Barabbas, book and movie

I think that Barabbas, Swedish Nobel Prize-winner’s 1950 novel, was his best known work even before it was the basis for a Biblical epic movie made by Dino Di Laurentis with Anthony Quinn in rhe title role. The book begins with the freed prisoner skulking to watch the crucifixion of the man the crowd chose to be crucified, Jesus called the Christ. Barabbas recognizes one of the two thieves crucified with (besides) Jesus and is struck by the woman who is obviously the mother, filled with sorrow but not crying. The disturber of religious orthodoxy is frail. Barabbas knows he will not last long and is appalled that the Romans superintending the crucifixions offer a sponge dipped in vinegar when Jesus asks for water.

17796009.jpg

Barabbas is terrified by the mid-day dark an earthquake that was not noticed by those who hang out in his favorite tavern. He sounds out some believers in the crucified one and is puzzled by their faith that he will be resurrected. He befriends a young believer with a harelip who gets herself stoned for preach the Christian heresy, knifes the man who cast the first stone, and later removes the girl’s body from the pit where she was killed.

It’s not clear to me in the novel how Barabbas is condemned to Roman sulfur mines from which no one emerges alive. His weaker partner (they are chained together), Sahak is a Christian, eager to hear from someone who saw the Savior. They are reassigned to pull plows like oxen, and eventually chosen by the Roman governor(‘s wife) to accompany him into retirement in Rome.

Sahak refuses to renounce his god and is crucified. Barabbas watches again. He tracks down Christians meeting in catacombs and eagerly participates in Nero’s burning of Rome. That is blamed on Christians. The nonbeliever Barabbas is the only one who takes enthusiastic part. The Apostle Peter explains to him why Christians do not make war in the name of their religion, and Barabbas is crucified with many Christians. He is the slowest to die, and, unlike Jesus has no group watching in solidarity.

Barabbas-1961-film-images-9ab00416-71c2-4f7a-9fc0-392a13f08cb (1).jpg

I think tat the movie made several improvements on Lagerkvist’s stripped-down prose. First, it shows Pontius Pilate giving the crowd a choice of which condemned prisoner will be release. In a spectacular sequence (which may not be an improvement) it shows Barabbas dragging Sahak (played by Vittorio Gassman) to the surface when an earthquake destroys the sulfur mine. After the same transition through field labor to being part of the retiring governor’s household in Rome, the two are cast into gladiator school. There they are particularly hated by the master (a slave who has risen to training and supervising the other gladiators), Torvald, who is played with full-throttle malice by Jack Palance. Torvald kills Sahak is killed by Torvald (after the executions throw their spears around the required target) for refusing to renounce his god, and in a scene not in the book, Barabbas and a net go against the arrogant and vicious Torvald in a chariot. This is quite an exciting action sequence in which Torvald is outsmarted and eventually dragged around behind his chariot by his frenzied horses.

2026606,9uPZLnS5FdcSKndrQ86ST_6TmphgjoQs3TxOdfoXuHRh_f+TjbZV41hWsbub+Kmqj92KlnytUMFuYdVnwD7_Wg==.jpg

Nero frees the surprise victor, and Barabbas carries another corpse (Sahak’s) to proper burial.

Barabbas is lost in the catacombs. When he emerges the city is burning. He adds some torches and is crucified in a tableau (as in “Spartacus”). Barabbas wants to believe in the new religion that he only partly understands, but dies a martyr to the faith he would like to have, but doesn’t quite have.

Quinn as the brute intrigued by the man (regarded by Christians as the son of god) is quite good, as is Gassman as the frailer (but not frail) believer with whom Barabbas bonds during twenty year’s brutal mistreatment underground and continues to associate even after they are no longer chained together. Palance was over-the-top but appropriately so, Aldo Tonti’s color photography was notable, and there was some early electronic music in Mario Nascimbene’s score.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

This is a part of a re-examination of one of my adolescent self’s favorite writers, which is also includes The Sibyl (my favorite) and The Dwarf. It is also an example of movie being better than source book. Losing the interior reflections of an unretrospective and unanalytic  character was more than compensated for by big spectacles, including the final crucifixion field.

