A Review of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie Books and Films

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There’s something strangely cozy about an old-school murder mystery. A prim and proper setting but with dark secrets hiding underneath the gentile facade.  A familiar formula but with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. It is just the stuff for a cold and rainy evening spent curled up in a warm and comfortable spot with a cup of tea.

The work of Agatha Christie epitomizes the who-done-it genre. I discovered her work a few years ago during the year I took off from school because of illness. Netflix used to have the entire Poirot series, which is based on Christie’s Poirot novels. After watching the series, I read three of the books: Lord Edgware Dies, Death on the Nile, and Evil Under the Sun. I’ve always loved to travel and the mysteries I enjoyed the most were the ones where Hercule Poirot travels to some exotic and glamorous location such as Egypt in Death on the Nile and the Cornish Coast in Evil Under the Sun. The books perfectly capture the ritual of travel: staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, seeing new and exciting places, and the eccentric people you meet while traveling.

Death on the Nile starts with newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway going on her honeymoon in Egypt with her new husband, the handsome Simon Doyle. But there is trouble in paradise: the couple is being stalked by Jacqueline de Belfort, Linnet’s former best friend and Simon’s former fiancee. A cruise down the Nile gathers our cast of suspects together, which includes a sex-obsessed novelist, a kleptomaniac grande dame, and a jewel-thieving mama’s boy. When Linnet is found shot dead in her cabin, the murderer and their motive appear to be straightforward but not all is as it appears to be.

The thing about Christie’s novels is that you do not really care about the person who is murdered. Even if they do not necessarily deserve to die, their death is not a great loss to the world. Linnet is a spoiled brat who thinks nothing of stealing a man from a less fortunate friend. When she asks Poirot to convince Jacqueline to stay away from her and Simon, Poirot pretty much tells her to suck it up and deal with the consequences of her actions for once in her life.  Linnet is not an evil person (she is hinted to be feeling some regret for ruining Jacqueline’s life) but she has few if any redeeming features. The sentimental Cornelia Robson laments Linnet’s death because was “so beautiful” which is pretty much the only nice thing anyone can think of to say about Linnet. 

Agatha Christie is one of the writers who established the standard who-done-it formula: our cast of suspects gather in a specific place, someone is murdered, a detective goes around trying to find clues and piece together what happened, and the detective gathers all of the suspects together in a room then goes over what they figured out had actually happened and points out the murderer. This formula applies to Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. 

The 2004 television adaptation of  “Death on the Nile,” which was part of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet (who also narrated the audiobooks of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun that I listened to) as the title character, was one of my favorite episodes of the series. It guest starred Emily Blunt as Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, J.J. Fields as Simon Doyle, and Frances de la Tour as Salome Otterbourne and follows the plot of the novel pretty closely. The scenery, sets, and costumes are beautiful and I would definitely recommend it.  

Evil Under the Sun follows Hercule Poirot to a seaside resort on the Cornish coast. Also staying at the resort is Arlena Stuart, an actress with a reputation for being a man-eater and a homewrecker. In toe are Kenneth Marshall, Arlena’s long-suffering husband, his daughter Linda, Patrick Redfern, Arlena’s latest boy toy, and Christine, Patrick’s mousy wife. When Arlena’s body is found strangled on the beach, Poirot finds that each of the resort’s guests has a motive for wanting her dead.

Evil Under the Sun is another case of Christie’s murder victims being less than sympathetic. Arlena is stupid and gullible and thinks of nothing but her appetites, specifically her appetite for men. Like Linnet, she is someone who has no compunction about stealing a man from another woman. No one is terribly sad about her death.

My friend Ashley and I recently watched the 1982 film adaptation of Evil Under the Sun, starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and Diana Rigg as Arlena Stuart. It has several changes from the original novel. Instead of being set on the Cornish coast, it takes place on an island in the Adriatic. The characters of Mrs. Castle, the owner of the seaside resort, and Rosamund Darnley, Kenneth Marshall’s childhood friend, are combined into the character of Daphne Castle (played by Maggie Smith), who both owns the resort and is Kenneth Marshall’s old sweetheart. Miss Emily Brewster, a gruff and athletic spinster, is Mr. Rex Brewster (played by Roddy McDowell), a flamboyant writer, in this version. With an all-star cast, the acting in the film is fantastic. Because David Suchet was the Poirot I am most familiar with and who I think of when the character comes up, it is a bit disorienting watching Ustinov play the role, though he does a great job. The Adriatic scenery is gorgeous and makes me long to travel there. The one problem I have is the costumes which are 1930s via the 1980s and a whole lot of what-the-fuck: there are shoulder pads and garish prints and colors up the wazoo. One of Arlena’s beach outfits has a polka dot pattern which looks like the one on a package of Wonder Bread. The loud and obnoxious Mrs. Gardener wears an equally obnoxious outfit that appears to have been made out of a cheap plastic tablecloth. Despite this, the film is enjoyable and I would recommend it.

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JR Review: The Duchess

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I tried out this Netflix staple of mine on Jasmine. The Duchess tells the true story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 18th Century aristocrat, fashion icon, and tabloid fodder. It a completely conventional and serviceable period drama if a bit dull at some points.  Georgiana’s unhappy marriage to the Duke, their strange menage-a-trois with her best friend Bess Foster, and her affair with future prime minister Charles Grey should make this movie more interesting than it is but its beautiful costumes make it worth a watch.

