The Lost Continent (1968)

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The Lost Continent (a 1968 Seven Arts-Hammer Film production, based loosely upon Dennis Wheatley’s Uncharted Seas) opens with a wheezy, breezy organ-laden lounge track by The Peddlers—vaguely reminiscent of the club music in Melville’s Le Samouraï—murmuring over the introductory credits. The song (which I found quite catchy) is, in its languid, slightly seedy tone, at odds with the ghostly, forlorn scenery, but, as one will discover, not with the lurid characters of the drama, for whom it is a fitting anthem.

Cut to a child’s burial at sea upon a tramp steamer moving under an auspicious sky. The steamer is surrounded by a graveyard of ships, seaweed-strewn and ominous. The murky color-saturation lends to a tangible otherworldliness which digital is as-yet unable to capture in its chromatic projection. The vessel’s captain (Eric Porter), who provides the departed’s last rites, ruminates on how he and the scant, peculiar crew—some dressed in 60s fashion, others in colonial-era armor—arrived at such a grotesque wending. From there the film jumps back in time, where, again, we see the stone-faced Captain Lansen being hailed by two customs officials, who he promptly ignores, much to the chagrin of his nervous first officer, Mr. Hemmings (Neil McCallum).

The film then introduces the colorful main-cast of passengers, the alternatively charming and boorish drunkard-pianist Harry Tyler (Tony Beckley), the eastern-european fugitive and aging-beauty Eva Peters (Hildegard Knef), the bumbling, self-important Dr. Webster (Nigel Stock, who is seen reading Uncharted Seas in his introductory scene in a respectful nod to the source material), his wayward daughter Unity (Suzanna Leigh playing the only main character who retains a name from the novel), the jovial bartender Pat (Jimmy Hanley) and the scheming mustachioed Ricaldi (Ben Carruthers).

When the captain instructs Hemmings to avoid “the usual shipping lane” on-route to Caracas, the latter’s curiosity and concern grows. It is then unveiled that the captain is transporting a large quantity of chemicals in the cargo-hold which react violently with water. A hurricane encroaches, yet the captain expresses little interest in turning around and tells the first mate that if he wishes, he can put the matter before the passengers. Hemmings does so and is astonished when none vote to turn the ship around. Lansen declares they will “keep going.” Thereafter, a drunken Tyler sardonically quips, “One man. One vote. Aren’t you glad you live in a democracy?” Hemmings, confounded, pronounces the passengers “bloody mad” and rushes back to the captain whereupon he is greeted by the crew who informs Hemmings that the cargo is filled with explosives. Shortly thereafter, Lansen confesses the truth of the matter to Hemmings: The cargo is indeed filled with combustible material as the crew feared, which was why the captain ignored the customs officials. Lansen then tells his first mate the reason he’s transporting the material is because its his last haul and one he plans to retire on (hence his challenging-forth into the storm).

As this is occurring, Eva returns to her quarters to find Ricaldi rifling through her belongings, in which lies 2 million dollars in stolen securities and bonds. He explains that his interest in her is “nothing personal” and that he’s working for the man from whom she stole, who, unsurprisingly, wants his properties returned. Eva attempts to bribe him, first (vainly) with money, then (successfully) with sex (unlike Unity, Eva’s sexual liaisons have a deeply moral impetus, as she needs the money to save her son from her ex-dictator-husband who holds the boy hostage).

As Eva barters with Ricaldi, Unity quarrels with her controlling (and possibly incestuous) father (Mr. Webster), who accuses her of being a whore (which she is), though he has little moral high-ground upon which to stand, as Unity swiftly recounts his numerous affairs with his nurses, secretaries and even his patients. Through this exchange it is revealed that, just like Peters, Ricaldi and the captain, the Websters, too, have a secret reason for being on the ship, for Mr. Webster was formerly practicing in Africa, where he carried out illegal operations on his patients when he wasn’t busy diddling them. The unprofessional doctor’s behavior caused such a stir that the police opened up a investigation, forcing the Websters to flee.

On deck, the crew attempt to take the slack out of the ship’s anchor-chain, which they botch, causing a rupture in the hull that floods the cargo-hold. This in turns threatens to ignite the chemicals. The emergency pumps prove useless and the crew, thoroughly distressed, convince Hemmings to lead a mutiny. The crew-leader, however cautions against mob-tactics, and states that Hemmings will be in charge and that everything will be done in a legal “above board” manner. The crew agrees. It is here that the film displays its knack for deft and three-dimensional characterization; even amidst such dire situations, the crew-leader is cool-headed enough to understand the latent dangers of hysteria and frenzy, never letting his own caution get the better of him. Unfortunately, the crew-leader’s reserve is all for naught as the captain, when confronted, refuses to abandon ship and states that he’ll kill anyone who tries. Unity’s lover, the radio-operator, tells the passengers that the crew is abandoning the vessel and asks them to join. Pat asks if the captain ordered the desertion. The radio operator tells them he did not and the bartender is aghast. “That’s mutiny!” the loyal soul cries. “Call it what you like.” Declares the radio-operator, before vainly attempting one last time to convince them to leave. All decline save Unity, who is swiftly ordered back into place by her father. Failing to move the passengers, the radio-operator curses them hysterically and dashes for the lifeboats as Tyler declares to his companions, “This is the moment when all the rats leave the sinking ship.” Emphasis on rats.

