“Are you finished with Anna Karenina?”

Kris | Films | Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

That’s what Paula asked me last night as the credits rolled on the 2012 Keira Knightley adaption of Anna Karenina. I think I should put adaptation in bold typeface, for this is a bold adaptation. Not all of that boldness is good–in fact, I found the highly choreographed and stylized sequences of the film at first to be mesmerizing and intriguing–and distracting. The production called too much attention to itself, as if to say “Look at me! Look at me!” Well, I looked. So?

I was impressed with the way the script captured sweeping sections of the story in a line or two–but I wondered how much of its success depended on the fact that I just recently read the novel. I suspect that ten-thousand details from the film would have been lost on someone who had never read Tolstoy. And that reminds me that the script was written by Tom Stoppard, who also wrote Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead (a favorite of mine), a film that I think would be difficult to enjoy without being pretty familiar with Hamlet.

So, did I like it? Sort of. But things happened so quickly that there was no time to develop Vronsky as someone in any way likable, someone you could ruin your life for. The Levin-Kitty relationship, my favorite from the book and the BBC adaptation, also does well here–though I had a hard time warming to the portrayal of Levin in this film.

Are you getting the mixed-feelings signal yet? I think that sums up my reaction. And my answer to Paula’s question was, Yes.

Anna Karenina, BBC-1977-style

Kris | Films | Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

When Paula and I finished reading Anna Karenina we started watching the 1977 BBC mini-series adaptation of the novel. The production had a very stage-play feel to it, mostly filmed in a studio, and most of the acting a bit exaggerated. But when you account for that it was reasonably interesting and watchable. The casting seemed solid to me: the actress who played Anna reminded be a little of a British Suzanne Pleshette, and the actor who played Karenin was good at being Karenin. As in the book, our favorite characters were Levin and Kitty, and they receive a fair treatment here and provide a great contrast to the doomed Anna and Vronsky. In fact, to us, Levin and Kitty are far more interesting and enjoyable than Anna and Vronsky. I think I’d even change the book’s title….

A postscript on catechisms: resources

Kris | Faith and Life | Friday, August 22nd, 2014

As I tried to convey in my previous post, the Heidelberg Catechism is a precious instrument to lead us closer to Jesus. If I at all piqued your interest, you might also benefit from a few resources that have helped me.

The first, of course, is the online version of the HC.

Another gem is a lecture on the HC by Carl Trueman. His discussion of assurance of salvation and the reformation is profound.

Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett is superb in its historical survey of catechisms and suggestive of ways to use catechesis in the church today.

If you know of other resources, please add them in a comment.

In praise of catechisms: especially of Heidelberg

Kris | Faith and Life | Friday, August 22nd, 2014

When I was in the second or third grade there was one day of the week on which some of my friends couldn’t play because they had something called “catechism.” As a Southern Baptist child I had no idea what that was–it sounded intimidating. I might have been in awe of them. When I made my way into the Presbyterian church in my twenties the mystery was removed, and I learned to appreciate the Westminster Shorter Catechism in all its glorious precision. Some years later I met the Heidelberg Catechism and I once again fell in love–this time with Jesus.

I wrote the following little article for some friends in Slovakia who don’t yet feel affection at the mention of catechisms. But they are interested and open, so I offered them this bit of persuasion entitled, “Why Use the Heidelberg Catechism?” (more…)

Burt’s Buzz … zzz …

Kris | Films | Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

I’m glad I didn’t compel Paula (or anyone else I like) to watch this documentary film about the father of Burt’s Bees: Burt’s Buzz. Much of it was as exciting as watching an old man with a bushy beard pick his teeth, or talk to his dog on skype. In fact, we are treated to both in the film. Burt turns out to be eccentric, but not in any particularly striking or interesting ways. A touch of drama begins to build as we learn about how truly isolated this man is–at one point someone says of him that he is not available for the love of another human being. But if that is a profound loneliness, it isn’t really explored satisfactorily, and it drew from me very little response. That might be because I’m cold-hearted–but I don’t really think so. I think Burt’s Buzz could have been much better, that’s all.

After the end

Kris | Books | Monday, August 18th, 2014

In the final chapter of Pride and Prejudice the narrator tells us a little about the ensuing lives of all the main characters. Here she speaks of Mr. Darcy’s sister and her observations of the marriage between her brother and Elizabeth:

Pemberley was now Georgiana’s home; and the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other even as well as they intended. Georgiana had the highest opinion in the world of Elizabeth; though at first she often listened with an astonishment bordering on alarm at her lively, sportive, manner of talking to her brother. He, who had always inspired in herself a respect which almost overcame her affection, she now saw the object of open pleasantry. Her mind received knowledge which had never before fallen in her way. By Elizabeth’s instructions, she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself.

