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Tom Hiddleston

Crimson Peak and the Art of Gothic Perfection

October 19, 2015

“I will read you their names directly; here they are in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time. ‘
‘…but are they all horrid? Are you sure they are all horrid?’
‘Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.”

-Northanger Abbey

Dear Reader,

Guillermo de Toro seems to have strayed into my bedroom and taken all the books off my gothic novel shelf, mixed them together in his mental stew, then recruited my favorite actors to bring the resulting screenplay to life. Excuse me while I gush. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightFirst, Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. Horrific things do happen and ghosts do haunt the heroine’s steps, but they only serve to show her that something is very very wrong in her world. “The ghosts are metaphors” she prophetically declares early on in the film. The movie has been marketed as a horror movie for the Halloween season, yet the trailers contain almost every scene in which a ghost appears. As in Pan’s Labyrinth, the human beings are the monsters. The ghosts do little but point and sob and warn. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightThe plot is simple and you have absolutely seen it before, which is part of the point. Edith Cushing (Maria Wasikowksa), American heiress and aspiring female novelist, falls deeply for Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) penniless baronet with a dream to use Edith’s money to restore both his family’s good name and their crumbling estate. He brings to the marriage a creepy overbearing older sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) who mournfully plays the piano and offers tea and a remarkable lack of sympathy. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightEdith and Thomas marry and he whisks her back to his immense gothic pile of an estate. The rest is an unraveling spool of gothic perfection. Blood (ok red clay) drips from the walls of the mansion, ghosts with meat cleavers in their foreheads point mournfully at locked doors and horrifying secrets (what’s behind the black veil???), and sexual hunger and deviance practically ooze from every pore. Edith tries to discover why she is seeing all these apparitions that no one else sees while trying to grow closer with her mysterious husband and chilly sister-in-law. So she wanders through corridors late at night, candelabra held high as snow drifts through the hole in the roof and the whole mansion sinks slowly into the bloody earth. Every shot of this movie is beautiful and terrifying, conveying lushness and tactile pleasure and internal rot. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightBut as in every gothic story, the ghosts are mere signals that something is indeed rotten. Victorians and their predecessors wrote gothic stories in order to give voice to deep fears and fascinations. Thus they are really explorations of (often deviant) sexual desire, abandonment, child abuse, taboo, destructive love, progress and its consequences, poverty, and death. Take away the ghosts and the Sharpe siblings are simply two abused children who grew into damaged adults. Edith is pure and loving because she had a happy, though sexually innocent, youth. Their treatment of her and the resulting consequences of their actions are occasioned by fear of poverty and a loss of both home and heritage. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightBefore I continue my gushing, however, I have to explain something about all this. My prediction (and some early reviews bear me out, although this one agrees with me in every respect) is that many people will dislike this movie. Del Toro has created an intricately crafted masterpiece with this movie but unless you have a fairly specific background, I think it will be hard to appreciate it or understand fully what he is doing. The plot is formulaic- but that is entirely intentional. Del Toro is referencing the original gothic novels of authors like Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, and Matthew Lewis, the later gothic revivals of authors like Poe and Stoker, and mid-twentieth century cinema renditions of the same. His film is a house built on their foundations and without much deviation, this storyline is the storyline. It is the plot of RebeccaJane EyreThe Fall of the House of UsherThe Mysteries of UdolphoNorthanger Abbey, and many others. It is the story of an innocent in a house of doom and it can be found at the heart of the gothic tradition. And Del Toro treats it masterfully, making his heroine a beacon of light, dressing her in gorgeous gowns of gold and white, making her the archetype of the new twentieth-century woman with her facility on the typewriter, her interest in inventions and progress, and her desire to become an independent woman through her writing. Chastain’s Lucille is her perfect foil, a perfect pre-raphaelite goddess when she lets her neatly coiled hair down and bares her shoulders (and wields a knife).Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightCrimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightSir Thomas Sharpe is a younger, more handsome Mr. Rochester, something Del Toro winks at roguishly by having him recite practically verbatim a monologue Rochester delivers to Jane in the middle of the novel. Hiddleston plays him as the perfect tortured Byronic hero/villain who is torn between the dark and light sides of his nature. The whole movie begs to be analyzed by Victorianists and Hammer House of Horror lovers alike. It is simultaneously a nineteenth-century gothic novel and a twenty-first century dream of the Victorian era. Del Toro understands that gothic novelists created a myth of Victorian England in order to explore the uncomfortable, the obscene, and the grotesque. Crimson Peak is his addition to a well-established tradition that counts such luminaries as Poe, Stoker, Shelley, Hitchcock, Bergman, Marquez, Angela Carter, and Joss Whedon among its contributors. I fear that without an established interest in that tradition this movie will not land, but for those that it is aimed to enthrall, the experience is nothing short of a phantasmagoria of gothic perfection.Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightFor the uninitiated or the previously uninterested here is my advice: go into the movie expecting characters that are both carefully created individuals and also archetypes. Edith Cushing is an interesting character in her own right but she is also “the innocent heroine.” Lucille Sharpe may be a tragic and ill woman but she is also the “dark mysterious villainess,” and Sir Thomas is the “brooding Byronic antihero.” Del Toro slowly develops both characters and plot, so don’t expect to be watching a movie that is in line with modern pacing- this movie is slow and intricate like a Victorian three volume tome. It is meant to be melodramatic and stuffed with very obvious metaphor. It is meant to be a bit ridiculous. Gothic novels are supposed to be a little silly so that, while exploring your fears, you can also laugh at them. It is a spectacle- you could clearly see a Crimson Peak ride at Disney World. But its gorgeous horror reveals very human darkness, despair, hope, love, and survival. You don’t have to be a Victorianist to relate to that.