 

Advertisements

A little-known 1944 Warner Brothers look at Nazi occupation of France

I had no expectations going into watching the 1944 “Uncertain Glory,” directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn and Paul Lukas. I am a Paul Lukas fan, have mixed reactions to Errol Flynn on screen, and to Raoul Walsh films. IMO “White Heat” (1949) guaranteed immortality for Walsh; The Douglas Fairbanks Sr. “Thief of Baghdad,” “They Drive by Night,” “Strawberry Blonde,”High Sierra,” and “Capt. Horatio Hornblower R.N.” solidify the position, though there are many lesser accomplishments.

uncertain-glory-movie-poster-1944-1020195943.jpg

Flynn wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, and “Uncertain Glory” provided a rare role of complexity, not neglecting his charm and womanizing, but also showing a sometimes coward. The viewer does not learn of the crimes that led Jean Picard to the guillotine at the start, where after having his collar cut away, a British bomber aiming at the next-door Renault factory allows an escape. Given the character of his long-time pursuer, Inspector Marcel Bonet (Lukas, initially seeming to have the monomania of Javert relentless pursuing Jean Valjiean in Les Miserables) it seems impossible to believe that Jean was not guilty of the crimes that led to guillotine.

Bonet rather quickly captures him again in the south (Lyon). Saboteurs have just blown up a bridge that a Nazi troop train was costing, and the Nazis have announced that they will slay a hundred locals if the saboteur is not caught. Among the ironies is that he is caught, but rescue by Bonet’s credentials. Jean convinces Bonet to let him be shot by the Nazis instead of being guillotined, saving the hundred innocent hostages. Though Bonet accepts the offer, he is very unsure that Jean will go through it after enjoying three days of freedom, which include a romance with a local girl (dancer Jean Sullivan) who looked like Jennifer Jones of that era to me. There are other complications, most notably the villagers wanting to pin the sabotage on the stranger (Jean), though the stern local priest (Dennis Hoey) forbids this de factp murder by French people of the stranger.

Uncertain_Glory_Flynn.jpg

As in probably all Hollywood movies about Nazi occupation, the sneering Nazis are a step behind the French police, who are a step behind Bonet.

Sid Hickox was DP, and the film has a very Warner Brothers look (not quite noir). There is not much action, but the relationship enacted by Flynn and Lukas is interesting, and the propaganda is muted examination of troubled consciences. Except, perhaps, for the premise shared with the 1944 Bogart vehicle “Passage to Marseilles” (and to some degree also of the 1942 “Casablanca”)of criminals sacrificing themselves for la patrie.

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

A mongoose scratching at a well-fed cobra

Although Joan Crawford made many movies that have not seen, it seems that most cast her as a determined-to-rise and quick-study woman from the wrong side of the tracks. Her characters have to overcome considerable disdain from those born to the upper class and flashes of self-doubt. Although she often seems to be using men whose status is higher than their IQs or will, generally the screenplays try to make the audience believe that she really loves the men and give her chances to prove devotion beyond her interest in securing and maintaining a status in the elite of whatever locality she is operating in.

flamingo-road-joan-crawford-david-brian-1949_a-g-5133730-8363144.jpg

The 1949 “Flamingo Road,” based on a long-forgotten best-selling novel, sticks to the formula; indeed it reunites director (Michael Curtiz), male and female leads (Zachary Scott and Crawford), and, unfortunately, supplier of frenzied overkill music (Max Steiner) from “Mildred Pierce,” the overwrought melodrama that revived Crawford’s career after she was dumped by MGM and won her an Oscar.

I have been watching a number of late-1940s movies in which the leads were far too old for their parts (Greer Garson in “Valley of Decision”, Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin in “B. F.’s Daughter”), but at least those other movies covered long spans. Even with repeated reference to being tired of knocking around, Crawford was fifteen years too old for the part of the traveling-carnival exotic dancer who does not flee with the carnival. She was also ten years older than Zachary Scott, who was also 5-10 years too old for the part of Fielding Carlisle, the son of the deceased, highly respected Judge Carlisle and protégé of the local boss eager to use that family name.

The boss, Sheriff Titus Semple (played with cold, calm menace by Sidney Greenstreet), has made Field a deputy sheriff with few responsibilities, but sends him to serve papers attaching the carnival for nonpayment of debts. The only remnant of the carnival is a tent in which Lane Bellamy (Crawford) is listening to the radio. Field takes her to a diner and gets her a job waitressing there. Such a romance does not fit with Titus’s plans. He more or less orders Field to marry a member of the local elite (those who live on Flamingo Road) Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston).

