Rodriguez, Detroit Sugar Man

September 4, 2012

Before I left to go to the Detroit area for the Labor Day weekend, I read a review [tepid] of a new novel, Say Nice Things About Detroit.  Well, the city has one hell of a FREE jazz festival over the holiday weekend, and I heard some excellent music there.  The whole thing is presided over by the weird Minoru Yamasaki building (he designed the original WTC in NYC) seen in the background of the photo on the left, below.  This band, Papo Vazquez and his Pirates Troubadours was wild, with their Afro-Puerto Rican Modern Jazz blend.

Detroit Jazz Festival

The cultural high point of my stay was seeing the movie, Searching for Sugar Man.

Sixto Rodriguez was a folk-rock singer and songwriter in the late 1960s:  he put out two albums, but they were flops.  The people who knew him are in awe of his talent, and mystified as to why he never caught on.  But he did catch on in South Africa during its anti-apartheid period, and his records were wildly popular.  He never knew anything about it, and after his brush with the music industry, went back to ordinary life.

Rumor had it that he had died in spectacular fashion, an on-stage suicide.  Two South African fans decide to get the real story, and they find to their amazement, that he is alive and well, living in Detroit.  (Right near where I was that weekend, in fact.)  He is incredulous at their tales of his South African super-stardom, “You’re bigger than Elvis there!” but he agrees to go on tour.  He sells out stadiums.

This movie is weirdly enchanting in many ways: The tale of a man returning from the dead;  the fan-turned-detective’s thrill; a fairytale of  a man ignored finally getting recognition for his work; perhaps another sorry tale of the music industry stealing from an artist, but that’s not completely clear; and the man himself.  This last bit is what fascinated me the most.

Rodriguez is an very unusual man:  that come through clearly.  He is deeply non-materialistic.  When his fame falls upon him, he is totally uninterested in the perks, the limos, the hotel suites, the papparazzi.  He is unfazed by the cheering throngs, serenely responding with joy to their love of his music.  That’s what he’s about – his art, his poetry, his music.  He seems like a Buddha-type.  When the detective-fans finally meet him (they are in a daze of disbelief that this is happening) he is living in a completely rundown apartment in Detroit, making his living, as he has for years, working as an hourly interior demolition worker.  (He also earned a degree in Philosophy, and raised three daughters.) It reminded me of Alexander the Great finally meeting his hero, Diogenes, whom he found living in a tub.

His music is really good, though I prefer it more or less acoustic-solo, rather than with the string arrangements.  Why didn’t he make it?  He’s clearly not the type who would stress and strive to do the things one must do to make it in the business – that has to be part of the story.  He’s touring now, though.


Once Upon a Time in the West

August 14, 2012

A spaghetti western courtesy of Sergio Leone, made in 1968, after he became known in the USA with his Fistful trilogy and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  Wikipedia reports that Fonda was not sure he should take the job, but his friend Eli Wallach urged him to, saying “You’ll have the time of your life!”  It’s not hard to feel that Fonda and Jason Robards are enjoying themselves, maybe enjoying themselves a little bit too much, as if they’re playing!

I liked the film a lot, the rituals of the violence, the politics, the ‘realism’ of the grungy, beaten-up looking people (not common in westerns in 1968!) and the music too.  It’s like a grand epic opera, without the dramatic punch.  Too much fun, too stylized, too obviously an homage to the great westerns of the past.  It’s almost like a meta-western, the western you would make after studying and researching all the westerns ever made in the USA, which is something I believe Leone did.

Fonda is cast against type as Frank, the villain, a real cold sadist, and his blue eyes and clean-shaven face reflect his sociopathic nature instead of down-home folksiness.  This was radical for the time!  And the film takes a ‘revisionist’ view of the West, although I’m not sure if it was ahead of or just behind the scholarly curve on that.  Instead of a West peopled by self-reliant individualists, we have one developed by rapacious and murderous railroad tycoons.  In one scene, Frank, and his boss, Morton, have a chat in Morton’s opulent rail car.  He’s a cripple, slowly dying of tuberculosis of the bone, and his dream is to build his railroad to the Pacific so he can finally see that ocean.  He finds Frank sitting at his desk, and asks him, “How does it feel to be behind that desk, Frank?”  Frank, a rough character, but a quick study in the ways of capitalism, replies, “As good as holding a gun, but more powerful.