HERE’S THE LINK TO OUR REVIEW VIDEO 

J.A.R Reviews: Tulip Fever Review

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I started a Youtube series called J.A.R reviews where my friends Jasmine, Ashley, and I talk about the movies we watch together. My choice for our first video was Tulip Fever (2017) which was recently added to Netflixs.

Tulip Fever is set in 1630s Amsterdam during the “Tulip Mania,” when tulips, then an exotic novelty, caused the first recorded speculative bubble. Sophia (Alicia Viksander) a young woman married to a wealthy and much older merchant (Christophe Waltz) begins a risky affair with Jan (Dane Dehann) a painter hired to do her portrait. Meanwhile, Maria (Holliday Granger), Sophia’s servant, becomes pregnant and is separated from her lover. Sophia and Maria plot to pass off Maria’s baby as Sophia’s and Sophia and Jan speculate on the tulip marker in order to get money so they can run away together.

I am a huge fan of the art and aesthetics of 17th Century Holland and the production design of the movie looks straight out of the paintings of artists like Vermeer. It’s a beautiful looking film and its a shame it tells a love story I couldn’t bring myself to care about.

Here is the link to our review video

Heathers film and musical: a Bag Girl Comparison

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I have an unfortunate habit of discovering popular culture too late, especially when it comes to musicals. I discovered Rent and Spring Awakening in 2007, when both musicals were set to close, Bonnie and Clyde in 2014, two years after that musical met its demise, and Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812 last summer when it was on its way out. 2014 was also when I fell down the dark, scary rabbit hole that is tumblr. Some of the people I followed were talking about a musical version of the 1989 cult hit Heathers that was playing off-Broadway. Heathers is a sort of edgier proto Mean Girls, an immensely quotable look at teenage girl drama. A black comedy which satirizes high school popularity culture and how people sensationalize and glamorize youth related tragedies such as teen suicide and school shootings.

Veronica Sawyer (played by Winona Ryder in the 1989 film and Barrett Wilbert Weed in the musical) is on the outs with her group of friends, the most popular clique at her high school, known as the Heathers, when she meets J.D. (Christian Slater and Ryan McCartan respectively) an edgy outsider with plans to end the tyranny of the Heathers and their ilk. Veronica and J.D’s m.o. is dispatching their victims and making it look a suicide. The film’s dark comedy comes for the extreme behavior of its characters and how the community reacts to the supposed suicides of Heather Chandler (the head of the Heathers) and Ram and Kurt (two ass hole jocks) are treated in a shallow, overblown way. These students who were hated while alive are deified after their deaths and Miss Fleming, the school’s flakey English teacher uses these events as an excuse for touchy-feely “togetherness”. Heathers mocks how something as tragic as teenage suicide is rebranded as a trendy cultural phenomenon, exemplified in how there is an in-universe hit song called Teenage Suicide: Don’t Do It, a catchy new wave tune by a fictional group called Big Fun.

This is a film that I discovered at precisely the right time. I was in eighth grade and in the middle of the closest thing I had to an edgy outsider phase. This was a dark period in my life and I was bullied a bit but the kids who were my tormentors were the punk kids that no one liked rather than the popular ones. When I got to High School, the kids who would be the stereotypical populars were cordial to me. I pretty much flew under the radar during my teen years; indifferent to the world and it was indifferent to me. Heathers is a movie I have always enjoyed though I would not say it’s one of my favorites.

Heathers the musical follows the plot of the movie fairly closely with a few changes. It’s opening number Beautiful shows how Veronica fell in with the Heathers, events which happened in the past by the beginning of the movie. It is mentioned in Beautiful that Veronica is senior in high school while in the movie she’s a junior. The party where Veronica runs afoul of Heather Chandler is thrown by Ram and Kurt rather than being held at a college. This is also the scene of the humiliation of Martha Dunnstock (an obese minor character in the film who is promoted to Veronica’s former best friend in the musical). In the following scene, the movie has J.D climb in through Veronica’s Bedroom window and they have their first sexual encounter in the backyard. The musical has Veronica climb through J.D.’s window and they have sex in his bedroom in the both hilarious and romantic Dead Girl Walking.  The second act funeral for Ram and Kurt, who J.D and Veronica made people think were romantically involved with each other and killed themselves in a suicide pact, features their fathers confessing to being in a homosexual relationship with each other and sharing a public kiss.

Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica comes across as more dorky and awkward than her screen counterpart played by Winona Ryder. Ryan McCartan as J.D seems more fanatically earnest than how Christian Slater’s slick and sarcastic performance portrays the character.  J.D appears as a more sympathetic character in this version. His death at the end due to throwing himself in Veronica’s place onto a bomb he had previously intended to use to blow up the school appears as a redemptive act.

The musical’s 80s rock-inspired score is well done and goes from being highly comic to being achingly tragic and romantic, often at the same time. I would recommend it, especially if you are a fan of the original movie. If you have not seen the movie, then I would recommend that as well.

Bag Girl Goes to Salem: Peabody Essex Museum and Witch Museum

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My film studies professor told us about an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum called It’s Alive which features posters and props from classic horror and sci-fi films. It piqued my interest and so Jasmine and I decided that we would go downtown today since my only class was canceled and Jasmine did not have class until 3:05.

We were able to take the Salem State shuttle downtown. I had also wanted to see the Friendship, a reproduction East Indiaman ship which is sometimes docked in Salem harbor. Since it opens at nine o’clock, whereas the P.E.M. does not open until ten, we went there first but the Friendship was not in port. So we waited around until the P.E.M opened.

The It’s Alive exhibition is part of the collection of Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist for the band Metallica, who is a big fan of horror and sci-fi films. We walked through the doors, which made the creaking sounds often found in haunted houses, and saw posters for classic horror movies such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Dracula and film clips of their famous scenes projected onto the walls.

