Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Brows: High and Low


Upon discovering that Cablevision had royally plucked me yet again by going haywire during prime DVR time, I ended up watching something unusual: a movie based on a book I loved that I liked. I'm always suspicious when a good book gets turned into a movie because the movie is almost always mediocre and strips away all that was good or charming or challenging about a book (I have the adaptation of Jose Saramago's Blindness in my queue but I'm frankly scared to watch it). But I should have been less wary from the start. You see, Americans did not make this film. Given the population of functional illiterates in my homeland (a homeland I would fight and die for so that my fellow countrymen could continue not reading), it is difficult to take a great work of fiction and render it appropriately on the screen, unless the great work of fiction in question has somehow managed to incorporate flying robots, bared bosoms, and end of days type explosions. I think Hemingway has a book like that.

So the book, I Served the King of England which I suggest you read, and prior to watching the movie, is by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal (say it five times fast). It tells the story of a man in the hospitality industry before and during the German occupation. The man is a bit of a Czech character archetype, a good soldier Svejk kind of guy, simple, earnest, and always getting things wrong, but in a way that endears him to you (and this is coming from someone who generally has no patience for the stupid). Hrabal's work in this and his other books (all of which are totally worth reading) has such charm and whimsy that when I saw there was a movie being made, I was certain these qualities would be lost, but through a surprisingly well-executed series of voice-overs, both shone through so that a person unfamiliar with the book could come away with a feel for its style and not merely its content.

Another interesting, yet depressing, clue that the movie was not made by Americans (yes, the subtitles give it away too) was the casting. There were a fair number of naked women in the movie and all of them looked like actual human beings. There were body flaws you would only ever see in an American documentary on body flaws and I had forgotten how interesting naked women could be when they are demonstrably different from one another. There were also naked men, but I really can't recommend them on aesthetics. The people, naked or dressed, looked like people, whereas even in American movies where the cast is full of "unknowns" the unknowns seem to have gotten their noses fixed and their teeth capped at the same clinic and the only variations are in hair color and height. I am going to endeavor to watch more foreign films (especially if Cablevision continues to mightily suck).


I made fun of Ed when he told me I would want a cellphone with a camera, but he was right: I'm having a lot of trouble unobtrusively taking people's pictures in the train and therefore, sadly, you will have to imagine the guy I sat across from yesterday afternoon who slept with his mouth so wide open...

Ok, I'm not going to be that lowbrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment