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Eye


Author with a yen for whopping titles

By Carl Muller
We have all read Robinson Crusoe, haven’t we? Daniel Defoe was 58 when he published it in 1719. Four years earlier, he was, as he called himself, “an expectant of death, adding that, his one desire was to even all accounts with this world; that the only inheritance he had received from his father was character, and he wished to die with that as his peaceful possession.

But, oh boy! He really did pack in the titles of his novels! What would you say of the original title of Robinson Crusoe. “Mind you, he wrote only Part One and the second Part was sent to the publisher four months later.
Turning to the title page of the original, I found something to smile about. What was Foe trying to do? (he made Foe into Defoe long after he was born). Running over it, I wondered. Here lay everything I would like to see popping up in the text. He had deprived readers the opportunity of savouring the text, telling them of what they could expect to read. Here it is, as entitled:

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years all alone on an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; having been cast on shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Others Perished; With an Account of how he was at last as Strangely

Delivered by Pirates: Written by Himself.
Sounds rather overdone? But the book was snapped up and, by the time Part Two came in, the publisher had run into the fourth edition. You see, all this was very new to the readers. When Defore began Robinson Crusoe, it was, to him, a new life as a novelist. He also had a wife and six children to care for, but that did not stop him getting a hang of what and how he should satisfy- or satiate, his public.
Part Two was not as convoluted in title, and this time, the publisher decorated the bottom of the page with what he called his “mark” - a sailing ship. This was Defoe’s title:
The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; Being the Second and Last Part of his Life; and at the Strange Surprising Events of his Travels round Three Parts of the Globe - Written by Himself - To which is added a Map of the World in which is Delineated the Voyages of Robinson Crusoe.

For all the work, however, Defore received little. His publisher made both reputation and fortune, although he was a young man who did not live long enough to enjoy his success. You see, Defoe decided to then pack in collections of moral essays that also have something to do with Crusoe. One of these essays is titled:
Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe with his Vision of the Angelic World - Written by Himself.
This was first published in 1720, and in the meantime, the publisher, revelling in the money he was pulling in, added an engraving of Crusoe as a front piece to the first edition and another in-text ornament - a lion - to Part Two.

Before I get onto the Crusoe story, allow me to toss you a few more titles:
June 1720: The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton: Containing an Account of his being Set Ashore in the Island of Madagascar, his Settlement there with a Description of the Place and Inhabitants: Of his Passage thence in a Paraguay to the Mainland of Africa, with An Account of the Customs and Manners of the People; His Great Deliverance from Barbarous Natives and Wild Beasts; Of his Meeting with an Englishman, a Citizen of London amongst the Indians; the Great Riches he Acquired and his Voyage back to England. As also Captain Singleton’s return to Sea with an Account of his Many Adventures and Piracies with the Famous Captain Avery and others.

Wow! The man seems to have spent more time ‘nutshelling’ his novels than writing them!
The story of Robinson Crusoe was undoubtedly suggested by an incident that had caused much interest in London in 1712-13. There was a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk, onboard one of the ships cruising with Captain Dampier in the South Seas. Selkirk quarrelled with the Captain, officers and crew and, by general consent and his own wishes, was offloaded on the island of Juan Fernandez in 1704. He was given a gun, powder and shot, to make his life bearable, and he remained alone, and with a mounting temper, on the island for nearly four-and-a-half years. He was taken off by a sea captain, Woodes Rogers in 1709, and came back to England in 1711. Rogers wrote of his rescuing the stranded Selkirk, in an account of his own voyage, and Selkirk became a most interesting character for a few years.

