Monday 31 December 2018

A few uncertain points in The Turn of the Screw

I know, I’ve written 6 posts about Henry James’s book, but here’s a 7th. 
There are a few points I’m uncertain about: 
1/ From chapter 5: 
“Oh, she let me know as soon as, round the corner of the house, she loomed again into view. “What in the name of goodness is the matter—?” She was now flushed and out of breath.
I said nothing till she came quite near. “With me?” I must have made a wonderful face. “Do I show it?”
“You’re as white as a sheet. You look awful.”
I considered; I could meet on this, without scruple, any innocence. My need to respect the bloom of Mrs. Grose’s had dropped, without a rustle, from my shoulders, and if I wavered for the instant it was not with what I kept back. I put out my hand to her and she took it; I held her hard a little, liking to feel her close to me. There was a kind of support in the shy heave of her surprise. “You came for me for church, of course, but I can’t go.”
“Has anything happened?”
“Yes. You must know now. Did I look very queer?”
“Through this window? Dreadful!”
“Well,” I said, “I’ve been frightened.” Mrs. Grose’s eyes expressed plainly that she had no wish to be, yet also that she knew too well her place not to be ready to share with me any marked inconvenience. Oh, it was quite settled that she must share! “Just what you saw from the dining room a minute ago was the effect of that. What I saw—just before—was much worse.”
Her hand tightened. “What was it?”
“An extraordinary man. Looking in.”
“What extraordinary man?”
“I haven’t the least idea.”
Mrs. Grose gazed round us in vain. “Then where is he gone?”
“I know still less.”
“Have you seen him before?”
“Yes—once. On the old tower.”
She could only look at me harder. “Do you mean he’s a stranger?”
“Oh, very much!”
“Yet you didn’t tell me?”
“No—for reasons. But now that you’ve guessed—”
Mrs. Grose’s round eyes encountered this charge. “Ah, I haven’t guessed!” she said very simply. “How can I if you don’t imagine?”
“I don’t in the very least.”
“You’ve seen him nowhere but on the tower?”
“And on this spot just now.”
Mrs. Grose looked round again. “What was he doing on the tower?”
“Only standing there and looking down at me.”
She thought a minute. “Was he a gentleman?”
I found I had no need to think. “No.” She gazed in deeper wonder. “No.”
“Then nobody about the place? Nobody from the village?”
“Nobody—nobody. I didn’t tell you, but I made sure.
She breathed a vague relief: this was, oddly, so much to the good. It only went indeed a little way. “But if he isn’t a gentleman—”
“What is he? He’s a horror.”
“A horror?”
“He’s—God help me if I know what he is!”” 
(my emphasis) 
Then blah blah blah, blah blah blah, and the governess describes what he looks like, which fits the looks of Peter Quint.  
Because of the film, I forgot that it was not right after seeing the figure on the tower, but after the 2nd time, through the window, that the governess told Mrs Grose. 
What does that line in bold mean? Doesn’t it mean that she has asked somebody from the village? Doesn’t it mean, then, that she can have the information about, and descriptions of, Quint from someone else before talking to Mrs Grose? 
In that case, that would solve my question from earlier. 
Note that the governess never properly describes Miss Jessel. 

2/ In Jack Clayton’s film, Miss Jessel gets depressed after Quint’s death, and drowns herself in a lake. In the book, she doesn’t. 
From chapter 7:
“Mrs. Grose considered as if it were perhaps a little a case for a sense of shades. “I’ve never seen one like him. He did what he wished.”
“With her?”
“With them all.”
It was as if now in my friend’s own eyes Miss Jessel had again appeared. I seemed at any rate, for an instant, to see their evocation of her as distinctly as I had seen her by the pond; and I brought out with decision: “It must have been also what she wished!”
Mrs. Grose’s face signified that it had been indeed, but she said at the same time: “Poor woman—she paid for it!”
“Then you do know what she died of?” I asked.
“No—I know nothing. I wanted not to know; I was glad enough I didn’t; and I thanked heaven she was well out of this!”
“Yet you had, then, your idea—”
“Of her real reason for leaving? Oh, yes—as to that. She couldn’t have stayed. Fancy it here—for a governess! And afterward I imagined—and I still imagine. And what I imagine is dreadful.”” 
(my emphasis) 
I never read much into that, and then came across this line from Ned Lukacher’s essay: 
“From Mrs Grose she learns that Miss Jessel became pregnant with Quint’s child and was sent home, where she presumably died, as the result of either a miscarriage or an abortion.” 
Is that what happens? Why did I not see that? 
Let’s go back to chapter 2: 
“I had a scruple, but I overcame it. “Was she careful—particular?”
Mrs. Grose appeared to try to be conscientious. “About some things—yes.”
“But not about all?”
Again she considered. “Well, miss—she’s gone. I won’t tell tales.”
“I quite understand your feeling,” I hastened to reply; but I thought it, after an instant, not opposed to this concession to pursue: “Did she die here?”
“No—she went off.”
I don’t know what there was in this brevity of Mrs. Grose’s that struck me as ambiguous. “Went off to die?” Mrs. Grose looked straight out of the window, but I felt that, hypothetically, I had a right to know what young persons engaged for Bly were expected to do. “She was taken ill, you mean, and went home?”
She was not taken ill, so far as appeared, in this house. She left it, at the end of the year, to go home, as she said, for a short holiday, to which the time she had put in had certainly given her a right. We had then a young woman—a nursemaid who had stayed on and who was a good girl and clever; and she took the children altogether for the interval. But our young lady never came back, and at the very moment I was expecting her I heard from the master that she was dead.”
I turned this over. “But of what?”
He never told me! But please, miss,” said Mrs. Grose, “I must get to my work.”” 
(my emphasis) 
Never obvious—that’s how annoying James is. But now that someone has pointed it out, it makes sense. Miss Jessel can be involved with Quint, someone socially inferior, and nobody can do anything as Quint’s given power at Bly—only a pregnancy can force her to leave. 
Jack Clayton’s film lets her drown in the lake instead, which adds to the idea of them both dying in the area and haunting the house. In the book, she dies elsewhere. 

3/ Look again at the ending: 
“My sternness was all for his judge, his executioner; yet it made him avert himself again, and that movement made me, with a single bound and an irrepressible cry, spring straight upon him. For there again, against the glass, as if to blight his confession and stay his answer, was the hideous author of our woe—the white face of damnation. I felt a sick swim at the drop of my victory and all the return of my battle, so that the wildness of my veritable leap only served as a great betrayal. I saw him, from the midst of my act, meet it with a divination, and on the perception that even now he only guessed, and that the window was still to his own eyes free, I let the impulse flame up to convert the climax of his dismay into the very proof of his liberation. “No more, no more, no more!” I shrieked, as I tried to press him against me, to my visitant.
“Is she here?” Miles panted as he caught with his sealed eyes the direction of my words. Then as his strange “she” staggered me and, with a gasp, I echoed it, “Miss Jessel, Miss Jessel!” he with a sudden fury gave me back.
I seized, stupefied, his supposition—some sequel to what we had done to Flora, but this made me only want to show him that it was better still than that. “It’s not Miss Jessel! But it’s at the window—straight before us. It’s there—the coward horror, there for the last time!”
At this, after a second in which his head made the movement of a baffled dog’s on a scent and then gave a frantic little shake for air and light, he was at me in a white rage, bewildered, glaring vainly over the place and missing wholly, though it now, to my sense, filled the room like the taste of poison, the wide, overwhelming presence. “It’s he?”
I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice to challenge him. “Whom do you mean by ‘he’?”
“Peter Quint—you devil!” His face gave again, round the room, its convulsed supplication. “Where?”
They are in my ears still, his supreme surrender of the name and his tribute to my devotion. “What does he matter now, my own?—what will he ever matter? I have you,” I launched at the beast, “but he has lost you forever!” Then, for the demonstration of my work, “There, there!” I said to Miles. 
But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day. With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall. I caught him, yes, I held him—it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.” 
That’s how it ends—Miles is frightened to death.
Readers in the ghost camp (as opposed to the mad governess camp) argue that Miles himself mentions the name of Peter Quint before the governess does. 
That’s a good point. 
At the same time, what if Miles was involved in Quint’s death? 
After all, I have written before that his death might not have been an accident: 
“…on the dawn of a winter’s morning, Peter Quint was found, by a laborer going to early work, stone dead on the road from the village: a catastrophe explained—superficially at least—by a visible wound to his head; such a wound as might have been produced—and as, on the final evidence, had been—by a fatal slip, in the dark and after leaving the public house, on the steepish icy slope, a wrong path altogether, at the bottom of which he lay. The icy slope, the turn mistaken at night and in liquor, accounted for much—practically, in the end and after the inquest and boundless chatter, for everything; but there had been matters in his life—strange passages and perils, secret disorders, vices more than suspected—that would have accounted for a good deal more.” 
(my emphasis)
We never know. Discussion of The Turn of the Screw would just lead to endless debate, and we can never be certain about anything.

Sunday 30 December 2018

The 3rd interpretation of The Turn of the Screw

I’ve been reading the analyses in the Norton edition of The Turn of the Screw. Readers mostly fall into 2 camps: 
1) The ghosts exist, and the children are evil. 
2) The ghosts are figments of the sexually repressed governess’s imagination. 
The 2nd interpretation is often called the Freudian reading. 
Harold C. Goddard’s essay, for example, mentions the governess’s lack of experience, her “excessively nervous and emotional” tendencies, insomnia, overactive imagination, and the fact that she “falls instantly and passionately in love” with the employer, and her love is thwarted. 
“When a young person, especially a young woman, falls in love and circumstances forbid the normal growth  and confession of the passion, the emotion, damned up, overflows in a psychical experience, a daydream, or internal drama which the mind creates in lieu of the thwarted realization in the objective world. In romantic natures this takes the form of imagined deeds of extraordinary heroism or self-sacrifice done in behalf of the beloved object. The governess’s is precisely such a nature and the fact that she knows her love is futile intensifies the tendency. Her whole being tingles with the craving to perform some act of unexampled courage. To carry out her duties as governess is not enough. They are too humdrum. If only the house would take fire by night, and both children be in peril! Or if 1 of them would fall into the water! But no such crudely melodramatic opportunities occur. What does occur is something far more indefinite, far more provocative to the imaginative than to the active faculties: the boy, Miles, is dismissed from school for no assigned or assignable reason. Once more, the hint of something evil and extraordinary behind the scenes! It is just the touch of objectivity needed to set off the subconsciousness of the governess into an orgy of myth-making. Another woman of a more practical and common sense turn would have made inquiries, would have followed the thing up, would have been insistent. But it is precisely complication and not explanation that this woman wants—though of course she does not know it.” 
Edmund Wilson belongs to this camp, and points out the Freudian symbols in the novella: “the male apparition first appears on a tower and the female apparition on a lake”. 
I’m in the 2nd camp, but don’t really see it on Freudian terms. I don’t think her love for the employer (after meeting him once) is the cause of anything, other than her unreasonable refusal to contact him when things get complicated, and don’t know if sexual repression is the explanation for her behaviour. It is perhaps in her nature to imagine things, make up stories, and see herself as a saviour. 
I think the ghosts are not real, or at least the children don’t see them, strictly because evidence shows that she is dishonest and an unreliable narrator, whatever the cause. 
The copy I have includes an essay by Robert B. Heilman, “The Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw”, in which he argues why the psychoanalytical reading of the book is commonplace and simplistic. Mostly, he responds to the arguments of Edmund Wilson and Edna Kenton. 
It is a rather good essay, with compelling arguments, but he doesn’t refute any of my arguments about the governess’s unreliability as a narrator, nor her obvious lies. He also overstates the seriousness of some of the children’s actions, to fit his narrative. I think, for example, that it is not out of character for an 8-year-old (Flora) to run off alone to the lake and enjoy her freedom—it is oppressing to always be followed by an adult. There is nothing particularly strange and evil about Miles stealing the letter either—considering the fact that he doesn’t hear anything from the uncle, his letters to the uncle are never sent, he doesn’t know when he’s coming back to school or going to another school, the governess and housekeeper (Mrs Grose) both keep information from him, the governess once talks about saving him (which he doesn’t understand), then suddenly his sister Flora gets traumatised and sent away, it makes perfect sense that he steals the letter to see what the governess tells his uncle about him and his sister. 
These actions only appear as evil to a mind like the governess’s, whatever she has. 
The only arguments from Heilman that I can’t refute are the ones I’ve already mentioned: the governess’s accurate description of Peter Quint before knowing about him, and the framed narrative. 
“The prologue tells us explicitly: at the age of 30 or so she is still a spinster, still a governess, and therefore still heir, we may assume, to all psychic ills which Wilson imputes to her at the earlier stage. But at this age she seems, to a Cambridge undergraduate whom, 10 years her junior, we may expect to be thoroughly critical, a fine, gracious woman who can elicit liking and respect.” 
That is something I cannot explain, unless Douglas, the other narrator, is also unreliable. 
So now I’ve just discovered that there’s a 3rd interpretation, from Allen Tate: 
“The governess doesn’t invent these apparitions; they merely use her as a medium. Because, obviously, the monstrous proportions of the evil are so great that they are beyond the power of any individual imagination to invent. There is something much stronger than the governess operating through her. She has her own innocent later existence, as is proved, I think, by the prologue of the story, where we learn that after this terrible incident had passed, she went on to other posts and nothing like it occurred again. It was some peculiar conjunction of forces which permitted this evil to emerge through her here.” 
I don’t necessarily agree that “the monstrous proportions of the evil are so great that they are beyond the power of any individual imagination to invent”. After all, the governess gets some facts from Mrs Grose about the depravity of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, and the letter about Miles’s expulsion, to help her own imagination run wild. 
But what do you think? Is it the governess who is possessed by the ghosts?