England Prep- Detective Style

August 10, 2015

Dear Reader,

As you all might know, I am heading off to merry old England in just a few days. Thus, I thought I would do some preparation. Since I have already been through every period drama ever made at least eighteen times, I thought I would turn my attention to something a little more current. Thus, detective dramas. I have been bingeing every one I could find and here is my comprehensive list of recommendations (in no particular order):

1. BroadchurchBroadchurch

Broadchurch is probably one of the most well-known of these series, as David Tennant graced it with his presence and his Scottish accent. It tells the story of a child’s murder in a small town and goes through all the tragic aftermath of trying to deal with something so incomprehensible and painful. I give it full marks for all of the following: beautiful scenery, obfuscation, Scottish accents too thick to understand without subtitles, and also writing. It is very very good and decently upsetting, as it should be.

2. Jack TaylorJack Taylor

If you, like me, are instantly charmed by an Irish accent then this show is for you. Not only does Iain Glen (of Game of Thrones friend-zoned fame) have a great Irish accent, a heavy drinking problem, and a penchant for beautiful younger women, he is also a pretty good detective. He plays Jack, a former policeman who was kicked off the force for punching an elected official in the face. For Jack, the blows rain down on him with astonishing frequency and the only option for him is to turn to the bottle and to being a boozy private detective. Full marks for charming Irish phraseology, a lot of complaining about Belfast, very topical mysteries (if you are living in Ireland, that is), and a really great coat.

3. HinterlandHinterland

Well you may not know him as the hot doctor from Bleak House, but I do! The main character in Hinterland is a Welshman who has been working as a detective in London for some time, had some personal tragedies, and is now back in his native Wales. Quite like the previous two, he is haunted by personal issues and the cases that he becomes involved in. What is most stirring about this drama is how absolutely isolated the main character always is. He is more isolated than any man I have ever seen and his struggle to deal with and possibly overcome that is as riveting as the mysteries he solves. Full marks for the Welsh countryside, shots of Matthias running on a solitary road in a blue windbreaker, and every time I hear Welsh spoken and it sounds like thunder.

4. WallanderWallander

So I am currently watching an episode of Wallander as I type this so my disclaimer is that I haven’t finished it all. But what I have watched is really excellent. My other disclaimer, and perhaps the most important one, is that this is not a cheery show. It is, in fact, an abysmally depressing show with few rays of hope or sunshine to lighten the picture. Wallander is a Swedish cop (although they are all British actors and speak in English but type in Swedish- which is weird and disjointed) who is so brought down by the cases he deals with that he ends up crying at least once in every episode. Kenneth Branagh plays him with masterly sorrow and great red-rimmed eyes. The cases are more bizarre than the previous shows tend to boast and they also tend to get uber-personal, something all these shows share in common. Full marks for TOM HIDDLESTON being a small but (in my mind) essential character, great shots of the wheat fields of Sweden, and how every episode is more depressing than the last. All jokes aside though, it is a great show.