Frank is pursued by a man known only as Harmonica (he plays one), and the shot below is typical of those establishing tension in the ritualistic gunfights.

Eventually, “on the point of dying,” we learn the mystery of Harmonica, and what drives him on his revenge quest.

Claudia Cardinale is the beautiful widow who knows that a tub of hot water can wash away just about any bad feeling, not to mention the smell of filthy men she has had to sleep with.  Speaking to her, Cheyenne (Robards), delivers the improbable lines, “You remind me of my mother.  She was the biggest whore in Almeida.  Whoever my father was, for an hour, or a month, he must have been very happy.

Morton, the greedy railroader, had his own ideas of the saving qualities of water, but his dream of the Pacific was ended by his death in a muddy desert puddle after his violent plans to evict the widow from her land went awry.


And unto us a son is born.

July 17, 2012


I was watching The Terminator 2 the other day since I’d never seen the whole thing.  Also, I watched the first of the series a few weeks ago, and that finally made clear to me why Arnold was a villain first, then a good guy, or machine.  As science fiction, it is ordinary, but as an action film, I thought it was terrific.  Of course, anything with a chase in the Los Angeles River gets my attention.

I also thought it was an entertaining re-do of the Nativity story, and I’m always up for that.  Some guy from the future comes back in time and impregnates an unwitting female, about as immaculate as you can get without actually doing it, because, you see, the father isn’t even born yet.  And John, the boy, is born to save man from the machines after Judgment Day falls upon them as a nuclear Apocalypse brought on by their own sinful pride in their technology.  John goes through a period of trials until he realizes his calling, in the desert of course.

So, does this make the Terminator robot a stand-in for John the Baptist?  He too gave his life for standing up to a prophet of evil.


Coketown Liebestod

June 17, 2012

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) is generally classed as a noir, but it certainly did not seem like one for the first thirty or forty minutes: so much so, that I almost gave up on it. Instead, we are presented with a pretty standard melodrama of class, childhood oppression, and murder most foul hushed up in exchange for climbing the social ladder. At Film Noir of the Week, the reviewer says it sometimes seems like Grand Opera. (Its conclusion is close to Wagnerian.)  Despite its slow start, after the set up is over, the story takes a dive into pure, blackest noir, thematically, if not stylistically.  That is, the lighting, music, narration, and the like don’t have much to do with film noir, but the characters and the story…Yes!

The plot has many complications, but it is rooted in the lives of three youngsters in Iverstown, a mill-town, presided over by Martha’s mean aunt, who has made Martha her heir.  Martha is not grateful, because the aunt despises Martha’s dead parents: her father, a former mill worker, and her mother who was fool enough to marry him. Walter is the “scared kid with glasses,” desperately in love with Martha, and Sam is the rough kid from the poor side of town for whom Martha feels a magnetic attraction.  And so, one fatal night, Martha lets her Aunt have it, Walter sees all, Walter’s father hushes it all up so his son can grow up to marry Martha and finally bring some wealth and class into the struggling petty bourgeois O’Neil family.  Just one thing:  the kids think Sam saw it all before he hightailed it out of town, but he didn’t see anything in fact.

Walter does grow up to marry Martha, but he remains the scared kid with glasses, even as he is running for attorney general and getting tough on crime.  Martha calls all the shots – what she says in town goes, while Walter spends his free time in a melancholic, drunken stupor.  His election is a sure thing – no point in taking odds on it.

What makes this movie go is the characters, and the great actors who create them.  Van Heflin is Sam Masterson, the kid who skipped town, and ends up coming back after seventeen years, purely by accident.  He’s an interesting character:  sterling war record; wandering gambler; heart of gold, but he beat a wrap for manslaughter.  He’s no goody two-shoes.  He frequently twirls his fingers in an odd way when he’s conversing, which emphasizes his observing, somewhat aloof, outsider nature.  He’s not afraid to take a rough revenge on a private dick who tried to scare him out of town on O’Neil’s orders.  And he seems to be irresistible to women:  O’Neil’s secretary just melts under his gaze.