Back on deck the crew moves to escape but the captain arrives and opens fire, hitting the radio operator, whose head is then smashed by a winch much to Unity’s horror. The surviving crew members, lead by Hemmings paddle away to an uncertain fate as the captain mulls over his next plan of action.

One of the wounded crew members is brought into the piano parlour where Tyler, still swilling booze, incessantly strikes up a funeral march, which, unsurprisingly disturbs the other passengers. When Webster attempts to wrest Tyler’s bottle from him to use on the patient to sterilize his wounds, Tyler becomes incensed and flys at the bartender. Before Tyler can beat Pat senseless the captain intervenes, breaks up the fight and enlists the passengers aid in moving the explosive barrels from the hold before it completely fills with water. This they successfully accomplish but it is only a matter of time before the water leaks into the new room housing the barrels; in light of this, Lansen decides there is nothing further to be done but abandon the ship, as Hemmings previously suggested, which lends a sense of grave futility to the previous scene; for the captain killed his own men for doing precisely what he would later go on to do. Yet, it was mutiny. Betrayal. What currency is more precious than loyalty? Had they stuck with him, no one would have died and they’d have escaped the ship all the same.

After the passengers and the remnants of the crew escape the ship, tensions run high. Tyler, shorn of his booze, attempts to thieve rum from the captain, which greatly annoys Webster. Tyler later successfully steals the rum and cackles about it and is again confronted by Webster. Irked, Tyler trounces the man, accidentally knocking him into the ocean. Distressed by his drunken impulsivity, Tyler leaps after Webster as a shark approaches. The sea-beast kills Webster, leaving Tyler utterly devastated. Two of the remaining crew members find this a opportune time to stage yet another coup to ensure they have access to the supplies. This fails, as Eva shoots the chief mutineer in the gut with a flare, killing him. Tyler makes his way back to the boat as Eva breaks down in tears. From that moment on, Tyler decides to give up drink.

Sometime later, the lifeboat is seen drifting through fog. Nearly 47 minutes into the film, we are finally introduced to the ‘lost continent’ itself, which, though certainly lost to the world, isn’t really a continent by any classical definition, but rather, a great, floating, matted tangle of carnivorous seaweed, which wastes no time in wounding the captain and devouring the cook. This is quite a departure from Wheatley’s novel, wherein the seaweed is likewise thick and strange but yet, not malevolently sentient, nor carnivorous. Shortly after encountering the weeds the survivors find a ship floating in the fog and hail the crew, only to be greeted by Pat, the bartender, who had been left behind during the evacuation whereupon they realize its none other than Lansen’s ship.

After a change of clothes, Tyler and Unity engage in a discussion in the bar, where Tyler (conspicuously drinking coffee) begins to apologize for accidentally causing the death of her father. Rather surprisingly, she thanks him for “freeing” her. Naturally, Tyler is perplexed but when she proposes a toast to the future, he hesitantly raises his cup (of coffee).

The captain and the rest of the crew discover that the ship is now completely in the grip of the hungry aquatic vegetation, which has jammed the propeller. Lansen remarks upon the situation in one of the most unintentionally hilarious lines in the film, “Now we go where the weed takes us” (I’m surprised it hasn’t been meme’d).

The weeds drag the ship into the Sargasso sea, as they do so, Unity attempts to put the moves on a increasingly morose and withdrawn Tyler, who will have none of it. In an attempt to loosen the pianist up, she brings him a drink as Pat looks on with worry. Tyler, however, promptly declines. He does, however, begin to dance with her as she whispers sweet nothings to him. That is, until, she offers him a drink again and suggest they go back to her cabin. Infuriated, Tyler reprimands her and casts the glass across the room, shattering it against the wall. He declares he’s “given up the booze” whereupon Unity (who at this point in the film had become my least favorite character) informs him that “it won’t do you any harm.” To which he replies, “The first one never does.” Unity then becomes irate and demands he have drink, stating that it “might just make a man out of” him. He calmly replies “I’m beginning to feel like a man for the first time in years.” He turns her down once more and she storms off to find another man (as I previously mentioned, she’s a whore). She finds her “man” in Ricaldi, who is smoking on deck. Before they can consummate there extremely premature relationship, however, a giant octopus-like creature attacks, grabs Unity, covers her in slime, then kills (and presumably eats) Ricaldi.

