Monday, June 12, 2006


Now the remaindering book stores are beginning to offer VHS tapes, often of rather highbrow movies, so that in this jumble that is so deranging the world of print, up pops a movie about authors: “Children of the Century” which is about George Sand (played by Juliette Binoche who looks about as much like George Sand as my left foot) and Benoit Magimel (who spends all his time snurfling around in Madame Sand’s decolletage, though he’s supposed to be a poet). All through the movie Sand snatches every moment she can to write while de Musset provides jaded content, swerving from ecstacy to near-suicide with no evident motivation at all. Sand’s motivation is paying the bills. It seems clear that all that rooting around in Sand’s bodice is actually a search for a nipple and that de Musset is looking for an all-sustaining and ever-forgiving mother. In fact, he has found one.

This pattern for relationships is quite common, it seems to me. (This morning on NPR there was a complaint by a black man that there’s no way to have a relationship of equals with today’s strong black women. I wouldn’t take on some of the strong Swede ranch girls around here either.)

There are two wonderful things about this movie: the first is the quality of Sand’s bodices, which were designed by Christian Lacroix. I assume he also designed the men’s wear which is equally wonderful: that period when men wore wrapped stocks, big bows under their chins, and tall hats.

The other is the titles, which show old-fashioned printing in the background. I may sit down and watch just the titles alone a few times for the pure sensuous pleasure of it. At first there is a man compositing, picking letters out of the grid-drawer and sequencing them in the little print hod he carries. He puts them in place among the other lead paragraphs, adds some leading for spaces, pounds it all in with a rubber mallet and lays it into the press, the page weighing what? Fifty pounds? The ebony ink. A hand brayer smashes it all out flat by rolling back and forth. When everything is set, the wheel is turned to apply pressure, and then the printed page is lifted up, a miracle of legibility. How can anyone write trash for such a process? Surely each word must be considered carefully, judiciously weighed.

Maybe it is in counterpoint that the writers are portrayed as crazed with emotion, crashing into each other, swooping around the more beautiful parts of Europe like birds trapped in a gilded and mirrored mansion. The male sees himself as a peacock and all females as hens. Lacroix’s notion of what pornographic peahens wear mostly consists of young bottoms and a few plumes. The female Sand is left to have only one affair with the doctor (a FAR more worthy partner) while the poet comes near death. Aside from writing the books that pay the bills, she must keep track of the children, the tutors, the maid, the resentful husband we never see and who never helps -- but Binoche is up to it. Probably because the director is a woman, Diane Kurys.

Bertolucci’s recent “The Dreamers” follows along this romantic pattern of flinging oneself at life, the hell with the consequences; obsessively attaching to inappropriate people, the hell with the consequences; ingesting everything deranging, the hell with the consquences -- and so on. Neither “The Dreamers” nor “The Children of the Century” will ever come to a movie house near Valier. I’d be surprised if there are two people in the state who own both films, even on DVD. But many many people here (especially on the reservation) -- and more coming here now -- believe in this pattern, this attitude.

Now and then I find someone absolutely anchored in reality, reconciled to their lives and competent in them. They eat properly, sleep soundly, and die in old age at home in bed with grieving children watching over them. No one considers them worth imitating. Or sometimes, especially young ones, they are cold as robots: take what they need, give as little as possible, and disappear somewhere that I never go.

How did the idea of Romanticism seize us so deeply and thoroughly even way out here on the prairie? Is it the existential result of war? (Mothers sprawled desolate on the graves of their sons.) How did we get sex and violence so enmeshed with love and tenderness? Is it our love affair with crime and ghettoes? Is it the breakdown of marriage? Is it because we talk about testosterone and estrogen all the time instead of oxytocin, the nurturing hormone?

Or is it sitting in darkened theatres watching movies like this? Maybe lying in a pillowed bed late at night with just one light to read the books of George Sand. I’ve never read Sand. I don’t know anyone who has. Maybe she’s smarter than this movie makes her seem if we read her books. The feedbacks were interesting. Half hated the movie -- half loved it.

But I think maybe I’ve become immune to this particular version of the romantic except in retrospect. (I’m not sorry I lived that way for a while.) What appeals to me now is the luxury and sensuousity of old-fashioned printing. THERE’s a romance. Doomed, doomed. The famously ink-stained wretch. Somehow inkjet toner stains don’t quite cut it.

For intelligent women, amusing dialogue, truth in endings, one must resort to Jane Austen. And note that these two passionate characters, who could not live without each other, went on another thirty years after their breakup, writing all the time. At least, Sand was. And having MANY more affairs.


Anonymous said...

"Now and then ... I never go."
Thank you for this paragraph. You express it perfectly. I'm writing this from far away India, where things are changing rapidly. And yes, I've watched 'the dreamers"

prairie mary said...

Ah, India! So romantic, so fabulous, so ascetic, so full of dreams...

What did you think of "The Dreamers?"

Prairie Mary