Toni (Lizabeth Scott playing an innocent this time) is one of the girls drawn to him.  He meets her coming out of the building where he grew up.  She’s not quite as pure as she seems, but a nice kid, and he’s the perfect gentleman, it seems.  She has parole conditions to meet – he helps her out by getting her a room at his hotel.  Their rooms share a bath.  He recommends reading Gideon’s Bible, and he loves to quote the story of Lot’s wife:  a nice noir theme – don’t look back.  To me, this all seems pretty racy for 1946:  adjoining rooms after a cozy dinner, Toni rapturously showering, washing away her not so pleasant past and being reborn into a new future…with Sam.  Were they just reading, or like Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s poem did they read no more that evening..? Then Sam is awakened by two sleazy police detectives who are obviously working on O’Neil’s orders.  They’ve jailed Toni on phony charges – a bid to dig us some dirt on Sam.

Barbara Stanwyck is Martha, who is revealed during the film as a full-blown femme fatale, but one who plays it classy.  She doesn’t usually need to go for the throaty, seductive talk – she has the power and the money to get what she wants.  But she is also a prey to her own desires, and they are pretty strong.  She wants what she wants.

She builds her inheritance up into a gigantic financial empire.  She transforms the mansion into a place of white and pink instead of gloomy brown and black.  She holds her own against Sam’s attractions at first.  Later, she comes to Sam’s hotel to pick him up for a “business dinner,” and it’s like the scene in The Ten Commandments when Pharaoh’s wife visits Moses in his slave hut:  Oh, the furniture, the bottle of scotch!  Just how I imagined such an ordinary hotel room would be!

Kirk Douglas is marvelous as Walter, a man consumed by self-loathing and his hopeless love for Martha, whose love, if not her body, is unattainable.  She plays him like a fiddle:  alcohol is his solace.  Their relationship is one of submission, domination, and perversion.

The only romantic coupling (only implied, of course) that is wholesome, is that of Toni and Sam.  The violent sexual nature of the bond between Sam and Martha is displayed when they revisit the woods where they used to hideout as kids.  They find a campfire, which ignites old memories.  The conversation that ensues reveals to Martha that Sam knows more than she thought about a lot.  She isn’t happy.  Her passion aflame, she tries to follow through on it.

She’s no match for Sam, physically, sexually, or morally.  But he just can’t resist her.  A real film noir pickle.

As their combat becomes sexual conflict, then submission, her hand relaxes, and drops the fiery brand into the fire.  The flames rise up violently: the next shot shows the smoky ashes.  The deed is done, the battle over, for now.  The movement of her hand will be echoed in the Love-Death finale.

In this complicated story, things take a while to come to a head, but the three kids find themselves together again, at the head of those fateful stairs.  Drunken Walter falls, and Martha sees a chance to rearrange her living arrangements, if she can just convince Sam to go along.  It worked once before, long ago.

No dice.  Sam is essentially decent, and he leaves, intending to never return to Iverstown.  And he leaves Walter and Martha to their private hell.  Walter knows the score now:  he sees that Martha is really a sicko, but he loves her.  “Kiss me, Martha.

He knows there is only way way to end this for both of them.  She feels the gun in her gut…and she does not fight it.  It feels right.  She pulls the trigger herself.

A puff of smoke.  She is done with this awful life.  She looks up, to the beyond, almost ecstatic.  The music swells.  It’s Tristan und Isolde in Coketown.

Sam hears the shot, turns to look back, sees the murder-suicide run to its conclusion.  He is sick.  Best to leave town, and not look back.


Engineers in Space

April 19, 2012

Apollo 13 tells the story of the unfortunate NASA mission as a straightforward disaster tale, anchored by Tom hanks as Jim Lovell, the resolutely understated hero.  I consider this part of my examination of The Engineer as Hero in movies:  a lot of pilots and astronauts are engineering graduates, and Houston Mission Control is a hive of that species.  Hanks plays the hero in Steve McQueen mode, but more approachable.  His values are rooted in family, and he reveals a streak of spiritualism when he recounts his lucky escape as a fighter pilot, “lead home” by a trail of phosphorescent algae in the wake of his mother ship.

The film was entertaining, but for me, ultimately a bit dull and flat: I am not engaged by celebrations of folksy heroism, and the fascination of space was lost in the Hollywood adventure story of man-and-machine, despite the commendable restraint exercised by the film maker.  Although this is clearly a celebration of  an American Everyman’s triumph, he leaves the sentimental gushing for the musical score and Lovell’s mother, who, on cue, declares that if “they could make a washing machine fly, my Jimmy could land it.”

