I am a fast typist, but any illusion I have that I am actually a touch typist is destroyed whenever I find myself typing in the dark, as I am doing now. Up at 4 a.m. because I haven't adjusted yet to a new medicaiton I'm on for my blood disorder, I am at my desk in the corner of the living room with only the monitor light to work by. I can't turn on another light because five parrots are sleeping in their cages all around me, and they're already cranky enough that I'm here. When I first arrived, our Jenday conure KittyHawk started saying, "Good NIGHT, KittyHawk" over and over in an increasingly cranky voice; the CherryHead conure Vito, who isn't sure he thinks much of me at the best of times, stuck his head out of his little fleecy sleeping hut to snap his beak threateningly; and our Moluccan cockatoo Stevie climbed down the bars of his cage until he could peek at me from under his cover. His look plainly said, "Just what the hell do you think you're doing here?"
My computer is technically a laptop, but because of a power supply problem we haven't gotten around to fixing, if I unplug it, it shuts down catastrophically, so just hauling it off to another room isn't an easy option. Now that I'm chronically up in the night (this will pass as I acclimate to the meds; I've been through this before), perhaps "fixing Su's laptop" should move up on the to-do list.
My friend Adrianne and I took a mother's holiday and met at a town halfway between our homes for a matinee and dinner. We saw Master and Commander. You've all heard before of my love of nautical adventure tales, so you know that I was predisposed to love this movie, and I did. It surprised me by being less non-stop action than I expected; for most of the movie, the enemy they are seeking to engage is over the horizon somewhere, so the story dwells a great deal on shipboard life, and the men on board. The filmakers opted for filthy, crowded realism (I amused myself by imagining the makeup artists painting each actor's nails with realistic grime every morning, and experimenting until they found the mix of hair products that would produce the perfect "not washed this week" look). Nothing pleases me more than a thrillingly realistic crowd belowdecks (or abovedecks, for that matter). There were weevils in the biscuit, scenes of revolting offal being ladled onto trenchers for the men, and plenty of filthy, gap-toothed smiles.
The tarry, cramped, barely-controlled chaos of the deck was well-shown, too. And I loved seeing the men strike the bulkheads when the ship beat to quarters. There's a great scene where Captain Jack is heading into his cabin after he's been exercising the men at the guns, and the cabin is literally reconstructed around him as the ship stands down from quarters--he walks aft from the gun deck, and as he does, walls appear behind him and, voila!, he's in his room. I loved it.
I loved seeing Russell Crowe bellowing orders into the wind. Nautical jargon gives me a thrill. "I want all the idlers along the starboard rail," he says, and I find myself wondering how many people in the theater besides me know just who the "idlers" are (they're any men in the ship's company who don't stand regular watches: the carpenters, cooks, and so on). "The foresail is beyond repair; we'll have to bend the spare," the sailing master says. "Bend the spare." Love it love it love it.
In the Hornblower movies, which, as you know, I love unreservedly--OK, not unreservedly--OK, the trumped-up love interest with the bad French accent who dies in Horatio's arms is just too much for me, but other than that, I love them--OK, in those movies, the ship is clean and feels relatively spacious. The officers are clean, too, and their uniforms. Their neatly-arranged hair shines in the sun. (The men are dirty.) That Master and Commander chooses to dress and groom people as if they really are living in tight quarters with a ration of a half-gallon of water per man per day for washing and shaving is to its credit.
But the bit of realism I liked best is that, whereas in the Hornblower films, the midshipmen are all young men, in Master and Commander, they are mostly boys, as they would have been. Young Mr. Blakeney, the blonde cherub who is the heart of the story, hasn't even hit puberty yet; it is a stirring scene indeed, when, left in command of the ship while the Captain leads a boarding party, he calls out orders to the men in his piping voice. (And in the photo linked above, you can see evidence of another bit of realism: when the midshipmen, who mostly wear their hair short, take their hats off, they all have hat-head.)
I can hear you all saying, "OK, Su, so you got your fix of creaking rigging, decks awash in a gale around the Horn, and men standing bravely in the face of danger, but how was the story?"
Well, as I said, it was surprisingly slow and inconclusive. The final scene of the movie, which took me by surprise as it didn't have a "final scene" feel to me (I actually flinched when the screen went black and the first credit card came up), untied all the loose ends that had been tied up in the climax just minutes before. "Are they planning a sequel?" I asked Adrianne. "Or is part of the point supposed to be to portray the endless unsettled-ness of life in Nelson's navy?" (The movie has a subtitle: "The Far Side of the World," which suggest to me that "The Near Side of the World" or "Even Farther into the Mysterious Pacific" might be anticipated.) I wasn't surprised when the woman behind us said to her companion as we were leaving the theater that the movie wasn't as exciting as she expected and that she had been a bit bored. But I liked the measured cadence, the interplay between interesting characters (Stephen Maturin in particular was much more interesing to me in the movie than he has seemed in the couple of books I've read in the series, and I liked the interplay between him and Lucky Jack), and, of course, the scenes of shipboard life.
I recently re-read some Hornblower and some Jane Austen in close succession, and it made me think about how, say, Persuasion and Captain Hornblower are two halves of the same story. Anne Elliott's lost love, the impoverished Lieutenant Wentworth, comes back from the war at sea Captain Wentworth, made wealthy by prize money. Throughout Persuasion, he takes silly young women for walks in the hedgerows; he drinks tea in drawing rooms in Bath; and, of course, he eventually marries Anne and settles down with her. Watching Master and Commander, I thought again of Captain Wentworth in the drawing rooms, because the things we see Jack Aubrey doing here are the very things Wentworth must have done to come home with a fortune in prize money:
Here's Captain Jack, scimitar in hand, hacking his way through a horde of French sailors. Here he is, helping to cut away a fallen mast that will otherwise sink the ship, knowing as he does so that he is consigning the seaman who fell with it to death. Here he is, visiting young Blakeney in the surgery after Blakeney's arm has been amputated. Here he is, tearing up as he reads the names of those dead in battle before their bodies are consigned to the sea. And here he is, a year later in my imagination, offering his arm to his beloved Sophie to help her over a puddle of mud. Here is is, dancing a quadrille with her. Here he is, pretending to care as she chooses the lace to trim her wedding veil. What a double life these men led. What it must have been like for them. What it must always be like for men, coming home from war, to carry what they have seen and done into the clean, well-lit rooms where the rest of us live.Posted by Su Penn at November 16, 2003 05:04 AM | TrackBack