a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

what do you think of meester chames choyce?

Everywhere I’ve gone for the last week, Ulysses has been there. NYT had a scribbling on it. Slate forced Jeffrey Eugenides and Jim Lewis to battle over it. Edmund Wilson’s 1922 review of it was reposted. When there wasn’t an NPR program on it or a friend with whom to discuss it, I went and brought it up out of the blue, much to the bafflement and/or annoyance of others.

To officially commemorate the centennial of Bloomsday -- the day, if you weren’t aware, when the “tale” takes place -- Dubliners could watch a complete reenactment of what little happens. Here in Philadelphia, we did what most cities do on June 16: we have famous people or non- read from much of the 768-page text. Unlike most cities, we have something extra up our sleeves: we possess, within the annals of our famed Rosenbach Museum, the original, entirely-illegible manuscript. Take that, the rest of the world.

Having started on this daunting, endlessly clever tome last week, I'm merely on page 42. However, the last five pages made not a lick of sense to me so, really, I'm on page 37. That didn’t stop me from trekking a mere five blocks to 20th and Delancey Sts., where, annually, chairs are set up, a sound system is erected, James Joyce masks are sold, and legions of Philadelphians sit for hours and hours, listening to portions of the book read by the area’s finest orators (plus Police Chief John Timoney). To make heads or tails of this classic of 20th Century Modernism, you’re required by law to purchase or borrow a guidebook. A dictionary, too, should be your constant companion. Regardless, Joyce always stated that the best way to groove on his rhythmic prose is to hear it, not read it in a quiet bedroom. Joyce was full of shit.

Yesterday was my second Bloomsday visit. Now knowing a little more about the tome -- including, but not limited to, realizing who this Bloom fella is -- I fared a little better this time around. Before it rained and I wound up choosing food and shelter over hearing Drucie McDaniel’s bawdy rendering of the Molly Bloom finale (and, my current favorite, the “Tinbad the Tailor” lead-up), I lasted three hours, rarely moving from my seated position on the sidewalk.

What’s more, I really got into it. I often have trouble concentrating on public readings, but, taken in small sections, Joyce’s way with words -- and, more specifically, its musical nature -- all but hypnotized me. During the onset of the downpour, I wound up talking loudly to a friend as she made her way to leave. Eventually, a man rose from his seat and audibly hushed me. I don’t know how many of my fellow patrons had read the Greatest Novel of the 20th Century™, but it was a transcendent moment: for one day and one day only, people will congregate to listen to some very difficult and obtuse prose -- indeed, one of the few books whose infamy makes it as much a bestseller as one that no one finishes. I ought to finish this sonofabitch; few “difficult” books have warped my fragile little mind as much as this one.

(It should be noted that yesterday had two anniversaries: the invention of the hamburger -- that is, the idea of putting meat together with a bun -- and the ten year one for the day Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise takes place. Surely not a coincidence that one -- and another reason why that movie quite rules.)

* The new Beastie Boys album ain’t bad on first listen. It’s also, as I predicted, a step-down -- a nervous retreat into the pre-Hello Nasty days, only with an elder statesmen feel that renders it less goofily addictive. Going with a stripped-down production, the ostentatious surprises are few and far between. In other words, all the songs basically sound like minor variations on one another, with an exception here and there. (“Ch-Check It Out” promises more than is rewarded.) So, essentially, it’s one of those: an album that requires multiple listenings to discover all the quirks and nuances rather than one which grabs you. It does grab though -- it’s never less than head-noddingly listenable. It’s just that hip hop, by and large, has been expanding its focus lately, eating up more and more influences that one of them -- namely, The Love Below -- boasts almost no rapping whatsoever. This one is all rapping and, after the forays into instrumental tracks and even outright singing on Nasty, it can’t help but feel behind a bit. Again, let me listen to it ten more times.

* Congrats to Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper lead film critic, on getting a small article on Richard Lester’s totally negelcted The Bed Sitting Room publishing within the pages of Entertainment Weekly. Now, not only will the country know of this never-released-to-video classic, but will also be able to make fun of a guy who shares a name with either a patriot or an ale.


<< Home