I grew up watching space launches, building models of the LEM, and hearing the roar of what we thought were engine tests at Rocketdyne, in the industrial section of the San Fernando Valley. The gadgets and the stories were neat, but for me, the essential terrifying strangeness of space was what fascinated me.  David Bowie captures it in his song, Ground Control to Major Tom:

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here am I sitting in my tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Just guys floating in the cosmic void, protected by a little tin can. Ron Howard has made a movie that could have been on an ocean liner, a mountain top, or an airplane coming in for a dangerous landing.  The archive footage of Walter Cronkite’s wonderment at the moonwalk conveys more of the magic of the enterprise than anything else in the film.  2001 is still the standard for man in space as far as I am concerned:  The shots of the space craft careening wildly through space seem hokey in comparison to the eerie progression of Kubrick’s machines.

Brave guys, those astronauts, and incredibly skilled and cool under pressure.  That’s how they picked ’em.  And the presentation of the work of the engineers on the ground was fascinating:  the technology they had to work with is left in the dust by what a kid carries in his pocket today.   And the need to have thought out every contingency in advance, to have provided the pilots with manuals and pre-printed algorithms for calculating things that today a pocket calculator could do in a flash, and the enormous technical bureaucracy that supports this was nicely shown.

But maybe I’m the prisoner of my profession here.  I’d heard of the sequence in which the engineers figure out how to improvise a replacement air filter to keep the pilots alive as a thrilling and brilliant passage, but it seemed to me that they figured out the problem exactly the way you’d expect a bunch of committed, smart engineers to do it.  Engineers love to jerry rig stuff just to get it working.  It’s called ingenuity.  Still, you do get the sense that it took guts to think they could carry this sort of thing off.  And for what?  To show the Russians, of course.

The film endorses the heroic view of NASA, and seems wistful that the public lost interest after Armstrong walked on the moon.  The reduction of the program by budget cuts is presented as a foolish tragedy of policy myopia.  Lovell justifies continuing the program after Armstrong by asking what would have happened if no one had followed up on Columbus’ voyage.  Well…ask a Native American that question… Lovell believes it though, and one of the more affecting moments of the film is when he realizes he will never walk on the moon, and we see his dreams of what it would have been like.

There’s hardly any relationship between the moonshots and 1492, however, other than the skill and courage of the men involved. Columbus sought land, gold, and slaves.  Lovell sought personal and patriotic fulfillment.  The justification for NASA after beating the Russians was only science, and robots do more of it better, and far more cheaply, without heroics or tragedy.  We have enough of that on Earth anyway.


Engineer Stars!

March 13, 2012

Engineers grouse a lot about how they “don’t get no respect.”  They aren’t paid as highly as lawyers and doctors, and no one makes them the heroes of TV shows and movies.  T’was not always so!

While studying civil engineering, I did some research on the role of the engineer in American literature, and found that we of this profession were indeed seen as heroic in a bygone day.  At the turn of the century, stories often featured engineers, the effect of nearly a century of ‘heroic’ achievement that markedly improved the quality of life:  I speak of the lengthened life span of inhabitants of great cities due to improved sanitation and water supply.  Thus, I was lured to my present slot in the International Work Machine.  I’m not complaining.

Looking at some web forums that addressed the question, “What TV shows or movies show engineers as heroes?”, probably emanating from some undergraduate technical school, I found that most respondents noted only a smattering of recent sci-fi films.  It seems to me, however, that older films, particularly British ones, have a different history.

The Dam Busters (1955) is an excellent example of the British engineer-as-hero doing his part for the war effort.  Michael Redgrave plays Wallace, a man with a good idea about how to destroy the dams that supply electric power to the Nazi industrial region of the Ruhr Valley.  Breaking the dams would cripple their production effort and sow chaos in the regions – good stuff!  Problem is that the bombs must fall just up against the dam and must burst at the proper depth under water.  They cannot be delivered as air-launched torpedoes because the dams have floating protections against such missiles.

Wallace gets the idea for a bomb that will bounce across the water’s surface (from reading Admiral Nelson’s account of the Battle of the Nile), hit the dam face, sink, and then explode.  It requires a specially engineered bomb carried by a squadron of highly trained airmen who can fly very low over water with great precision.  The animated GIF below shows how the bomb was delivered.