Some time after this harrowing experience, the crew hears cries of help coming from the water and discover a young woman striding towards them across the seaweed through a pall of fog via the aid of a balloon backpack and paddle shoes. Tyler aids her whereupon she explains she’s being followed, and right on cue the camera cuts to a legion of shadowy figures, balloon-and-armour garbed and paddle shoed, striding over the carnivorous flotsam. Whilst such a description might sound comical, its not played for laughs. I certainly never cracked a smile as I was watching. Rather than coming off as goofy, its evocative of a grotesque dreamscape. The balloon-harnesses, are taken directly from the book (Uncharted Seas), whereas the paddle-shoes are a original invention. In the book, the inhabitants of the lost continent used balloons and stilts to evade the ravenous octopi that camouflaged themselves within the weeds, in the film, the inhabitants trudge over the vegetation like water-bugs. Wheatley’s inspiration (and hence, the film’s) for the balloons came from balloon-jumping, a popular fad of his time.

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The crew engages in a battle with the lost continentals, which the crew wins and captures one of the striders alive.

It is here that the film, for the first time, cuts away from the crew and passengers to another, much older ship, hidden in the roiling mists of the lost continent. It is revealed that the piratical water striders are the descendants of Spanish conquistadors and have been living on the lost continent for hundreds of years. They are ostensibly ruled by the boy-emperor, El Supremo (alternatively, El Diablo), however, the real power behind the throne is the insidious, masked man referred to only as The Inquisitor (Eddie Powell—the prolific stuntman behind the action in films such as Alien, Aliens, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).

The cut makes excellent narrative sense, as the crew and passengers learn all of this information at the same time as it is being shown to the audience by interrogating one of the Spaniards they’d capture. Here again, is another departure from the book, where the hostile inhabitants of the lost continent were not forgotten conquistadors, but negro savages (presumably, a bloody race war was a little too recherche for even the notoriously transgressive Hammer Films). The young woman they brought aboard, whose name is Sarah (Dana Gillespie), explains her people had moved to the lost continent to escape religious persecution, however, they found precisely the opposite under The Inquisitor’s bloodthirsty proxy reign.

That night Sarah abruptly departs without a word, water-striding into the fog. However, Tyler spies her leaving and heads out after her along with Pat and another member of the crew. They catch up with her and plan to spend the night in a cave when Pat is attacked by a giant crab, which kills the poor man. Before the hideous crustacean can turn its rapacious maw upon the rest of the wayfarers, however, its waylaid by a giant scorpion(thingy). The two beasts then engage in a duel to the death, which is interrupted by the crewman who shoots the oversized crustacean in the eye, killing it. It’s worth remembering the shark earlier in the film, as the patchwork monsters featured in the scene were the creation of the late Robert Mattey, who also designed the model sharks used in Jaws. The monster fight is the low point of the film. Ambitious and interesting as Mattey’s creations are, they’re simply not convincing. It’s all too obvious that they’re running on wheels! The interlude into monster mayhem, however, is quite brief, so it (much like the giant octopus scene) detracts little from the overall serious tonality.

The Inquisitor then shows up with a band of guardsmen who incapacitate Sarah, Tyler and the crewman and take them back to their decaying galleon-turned-death-cathedral. In a film with more winks and nudges, this might all be quite ridiculous, however, The Lost Continent never loses its sincerity and plays every scene for emotional believability (which is one of its greatest strengths, beyond its solid acting and fantastical setting and atmosphere). Before The Inquisitor can have El Supremo execute them, Lansen and the rest of the crew burst onto the scene and hold the Spaniards at gunpoint. The Inquisitor, unperturbed, then addresses Lansen in one of the best exchanges in the film. The Inquisitor tells Lansen that he and his people can’t escape. That escape is impossible because it is God’s will that they stay. Lansen, of course, disagrees.

The film concludes in a cataclysmic battle pitting Lansen and Tyler’s men against The Inquisitor’s forces. In the fight, El Supremo is slain and it is his body which rests in the coffin that is dumped into the water at the beginning of the film.

The beginning, it turns out, is the end. A peculiarly inconclusive one for an adventure film. For we know not whether they are able to defy The Inquisitor’s expectations, or whether he was right that escape was impossible. Though we don’t know if they escape, we know that they would try until the last. As Lansen said, “The day we stop trying, we stop living.”


§.01


Sources

  1. Dick. (2019) The Oak Drive-In: The Lost Continent (1968).
  2. Matthew Coniam. (2016) Wheatley On Film: The Lost Continent (1968). The Dennis Wheatley Project
  3. Michael Carreras. (1968) The Lost Continent. Seven Arts-Hammer Films.

Fiction Recap 2019 [#2]

Selection of fiction works we’ve published this year.


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Dai-bosatsu Tōge, Book II (1929)

§.00 Book II of Dai-bosatsu Tōge (Great Bodhisattva Pass) by Kaizan Nakazato (translated by C. S. Bavier), begins directly after Shimada’s decimation of the New Levies at the end of Book I, with Ryunosuke and Hama and their son, Ikutaro, who is yet still a babe (indicating that not much time has passed between the end of Book I, and the beginning of Book II). Tensions have considerably subsided between husband and wife, so much so that Ryunosuke and Hama are introduced singing to the tune of a traveling bard. Their idyll is interrupted by the appearance of a much-agitated Kamo Serizawa, Captain of the Band of New Levies (a organization which Ryunosuke joined in the first volume). Serizawa informs Ryunosuke (now going by the moniker ‘Ryutaro Yoshida’) that Toranosuke Shimada must die for making such a mockery of them, regardless of their own blunder in mistakingly targeting him for assassination. Serizawa then tells Ryunosuke that Bunnojo’s brother, Hyoma, has declared his desire for revenge. Ryunosuke is irked, if only slightly, not because someone wishes to kill him, but because Hyoma’s band makes his return to his homeland more difficult. Unsurprisingly, Hama—who overhears a portion of her husband and Serizawa’s conversation—is deeply distressed.

