Stanley Kubrick vs. Christopher Nolan

July 24, 2010

I’ve seen, though not read (I don’t read any blogs besides Paolo’s) some articles comparing these two so I will give it a roll, though I think it’s a mostly fruitless comparison with the exception of one film by each. I’m writing this after having seen Inception last week, though it won’t be part of this post because I’ve only seen it once. I went on a Nolan binge before and after watching his latest, and I saw Following and Insomnia for the first and second times each. I was very pleasantly surprised by the latter, because it shows that Nolan doesn’t have to co-write his own movie to make palpable his characters’ guilt-ridden obsessions, and he doesn’t have to create a puzzle of a narrative to literalize many of his characters’ creations of elaborate ruses to hide the fact that they are doing some pretty awful things to gain revenge on those they feel have wronged them. This is what makes his pre-Batman movies so interesting, his desire to fragment a narrative in order to give the viewer the disorientation that his characters need to hide their crimes from other characters. In nerdy English major terminology, especially so in Memento, his form matches his content, for the way he tells the story is just as important as the story itself. Marshall McLuhan would have been proud.

Then came The Dark Knight, and some of its considerable genius lies in the fact that Nolan had finally written a character whose need to “watch the world burn,” as Michael Caine’s Alfred puts it, is so nakedly ambitious and well-planned that it needs no disguise. Sure, the Joker has the make-up, hideous scars, dye job, and catchphrase name to signify a nominal alter ego, but he’s smart enough to realize that his biggest costume is the fact that he has no known address or occupation and wears label-free clothing, and thus he can’t be traced through either his personal information or what he actually did out in the world. The concept that a man who has clearly lost his sanity could also be the smartest, and in some cases, for some viewers, thus the most sympathetic, man in the room is very Kubrickian, for Stanley directed what is arguably the finest film centered around such a character, A Clockwork Orange.

Now, the difference between the two films is that while I am impressed by the Joker’s intellect and eventual success in exposing that the differences between him and the “saner,” more “morally correct” characters are thin indeed, I am not necessarily cheering for him because there are more characters who are inherently good, and do not stray from that path, in that film (such as Alfred and Rachel), while Alexander DeLarge in the Kubrick is easy to cheer for because he’s the only character who is independent enough to be able to truly choose to be whomever he wants to be in his vanilla world buried in bureaucracy, even if he makes the choice to rape and pillage, and having the ability to question what’s going on and choose how you want to feel and what you want to do about it is intrinsically human. Thus, watching “The Dark Knight” eventually brought me to the conclusion that one of Kubrick’s great legacies is to give other directors the template to create characters who do loathsome things but do them in such a calculated, intelligent fashion that you can separate their actions from their characters and thus be repelled by the former while being really attracted by the latter. That in turn helped me realize that, for whatever reason(s) (maybe the advent of modern-day terrorism has something to do with it), films in which characters gain some audience sympathy by doing quote-unquote insane things, or speaking truth to power, or flummoxing authority, in order to show their worlds what they are missing, are somewhat plentiful over the last decade or so, from David Fincher’s Fight Club to James McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers’ V For Vendetta, to Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, to, finally, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. That these movies are all very good, and tell their respective stories in very different fashions, shows that interesting films are everywhere and it is up to discerning moviegoers to seek out, find, and recommend them to others. Therefore, you can consider every single film referenced in this post as highly recommended.


Iron Man 2

May 27, 2010

The creators of Iron Man 2, for all the money they were given and the gifted cast they hired, have forgotten that the finest special effect in any movie is real, believable human emotion, and thus their film is soulless and lame.

Several days after having seen it, I remain shocked at how ineptly the sequel was filmed. It’s such a shoddy movie that not only is it a major disappointment but it is also one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Now, I have to admit that most of my least favourite movies ever are sequels or big-budget films in general, such as Batman and Robin, Charlie’s Angels, The Devil’s Own, etc., mostly because all of these movies’ budgets and stars force the movie to be “important,” with big emotions and the like, and these movies fall far short of earning the importance they give themselves. Against my better judgment, I have lately been roped in to see some movies that people of my generation find so obviously “bad” that they get camp value out of watching them, such as this and, to a less “bad” extent, this. Granted, “Clue” was way more of a good time than any of the other bad movies I’ve listed, but it’s still bad and I’ll never understand why people my age would consciously waste two hours of their lives to watch a movie they think is terrible so they can laugh ironically at it, but I digress. The original point is that really bad big-budget movies are always infinitely worse than really bad Uwe Boll movies because Uwe Boll has the mere ambition to make bad movies that he’s aware are bad so he can wink at the audience and share their ironic laughter while big-budget movies are about the latest Hollywood star saving the world from the latest Hollywood bad guy.