 

There was a piece of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory which zapped “electricity” in the form of light projection.

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as well as posters for films such as Lon Chaney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête

The next part of the exhibition was made up of posters for famous sci-fi films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Metropolis.

My favorite exhibits were of props from the films Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Flying Saucers which we dummies of alien creatures.

We also got to see posters for more recent horror classics such as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

On our way out, we saw a cut out advertising the 1933 film King Kong.

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Because we are Salem State students, Jasmine and I can get into a number of museums here in Salem for free. One of them is Peabody Essex. Another is the Salem Witch Museum. Jasmine and I went there to get tickets for the one o’clock tour and then got lunch at our favorite pizza place. The first part of the Salem Witch Museum is a room with wax displays telling the story of the Salem Witch Trials. We sat in the center and lights came up on each of the displays and a narrator tells the story.

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The second part of the museum explores the changing perception of the witch from wise and kindly ancient wise women, to satanic hags, to modern-day Wiccans.

I saw an add on Facebook this morning saying that the Residence Hall Association was running buses downtown to see the Halloween parade. I went to the seminar room of our residence hall around four o’clock and met up with Jasmine around four thirty. We enjoyed pizza from our Omega’s, one of our favorite places before boarding the bus. To our surprise, instead of just watching the parade, we got to be in it, marching to represent Salem State University. Our bus dropped us off where the parade was to begin. I saw a trio of people dressed up as Ghostbusters as we were walking in.  

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The parking lot was filled with cars decorated with different themes such as movies like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, Pirates of the Caribbean, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

The parade was set to begin at six thirty but since our group was at the very end, we did not get to leave until another forty-five minutes later. Jasmine and I volunteered to hand out candy to children as we passed. We also had our faces painted. I asked to be made to look like a broken porcelain doll, but I ended up looking like I have that grayscale disease from Game of Thrones. Jasmine was made to look like a black cat.

We walked through downtown Salem from the docks, where the parade began, to the Hawthorne Hotel, struggling to manage crowds of sugar crazed children. Salem is one of the best places to be during the month of October and today was an excellent kickoff to Halloween month.  

Romance and Feminism

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As with today, romance and relationships were a popular subject for fiction during the Victorian era and the early 20th century. Literature has long been used to highlight social issues such as social inequality, especially gender inequality. The period bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, known as the turn of the century, was a period of great change, specifically in views on marriage, romantic love, and relationships between men and women. As one century faded into another, portrayals of women in fiction became more complex as real life women became more emancipated. Their identity was beyond that of just a virgin, a wife, or a whore. Authors championed the idea of marriage as a romantic partnership between equals and it was not always the happy ending of the story. The fiction of this time period reflected the changes that were going on and also perhaps influenced them. But the core values of society and its expectations of women changed little because they were still expected to conform to what men wanted.

Women during the Victorian and Edwardian eras were valued according their attractiveness and usefulness to men. A girl’s education would involve skills which would make her attractive to potential suitors such as dancing, singing and music, needlework, etiquette, and conversation; it was her job to catch the best husband she could. The fashions of the Victorian era emphasized natural beauty and femininity. The most attractive shape for a woman was a tiny waist with generous hips and bust and the most desired complexion was pale with rosy cheeks; both were signs of health and fertility. Corsets were worn throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras to control the waist and support the bust. A lady would not go outside without a hat or parasol to protect her pallor and would pinch her cheeks and bite her lips to give them color; wearing makeup was unthinkable because it was associated with actresses and prostitutes. After a girl was married, she would devote herself to running her household, raising her children, and pleasing her husband. A good woman was expected to remain sexually pure before marriage and only have sex in order to satisfy her husband and conceive children. Female sexuality was related to male honor; a woman who went against the sexual mores of the time made the men in her life vulnerable to shame and ridicule. The patriarchal social structure of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took a rather simplistic view on women as either virgins, wives, or whores. Women were considered intellectually inferior to men yet, ironically, were put on a pedestal as the moral guardians of society but they used this role to enter public life.

Charity and social work were considered acceptable activities for a respectable lady. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were periods of great social reform. Women played a large and active role in these reforms and gained more social, political, and economic autonomy for themselves. This time period was also the first great era of manufacturing, advertising, and consumerism with many of its new products marketed at women, who were under the most pressure to look attractive and would be the primary consumer for the home. To make their products more appealing to female customers, advertisers gave the impression that these products would emancipate them. Household appliances would free them from the drudgery of housework and fashion and beauty products would turn them into a modern and liberated woman. Bicycling was a popular pastime during the turn of the century, and was championed by women’s rights activists because it gave women a degree of independence. But some argued that it was damaging to a woman’s health (specifically their fertility) and would make them seem masculine and unattractive (therefore unlikely to marry and fulfill the acceptable role of wife and mother). Bicycling was also seen as immoral because it involved riding astride (an unladylike position) and a woman could presumably go off unchaperoned to meet with lovers. Similar concerns were raised about the newfound access to higher education which women gained at the end of the nineteenth century. The big women’s rights debate of the era was whether or not to give women the rights to vote. Some of the reasons people had for not allowing women to vote were that women did not have judgment enough to participate in politics, that it would disrupt the social order ( which benefited men), that it would emasculate and feminize politics (because anything feminine must be bad) and would cause disharmony between the sexes.

