Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Trek on Dissertation Mountain

"Mt. Fuji in Autumn."Gorota Kawai fl.ca. 1920-30s
O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
                                                   --Kobayashi Issa

I am quite busy these days with dissertation writing. The good news is that I have, technically, written all of the chapters. The less than wonderful news is that I have a lot of revisions to finish. And that means that the next several weeks will be spent, in large part, obsessing about Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Vera Brittain, Siegfried Sassoon, and their literary friends and relations. When I feel overwhelmed at having to climb--or keep climbing--what I call Dissertation Mountain, I just think of myself as Issa's snail, tracing one little silvery dash behind him at a time. Mount Fuji can be climbed, even if slowly. And so can Dissertation Mountain.

Dora Carrington. Lytton Strachey, 1916. ©.NPG 6662

Another thing I do when I feel overwhelmed or disenchanted with this mountain of my making is to watch movies that have to do with my subject(s) or their time period while I work. It helps immensely to have the pleasant, undemanding, company of a familiar film while one types, deletes, has revelations, despairs, and returns to typing once again. One letter, one word on the blank page at a time, a veritable and virtual Mount Fuji slowly covered with the silvery snail tracks of my writing. The most important thing is to keep going!

My film of choice right now is one of my all-time favorites. I've been in love with it since I first saw it over ten years ago, as part of a spectacular Bloomsbury art show at the Yale Center for British Art. I've watched it time and again and even used it in a course I taught at Yale about Bohemians in literature from Shakespeare to Kerouac. It is Carrington. Now, Michael Holroyd's Lytton Strachey and Gretchen Gerzina's Dora Carrington: A Life offer many more details than any film could provide about the lives of the two incredible figures portrayed. However, if you are a Bloomsbury fan, a twentieth-century enthusiast, a (secret) Bohemian, a fashion history person, a literature and/or art scholar, or a period drama film-lover, then do watch this movie. 

Carrington (1995)

I recall being annoyed when my own copy of Holroyd's Strachey arrived a few years ago, with the image of the film's stars as Strachey and Carrington emblazoned on its cover. As a rule, I do not approve of film posters as book covers or endorsements from modern authors on classic texts (among other things). But, much as I might not have liked receiving the Carrington-decorated copy of this beautiful biography, I do love this film. There are many reasons why I enjoy it so much. Sparing myself (and you) from too many of them, it's one of my favorites because it is about real people, an era, and art and writing in which I'm interested and, more broadly, because it's about human relationships that defy standard categories but are defined--wildly and genuinely--by love.

Enough, already. I must pack up this little encampment and seek higher ground on Dissertation Mountain. I hope you enjoy the film, the two biographies, or, if you are a fellow graduate student or writer or anyone with a mountain-like project in front of you, I hope that you can be inspired to keep climbing--but slowly, slowly!

© Fiona Robinson

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Great War at the Movies

Still from Abel Gance's 1919 J'Accuse. © SF Silent Film Festival Blog
I've been dreaming of the silver screen lately, and I wanted to compile an initial list of essential films about the First World War. There are lots, of course, and many movies feature unexpected links between a primary storyline and the war. Perhaps because I spend so much time reading and writing about the war, these links pop out at me--sometimes surprising me in films I've seen many times before. For instance, the 1992 Chaplin, a favorite of mine for several reasons, includes a phase of the silent star's life when, as he travels in Britain after the war, the relevance of his art is questioned in light of the devastation that his native country has experienced. Chaplin actually made a war "comedy" in 1918, called Shoulder Arms, about which Chris Edwards writes quite eloquently at his blog, Silent Volume. I have not seen the film, but Edwards writes that the Little Tramp character enlists in the American army. Perhaps this alignment, though surely stemming from Chaplin's association with American film studios, allows the film's (strangely chosen) comedy to avoid representational contact with British experience of the war. Though comedy was not an unknown note in this experience or its expression, it is true that the film may strike viewers as odd or somewhat disorienting in its unreal depictions. 

Here are ten films, to start. These are my personal picks for today, not all well-known or widely-recognized as war films, but the ghosts of 1914 haunt them nonetheless. Sometimes the most moving encounters with the Great War on film are not in movies directly about the war, after all. 

1. J'Accuse (1919) Clips from this incredible film can be found here.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

3. War Horse (2011)

4. A Very Long Engagement/ Un long dimanche de fiancailles (2004)

5. Chariots of Fire (1981)

6. Paths of Glory (1957)

7. Joyeux Noel (1995)

8. Fairy Tale (A True Story) (1997)

9. Gallipoli (1981)

10. The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1992)

I hope you enjoy watching or remembering some of these films. Take a moment to consider the ways in which the ghosts of 1914 appear in these and other movies--at times manifesting right before our eyes, and at others, hovering at the edges of the screen.

© Fiona Robinson

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Updated Look

Hello Readers,
A quick post to mention our slightly spruced up look, now with a title block of images from the fantastic "Photos of the Great War" World War One Image Archive. The archive features public domain photographs depicting many aspects of the Great War, from battlefields to troops of various nations, to iconic military figures.

The four images that I chose depict Indian troops in formation, the devastated Verdun, France, British officers at lunch among wreckage, and British soldiers arriving in Lille. Officially, I would like to credit all four photos as belonging to:

Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War - www.gwpda.org/photos

Take some time to explore this wonderful archive, which features historic documents as well. Occasionally, I will change the header images to show more of the ghosts of 1914.

© Fiona Robinson