The movie is very good at building suspense and excitement, although the enemy is never seen, and the actual combat sortie happens at the end.  The airmen are coolly professional in the face of  death, but the terrible losses attendant on the effort are not glossed over.  Of course, they all act with that chipper can-do attitude we associate with the Brits and WWII movies, but Wallace expresses regret:  If I’d known it would cost fifty men…

The relationships between the various groups involved are interesting:  the officers and the men: the officer and his dog, the death of which evinces more outward emotion than the inevitable deaths of his comrades; the bureaucrats and the engineer; the officer and the engineer.  Redgrave plays a bit of an odd duck,  the commanding officer comes to deeply respect the man with the idea that is sending him on this dangerous mission.  Even Bomber Harris, who rarely saw a bombing plan he didn’t like, tells Wallace after the successful run, “At first I didn’t believe you, but now you could sell me a pink elephant!”

I love those planes!

Celebrating after a successful prototype test – the aftermath of the real thing.

According to Wikipedia, the operation, known as Operation Clandestine, was not as strategically significant as Wallace had hoped.  The Germans were able to repair the dam and resume power generation quickly because the Brits did not follow up with conventional bombing raids.

In the film, one of the military refers to the “Back Room Boys,” meaning the engineers who come up with new weapons or related technology.  These people are the focus of a fine dark tale I learned of at Film Noir of the Week, The Small Back Room.  It’s about one engineer who comes up with ways to defuse German anti-personnel bombs dropped on the UK.  Here too, the technical guys are the heroes, and they are presented as complex human beings, with the lead being a struggling alcoholic with an artificial foot that humiliates him, and a pretty girlfriend who tries to help him come to terms with his situation.  The suspense generated by his attempts to defuse the German booby-trap bomb is strong, and he is clearly a hero to the uniformed servicemen.

Another Brit movie, this time pre-war, that has an engineer-as-hero is Transatlantic Tunnel, about which I have posted earlier.  This film casts the engineer as a hero in the classic mode.  He is capitalist, technical master, and mover of men’s souls all in one.  Almost Ayn Randian.

No Highway in the Sky  pairs Jimmy Stuart, who flew those bombers in WWII, with Marlene Dietrich as passengers on a plane designed by Stuart.  He’s convinced it’s going to crash because of a design flaw, but he can’t get them to stop the flight.  Marlene takes to him because he’s attractive and has real character, but he’s a tortured hero, beset by doubts.


Alpha Noir

March 8, 2012

Alphaville (1965) is Jean Luc Godard’s noir-sci-fi mash-up, and it’s pretty darn good.  The film seems like a stylistic riff on those genres, with a hunk of surrealism thrown in, and at times it has, I think, its tongue in its cheek, but always just so:  the control of tone never wavers.  Sort of like Flaubert… Those French!

I don’t quite understand the use of music in French films of the 50s and 60s.  I commented on The 400 Blows that I thought its music was intrusive:  In this film, the soundtrack is purposely so, but sometimes it borders on romantic schmaltz.  But then, there’s that ironic, stylistic mash-up again…

A noir thriller with a main character called Lemmy Caution (Not sure, but I think there was a series of films or books with that character in France at the time…) played by an American expatriot actor whose face looks like it’s seen a lot of action, that ends with the destruction of an entire city.  Well, maybe not.  “Maybe all the inhabitants will heal and it will become a happy place,” Lemmy tells us as he drives away with his princess who saves herself and ends the movie by speaking the words she never learned, “I love you!

The story begins with Lemmy, aka Ivan Johnston, a secret agent from the Outer Countries, running around Alphaville in a fedora and raincoat looking for Dr. von Braun.  He snaps pictures of everything with a cheap camera, pretending to be a journalist.  The film is shot in haute and not so haute moderne architectural sites around Paris.  Part of the near-campy weirdness of the film is that it’s supposed to be in the future – not sure how far – and it’s supposed to be on another planet, but everyone talks as if they just got off the subway in NYC.  Lemmy drives American cars, of course.

Things happen that don’t make sense, but since it’s  a noir, it’s all rather deadpan.  A man breaks into Lemmy’s room, and Caution, not being too cautious, shoots him.  Later, interrogated by the Alpha 60 computer that runs the city, he says he was nervous and doesn’t take chances.  How was he to know it was just a psychological test?  Lemmy is pretty quick with a gun at the end, shooting people right and left with aplomb as he decommissions Alpha 60 and sets the city on its ear.

Lemmy is a hard-boiled type.  He knows his way around the hi-tech world, but he prefers old technology.  I concur – you won’t catch me with a smart phone.  He finally catches up with von Braun who tries to bribe him with gold and women, the two things Lemmy told the central computer he cares about.  But he was probably fooling – he’s a romantic under his tough exterior.  He tells von Braun he’s used to living with the fear of death:  “For a humble secret agent like me, it’s a constant companion, like whiskey.”  Hard-boiled, indeed!