At the same time as this is occuring, it is revealed that the massive but kindly Yohachi and the spirited and bereaved Matsu (under the guise of ‘Midori’) are still working at the amoral pleasure house of Kamio Mansion. Matsu is so unhappy at the site of debauchery that Yohachi suggests she leave and he go with her. The two then steal away in the night and encounter none other than Yamaokaya of Hongo, Matsu’s Aunt, who is both guilt-stricken and pleased to meet a relation whom she had treated so coldly. Yamaokaya (or Aunt Taki) invites Matsu and Yohachi to her home, a tenement in Sakumacho. While there, Matsu falls gravely ill and Yamaoakaya runs out of money and so conspires to use the ailing Matsu as her cash-cow as Yohachi searches for a doctor. Matsu, being no fool, is fully aware that her aunt is trying to squeeze money out of her, yet, being also abundant in compassion, gives away all of her money. This blind trust (as all blind trust) turns out to be foolhardy as Aunt Taki gives Yohachi the slip and sells Matsu into slavery.

The thief Shichibei, is informed that Matsu gave her previous, wealthy employer the slip and, that she has turned to amorality. Shichibei, knowing that Matsu must have had her reasons, sets out to uncover the truth of the matter.

Not long after this, Hama, fed up with Ryunosuke’s lack of concern for her and the child, demands a divorce. Ryunosuke swiftly agrees and then informs Hama that he has a parting gift for her and tells her he has recieved a challenge from Hyoma Utsuki, her former brother-in-law. Hama, knowing full well that Hyoma stands no chance in a duel with Ryunosuke, and wracked by guilt in recalling the death of Bunnojo, determines to kill her husband in his sleep. However, before she can plunge her dagger into Ryunosuke’s chest, he wakes and wrests her from him; in the broil, a lamp is broken and the house catches fire. Hama, flees, but is swiftly overtaken and begs for mercy. Shortly, she changes her mind, and instead, asks Ryunosuke to kill her, and then allow Hyoma to win the duel. Without a word, Ryunosuke kills his wife as his house and Hama’s babe burns in the distance.

Ryunosuke leaves the area, as Hyoma arrives for their duel, only to find Hama dead. On his rainy travels, Ryunosuke chances upon a young woman who bares a striking resemblance to Hama, who is accosted by unscrupulous palanquin men. In an act of uncommon kindness, Ryunosuke, offers to pay the men to leave her alone; when they still attempt to extort the young woman, Ryunosuke intervenes and scares them off. This event leaves Ryunosuke haunted by thoughts of Hama and whether she caused him to err or whether the reverse was true.

§.01 As with the Book I, the strangely clipped lines which occasionally arise are the chief strike against the work, for in all other regards, it is every bit as fascinating as the preceding volume; for example, lines such as, “I borrow just two ryo out of this” (p. 156), as opposed to the more natural, “I’ll only borrow two ryo out of it/this,” or the more egregious, “Dark the night was it was now near daybreak” (p. 190). It is possible that this was how Nakazato wrote the line in the original manuscript, but seems unlikely; it strikes me as more likely that these oddly clipped lines are products of ‘best-fit’ translation. Regardless of the reason for them, they prove distracting.

§.02 The consistent theme throughout is guilt, and whether or not the feeling of it is justified. Hama, before her final confrontation with Ryunosuke, comes to believe that Bunnojo’s death was her fault, that the sin was, as Ryunosuke says, born out of her evil nature. Though he is correct, he is also to blame for the affair, for it was Ryunosuke who cajoled Hama into infidelity, as well as he that struck the killing blow upon Bunnojo (albeit, in self-defense). Hama’s foolishness is revealed in her suicidal impulses and murder attempt on her husband, as she gives no thought to the life of her child without her care. Her demise does nothing to remedy her betrayal of Bunnojo, and is driven only by the intensely selfish desire to escape from the pain of her guilt. A skillful illustration of the futility of self-destructive escapism.

Solomon Kane (2009)

| | Action-Adventure/Dark Fantasy | France/Spain/UK 2009 | USA 2012


At first he thought that it was the shadow of a man who stood in the entrance; then he saw that it was a man himself, though so dark and still he stood that a fantastic semblance of shadow was lent him by the guttering candle.