The literature of the day presented models for behavior and also showed what happened when you did not live up to society’s expectations .It reflected and formed the values of the age. It’s heroines often suffered in an unequal and harsh world and were abused by cruel people, often male. Proto feminist literature featured male characters who were some sort of threat or obstacle for the heroine. Often they are romantically or sexually interested in her, wishing to marry her or take advantage of her. A happy ending featured the heroine overcoming all of her trials and marrying Mr. Right; the male character she has been pitted against learns to accept and appreciate her as an equal and turns out to be the perfect husband. An earlier example of this type of narrative is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The spirited Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty and introverted Mr. Darcy misunderstand each other and are thrown into conflict with one another. But the attraction that has been between them from the beginning overcomes their defenses and the novel ends with them marrying. By marrying Mr. Darcy, who is a wealthy nobleman, Elizabeth improves her socioeconomic status.  The goal of romantic love is the social and economic stability of marriage. A sad ending often involved the heroine dying tragically, a victim of the injustice and sexual inequality of the world. She often ended up as a victim by going against conventional ideas about female behavior. Her story could either be a warning about what happened when you broke the rules or a condemnation of a social system which judged her too harshly. Perhaps the best known of this type of story is   Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Anna, the wife of a Russian diplomat, is dissatisfied with her marriage and leaves her husband for her lover. She becomes a social outcast and ends up committing suicide. Even women who are portrayed sympathetically are punished when they step outside the boundaries of conventional behavior.

In 1891, German playwright Frank Wedekind wrote one of his best known plays,   Spring Awakening: A Children’s Tragedy. Around the same time, English novelist Thomas Hardy wrote what is perhaps his best known work,   Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. Both works were shocking due to their frank portrayals of sexuality and the fate of women who fail to live up to society’s ideal of female purity, and are in many ways similar.

Hardy’s heroine, Tess Durbeyfield, has a lot in common with Wendla Bergmann,   Spring Awakening’s   main female character. Both are innocent small ­town girls with a spirited and feisty side, and they go through similar experiences. Tess’s love interest, Angel Clare, and   Spring Awakening’s protagonist, Melchior Gabor, resemble the self-important, know-it-all, male characters common in proto feminist literature. Melchior and Wendla’s scene in the woods has a lot of similarities with scenes in Tess of the D’Urbervilles between Angel and Tess. When Angel is struck by Tess’s beauty, he compares her to classical goddesses such as Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and Artemis, goddess of purity. Melchior greets Wendla by saying she is “like a tree nymph fallen from the branches”. Both Angel and Melchior have had more access to education than their love interests and treat them patronizingly. Angel offers to educate and cultivate the less sophisticated Tess, who responds that the answers she is looking for are not found in books. Melchior bombards Wendla with cynical rhetoric about how he does not see the point of her charitable visits to the poor because they are unpleasant and possibly useless and is more interested in this moral dilemma than in Wendla’s actual answer, that she makes these visits because they are necessary.

The relationship between Melchior and Wendla then begins to resemble that of Tess and Alec D’Urberville in that they engage in consentually ambiguous sex. Both Tess and Alec’s sexual encounter in the woods and Melchior and Wendla’s sexual encounter in the hayloft are not explicitly described and open to interpretation. Views on sexuality when  Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Spring Awakening were written were different than they are today. Sex outside of marriage was not something which a nice girl was supposed to want and it was a trope of erotic literature to have the heroine be the victim of a quasi­rape. The purpose was to shift the blame for the act away from her and say that it was not her fault, so she would still be a “good girl” (Worsley Episode 3.) The forceful seduction is also used to present the heroine as a victim worthy of sympathy even though she stepped out of society’s bounds. Tess clearly regrets her encounter with Alec and her experiences with him are more explicitly negative but Wendla’s reaction to what she has gone through is much more cryptic.

“Why did I slip out of the room?­To pick violets!­ Because Mother sees me smiling. Why can’t I close my lips any longer?­I don’t know, ­I simply don’t know, I can’t find the words for it…The path feels like velvet, ­no stones, no thorns. My feet don’t touch the ground. How well I slept last night.­ This is where they were.­I feel so solemn,­like a nun at communion.­Such beautiful violets!­Calm down, Mother, I’ll wear my sackcloth from now on.­If only there was someone here now who I could embrace and tell everything.

( Spring Awakening , page 39-­40)

Wendla’s monologue suggests that she received some pleasure and excitement from the encounter, whether she wanted it or not.  The phrase “Calm down, mother, I’ll wear my sackcloth from now on,” refers to the long dress which Wendla’s mother gave her at the beginning of the story and can possible be interpreted as Wendla saying she is willing to accept sexuality and womanhood for good or bad. Both Alec and Melchior express guilt for what they have done and a desire to make amends.

I suppose I am a bad fellow,­a damn bad fellow. I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad in all probability. But, upon my lost soul, i won’t be bad towards you again, Tess. And if certain circumstances should arise, ­you understand,­in which you are in the least difficulty, send me one line and you shall have by return

whatever you require.”

( Tess of the D’Urbervilles , Page 61 )

“In the letter Melchior declares to this fifteen year old girl that his conduct give him no peace, that he has wronged her, etc, that he will of course stand by her in any eventuality,­she should not grieve, even if she feels consequence,s­he is already taking steps to secure help.­his expulsion from school makes such a course easier,­his transgression may yet bring about her happiness­,and more nonsense of a similar

nature.”  

( Spring Awakening , Pages 58­-59)

Of course their actions both have the predictable results.  Both Tess and Wendla berate their mothers for leaving them ignorant about the dangers of male desire. Tess says to her mother:

 

“Oh Mother, my Mother!… How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men­folk? Why didn’t you warn me?Ladies know what to fend hands against because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’learning in that way, and

you did not help me!”

( Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Page 65)

Tess’s rebuke of her mother can be summed up in  Wendla’s rebuke of her’s “ O Mother, why didn’t you tell me the truth?” ( Spring Awakening, Page 65).  Tess has to suffer the trauma of having to watch her illegitimate child die and not being able to bury him in in the church graveyard and is later rejected by Angel because of her past while Wendla is killed by abortion pills given to her by her mother. Had she not died and had gone through with her pregnancy, one can imagine that she would have met with similar experiences to that of Tess: slut shaming and a life as a social pariah. The play leaves us with the feeling that we should not be too sad about

Wendla’s death because she would have met with a worse fate had she lived. Alec offers to take Tess under his protection either by marrying her or making her his mistress, even though Tess wants nothing to do with him. Melchior, who is portrayed in a more sympathetic light, feels that he is such a horrible person that he should kill himself. In a world of shame and sexual inequality and double standards, physical desire and romantic love are at best, untrustworthy, and at worst dangerous.  

The Edwardian era ended in 1914, with the beginning of the First World War. Reform minded women supported the war effort by becoming nurses and munitions workers and other such things. A large percentage of the male population was killed during the war which meant that a large number of women would never marry and would have to support themselves (Worsley Episode 3.)  As women began taking a more active role in the world, the hemlines of skirts went up, the silhouette became straighter and less restrictive, and corsets loosened and then disappeared altogether. The 1920s saw many more women enter the workforce and engage in traditionally masculine activities such as drinking, smoking, motoring, and promiscuous sex. Clothing in the 1920s took on a straight, boyish silhouette with a drop waist, and arms and legs became more visible than they had ever been. Women began wearing short hair and it became acceptable to wear makeup. Women who embraced these new forms of liberation were known as “flappers”. Interestingly, the corresponding term for “flapper” in French is “garçonne”, the feminine version of the French word for boy which roughly translates into “tomboy,”. This shows how these women sought equality with men by adopting some of the trappings of masculinity.  

The silent films of the 1910s and 1920s picked up where Victorian literature left off. The so called “Victorian” view of women as either sweet, innocent, and asexual or dangerous and sexually aggressive man eaters, was already seen as dated, and the heroines of film were portrayed in more complex ways (Sharot 7386.) The personas of Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford were a continuation of the wholesome, child­like idea of femininity championed by the Victorians. Pickford’s characters were often feisty and rebellious, while Gish often played the tragic heroine who is a victim of the cruelty and injustice of her environment. With the 1920s came flappers like Colleen Moore, Clara Bow, and Louise Brooks. Colleen Moore had the appearance of a modern flapper but acted in a wholesome way, while Clara Bow represented the alluring and sexually assertive flapper but was kind hearted and never immoral. Each of these actresses played the liberated woman of the early twentieth century in a sympathetic and appealing way.

The films they starred in had similar stories and themes to those tackled by the Victorian writers. Lillian Gish starred in a 1920 film called Way Down East which bares many similarities with

Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Gish plays a poor country girl named Anna Moore who is sent to beg assistance from rich relations in the city, and is tricked into a false marriage by the caddish villain and is abandoned when she becomes pregnant. After her illegitimate child dies, Anna starts a new life working on farm and strikes up a new romance with the farmer’s son, which is threatened by the possibility of her past being revealed. The main difference between Way Down

East and Tess of the D’Urbervilles is that the former ends happily.  The 1922 Mary Pickford film Tess of the Storm Country (a remake of a 1914 film also starring Pickford) features Pickford’s titular raggamuffin agreeing to take in the illegitimate child of her landlord’s daughter and facing social ostracization, which threatens her romance with the landlord’s son. The illegitimate child dies and Tess has to plead for it to be allowed to be buried in the churchyard. Women who have children out of wedlock still faced social ostracism. Clara Bow’s most famous film is a 1927 film called It, where she plays sassy salesgirl, Bettylou, who claims her roommate’s baby as her own when social worker threaten to take him way became his mother cannot afford to support him. This gives  Bettylou’s love interest the wrong idea about her. Even though Bettylou is willing to use her liberated sexiness to attract a man, her goal is ultimately marriage and respectability. Louise Brooks starred in a 1929 film called Diary of a Lost Girl directed by G.W. Pabst and based on a novel by Wedekind contemporary Margarete Böheme, about a girl named Thymian, who is seduced and impregnated by her father’s assistant and is sent away to a girl’s reformatory. Brooks and Pabst also collaborated that year on a film version of Wedekind’s play Pandora’s Box. All of these films have the conventional happy ending where the heroine finds happiness, wealth, and love by winning the heart and then hand of a wealthy Mr. Right. Marriage was beginning to be seen as something based on romance and physical attraction rather than as a form of social and economic security. Romantic love was  supposed to overcome class distinctions and women were more liberated than ever before, but the happy ending of a romance usually features one of the partners improving their socioeconomic status and female characters were not supposed to break certain taboos.  