What happens in The Turn of the Screw?

1/ I have written several blog posts about why the governess is an unreliable narrator and a liar, with an overactive imagination and perhaps a nervous breakdown.

2/ There is no evidence that Flora has ever seen anything. 
Take this passage from chapter 21 (near the end): 
“I wanted to be very just. “If you should wish still to wait, I would engage she shouldn’t see me.”
“No, no: it’s the place itself. She must leave it.” She held me a moment with heavy eyes, then brought out the rest. “Your idea’s the right one. I myself, miss—”
“I can’t stay.”
The look she gave me with it made me jump at possibilities. “You mean that, since yesterday, you have seen—?”
She shook her head with dignity. “I’ve heard—!”
“From that child—horrors! There!” she sighed with tragic relief. “On my honor, miss, she says things—!” But at this evocation she broke down; she dropped, with a sudden sob, upon my sofa and, as I had seen her do before, gave way to all the grief of it.
It was quite in another manner that I, for my part, let myself go. “Oh, thank God!”
She sprang up again at this, drying her eyes with a groan. “‘Thank God’?”
“It so justifies me!”
“It does that, miss!”
I couldn’t have desired more emphasis, but I just hesitated. “She’s so horrible?”
I saw my colleague scarce knew how to put it. “Really shocking.”
“And about me?”
“About you, miss—since you must have it. It’s beyond everything, for a young lady; and I can’t think wherever she must have picked up—”
“The appalling language she applied to me? I can, then!” I broke in with a laugh that was doubtless significant enough.
It only, in truth, left my friend still more grave. “Well, perhaps I ought to also—since I’ve heard some of it before! Yet I can’t bear it,” the poor woman went on while, with the same movement, she glanced, on my dressing table, at the face of my watch. “But I must go back.”” 
That is no proof. The plausible explanation would be that Flora picked up “the appalling language” (probably swear words and obscenities) from Peter Quint (and perhaps Miss Jessel) when they were alive. It offers no proof that she is possessed, nor that she sees ghosts. 

3/ Regarding Miles being expelled from school: 
““Well—I said things.”
“Only that?”
“They thought it was enough!”
“To turn you out for?”
Never, truly, had a person “turned out” shown so little to explain it as this little person! He appeared to weigh my question, but in a manner quite detached and almost helpless. “Well, I suppose I oughtn’t.”
“But to whom did you say them?”
[…] “Was it to everyone?” I asked.
“No; it was only to—” But he gave a sick little headshake. “I don’t remember their names.”
“Were they then so many?”
“No—only a few. Those I liked.”
[…] “And did they repeat what you said?” I went on after a moment.
He was soon at some distance from me, still breathing hard and again with the air, though now without anger for it, of being confined against his will. Once more, as he had done before, he looked up at the dim day as if, of what had hitherto sustained him, nothing was left but an unspeakable anxiety. “Oh, yes,” he nevertheless replied—“they must have repeated them. To those they liked,” he added.
There was, somehow, less of it than I had expected; but I turned it over. “And these things came round—?”
“To the masters? Oh, yes!” he answered very simply. “But I didn’t know they’d tell.”
“The masters? They didn’t—they’ve never told. That’s why I ask you.”
He turned to me again his little beautiful fevered face. “Yes, it was too bad.”
“Too bad?”
“What I suppose I sometimes said. To write home.”” (Ch.24) 
He gets expelled from saying things. What things? Either “appalling language”—swear words and obscenities inappropriate for his age, or about what Quint (and Miss Jessel) did to him and Flora. 
I mean, I do think there’s some kind of sexual abuse. 
There is evil in the book, but not of the supernatural. 

4/ Let’s examine the passage that describes Quint’s death: 
“… Peter Quint was found, by a laborer going to early work, stone dead on the road from the village: a catastrophe explained—superficially at least—by a visible wound to his head; such a wound as might have been produced—and as, on the final evidence, had been—by a fatal slip, in the dark and after leaving the public house, on the steepish icy slope, a wrong path altogether, at the bottom of which he lay. The icy slope, the turn mistaken at night and in liquor, accounted for much—practically, in the end and after the inquest and boundless chatter, for everything; but there had been matters in his life—strange passages and perils, secret disorders, vices more than suspected—that would have accounted for a good deal more.” (Ch.6) 
Maybe it isn’t an accident? Maybe he’s killed? 

