Archive for Oscar Wilde

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Posted in Culture, Movies with tags , , , , on October 12, 2011 by vprime

I lost Monday to the flu, that’s why there was no music post this week. Lots of other personal business has kept me busy, including a new cat that I sprung from Death Row over the weekend. The cat is a female, black, and looks, as Mr. Prime says, “like a real witch’s cat.” We still haven’t settled on a new name for her. She doesn’t like to sit still for pictures. I might have to sneak up on her while she’s sleeping.

Over the weekend, Mr. Prime and I took in a performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a play that I love for its wit and devotion to serious shallowness. Wilde is a master of the quick, cutting saying. I was reminded often of Morrissey (“Everybody’s clever nowadays.”) and my favorite film, Velvet Goldmine. Wilde makes a brief appearance in this film, but his words come up throughout the movie. In this clip, the line that Ewan McGregor’s character delivers before the kiss is from The Picture of Dorian Gray:

In addition, I’m working on a post about the film Labyrinth, re-editing my fiction manuscript and making absolutely no progress on a sewing project that’s in pieces all over my desk. I’ve made some jewelry that I’m planning on posting pictures of soon. There’s really no action happening on the Etsy store front, so I’ve decided to just focus on making things for myself. I end up keeping half of what I make anyway. My next post should be something more substantive.

Here is another clip from Velvet Goldmine for your viewing pleasure:

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” -Oscar Wilde

Film Review: Dorian Gray (2009)

Posted in Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2011 by vprime

This film departs from Wilde’s narrative in such an astonishing way that I had to grab my copy of the novel and look up the ending while the credits were still rolling. To say it takes some liberties is an understatement. While there are major weaknesses present, there are also moments of fully realized decadence that Wilde would not have committed to paper.

Ben Barnes plays the devastatingly handsome Dorian Gray. Though not the blonde Adonis Wilde writes, Barnes is indisputably magnetic as the aesthetic anti-hero. From the beginning, there are signs that the movie internalizes our modern pop-psychological tropes. For example, Dorian is occasionally haunted by memories of his abusive father. We see Dorian as a child cowering in the attic (where else?) as his father hunts him down with verbal and physical abuse. This is just the first concession to modern sensibilities in which all bad choices are predestined by previous abuse and all villains have a tragic secret. Dorian’s childhood abuse in this case seems to serve to make his a sympathetic figure in the audience’s eyes, whereas Wilde’s Dorian was more perfectly privileged, a boy unmarked by life when Henry Wotton first lays eyes on him. I suppose that for modern audiences to follow Dorian’s descent into wickedness and subsequent redemption, some groundwork must be laid in the language of victimization that we all speak now. Here, also, is one of the greatest flaws in this film: the erasure of the aesthetic as motivation.  Wotton has devoted himself to a life of surfaces. His epigrammatic pronouncements are sharp as needles and with nearly as much substance. It is in imitation of Wotton’s life of aesthetic indulgence that Dorian begins his foray into vice.

The film casts Colin Firth as Henry Wotton and Ben Chaplin as Basil Hallward. Hallward’s painting captures Dorian in perfect youth. When Wotton asks if he would sell his soul to be so eternally perfect as his picture, Dorian swears he would and the film suggests this exchange is made with a few music-video flashes and chiming noises.  Firth delivers his lines in a clipped, aggressive cadence that make his words seem like aural stabs. His Wotton remains grim-faced and serious in pursuit of momentary distraction from ennui. Wotton’s goading begins with pressing a cigarette on Dorian and before long, he is vicariously living through Dorian’s conquests: a memorable one including seducing a high society matron while her teenage daughter–with whom Dorian was occupied moments before–hides under the bed. The film presents lush interiors and the smoke-filled private pleasure clubs of the London upper class as the backdrop to Dorian’s ever more daring indulgences. Wotton begins to exhibit jealousy when Dorian falls for the stage actress Sybil Vane. Couching his opposition in terms of class, Wotton attempts to pull Dorian away from marriage to Sybil. He sows his final seed of discord by provoking an argument between Sybil and Dorian. This, I believe, is only to set the stage for Wotton’s eventual redemption as well. In the book, Dorian breaks his engagement with Sybil because he witnesses her bad performance in a play. Rather than make the point of stress between Dorian and Sybil aesthetic, the film chooses to side once again with modern sensibilities and raise the spectre of social disapproval, which we all know from having read Romeo and Juliet was a thing that messed up a lot of love stories in old-timen days.

Sybil does an Ophelia after Dorian leaves her. Dorian, for his part, continues his life of opium dens and bordellos. His portrait, long hidden in the attic, begins to exhale ragged breaths and drop maggots on the floor. After Hallward’s repeated insistence that Dorian display the painting again, he meets his end as Dorian reveals the portrait in the attic and then stabs Hallward with a shard of mirror. There is one point just before Dorian kills Hallward that does seem to go further than the book dared to: the scene in which Dorian kisses Hallward. This kiss is immediately followed by the fatal thrust of the glass. Here the undercurrent of homosexual desire that Dorian inspires in Hallward is made momentarily explicit. What Wilde could only hint at, this film shows. In a most ungentlemanly move, Dorian disposes of Basil’s body himself. Following his foray into murder, Dorian leaves for an extended jaunt to the continent.

