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S.P.E.W. - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Well, Skylar finally finished the book Goblet of Fire this morning. And that meant that she could watch the whole film -- she'd gotten a head start Thursday -- which she did, repeatedly, throughout the day. She loves it. And I do too, actually. I'd heard mixed reviews, but would rank it just a notch below my favorite of the four Harry Potter films, The Prisoner of Azkaban, which benefits from a tidier plot. The no-longer-children who play Harry, Ron and Hermione are becoming more accomplished actors as the series goes on, which compensates for the fact that more content has to be left out of the films as the books get longer.

The moment that I was sure Skylar would love, when Hermione appears at the Yule Ball, was well done and touching. And there was enough Cho is the picture to please the Bean, who has a bit of a fixation on Asianness. The tasks were all rendered well, deviating from the book where cinematically prudent. And the graveyard scene, while falling short of J.K. Rowling's prose, was still good viewing.

Here's the problem, though. As I was going through our copy of The Order of the Phoenix just now, translating my tape flags into notes written down on the inside cover, it hit me that one of the film's omissions is pretty troubling. The fact that the entire house elf sub-plot is omitted -- presumably for the sake of "economy" -- makes it impossible for a viewer who hasn't read the book to perceive the degree to which it invites considerations of race and class.

The thing that impresses me most about the series is the way that Rowling has managed to make the world less black-and-white with each book, revealing the extent to which the wizarding world has made itself vulnerable to attack through longstanding practices of discrimination. The Goblet of Fire is crucial to that trajectory, laying the groundwork for the nearly unremitting darkness of The Order of the Phoenix. Without the house elf subplot in the former, though, the latter promises to be missing a key ingredient. Understanding the perfidy of Dolores Umbridge requires grasping the relationship between the Ministry of Magic's prejudiced leadership and the customs that make its decisions seem reasonable.

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somemonad From: somemonad Date: November 6th, 2006 01:57 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I second your take on the lack of the house-elf plot. I thought we had been set up pretty well for that with the second film, but that may not mean much considering Dobbie couldn't be written out of that one...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 6th, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I mean, I understand how daunting a task it is to compress 700+ pages into a watchable feature film. My friend Steven often says, "It would have been better as a television mini-series," and I know what he means, though I'm a big cinephile. But the absence of Hermione's crusade in the fourth film not only diminishes her role in a troubling way -- her debut in evening dress feels different when we don't know about her quest for social justice -- but will also, as I suggested in my entry, make the can't-be-written-out portions of the next book involving Umbridge and Fudge a lot less rich with implication.
masoo From: masoo Date: November 6th, 2006 06:51 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I have never read a Harry Potter book, and haven't seen the most recent of the movies, so this will be an astoundingly uninformed comment. Azkaban was the only one of the three movies I liked, and that's putting it mildly ... I could barely get through one sitting of the other two movies, while I felt the third was not only a good Harry Potter movie, but an excellent movie, period.

But I wouldn't have thought to ascribe its excellence to a tidier plot. I'm not saying the plot was untidy ... I can't remember one way or another, to be honest (I told you this comment was uninformed). I'm just saying that Azkaban was psychologically dark in ways the other movies in the series I have seen did not approach ... heck, I doubt the others even tried.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 6th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The real disappointment on that score was the second movie, since the book is full of very dark portents that the film fails to capture. I think the fourth movie looks pretty good, but I don't think you'd like it as much as the third.

It's funny. I always feel guilty not being up to speed on my popular culture when I talk to you. Music aside, anyway. But I've read all the Harry Potter books, so that's something. They're pretty great, if you can get inside that world and let it grow on you. The fifth book is dark as can be and full of animus against educational bureaucracy and the state's intervention into it.
masoo From: masoo Date: November 6th, 2006 11:17 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Dude ... you gotta put that "up to speed" guilt underground. The only thing I have on you with regards to popular culture is that I've lived through an extra coupla decades, and I've had that extra time to collect more anecdotes. I suppose it also doesn't hurt that I'm a dilettante who can devote his life to pop culture :-). But really ... if you can take part in a discussion of which Antonioni movie is best, while still posting about how much you love Bloc Party, you've got me beat!

