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Why do we remember the worst of some characters?


slaytonf
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Watching A Christmas Carol (1951) tonite, it occurred to me that notwithstanding his rehabilitation, Ebenezer Scrooge remains the archetype of sour, mean-spirited miserliness.  The same holds for the Grinch.  In the public consciousness, his heart remains two sizes too small.  When someone's called a Grinch, does it conjure up the image of a neo-Santa, sledding down the mountain with Christmasy bounty?  No, we hear:

Yer a mean one, Mr. Grinch. . . .

And as for Uncle Tom, one of the noblest, principled, and heroic of men, who lays down his life for the freedom of others, is used as the type of a spiritless, self-betraying sycophant.

Redemption doesn't seem to take hold.  But degradation does.  Think of Dorian Gray.  We don't remember the unblemished, model of modern manhood, full of promise.  We savor his corruption, especially the moment its physical effects are transferred to him from his portrait.

(BTW, does it seem to anyone that the good Doctor had a copy of Dickens' work at his elbow while penning his tale?)

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Great observation here, slayton.

My answer would be that it's just human nature for people to have the tendency to more remember the negative things about people than the positive.

(...and unfortunately, the people who make those television "commercials" you see one after another before all major elections now days ESPECIALLY know this to be true) ;)

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2 hours ago, slaytonf said:

And as for Uncle Tom, one of the noblest, principled, and heroic of men, who lays down his life for the freedom of others, is used as the type of a spiritless, self-betraying sycophant.

I think it's reasonably safe to assume that 99.9 per cent of all human beings who use the term "Uncle Tom" in 2018 have zero idea that it refers to a specific fictional character or know anything about that character. That's a term that got isolated from the character a million years ago and has taken on a life of its own. I wouldn't attribute its use to people actually remembering the traits of a specific character.

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I'd say too, the more "colorful" nature of their countenance as seen in movies( or found in literature) is what makes them memorable and in the beginning, their widespread familiarity too, had a lot to do with the still remaining references.  

As for Uncle Tom, I saw him more as someone who had unconditional loyalty to someone who he felt really didn't mistreat him much, and violence as no decent response to any problem.  And pretty much a blank canvas for how anybody chooses to see him.

Sepiatone

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10 minutes ago, slaytonf said:

Fair fight:  any of a number of physical contests in which the rules of conduct are skewed to favor the strengths of the party proposing the fair fight.

Well SURE, if ya wanna get all "technical" about it here, slayton!

And so YEAH, with Pop bein' a little bigger and havin' the reach on his brother Tom(and which made him my UNCLE Tom of course) I suppose the ground rules before such a match would have had to included such things as "no biting" and maybe "no rabbit punching"(never could figure out why they called it that) for Pop to have had a clear advantage over his brother Tom.

(...and which once again made him my UNCLE Tom)

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11 hours ago, slaytonf said:

Watching A Christmas Carol (1951) tonite, it occurred to me that notwithstanding his rehabilitation, Ebenezer Scrooge remains the archetype of sour, mean-spirited miserliness.  The same holds for the Grinch.  In the public consciousness, his heart remains two sizes too small.  When someone's called a Grinch, does it conjure up the image of a neo-Santa, sledding down the mountain with Christmasy bounty?  No, we hear:

Yer a mean one, Mr. Grinch. . . .

If you mean the recent animated mess, the filmmakers seemed to go in less with Seuss's idea of "Having the wrong idea about Christmas", and more of a wishful 21st-century urban "Gee, folks, doesn't Christmas ANNOY ya every year?  Wouldn'tcha LOVE to be like the Grinch, and spill everyone's stupid red cups of Starbucks coffee all over their stupid plaid dog-sweaters??  :D "  Er, somewhat unclear on the concept.

Usually wherever there's a discussion of grownup Christmas fatigue, there's usually also the showoff-Atheist brigade, invoking their usual litany of cheap jokes at the expense of the common man that annoys them.  The "hero-worship" of pre-reformed Scrooge or the Grinch usually falls into a lighter non-denominational form, but it's still the same idea of thinking you can deal with your own personal frustrations by joking your way to sympathy and making self-centeredness look cute and rewarding.

Although the Sim Scrooge is at least a little more sympathetic on his own, since, his own Christmas Past issues aside, he seems to be weary not so much of Christmas, as with the constant interruption by the outside world that "has no right to be merry".  He's not so much "mean" as just trying to isolate himself from it, and giving that little disbelieving chuckle ("You want the whole day off?--huhuh! You say that every year!") every time he sees "deluded" folks being happy and showing goodwill.

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11 hours ago, Dargo said:

Well SURE, if ya wanna get all "technical" about it here, slayton!

And so YEAH, with Pop bein' a little bigger and havin' the reach on his brother Tom(and which made him my UNCLE Tom of course) I suppose the ground rules before such a match would have had to included such things as "no biting" and maybe "no rabbit punching"(never could figure out why they called it that) for Pop to have had a clear advantage over his brother Tom.

