— Finished Decline and Fall (I talked about it here). In the last 5 pages, Waugh breaks out the brilliance of his message, going from covert to overt. He truly amazes me. I never stopped laughing – but the ending is so perceptive you almost want to shield your eyes. Poor Paul Pennyfeather. Imagine accidentally becoming an international white slave trader. Imagine being unaware that what you were actually doing was trafficking in white slaves – at the behest of your rich fiancee? It’s so obvious what is going on – as Paul races all over Europe, trying to get this girl out of hock, that girl … so when he is finally arrested and sent to jail you are not surprised. Also, this was the man who found himself, through a series of unfortunate events, running across the Quad without trousers on at Oxford and being expelled. But he really had LOST his pants! No matter. Expelled. Paul Pennyfeather takes things pretty easy though. He enjoys prison quite a bit. He finds it intensely relaxing. And also, I LOVED the head of the prison with all his hi-falutin’ ideas about rehabilitation … he believes that every single crime, even multiple slaughter, can be traced back to thwarted creative impulses. So, in this prison, mass murderers are given hammers and pens and sharp objects – to ‘create’ with … and naturally, the mass murderers use them to, you know, kill again. Or escape. Paul Pennyfeather gets caught up in circumstances beyond his control. He wants to be a priest. That is his calling. Instead, he finds himself running nude across the Quad at Oxford and trafficking in white slavery by accident. It’s hilarious.

— I have a lot of worries right now. I worked really hard today. I’m on a break.

— Thankfully I have new neighbors and they have sex on an almost constant basis, so I find that completely relaxing to listen to. Not that I have a choice. Last night I believe I heard the resounding whap of him slapping her ass emanating through the calm night air of my neighborhood. Now it’s summer so their windows were open so the whole courtyard could hear the entire event. I love urban living. I’m not even being sarcastic.

— Picked up Enduring Love by Ian McEwan and that first chapter has to be one of the greatest opening chapters of all time. I’m not going to be able to put it down, I can feel it. I’m already on Chapter 4. Strangely enough it was written before September 11 – but so much of it is reminding me of that day. And McEwan of course went on to write really the first major novel having to do with September 11 – but weirdly, Enduring Love feels like a rehearsal for it, even though it pre-dates that moment in history. It’s not about world events or anything like that. Just something horrible that 5 or 6 people witness in a field outside of London and how their lives are irrevocably changed and intertwined. But there is a man falling through the air. And there is a recurring dream that the main character has:

What came back to me was a nightmare I had occasionally in my twenties and thirties, from which I used to shout myself awake. The setting varied, but the essentials never did. I found myself in a prominent place watching from far off the unfolding of a disaster – an earthquake, a fire in a skyscraper, a sinking ship, an erupting volcano. I could see helpless people, reduced by distance to an undifferentiated mass, scurrying about in panic, certain to die. The horror was in the contrast between their apparent size and the enormity of their suffering. Life was revealed as cheap; thousands of screaming individuals, no bigger than ants, were about to be annihilated, and I could do nothing to help.

I can already tell this book is going to be a major ride. He is so good. And the first chapter! It DARES you to not go further. It’s also written in a tone of knowing desolation. Joe Rose, the narrator, knows how it all ends. He knows what’s coming. He says things like, “My first mistake on that day was to such and such …” It gives a chilling effect. We react to events, without thinking sometimes … and we often make mistakes. Usually the mistakes don’t have such overwhelming consequences, but when they do, sometimes people just keep going back over and over the event … trying to work it out, forgive themselves, justify it, whatever …