—Robert E. Howard, Red Shadows


§.00 Michael J. Bassett’s dark fantasy adaptation of Robert Howard’s work begins 39 years before the publications of the Bay Psalm Book, and 19 years before the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, with the pirate Solomon Kane (James Purefoy), who, along with his band of bloodthirsty privateers, lays seige to a unnamed Ottoman stronghold. Kane is utterly ruthless in battle. In one scene, he delivers a thrust to a Ottoman soldier’s neck and, sadistically amused, drags the dying man along like a macabre puppet before the his horrified comrades.

When Kane’s band penetrates the stronghold’s defenses and make way to the throne room they are assailed by demons; panic ensues; Kane tells them to hold the line. One of his men defies him and makes for the exit, whereupon he is promptly slain by Kane who declares, “I am the only devil here!”

After this incident Kane enters the throne room but the doors shut behind him. He hears the howling of his men and grimaces, knowing that demons have set upon them. Alone, he turns to the gilded treasure spilt upon the floor of the throne room and is hailed by a demon who introduces itself as the ‘devil’s reaper,’ and declares that it has come to claim Kane’s soul, which is forfeit due to his villainy. The reaper then instructs Kane to submit. Kane, however, refuses to give himself over to the aberration, and escapes.

Sometime later, Kane makes his way to a monastery and turns to a contemplative life of Puritanism and good works. His newfound dedication to being “a man of peace,” however, is tested when a group of travelers with whom he forms a bond is waylaid by demonic brigands under the command of the satanic sorcerer, Malachi (a ominously tattooed Jason Flemyng).

§.01 The central strength of the film is Purefoy’s performance, which is superb throughout. Added to this is the atmosphere, aptly realized through real-location filming, Klas Badelt’s score, which is alternatively (and suitably) rousing and grim, and an able supporting cast (including, Peter William Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Max Von Sydow and Rachel Hurd-Wood).

§.02 The central weakness in the film is its flimsy penultimate conclusion. The addition of a gigantic metallic fire demon that looked like it walked off the set of Warcraft presented two problems, the first being that it [the demon] has no heft or solidity (unlike the reaper from the beginning of the film); never does the creature appear like it might snatch up the swift-dashing Kane, rather the distinct impression is that if it were to grasp him, it would phase right through the man’s body. Secondarily (and more importantly), the addition of the fire-demon detracts from Kane’s interaction with Malachi, who has just been introduced on-screen, after half a film’s worth of build-up. Malachi, after being introduced, swiftly vanishes (through the use of his magic) and then, when he finally reappears, holding Meredith as a human shield, focus is removed from him once again, and placed upon the lava monster. It is strange to see a character who is not the focal point of their own scene, especially when they are so pivotal to the plot.

§.03 The aforementioned issues are, however, thankfully brief and do little to detract from my generally positive opinion of the film. Its much better than its trailer made it out to be.


In 2010, Solomon Kane was adapted as a novel by British fantasy author, Ramsay Campbell (published by Titan Books).

Dai-bosatsu Tōge, Book I (1929)

“He was dressed in black silk kimono but wore no skirts. A thick sash of hakata silk girded the waist and the ‘colt rampant,’ his family badge, was seen white on his kimono. Both the sword and the short-sword were encased in sheaths lobster-back in design, lacquered black worked over with vermillion in checkers. He wore no coat.”

 

—Ryunosuke’s introduction, Dai-bosatsu Tōge, Book I

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§.00 Dai-bosatsu Tōge (Great Bodhisattva Pass), Book I, by Kaizan Nakazato (and translated by C. S. Bavier), is the first installment of a 41 part novel series and follows the lives of numerous inhabitants of Japan during the time of shogunate rule. The central character of the tale is the enigmatic Ryunosuke Tsukue, a icy kendo master who wields the fearsome fencing technique mumyo otonashi no kamae (form without sound or light) and kills without qualm. When Tsukue murders a old pilgrim at the Great Bodhisattva Pass, he sets off a chain of events which causes the lives of numerous individuals to become inextricably intertwined in the pursuit of revenge and redemption. Those caught in the web of Ryunosuke’s violence include the noble thief, Shichibei; his young ward, Matsu, whose pilgrim grandfather was slain by Ryunosuke; the troubled Hama, whose noble character is corrupted by her well-meaning designs; the half-witted but stupendously strong mill-keeper Yohachi, servant of Tsukue; the Band of New Levies, or Shinchogumi, a politically active fraternity of freelancing samurai who “counteract poison with poison;” the pathetic, yet gentle swordsman Bunnojo; and his vengeful brother Hyoma, who studies under the stony Toranosuke Shimada, master of the Yoda Jikishinkage school, and the only character who is intimated to be superior in sword-skill to Ryunosuke.

§.01 What is remarkable about the book is that any of the aforementioned characters could have been the lead and have detracted little, if at all. Indeed, each is worthy of their own novel (in my opinion, especially the mischevious, yet surprisingly admirable Shichibei). Though such a change-up is superfluous, as each principal character is given ample and near-equivalent attention. Even the tertiary characters are well-fleshed out.

