Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Tom & Viv": recalls a college experience with T.S. Eliot (maybe critical for me)

“Poetry is not an expression of emotion, but an escape from emotion.”

T.S. Elliot, acted by Willem Dafoe, says that in the middle of Brian Gilbert’s “Tom & Viv” (1994), about the marriage of British poet T.S. Eliot (One 'l') and Vivian Haye-Wood (Miranda Richardson), based on the 1984 play by Michael Hastings. They have eloped, she has “physical problems” that may compromise the marriage, and her parents are suspicious that Tom doesn’t earn much from writing poetry. And that particular line (above) is spoken just after a critical scene where Vivian learns she is not named in a will and that a trust is not set up to allow her much independence – a warning that things can go wrong with trusts. Later, doctors say she is prone to “moral insanity” – the way people saw “mental illness” in those days. She is given a “test” (with trick math questions) in a cleverly staged scene, and then dragged away to a lunatic house out of a coffee shop at the order of the “trustees”. During WWII (the movie had started in 1915), an American Army officer questions why her husband never got her out of the mental hospital and abused his powers as a trustee. The couple had separated, but she had remained emotionally faithful, worshipping him for his works!

In one early sequence, Bertrand Russell (Nickholas Grace) takes the couple in. I recall getting a copy of Russell's autobiography as a gift from a coworker in 1971.

In that forlorn fall semester at William and Mary in 1961, we read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in English class. We had to write a theme about it, I think, even before midterm grades. I do recall the young male instructor’s making a lot of sexual impotence in interpreting the poem – the bit about being “etherized on a table” sounds like being abducted, or perhaps a final transition out of pleasurable experience, perhaps a perview of the afterlife and whether it is for the journeyman.

I have to say that the “mental illness” sequences with Vivian jive with what I saw of female patients when I was a “psychiatric patient” at NIH myself in 1962. “Nothing to be ashamed of.” Sure.

The music score by Debbie Wiseman sounds rather Mahleresque, but transitions into a particularly schmaltzy passage from Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” as well as the Pergolesi Requeim.

The film was distributed by Miramax, well before the days that the Weinstein Company split off. Recently the New York Times carried an article about the need for TWC have investors get it out of debt, for the first time ever (link).

I could invent another epigram: "Ideology is a luxury for the dilletante".

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