Fluxing miscellany. If you're looking for top 10 film lists, click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

THE MAGUS liveblog

Context: The Magus is a really annoying novel by John Fowles that took me nearly two months to finish. First published in 1965 and re-issued — in a substantially-ish revised version — in 1977, Fowles' novel is ranked #93 on the Modern Library's semi-reputable 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. It has a fantastic opening paragraph:

I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria. I was sent to a public school, I wasted two years doing my national service, I went to Oxford; and there I began to discover I was not the person I wanted to be.

The first 40 pages are just as precisely written, and would make a perfect, self-contained short story: callow Nicholas Urfe's love affair with your ultimate '60s free spirit from hell. But Urfe conceives of himself as an intellectual/sexual libertine-superman type, and things end badly when he ditches off to Greece. After this there's about 500 pages of tedium as Urfe is drawn into the deranged games of one Maurice Conchis in a set-up that basically resembles David Fincher's The Game except really tedious and laden with Greek mythological allusions. Urfe keeps being a jackass because of his sexual vanity, and eventually he's judged at a trial where lots of Freudian claptrap is spewed at him ("Time has not allowed us to investigate the subject's specific womb and breast separation traumas, but the compensatory mechanisms he had evolved" etc. etc.), after which he goes home and becomes a better human being who can maintain monogamous relationships. Aside from the opening, it's all rather silly and badly dated; Fowles is good at anatomizing discontent to early '50s Britain that pre-dated swinging London (and Conchis' narrative of his own life is good fun), but it's all rather portentous and sexually hysterical. But I suppose this is regarded as a classic of sorts for whatever reason.

Having read all 656 pages, I felt it was incumbent upon me to watch at least once the legendarily awful 1968 film, which Fowles despised and flopped; Woody Allen noted that if he could live his life over again, he would do everything the same again, except see The Magus. This should be fun.

1:13 - thrilling opening shot panning about 270 degrees through some truly stunning mountains, plus cheesy ominous music and faux-Greek lettering font, zooming down onto a yacht — establishing both the landscape the game will play out on and alluding to the yacht Conchis keeps the twins on. Neat.

3:44 - "No women on this island." "Good." "Good?" "Good!" Caine in full hard-ass mode. Totally hilarious suspicious old Greek ladies eyeing him.

6:13 - "What's wrong?" Caine stoically kicks a soccer ball instead of saying anything.

8:35 - "I've got everything a poet needs except poems." "I've got everything an air hostess needs except illusions." Twin souls!

11:36 - "Eerie" vibraphone solo. Please.

23:21 - In a flashback, Anna Karina is explaining to Caine that she always takes a paperweight with her everywhere because it somehow consoled her after an abortion three years ago. She is saying this over incongruously peppy Mancini-type music.

35:44 - The actor who plays young Anthony Quinn is ridiculously and unnecessarily awkward. The whole army desertion plot is cut. Young Candice Bergen is, as always, super hot, but a terrible actress to ask to play just with her face. She's way OTT.

36:03 - Anthony Quinn just speared a squid.

37:48 - This is probably the least dramatic way possible to stage a guy running around an island looking for someone. Didn't anyone see L'Avventura before they started? Jeez. It's as bad as Southland Tales' "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)" sequence.

41:14 - Caine: I can either pinch your bottom or kiss you. Which shall it be?

46:24 - Karina: "Oh Nico, this is life, not an existentialist novel!"

47:48 - She gives him back the paper-weight. "I don't need it anymore." Bad judgment, Karina. Look at that smirk.

49:31 - This is really boring and annoying so far, but I'll admit they did the locations perfectly. No one could possibly visualize them differently. Seriously.

54:22 - First character introduced who has no correlative in the book.

1:03:52 - Anna Karina naked. First thing to justify an R rating in 63 minutes.

1:16:15 - presumably to save time, they've cut the twin sister and made a leap from girl-as-ghost to schizo and then actress, with Caine an unconscious improviser for a script they'll right. Eh, OK.

1:22:42 - as Caine receives news of Karina's suicide, a herd of black goats walk past his window.

12: 09 AM - taking a break to make a late sandwich and read the New York Review of Books. This movie is so immensely dull. Even worse than the book. Under half an hour to go, thank goodness.