Sunday, August 09, 2009

WOMEN IN LOVE: A "Hyde-bound" Review

So. . . the three basic ingredients for a trickster/artist are:
Insatiability, which is hunger in the original myths -- not just any hunger but hunger for meat, which is the proper sacrifice for the gods. That is, living, aware creatures (creations). Not veggies. The kind of craving that drives plotting and planning traps to get more.

Reflexivity, which is awareness of symbolizing, the ability to separate the real thing from the symbol of the thing. Just plain consciousness of oneself as an artist and therefore the creator of new things, not as unconscious expression but as deliberate forming. (This goes to my quarrel with Paul Schilpp about whether “art is an expression of the relationship between the artist and the universe” or a COMMUNICATION of that expression, which eliminates all the naive and untrained folks who express their hearts out, thinking that’s enough. And I would not argue that indigenous or “folk” artists don’t have “techne,” technique as much as school-taught technology.)

Ambiguity, which is awareness that a thing can mean one thing here and quite another there and maybe both at the same time. Variability, for camouflage or for show. Sophistication, experience of more than one culture.

That’s a pretty good Trinitarian check list so let’s try it out on “Women in Love,” which I just watched on the DVD three times: one as audience, the second with the screenwriter (Kramer), the third with the director (Russell). But let’s pretend we’re talking about Lawrence first, since he was almost always writing about himself, not just to portray himself but to present his deep issues.

He was certainly insatiable, both in terms of craving for experience and in terms of writing: he wrote every day, not just manuscripts but tons and tons of letters -- none, of course, on the computer. No doubt talking to him was much like reading him, esp. the dialogues between persons. In WIL, the two sisters and the two men are really there to continue debate about the purpose of life, what one needs and wishes for, what is really possible, and so on. But with actors, more than with the writing, it’s possible to see what is the “subtext,” that is, what they aren’t really saying in so many words but acting out and revealing through what they do. The avatar of Lady Ottoline seems so very sophisticated, but she is not communicating anything. But in defense of her, to whom is Gudrun communicating in her Isadora Duncan dance before the Highland cattle? She’s not yet above self-indulgence.

Most people are less interested in the two sisters than in the two men who think they are friends. Under their differences is constant competition as well as yearning for sexual fulfillment. They are pre-homosexual, not “gay” in the way we know gays today, and -- in fact -- Kramer later came out, writing frankly gay material and then becoming a major activist, demanding justice for AIDS victims. Acting UP.

There are many interesting stories about the naked wrestling scene in terms of the characters struggling versus the actors struggling. Alan Bates was an educated man who truly understood Lawrence and identified with him. Oliver Reed was far less sophisticated, a man who believed manhood lay in being well-muscled (if fat), stoic, drunk, and well-hung. As it turned out, Bates worried a bit about that, too. The double of one of them, clearly observant and smart, saw the difficulty and realized that therein was their real worry about the scene: not their bodies per se, but the comparison of their male equipment. Perhaps he had dressed with each of them and knew their worries were unfounded. In fact, he got them to go drinking beer with him and to take a side-by-side piss where they could covertly size each other up. Then it was fine.

Russell had planned to shoot the scene in the moonlight by the river if necessary, but Oliver (plainly trying to be sophisticated though he spent his spare time in the bars instead of reading) turned up a literary lady who INSISTED that it would be a naive desecration not to do exactly what was in the book. Oliver adopted this point of view. Since the book had been exempted from censorship since 1926, the main defense Russell and Kramer threw up was that since the book was acceptable, so was the screenplay. Such was the weight of Lawrence as a cultural icon that the argument carried.

The overtly homosexual character, who calls Gudrun towards a broader world, is shown as vaguely sinister and nothing is explicit between the two, though the symbolism is a bit blatant. In fact, one of the controversies about the film is that Russell ended WIL by beginning his next movie about Tchaikovsky. This tale finally ends with Lawrence and the avatar of Freida by the domestic fireside but in reality this was only the beginning.

Like Odysseus, the Lawrences were on the road almost constantly, which means learning to separate out what is local from the universal, not just what is sophisticated but also what is humanly shared. They were always penniless, at the mercy of “bungling hosts”(see Hyde) from whom to learn. I suspect Lawrence learned that there are many kinds of unhappiness besides the poverty of a drunken coal miner’s son or even the smothering love of an over-needy mother, embodied in Frieda, but that he knew these were just his own version of the problem. It is not in denying or just leaving those forces that make him a great writer, but rather his consciousness of them and his growing technical ability to explore them.

Quite apart from Lawrence moving through different cultures and becoming more sophisticated because of it, the times were moving. This was the modern/post-modern time period, responding to industrialization, particularly as it affected the British class system and the church. In the confusion of times changing the Oliver Reed character (as well as Oliver himself eventually) died because his powers became irrelevant, but the people who hungered, like Alan Bates’ character and Gudrun, found themselves released from the killing stagnant pond of the given order into a rushing sluicing torrent that filled them with oxygen, so that they could become Tricksters. By the time the movie was made, nearly fifty years ago, the book’s nudity and sexual frankness, nearly a hundred years old, modernity had broken up the old rules enough that even Britain’s tight censors were willing to allow full frontal real humans.

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