The quintessential novel of the 1920s is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s plot revolves around the problematic love affair between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Five years before the start of the novel, the poor Jay fell in love with the wealthy Daisy but their romance is interrupted by Jay having to go fight in World War I. In the meantime, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan, who is of her own social class. By the point at which the novel opens, Gatsby has now become fabulously wealthy and has built a house across from where Daisy and Tom live, where he throws lavish parties in hopes that Daisy might attend one of them. The romance between Daisy and Gatsby rekindles but Daisy is unwilling to leave her husband Tom and give up her comfortable life. The Great Gatsby’s two beautiful and glamorous main female characters, Daisy Buchanan and her friend Jordan Baker are emblematic of the 1920s flapper. But Fitzgerald shows the flapper in a negative light: Daisy is fickle and shallow, and Jordan is cynical and dishonest. Part of the reason Daisy appears in such a bad light is because Gatsby has so idealized her and has such unrealistic expectations. Men put women on pedestals and do not see them as complex and flawed individuals. Daisy famously says that she hopes her daughter will be a beautiful fool because that is the best thing a girl can be in life.

“And I hope she’ll be a fool­,that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

(The Great Gatsby, Page 17)

Whereas women in the Victorian era were supposed to demure and submissive, women in the 1920s were expected to be light hearted and giddy. Seriousness in women is still seen as undesirable and women are expected to conform to the mold set by society . Despite all of the outward trappings of liberation, such as economic autonomy and less restrictive clothing,, expectations of women have not changed all that much. Works of fiction such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Great Gatsby can get us to think about how far society has come and how little has changed.

Works Cited

American Experience: Mary Pickford . Dir. Sue William. Perf. Laura Linney. Pbs. Film.

Barkhorn, Eleanor. “‘Vote No on Women’s Suffrage’: Bizarre Reasons For Not Letting Women Vote.”

The Atlantic . The Atlantic Group, 6 Nov 2013. Web. 29 September 2015.

In Vote No On Women’s Suffrage: Bizarre Reasons For Not Letting Women Vote, , the author states that different parts of the community, specifically blacks and women, did not always have the right to vote. Women had to wait longer for suffrage and women’s suffrage met with a lot of opposition for a number of different reasons.

Clara Bow. Dir. Hugh Hunro Neely. Turner Classic Movies. 1999 Film.

De época. “A Very British Romance.” Perf. and Writ. Lucy Worsley. Video. Youtube. BBC. 23 Oct. 2015. Web. 18 April. 2016.

Diary of a Lost Girl. Dir. G.W. Pabst. Perf. Louise Brooks.  1929. Film

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby . New York: Scribner, 1925. Print.

In The Great Gatsby , the plot revolves around the problematic love affair between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Five years before the start of the novel, the poor Jay fell in love with the wealthy Daisy but their romance is interrupted by Jay having to go fight in World War I. In the meantime, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan, who is of her own social class.

By the point at which the novel opens, Gatsby has now become fabulously wealthy and has built a house across from where Daisy and Tom live, where he throws lavish parties in hopes that Daisy might attend one of them. The romance between Daisy and Gatsby rekindles but Daisy is unwilling to leave her husband Tom and give up her comfortable life.

The Great Gatsby is considered the quintessential novel of the 1920s, and it’s two beautiful and glamorous main female characters, Daisy Buchanan and her friend Jordan Baker are emblematic of the 1920s flapper. But Fitzgerald shows the flapper in a negative light: Daisy is fickle and shallow, and Jordan is cynical and dishonest. Part of the reason Daisy appears in such a bad light is because Gatsby has so idealized her and has such unrealistic expectations. Men put women on pedestals and do not see them as complex and flawed individuals.

Daisy famously says that she hopes her daughter will be a beautiful fool because that is the best thing a girl can be in life. Whereas women in the Victorian era were supposed to demure and submissive, women in the 1920s were expected to be light hearted and giddy. Seriousness in women is still seen as undesirable. Despite all of the outward trappings of liberation, expectations of women have not changed very much.

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Mineola:Dover, 2001. Print.

Haluk, Askun. “The Woman Question And The Victorian Literature On Gender.” Literature 2012 16:52.

Ekev Academy Magazine. Web. 29 Sept. 2015

It. Dir. Clarence G. Badger. Perf. Clara Bow. Paramount Pictures. 1927. Film.

Prior, Karen Swallow. “‘You Ain’t Ruined’: How Thomas Hardy Took On Victorian­Era Purity Culture.”

The Atlantic . The Atlantic Group, 8 May 2013. Web. 29 September 2015.

In You Ain’t Ruined: How Thomas Hardy took on Victorian Era Purity Culture, the author addresses  a movement in the Evangelical Christian community to stop stressing female purity. In addition she says that this debate is nothing new and cites the example of 19th century author, Thomas Hardy.

Women in Hardy’s day who lost their virginity outside of marriage were deemed “ruined” or “damaged goods” and were condemned by society. Prior points out that Hardy often tackled this subject in his writings and gives an example of his early work, a humorous poem meant to poke fun at how society ascribes an almost monetary value on female sexual purity.

Then Prior describes Hardy’s most famous work, the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which features a young woman condemned by society as “ruined”. The novel has the subtitle, “a pure woman faithfully presented” to suggest that even though Tess is no longer sexually pure, she is still morally pure which is contrary to the victorian belief that for a woman, chastity and goodness were the same thing and that a woman who is no longer sexaully pure is no longer morally good. Hardy’s Tess is a victim, not only of sexual violence but of a hypocritical society which judged her too harshly because of something which happened that was not her fault.

Prior ends the article with her belief that the issues raised by Hardy in this writing are still ongoing and worthy of debate and examination.

