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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Hyper Realism and the Rite of Passage

Well, having crossed swords with Eamonn last week over Tony Blair (I would deeply love Eamonn's version of the 'road to greatness' to be right, but somehow looking at that smile and the deliberate fixedness of the eyes I can't bring myself to believe in it), it's surely time to agree with him again. On this occasion the topic is Cormac McCarthy, and in particular the comparison between Lampedusa's and McCarthy's interpretations of aristocracy and tradition.

Many would argue that he's the most challenging of contemporary American novelists. To say that his hyper-realism is unique borders on the banal. What Cormac McCarthy has achieved goes beyond, far beyond, style, although it's an important part of the entire picture. No, McCarthy's finest achievement is how his protagonists deal with the modern in settings where tradition governs men's lives. The violence of change is central in McCarthy's world and his men and women accept this fact with honesty and bravery. Today, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, we wish him well.........

Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece begins in the years just before the United States enters the Second World War. The figurative leopard of Don Fabrizio's Sicily is replaced by the real wolf 16-year-old Billy Parham rescues from a trap, tames, and leads across the border to Mexico. This is the first of three border crossings the young man will make in the course of the novel. Each one will sear him with life's hazards and hardships.

McCarthy's aristocrats are animals: wolves and horses. They are nature's nobility, superior in every way to the venal humans who use and abuse them.
Source: Eamonn's Rainy Day

It might seem almost trivial to note that both Lampedusa's 'Leopard' and McCarthy's 'All the Pretty Horses' have given rise to surprisingly good film versions. For sure this is a comparison the purists won't accept. The former being a widely acknowledged masterpiece from Visconti, while the latter is in fact a more controversial, but in my book equally interesting first stab from Billy Bob Thornton. Still, maybe Matt Damion and Penelope Cruz are not to everyone's taste. It could be noted that the now widely acclaimed 'Heavens Gate' did not exactly meet with universal enthusiasm in the early years either. At the very least both films could be categorised as highly original 'initiation' movies. Still it would probably be stretching the point a little to suggest that Thornton ever achieves the 'grandeur' to be found in the Visconti dance scene. Personally I cannot help agreeing with an Amazon reviewer:

Director Thornton (Sling Blade) wants us to empathize with his young protagonists: They're more than boys but not yet men, yearning to be part of a tradition already receding into history. A contemporary evocation of western-movie themes, All the Pretty Horses is also a lovingly crafted, occasionally plaintive celebration of an all-but-vanished way of life.......You can see how this movie could have been jacked up into a one-level action picture, but what makes it special is how Thornton modulates the material. Even the prison knife-fight scenes aren't staged as action confrontations, but as quick, desperate and strangely intimate. A rare and exemplary film.

What I appreciate in Rainy Day is the fact that it's pulling me back away from all that turgid economic data, back towards the world of civilisation and culture........ at least while I'm away on holiday. (Incidentally today I'm in the ominously silent public library, since the Brazilians have decided that Wednesday is a good day for a day off - I don't know if they've sneaked down to Barcelona to try and catch a quick glimpse of Ronaldinho!). Now I think I'd better shut up, or they'll accuse us of founding a mutual admiration society.

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