Tag Archives: Carson McCullers

A Literary Lady

A Literary Lady

I love Southern literature.

Unabashedly.

Robert Penn Warren, Zora Neale Hurston, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, James Lee Burke, Sharyn McCrumb, William Faulkner, Manly Wade Wellman, Anne Rice, Davis Grubb, — you list ‘em, I probably like ‘em.

What is it?

As usual, I overthink it a lot. But I suspect it’s simple; they’re good writers that lack winter.

Wandering in the sensual and furtive Appalachian hills of McCrumb, Warren, and Grubb. Exploring the night-time potential of New Orleans alleys and courts after a rainstorm with Williams, Burke, and Rice. Scanning the critter-filled wetlands with Hurston and Rawlings. Cataloguing the Behinders, Frogfathers, Shonikens, and Gardinels of the Smokies with Wellman.

None of these reading experiences require snow and that’s just hunky-dory with me.
Maybe the best of them all for me is Carson McCullers. Her MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, and REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE are winter-less crucibles, in which individual human ingredients are combined with passion, and striving, and sweat, amidst leaves that never fall. Then those ingredients are swirled and re-separated back into their original human shells as changed people. Rarely are the changes clearly for good or ill…even death. Some are changed forever. Some revert to old paths and patterns and expectations.

In a land of no winter closing doors behind you is not necessary for comfort or survival, only for privacy. In a land of no winter, leave the door ajar. Going backward is always an option…an option too often and too quickly employed by too many…to too much disappointment.

I have a new Southern author to suggest…at least, she’s new to me.

I met Judy Higgins at a meeting of an arts-related board on which we both serve. When I learned she was a published author, I obtained a copy of her first novel; THE LADY, and asked her to sign it. I read it this week.

There are many echoes of McCullers in this novel.

It is a coming of age story, set in rural Georgia in the late 50’s. Television reception is painful, if it exists at all. Entertainment mostly consists of conversations in the kitchen, a grand piano, conversations on the veranda, high school proms, conversations over dinner, visits from neighbors…you get the idea; no texts, no emails, no Netflix…no screens……faces instead. Class/race inequalities and privileges abound. Human strivings, some for more, some for any, abound. Winter threatens no one’s existence, but what will that existence be?

Ms. Higgins seems to endorse the advice of Joseph Campbell.

“Follow your bliss.”

For Ms. Higgins’ young protagonist, music is her bliss.

In her struggles Chopin, Schubert, and Mozart are her weapons and her solace.

Her aunt’s advice?

Don’t let anyone come between you and your music.

Excellent advice from another fine southern writer.

Annoying “Reflections”

I just watched an annoying movie; REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE.

I had such high hopes.

It’s based on a novel by Carson McCullers. Ms. McCullers is one of my favorite writers. Her characters are quite “of the South”, even when she writes of New York City. Her characters are literate in their self-selected, tightly-bordered turfs. They are flawed, usually fatally (if not to them, then the other people in their lives). The lands and times outside their intellectual stomping-ground plumb evade them. Ms. McCullers’ southern tales range from warm to hot in any way you’d like to take that. If you have not read THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE BALLAD OF SAD CAFÉ, or REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, I would suggest you mosey with dispatch (no need to run, we’re in the South here) and do so.

The film is directed by John Huston. Depending on what day you ask me, THE MALTESE FALCON might be my favorite movie. As far as establishing Mr. Huston’s greatness as a director, he could have stopped right there…but I’m glad he didn’t. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, KEY LARGO, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, and THE AFRICAN QUEEN all bring my channel-surfing to a complete and completely happy halt.

The cast of REFLECTIONS features Julie Harris, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brian Keith.

Holy moly!

So, with all this going for it, what’s annoying?

Well…

Each scene in the film is shot in a golden haze except for one element of color in each scene. Essentially, that makes it a black and white film. I don’t mind black and white, but dark gold and light gold? Annoying.

Every shot seemed stretched beyond its value. At first, I thought the director was going for “languid”. S’okay, we’re in the South and it’s a McCullers tale. But soon the pacing became rhythmic and predictable to no redeeming benefit I could discern.

I had steeled myself for the horse-beating scene, but not adequately. It was more and longer than I was comfortable with (my problem perhaps, not the director’s).

Marlon Brando mumbled and whined incoherently. To be incoherent with words of Carson McCullers is a mighty waste in my world. I found this rivaling Brando’s worst performances and, fan that I am, Lord knows that’s a well-stocked swamp.

The story is set in the 1940’s. Ms. Taylor caught the intent of her character with buxom gusto, but she looked as though she had just stepped over from a TV taping of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” (now there’s a cogent geezer reference).

So…what did I like about the film?

Brian Keith is really interesting and complex. He loudly and drunkenly man-splains to his fellow officers that polo produces better military men than the fields of Eton. He sits his horse well and rides with the wife (Taylor) of his fellow officer and friend (Brando)  each afternoon through the woods to the blackberry bushes where he then is ridden by said wife. He is exasperated by the nervous frailty of his own wife (Harris) and is brought to blue lethargy by her death. It’s a load for an actor to bear and Mr. Keith handles it with aplomb.

Ditto for Julie Harris. Ms. Harris has an advantage here. She was born to speak Carson McCullers’ words. We want to root for her character, but given more visual evidence of the shenanigans of this military community than anyone else, Ms. Harris’ character draws one egregiously wrong conclusion after another and is as much to blame for the final debacle as anyone.

Elizabeth Taylor has a scene in which she describes the food she’s providing for her garden party. She does so with a childish relish Martha Stewart only wishes she could generate. It was delicious.

But I expected so much of the flick and it was overall…not so much.

Annoying.