1949-Flamingo-Road-Sydney-Greenstreet-and-Joan-Crawford.jpg

Titus also makes Lane disappear, having her picked up and thrown in jail for 30 days for soliciting prostitution. Lane is not so easily driven off. She makes some interesting alliances with a man and a woman of some independence from Titus. Much of the fun of the movie is watching Crawford and Greenstreet glower at each other while making polite talk in front of others., Eventually, they have it out alone in private.

In that Crawford really did rise from the wrong side of town through dancing and marrying up (ultimately to the president of Pepsi Cola), as well as making a career out of playing upwardly mobile women, her clawing her way up the social (/economic) ladder is believable. The problem is that her character could not possibly have kicked around as a second-string feature in a third-run carnival so long before starting her ascent. The incongruity of the 45-year-old in the part of Lane is only made more glaring by the repeated references to her as a “girl.”

What redeems the movie is the relentlessness of the story and of the antagonists. In the immense Sidney Greenstreet, Crawford had a rare male worthy opponent. (The only time I can think of that Crawford was overmatched was by Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”, though Mercedes McCambridge in “Johnny Guitar” and Ann Blyth in “Mildred Pierce” were formidable in their hatreds of her.) In earlier roles (Maltese Falcon, Casablanca) Greenstreet played grasping, amoral characters with a certain amount of sardonic charm. Titus is content for people to maintain their stereotypes of joviality being a concomitant of fat, but is a completely cold-blooded grafter. His smiles are mostly grim. If he has any emotions, they are so well padded that they do not emerge. As Crawford goes from being potential trouble for his plans to being a clear-and-present lethal danger, he never shows anger. He drinks pitchers of milk, rocks on the porch of the Palmer House Hotel, collects his graft in cash, minimizes movements, and pulls strings to bring down anyone who gets in his way.

Zachary Scott was good at being pushed around (as in “Mildred Pierce”). Gladys George played savvy survivors in many movies and provides a leavening of wit to the fast-rising melodrama. Fred Clark plays against type, an idealist newspaperman who dares to criticize the corrupt state and local government (which state is not specified; from the title, one might think Florida, a state that democracy still has not reached; but the milieu seems as western as southern). David Brian plays a peculiarly written role of a builder who became a political boss because contracting in the state was so corrupt that he could not be an honest builder. He falls fast and hard for Crawford, which ensures that Greenstreet will arrange legal troubles for him.

lamd.jpg

If one can accept Joan Crawford starting her move upward looking obviously more than 40, and enjoys watching evenly matched characters battling to the death like a mongoose (Crawford) and a cobra (Greenstreet), “Flamingo Road” is a lot of fun. It certainly has a consciousness of class that is missing in third millennium American movies (to take an instance with another machine-picked politician named Fielding, “Waking the Dead”). For all its cynicism about electoral democracy, like so many late-40s Hollywood movies, “Flamingo Road” affirms the American dream of rising in the social and economic hierarchy through individual effort, making it is an interesting document of postwar American ideology. It also shows that 1949’s Oscared “best picture,” “All the King’s Men,” was not unique in portraying graft-ridden government and political bosses (which Preston Sturges had already done in “The Great McInty,” anyway.) A bonus is the nourish look provided by cinematographer Ted D. McCord (Treasure of the Sierra Madre, East of Eden).

 

©2002, Stephen O. Murray

Travel kaleidoscope

A blurb from Julio Cortazar on the front cover of The Ship of Fools (first published in Spanish in 1984 as La nave de los locos), by exiled Urugyan Christina Peri Rossi (1941-) asserted that “He great gift is the ability to projecton on the high plains of imagination the historical present in all its tragic reality.” There is nothing identifiable to me as the present (ca. 1984). The book is largely unmoored in time and space (many of the locations are referred to only by an initial). I also don’t see how it is a novel, even a lumpy one with lots stuffed into it. There are some characters who recur.

9780930523534-uk-300.jpg

If I didn’t know, I’d have guessed that the novel was written by a man. The perspective is mostly male, as is the writing about women. (Also the answer to the riddle “What is the greatest thing a man can give to a woman?”). I can conceive of a man deciding to embrace his impotence.

Most of the book vignettes are set on terra firma, though I like the first of Eck’s (X’s? Equis’) journeys, on an ocean liner and another poignane one about a ship filled with crazy people that is left by its crew adrift. And I like the preternaturally wise nine-year-old Percival who enchants Morris later (I don’t see any erotic/pedophilic in the account).

