Author: Jessica Schneider

Jessica is a novelist and poet. Visit her Amazon Book page for a glimpse into what she's shared. Her unreleased works include several trilogies and poetic novels on religious themes. She is currently working on a poetry collection on French painters. She also runs a YouTube channel on the arts.
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A stylized screenshot of the two lovers from Jane Campion's "Bright Star"

The Long Longing in Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” (2009)

The life of a poet is rarely easy. Feeling unappreciated, unrecognized, misunderstood, allied with one’s inability to make a living—the list goes on. But for John Keats, he not only struggled at life but also at death. Succumbing to tuberculosis at 25, the early death of Keats is one of the great literary tragedies alongside other early deaths— Oscar Wilde, Buddy Holly and Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr. Just what might they have produced had they lived? Yet for Keats, his lush verse reveals an eager, sensitive mind that grew into one of the most well-known Romantic poets. 

Jane Campion’s Bright Star is not so much a film about romance as it is about longing. Roger Ebert describes the young couple as ‘Forever in Courtship’—that is, if only their lives together could be as strong as the love they both long for. The film’s title is taken from one of Keats’s poems, which he wrote for his love interest, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Keats (Ben Whishaw) is the artsy intellect who mutters artistic insights on a whim, whilst still conveying vulnerability therein. Whishaw is well cast, as he is thin, impoverished and handsome. He wears a dark, velvet coat and carries a top hat. He has a brooding introspection about him, and we can see this whilst he sits in the garden to write, often staring off into space for periods of time. What is he thinking about? Might his thoughts betray him? […]

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A stylized screenshot from James Huston's adaptation of James Joyce's "The Dead"

Distant Music: On Recollection, Ephemera & James Joyce’s “The Dead”

Can anyone claim a memory? Or tame it into something more familiar? We become anonymous—the ultimate air we move across. We ponder The Dead—because that is the ultimate. We are dead, or will be, inevitably. Not like this is some profound revelation, but rather, an invitation. A reminder that what lives is merely ephemera. And so, what of it? What do we become? There are those who move about in life as though they are dead already, and mostly, we care not to mention them. But they do exist, unfortunately. Work life is brimming with them. Corporate clones. I knew one, and he was one who would, in his attempt at comfort, actually make me feel worse. Projecting his convention, he’d remind me of all the ways I differed and why this was a problem.

‘You think you are stressed? This job is nothing compared to working as a computer tech,’ he said one afternoon, amid my duress. Of course, no one’s stress could ever compare to his. He’d then ask the trite questions. ‘Don’t you ever get FOMO?’

‘FOMO for what?’

‘So, you’re telling me that you really enjoy those old movies you watch? Like, you find them interesting?’

‘No, I like to be bored.’ Then he’d passively insult me mid-joke. If I didn’t laugh, he’d presume I didn’t get it. The joke was his attempt at redeeming himself. He was such a great and funny guy, after all.

It’s not that he was shallow, as shallowness requires a base—a platform from which to start. With age and time, one might hope that with enough depth, a shallow person could fill. But he would never fill. Rather, he was hollow—akin to a bucket full of holes. Submerge him and there will be nothing there—he will just float upwards whilst everything empties. I thereby concluded that he was already dead—albeit moving about in some sort of otherwise. His life would not even resort to memory, as no one ever observed him closely enough to recall. Who would care to, anyway? […]

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A stylized image from Gaslight (1944) by George Cukor.

Obscured by Fog: George Cukor’s “Gaslight” (1944)

Oh, there is a name for this?

This is the question I asked upon the first time I heard the term gaslight, that is, as a verb. Psychology Today defines it as:

“Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity. Over time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.”

Most often the victim will be told that what happened did not happen or that something, which was said, was not said. Over time, the victim will come to trust the abuser’s reality rather than her own. And this is a very coercive, dangerous form of manipulation—as what is one’s identity if not one’s memory and experience? If one’s memory is taken, who is she then? If she no longer has access to her experience, who has she become up until this point?

