Monday, February 14, 2011
and John Knatchbull was the half brother
Living in the US I've become more alert to Australians, not live ones -- there are no other live ones around here -- but their books, those toenail-clippings of the brain -- and it's always elation when I spot one, followed by other emotions: pleasure when it's Jolley's Sugar Mother, (WITHDRAWN from the East Mesa Branch Library, according to the stamp inside, and now for sale in Coolidge's Cellar of Books) and less pleasure when it's a fat and shallow romance called Australia with an orange Opera House on the front. (At this moment the word gaudy comes to mind because I caught Scarface on TCM a few weeks ago. "Kinda gaudy, isn't it," says an aloof bombshell to Paul Muni, looking at the gilt and plush in his new apartment, and Muni replies proudly, "Ain't it though!" as if he has personally invented sunshine.) "His arms wrapped around her and Jean knew that her years of loneliness were gone forever," burbles the last page of Australia, which is the sort of line you wish would be followed by, "and then she discovered he was a serial killer," or something else to wash away the taste of sugar-gum. Instead it gets even more gruesome, and "I love you," he whispers at last, although you could fantasise that the line after that, "and the peace wrapped around them both," is a hopeful sign that carbon monoxide has flooded the room and both nitwits have perished.
TCM is a stunner of a channel. In the last few months I've seen movies I'd often heard of but never met, not only Scarface, but also Little Caesar, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and The Woman in the Dunes. In one evening I saw three films, all featuring sulphur-crested cockatoos, none of them set in Australia, and Black Narcissus even threw in a bonus bamboo swamp infested with invisible kookaburras. "Nuns on a cliff!" I said to M., regarding Black Narcissus, but he wouldn't watch it. "Himalayan sex nuns!" Michael Powell showed you shots of the cliff until you waited for someone to fall off. Then last Friday Robert Mitchum was an Australian in the morning and an Irish schoolteacher in the evening. Irish, he removed his shirt, yet even shirtless he was not more beautiful than the west coast of his native adopted country, more lovely than the day and covered with cottage and beach. An Englishman with the mouth of a Pre-Raphaelite maiden appeared and all the soldiers in the seaside fort fell about with lust, as well they ought. Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight delivered a performance that should have been camp, yet wasn't. Weeping she collapsed onto chairs, knuckling forehead and losing her knicknacks. Not lost, though, Charles Boyer had hidden them. Angela Lansbury materialised, ten feet tall and aged eighteen, with skin smooth as an egg. It was revealed that Peter O'Toole was young once too, and also that he was King Henry the Second. "Who is that?" I wondered, watching the King fling himself on Richard Burton's bed, "and why does his behaviour remind me of Robert Downey Junior?" Burton pensively seated himself on a pillow.
None of the other American TV channels come up to the same standard. IFC might be bearable if it ditched the ads. There's no point trying to watch a horror movie if they interrupt it every fifteen minutes with fast cars and peanut butter. The horror movie was The Grudge, and it made me nostalgic for Japan. O Japan, I thought sadly as a little boy mewed like a cat and murdered people. O nostalgia! I wish I lived in that house. The house began to murder people too. A dead woman crawled down the stairs and I was reminded of a kabuki play I'd watched, a ghost-woman walking through a wall and terrifying her ex. Nothing in The Grudge asked you to suspend disbelief as thoroughly as the stout middle-aged Japanese man I'd once seen take the role of a beautiful noh fairy, although I've also seen, on film, Pavarotti take the role of a starving artist, and so fat was he that it seemed they must have invented paint brushes just to allow people like him to reach the canvas over a full tun of belly, so this kind of casting is hardly a Japanese thing.
We went into Phoenix and discovered that the Friends of the Phoenix Library had their own shop with window displays and glossy brochures and a copy of Patrick White's Flaws in the Glass for a dollar, which I nabbed. The Friends I used to be a member of in Australia had a tiny stale back room and a foyer like a corridor to hold the sales in, carrying books out of the room in boxes and staggering through the stacks with the tables one Saturday per month, ricking their backs and giving M. a permanent scar. The Phoenix Friends have their own warehouse, if you fucking please, and likely pens of tame and willing eunuchs to tote the boxes to and fro and fan the members with palm leaves, though these go unmentioned in the official literature.
But the most unexpected book so far, re. Aus.Lit., has probably been Jane Austen & Crime, discovered on a table at the annual secondhand book sale of the Rotary Club of Florence, Arizona, and written by Susannah Fullerton, who was, and is, the President of JASA, or the Jane Austen Society of Australia. It begins by introducing the reader to John Knatchbull, executed in Sydney, son of "a respectable Kentish family," known to the Austens, "and John Knatchbull was the half brother of the man who later married Jane's favourite niece, Fanny Austen Knight." Jane's aunt was arrested for shoplifting and released, writes Fullerton, and Austen herself once visited a gaol in Canterbury -- why? "My initial idea to develop a one-hour talk grew very rapidly into a book."