I’m reading the Norton edition, which includes criticisms and analyses. Let’s see what critics have to say.

Saturday 29 December 2018

Ranking Ingmar Bergman’s films

I’ve just come across this ranking: 
I don’t agree, of course. So here’s mine: 
1. Persona (1966)
2. Cries and Whispers (1972) 
3. Fanny and Alexander (1982), the 5-hour version 
4. Wild Strawberries (1957)
5. The Seventh Seal (1957) 
6. Autumn Sonata (1978)
7. Winter Light (1963)
8. Summer with Monika (1953)
9. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) 
10. Hour of the Wolf (1968) 
11. The Passion of Anna (1969) 
12. Through a Glass Darkly (1961) 
13. Summer Interlude (1951) 
14. The Virgin Spring (1960) 
15. The Magician (1958) 
16. All These Women (1964) 
Not ranking The Silence because I’ve forgotten it.
Note that that is a ranking from best to worst, among the films I’ve seen. 
This would be a ranking of favourites: 
1. Persona (1966)
2. Cries and Whispers (1972) 
3. Fanny and Alexander (1982), the 5-hour version 
4. Autumn Sonata (1978)
5. Wild Strawberries (1957)
6. Hour of the Wolf (1968) 
7. Summer with Monika (1953)
8. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) 
9. The Seventh Seal (1957) 
10. Summer Interlude (1951) 
11. The Passion of Anna (1969) 
12. Through a Glass Darkly (1961) 
13. Winter Light (1963)
14. The Virgin Spring (1960) 
15. The Magician (1958) 
16. All These Women (1964)

The Turn of the Screw: the governess is a liar

In the previous post, I called the governess an unreliable narrator. 
Now I’m going to call her a liar. 
Look at this conversation between her and Mrs Grose in chapter 7: 
“Then, as she released me, I made it out to her, made it out perhaps only now with full coherency even to myself. “Two hours ago, in the garden”—I could scarce articulate—“Flora saw!”
Mrs. Grose took it as she might have taken a blow in the stomach. “She has told you?” she panted.
“Not a word—that’s the horror. She kept it to herself! The child of eight, that child!” Unutterable still, for me, was the stupefaction of it.” 
Let’s go back: 
“My heart had stood still for an instant with the wonder and terror of the question whether she too would see; and I held my breath while I waited for what a cry from her, what some sudden innocent sign either of interest or of alarm, would tell me. I waited, but nothing came; then, in the first place—and there is something more dire in this, I feel, than in anything I have to relate—I was determined by a sense that, within a minute, all sounds from her had previously dropped; and, in the second, by the circumstance that, also within the minute, she had, in her play, turned her back to the water. This was her attitude when I at last looked at her—looked with the confirmed conviction that we were still, together, under direct personal notice. She had picked up a small flat piece of wood, which happened to have in it a little hole that had evidently suggested to her the idea of sticking in another fragment that might figure as a mast and make the thing a boat. This second morsel, as I watched her, she was very markedly and intently attempting to tighten in its place. My apprehension of what she was doing sustained me so that after some seconds I felt I was ready for more. Then I again shifted my eyes—I faced what I had to face.” (Ch.6) 
Does that sound like Flora’s aware of someone else’s presence? Not necessarily.
Also, as written before, the governess can’t see very well and at the beginning wonders if it could be a postman or some boy, so I don’t know how she jumps from that to the conclusion that it’s Miss Jessel that she sees. 
Another conversation between her and Mrs Grose: 
““Everything. It doesn’t matter. I’ve made up my mind. I came home, my dear,” I went on, “for a talk with Miss Jessel.”
I had by this time formed the habit of having Mrs. Grose literally well in hand in advance of my sounding that note; so that even now, as she bravely blinked under the signal of my word, I could keep her comparatively firm. “A talk! Do you mean she spoke?”
“It came to that. I found her, on my return, in the schoolroom.”
“And what did she say?” I can hear the good woman still, and the candor of her stupefaction.
“That she suffers the torments—!”
It was this, of a truth, that made her, as she filled out my picture, gape. “Do you mean,” she faltered, “—of the lost?”
“Of the lost. Of the damned. And that’s why, to share them—” I faltered myself with the horror of it.
But my companion, with less imagination, kept me up. “To share them—?”
“She wants Flora.”” (Ch.16) 
Again, let’s go back. 
“Seated at my own table in clear noonday light I saw a person whom, without my previous experience, I should have taken at the first blush for some housemaid who might have stayed at home to look after the place and who, availing herself of rare relief from observation and of the schoolroom table and my pens, ink, and paper, had applied herself to the considerable effort of a letter to her sweetheart. There was an effort in the way that, while her arms rested on the table, her hands with evident weariness supported her head; but at the moment I took this in I had already become aware that, in spite of my entrance, her attitude strangely persisted. Then it was—with the very act of its announcing itself—that her identity flared up in a change of posture. She rose, not as if she had heard me, but with an indescribable grand melancholy of indifference and detachment, and, within a dozen feet of me, stood there as my vile predecessor. Dishonored and tragic, she was all before me; but even as I fixed and, for memory, secured it, the awful image passed away. Dark as midnight in her black dress, her haggard beauty and her unutterable woe, she had looked at me long enough to appear to say that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers. While these instants lasted, indeed, I had the extraordinary chill of feeling that it was I who was the intruder. It was as a wild protest against it that, actually addressing her—“You terrible, miserable woman!”—I heard myself break into a sound that, by the open door, rang through the long passage and the empty house. She looked at me as if she heard me, but I had recovered myself and cleared the air. There was nothing in the room the next minute but the sunshine and a sense that I must stay.” (Ch.15) 
There is no conversation here. If the spirit of Miss Jessel does appear, which I doubt, she does not speak. The governess says “the awful image passed away” and “there was nothing in the room the next minute”. 
Isn’t it obvious now that she lies? 
Then in chapter 18, Miles plays some music, then the governess realises that Flora’s gone. She looks around and asks Mrs Grose. 
““No; she’s at a distance.” I had made up my mind. “She has gone out.”
Mrs. Grose stared. “Without a hat?”
I naturally also looked volumes. “Isn’t that woman always without one?”
“She’s with her?”
“She’s with her!” I declared. “We must find them.”” 
Note that Mrs Grose never says anything about Miss Jessel not wearing a hat. It’s Peter Quint that she says a few times doesn’t wear one. 
Again she has a baseless assumption. Then she goes further: 
“My hand was on my friend’s arm, but she failed for the moment, confronted with such an account of the matter, to respond to my pressure. She communed, on the contrary, on the spot, with her uneasiness. “And where’s Master Miles?”
“Oh, he’s with Quint. They’re in the schoolroom.”
“Lord, miss!” My view, I was myself aware—and therefore I suppose my tone—had never yet reached so calm an assurance.” (Ch.18) 
That confidence comes from nothing. There is no evidence, only conjecture, or I would rather say, lies. The governess is dishonest, and she manipulates the simple Mrs Grose. For what? 
It doesn’t stop there. 
“Mrs. Grose still stood where she had stopped. “You suppose they really talk of them?”
“I could meet this with a confidence! They say things that, if we heard them, would simply appall us.”” (Ch.19) 

