Who will win … Austen or Bronte?

2019 was, for me, a year of frustration.  I’d no sooner complete one project when I was late on another.  Things I assumed I’d handled successfully, unraveled into chaos.  Appointments were cancelled and rescheduled at the last minute. Checks and invitations got lost in the mail. 

You know … it was that kind of year and so when I heard that Masterpiece Theatre was broadcasting a new rendition of Jane Austen’s incomplete and posthumously published novel Sanditon, I figured, finally something to look forward to. But alas. Not that it was bad entertainment; it just wasn’t the Jane I’ve known all these years.  Below we have the hero and the heroine in some screenwriter’s idea of a romantic scene:

Mr. Parker: “I say Miss Heyward.  Would you mind dreadfully if I warmed my frigid male instrument in your silk petticoats?”

Miss Heyward:  “Mr. Parker. Kindly return to the sea so that the bass who nibbled off half your cock can bite off the rest!”

The first thing amiss for me about Sanditon was the father sending his daughter off to a naughty seaside resort with perfect strangers and only a brief admonishment to “trust no one.”  While it’s true that fathers in Austen novels tend to be either doddering hypochondriacs (as in Emma), vain and conceited nitwits (Persuasion), or witty curmudgeons (Pride and Prejudice)  they would have never sent their daughters off with a couple they just met.  

Mr. Bennet of P&P: For what do we live but to make sport of our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?

Even if her father was worthless (or dead), an Austen heroine could always depend on a wise older woman to dispense good sound moral judgment. In some cases the advice is wrong (Lady Russell in Persuasion) but it’s always well meant. The only woman giving advice to the heroine of Sanditon is Lady Denham who reminded me of an aging madam in a house of ill-repute.  No woman of that day and age would discuss money with a man except a prostitute. 

The heroine of Sanditon, Charlotte Heyward

Which brings me to the main character.  Was it just me or does the actress playing Charlotte Heyward bear an uncanny resemblance to Meghan Markel? I half expected Prince Harry to show up and  comment on her ruddy complexion. “I say, you’re no English Rose but won’t my granny shit her knickers if I marry an American divorcee!” 

The real Meghan Merkel

Instead Sidney Parker roars along a coastal cliff in a two person carriage scowling like a mad dog.  And why?  Apparently he’s responsible for a rebellious and suicidal heiress from the West Indies. Life is such a drag. Plot sound familiar? 

Rochester, old chap, you’re in the wrong production! Return to Jane Eyre, immediately.

Of course, being an Austen-inspired production, Charlotte and Sidney Parker will misunderstand each other, pout and huff about, and then fall madly in love after he selflessly saves the town.  However, if Bronte again haunts the screenwriters, we may find out Sidney Parker is secretly married to the heiress from the West Indies. After he suggests that they lock her in an attic and live in sin, Charlotte will have a come to Jesus moment, and run off to live on the moors with a religious zealot and his two sisters who coincidentally turn out to be long lost cousins.  When she finally returns, Sanditon will be in ruins and Sidney Parker hobbled and at her mercy.  A true Bronte ending to a Jane Austen story. 

MAGA hats in the make believe band

In general I don’t correct other people, especially in public. So what if someone doesn’t know a Monet from a Manet? Who cares? Not me!

However if someone says “I love this song from the musical Carousel” and then proceeds to name a song from the musical Oklahoma, I become an obnoxious know-it-all  who must correct this hideous injustice posthaste and with no sympathy for the miscreant.  Embarrassing confession but there it is.  I can be a bitch. But there’s a reason why.  As a kid I had most of the songs from the musicals written by Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe memorized. 

Rodgers and Hammerstein – true geniuses

I had no television growing up.  Just a record player and a father who loved musicals. As a girl, I was vaguely aware that some of these musicals tackled serious issues however my focus was on the romance.  Would Nellie Forbush overcome her prejudices and accept Emile?  Would Eliza Doolittle take old Henry Higgins down a notch or two?

Now when I happen to catch one of them on Turner Classic Movies, it’s definitely not the romances that pique my interest. Let’s face it, there’s not much chemistry between Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn!

I mean really? He’s ninety-nine years older than her.

I’m more interested in how the source material was altered for the musical and why. For example, South Pacific was based on James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, a collection of stories set during WWII.  One of the underlying themes is cultural intolerance.   Can an army nurse and young lieutenant from Little Rock Arkansas overcome their prejudices towards those “they’ve been carefully taught to hate”?