This is part of the reason I absolutely loathe Iron Man 2, because it had the ambition and the cast and the money necessary to be great and it’s so woefully short of such lofty goals that it fails to be worth even the five bucks I spent to watch it. It’s got one of those screenplays that throws eight lines per second at the screen to distract the audience from the fact that the dialogue is painfully flat and that the emotions the characters speak of are nowhere seen in action rather than in talk. The rest of the elements of the movie are equally busy in theory while heading nowhere in actuality. Thus, we get Sam Rockwell chewing up the scenery in the least-convincing overacting since Tom Cruise playing drunk and Mickey Rourke chewing up nothing in a portrayal of the least-menacing villain in an action movie since Mathieu Amalric’s in the last James Bond flick. God bless Chandler Levack for commenting recently that Don Cheadle’s hyper-sincere performances might have been interesting until about the point that Crash came out but are mostly boring now. He’s so over-serious that he’s not believable as a friend of playboy Tony Stark. This is one of the most glaring things that worked so well in the first film that the makers went away from. Terrence Howard worked perfectly as a foil for Downey because, although he’s serious when he has to be, as any army man must, his stoner-sleepy eyes and smile show that he can relax too, and thus can kick back with a character in Stark who has lots of money and likes to spend it on fun things and women.

Now, the women. The main reason that Iron Man was not just a great comic book movie but a great movie bar none was because of the sexual tension between Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and Downey Jr. The scene in which Pepper has to retrieve Tony’s what I will call “bionic” heart from inside his chest has more heat in it than is contained in the entirety of most of the “romantic” comedies Hollywood releases nowadays. Nevertheless, the makers of the sequel have again ignored a winning formula by concentrating on the sturm und drang between the men rather than the rawer tension between Stark, Potts, and whoever Stark picks to bed next, in this movie’s case Scarlett Johansson’s character. Not only are the women mostly ignored in the film, but Johansson is made to take part in one of the film’s several infuriating plot holes.

I may not be a filmmaker, but I have seen enough movies and read enough books to know that when you are creating a make-believe world you have to explain to the audience or the reader why this world can be believed in by attaching some real human concern to it and setting parameters that cannot be broken without an explanation. Hence, Neo in The Matrix cannot dodge bullets until after he’s told he’s The One and can break the physical rules of the computer world he’s trying to destroy. Now I am sure that the comic-book nerds watching the movie don’t mind that Nick Fury and Romanoff are brought into it without any mention of what SHIELD is all about and why it is so desperate to acquire Iron Man’s services, but the absence of such information not only made me not care for them, it made me not care for the movie they’re in. I also hate that Rhodey steps into the War Machine suit, which he did not make and has never used, and operates it expertly without there being even a one-minute scene showing him training in it. I cannot take it for granted that he can fly in it because in the first movie the filmmakers set the parameters of this world by not allowing us to take it for granted that Tony Stark, the genius who created the suit, could fly in it without practice. If Rhodey’s a better flier than Stark I would have liked some character in the movie commenting to that effect before Rhodey takes off. Thus, in conclusion, Iron Man 2 is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen because it fails to pay attention to even that one small yet significant detail, an ignorance of good filmmaking and storytelling techniques that infests the rest of the film like a bad plague.

