ear. You remember that the books started in the 1920's, so astonishingly, they're almost a hundred years old. This isn't to apologize for Sayers' vocabulary, or rather, the accuracy with which she reports the vocabulary of the British class structure. She doesn't necessarily share their prejudices, but you doubt she's inoculated against them. Then again, Wimsey seems to be playing a part, 'Lord Peter' a kind of self-parody, so how much of this is affectation? It's hard to distinguish between the narrative conventions and Sayers' personal feelings. She herself was apparently quite astonished when somebody suggested anti-Semitic tropes in her work.

The three strongest books are the late-runners, Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, and Gaudy Night. Murder Must Advertise because it's so effectively mannered - as a novel of manners ought - and because Sayers makes fun of her own successful career as an advertising copywriter. The Nine Tailors because the mystery is so elegant, the bell-ringing so exact, and the surrounding fen country so beautifully evoked. Gaudy Night is an outlier, granted, because it's of course Harriet's book, not Peter's, but the atmospherics are extraordinary, overheated and claustrophobic.

I also recommend The Documents in the Case, which is a standalone, without Wimsey, but the forensics reveal at the end is worth it all by itself.

The other thing about the language in the books, though, is how much it represents a world of the past. Not the late Victorian era of Holmes, but a time we think we can almost reach, from our own experience. Not that many degrees of separation. The period between the wars could be our parents, or theirs. You remember hearing an expression, as a kid, that made no sense whatsoever, because the context belonged to a previous generation. "Clean your plate," my grandmother might say, "think of those starving children in Belgium." Her reference is the First World War.

My personal favorite in the novels is widdershins, which means counter-clockwise, but Wimsey uses it in a particular way, "We do no harm in going widdershins, it's not a church." This puzzled me, until I unearthed a more sinister definition, invoking malign spirits. Originally, however, it seems simply to describe a cowlick or a case of bad hair. And there's the charm.  

24 June 2020

Invisibles


Claude McKay apparently wrote his fifth novel,  Amiable with Big Teeth, in 1941, and nothing came of it until a Columbia grad student stumbled across the manuscript seventy years later, and got it published. McKay was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930's, if not so influential or well-known as Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston. I'm no expert on the period or the people, or America's complicated relationship with race and history (much of which is clearly a history of willed ignorance), but McKay's book fascinates me because it's a social satire about black political engagement - and denial.

There were a lot of competing ideas in the 1930's, and two of the big ones at odds with each other in the Harlem of the time were Marcus Garvey's black nationalism and the siren song of Russian Communism. The actual issue in the novel is how the black community should respond to Italian aggression in Ethiopia: Mussolini's imperial ambition to dominate the Horn of Africa, and a stark demonstration of white European power deployed against a supposedly backward tribal culture, with attendant white barbarism, because their targets were African. This sideshow (not to the Ethiopians, whose estimated losses were three-quarters of a million people) took place on the periphery of a convulsive struggle in Europe between Left and Right, Stalin and his surrogates pitted against Hitler and his - although this vastly over-simplifies the internal divisions and quarrels over ideological purity the various factions tried to contain. The point here is that the same conversations are animating Harlem that fracture the body politic elsewhere.  

American politics have often been about grievance.  We want a place at the table, but when we get there, we put both feet in the trough. The immigrant experience follows a criminal model, the Irish and Tammany, the Italians using the Mafia to get political power, although this is generic. The first Vikings and English and Spaniards who landed in the New World were bent on piracy. The slave narrative, on the other hand, reverses the conventions.



History turns out to be malleable. We used to think it was hieroglyphic, etched in the stone, but like our personal history, you can walk into the house of memory by a different door, and suddenly see it turned around, from the back stairs, or the servants' quarters, so to speak.

It's not my purpose here to revisit or discredit the American origin myth, or redress old injuries. There are people far better equipped, for openers. I want to look at two things, though, one external, the other internal.

From the outside looking in, how do we understand the black presence in American popular culture? How in fact it's been appropriated, or sanitized, but certainly distorted. It's not simply that your experience isn't reflected, it's that your experience isn't represented at all. Okay, we can say the average American white experience of the 1930's isn't accurately represented by William Powell and Myrna Loy, but we wouldn't mind. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Marcus Garvey seeing himself in Stepin Fetchit.

We might pause for a moment and examine the Stepin Fetchit oeuvre, which is more ambiguous than received wisdom suggests. He made a couple of pictures with Will Rogers, for instance, and in Steamboat Round the Bend particularly, they demonstrate a very sly and subversive relationship. Step was a millionaire, by the way, and got featured billing in his pictures. The problem for black audiences, then and now, is that Step's characterizations get taken as an actual representation of black character. For a white audience, Step is a reassuring stereotype, an unthreatening lazybones. It's not far from here to Amos'n'Andy.



