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True Grit and the Quixote - The Ex-Communicator

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February 19th, 2011


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08:45 am - True Grit and the Quixote
Borges wrote a well-known short story called Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.
(Menard) did not want to compose another Quixote —which is easy— but the Quixote itself. Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.

The idea which Borges is conveying is that the words of Don Quixote, if written as an original novel by a 20th century man, would constitute a new book entirely. The same words have quite a different meaning and emotional tone to those written by Cervantes in the 17th century. For the 20th century writer depicts Quixote rejecting, as insufferably mundane, a distant and romantic era (while Cervantes, using the same words, merely described a man rejecting his present day).

It may be that Gus Van Sant had a similar purpose in mind when he remade Psycho shot-for-shot in 1998.

Similarly, the True Grit made by the Coen brothers in 2010 has a very different feel to a film depicting the same events made in 1969. I am not talking here about differences between the films, I am talking about how identical scenes have a very different significance because they are filmed in 2010, with all we know now that we didn't know then.

I was a child in the 1960s, and I read two comics every week: Beano and Dandy, with Dennis the Menace, Bash Street Kids, Desperate Dan etc. I would say 50% of the comic strips in those comics ended with a boy (or less often a girl) being beaten by an adult. For laughs. Spanked let us say, or slippered. You don't get that now, of course, in those same comics. Like Menard's Quixote, if someone were to write that strip now the significance, of an identical cartoon, would be quite different. We can pick up a 1960s strip and not be concerned. But if someone were to churn out hundreds of comics like that today, of children, I personally would find it very offensive.

In 1971 an underground Magazine called Oz published 'The schoolkids issue'. It was banned, seized and pulped (and the publishers prosecuted for obscenity). I have never seen a copy, but I believe that one of the things it did was to highlight and attack the hidden sexual component to the widespread beating of children. During the 1970s and 1980s awareness of child abuse was dredged up into the light, and this coincided with a greater scepticism about adults beating children. I don't need to say how much murky emotion is still swilling around in relation to these issues.

In this context, the scene in which 30-year-old LaBoeuf whips 14-year-old Maddie (1969 original here) feels very different in 2010. I thought the Coen's would drop it. I can't link to the same scene as it was portrayed in the new film, but it's not that different in content, but it has a very different feeling.

I think the Coen's handle the scene well. It's not made a big deal of, it is integrated into an overall dynamic, and it doesn't diminish Maddie in my opinion. I think the way the scene, and the overall dynamic between the two characters is handled, is updated by modern sensibilities without making the error of projecting modern sensibilities onto the historical characters.

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:hawkeye7
Date:February 19th, 2011 08:31 pm (UTC)

True Grit

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It does have a different tone, but having re-watched that scene I am more uncertain about it. It is clear that in the 1969 version, they did consider that possible interpretation, that LeBeouf might be "enjoying it too much", as Rooster Cogburn notes, and took steps to minimize it. In 1969, it was still common for adults to beat children, so the film makers reckoned that the audience would let it pass so long as it was not too lurid. I am inclined to think that the 2010 audience is far less likely to do so.

Whether by design or poor acting, there is more ambiguity in the 1969 version than in the 2010. Perhaps because of the way Maddie struggles, or because of the pathetic switch Glenn Campbell uses, in the 1969 version, we see anger and humiliation but it is unclear how much actual pain is involved. In 2010 version, there is real hurt.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:February 19th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)

Re: True Grit

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Yes, it is interesting that they had Cogburn say that. I can't really understand the attitude there was in those days, because I feel too far away from it. The scene is intended to be humorous, and yet it's uneasy. It's not informed by modern understanding, and yet it isn't quite innocent.
[User Picture]
From:fjm
Date:February 20th, 2011 10:21 am (UTC)

Re: True Grit

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They had already seen Rebel without a Cause in which there is some very uneasy sexuality between father and daughter.

Sorry, but "modern" is post-Freud and his ideas on father-daughter attraction were already in common circulation. The uneasiness would be there, but it might well be interpreted differently. After all, the conventional model of "romance" for the period involves man brutalising woman, and woman melting with adoration.
[User Picture]
From:fjm
Date:February 20th, 2011 10:22 am (UTC)

Re: True Grit

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ps. In the 1969 movie Maddie is closer to contemporary notions of marriagable age than she is now. We have to strain to remember she is almost an adult. In 1969 the average age of marriage for a girl was in the low 20s.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:February 20th, 2011 11:27 am (UTC)

Re: True Grit

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I think Freud's work on child sexuality did not bring unequivocal clarity to the area. And of course - on your side - you could say that awareness of the sexualisation of beating was widespread from at least the 19th century - Swinburne talked of little else.

Nevertheless the acceptability of this sort of thing in mainstream culture has changed a great deal since 1969 in this respect - and the example of beating in children's comics is I think evidence of this.

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