This is an essay I wrote for a course called “The Open Road in North American Narrative”

May 27, 2010

Jim Harrison’s A Good Day to Die

A Good Day to Die, like On The Road and Easy Rider before it, holds interest for me in the way it takes conventions of the road narrative and filters them through a cultural lens. While Kerouac’s version of the ‘50s could be said to be the catalyst for the druggy counterculture that transformed the ‘60s and is so depicted by Dennis Hopper’s film, Harrison’s novel gets no small amount of its characters’ fatalism from the fact it is written in the ‘70s, the decade that took the idealism and massive social change spawned by the counterculture and destroyed it. This loss of purpose came as a result of many occurrences, the most relevant to Harrison being Vietnam. These characters make up a lost generation, a bevy of, as Rilke describes so aptly in the foreword, “disinherited children to whom neither what’s been, nor what is coming, belongs.” They cannot help but parallel their country’s loss of a moral compass after their righteous invasion of Vietnam leads not to a fatal blow against Communism but to catastrophic loss of life. Hence, in order to find some happiness in life they take off on a road trip, with a beautiful woman in tow, only the finer details don’t add up to an adventure and randy comedy like Sideways. They take off in order to blow up a dam, and the woman isn’t some girl they pick up on the road who attracts both of them but the finest woman either of them has ever met and someone who Tim has been with and hurt repeatedly over a long period of time. The guys, Tim and the narrator, aren’t just lifelong chums looking for a good time but have barely met, Tim having left the hospital with a huge scar on his face from two tours in the war, as well as mental scars the reader doesn’t know about, and the narrator a 28-year old divorced fisherman, cranky, alcoholic, aimless, who “looked long and closely in the mirror for signs of incipient age and decay.” These guys like to get high and have sex but are too decrepit to associate themselves with the previous generation, or even their music: “But who were hippies these days when a shoestore owner in Waco, Texas, might be mistaken for a Rolling Stone… One particularly odious type in a Bill Blass outfit said to a younger clean-cut type that he had expanded and was ‘grooving on my own thing.’ I contemplated walking over and smashing his head in with my aluminum fly rod case.” Even their drugs, unlike Sal and Dean’s “tea,” are uppers and downers that help them recover from their prodigious drinking and discourage them from sex. Hence their disorganization leads them to omit possibilities in their planning for the dam, resulting in Tim’s stunning death and the narrator’s helplessness in assuaging his own and Sylvia’s guilt.

This is an essay I wrote for a class called Concepts in Literary Criticism

May 27, 2010

Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons: the final
gem in the author’s often erratic yet underrated oeuvre

To write about any of Capote’s works is to find oneself in the mire. I say mire because I assume that, more than most of the authors I think are considered great by the critical establishment, Capote divides the critics into extremes. John W. Aldridge writes, in his essay titled The Metaphorical World of Truman Capote,
“[i]n Capote one feels not that life has been lived and then laboriously achieved but that life has somehow been missed. Capote’s world seems to be a concoction rather than a synthesis. It has a curious easiness about it, as if it has cost nothing to make, as if, really, the parts had all been made separately at some anonymous factory and might have been put together by just anyone. Its purity is not the purity of experience forced under pressure into shape, of painstaking selection and rejection amid a thousand possibilities. Rather, it is the sort that seemingly can be attained only in the isolation of the mind which life has never really violated, in which the image of art has developed to a flowerlike perfection because it has developed alone.” (Aldridge 38)

This argument, relating that the author forces his narrative into shape by choosing to use or decline elements in his mind that life’s ups and downs have put there, reeks of what the New Critics called the intentional fallacy and is repeated by several other critics, as I intend to show, to the detriment of the criticism itself. Certainly Paul Levine, in an essay titled Truman Capote: The Revelation of the Broken Image, which is far more favourable to the man’s writing, illuminates this tendency of critics to concentrate on Capote’s image as a larger-than-life personality whose effeminate nature speaks to his “flowerlike perfection” and childish innocence and conflate that with his literary achievement or lack thereof. Levine writes,
“The inclusion of Truman Capote in any discussion that pretends to be at most scholarly and at least literary is usually frowned upon by the more sternfaced of our critics. The mention of his name conjures up images of a wispish, effete soul languishing on an ornate couch, emitting an ether of preciousness and very little else. The reaction to the amazing success of his early books […] has relegated Capote to the position of a clever, cute, coy, commercial, and definitely minor figure in contemporary literature, whose reputation has been built less on a facility of style than on an excellent advertising campaign […] Yet the attacks on Capote seem more personal than literary. Critics like John Aldridge […] have blatantly confused the author’s private life with his literary ability. The notion- as fantastic as any of Capote’s stories- that Capote’s style comes too easily is an excellent example.” (Levine 81)

Levine sticks to the texts themselves, and the author’s personality does not stop Levine from praising the work even while injecting some of Capote’s like-minded opinion: “[…] some of his stories- notably “Children on Their Birthdays” and “A Tree of Night”- are striking examples of their medium. Even Capote admits he is most at home in the short story” (88). For my part, after reading this kind of criticism as well as Music for Chameleons, Capote the writer is not the simple yet vengefully gossipy larger-than-life persona many claim him to be, a character given even more life by Capote himself in his social behaviour. Thus, he cannot consider himself blameless of his lack of deserved status among the literati, but he is correct in acknowledging his skill at writing short stories, for he is a master.