Dorian returns after 20 years to a London of motor coaches and cameras. Here is where the film really loses it way. Dorian falls in love with Wotton’s thoroughly modern daughter. While the film constructs a demonstrably contemporary woman in Gladys–she smokes, she forgoes the complex frills of Edwardian dress, she’s constantly taking photos of Dorian–it necessitates transforming a minor character from the book into Wotton’s daughter. In the book, Dorian is idly involved with a country girl of the lower classes. In this film, Dorian’s affair with Gladys Wotton is detailed through her attempts to defang his arch pronouncements and her full faith in Dorian’s redemption. But this is nothing new. Its is the role of beautiful women in film and fiction to serve as saviors of men through love. Of course Dorian must come to salvation through Wotton’s daughter since his fall was largely due to Henry’s tutelage. Wotton spends the rest of the movie casting suspicious glances at Dorian that lead the viewer to believe that Henry suspects Dorian in Hallward’s death but does not explain why. I suppose it can be read under the old cliche that the father scrutinizes the partner of his daughter on her behalf. This part of the film falls flat for me. It may be that this version of the story takes it for granted that the audience wants to see Wotton atone for his part in Dorian’s corruption.

This question of the love interest as the savior is one that movies lean on heavily. It seems almost as if the film expects that the audience will find the notion that Dorian will decide to destroy the enchanted portrait through his own internal motivation unacceptable. I doubt Wilde would have taken seriously the notion that the romantic love of a woman is what the aesthetic anti-hero needs to return to humanity. This addition is generated by a modern audiences’ expectations. While the figure of Gladys in the film is compelling as she bursts Dorian’s epigrammatic pronouncements, she seems more like an intrusion from another narrative universe. In the end, Wotton takes it upon himself to destroy Dorian’s portrait, and, in the process, Dorian himself, complete with the movie cliche of exploding balls of fire.

Why does this film  choose to let Wotton destroy Dorian rather than allow Dorian to destroy himself? On the one hand, the film posits Dorian as such a perfectly pleasure-seeking subject it may be difficult to believe he retains any concern about the nature of his soul: Dorian as postmodern narcissist. While Gladys attempts to save Dorian from the blaze, he turns away from the possibility of escape. Dorian does eventually stab the portrait as in the book, but only when he has already accepted his impending death by fire in the attic. This strikes me as lesser than Dorian’s choice of death in the novel, since it makes his act in destroying the painting less impactful. After all, the painting is already on fire are sure to be destroyed anyway. It always struck me that what really tormented Dorian was not a lot of internalized moralistic blah blah, but rather the idea that there existed somewhere an accurate image of him. It’s the ugliness of the painting that destroys his illusions of a purely aesthetic life. The idea that available to any witness is an interpretation of himself that he cannot control and manipulate is what I think really spurs Dorian to destroy the painting.

Anyway, watch the movie.

A Many-Splintered Thing

Posted in beauty, Books, Etsy, Jewelry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by vprime

I’ll refrain from the obvious Joy Division reference for this Valentine’s Day post. Instead I’ll just borrow a bad pun from Mr. Eldritch. Valentine’s day is an orgy of romantic stereotypes, waxy chocolates and unfelt sentiments. And substituting Lupercalia is already played out. Yeah, if I didn’t look at this holiday with a jaundiced eye, you’d worry. Sometimes I celebrate it, sometimes not, depending on how depleted I feel. I do have plans that I am looking forward to this year, but I’m equally satisfied by staying home and watching a movie. Nonetheless, I do have recommendations should you need dark offerings for that special someone you’ve been cyberstalking.

Hedonist Necklace by Bellalili

This necklace by Bellalili manages to be tough and refined at once. Bellalili’s items combine ornate metal forms with brilliant crystals. I would wear this with anything from a plain black v-neck shirt to a ruffled blouse. It’s big enough to be noticed without crying out for attention. I regularly spy lovelies in Bellalili’s Etsy shop that I admire. Visit Bellalili’s Etsy shop.

Tokyo Milk Tainted Love

Don’t touch me please I cannot stand the way you tease. Tokyo Milk’s Tainted Love has a little less Marc Almond and more vanilla, orchid, white tea and sandalwood. I have Tokyo Milk’s Dead Sexy and wear it often. I haven’t smelled this yet, but it sounds promising. Anything that combines sandalwood and tea is compelling to me. Vanilla is a tricky fragrance note. I can’t stand it in an overly sugary iteration. I’m not sure what has driven the rise of bath and body products that smell like cans of frosting, but that’s the sort of vanilla I avoid. As long as there’s something to dirty up the vanilla a bit, I’m willing to try it. If you haven’t yet smelled the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Snake Oil, do make sure to sniff this magical and delicious combination of vanilla and patchouli. My hope is that Tainted Love mixes a greenish sandalwood with the fresh tea note and the vanilla is warm and complex rather than sweet. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s tried Tainted Love and can describe it a bit.  Visit Tokyo Milk.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”
– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. This new Penguin Classics hardcover has a gorgeous cover worthy of the decadent tale within. This black and white volume would look elegant on your shelf or table. Books are the best gifts ever, in my mind; and even better if the book is beautiful to look at. I am now reading Huysmans’ A Rebours which is the book that turns Dorian from a sweet boy into a lovely monster. To give your love an interesting reading experience, pair this with the highly underrated Dorian by Will Self.  Buy books at Amazon.com

That concludes my Valentine’s suggestions. No flowers, candy or stuffed animals. These gifts are appropriate whether the object of your desire is male, female or other.

Until next time.