See how ridiculous that sounds? She makes stuff up.
So far, everything in The Turn of the Screw suggests that the governess is manipulative and an unreliable narrator. 
There are only 3 arguments for the other interpretation (that the ghosts exist and the children are evil). 1, the unexplained and unexplainable expulsion, especially considering Miles’s intelligence and good manners. 2, the framed narrative structure, and the fact that the other narrator speaks well of her (though I’m not sure he’s reliable enough to attest to her reliability). She can still be a good person who has a nervous breakdown at that point and imagines things. 3, she can describe the looks of Peter Quint. Note that she never describes Miss Jessel, only that she wears black and is beautiful—the word “pretty” comes from Mrs Grose. She does describe Quint, but it’s not impossible that she has seen the image somewhere, which is what happens in the film. The story is not recorded in a diary, but written down long after the events, and one can mix up the order of events. 
 Maybe I’m too rational to enjoy The Turn of the Screw as a ghost story, but so far everything adds up to the interpretation that it’s all in her head.

The Turn of the Screw: the governess is an unreliable narrator

I’ve said it. 
Take this passage from chapter 14: 
““Look here, my dear, you know,” he charmingly said, “when in the world, please, am I going back to school?”
Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough, particularly as uttered in the sweet, high, casual pipe with which, at all interlocutors, but above all at his eternal governess, he threw off intonations as if he were tossing roses. There was something in them that always made one “catch,” and I caught, at any rate, now so effectually that I stopped as short as if one of the trees of the park had fallen across the road.” 
Now, if we ignore the fact that the governess doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t tell him anything, that doesn’t sound too bad. Then: 
There was something new, on the spot, between us, and he was perfectly aware that I recognized it, though, to enable me to do so, he had no need to look a whit less candid and charming than usual. I could feel in him how he already, from my at first finding nothing to reply, perceived the advantage he had gained. I was so slow to find anything that he had plenty of time, after a minute, to continue with his suggestive but inconclusive smile: “You know, my dear, that for a fellow to be with a lady always—!” His “my dear” was constantly on his lips for me, and nothing could have expressed more the exact shade of the sentiment with which I desired to inspire my pupils than its fond familiarity. It was so respectfully easy.” 
(emphasis mine) 
Whilst it is true that Miles sounds precocious, even flirtatious, there is something rather inappropriate in her tone. Is that how a governess write about her 10-year-old pupil? 
He asks again. 
“He resumed our walk with me, passing his hand into my arm. “Then when am I going back?”
I wore, in turning it over, my most responsible air. “Were you very happy at school?"
He just considered. “Oh, I’m happy enough anywhere!”
“Well, then,” I quavered, “if you’re just as happy here—!”…” 
Blah blah blah. 
So Miles explains “Well—I want to see more life.” and ““I want my own sort!””. That sounds perfectly fair. 
The next part: 
“He looked, while I waited, at the graves. “Well, you know what!” But he didn’t move, and he presently produced something that made me drop straight down on the stone slab, as if suddenly to rest. “Does my uncle think what you think?”
I markedly rested. “How do you know what I think?”
“Ah, well, of course I don’t; for it strikes me you never tell me. But I mean does he know?”
“Know what, Miles?”
“Why, the way I’m going on.”
I perceived quickly enough that I could make, to this inquiry, no answer that would not involve something of a sacrifice of my employer. Yet it appeared to me that we were all, at Bly, sufficiently sacrificed to make that venial. “I don’t think your uncle much cares.”
Miles, on this, stood looking at me. “Then don’t you think he can be made to?”
“In what way?”
“Why, by his coming down.”
“But who’ll get him to come down?”” 
She chooses not to contact the school and not to ask Miles about the expulsion. She chooses not to report to her employer. She chooses to withhold information, and not let Miles know that he isn’t coming back to school. In a sense, she is holding the children captives, with the excuse of protecting them. 
From what? The ghosts? But do they exist? I’m afraid she jumps to conclusions very quickly, and has assumptions or theories that I don’t know where she gets from. 
Now look at this passage from chapter 15: 
“What I said to myself above all was that Miles had got something out of me and that the proof of it, for him, would be just this awkward collapse. He had got out of me that there was something I was much afraid of and that he should probably be able to make use of my fear to gain, for his own purpose, more freedom. My fear was of having to deal with the intolerable question of the grounds of his dismissal from school, for that was really but the question of the horrors gathered behind. That his uncle should arrive to treat with me of these things was a solution that, strictly speaking, I ought now to have desired to bring on; but I could so little face the ugliness and the pain of it that I simply procrastinated and lived from hand to mouth. The boy, to my deep discomposure, was immensely in the right, was in a position to say to me: “Either you clear up with my guardian the mystery of this interruption of my studies, or you cease to expect me to lead with you a life that’s so unnatural for a boy.” What was so unnatural for the particular boy I was concerned with was this sudden revelation of a consciousness and a plan.” 
She knows that her actions are inappropriate and suspicious. 
I don’t trust her as a narrator, at all.