Music, a compilation of works previously published in periodicals such as Esquire, McCall’s, and The New Yorker, begins with six short stories that prove Capote’s talents in a variety of ways. The title story showcases his constantly verse-like approach to prose; he uses copious simile to enliven his plots and showcase his genuine insight into the tenor of human conversations. His narratives entertain further when he opens up about his favourite artists and his opinions expose him as an astute consumer of art similarly to his consumption of life and consequent regurgitation of reality through his characters. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, he humorously points out, “[t]he man in charge of the casino is called Shelley Keats. I thought it was a joke at first, but that really happens to be his name” (Capote 8). His humour balances his accurate probes into the darkness of life such as this one: “Strange where our passions carry us, floggingly pursue us, forcing upon us unwanted dreams, unwelcome destinies” (11).

In “A Lamp in a Window,” chronicling Capote’s rendezvous with Mrs. Kelly, an old widow who provides him with shelter after a late-night escapade goes awry, the latter echoes his wonder at the unexpected fates our desires result in with this confession: “Of course, I was raised a Catholic, but now, I’m almost sorry to say, I have an open mind. Too much reading, perhaps” (18). This story, as well as the preceding “Mr. Jones,” underlines the author’s respect and admiration for the downtrodden and forgotten of society. Even after commending Mrs. Kelly’s hospitality, he feels he has to further dispel his readers’ suspicions about her. He admits he found her, “[a] bit dotty. Yes, a bit dotty, I thought […] But radiant: a lamp in a window” (20). It is this rehabilitation of the impressions his characters give his readers which is one of the current themes of the collection. Thus, when he writes admiringly of a public figure like Marilyn Monroe in “A Beautiful Child,” he is derided as a gossipy naïf who exposes painful secrets while he’s instead trying to recover what made the public admire her in the first place. Thus, as he watches her, he laments: “The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls’ cries and call her back: Marilyn! Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so fucking rotten?” (245).

The cuckolded husband in “Mojave” might well ask the same question, but Capote, knowing many couples stay together while one party is having an extramarital affair, does not allow him to be so simplistic. Instead, “[h]e was always careful not to offend her, just as she took the same care with him: a consequence of the quiet that simultaneously kept them together and apart” (31). Of course, life, in keeping us on our toes, encourages us not to get complacent and Capote, being the writer he is, inserts some levity via another jilted husband’s viewpoint. “There’s two things I’m scared of. Snakes and women. They have a lot in common. One thing they have in common is: the last thing that dies is their tail” (33). Hence another form of Capote’s ultimate salvation of his characters is their continuous humour in the face of common yet daunting toil.

Nobody toils more in this book than Detective Jake Pepper in the compilation’s tour de force, “Handcarved Coffins,” a story Capote calls in his brash In Cold Blood-like manner a nonfiction short novel. Pepper has lived away from home for almost five years in a small, cheap, motel room trying to solve a case as “intricate as a rat’s maze” (68). The author dazzles throughout in his attempt to combine “the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry” (xiv). He excels on all counts in the narrative, for one is gripped by the atrocity of the crimes committed as in a serial-killer film like The Silence of the Lambs. Capote himself daydreams of these gruesome crimes, with haunting effects. “I saw the car dark under a hot sun, the swirling serpents, the human heads growing green, expanding with poison. I listened to the wind, letting it wipe the scene away” (70). The narrative is teeming with the author’s similes, which as always add levity to gripping material but more importantly serve as wonderfully concise descriptions of character and intent. “Again and again Jake slammed a hard fist into a cupped hand, like an angry prisoner too long confined, frustrated. Well, he had now been imprisoned by this case for many years; great fury, like great whiskey, requires long fermentation” (80). It is this final sentence that points to Capote’s great observations of character, as well as the thrill of reading a true-crime narrative flavoured with poetic touches, and, later, a novelist’s eye for the bob and weave of dialogue, both silent and spoken aloud, between lovers, written screenplay-style. This is one conversation between Truman, Jake, and Jake’s pair Addie Mason:
“TC: What does he look like-Mr. Quinn?
JAKE: Don’t tell him!
ADDIE: Why not?
JAKE: Just because. (Standing, he walked over to the fireplace and offered what remained of his cigar to the flames. He stood with his back to the fire, legs slightly apart, arms folded: I’d never thought of Jake as vain, but clearly he was posing a bit-trying, successfully, to look attractive. I laughed.)” (94)