So you see, Defoe had his stories cut-and-dry, and his fiction really could not profess to be so. And he became quite rich, as he continued feeding in more and more, with hardly the time to take a deep breath. Let me give you some examples:
1. The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell, a gentleman, who, though born Deaf and Dumb, writes down any Stranger’s Name at First Sight; and their future Contingencies of Fortune.
2. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders; Written from his own Memorandums.
3. Religious Courtship: Being Historical Discourses on the Necessity of Marrying religious Husbands and Wives Only.
4. A Journal of the Plague Year: Being Observations or Memorials of the Most Remarkable Occurrences as well, Public and Private, which happened in London during the Last Great Visitation in 1665 - Written by a Citizen who Continued all the while in London
5. The Complete English Tradesman; In Familiar Letters, directing him in all the Several Parts and Progressions of the Trade.
6. Defoe’s Political History of the Devilo.
It was in 1729 that his health broke down.
Of course, to read Robinson Crusoe is to follow the well known tale of his rescue of a cannibal savage being pursued by his enemies, and whose was the first human voice he had heard in 25 years. Let me leave you with this extract:
He came running and laid himself on the ground ... At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close to my foot and sets my other foot upon his head ... to let me know how much he would serve me as long as he lived ... In a little time I began to speak to him and teach him to speak with me; and first made him know that his name should be Friday, which was the day I saved his life. I likewise taught him to say Master, and then let him know that was to be my name.

(Oh, by the way, having told you of Defoe, it’s not easy to leave out Lemuel Gulliver, is it? Let me get on to this as “Swift-ly” as possible.)

 

Did She, or Didn’t She?

Sir Christopher Ondaatje reminds us of the controversy that still surrounds the authorship of Beryl Markham’s two books, West with the Night and The Splendid Outcast

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book West with the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer ... (she) can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. I wish you could get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book.”
- Ernest Hemingway, Author

West with the Night is one of the most poetic books ever written about Africa and deserves to be placed in the same respected category as both Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) and The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley. It is not surprising that National Geographic ranked it as one of the best eight adventure books ever written. And indeed it is. The book was published in 1942 when Kenya was known as British East Africa, and recounts not only Beryl Markham’s life as a bush pilot in the early 1920s and 1930s but also her incredible experience in 1936 when she became not only the first woman, but the first person of either sex, to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo from East to West (the “wrong way”). Most of the flight was in total darkness, against the wind, and over unbroken ocean. It was an extraordinary achievement.

It is also not surprising that a number of people agreed with Hemingway’s statement that he “never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper” ... except perhaps to keep up her flyer’s log book. Errol Trzebinski has written in her 1993 biography The Lives of Beryl Markham that West with the Night was written by Raoul Schumacher – her third husband. But in my opinion, and that of Mary Lovell, the author of Straight on Till Morning, Beryl Markham wrote the major part of her memoir in the Bahamas. Schumacher was never in the Bahamas at the same time as his eventual wife. It is much more likely that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a good friend, fellow pilot, and author of The Little Prince, helped Beryl Markham start her extraordinary autobiographical memoir. He certainly discussed plans for Miss Markham’s work with her; just as certainly that Raoul Schumacher, a very able editor, helped with the editing of Beryl Markham’s manuscript. Miss Lovell herself has written that “there are some surviving papers of manuscript that bear Raoul Schumacher’s handwritten edits, and Beryl herself acknowledged his ‘help and encouragement’ in a foreword to West with the Night.

Curiously, and more recently, in the 1980s, Mary Lovell, Beryl Markham’s official biographer, discovered that the aviatrix had also written or collaborated on several other short stories which had been published only in magazines (Ladies Home Journal and Colliers). These stories were published in 1987 in a collection under the title of The Splendid Outcast. Of the eight stories in the book, three have been identified by Mary Lovell as being positively by Beryl Markham, but that one of the stories was written by her friend Stuart Cloete, and the remaining four ghost written by Raoul Schumacher, her husband. Of course, this revelation only causes further suspicion as to whether Schumacher was more than just an editor of West with the Night. The writing styles are very much the same and very similar to some short stories that he published under his own name. Nevertheless all the exotic stories collected in The Splendid Outcast are gems of African adventure, of horses, and of flying. They are dramatic, of limited length, and give added insight into a fearless, impetuous, and single-minded woman.
Whether Beryl Markham actually wrote West with the Night, or whether she wrote only a part of the manuscript, is I feel totally irrelevant. It is her story, and the book is a masterpiece. Similarly, it is immaterial to me whether she wrote only three and collaborated on the other five stories in The Splendid Outcast. Both books, written in the 1940s, are remarkable works of autobiography.