§.02 As regards the style of the novel much could be said, however, for the sake of brevity, I’ll confine my commentary to the aspects which most impressed themselves upon me. Firstly, the creation of tension, which is skillfully realized by a rather unusual technique which can be aptly described as the ‘forthcoming cliff-hanger.’ The way the technique is deployed is usually thus: A character is imperiled through a imminently threatening situation which is described in detail until the action which will decide whether the character in question lives or dies occurs, whereupon the focus shifts entirely away from the imperiled character (often to another character) for several paragraphs; only later is the reader then told what became of them, in a sudden reveal. There is also a strong use of curt, comparative descriptions (“His men leaped forward like so many locusts” p. 126; “his sword falling after him like a leaf” p. 127).

§.03 That being said, there are places where words are misspelled (which I would induce is a consequence of the Japanese-to-English translation), but never do these minor, infrequent inconsistencies render a passage wholly unreadable (though, occasionally, one may need to do a double-take).

§.04 Virtue, and the unique perils which befall those who forsake it, is central among the themes. Often, success is itself failure, as when Shichibei is found to be a thief and is challenged by his master to thieve from him, which he does, to his master’s astonishment. This cheeky victory, however, is shortlived, as Shichibei is promptly thrown from the house for his insolence.

Another example of victory-as-failure can be seen in Ryunosuke’s bout with Bunnojo. Bunnojo, full with the knowledge that Ryunosuke ravished his woman, Hama, attempts a killing blow in the practice match, a blow which is deftly countered by Ryunosuke in self-defense, who then strikes Bunnojo upon the skull, killing him. This makes both Hama and Ryunosuke social outcasts (or in Hama’s words “creatures that must remain in the shadow” p. 86). The latter also becomes the target of Bunnojo’s fencing school, who (vainly) seek his destruction.

The theme re-emerges again towards the end when Shimada laments his victory over the New Levies, with whom he had no quarrel, as the men who’d waylaid him had mistaken him for another man whose death they sought and so found their own. Shimada then chastises Hijikata, leader of the New Levies, for causing him to slay so many able swordsmen in self defense, which he considers a stupid waste. Hijikata is so ashamed, firstly for mistaking Shimada for their target, and secondly for causing the deaths of his men, that he begs for death (“I have erred and deserved death” p. 137). Shimada, however, refuses to take the man’s life and departs, leaving Hijikata to attempt suicide, which is stopped by, of all people, Ryunosuke (the only kindness he exhibits in the entire novel), a reversal of his line to Hama when her guilt and his lack of empathy drives her to suicidal madness (“Please yourself, its your life, not mine” p. 91).

This suggests that, though cruel and bloodthirsty in his pursuit of mastery, Ryunosuke is not without potentiality for great virtue, as Geoffery O’Brien remarked in his article for The Criterion Collection, The Sword Of Doom: Calligraphy In Blood, “Ryunosuke is at once hero and villain, demon and potential bodhisattva¹.”


Sources

  1. Geoffrey O’Brien. (2015) The Sword Of Doom: Calligraphy In Blood. The Criterion Collection.
  2. Kaizan Nakazato; translated by C. S. Bavier. (1929) Dai-bosatsu Tōge (Great Bodhisattva Pass), Book I.
  3. Patricia Bjaaland Welch. (2009) Kshitigarbha: A Popular Early Bodhisattva. Passage Magazine (Singapore).

¹A bodhisattva is a enlightened one that forgoes nirvana to aid living beings.

Nakazato & Novel To Film Adaptations

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§.01 As J. D. Salinger (who wrote in a 1953 letter to aspiring filmmaker Hubert Cornfield, in response to a inquiry about Catcher in the Rye, “I appreciate and respect your ardor, but for the present I see my novel as a novel and only as a novel.”) and Ayn Rand (who refused to allow film adaptions of her works barring those which allowed her total control of the final product), Kaizan Nakazato waxed skeptical about theatrical adaptations of his work.

Such attitudes are rendered immediately sensible when considered in relation to the pervasive view: if a book is popular, it should be adapted to film (it might be incidentally remarked that this view is decidedly one-sided, for there is no equivalent fervor for the reverse, ie. translating films into novels). This is a pernicious view, insofar as artistic integrity is concerned, as more people will invariably see the film then read the book upon which it is based, meaning that if the adaption is a distortion, it will be the distortion—and not the artist’s vision—which receives the lionshare of the attention; for a true artist, this is the worst of all situations, as the more he is known, the more his work is ignored. That this issue is not considered a serious one is indicative of the extent to which artistry is either taken as granted or considered largely unimportant.

§.02 Despite this, Okamoto’s The Sword Of Doom (1965), was, in all major respects, faithful to Nakazato’s serialized novel; however, it is the exception, not the rule, concerning cinematic adaptations of written works. One can (especially if a writer oneself) well understand his trepidation, particularly in the wake of western studio-backed revisionism of well established stories, such as Ian Fleming’s 007 being replaced by a black woman, or Ariel from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid being turned into a black woman by Disney, or John Watson being discarded in favor of ‘Joan Watson’ in CBS’ ostensibly Sherlock Holmes inspired Elementary—all of which make about as much sense as deciding that Black Panther is henceforth to be Japanese, Aladdin an Amerindian, and Wonder Woman a man. Such changes to established characters as described in the examples above, effectuate a like change in their respective stories so as to cause numerous (if not all) fundamental aspects of the original work to evaporate.