Friday 28 December 2018

The Turn of the Screw: the governess is very odd

“It was striking of the children, at all events, to kiss me inveterately with a kind of wild irrelevance and never to fail—one or the other—of the precious question that had helped us through many a peril. “When do you think he will come? Don’t you think we ought to write?”—there was nothing like that inquiry, we found by experience, for carrying off an awkwardness. “He” of course was their uncle in Harley Street; and we lived in much profusion of theory that he might at any moment arrive to mingle in our circle. It was impossible to have given less encouragement than he had done to such a doctrine, but if we had not had the doctrine to fall back upon we should have deprived each other of some of our finest exhibitions. He never wrote to them—that may have been selfish, but it was a part of the flattery of his trust of me; for the way in which a man pays his highest tribute to a woman is apt to be but by the more festal celebration of one of the sacred laws of his comfort; and I held that I carried out the spirit of the pledge given not to appeal to him when I let my charges understand that their own letters were but charming literary exercises. They were too beautiful to be posted; I kept them myself; I have them all to this hour. This was a rule indeed which only added to the satiric effect of my being plied with the supposition that he might at any moment be among us.” (Ch.13) 
(emphasis mine) 
The governess’s protectiveness strikes me as rather odd—is it pride? Inexperience? Compliance with the employer’s rule? That she keeps everything to herself and doesn’t ask him for advice is 1 thing; she even keeps the children’s letters. To me, that is odd. 
Now, what can I possibly write about The Turn of the Screw that hasn’t been written before? I won’t try to decode it. 
Let’s talk about something else. 
Look at what the governess says to Mrs Grose:
““…The more I’ve watched and waited the more I’ve felt that if there were nothing else to make it sure it would be made so by the systematic silence of each. Never, by a slip of the tongue, have they so much as alluded to either of their old friends, any more than Miles has alluded to his expulsion…”” (Ch.7) 
The governess’s so-called proof is not proof, but “the systematic silence” of the children. To her, the silence means they know, they are accomplices, they’re hiding the truth. Does it though? 
““Why, of the very things that have delighted, fascinated, and yet, at bottom, as I now so strangely see, mystified and troubled me. Their more than earthly beauty, their absolutely unnatural goodness. It’s a game,” I went on; “it’s a policy and a fraud!”” (ibid.) 
With that silence is the children’s “absolutely unnatural goodness”, which doesn’t go with the fact that Miles has been expelled from school. To be honest though, the governess can contact the school and ask exactly why he’s expelled. That would save time guessing and making up stories. But then of course we wouldn’t have a story then. 
Now look at this: 
“They had a delightful endless appetite for passages in my own history, to which I had again and again treated them; they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me, had had, with every circumstance, the story of my smallest adventures and of those of my brothers and sisters and of the cat and the dog at home, as well as many particulars of the whimsical bent of my father, of the furniture and arrangement of our house, and of the conversation of the old women of our village. There were things enough, taking one with another, to chatter about, if one went very fast and knew by instinct when to go round. They pulled with an art of their own the strings of my invention and my memory; and nothing else perhaps, when I thought of such occasions afterward, gave me so the suspicion of being watched from under cover. It was in any case over my life, my past, and my friends alone that we could take anything like our ease—a state of affairs that led them sometimes without the least pertinence to break out into sociable reminders.” (Ch.8) 
This reminds me of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona: the governess doesn’t know what the children think; she talks a lot about herself, too much about herself, that she becomes vulnerable and starts to imagine that she is being studied. Doesn’t that sound familiar? 
Let’s see where this is going.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