It is this keen insight into real character of Truman Capote’s that shows that critics have misjudged him as, quite contradictorily, an unviolated flower isolated from life or an inveterate gossip. These criticisms are those of character, not writing prowess. As Roland Barthes would say, their signified of “bad writer” has morphed into their signifier of “Truman the person,” notably not Truman the writer. This also mirrors Fredric Jameson’s conviction, in his Nostalgia for the Present, that the public is prone to “shift from the realities of the 1950s to the representation of that rather different thing, the “fifties” (Jameson 28). Hence many critics have decided to represent Truman Capote as either the young man luxuriously lying on a couch in a photograph for his first literary triumph or the post-In Cold Blood-fame alcoholic and drug abuser, neither of which elucidate his status in the canon.

Works Cited

Capote, Truman. Music for Chameleons. New York: Signet, 1981.
Jameson, Fredric. “Nostalgia for the Present.” Lentricchia and DuBois 226-242.
Lentricchia, Frank, and Andrew DuBois, eds. Close Reading: The Reader. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
Aldridge, John W. “The Metaphorical World of Truman Capote.” Waldmeir and Waldmeir 37-48.
Levine, Paul. “Truman Capote: The Revelation of the Broken Image.” Waldmeir and Waldmeir 81-93.
Waldmeir, Joseph J. and John C., eds. The Critical Response to Truman Capote.
Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Law and order, codes of honor, and the use of violence in the western films Shane and Kill Bill Volume 1

May 27, 2010

Shane and Kill Bill Volume 1 deal in the highly codified forms of violence depicted in the western. While the former, in the manner of classical films, helps to entrench these codes, the latter, as a post-modern exercise, is all too aware of the contradictory nature of such codes and serves to undermine them, or at least to expose them as artificial.

Shane depicts a settlement so removed from urban areas that the closest form of law and order is days away, leaving the homesteaders and the Riker clan to settle their quarrels themselves in a precarious balance, with Shane stepping into the breach. The Starretts clearly have right on their side, as Riker can hardly maintain the entire terrain belongs to him, and they are forced to enter into a violent conflict they are ill-equipped to participate in, eventually needing Shane to do the hard work. By contrast, The Bride in Kill Bill Volume 1, a former assassin, is fighting not to keep her way of life but rather to be allowed to start a new one with her coming child and new husband, and thus she seeks to, after she wakes up from her coma, avenge herself and the unborn child that she at first assumes has been murdered. A sheriff shows up in the chapel where she and her entire wedding party have been massacred, placing us in an urban context where the law is, like in Shane, either completely absent or ineffectual. Hence Shane, the gunslinger, and The Bride, the samurai, are thrust into making their own law in environments where the law has been ineffectual for so long that the process of making one’s own law has its own due process.