When West with the Night was first published in 1942 by Houghton Mifflin in Boston it received a great deal of critical acclaim and, initially anyway, enjoyed good sales. However, its popularity soon faded and went out of print for forty years. When George Gutekunst, an American restaurateur, discovered the book through a library system in 1980 he (with novelist Evan Connell) convinced North Point Press, a tiny California publisher, to publish the book again (ISBN 0-86547-118-5). It was immediately called “a lost masterpiece” and reached heights of critical and popular success far above the success of the first edition. By the end of the 1980s questions of authorship damaged both the critical reputation and sales of the book. Nevertheless the book has now sold well over a million copies and has never since been out of print. It also allowed Beryl Markham to enjoy again the literary acclaim she deserved, and to live out her few remaining years in comparative comfort.
Mary Lovell visited Beryl Markham in Nairobi shortly before she died in 1986 and interviewed her for her biography Straight on Till Morning. During these extensive interviews she discovered that there were more short stories, some of which had only been published in American magazines. The Splendid Outcast, an anthology of eight African stories recounting personal experiences by Beryl Markham, was compiled by Mary Lovell and published posthumously in 1987 by North Point Press in California (ISBN 0-86547-301-3); and by Century Hutchinson, London, also in 1987 (ISBN 009-172604 2). The unexpected collection is a further revelation of the daring character of a gifted colonial writer.

(Sir Christopher Ondaatje is the author of Journey to the Source of the Nile, and Hemingway in Africa)
Source: The Sri Lankan Anchorman, Toronto, Canada

 

Polanski’s ‘The Ghost Writer’ a thriller

By Peter Marshall
You don’t have to be political minded to spot the obvious characterisation in Roman Polanski’s new political thriller starring Ewan McGgregor and Pierce Brosnan.
McGregor plays a ghost writer (left nameless in the movie) brought in to help write/edit the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan) after his original ghost drowned in mysterious circumstances.
Brosnan’s persona is a pretty obvious reference to former British PM Tony Blair, and in the course of time McGregor realises – after finding some hidden files dug up by his predecessor during his research – that the ‘all presentation, no substance’ Lang was heavily involved with the US’s CIA since his days at Cambridge.
Lang is also being investigated by the International Criminal Court over allegations he assisted with the transit of British citizens to be interrogated (or should that be tortured) by the US intelligence community.
As he uncovers more and more of this political conspiracy theory, the fact that the Cambridge student with a flair for acting, who claims to have gone into politics after falling in love with his politically active future wife (played brilliantly by Olivia Williams) the obvious anomaly that Lang seemed to go from having no interest in politics to serious political activist at a stroke, seems to owe more and more to the influence of his CIA chums at university than any inherent interest in one day calling Number 10 Downing Street his home.

Most of the action takes place on an island off the coast of America where the memoir is being written (the fact that the US is one of the few countries that does not recognise the authority of the ICC in the Hague which therefore has no jurisdiction in the country is another reason given for his presence on American soil) and as the death of the original writer looks more and more like murder, so does the inference that Brosnan’s character is little more than a CIA stooge (as one character says “can you think of a single decision in the past ten years as PM that hasn’t benefited the United States?”).

Again, you don’t need to have keenly kept your finger on the pulse of world politics to spot the comparisons to Britain and America’s so called ‘special relationship’, particularly in reference to the Blair administration’s readiness to stand by the US and take part in the invasion of Iraq. So too, the CIA is once again suggested to be one of the world’s shadier secret services both in its intent and influence and the thinly cloaked reference to Blair’s character assassination as being that of an intelligent and articulate actor/orator with little real substance (along with his own personal agenda) is as blunt as it is engaging, thanks largely to a good turn by Brosnan.
The story is certainly successful in keeping your attention and does build the tension rather well. It is also a topical comment regarding recent political affairs which will especially appeal to those with little love for US foreign policy or Blair’s decision to send the UK’s own military into Iraq.

There are certain flaws in the film. Most notably the fact that much of it is set on an island with a climate much like the British Winter doesn’t exactly give the thriller much in the way of colour - in much the same way as the British Winter does little to lower national suicide rates – nor is it dark or sinister enough to add any nourish tension to the proceedings despite the movie being otherwise well filmed.