The Turn of the Screw: the kids and the 1st appearance of the ghosts

For the holiday, I’m reading The Turn of the Screw. Note that I have seen Jack Clayton’s adaptation The Innocents
Are the ghosts real? Or is the governess mad? 
Are the children abused and then possessed by ghosts? Or does the sexually repressed governess imagine everything? 
Look at these lines about Miles: 
“Perhaps even it would be nearer the truth to say that—without a word—he himself had cleared it up. He had made the whole charge absurd. My conclusion bloomed there with the real rose flush of his innocence: he was only too fine and fair for the little horrid, unclean school-world, and he had paid a price for it.” (Ch.4) 
I’m concerned. 
And then:
“We expect of a small child a scant one, but there was in this beautiful little boy something extraordinarily sensitive, yet extraordinarily happy, that, more than in any creature of his age I have seen, struck me as beginning anew each day. He had never for a second suffered. I took this as a direct disproof of his having really been chastised. If he had been wicked he would have “caught” it, and I should have caught it by the rebound—I should have found the trace. I found nothing at all, and he was therefore an angel. He never spoke of his school, never mentioned a comrade or a master; and I, for my part, was quite too much disgusted to allude to them. Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was. But I gave myself up to it; it was an antidote to any pain, and I had more pains than one. I was in receipt in these days of disturbing letters from home, where things were not going well. But with my children, what things in the world mattered? That was the question I used to put to my scrappy retirements. I was dazzled by their loveliness.” (ibid.) 
I don’t know, the way she talks about her pupil creeps me out. 
Now let’s get to chapter 6. The governess has seen the ghost of Quint, and is now telling Mrs Grove. 
““He was looking for someone else, you say—someone who was not you?”
“He was looking for little Miles.” A portentous clearness now possessed me. “That’s whom he was looking for.”
“But how do you know?”
“I know, I know, I know!” My exaltation grew. “And you know, my dear!”” 
How does she know? It doesn’t come from anywhere. 
““Never by the least allusion. And you tell me they were ‘great friends’?”
“Oh, it wasn’t him!” Mrs. Grose with emphasis declared. “It was Quint’s own fancy. To play with him, I mean—to spoil him.” She paused a moment; then she added: “Quint was much too free.”
This gave me, straight from my vision of his face—such a face!—a sudden sickness of disgust. “Too free with my boy?”
“Too free with everyone!”” 
Isn’t the possessiveness of “my boy” rather weird? (emphasis in the book) 
This passage also shows the annoying thing about Henry James—he always suggests, and hints, and never fucking says anything. I mean, play with him? Spoil him? What does that mean? With Mrs Grose talking like that, no wonder the governess lets her imagination run wild.
Or look at this: 
“I felt that I doubtless needn’t press too hard, in such company, on the place of a servant in the scale; but there was nothing to prevent an acceptance of my companion’s own measure of my predecessor’s abasement. There was a way to deal with that, and I dealt; the more readily for my full vision—on the evidence—of our employer’s late clever, good-looking “own” man; impudent, assured, spoiled, depraved. “The fellow was a hound.”
Mrs. Grose considered as if it were perhaps a little a case for a sense of shades. “I’ve never seen one like him. He did what he wished.”
“With her?”
“With them all.”” (Ch.7) 
Did what? With whom? Maybe there will be more details later. 
I’ve been thinking about the 1st appearance of Miss Jessel’s ghost. 
“Suddenly, in these circumstances, I became aware that, on the other side of the Sea of Azof, we had an interested spectator. […] There was an alien object in view—a figure whose right of presence I instantly, passionately questioned. I recollect counting over perfectly the possibilities, reminding myself that nothing was more natural, for instance, then the appearance of one of the men about the place, or even of a messenger, a postman, or a tradesman’s boy, from the village. That reminder had as little effect on my practical certitude as I was conscious—still even without looking—of its having upon the character and attitude of our visitor.” (Ch.6) 
Note that the governess cannot see clearly, and wonders if it’s a postman or a tradesman’s boy. Nor does she describe anything in the next paragraph that sounds like Flora notices the presence. 
Then all of a sudden: 
“…Then, as she released me, I made it out to her, made it out perhaps only now with full coherency even to myself. “Two hours ago, in the garden”—I could scarce articulate—“Flora saw!”
Mrs. Grose took it as she might have taken a blow in the stomach. “She has told you?” she panted.
“Not a word—that’s the horror. She kept it to herself! The child of eight, that child!” Unutterable still, for me, was the stupefaction of it.” (Ch.7) 
I have no idea where all that comes from. 
Maybe the governess suffers from a rich imagination.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

The most significant things that happened to me in 2018

1/ Losing my grandma: 
In April. 
Before, my family was only her and my mom. Now she’s gone. 
This is a short film I made in the summer about her:
Death is a strange thing. It seems natural and expected, until it happens to someone really close to you. 
2/ Making Footfalls in spite of grief and obstacles: 
Footfalls is the 2nd short film I directed at the Northern Film School, after Bird Bitten. I lost my grandma the week before filming, and it was probably the most difficult shoot I’ve ever had. But I completed it, and later, on the editing table changed it completely and gave it a rebirth, so to speak. In spite of its flaws (for I know it is a flawed little film), it means a lot to me personally and I’m proud to say that on the editing table, the editor and I created the best version of the film possible, with the footage we got. 
3/ Having Footfalls screened at Viet Film Fest in California: 
And then it was mentioned on Vietcetera as the most surprising or unusual Vietnamese film of 2018 (near the end):
I don’t take it too seriously—as a film student and aspiring filmmaker, I know my own strengths and weaknesses, and I don’t see that as a testament to my abilities or anything. But that does mean a lot, because Footfalls feels very personal to me, not only because of the hard time when it was made, but also because it’s loosely based on a tragic true story, and that could have easily gone wrong and become cheap, exploitative, or corny, but it didn’t. At least I know that I could tell a story completely with feet and shoes, without faces, and without words—the feet show the actions, express the emotions, and say something about the characters. 
4/ Moving in with my bf: 
Which makes him my partner, but I’m used to referring to him as bf. Things became much better. 
My mom also lives with us—she no longer wants to live in Norway after the loss of my grandma. 
5/ Creating a Vimeo page and a Youtube channel: 
Also, I’ve made the 1st video essay, about Persona
6/ Regarding books, this year I read 2 books by Nabokov: The Gift and Speak, Memory
Another great book I read in 2018 was The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. 
7/ Here are the 10 best films I watched in 2018: 
The Innocents (1961), dir. Jack Clayton 
Yojimbo (1961), dir. Akira Kurosawa 
F for Fake (1975), dir. Orson Welles 
Thelma & Louise (1991), dir. Ridley Scott
Sideways (2004), dir. Alexander Payne 
Eyes without a Face (1960), dir. Georges Franju 
The Third Man (1949), dir. Carol Reed 
The Last Detail (1973), dir. Hal Ashby 
Trainspotting (1996), dir. Danny Boyle 
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), dir. Max Ophuls 
Special mention is La Jetée (1966), dir. Chris Marker, which is a 20-minute film. 
All of these are important, but the 3 films that have a greatest impact are The Innocents (blocking and framing), F for Fake (narrative and editing, as well as the themes), and La Jetée (the ideas and the form, which is a film told in still images). Because of The Innocents, I’m currently reading Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw
I watched some more Bergman films, but I think the 2 most significant directors this year, to me, are Luis Bunuel and Orson Welles. Orson Welles, because of his enormous talent and fearlessness—I watched F for Fake, The Trial, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Magnificent Ambersons, and The Stranger. As one of the masters, he has very few great films, in fact, I think only Citizen Kane and F for Fake are truly great, among the ones I’ve seen, but they are always fascinating in terms of blocking and cinematography, especially lighting, and have some magnificent moments, offering a lot to learn from. 
With Luis Bunuel, I rewatched the last 3 films—The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Phantom of Liberty, and That Obscure Object of Desire; and also watched again Belle de jour, which I now perceived differently and started to really like. Bunuel is a favourite director that I would hesitate to call an influence, because I can’t say what his style is, but he does make me realise what kind of films I want to make—mixture of reality and dreams. My current project Non-Person is a surrealist film. 
8/ Directing my own script for graduation film: 
This includes 1st time of pitching on a stage (at a cinema), 1st time making a film about a Vietnamese character, and 1st time pitching to the camera. 
I started writing the script of Non-Person in the summer, and pitched in October. My script got greenlit (only 12 scripts out of 29), then recently the production also got greenlit, and we’re filming in February 2019. 
We are crowdfunding at the moment because our budget from the film school isn’t enough. If you want to have a look, this is the link: 
Please donate if you can. That would be greatly appreciated. Or you could share it on social media. 