Thus, Shane, as he quickly learns of the stakes of the dispute between Riker and Joe Starrett, is told by Joe not to intrude until he himself is affected, as when Chris humiliates him at the bar. It is significant to note, however, that Shane uses only his fists in this first fight and does not even bring out his gun immediately after Stonewall is killed. The fact that Joe involves himself in this fistfight leads to Stonewall’s murder, for Joe becomes the first homesteader to try to confront Riker’s men with a gun rather than with his reason, which until now was the only weapon the homesteaders carried in this dispute. Therefore, when Stonewall is killed this conflict becomes about guns rather than words, and it is only now that Shane is in his element; he need only wait until Joe is summoned to a peace meeting, which is a shallow cover for a guns-blazing showdown, to replace Joe and finish his job by participating in “the dance.” Similarly, The Bride attempts a domestic life and is pulled back to her dominant realm of violence by the DiVAS. In this case the “showdown” aspect of her revenge is far more ritualistic, as writer-director Quentin Tarantino showcases all of its component parts with a knowing wink at the audience and an intriguing blend of codified violence in martial arts films as well as westerns. Ergo, before The Bride fights O-Ren, she has to be at one with her “horse,” which is in this case her “Pussy Wagon” or later her motorbike, and has to seek out Hattori Hanzo, who will make her a special sword for the duel, for he serves as a kind of mentor who “agrees philosophically” with her aims and forces her to train rigorously to show her worthiness for having the sword, a common trope in martial arts films. Then she has to fight O-Ren’s posse, the Crazy 88s, in yet another convention of kung fu movies: the single master against the many pupils. This pre-showdown massacre, which occurs on a dance floor, literalizes the western metaphor of the showdown as a “dance” between two willing participants. Of course, this massacre is, quite unlike Shane’s skilful yet traditional gunning-down of several men in a span of seconds, played for dark comedy as the Crazy 88s lose limbs and bleed a cartoonish amount of blood. The final stark contrast between the two films’ respective showdowns occurs when The Bride murders O-Ren by scalping her, a self-conscious ode to a western convention that no classical film like Shane would have played for laughs.

Finally, the two films also show huge differences in their respective depictions of violence. Firstly, violence in the domestic sphere in Shane is shown to be taboo. While the Starretts allow little Joey to have a gun, it is not loaded and Marian loudly admonishes the boy for pointing it at people. Later in the film, even Shane’s use of a gun in the vicinity of the house is startling, as his shooting of the stone becomes the loudest sound in the film, a nuclear-bomb-like roar that makes reference to the film having been shot during the Cold War. By contrast, The Bride’s fight with Vernita occurs in the latter’s house, and she murders Vernita in front of her daughter. What we have here is a complete breakdown of the boundaries where violence can be used justifiably in a western as evidenced by Shane and even a revisionist western like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. The fact that violence can happen anywhere in the world of Kill Bill Volume 1, and often does, is further confirmed by the fact that The Bride’s party is attacked and massacred in a house of worship, and that when The Bride travels from Okinawa to Tokyo she is sitting in a plane that has sword holders at the side of each aisle, as indispensable to that world as cup holders are to ours. In conclusion, while Shane entrenches the western conventions that depict a world where law and order are absent, codes of honor are observed in meting out one’s own brand of justice, and violence can only be used in specific places at specific times, Kill Bill Volume 1 endeavors to undercut every one of those conventions in a parodic style.

What makes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Coriolanus tragedies?

May 27, 2010

Julius Caesar and Coriolanus are tragedies because they depict the undeserved fates, leading to murder in both cases, of extraordinary men whose deaths deserve to be honored and pitied. They differ in that Julius Caesar does not deserve his assassination at the hands of those who loved him whereas Coriolanus does not deserve his exile from Rome, orchestrated by those who loved him, and is murdered by a Volscian leader, pointedly not a Roman, who found Coriolanus’ death politically necessary for the order of his state. While Caesar and Coriolanus are both flawed in their ambition, which paradoxically is also a strength for each of them under certain situations, Caesar, who in being “constant as the North Star” is above all of inconsistent humanity, is able to give his underlings a sense of power even if they truly do not possess any. Coriolanus is unable to flatter the commoners in such a manner and plays less the politician, more the warlike general.

Caesar is killed so early in the narrative that sports his name that little of his strengths and weaknesses are portrayed. For better or worse, he is proud, confident and ambitious, yet he turns down the crown three times when it is offered to him by Antony, and in his daily consideration of entreaties by his people he rebuffs the poet who has written him a warning of the coming attempt on his life by stating that those proposals which are nearest to him will come last. His greatness seems self-evident, as his military triumphs and favor with the people are, though barely hinted at, expressed in passionate terms. After Antony inflames the citizenry towards taking revenge on the conspirators, the commoners punish Casca the poet, not the murderer, “for his bad verses,” and though this is a blackly comedic portrait of a fickle commons it is evident that the masses are moved to their irrational behavior due to their deep love of Caesar and despair over his death. In fact, the love Brutus holds for Caesar and expresses to the multitudes even after having taken part in Caesar’s murder argues more for Julius’ greatness and Brutus’ fatal choice to betray him than for Caesar’s deserving of that death for his ambition.