Sharot, Stephen. “‘New Woman’, star personas, and cross­ class romance films in 1920s America.” Gender

Studies March 2010: Vol. 19 No. 1,  73­86. Journal of Gender Studies. Web. 29  Sept. 2015. In, The ‘New Woman’, star personas, and cross­class romance films in 1920s America , the author talks about how the early 20th century was a time of growing social and economic independence for women and tells how this influenced the popular movies of the time by examining the star personas of three of the most famous actresses of the silent age: Mary Pickford, Colleen Moore, and Clara Bow. The 1920s saw a rise in women in the workplace as well as changes in views on women and romantic love. The so called “victorian” view of women as either sweet, innocent, and asexual or dangerous and sexually aggressive man­eaters, was already seen as dated, and people began to see marriage as something based on romance and attraction rather than as a form of social and economic stability. Mary Pickford, Colleen Moore, and Clara Bow all played the heroines in films about love between two people of different social classes. Often they were working class girls who win the love and the hand of a wealthy Mr. Right. The personas these actresses adopted in this films reflected how society was beginning to see women in more complex ways. Mary Pickford had a wholesome, girlish image, but the characters she played were often feisty and rebellious. Colleen Moore had the appearance of the modern flapper but did not seem like she would behave in a way that was immoral. Clara Bow epitomized the alluring and sexually assertive flapper, but was kind hearted and stayed within the bounds of acceptable behavior. Each of them portrayed the liberated woman of the early 20th century in a sympathetic and appealing way.

Strange, Lisa S. “The Bicycle, Women’s Rights, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” Women’s Studies 2002:

31:609­626. Taylor & Francis. Web. 29 Sept. 2015

Sweet, Matthew. Inventing The Victorians. London: Faber, 2001. Print.

Tess of the Storm Country. Dir. John Robertson. Perf. Mary Pickford. United Artists. 1922. Film.

Wedekind, Frank. Spring Awakening. London: Nick Hern Books, 2010. Print.

Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship In Early Cinema. Dir. Hugh Hefner, Perf. Diane Lane. Alta Loma Entertainment, 2007. Film.  

Bag Girl Reviews: Farewell My Queen

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Since I’ve been on kind of a Marie Antoinette kick this summer, I decided to revisit a film I’ve heard a good deal about and first watched about a year ago. What inspired me to check it out was that Frock Flicks did a review of it this week and talked about the “creative liberties” taken with its costumes and plot.

Based on a novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, Farewell My Queen follows Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) on the eve of the French Revolution and the final days of life at the Palace of Versailles. Sidonie works as a reader to Queen Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), to whom she is fanatically devoted. The Queen enlists Sidonie in a plot to help her hated favorite, the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), flee the country.

Farewell My Queen is wonderfully atmospheric and goes into depth about the intricacies of life at Versailles. As a reader or lectrice, Sidonie is pretty much a servant who works behind the scenes and does not live in the luxury we associate with the fabled palace. She is an unimportant bit player in court life and her purpose as character is to provide a point of view for the plot’s events and the trials faced by Marie Antoinette. This is what is known as an Ishmael, a Watson, or a p.o.v. character, a character through whose eyes we see a more compelling central figure.

One of the film’s most controversial additions is the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Duchess de Polignac, who are shown to have a romantic, if not sexual, bond. Historians have long speculated about the nature of the intense connection between Marie Antoinette and her close friends the Duchess de Polignac and the Princess de Lamballe. Jean-Jacques Rousseau set the fashion for passionate, quasi-romantic friendships between women with his novel Julie ou La Nouvelle Heloise and the queen, princess, and duchess may have been simply following this trend, or so suggests Antonia Fraser. Frock Flicks criticized how in one scene, Marie Antoinette frankly tells Sidonie that she is “attracted” to de Polignac, saying that it was simply too frank for a person living in the 18th century, when homosexual and lesbian intercourse was illegal and modern notions of sexual orientation did not exist. Marie Antoinette often compliments Sidonie’s youthful beauty and is implied to be attracted to her as well. Unfortunately, cinema tends to use female same sex relationships simply for the purpose of male titillation. Farewell My Queen uses girl on girl sexual tension but does not go all the way with it. 

I would recommend watching Farewell My Queen, if only to get a different perspective on the well-known Marie Antoinette story.

 

 

A Bag Girl Triple Feature: The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), and Moana

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Part of my preparation for Jasmine’s visit was picking out movies for us to watch while she was down here. The three I chose were the 1990 film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, since we both watched the recent Hulu series, and Moana, which we saw together in theaters on my last birthday. 

I learned that there was also a film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale when I was researching the Hulu series. It follows pretty much the same story line, except it begins with the heroine’s backstory, which is told through flashbacks in the Hulu series. A young woman named Kate (Natasha Richardson) is captured trying to flee the repressive Republic of Gilead with her family and is forced to become a handmaid and bear a child for the Commander (Robert Duvall) and his wife Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway). She is stripped of her bodily autonomy and given the name Offred. After falling in love with the Commander’s chauffeur, Nick (Aidan Quinn), Kate, now Offred, tries to find away to escape.

The first difference of note between the Hulu series is that the heroine’s name is Kate, whereas in the series, she is called June. There is also an implication that Kate’s husband died while they were trying to flee from Gilead, while in the series, he is shown to have escaped. Much is cut out of the source material to give the film an under two hour runtime which you could fit into a two season series with ten episodes a season. The second season has not aired yet on Hulu, so I got a taste of what is to come later on. The Commander and Serena Joy are shown to be older in the 1990 version than they are in 2017 version, as I have heard they are in the source material. Faye Dunaway is an inspired to choice to play Serena Joy.

If you enjoyed the Hulu series and or the original novel by Margaret Atwell, I would recommend checking this movie out. 

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Moana was a film that I was excited to see, mostly because the music was written by Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton. I decided to see it on my birthday, which usually is soon after Thanksgiving, Moana’s release date, at Salem Cinema with Jasmine.

