Kenneth Hite (princeofcairo) wrote,

A Smattering of Cuts

My good pal and esteemed colleague frabjousdave has an interview with me up on his site, in which I talk The Nazi Occult, Stuff I Talk (and Write) About, the horrifying human-ness of Nazis, why I watch film, and cosmic horror in film.

But I do tend to run on, and Dave cut the interview down a bit for its final publication. So herewith, the Deep Cuts from My Digital Dinner With Dave, themselves slightly trimmed to remove some interpersonal badinage.

[On the Shakespearean Authorship Controversy]

As a conspiratologist, my favorite theory is Calvin Hoffman's -- that Francis and Anthony Bacon faked Christopher Marlowe's death in 1593 and Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays from a hideout in Verona, Italy. (Where he also apparently learned to write female characters. But that's beside the point.) But by and large the Authorship Controversy is less plausible than, say, the Loch Ness Monster -- there are historical cases of new megafauna being discovered, but there aren't any I know of where a rich and famous person pays a nonentity to sign masterpieces he wrote, instead of the other way around. And the notion that Ben Jonson, to pick just one of Shakespeare's contemporaries who would have to be part of any cover-up, would willingly conspire to keep his great rival's secret is beyond ridicule.

A lot of it seems like a weird flinch from the notion that middle-class nobodies can make art -- when of course that's who made the vast majority of art throughout history, and especially English history, and even more especially English literature. By comparison, in all English history, there are only two hereditary peers who have written great literature. (Two and a half if you count Dunsany.) The Marlowe theory at least picks another middle-class tradesman's son, although he went to Cambridge like a gentleman.

[On why people inexplicably call Lovecraft a bad writer]

They might just be judging Lovecraft by his worst, earlier work -- it's as if opinion of Shakespeare was forever tied solely to Timon of Athens or Henry VI Part 3. After 1926, Lovecraft never wrote crap. But although that's why most people are wrong about HPL, there's another reason that actually good readers are still sometimes wrong about HPL.

They're wrong because, like almost everyone nowadays, they grew up in, and learned literature from people who were comfortably within, the Modernist consensus that prose should be direct and stories should be character-focused. While this is harmless enough as far as it goes, there is more to literature -- and even to Anglophone literature -- than the last 80 years. While Lovecraft is no Hawthorne, he is far more productively read in the light of Hawthorne than in the Modernist mode of Hemingway or Heinlein. Once you start reading Lovecraft by engaging in what he's actually doing -- and it's not like he didn't tell everyone what he was actually doing -- and notice his techniques like catachresis and false paradox, or his poetic tastes infusing his tendency to paint imagery and thus emotional color in many overlapping coats, or the structure of his tales in light of Poe's theories of story and his own theories of architecture, or (something I've just started noticing in the last few years) his brilliant, toweringly original, and seemingly effortless modernization of the Gothic, you can't believe he could do all of that in one story, much less that he did it consistently in the seventeen or so truly great works he produced.

[Further examples of national genre-cinemas I currently enjoy]

Bollywood is getting better and better at making crime films, which delights me: Shootout at Wadala is a classic gangster story, and I've never seen a better choreographed (literally!) heist sequence than the hotel job in Dhoom. I think the last really good true conspiracy movie I saw was Golden Slumber, a Japanese film that inverts the genre to make a film about society instead of isolation. But most good conspiracy films turn out to be either crime films or horror; in either case, Korea's got you covered.

Korean film in general is just amazing nowadays, maybe better even than Hong Kong was at its peak. Even mediocre Korean B-pictures are better than the same level of work from France or America. There's a messy, kind of stupid Korean thriller flick, Typhoon, that's more compelling and more on-point than any recent Bond movie. In horror, France has really picked up the gauntlet: Haute Tension, Martyrs -- they're not easy to watch, but they're not lazy, which is the real problem with a lot of post-Saw American horror. I've become a big fan of the French director Denis Dercourt, who has a sort of gamer-Hitchcock sensibility in psychological thrillers; his films have a real sense of invisible rules constraining action.

Fantasy is such an easy genre to get wrong (and perhaps so dependent on specific national-cultural cues) that I don't seek it out; sometimes something surprises me, but not often. The American independent Beasts of the Southern Wild is probably the best fantasy film I've seen in a decade, although you might call the arch British ghost movie Skeletons a fantasy, in which case the scores switch around. It's not straight horror, anyhow. Similarly, I don't seek out foreign SF, which (the occasional District 9 aside) is not much better than Anglo-American material: Monsters is a British SF-horror film made in Mexico, and stands up to anything else on its scale this decade.
Tags: film talk, lovecraft, shakespeare
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