As are all of these. I gave you a strong female-centered mystery list and now this one is all about the menfolk. These detectives throw heart and soul and liver into their jobs and the result is some great drama.

The Love Book

May 19, 2014

Dear Reader,

Have I got something for you today. This fine Monday I am going to blow your mind with POETRY. I can see from your possibly skeptical faces that you don’t quite believe me. However, trust me on this. I was recently introduced to an app called “The Love Book,” which contains a collection of love poetry (and some prose) available right at your fingertips, wherever you may be.

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I happen to be a lover of poetry, but if you are a bit unsure of whether you like it or even if you are sure you don’t, I recommend still checking this out. Because the best part of the app is that a large selection of the poetry and prose is read aloud for you by some really really great people: Gina Bellman, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hiddleston, Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory, and Emma Watson.

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In other words, you get to hear awesome literature being read by that really sexy lady from Leverage, Bellatrix Lestrange, Loki, that really awesome guy from Homeland, his wife who is also Narcissa Malfoy, and Hermione Granger. I don’t know how to describe hearing “She Walks in Beauty” from Damian Lewis or “May I Feel Said He” from Tom Hiddleston. All I can say is that after that last one, you will feel like you need a cigarette.

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The prose is a great collection too. There are passages from the script of Love Actually and passages from Harry Potter. There are also passages from Wuthering Heights and other doomed love chronicles. It is an amazing and wonderful thing to have at your fingertips, especially when you need some poetry and love in your life.

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With that in mind, I have included some Tom Hiddleston things. Enjoy!

Only Lovers Left Alive

May 14, 2014

Dear Reader,

This is a slight detour from the Week of Whedon. However, Tom Hiddleston was in The Avengers, so I feel like I can make it work. Last night I wandered down to Coolidge Corner, ate at Corrib House, and went to a late showing of Only Lovers Left Alive. This is the new film from Jim Jarmusch with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston playing the titular lovers.

only-lovers-left-alive03They play Adam and Eve, two vampires who have been alive and together for an unknown (but very very very long) time. The world has been thoroughly saturated in vampire love stories both in film and television, some with more merit than others. But the independent movie scene hasn’t really taken up the subject in a while, and Jim Jarmusch’s treatment of it is so different from the norm that missing it would be a crime.

a_4x-horizontalTida Swinton’s character, Eve, is everything I would want to be if I had eternal life. She has read and read and read everything over and over again. She can read in any language and can tell the age of any object merely by touching it. She understands the value of eternal life in a way that her husband, Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, does not. The movie centers around Eve’s attempt to pull Adam back from a suicidal turn (one she blames on his time spent with Byron and Shelley). In doing that, she is able to make both him and the audience understand what kind of joy can be found in eternal life and eternal love.

680x478Their love is really the heart of the movie (pun intended). They have the kind of marriage that I would want, and that my companions and I lauded over and over on the walk home. Centuries together produces a kind of intimacy that nothing else can really produce, and seeing that here is both sad and beautiful.

Only-Lovers-Left-Alive-Jim-Jarmusch-05There is more in the way of plot than just looking in a window at their eternal love story, though to me that would have been enough to make this one of my new favorite movies. But Eve’s sister Ava is trouble and she finds Eve and Adam in Detroit, where Adam has converted a boarded-up house in the abandoned suburbs to an intricate music studio complete with rare and beautiful instruments that will make a music buff sigh. His record collection, too, will make this a movie for music lovers (as should Eve’s love of dancing to some great ones). Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska, is bratty and spoiled and has no self-control. As she is a vampire, that makes for a pretty terrifying and tense character. She takes a shine to the human Anton Yelchin and only trouble can ensue.

Only Lovers Left Alive 2014 AnticipatedThe movie has some really beautiful footage of a dark and abandoned-looking Detroit as well as an exotic and lovely Tangier, making those cities something of a third character in the story. Speaking of a third character, John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe is a fabulous addition. I know I am raving about this movie, but I can’t help it. It was my idea of perfection. There are so many reasons to go and see it. Tom Hiddleston is really reason enough, considering he is a fantastic, hilarious, and really attractive actor. But I hope this post has helped you find some other reasons too 🙂

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