How was your year?

Monday 24 December 2018

Video essay: the confrontation in Ingmar Bergman's Persona

My 1st video essay, about how to film a dialogue scene and what Ingmar Bergman did in Persona
Also: what if Persona had been cut the conventional way, with shot-reverse shot? 

Rather long. 

Thursday 20 December 2018


This is a little video I made yesterday, on a break after working on casting.
(Watch in 1080p) 

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday 16 December 2018

100 latest films I've watched

From November 2017 to December 2018 
In bold: films that I consider good 

1/ Citizen Kane (1941)- twice
2/ 大红灯笼高高挂 (Raise the Red Lantern- China, Hong Kong, Taiwan- 1991)- again
3/ 祇園囃子 (Gion Bayashi/ A Geisha- Japan- 1953)- again
4/ Persona (Sweden- 1966)- again
5/ Harold and Maude (1971)
6/ Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie- France, Italy, Spain- 1972)- again
7/ 近松物語 (Chikamatsu Monogatari/ The Crucified Lovers- Japan- 1954)
8/ Hot Fuzz (2007)
9/ 卧虎藏龙 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon- China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the US- 2000)
10/ Love& Friendship (2016)- again
11/ The Princess Bride (1987)
12/ Thief (1981)
13/ A Monster Calls (2016)
14/ Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
15/ Crimson Peak (2015)
16/ El espinazo del diablo (The Devil's Backbone- Mexico, Spain- 2001)
17/ Beauty and the Beast (2017)
18/ La Jetée (The Jetty- France- 1962)
19/ 아가씨 (The Handmaiden- South Korea- 2016)
20/ Phantom Thread (2017)
21/ 내가 살인범이다 (Confession of Murder- South Korea- 2012)
22/ Personal Shopper (2016)
23/ Ива́ново де́тство (Ivan's Childhood- Soviet Union- 1962)
24/ 12 Monkeys (1995)
25/ The Shape of Water (2017)
26/ 天国と地獄 (High and Low- Japan- 1963)
27/ Lola rennt (Run Lola Run- Germany- 1998)
28/ Touch of Evil (1958)- version re-edited by Walter Murch according to Orson Welles's notes
29/ The Cost of Living (2004)
30/ Heart of a Dog (2015)
31/ The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
32/ The Trial (1962)
33/ Trainspotting (1996)
34/ Sommarlek (Summer Interlude- Sweden- 1951)
35/ Madame de… (The Earrings of Madame de... - France, Italy- 1953)
36/ Sven Nykvist: Ljuset håller mig sällska (Light Keeps Me Company- Sweden- 2000)
37/ 用心棒 (Yojimbo- Japan- 1961)
38/ Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata- West Germany, Sweden- 1978)- again
39/ 椿三十郎 (Sanjuro- Japan- 1962)
40/ The Last Detail (1973)
41/ En passion (The Passion of Anna- Sweden- 1969)- twice
42/ Letters from an Unknown Woman (1948)
43/ F for Fake (1975)- twice
44/ 修羅雪姫 (Lady Snowblood- Japan- 1973)
45/ Against the Tides (2017)
46/ The Insufferable Groo (2017)
47/ Turning 18 (2018)
48/ The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018)
49/ On Her Shoulders (2018)
50/ Dancing with Le Pen (2018)
51/ Backlight: Radical in Birmingham (2017)
52/ The Cleaners (2018)
53/ Fake News Fairytale (2018)
54/ Dogville (2003)
55/ The Penis Extension Clinic (2016)
56/ Ocean's 8 (2018)
57/ Louis Theroux: Under the Knife (2007)
58/ Witness for the Prosecution (1957)- again
59/ Thelma & Louise (1991)
60/ Bringing Up Baby (1938)- again
61/ Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face- France- 1960)
62/ The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)
63/ The Bank Job (2008)
64/ Bound (1996)
65/ The Third Man (1949)
66/ 3 Women (1977)- again
67/ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
68/ Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
69/ Vertigo (1958)- again
70/ Deadpool (2016)
71/ The Brides of Dracula (1960)
72/ Thelma (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France- 2017)
73/ The Last Seduction (1994)
74/ Fracture (2007)- again
75/ Shaun of the Dead (2004)
76/ Offret (The Sacrifice- Sweden- 1986)
77/ Belle de Jour (France- 1967)- again
78/ Le Fantôme de la liberté (The Phantom of Liberty- France, Italy- 1974)- again
79/ Cet obscur objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire- France, Spain- 1977)- again
80/ 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love- Hong Kong- 2000)- again
81/ Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
82/ The Square (Sweden, France, Denmark, Germany- 2017)
83/ Viskningar och rop (Cries and Whispers- Sweden- 1972)- again
84/ The Apartment (1960)- again
85/ Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1989)
86/ I, Tonya (2017)
87/ Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
88/ 悪い奴ほどよく眠る (The Bad Sleep Well- Japan- 1960)- again
89/ Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
90/ Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- France- 2007)
91/ The Innocents (1961)
92/ Sideways (2004)
93/ Notorious (1946)
94/ Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari- Germany- 1920)
95/ M (Germany- 1931)
96/ Mildred Pierce (1945)
97/ Being John Malkovich (1999)
98/ The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
99/ The Stranger (1946)
100/ Blind (Norway- 2014)