One area where I really am lacking, though, is stuff intended for younger kids. I was too selfish as a father ... I rarely participated with Neal and Sara in things that were "for kids," because I didn't want to be bored, so instead of taking them to a G-rated movie, we'd go see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and instead of exposing them to classical music when they were tykes, we forced them to listen to the Ramones. So I'm pretty sure Harry Potter books are good ... too many people I respect love them, including, ironically, one of my own kids! I read so little fiction, though, I'd be deluding myself if I thought I'd get around to reading those books. I haven't even read Tolkien, yet.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 7th, 2006 01:02 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That makes me a little sad, actually. Some of my happiest times have come from sharing with Skylar whatever is presently catching her fancy. Right now she and I are deeply involved in Harry Potter conversations, since I read the books ahead of her to give her warnings about scary parts and Kim hasn't made it through the second book yet. It's not Kim's thing, though she loved reading the first one out loud.

As far as popular culture goes, I suppose my guilt is largely confined to TV. But I also don't think of Antonioni as popular culture, despite that Smashing Pumpkins video. I do wish I saw more mainstream movies -- both good and bad -- because I so loved critiquing them back in the early days of Bad Subjects.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 6th, 2006 09:14 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I love Harry Potter - I've read all of the books and seen all of the movies. The thing nobody seems to have mentioned, and which struck me immediately, is the sections of The Order of the Phoenix that describe Voldemort's family history - the plot, if not the prose, is pure Faulkner. I can't wait for a generation of English majors who exclaim, "Wow, it's just like J.K. Rowling," after their first reading of Absalom, Absalom! One more way J.K. Rowling shows us that you can, in fact, do good in the world while becoming unreasonably wealthy.

-- Mark S.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 7th, 2006 01:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I so, so agree with you. I had precisely that thought when I was reading books five and six, though I think the latter may be even more Faulknerian. The stuff with Sirius's family in the fifth book also qualifies, certainly. I'm glad she got rich, even if she likes Tony Blair too much. At least she's all for hybridity.
xmoonbunnyx From: xmoonbunnyx Date: November 7th, 2006 12:24 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

WTF is up with the actors?

My mother and I went and saw the Goblet of Fire when it was in the theaters. I was most impressed with the actor who played the father of Cedric. My mother started crying next to me -- as did several other parents -- because I think they imagine their own children dying -- or being murdered. Murder is particularly disturbing. I dreamt my brother was murdered -- mutilated and everything -- and woke up in tears the other morning. It was kind of bizarre.

What's crappy about all the HP movies is that the main actors are awful. Every time that stupid kid playing Harry tries to show emotion, it's so obviously fake. When he's "crying" over Cedric in the 4th movie, it looks so fake and almost like he's laughing. Same for the 3rd book, in the snowy scene. The 5th book is my favorite of them all, and the movie concerns me because I think the actors are going to butcher it. Even Hermione could be better, because when she gets violent, that is so clearly fake. They all seem to be aging too fast, too. (bummer)

My fiction TA said that the Harry Potter series is a waste... that it took very little effort on Rowling's part to write it, and that the whole series is forumlaic and therefor lacks value. You're an English prof. What do you think? (I obviously disagree w/ my fiction TA)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 7th, 2006 12:47 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: WTF is up with the actors?

You know, I would have agreed with you on the actors for the first few movies, but I think all three principals have improved. The one who plays Harry is definitely the weekest and Emma Watson the strongest. She was actually close to the right age when she played in the first four films, being the youngest of the three.

As for your fiction T.A., I don't want to be mean or anything, but I think it's sort of stupid when people judge books written for one purpose by standards borrowed from books written for another, different purpose. Rowling isn't trying to write intricate postmodern fiction or crisp, Hemingway-esque prose. She's trying to write books that captivate children and grown-ups alike and make some important points about what matters in the world along the way.

But if it helps, the current director of the Creative Writing program, who is surely a more distinguished author than your fiction T.A., thinks the Harry Potter series is great for what it is. And, frankly, I'll take her word for it.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: November 7th, 2006 01:50 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: WTF is up with the actors?

"Very little effort" eh? Considering that most of us have trouble writing a single LiveJournal entry of any value more often than once every few months or ago, I'm amazed that anyone could look at her books and think "yeah, she obviously tossed those off over a few weekends on vacation." Pfffft. Here's hoping you get a better TA at some point.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 7th, 2006 02:28 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: WTF is up with the actors?

Or at least me!
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