Thursday, 19 April 2018

Lillian Gish

            I got up at 4:00 on Wednesday and after yoga I only played one French song before I returned to working on practice essays. I had a little over two hours before I’d have to leave to write my exam. I made a few adjustments to the essays that I’d written on female sexuality and violence and only added one new line to the one on humour: The addition of humour in a work of literature can serve to intensify the negative emotions being conveyed.
            I couldn’t spend all my time on study because I needed to have breakfast too.
            Before leaving I printed my essays on sexuality, violence and humour, just in case I would have time to read them over before the exam began.
            My exam would be in Seeley Hall at Trinity College and I didn’t think I’d been there before until I arrived and remembered that I’d written my Continental Philosophy exam there a couple of years before.
            I had time to read through my essay on female sexuality in literature and some of the one on violence before the tall, slim, blonde, pretty but serious Scandinavian looking TA let us in. I sat at the front under the space between the two large portraits of Victoria on the right and Albert on the left. Victoria was looking at me but Albert was looking at Victoria.
            When we started our exam, of the three questions I’d focused on in my practice essays, the only one that turned up was the one I’d worked on the least, which was the operation of humour, so the joke was on me.
            I compared the humour in Lorrie Moore’s “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk” and Thomas King’s “A Coyote Columbus Story”. Both stories use comic elements to soften the blows of horrible tragedies. In the Moore story it’s a mother’s experience of her baby having cancer and in the King tale it’s the genocide of indigenous people. King’s humour is simpler because it’s a work of literature told in the oral tradition by an objective narrator. Moore’s story is in the first person and told by a mother who is going through something. She uses humour to keep the stress and sadness from becoming saturated and to keep up the level of emotion, so that the sadness props up the humour and the comedy intensifies the sadness. The emotion doesn’t slow down but rather changes shape much like the scene early in the story where the doctor is explaining to the mother about her baby’s cancer while the baby is switching the light off and on. The sadness hides inside the humour li9ke Greek soldiers inside of a ridiculous hollow rocking horse. The humour and the sadness spot each other in the ring like a wrestling tag team.
When I was unlocking my bike one of the other students stopped to chat with me and asked me what I’d thought of the course. Even though we’d been in the same class every week since September I didn’t recognize him at all. He said that he’d kept pretty quiet but he’d noticed that I’d always had something to say so he wanted to get my take on the course. We both enjoyed and found it stimulating. He told me that he didn’t really get Ginsberg’s Howl on the first reading. I felt that way about a lot of the texts but Howl was the one I responded to the most.
I rode to Queen’s Park Circle and south to University. Someone riding one of those bikes with the enormous tires passed me on the uphill. The tires made a whirring noise with all that surface contact and he seemed to be working his little legs pretty hard to move the machine along. I easily got by while coasting downhill.
 I stopped to get some money from the bank machine and then I rode over to Top Cuts to get a haircut from Amy. She waved at me though the window while I was locking my bike outside. I’d never seen the place so empty. Neither her nor the elderly manager had any customers. When I walked in I asked, “Waiting for me?” I joked that they could each style one side of my hair.
Amy informed me that the Dundas and Bay location of Top Cuts would be closing down because the lease is up and the landlord is jacking up the rent by 30%. Amy will be working at two locations after the beginning of May. One would be near her home in Richmond Hill but the other would be at Yonge and St Clair. I told her that it took me long enough to find someone that styles my hair the way I like so I’d be willing to follow her up to Yonge and St Clair. She’ll only be working there on the Monday afternoon shift and the Thursday morning shift. Amy decided that since it might be a while before I see her again she would cut my hair shorter.
On the way home I went to The Australian Boot Company to get my Blundies treated. The guy that did it noticed there are some scratches on the bridge of the right boot. I explained that it’s because I ride a bike and I sometimes push the pedal up with the top of my foot to get it into position. He suggested that if I waxed the boots it might provide a little extra protection.  They sell the wax there for $14 but he didn’t push it that hard so I didn’t buy it.
I stopped at Freshco where I bought grapes, yogourt and a whole chicken. Once I was home I popped out again to the liquor store to buy a can of Creemore.
That night I watched the last Alfred Hitchcock Hour teleplay of the second season. This one starred one of the superstars of motion picture history, Lillian Gish as Bessie Carnby, an elderly woman owner who is taken care of by her niece, Camilla on Bessie’s estate. The property next door is owned by the Wilkenses but Samantha Wilkens is in charge while her husband Henry does not have the will to oppose her. Samantha has put up a fence between the two properties. This has diverted the usual walking route of Bessie’s hired hand as he walked home at night and so in the dark he fell off the cliff and was washed away by the rapids. Bessie confronts Samantha about the fence but she gets overly excited and faints. Henry carries her home and strikes up a friendship with Bessie and Camilla, especially with Camilla. Bessie invites the Wilkenses to dinner but Samantha refuses to go and also forbids Henry to go as well. After this, suddenly Henry is nowhere around. Bessie becomes suspicious and begins watching the Wilkens farm with binoculars from her bedroom window. There is no trace of Henry but Samantha makes frequent trips to the barn. After several days Bessie sneaks into the Wilkens’ barn and discovers a place where something has been buried. She calls the police and a body is discovered. The corpse is unrecognizable because quicklime has been used on it but on the third finger of the left hand is Henry’s wedding ring. Samantha explains that Henry just left after telling her that he had to go out into the world and prove himself because it wasn’t right for a man’s wife to run things. He said he wouldn’t come back until he’d found his own way. Samantha is charged with murder and the day after her execution Henry returns to Camilla’s arms. Bessie sees that this was all a clever plot to get Samantha out of the way so Henry could be with Camilla. Henry now wants to merge Bessie’s estate and his. Henry is now married to Camilla and taking care of Bessie. He is in charge of her morphine pills but makes sure she only has four a day as the doctor ordered. Bessie plots to punish Henry and so she doesn’t take her pills. She saves them up, mixes them all in a bottle of brandy and then when she takes a drink she has an overdose. She leaves a letter behind to incriminate Henry and he is also executed.
Lillian Gish and her friend Mary Pickford were considered to be the greatest acresses of the silent film era. But Gish was also a theatrical actress and so she had no problem with acting in talkies when they came around. The sweet and innocent image of silent film actresses was no longer desired though when sound came in. Gish still worked in theatre, film and television into her 80s and she died at the age of 99.

No comments:

Post a Comment