The nurse eventually does but in the original story, Our Heroine,  the man she loves has four mixed-race children from four different women none of whom he married. Horrors! An audience in the early sixties would definitely have trouble seeing him as a hero.  So in the musical, R&H gave Emile de Becque only two mixed race children and they are both from his deceased wife making his sin (marrying a heathen) in part redeemable.

R&H had a similar dilemma when writing the musical Carousel.  It was based on an earlier play called Lilliom by Ferenc Moinar.  In Moinar’s play, the main character, Billy Bigelow kills himself after being caught during a robbery but is still given a second chance to enter Heaven.  Recognizing this might make Bigelow less sympathetic to some in the audience,  R&H revised the storyline.  In Carousel Billy Bigelow falls on his knife while fleeing and thus is eligible for heaven.

I could go on but I’m sure you get the point.  Which brings me to The Music Man. This musical is not based on a previous publication but on Meredith Willson’s childhood band experiences in small town Iowa.  For the life of me, I do not understand WTF he was trying to say.  See if you can.

 

Here’s the plot for those of you who’ve never seen it.  A flimflam man who calls himself Dr. Harold Hill is looking for a town full of people gullible enough to scam and decides River City Iowa might be the ticket. His modus operandi is to play upon people’s fears (sound familiar?) but the good folks of the River City seem content and so he decides he’s got to create a problem that only he can solve.  The arrival of a new pool table gives him his hook.

He decides to convince that townspeople that the pool table will ruin the town and turn all their children into shiftless bums. The first thing he does is whip up fear.  Then hatred.  Finally he proclaims he alone can save them by creating a wholesome boy’s marching band. 

Of course, Harold Hill knows nothing about music.  But by the time he’s finally revealed as a con man, the whole town has been brainwashed into believing they can have a world class marching band.  They no longer care that they’ve been lied to and manipulated.  They just want to march happily through the town behind their savior.  (I’m not sure what he saved them from – their rationality?)

The musical ends on a truly bizarre note.  A small group of kids making noise with their instruments morphs into a full-fledged marching band.and around and around the town square they march. I could swear I saw a few MAGA hats in the crowd.

What are we supposed to make of that? What’s the underlying theme? Was Willson predicting a future where we no longer care if we’re lied to as long as we’re given a good show?  I just don’t get it.

Never surrender to nincompoops or madmen

There are some movies I will watch again and again for just one scene. 

In the movie The Darkest Hour, Winston Churchill rides the Underground for the first time as his advisors urge him to surrender to the Nazis. The bulk of the British army is surrounded at Dunkirk and the Americans are refusing to join the fight. Surrender seems to be the only way to avoid catastrophic defeat. Those politicians on the side of surrender have talked themselves into believing they can come to reasonable terms with a depraved madman but Churchill knows otherwise.The scene I love in that movie opens with Churchill gazing out at ordinary Londoners trying to escape the rain from his limousine. It’s a stark reminder that wars are begun by men in chauffeur-driven limos but it’s the man on the street who pays the price. Suddenly he disappears. When next seen he is trying to figure out the system map much to the surprise of the commuters. Aristocrats don’t ride the Underground everyday. Once they warm up to him, he asks how they feel about surrendering to Germany and to a man, woman and even a child they say “Never Surrender.”

 And of course Churchill weeps and I wept along with him.

After the movie I made the mistake of watching the news. Good grief.  Today a senate committee questioned some muleheaded nincompoop determined to stonewall them unless he could expound upon the dignity of human life (code speak for “take away a woman’s right to choose.”)  Any time a committee member came up with a reasonable question about his credentials, some jackass from the other party interrupted their time by yelling “point of order” which actually had nothing to do with order but had more to do with defending a nincompoop put into enormous power by a madman and I wanted to yell “NEVER SURRENDER” loud enough that it could be heard in Washington D.C.  

On a lighter note, here are a few favorite scenes from movies I’ll take the time to watch just for a few unforgettable scenes:

  • Mortimer discovers his dear sweet aunties are serial killers.
  • Ralphie gets a rude awakening from Santa
  • Winger and Ziskey discover they’ve joined the “wrong” army.

There are many more of course.  And we need them these days, we surely do.  Is there a movie you’d watch again just for one scene or am I the only one addicted to sentimentality?