Even before I read these lines I was already curious what sort of marriage and what sorts of conversations the hero and heroine would share as man and wife. Their conversations throughout the novel always sparkle or even roil, but the topic is always themselves and their feelings toward each other. But what would their talk be like later? What would it be like when they debated a current topic or shared their mutual delight in a hobby or planned a holiday or struggled together to settle the best strategy for disciplining their children? I’ll never know, of course. But I imagine their talk would be every bit as engaging–full of “open pleasantries” and “liberties”–if it were penned by Miss Austen.

All Is Lost – in a car

Kris | Films | Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Back in January I made a couple of comments about the Robert Redford one-man show All Is Lost. Yesterday I watched another (essentially) one-man movie called Locke. You may not have even heard of it, though it received some glowing reviews. There are several similarities between the two films, and a few interesting contrasts. Each film focuses on one man facing a perfect storm of hardships converging at a single moment that will make or brake him. Redford’s character struggles in an almost completely wordless world, alone against the sea and the sky and his failing boat. In sharp contrast Locke meets his hardships and faces them on a car phone in a sea of words–including many repetitions of a particular word that begins with the letter F and flows freely through his various conflicts: with his wife who rejects him, with a woman he hardly knows who is bearing his child, with his boss who fires him, with a coworker who takes Locke’s place to carry out the most important job of Locke’s life as Locke talks him through it, and especially with his dead father whose ghost he rails against. I don’t mean ghost as in The Christmas Carol or Ghostbusters, but as in the oppressive memory he carries of how his father failed him, and perhaps failed life. Locke faces all these impending disasters driving from Birmingham to London in his nice BMW–with no chase scenes, fancy driving, or accidents. The drama is in the words.

Locke’s central struggle is to undo the failures of his father (and, apparently, of his father before him, and his father before him) and of his own life to this point: it’s his struggle to justify himself, to make himself righteous. And, if you recall the voice-over at the beginning of All Is Lost, that was the same struggle of Redford’s character.

This struggle fascinates me. It no longer surprises me, for it is my struggle. And yours. It’s what, deep inside us, motivates everything we do. We need to be justified. And whatever any film might imply about its hero, no one ever succeeds in justifying himself. We need, we desperately need, a Redeemer.

In a mirror, darkly

Kris | Books | Thursday, August 14th, 2014

As I mentioned, my recent viewing of the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice drove me to pick the book up again. Having picked it up, I cannot put it down. And as I read it I imagine that Jane Austen must have had a sly smile on her face the whole while that she wrote. She must have smiled, because the language sparkles and shimmers and bubbles all the way through—witty and clever and precise and simply delicious. I can’t imagine that it was not more fun to write than it is to read, and it is very fun indeed to read.

But her smile, as I said, must also have been sly, for surely she had in mind certain acquaintances of her own as she wrote, and they must have been the models for the traits and twists of personality with which she filled her characters. And I wonder whether any of them might have felt the sting of her lampoon as they read and discovered the nature of, say, Mrs. Bennet or (gasp!) of Mr. Collins. I know that I wince when I recognize in her pages the echoes of my own pride and prejudice.

Place as character

Kris | Books | Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

With a title like “Place as Character” I should have much more to say than I do–but I’ve almost said everything already in my title. For as I recently read My Ántonia to Paula, I was reminded both of the fact that the sense of place or setting in a book can be as important to me–and as enjoyable to me–as a well-drawn character, and of the fact that Cather can create a landscape as compelling as most characters. Here it is the glorified plains of Nebraska. In her Death Comes for the Archbishop she is even better: the skies and mesas and canyons of New Mexico almost steal the show.

Some of my favorite settings that become characters include the house in The House of the Seven Gables and the planet in Perelandra. What are some of yours?

A beautifully imaged Pride and Prejudice

Kris | Films | Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Last night we watched the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice and I found myself just as delighted as ever by the story. I have very little to say except that perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this film version is its cinematography–and it grabs you right from the beginning sequence, with the camera leading you in and out of rooms and halls as characters move in and out of view, busy about their lives. There are similar sequences at the ball, and I found that the effect drew me into the scene. And here is where the film is least like the book, I suppose: you see the action and the scenery and hear the music, but there are no words spoken; in the book, of course, all you have are the words and whatever images and sounds they suggest to your imagination. I’d say this adaptation reveled in being a film–without really taking strange liberties with Austen’s original.

And the best thing about the film is that it made me pick up the book to start rereading the story today.

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