The second thing that bothers me is how this distorted mirror image might be internalized, by a black audience. It can't be an exaggeration to say black people are a hell of a lot more aware of their circumstance than white people are. Black people don't need white people to recognize this, as if white recognition would verify the black experience, that the black experience only matters when white people take notice. If you've been left out of the national conversation, or nobody hears the bear shit in the woods, is there silence?

I know I'm well out of my depth, but I can't help but think about what happened after the war. The fury of the years between, the 1920's and 1930's, the economic collapse, the street marches, the rise of Fascism, the cleansing of the politically impure, the scapegoating of the Jews - and then the savagery of the war itself.

I grew up in the immediate postwar era, and it was about hope. Our parents were lucky enough to get home. It was the era of noir, as well, and nuclear anxiety. We were the war children, Van Morrison's wonderful line, "born 1945." How come that generation of black kids, born 1945, got excluded? Their dads fought in the war with our dads, they beat Hitler and the Japanese with all the rest of us.

This is sad. This is stupid. This is shameful. It's just too God damn dumb. We owe an enormous cultural debt to guys like Duke Ellington, or Ray Charles. We'd be diminished without Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. It's embarrassing that I even have to make a list, or worse, search for their names. Seriously. We're still talking about who we'll choose to include as Americans, and the invisible Americans have already chosen.  

10 June 2020

The Popular Delusion


Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds was first published in 1841, and hasn't been out of print since.  He begins with an account of the Tulip Mania in 1637 and the South Sea Bubble of 1720, which were investments inflated by speculators - get-rich-quick schemes fueled by hysteria. For example, the South Sea Bubble was essentially a futures contract: it was a grant of monopoly for trade, but the expected trade itself never materialized. Mackay's thesis is essentially that people can be persuaded of damn near anything, when they want to believe it. Like a honey drop, say, or a Ponzi scheme, but Mackay tales it further.

Let's admit the lure of easy money. But how to explain what Mackay calls the Love of the Marvelous? In other words, the embrace of the clearly nutty. Mackay counts among these the Crusades, witch trials, dueling, alchemy, fortune telling, and mesmerism, to name a few. "The cup of life is not bitter enough," he says, contemptuously.

What got me thinking about this was an essay in The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum called "History Will Judge the Complicit," which is about collaboration. Somebody else recently suggested we should say collaborations, in the plural, meaning that there are a lot of different ways of accommodating ourselves to betrayal. It often succeeds by taking very small steps, and resolves, in the end, with what Czeslaw Milosz characterizes as relief. Your anxiety has lifted, you have a sudden lightness of heart, you're no longer at war with yourself. Conforming rewards you.

Trump's America is not Vichy France. But as Applebaum points out, the language of Trump's enablers echoes older historical excuses. We can use this to advance our agenda, is one. Or as George Will put it, scathingly: Gorsuch, seriously? We can protect the country from him. This is the "grown-ups in the room" argument. I'll personally profit from it. Okay, this makes a little more sense, and the last and most destructive. I get a hard-on being close to power.

Let's not forget raw fear. People surrendered to Hitler's terror, and Stalin's, because they were simply scared to death. Not only for themselves, but because the Nazis, or KGB, would kill your parents and your children, anybody who was infected with your heresy. Could we somehow recover some of our self-respect? This isn't Occupied France. Why is so much of it about denial, or delusion? We plainly have grievance, and genuine complaint, on both sides, the Need to Believe crazily important, and the Grassy Knoll the least of it.  

I remember an exhibition at the New York Public Library some years back, about Vichy collaboration, but about writers and intellectuals specifically. You've got somebody like Celine, your basic scumbag: he wasn't a Nazi sympathizer out of opportunity, he agreed with them; he was all in favor of exterminating the Jews. Then you've got Marguerite Duras, who worked with Vichy during the day, and passed information to the Resistance after hours. And many others in between. The myth de Gaulle tried to sell after the war was that all the French were heroes, to avoid recrimination, but Henri-George Clouzot's famous wartime movie Le Corbeau puts the lie to that. First the Nazis banned it, and then the French. The embarrassment was just too much.

I don't think the Trump years will prove such a gold mine of tension and treachery. I don't see a Casablanca being written about this era. I think a lot of us are just going to hang our heads in shame. But what put our heads in the noose? Trump is clearly an empty suit. I'm not going to rehearse his failures. The thing is, how can people invest in a blank slate? Sure, there are the nut jobs of QAnon, but I mean intelligent, articulate people on the Right, who have seen their principles found guilty by association.

The narrative has gotten lost. If this were a conspiracy story, we'd want the guy behind the curtain exposed, but the guy isn't Dracula, or Ernst Stavro Blofeld, or even the Wizard of Oz. He turns out to be Howdy Doody.