— Speaking of that kind of situation – where people are somehow frozen in time by a singular event which breaks their lives up into Before and After sections, I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock the other night. I saw that movie when I was 10 years old. It was on television, and I must have caught it on some rainy day matinee. I had no business seeing that film. It scared the SHIT out of me and I could not even tell you why … and it scares the shit out of me now. Peter Weir directed. His first international hit. A finishing school for girls in Australia goes on a day trip to a place called Hanging Rock for a picnic. 4 girls traipse off for a little hike around the rock. Three of them, plus a teacher, disappear. One of them is found a week later, lying in a cave, dehydrated, near death. She has no memory of what happened. She has obviously been traipsing over the rocks and dirt – but the bottom of her feet (she has no shoes) are clean and unscratched. It’s a mystery. The other three people are never found. The disappearance has a profound effect on every person who was there, changing their lives forever. It is a film which refuses to come to a conclusion and I think that’s one of the reasons why I found it so excruciating as a small child (and I’m sure the Victorian sexual hysteria underneath those corsets went right over my head – or at least made me feel extremely uneasy) … and when the film was released on DVD, finally, after years – Peter Weir went back in and made some cuts, taking 7 minutes out. Most directors, even good ones, put stuff back IN, their “darlings”, the scenes they were sad to leave out. Not Weir. He was pushed, at the time, to edge towards some kind of resolution, at least surmise what happened to the girls … but he refused. And his “director’s cut”, his removal of 7 minutes, was more of the same – taking out anything that might even hint to the audience, “Ohhh, so THAT is what happened.” It’s a truly disturbing film. Many of the young girls have very few credits to their names. They lie about in the dust on the rock, in their white dresses and black stockings, and there is something ritualistic about the images, something inherently mysterious. One of them seems to know that she will not come back from the picnic. Why? What on earth? Was it an alien abduction? What the HELL? I don’t even think I made it through the whole movie as a kid – although I remember vividly the girls in their long hair and puffy white dresses dancing through the sunshine before disappearing off the face of the earth … and found it endlessly interesting and disturbing to watch as an adult. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

— It is possible to go into a fugue state at the iTunes store. I really feel like I am not responsible enough to handle having access at all times! Is it necessary to have every single Shirelles song ever recorded? Well, frankly, yes. And I must have them NOW. Do you “need” to have Red Hot Chili Peppers’ recording of Stevie Wonder’s “higher Ground”? Need it, Sheila? Well, YES, dammit and I need it instantly. Like TWO MINUTES AGO. Seriously. It’s a problem. I wake up from my fugue state for tinhorns and have 75 new songs in the Library.

— Michael emailed me to say, “Just wanted you to know I’ve been thinking of you. Maybe it’s because of Sydney Pollack and Harvey Korman dying, but you’ve been on my mind.” I love that cause it was the same for me, too. Speaking of Harvey Korman, here is a wonderful tribute.

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3 Responses to Snapshots

  1. Deborah says:

    Sheila, I both read Enduring Love and saw Picnic At Hanging Rock. Loved both. Enduring love is a fascinating, haunting book. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fascinating and haunting film. Hanging Rock has driven me nuts for years – trying to determine what happened to those girls. I thought at one point in the film there was a scene where they were all looking down at something or someone, and you were left feeling there was some kind of ritual going on that they were witnessing? I’ll have to watch it again, that may have been a scene Weir cut.

  2. red says:

    Deborah – I wondered that, too – that perhaps the entire group saw something, and either collectively agreed not to say anything, or all suffered from amnesia … Like there’s the bit that comes out later where the pudgy girl admits she saw the teacher running thru the grass – and she wasn’t wearing her skirt. Just her pantaloons.

    This is never explained. It’s haunting. Like the wilderness itself has taken on an almost conscious aspect and is ripping them apart, snatching them away.

    And I still can’t get out of my head the one girl whispering, before they even leave for the trip, “I may not come back, you know …”

    It’s truly haunting!

  3. MFS says:

    I saw Picnic at Hanging Rock and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures within the same three-month period several years ago. I can’t now remember what prompted me to seek them from the interlibrary loan system, but they are now — for ill or not — forever entwined in my memory.

    Isn’t that odd, how books or songs or films will do that — attach themselves to other memories and somehow color those?

    Anyway… haunting is precise what both films are… for what they tell and show and what they do not.


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