For example, when Elementary‘s (ostensible) Sherlock Holmes is transported to contemporary Manhattan, where he lives as a drunkard (Holmes was not a drunk), is difficult to live around (he is described by Watson in A Study In Scarlet, as “not a difficult man to live with”) and a opponent of monarchy (he was a crown loyalist) and also saddled, not with his Boswell, but with Lucy Liu, then one has lost the character of both Watson and Holmes; which means one is no longer dealing with Sir Conan Doyle’s material, but is merely spinning their own strange fan-fiction, attaching his name to it for the purposes of branding (ie. Genevieve Valentine in a article for AV Club wrote, “The more elastic the show treats the canon, the better the results” in other words, the less the show pretends to be what it is not, the more enjoyable it is). Similar problems arise with Steven Moffat’s adaptation of Holmes (though, at least in that series Watson does not take to shapeshifting) and Guy Ritchie’s two (soon to be three) adaptations.

§.03 Christopher Sandford writes in his essay Sherlock Holme’s Politics, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective has always been a master of disguise; now, without an identity of his own, he becomes whatever his interpreters wish him to be. Could Holmes himself solve the mystery of just who he’s meant to be?” Though the last bit is a joke, there is an answer, which is: Sherlock Holmes was meant to be (and is) the character written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; those characters which disregard the fundamental aspects of that character are not that character, but are rather, only pale imitations (often of other imitations), or, as Schopenhauer once put it on a essay on literary derivation, “a plaster cast of a cast.”¹

§.04 If one is desirous of seeing characters in stories which are reflective of that with which one resonantly identifies, and the popular works of their day are found, for whatever reason(s), to be insufficient in this regard, then the question asserts itself: Why not create the desired work(s) oneself instead of attempting to make as many prominent stories conform to some yet-unwritten tale?


Sources — (‘[…]’ indicates that the name of the author was not given)

  1. […] (2005) Ayn Rand & Film. The Atlas Society.
  2. Arthur Schopenhauer, Preface by T. Bailey Saunders. (1851) The Art Of Literature: A Series Of Essays. Macmillan & Co. Swan Sonnenschein & Co.
  3. Brian Doherty. (2011) Atlas Shrugged: The Movie. Reason.
  4. Christopher Sanderson. (2015) Sherlock Holmes’s Politics. The American Conservative.
  5. Genevieve Valentine. (2016) Elementary Finally Realizes Sherlock Is A Terrible Neighbor. AV Club.
  6. Geoffrey O’Brien. (2015) The Sword Of Doom: Calligraphy In Blood. Criterion.
  7. Jeremy Dick. (2019) James Bond To Be Black & Female As Bond 25 Passes 007 To Lashana Lynch? Movieweb.
  8. Judy Berman. (2010) Letter: J. D. Salinger Rejects Film Adaptation of ‘Catcher In The Rye.’ Flavorwire.
  9. Kaizan Nakazato. (1929) Preface to the English edition, Dai-bosatsu Tōge (Book I).
  10. Madeline Grant. (2019) We Hardcore Bond Fans Crave Seductive Escapism – Not A Morality Tale Of #MeToo & ‘Toxic Masculinity.’ The Telegraph.

Footnote

¹ From Schopenhauer’s essay On Authorship in The Art Of Literature.

Notes On Charles Brockden Brown: A Study Of Early American Literature by Martin S. Vilas (1904)

The interest in Charles Brockden Brown and his works arises largely from his ranking position among American Prose Writers. Hence, it is not expected that an estimate, somewhat extended and somewhat critical, of his writings is likely to become popular. No other than this, save very brief sketches of Brown and of what he has done, is known to the writer. It may be, then, that the student of American literature will find in this book, written five years ago, something suggestive, perhaps something usually called original.

 

—Martin S. Vilas, 1904; introduction to Charles Brockden Brown: A Study Of Early American Literature.


§.00 Martin Samuel Vilas’ Charles Brockden Brown: A Study Of Early American Literature (Burlington, VT., Free Press Association, 1904) is one of the better overviews of the work of the American gothique novelist Charles Brockden Brown I have ever come across. Its value lays chiefly in Vilas’ clear and forthright approach to literary criticism (“It has been said,—and rightly I think,—that to study literature correctly and determine the value of the work of each author, he should be studied with reference to himself alone first, next with reference to his place in the history of the literature,” Vilas, p. 66) despite his clear appreciation for Brown as a writer of considerable ability (“Brown is not lacking in invention or originality” p. 56), and praise for Wieland and Ormond, Vilas never allows his appreciation to deteriorate into feeble sentimentalism and excuse-making in relation to Brown’s lesser works (ie. “Brown had been trained a Quaker, but that in no sense excuses him for his inaccurate uses of ‘thee,’ ‘thou,’ and ‘thine'” p. 56).