Similarly, Coriolanus’ greatness is given an added sheen by the respect accorded him by his murderer and his former enemies the Volscians, who allow him to lead them into battle despite his having conquered their city and murdered their families in the past. However, his death ends the narrative, and therefore Shakespeare, and this is why Coriolanus is widely regarded as a “problem play,” has plenty of time to complicate Coriolanus’ status as a tragic hero by imbuing him with flaws that cut deep into the heart of Rome, his beloved city-state. As the play occurs earlier than the events portrayed in Julius Caesar and depicts Rome as a new republic, Rome is not ruled by a singular personality but by two consuls and two tribunes. The tribunes being the voices of the people and often commoners themselves, the highest political perch for an aristocrat like Coriolanus is that of consul. If Coriolanus, who has earned the new name that cements his tremendous achievement of having conquered Corioli, is spoken of as a great general of many great victories, one wonders why he is not consul already. It is evident that the reasons for that are Coriolanus’ reluctance to perform the ritual of the voices, which will get him the consulship, as well as his inability to speak politically with the commons rather than in his usual bluntly honest way. Unlike Julius Caesar, he does not conceal from the lower classes his view of his superiority over them and tells them matter-of-factly that they should not have any political power at all. However, this bluntness also clearly serves as one of his strengths. In military rather than political battles his soldiers respect his experience, and thus his berating them when they are less valiant than him in thrusting themselves into deadly situations inflames their courage to fight alongside him. Thus it is in this military frame of reference where Coriolanus thrives, in sharp contrast to Caesar, whose military competence, while great in its own right, comes secondary to his political ability to curry the favor of the people. Hence, while Caesar is given his rightful state burial in the city that he loved and whose inhabitants loved him back, Coriolanus’ great funeral occurs in Volsce, the more martial city-state, and his crowning achievement is not becoming emperor but rather the conquering of the enemy’s territory, which gives him, in a name, a crown that can never be taken away.

In conclusion, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus depict separate tragedies experienced by Romans. In Caesar’s case, the tragedy of the Romans is to discover that some of their very own have killed their champion, while in Coriolanus’ case Romans exile and leave him to his own devices without first honoring him for his remarkable military achievements.

This is the first page of a food article I wrote for the Metro Toronto daily newspaper

October 4, 2007


This is the recipe that comes with the food article I wrote for Metro Toronto

October 4, 2007



June 22, 2007

This blog will serve as an article archive for me, Lars Aumueller, a graduate of the University of Toronto at Scarborough with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in English. I am looking for employment that will allow me to use my skills as a writer, editor and proofreader. Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoy reading my articles and essays.

This is an essay I wrote for a class called Cinema and Modernity

March 29, 2007

All That Heaven Allows and Far From Heaven: The Melodrama

            Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows and Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, in both being melodramas set in 1950s small-town America, concern themselves with, generally, the social repression forced upon mothers turned into housewives by the end of World War II, and, specifically, with the dinner-party set’s need to sanction the actions of women among their flock who have divorced or been widowed. These actions center on the respective woman’s daily interactions with her children and most importantly with men who are candidates to replace the recently departed in a society where only men do the work and make the money while women need only marry rich and tend to the home. Where these films differ is that the former deals strictly with the social expectations placed on a widow based on who she should marry next and the backlash created by her choice of what many see as the wrong man, while the latter takes a more panoramic view of a divorcée’s choice of the wrong man, mixing in racial concerns by making this man black-skinned, and holding off on the romantic aspects of a friendship that remains platonic throughout. What qualifies both of these films as melodramas besides their subject matter is, firstly, the non-diegetic music, designed to provoke an emotional response, that plays during many of these films’ pivotal scenes and, secondly, a shooting style that often relies on: close-ups of its leading woman’s face to correspond with the aforementioned music at the end of key scenes, as well as medium-scale shots through windows and mirrors, which are meant to emphasize the pristine nature of these small towns to throw into stark relief the cracks in the façade that these films expose. Moreover, the opening credit sequences for both films consist of crane shots of gorgeous houses and buildings as well as autumn leaves and their lush colors, again signifying the idyllic nature of the towns. Read the rest of this entry »