The journeys alternate with descriptions of panels of the medieval (11th or 12th-century) Tapestry of Creation (from which half of the outside panels are missing) in the Girona Cathedral. That approaches ecstasy, while most of the novel is melancholic (which does not bar some comic moments and observations). Early on, Ecks tells a woman “I was not born a foreigner. It is a condition one acquires through force of circumstances.” Nowadays, it seems that many people ARE born foreigners, including those born in the US of foreign-born parents and the

md13096788712.jpg

[a boat, not a ship, vverdad?]

I’m not sure what it all adds up to, but found enough there there to read it through (the syntax is not convoluted in the manner of much “Boom” fiction from writers born in South America).

 

Since the Readers Inernational edition of her second novel that has been sitting in a to-read bookcase since they sent it to me in 1989, Peri Rossi, who has long lived in Barcelona, has published many other books, some of which have been translates into English, btw.

The malevolent dwarf, narrator of Pär Lagerkvist’s breakout novel

My attempt to revive my adolescent admiration for the novels of Pär Lagerkvist is not going well. I don’t think I read his first international success, Dvärgen, published in Swedish in 1944 (which I don’t think much was making it out of Sweden), first translated into English as The Dwarf after Lagerkvist had won the Nobel Prize in 1951. It presents the diary of a dwarf, Picoline, a bitter misanthrope. Picoline does not hate his master, a philosophical Renaissance-era Italian prince who has brought a Leonardo da Vinci (as if, there could be more than one!) called Bernardo to court. Bernardo tends not to finish things, including a fresco of the Last Supper and a portrait of the princess. He also designs military devices, some of which are built and used in a war with a neighboring principality.

IMG_5891.jpg

Picoline has some respect for the range and intensity of Bernardo’s interests, but is mortified when Bernardo strips and draws him. Picoline wants to keep his body unseen by others, but does not try to kill Bernardo.

Besides hating human beings in general, especially laughing ones and young lovers (he considers both laughing faces and sex offensively grotesque), Picoline hates other dwarfs. During the war he hunts down and slays the dwarf of the rival prince. He recalls with relish having earlier strangled the other dwarf in his prince’s court.

At a banquet celebrating a peace treaty, Picoline poisons the other prince and some others, missing the prince’s son, who is having puppy love with his prince’s daughter. Later Picoline finds that this adolescent has snuck in and is sleeping with the daughter. He wakes his prince, who goes to his daughter’s room and decapitates her sleeping lover, rather distressing his daughter…

The promiscuous wife of the prince likes Picoline and confesses everything she does to him. He despises her as a trollop, but had nothing to do with her death (unlike those of so many others!). Bernado paints a portrait of the dead princess as a radiant Madonna (this portrait he actually finishes, and it is hung in the cathedral, where it becomes an object of popular veneration). Picoline thinks the first portrait showed the real character of the princess, but does not tell the prince that. The prince decides Picoline was responsible for his death and has him chained in the dungeon (after torture fails to produce any confession).

9167.jpg

Picoline is too monochrome a character, devoured by his hatred of most everyone, to provide an interesting sensibility. I find his catalog of contempt for people and other dwarfs tedious. There is no flicker of guilt in him. I guess he represents evil, though not a very interesting evil and one that is, shall we say dwarfed by others active in the world when Lagerkvist was writing the book in neutral Sweden. Is he a vision of Hitler transported to servitude in Renaissance Milan? He craves war and thrives on destruction, but he is not in charge.

The prose is stripped down, consisting of simple syntax declarative sentences, as in other Lagerkvist novels, such as the more engaging The Sibyl. The character and the outrages he perpetrates or imagines seem very heavy-handed to me, though occasionally his excesses seem funny, not just abhorrent. He is SO consumed with misanthropy (he doesn’t consider that dwarfs are human, though hating them just as much or perhaps more). He does not think that dwarfs are at all like children, but in his frantic imagining and incomprehension of adults, there is something childlike about him, in addition to his diminutive stature. He hates what he cannot understand, which includes most human conduct.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

Thwarted Europeans in two films directed by Luchino Visconti and one by Sidney Lumet

With its melodrama amped up by the use of Bruckner’s very heavy Seventh Symphony, Luchino Visconti’s “Senso” (1954) is quite slow, running more than two hours. Alida Valli played a countess who is easily ensnared by a handsome but caddis Austrian lieutenant, Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). She is slow to realize that he is using her (to get money) while she throws away everything for her Great Love. When finally he decisively humiliates her, she uses her position. She does not seem to care what will happen to her after she has avenged herself (and the movie ends).