§.01 As a consequence of Vilas approach (and good writing), the work retains an amusing character, while never compromising swiftness or comprehensiveness to entertainment, which is surprising for a corpus retrospective (cast your mind to any contemporary volume on literary history). The text examines Brown’s novels, Wieland (1798), Ormond (1799), Arthur Mervyn (1799-1800), Edgar Huntly (1799), Clara Howard (1801), and Jane Talbot (1801), in addition to Brown’s social background, philosophic and political influences, and his influence on other writers, all in the space of only 80 pages.

§.02 However, Vilas’ criticism, deft though it is, contains some flaws, as demonstrated in his analysis of Brown’s treatment of wild nature, “He could not describe a cavern, a precipice or a deep ravine without letting his imagination lead him into something that is gruesome. Thus nature becomes not an emblem of the bright and beautiful, but the representation of an infinite and awful power which hangs over and around all things” (p. 58). This characterization is accurate, but is held to be a failing in Brown’s works by Vilas, who notes that his contention with this “gruesome” portrayal of wilderness, is theological in origin. He writes, “[Brown’s descriptions of nature] never go back with a glad and cheerful heart to say,—I am of nature and of God. I exist as a part of it and of Him. If he is great and wonderful, aye, awful at times in his manifestations, I rejoice in it, for it exalts me that see in it an expression of myself. The Almighty is great and powerful, so am I in a small degree as a manifestation in one form of Him.” Vilas then writes, “… these optimistic feelings were not akin to the soul of Brown. His philosophy was the philosophy of darkness and distortion.” (p. 59) At the first, it should be noted that even if it were true that Brown’s philosophy was one of “darkness and distortion” this, in no way detracts (indeed, would enhance) the powers of his prose. I consider this criticism to be irrelevant in relation to Brown’s prose, precisely because it is a problem only in contradistinction to Vilas’ personal philosophy (of providential-anthropocentric unity), which, itself, is far less realistic, than Brown’s more cautious and skeptical view of nature’s savage increase (contemplate Leishmaniasis, or the black plague, cancer, the flesh-feasting botfly, the rivers of blood spilt by the man-eating tigers of India, or the thousands upon thousands who die to mosquitoes annually). That Brown long-suffered with health complications (chiefly consumption) was likely a factor which effected his outlook on ‘nature,’ and one which would predispose him towards a view of ‘the natural’ which was less than ideal (much to Vilas’ evident chagrin), in spite of his gentle yet sedulous religiosity.

§.03 Despite the reservations and harsh criticisms expressed in his text, Vilas’ view of Brown, both as a novelist and American, is ultimately favorable, as he concludes, “Within the limits of his strength, he did a great work. He realized his duty to his country and to civilization to contribute as much as within him lay and he never faltered though beset constantly by weariness and disease. His patience, his conscientiousness and his unfaltering devotion to the light that came to him led him ever on with a resolute heart and, even when disease was constantly preying upon him, his smile of affection always covered the deep-seated anguish. His pure and upright life was reflected in his writings, and if he could not write brilliant facts so that they would endure, all things of him exhibited the greatest of all truths that the highest virtue consists in ‘the perfection of one’s self and the happiness of others.’ It was then a courageous thing to be an American writer and especially to attempt to be the first American novelist, but Brown constantly displayed that courage. Had he not deserved to be first, the position would not have been accorded him. If he did not set the pace, he started the movement. It is with very great respect and considerable admiration that I have studied this ‘brief but blazing star’ that during his short and sickly life worked with such unfailing earnestness along lines that to him seemed best and highest.”


Sources (alphabetically, by author)

  1. Arkaprabha92. (2015) The Realm of Shadows & Chimera: Gothicism in Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland or, The Transformation. JUSAS Online.
  2. Cheryl Spinner. (2010) Martin S. Vilas, Early 20th Cent. CBB Scholar. Electrically Speaking (Cheryl Spinner’s Research Blog).
  3. Martin S. Vilas. (1904) Charles Brockden Brown: A Study Of Early American Literature. Free Press Association.
  4. Memoir of Charles Brockden Brown (preface to Cornell University’s edition of Wieland).
  5. Rob Velella. (2010) Birth of Charles Brockden Brown. The American Literary Blog.

Verses Upon The Burning Of Our House (1666)

Written by Anne Bradstreet¹—the ‘Empress Consort of Massachusetts’²—July 10th, 1666 after the burning of her house. Copied from The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1995).


In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Frameed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.

 

¹Anne Dudley Bradstreet (1612-72) was a prominent North American poet and scholar. She wrote extensively and was widely read in both America and England. Her writing is exemplary of Puritan plain style and was influenced by the Huguenot courtier-poet, Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas. A memorial marker stands in her honor at Old North Parish Burial Ground, North Andover, Massachusetts.

²Rosemary M. Langlin. (1970) Anne Bradstreet: Poet in search of a Form. American Literature vol 42, no 1, Duke University Press.

 

Fiction Recap 2019 [#1]

Selected fiction works we have published as of this year.


June


May


March


February


July


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