The delusion is that we ever took it seriously. The box office is terrible. Somebody greenlighted this show back in the era of Bonanza, when color TV was a novelty, and we stayed tuned for the commercials. Trump is the 1960's, and already a trivia question.

How we shape the narrative is up to us.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/

27 May 2020

Another Day in Paradise


I used to have a theory that the defining characteristic of a successful television series was the comfort factor. I don't think this is actually an original idea of mine, but likely somebody else's observation I've appropriated. If you take a show like Rockford, or Murder, She Wrote, or Magnum, it's a relationship, and you build on familiarity. It's about your engagement with Jim Garner, or Angela Lansbury, or Tom Selleck. Pause for a moment and consider that Columbo was originally conceived as a vehicle for Bing Crosby.

So if first we have character, then we have circumstance. To what degree is any given series situation? The term was coined to describe the half-hour comedies that came after Lucy, and Gleason's Honeymooners - even thought those shows were ensembles, and very much dependent on situation. In this case, though, we're talking situation drama, distinct from soaps. These are programming definitions, and not all that useful, except as shorthand.

Taking, again, Magnum for our template. Tom Selleck says the concept was a kind of James Bond party boy, beating women away with a stick, hot cars and vodka martinis, and Selleck was, No, been there, done that. How about beer and a Tigers cap, or the guy gets conked on the head a lot, he's even kinda slow on the uptake, from time to time? In other words, more like the rest of us. Then we begin to discard the other generic conventions. Higgins is an awful stiff, with only one note, the aggrieved and aging queen. John Hillerman clearly loses patience with this pretty early on. T.C. and Rick are there for what, protective coloration? This, too, goes by the boards. The dynamic of the show turns collaborative. It's character-driven.

Selwyn 
Catherine


Now, what if we turn this back to front? Suppose we take a situation that's character-driven, and keep changing the cast? This is Death in Paradise. It has some similarities to Murder, She Wrote, for one. It's not singularly gruesome, and mostly has a light touch. Nor does it break new ground. It's formulaic, and follows an established pattern. But consistency works in its favor. It's closing out the ninth season, and headed for ten.

Poole
Camille


The premise is a fish-out-of-water story. A cop from London, a detective inspector, is assigned to a somnolent Caribbean oasis. There's a lot of French heritage mixed in, but it's part of the British Commonwealth. (The show is an Anglo-French co-production, and actually shot on Guadeloupe and nearby islands.)

We have the expected culture clash, but the charms of the place turn out to be irresistible, and even the flintiest of hearts begins to soften. The other underlying commonplace is that our visiting fireman has the nearly magical ability to read the runes, and rescue clarity from the jaws of disorder.

Dwayne
Fidel


I know I'm not alone in thinking the first two season were the best, because of Ben Miller in the lead. He seems to have made a career of playing anal-retentive Limey twits or chilly Whitehall mandarins - for which see his iceberg performance in Primeval, opposite the indispensable Dougie Henshall. Cast out of rain-soaked England into the sudden sunshine of the New World, the guy never loosens his tie or undoes the top button of his collar. When he finally unbends enough to take off his shoes and socks and wade barefoot in the surf, it's as much of a character reveal as Dorothy Malone undoing her hair in The Big Sleep.

Humphrey
Florence



The third season introduced Kris Marshall, who hid his light under a bushel of socially awkward mannerisms, which never convinced me or won my heart. Both the way Humphrey was written and the way Marshall played him were enormously annoying. Here's the weird thing. I kept watching the show. Kris Marshall put me off but not enough to give up on the rest of them, Fidel and Dwayne and Camille. The concept held my attention, and the ensemble. And then another whammy. Putting up with Humphrey, and having lost Fidel at the end of Season Three, we then lose Camille, and Florence Cassell moves up a notch.

Ruby
J.P.



We finally unload Kris Marshall in Season Six, and Ardal Hanlon steps aboard. Big improvement. Except that Florence leaves. Two new constables have been slipped into the mix, Hooper and Ruby, but the real blow is at at the beginning of Season Eight, when Dwayne has disappeared, and without ceremony. By this point, the entire main cast has rolled over twice. The only stable support personnel are Don Warrington as the police commissioner and Elizabeth Bourgine as Catherine. Oh, and of course Harry the lizard, a still point in a turning world.


Jack
Madeleine



I just find it strange, quite honestly, that I've stuck with it. The locations are gorgeous, the hot colors, the laid back island vibe. There's familiarity, shrugging into a well-worn set of clothes, your expectation that it's all going to be set right. Terrific guest shots - James Cosmo, Adrian Dunbar, Denis Lawson, Clare Holman, Peter Davison.

Who wouldn't give up a week in the clammy UK and fly to the French West Indies? Maybe that's it, in the end.


I've got no explanation. I can only suggest that you pick up the DVD's at your library, or stream it on BritBox. You may well be as pleasantly surprised as I've been.