On the whole, McGregor does a good job in his central performance as the ghost writer, and the screenplay is pretty tight too, though sometimes lacks any inherent feeling of there being a threat to McGregor’s character.
The fact that some of the evidence of Lang’s furtive goings on are clumsily obvious (a couple of pretty important pieces of information in the whole conspiracy theory are easily gleaned from a quick search on Google) begs the obvious question of how the press failed to spot the same inferences that most investigative reporters would spot with their eyes closed.

These annoyances apart, the film still holds your interest to the end and is proof that despite recent events in his personal life which must have taken their toll on the film (regardless of whether you disapprove of his conduct in this very real saga, as I must say I do) it shows that Polanski can still make a darn good film even in his seventies. Though this will hardly rank alongside his masterpieces such as Chinatown and The Pianist, on the whole it’s an engaging and intelligent thriller that keeps your attention with the added entertainment value of the ‘art imitating life’ portrayal of a former British PM by Brosnan along with the associations it holds with recent political events in the Middle East.

 

Challengers a challenge for Udayakantha

By Lakshmi Peiris
Popular film-maker Udayakantha Warnasuriya takes a challenge with his new film Challengers. So much so in meeting the demands of bringing out a forceful story based on youth. Indeed, it is a theme Udayakantha has a penchant to touch on as he makes out. In saying so something that Udayakantha emphasises is that his past films too have accentuated on the life of contemporary youth.
Following are excerpts of an interview with him.

Q: What prompted you to make Challengers?
My films were always novel and my past films too like Rosa Wasnthaya, Asai Mung Piyambanne and Hiri Poda Vessa were based on youth. The latter one dwelt on the ties between parents and children, and as youth how they face life. I think Challengers seems to be an advance step of this in propagating a message. Parents are determined to give their children the best under whatever circumstances. It may be through love and affection or advice. Challengers further dwells on the subject. It is woven around a father, Esela Randunu, a professor in his rank who tries his level best to direct his only son in the right path of life. Ranuk, the mischievous small fellow, on reaching the bloom of his youth meets charming Sharanya who makes him emotional and loveable. But a family friend of Sharanya, Kishan too is interested in her. Ranuk thinks it’s a challenge to win her, but his father makes him understand that that alone is not life; that his education, profession and other achievements are more important where he has to shape his life in a better way.

Q: What did you feel while working with youth?
I was happy and overjoyed, reminiscing my youth. But on the way it was a tough task.

Q: Introducing youthful Sheshadri as the main actress?
I think it is one of my best introductions. She is beautiful, cute, with the necessary acting talent. She looks like an Indian actress with twinkling eyes and a charming smile.

Q: Speaking about Roshan and Pubudu?
Personality-wise Roshan takes it from Vijaya Kumaranatunga and Ranjan Ramanayake. He is very decent and quite innocent. Pubudu is easy to work with and keen to be very lively in his character.

Q: About the music? Is it a new concept or a variation? And your introduction of superstar Surendra Perera?
It’s a variation. The film has seven songs. For the first time in the history of the Sinhala cinema several musicians handled the music. Music of the film is an additional attraction. Superstar Surendra Perera makes his debut as a playback singer with a heap of popular and upcoming singers.

Q: The supporting star cast and the technical side?
Everyone did their best. Wasanthi Chathurani, Lucky Dias acting as parents, and the new star cast as well. Jayanath Gunawardene’s camera picking were splendid, especially the dance sequences. Indian choreographer, Cool Jayanth was specially taken to train and direct the dances, which is a combination of Sri Lankan and Indian dancing taking into consideration the culture of our dances.

Q: Selection of locations other than scenes shot in Colombo?
The Kukule Ganga Resort was a wonderful location for shooting. Nilaveli Beach and Nuwara Eliya also added lustre.

Q: Was Challengers a challenge?
Yes, of course. It was a challenge.

Q: When are you planning to release the film?
Either end of this year or early next year in the EAP circuit including Savoy cinema. This is a cinemascope film produced by Sunflower Films utilising modern DTS sound systems. (Log into: www.challengesmovie.com for further details).

Q: Your films achieved a remarkable success with fame and popularity and made record with many awards?
I always fulfilled the needs of the audience by giving what they liked. I have a passion for the cinema. As such, I intend giving something remarkable and valued to remain in the hearts of my sincere fans in each of the films I make.