Granger and Valli spoke to each other in English during shooting. They were dubbed into Italian, as was standard practice for Italian movie-making. Criterion found a version in English (and German), that was shortened by half an hour. Granger’s performance is more compelling in his own English. Valli had made movies in English (most notably “The Third Man”) and was also more affecting in English, though watching “The Wanton Countess” showed me that she does not speak very much. Also, she sounds like Ingrid Bergman, to whom the part had been offered (when she was being monopolized by Roberto Rossellini; the first choice for her lover was Marlon Brando; the Italian producers thought that Granger was going to be a bigger star than Brando…).

senso 1954.jpg

The Criterion edition includes a making-of feature that does not even mention the dialogue credited to Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles. It does get into the outrage of the Italian government about the portrayal of the “Italian army” before there was an Italy, and what a martinet Visconti was on-set. The opening scene in La Fenice was supposed to feature Maria Callas in an excerpt (obviously a different one) from “Il Trovatore,” but she was in America when it was shot and it was Pasolini rather than Visconti who made a film starring her (Medea). Having just watched the Visconti documentary on the “Ludwig” disc, I didn’t watch the British one (“Man of Three Worlds,” which I think I’ve seen before) on the “Senso” one, nor find out what Peter Cowie (whom I find insufferable) had to say about “Senso” and Visconti.

+

I also watched again the ponderous (238-minute) 1973 “Ludwig” in which most scenes run on too long. Helmust Berger plays the Bavarian king who is an enigma to himself (why his subjects like him is another mystery; he cared not at all about them). Though he eventually marries (Sophie), his loves are Richard Wagner (played by Trevor Howard), and “Sisi” (the Empress Elisabeth), the wife of the Hapsburg emperor. Romy Schneider could be imperious, but was compassionate for her cousin Ludwig.

ludwig.jpg

The post-dubbing bothered me in “Ludwig,” too. I can understand an Italian release dubbed in Italian, but I think a version in German should have been the international version. Berger and Schneider, as well as supporting players Gert Fröbe, Heinz Moog, and Helmut Griem) were native speakers of German. (BTW, Visconti wanted Laurence Olivier to play Wagner, though I don’t think he would have done better; Richard Burton, maybe, though I have not seen his Wagner (a ten-part, 300-minute miniseries).)

Bavarian reactionaries protested the revelation of homoerotic inclinations of Ludwig, and an hour of the film was cut (then another hour). I doubt that either made the cuts in scene length I think should have been made.

+

I went on to watch an also slow-moving lethal romance, “The Appointment” (1969), set mostly in Rome. It looks and feels European and stars Omar Shrif (Egyptian) and Anouk Aimée (born in Paris). It was written by James Salter and directed by Sidney Lumet, both Americans and not generally interested in romances. In general, Sharif was likeable and bland, Aimée sphinxlike (elusive). Here Sharif, tormented by jealousy and possessiveness, is not likeable, if not a villain, Aimée inarticulate but relatively sympathetic. Even Lotte Lenya as an antique dealer who is also a supplier of high-end prostitutes, is sympathetic (not like the Stasi agent Lenya played in “From Russian with Love”).

DSC_0172.jpg

Aimée’s character was a model for a fashion house. The haute couture shows that the fashion disaster that was the 1970s began earlier! I did not like Aimée’s reddish hair or Sharif’s severely cropped mustache either. He did, however, look totally groomed and tailored.

“The Appointment” was Salter’s first screenplay, followed by “Downhill Racer” (also released in 1969, from the novel by Oakley Hall).

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

Turgid rediscovered 1928 Tankizaki novel

I have long believed Tanizaki Jun’ichirô (1886-1965) to be the greatest 20th-century Japanese writer and the one who should have been the first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize for literature (he was dead by the time Kawabata did in 1968). I was having qualms about his limits before the new batch of translations into English of work from the teens and twenties of the previous century appeared. Tanizaki’s foot fetishism is not prominent in them, though present in his 1925 “Red Roofs.” There is no hint of it in what feels like a very long novel that was serialized in Tokyo and Osaka in 1928, Kokubayaku, which has recently been published in English as In Black and White (the Japanese title is a homonym for “Confession”). The English text of the novel only runs 216 pages, but so little happens that it feels much longer.

