26.09.2016; Assignment 4

Thousands of years ago, the primary use of what we might now call the dawn of literature was to explain the different horrifying phenomena that people encountered in their lives. For example, Ancient Greek mythology originated in its entirety from an attempt to assign meaning to natural events (Zeus, for instance, was at first simply the god of storm). It is a part our nature to look for meaning in everything, otherwise we might feel disturbed, unnerved or even scared by what seems to have none.

A lot of works by modern writers (most notably, Kafka, Camus, etc.) suggest that when looking for meaning or explanation in phenomena that are both more universal and comprehensive (purpose of life is a usual object of focus), you will not be able to find one, since it does not exist. The philosophy of these creators that looks for the purpose of existence or contemplates on a lack thereof is called existentialism. This philosophy lies in the core of the majority of modernistic movements in art, for example, cubism in painting, performance and installation art in architecture, art-house in cinema and theatre of absurd in drama. The works of existentialistic nature usually contradict the traditional art, thus creating controversy around their validity. While orthodox art depicts something concrete, existentialistic works tend to dig deeper to the point where an average person can no longer distinguish, whether it is the piece that is meaningless or it is the conclusion of it that suggests that our existence is meaningless.

Samuel Beckett’s writings are a classic example of existential literature. ‘Waiting for Godot’ is Beckett’s most famous and, in my opinion, most thought-provoking piece. There is not enough action in the play to retell the story, which is based solely on dialogue. “In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness.” – says Vladimir, one of the main characters, referring to death (Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot: tragicomedy in 2 acts”, Grove Press, 1954). Sadly, nothingness is a word often used unfairly to describe works of Beckett, whose symbolism may be a bit too provocative for an unprepared reader.

In my opinion, however, existentialism is a shift that is absolutely necessary for both art and life. It is one thing that can prepare us to fearlessly face what is unknown and visibly meaningless. In a world where science is so advanced that it can provide explanation for almost anything, we have to answer the remaining questions about life and religion by digging deeper down inside ourselves, and authors like Beckett have certainly showed us how to do it.

19.09.2016; Assignment 3

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a play that is not attached to neither a particular time period nor a certain location. Its events and characters are symbolic, and the piece is most certainly meant to be a social commentary, not a political or a historical one. It is timeless and so are the social interactions and complications that are satirized in the play (‘What wonderfully blue eyes you have, Ernest! They are quite, quite, blue. I hope you will always look at me just like that, especially when there are other people present.’- says Cecily). That fact, in my opinion, should definitely be depicted if the play was to be adapted for the screen once again.

In an unimaginable turn of events that would lead to me adapting ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ for screen, the two films giving me inspiration would be ‘High-Rise’ (2015) and ‘Metropolis’ (1927). The first one is a screen adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel that is also focused primarily on social commentary; its director, Ben Wheatley, highlighted that in his movie by creating a neo-noir setting that feels like future imagined by people from the seventies. ‘Metropolis’ could guide me through a process of making a believable depiction of the futuristic society with all its dark, totalitarian atmosphere.

That mentioned, I would like my adaptation of the play to be set in a steampunk futuristic society, creating a mix between the days when Oscar Wilde wrote the play and an unimaginable cyber-future. As far as I am concerned, that could make it clear to the audience, that time and location are the most irrelevant things for the play. Making human hypocrisy and two-facedness the center of his piece (‘A hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her!’), Oscar Wilde would be glad to see an average reader not see those social phenomena as something attached to his epoch.

Reference: all quotations taken from Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest, and other plays”, Penguin Books, 1986.

12.09.2016; Assignment 2

Watching ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (2002) by Oliver Parker marked my first time witnessing a play being adapted for screen without any visible changes made to the narrative or, obviously enough in this case, the script. The last adapted play I have seen was ‘Hamlet’ (1990) by Franco Zeffirelli, which, unlike the movie I am about to discuss, felt innovative, since it had an interesting cinematographic (by that I mean primarily the camerawork and the mood set by Mel Gibson’s performance) perspective on what essentially is one of the most iconic plays ever created. However, by contrasting those two films, I am merely accusing Oliver Parker’s adaptation in being a lazy-made movie, but rather raising a question, whether some plays should even be changed significantly when transferred to the silver screen. Still, for me the answer to that would be “yes” simply because I have not enjoyed ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as much as I wanted to.

It is hard to imagine an Oscar Wilde’s play adaptation being any worthwhile without a wonderful cast, and Oliver Parker has done a good job at that, making an aristocratic, yet awkward Colin Firth Jack – a charming hypocrite (‘To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.’), and securing the Judi Dench as the Lady Bracknell, whom she already played in theatre previously in her acting career. However, other choices I have found quite questionable, especially Reese Witherspoon as Cecily. As I believe, Witherspoon is a B-category actress who seemed both out of place and as if she was trying too hard (Cecily is rather careless, saying, for instance, ‘Oh! I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.’). Moreover, her dreamy sequences felt completely unnecessary. The costumes were both accurate and stylish, unlike, sadly again, the score, which was incoherent with the atmosphere and the narrative. The cinematography was very orthodox, operator seemed to have just played it too safe.

Overall, the movie felt like a huge disappointment. It was frustrating to watch good actors rot in such a boring, unoriginal film with wonderful plot and dialogue given to the director right on the plate. If anything, this movie developed my appreciation for the play itself and showed how unneeded film adaptations can sometimes be. Rather than revisiting Oliver Parker’s dull creation, I would rather read its subtitles one more time, preferably, in a paper form.

Reference: all quotations taken from Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest, and other plays”, Penguin Books, 1986.

01.09.2016; Assignment 1

‘The Scholars’ (1919)
William Butler Yeats
Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love’s despair
To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.
All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbour knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

‘The Scholars’ in its core is nothing more than a sophisticated taunt aimed at literary critics of Yeats’ time. The peculiar aspect of this poem is in its focus, which is not the uselessness of critique in general or a concrete person, whose comment hurt the author’s pride, but the irony surrounding the job of a critic.

Yeats depicts the overall discrepancy between the inflated self-importance of a critic and his miniscule personal achievements. While seeing themselves as the ultimate authorities in the world of literature, the god-like figures endowed with the power of either approving or destroying a poet, these scholars are, according to the author, rather miserable and bleak mediocrities in the real world. Creating an exaggerated image of them, (‘old bald heads’; ‘wear the carpet with their shoes’), Yeats calls them out for being superficial and hypocritical by contrasting their uneventful lives and the negative opinion they have regarding young poets who are at the very least experiencing something real.

In my personal opinion, calling this poem anything more grandiose than a simple tirade on critics (more than that, I am positive that those ‘old bald heads’, a synecdoche for a collective image of many people at once, are based on real people whose names are not mentioned since it would be a mauvais ton) would be an unnecessary mistake. I believe, Yeats himself would have never wanted the poem to be taken too seriously, since doing so is stepping over a dangerous line of calling critique pointless and implying that analysing and criticising is a right that no one has. ‘The Scholars’ is a lighthearted and elegant jibe on critics, but never a statement that being a critic is only possible when your life is full of wonders. All in all, I enjoyed the poem for what it was. That said, I am always going to disagree with someone who finds profound implications in it.