Taken from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play with the same title, Gaslight has since become part of the vernacular. However unlike the play, George Cukor’s adaptation is not set within the same small space, and thus we are not able to experience physically Paula’s claustrophobic isolation. Yet the film, whilst an excellent rendering, is also a fascinating glimpse into the psychological abuse that has come to be called gaslighting. So, yes, there is a name for this. […]

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A stylized screenshot from "Les Diaboliques" by Henri-George Clouzot

Honoring the Master: Henri-George Clouzot’s “Les Diaboliques” (1955)

At the end of his suspense thriller, director Henri-Georges Clouzot asks his audience one thing—to not tell your friends what you just saw. Tell them about the film, but don’t ruin the end. I’ve often said that the one who gripes about ‘spoilers’ in a film is an annoying twit and not someone serious about art. After all, it is about how the events unfold, correct? Not just what happens but how it happens. Yet, in respect to Mr. Clouzot, this underrated master, I will grant an exception.

Les Diaboliques is a film that is so good that it is hard to believe it was made by someone with so few films in his corpus. Few, that is, relative to his enormous talent. Clouzot knows how to grip from the very beginning. Whilst this is very much a narrative-driven tale, it is not some dumbed down whodunit like one might expect from Hollywood. But then again, I didn’t really need to tell you that, did I? In many ways, this film resembles a better Hitchcock. Rumor has it that Hitch had his eye on this script but Clouzot outbid him for the rights. And thank the devil he did.

Clouzot once said with regard to Hitch, ‘I admire him very much and am flattered when anyone compares a film of mine to his.’ Although both directors know how to employ suspense, in the case of Clouzot, the devil is in the detail. Les Diaboliques is set at a boys’ boarding school and one of the first scenes is that of a paper boat floating in a murky puddle. It is then smashed below the brunt of a car wheel. This might seem an irrelevant image, but it offers a great foreshadowing as to what might come, especially when examining the role that water plays within this film. […]

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A stylized shot from "Cape Fear" (1962) by J. Lee Thompson

The Envy of One Man’s Family: “Cape Fear” (1962)

What is the going rate for each year of your life missed? Or in the case of Max Cady (played by Robert Mitchum), eight years in prison? Of course, Max Cady is a psychopath, so he believes he was wrongfully convicted and now he must now punish his offending lawyer. Nothing is ever his fault. Gregory Peck plays Sam Bowden, a successful attorney who seems to have the Norman Rockwell life. Large house, attractive wife and daughter—not to mention a prospering career—what more does a man need within this so-called American Dream? Well, perhaps a psychopath to taunt him.

It is always interesting to experience a remake before the original. Scorsese remade Cape Fear in 1991 and while not a bad film, it is most definitely not one of his best. From what I recall, the direction is rather lackluster and has more of a ‘made for television’ feel. Gone is the implication and subtlety. And despite De Niro’s skill as an actor, Mitchum is far more clever and convincing in his role of vindictive evil. Yet, poisoning a dog and harassing a family is only evil from our perspective because according to Cady, Sam Bowden deserves what he gets. 

Cape Fear begins with a wonderful noir feel, and much of it is accomplished via Bernard Hermann’s score (who also created the score for Taxi Driver). We witness Cady walking into a courthouse, but not before ogling several women’s asses. While on a stairwell, an older woman with a stack of books drops one and Cady doesn’t bother to help her. Already we see he is an asshole. And now, after having served his time, he is a free man. Or is he? Legally this is the case, but damn if he is going to allow that arrogant lawyer, Sam Bowden, to get away with it. […]

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A stylized screenshot of a skull, from Vampyr by Carl Th. Dreyer

Upside Down Hour: The Haunting of Carl Th. Dreyer’s “Vampyr” (1932)

What to say when one cannot distinguish between one’s inner world and outer? When dream is not only as freighting as reality, but in its own essence, becomes reality? What to say then—especially when the fright involves a film that is mostly delivered via imagery over sound? Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr was filmed utilizing three languages, which thereby made any speaking parts difficult. Thus, when Dreyer has his protagonist, Allan Gray, pull a thick ‘Book of Vampires’ out from his slim coat pocket—it then serves as the simplest means for narrative delivery.

Allan Gray arrives at an inn that is haunted by shadows. Whether this is dream or real is undetermined, as there are many moments when that line is blurred. The film, whilst not containing many spoken words, is shrouded in shadow. In it, the images construct the narrative. Gray dips in between sleep, whilst cocooned amid that nocturnal hour when it is difficult to distinguish real from dream. Perhaps this is what makes this strangle of branches—when one looks to trees—so haunting. A vampire is on the loose—but she is not the cliché one imagines, but rather, an old woman who labors about in a cane and moves slowly in the night. When a young woman named Leone is bit, she falls ill and contemplates suicide.