 

Of course, women in Alphaville are mostly at the disposal of men, and come in various seductress levels, with numbers tattooed on their necks.  Lemmy isn’t tough enough to resist this one (Anna Karina, Godard’s wife), his own femme fatale who reminds me of the one from Zamyatin’s We.  Lemmy even says she has “sharp teeth” like the characters in old vampire movies.  She’ll betray him, of course.

When Lemmy goes on the rampage against the computer, we aren’t quite sure what he does, but it all begins with him speaking illogically about love.  The shot below is a portent of 2001.  With Alpha 60 on the blink, the citizens literally start to climb the walls, acting like termites in a nest where the queen has died.  Alpha 60, like Hal 9000, speaks, but with a voice that is distorted with a synthesizer.

Typical sights in Alphaville…huh?

The use of sites is very clever.  While we hear narration about the ways non-normals are executed, we see a theater with banks of seats that are rotating into a recess in the floor, and learn that a large group was electrocuted while watching a show.

Ivan/Lemmy is a cool customer with a semi-automatic, and he uses it without hesitation.  The thugs disarm him, however, by commanding the girl to recite story No. 434, which gets a laugh from Lemmy:  then they pummel him into submission.  Still, isn’t this film the forerunner of other noir-sci-fi faves, such as Blade Runner?  Maybe not – it’s so French.  Readings from the surrealist poet Paul Eluard’s Capital of Pain figure prominently in the narrative (every Frenchman with pretensions to cool would have known the text), and there is much abstract talk of love, conscience, humanity, and such existentialist cliches…

Mission accomplished, the girl rescued, Lemmy drives off on the ring road to inter-sidereal space, returning to his own galaxy in the Outer Countries.


You say you want NOIR?

February 29, 2012

You can’t paint it much blacker than The Seventh Victim (1943) does.  A mentally disturbed woman falls in with a coven of Satan worshippers, but decides it’s not for her.  She goes to a shrink to try to work out her feelings, but they consider that a betrayal:  the club rules say “Death!”  So, they lock her in a room with a noose for a few weeks hoping that she will do the “right thing.”

Her sister leaves school to come looking for her, and gets into some scary situations.

The Satanists try to convince her another time:  Just drink the stuff!  You know you want to die.  You always said you did!

When words fail, a man in an alley with a knife might to the trick.

The scene above is pure German Expressionist noir, right out ‘M‘.  And other films come to mind:  Psycho is prefigured in a scene where the little sister is terrorized while showering; Rosemary’s Baby, and even Mullholland Drive come to mind.  Everyone is this film is doomed to death or unhappiness:  they are all emotionally drained, failures, physically or mentally ill.  The final sequence involves a conversation between the ex-Satanist and a dying victim of consumption, exchanging views on the relative merits of life and death.

It’s a low-budget B movie, and it shuffles along slowly at times, but all in all, utterly remarkable for its consistently negative tone.


Great Expectations Dashed

February 26, 2012

I read Great Expectations with great pleasure in junior high school, and in high school, I watched the David Lean adaptation of it – only the first part stayed with me.  I just finished the novel for the second or third time, and started to watch the film again, but lost interest after Pip goes to London.  The early part of the film does a wonderful job at representing the weirdness of Miss Havisham, the marsh country, the terror of the escaped convicts, the tortured soul of a simple boy.

Should we like Pip?  He berates himself for his ingratitude to Joe, his adopted father, and Biddy, the simple girl he could love.  He kicks himself for longing for the ice-queen, Estella.  He excoriates himself for his desire to climb socially, and for being ashamed of his humble origins.  I can’t fault him too much – he is too aware of his failings, and they are all portrayed in retrospect.  What can we say but that he was a young boy, immature, and sometimes thoughtless.  Would that we were all so wise about our limitations.

The book is called dark, and so it is.  Even the happier ending that was substituted for the original one is not all that happy:  there is a hope of emotional fulfillment for Pip and Estella, but it is melancholy too.  And the thunderbolt that falls on Pip when he returns home, his great expectations in ruins, hoping to turn over a new leaf and propose marriage to Biddy, completely destroys any prideful self-delusions he has left.

Lets say, at least, that Pip learns from his mistakes.