As in the stories that appeared in English collections of 2016 and 2017 (Red Roof & Other Stories translated by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy was published by the University of Michigan Press, Devils in Daylight by J. Keith Vincent, was published by New Directions), the protagonist — definitely not a hero or even a likeable character — Mizuno, is a writer. He is quite an unsociable one with no friends. His wife left him after he wrote a series of stories involving murders of wives.

He is classified as a “diabolist,” and the new story, which is late for delivery to a magazine called The People that pays more than other magazines, again focuses on premeditated murder. Its protagonist (yet another writer) seeks to commit “the perfect crime,” that is to get away with murder. The writer of the story within a story has no animus against a less-successful writer, whom he calls Codama. Lack of motivation is part of the reason he expects to escape detection: the murder is a gratuitous act.

In the rush to get “To the Point of Murder” into print, Muzuno slips several times and uses the name of the model for the man being murdered, Cojima instead of Codama. Muzuno is very concerned that Cojima and/or others will notice that unusual name, but cannot get it changed before the magazine is printed.

Then Muzuno is in a prolonged panic that the real Cojima will be murdered in a way like in his story and that he will be blamed for it. Muzuno is paranoid and could hardly have made more of a mess of establishing an alibi for the night of the new moon when he fears that life will imitate art and Cojima will be murdered. There must have been many, many better ways to establish alibis!

Muzuno’s fears are realized, and he is suspected of having murdered Cojima in the way his alter ego does in his story (which establishes premeditation). Could there be a “Shadow Man” going to the extraordinary lengths of murdering Cojima and spiriting away Muzun’s alibi? I don’t think so, but Muzuno does and tries to pin the fictional murder on someone he cannot identify (who also lacking motivation for the murder and conspiracy to make it appear Muzuno committed it).

My ability to suspend disbelief cannot overcome the obstacles of Tanizaki’s novel, neither the frame nor the stories within the story. The police misconduct, on the other hand, is easy for me to believe.

(Tanizaki in 1908)

From translator Phyllis Lyon’s afterword, I learned that the novel followed an extended debate in print between Tanizaki defending the necessity of plots in novels, and Akutagawa Riyûnosuke (best known in English as the author of two stories that Kurosawa Akira based his international breakthrough film “Rashômon” on) maintaining that lyricism was enough, that how a story was told was more important than its content (plot). Akutagawa closed out the controversy by committing suicide on Tanizaki’s birthday (24 July) in 1927, so Tanizaki felt some guilt about having (symbolically) killed another writer. This is pretty outlandish, and Akutagawa was terrified that he had inherited his mother’s insanity, but one can see reasons for Tanizaki to have been shaken and to be influenced by that in writing about a writer killing another writer.

(Akutagawa in 1927)

There is a surfeit of reflection on the probity of writers and the “truth” of literature in In Black and White, a carryover from his jousts with Akutagawa (who was six years younger than Tanizaki; he seems more remote since Tanizaki outlived him be decades and produced many novels and novellas after Akutagawa’s death). In the novel, like Tanizaki, Muzuno is turning 40 and Cojima was 35, as Akutagawa was when he was sparring in print with Tanizaki.

As in other early Tanizaki fiction, here is a willful semi-modern woman, a femme fatale, in In the Black and White. The prostitute who said she had lived with a husband two years in Hamburg does not tell Muzuno her name—he refers to her as “Frâulein Hindenburg” (Paul von Hindenburg was chancellor of German at the time (1925-34), but addresses her only as “you.” His contracting her for two sessions a week is folly, not even motivated by lust (I don’t think they copulate during their few meetings). She has an aura of perversity and some cunning, whereas he is just a sad-sack painting himself into a corner.

I find In the Black and White less interesting than the other two novels Tanizaki started writing in 1928, Quicksand and Some Prefer Nettles, and don’t think that exhuming Kokubayaku, was necessary, even for (especially for?) Anglophone Tanizaki aficionados. I found the last part more interesting than the earlier parts, but it seems rushed, with no real ending. The way of telling it, with lots of dialog and lots of paranoid premonitions, did not appeal to me and the plots, as I’ve said, are not credible (as possible human conduct) to me. Though finding them also highly contrived, I prefer Naomi, Devils in Daylight, “The Magician, and, especially, “Red Roofs” among Tanizaki’s fiction before Some Prefer Nettles… and I am more indebted to Lyons for The Saga of Dazai Osamu, (1985), than for this endeavor, though I’d readily stipulate that her afterword is definitely essential for readers in English of In Black and White.

 

© 2018, Stephen O. Murray