The plot behind Vampyr is rather simple, yet the narrative is something otherworldly, as the realm of Carl Th. Dreyer’s storytelling resides within his ghosts, his use of shadow, and his skull-like imagery. This is where plot and narrative differ. Hollywood favors plot. Art favors narrative. Skulls line the shelves as decor in this ancient house, and their eyes turn amid the proper nocturnal hour. It seems everything haunting occurs at night. In rewatching this seminal classic, one can see not only the influence upon many films such as Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1954) but also Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962). Both films include an eerie otherworldly quality, where we don’t quite know dream from reality. Shots set in shadow and fog, as well as the elusive ethereal—all contribute to the wonderment of dream from real. […]

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A stylized shot from Ghost World by Terry Zwigoff

To Be The Oddity: On Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World” (2001)

Have you ever felt the odd one out? Or perhaps you feel normal and it’s the world that’s gone bonkers? What if your closest friend no longer wishes to engage in your strangeness? After all, the world isn’t sympathetic and eventually the time comes to grow up. Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World is a wonderful film that undertakes just this. After having directed Crumb, another film about an oddity, Zwigoff tackles Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel and renders it within film. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated high school. They have been best friends for years and always embraced being ‘weirdos.’ ‘Those are our people,’ Enid says. They don’t plan to go to college, but rather, they will move in together once they both land jobs. Enid, however, is stuck taking a remedial art class over the summer. ‘It’s an art class for fuckups and retards,’ she speaks deliberately.

Enid is one of those characters that one will either really connect with or not. She has no life plans—not because she is some loser, but rather, nothing requiring such pursuit interests her. Who wants to be like everyone else? One day the girls respond to an ad they see in the paper. It is written by Seymour (Steve Buscemi) who is a lonely record collector. It is one of those ‘I saw you there’ ads, where Seymour seeks some blonde. ‘You were the blonde and I wore a green sweater. Did we have a moment?’ the ad inquires. Enid calls pretending to be the blonde, suggesting a place to meet. ‘Wear that green sweater,’ she suggests. The girls wait and watch him from afar. After he is stood up, they witness him shouting within his car to another driver. They follow him and come to learn that he holds a record sale every Saturday. Enid speaks with him and comes to like him. ‘He’s such a clueless dork that he is almost kind of cool,’ she says. Enid and Seymour are very much alike, as neither feels they relate to the human population. They both struggle with human connection, which is key to understanding Ghost World. […]

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Stylized portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, author of Aurora Leigh.

Low to the Ground: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Aurora Leigh”

It’s not often that one encounters a novel constructed in verse. Of course, there have been many written over centuries, but they have also been labeled epic. They are often long, arduous and the protagonist undergoes numerous adventures, fights, defeats, and battles. Homer comes to mind. Virgil. The Epic of Gilgamesh. These verses are important works written by men. So, who is this Elizabeth Barrett Browning to attempt her own version of it? Are there any battles in Aurora Leigh? Not unless one considers her battle of self. Any great adventures? Not unless one thinks this when to traveling to London, Paris, or Florence. Any lands get overtaken? No. Are there any serfs in need of social justice at least? Alas, no. (Tolstoy is crying behind his ivory tower.) So, what is this novel in verse about exactly? Well, a young woman in search of finding her creative talent, a young woman feeling out of place, a passionate, emotional individual in search of someone to love. What is more important—to create or to love? Is there a place that occupies both? This is Aurora Leigh.

Already one can see how her novel/poem (I will from here on out refer to Aurora Leigh as a poem) was not taken seriously. Sure, there are some nice turns of phrases, but women don’t have the intellect or creativity to reach the highs men can. So, this is just a nice little poem she wrote as a distraction whilst cooking for Bobby and in no way does she rank alongside her more respected husband. Should you choose to quote me reader, I ask that you do not take what I just wrote out of context. Women have much to fight against. It’s not easy to feel second rate, or to not be taken seriously simply because of one’s gender. Partially the bias is due to her choice of subject matter (easily labeled ‘women’s topics’ in its time) but let’s be honest—had she written an epic in the more classic sense, that is, more in line with Homer, she would have been ridiculed. […]