Sunday, November 27, 2005

Rochester #2

Anthony Lane has a very funny review of The Libertine (aka the Rochester biopic) in the latest issue of the New Yorker. Unfortunately it seems clear that this is a movie to be avoided at all costs:

What matters about Rochester is that, unlike the majority of sex addicts, he never allowed his addiction to shrink him into a bore. Instead, his curiosity swelled to encompass the rest of the population, whom he cheerfully imagined-with a scabrous presumption not heard since the Rome of Juvenal-to be every bit as addicted as he. Hence 'A Ramble in St. James's Park,' with its democratic overview of lust:

Car-men, divines, great lords, and tailors,
'Prentices, pimps, poets, and jailers,
Footmen, fine fops do here arrive,
And here promiscuously they swive.

That is one of the quieter moments in the poem. Other passages stream past in which the only vaguely respectable noun is 'sluice.' The result is not just polluted but also crisp and funny, although you would never know that from the film, in which Depp recites a few lines in a morose incantation and, wandering through the park in a mist, finds himself besieged by visions of writhing orgiasts. They resemble one of the more unfortunate dream sequences from an old Ken Russell picture, whereas the actual Rochester was laying out, with unblinking eyes, the map of a well-known world. As for the mist, it never clears; most of 'The Libertine' unfurls in a soup of brown light. It cannot be smog, because Rochester predated the industrial revolution, so I conclude that the director, who plainly fancies himself a symbolist, is bent on moral miasma. One gets the point, but again it muddies the clarity and verve with which Rochester confronted his times.

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