Moana of Motunui (Auli’i Cravalho), a young Polynesian islander, is destined to succeed her father as Motunui’s chief but finds herself drawn to outside ocean surrounding her tiny, isolated island. When famine strikes Motunui, Moana discovers the missing heart of the goddess Te Fiti, the cause of the famine, and sets out to return it, teaming up with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to save her island.

The first thing that struck me about this movie is that the animation is drop dead gorgeous, especially on the ocean, which is an anthropomorphized character in itself. The music is also brilliant; Lin Manuel Miranda definitely brings his A-game. Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington in Hamilton, is the singing voice of Moana’s father, Chief Tui. I thought that Phillipa Soo, who was the original Eliza, was the voice of Moana’s mother, but it turned out to be Nicole Scherzinger, former front woman of the Pussycat Dolls. Dwayne Johnson brings all of his charm and charisma to the role of Maui and works well with Auli’i Cravalho, a newcomer who I hope to see more of.

The was a bit of an uproar on the internet when the song City of Stars from the film La La Land beat Moana’s How Far I’ll Go for best song at the 2017 Oscars. I saw La La Land and enjoyed it but thought it was somewhat overrated and perhaps did not deserve to sweep the Oscars the way it did. Its music was good but nothing phenomenal. In my opinion, Moana, and its soundtrack by Lin Manuel Miranda was among the best of 2016.

A Bag Girl Double Feature: The Beguiled (2017) and Baby Driver

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The Beguiled is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood, in turn based on A Painted Devil, a 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. My dad rented the original film when he read that a remake was in the works. I enjoyed the movie and its 2017 update was on my list of must watch movies of the summer  especially because it had a great cast and I was sold on the idea of blond haired southern belles in pretty, pastel dresses tormenting a helpless man. I was originally hoping to do a double feature of The Beguiled with My Cousin Rachel, as they are both atmospheric period pieces dealing with suspicion and sexual tension.

Corporal John McBurney ( Colin Farrell), a wounded union deserter, finds himself taken in by an isolated girl’s school in Virginia. The smooth talking McBurney proceeds to charm all of the school’s inmates, who are starved for male company, specifically Martha (Nicole Kidman), the school’s tough and icy headmistress, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a lonely and lovelorn teacher, and Alicia (Elle Fanning), a sexually curious student. Tensions and suspicions rise as McBurney begins to wear out his welcome. 

Colin Farrell as McBurney is both sleazy and sympathetic; by no means an honorable man but did not intend to cause as much trouble as he did. Nicole Kidman was great as Martha, the strong woman who had been strong for too long.  I was concerned about the casting of Kirsten Dunst as Edwina, believing she was too old (in the original film, Edwina is said to be in her early twenties) but she did well in the part. Elle Fanning is an actress I enjoy but I could not get behind her character Alicia, who is a total little shit. I adored the production design for this movie. All of the women are dressed in pale pastels and the sets are illuminated using mostly natural light or candles  to give the film an eerie, ethereal, gothic feel, which is at the same time sweet and feminine. The Beguiled was written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola and I think some of Marie Antoinette’s sugary prettiness made it into this movie.  I would recommend The Beguiled  solely on its production design alone.

The 1971 film version deals in both male fantasy (being the rooster in a hen house) and male nightmare (when said hens turn against you). But Sofia Coppola’s take on the story is firmly on the side of the women; you are rooting for them as they close ranks to protect themselves against a male interloper. This feminist subversion sits well in a summer film reason defined by Wonder Woman.

I started hearing a lot of positive hype about Baby Driver, which is considered one of the best films of the summer. After hearing the details about the movie, I became interested and anxious to see it, since I enjoy gangster flicks. 

Partially deaf after a car accident which killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) drowns out the world around him with a pair of earbuds and a quiet, stoical demeanor. To pay off a debt, Baby works as a getaway driver for a gang of criminals headed by Doc (Kevin Spacey) but wishes to leave that life for good and run off with a pretty and free spirited waitress, Debora (Lily James). But this proves to be the hardest getaway of Baby’s career. 

Music plays a large role in the movie, as Baby uses his playlists are used to drown out the ringing in his ears due to his partial deafness and as a sort of soundtrack to his life; he is often seen dancing and singing along to whatever song he is listening to and the cuts and choreography of the film are set to the beat of the music. It has often bean said that the film works as a sort of quasi jukebox musical. An interesting detail in the sound design is that a ringing noise is heard whenever music is not playing.

Ansel Elgort as Baby is effortlessly cool and I would not be surprised if young men over the coming decades start copying the character’s style of dress and mannerisms. Kevin Spacey is both funny and intimidating as Doc and armed with a number of hilarious quips. Doc’s gang is filled with a number of colorful characters: Buddy (Jon Hamm), a banker turned bank robber, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), the Bonnie to his Clyde, and Bats (Jamie Foxx), the gang’s loose canon, who all give stand out performances. Lily James seems to be the go for girl whenever they need someone to be delightfully ditzy, and Debora’s romance with baby is sweet and believable. Another character of note is Joe, Baby’s foster father, who is deaf and in a wheelchair, with whom Baby communicates through sign language. Joe is played by deaf actor CJ Jones.  I appreciate the inclusion of deaf and other differently abled actors and of sign language, which I would like to learn some day.

I am not big on action movies but I enjoyed Baby Driver, and its action sequences are heart pounding. Add in interesting characters, a sweet romance, and a killer soundtrack, and Baby Driver is a great movie.