(...and which once again made him my UNCLE Tom)

Biting won't win fights.  And from what you say, I doubt your uncle could get around in position to deliver a rabbit punch.  But declaring that unfair, while not deeming taking advantage of a longer reach as unfair is an example of just what I was saying.  A real fair fight would have both equally vulnerable.

For your sad observation about human nature, if we for the sake of discussion decline to accept it, maybe it will bring up some other points.  Maybe our thinking of Scrooge and Grinch are influenced by the amount of time in their stories they are the baddies.  The parts of the stories after their reformation are short in comparison.  It's understandable.  Evil is dramatic, all sorts of exciting events can happen.  Good is, well, boring, no?  There's only so much you can heap on the icing.  Once Tiny Tim is well, then what?  There's no more tension.  Once evil is defeated, history ends.

Or maybe there is not so much forgiveness in our culture.  Or the culture of the entire world, as Scrooge and Grinch remain universal personifications of mean-spiritedness.  Or that the two in their bad modes are more delicious and appealing.

The almost-saintly figures they become, while we praise them, are maybe intimidating to us, we not being so perfect in goodness and charitableness.  And while we don't necessarily admire them in their dark avatars, at least we don't feel morally challenged.  We can feel safe in our imperfection.

It's hard to see how Uncle Tom came to be so dreadfully misrepresented.  Maybe someone has done a study of the popular conception of him over time.  The only thing I can think is that his deep piety, and the Christian forbearance, and tolerance it inspired mistakenly led people to see him as a contemptible compliant negro.  But this wasn't so at all.  He defies his white masters in many ways, leading to punishment, beatings, and his eventual murder.

 

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20 hours ago, Dargo said:

Well, all I can say here is that I had an Uncle Tom, and HE was one bad SOB who wouldn't take any lip from ANYBODY!

(...think my dad could've still taken him in a fair fight, though)

Well, I TOO had an Uncle Tom.  Actually, a "great"( or "grand") uncle, my Grandmother's younger brother, whom my Grandmother would scare me by saying how much (to her) that I favored him( meaning in looks, countenance and such) and that all scared me because he died at age 57.

Not until I hit age 58 did I start to relax!  ;)

Sepiatone

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6 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

Well, I TOO had an Uncle Tom.  Actually, a "great"( or "grand") uncle, my Grandmother's younger brother, whom my Grandmother would scare me by saying how much (to her) that I favored him( meaning in looks, countenance and such) and that all scared me because he died at age 57.

Not until I hit age 58 did I start to relax!  ;)

Sepiatone

Kind'a sounds a little like that same concern I had as a kid, Sepia. 

I think I've told you this one before, but it was the concern of dying young I acquired for a while at age 8 and after watching the scene in The Time Machine (1960) where Rod Taylor stops his time traveling for a moment in the year 1966, and when it's depicted a nuclear war destroys the world.

(...I remember thinking about this for days afterward, this being during the height of the Cold War, and hoping those lousy Ruskies wouldn't start somethin' like that and so I could at least live to adulthood)

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Charles Laughton insisted that the representative of evil in his sole directorial effort Night of the Hunter had to be physically attractive (making the evil that much more insidious, I suppose).

image.jpg

I'll tell you one more thing about that film. For my money the first two thirds of the film, when the emphasis is upon Mitchum's manipulative psychopathic Harry Powell, is the most fascinating. Once the story's attention is turned to the nurturing Mother Goose character (played by Lillian Gish) the film's previously mesmerizing effect upon me starts to slowly dissipate (even though Powell still lurks around somewhere in the darkness).

Evil, even if repulsive, has always had a fascination for people. That applies to the movies certainly.

Real life evil and horror, such as Hitler and his "final solution," is a far grimmer topic to bear than the fictional creation of a film character on the big screen, of course. Maybe it's because we know that a cinematic (or literary) Harry Powell isn't real that makes him that much more fascinating (and even comforting because, after all, it's just a movie we're watching) to observe.

 

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You're on to something there Tom.  Look at how many people flock to movies in the "horror" genre.  Personally, I'm not into watching movies aimed at trying to scare me into sleeplessness, nor are festooned with buckets of blood and other gore, but millions of others THRIVE on that crap!  Many even LAUGH at those images. :huh:

And yet too, many of those same people gripe about NUDITY in movies!

Go figure......

Sepiatone

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I actually remember A Christmas Carol primarily as a hopeful story about redemption, perhaps informed by the wonderful TV adaptation some years back starring Patrick Stuart. Personally, never got into Dickens' short fiction much so I'm not familiar with the original text. And this provides a clumsy but convenient opportunity to beg forgiveness for the Dickensian length of this post, lol.

Actors say it's more fun to play the villain than the hero, and I think it's more fun to watch the villain than the hero also...or rather, the character at his or her most villainous, in this case. Who doesn't prefer Scarlett to Melanie, at the end of the day? Nobody wants to watch a four hour movie about a good-natured woman who is loyal to her husband. Perhaps there's an unconscious psychological reason; the need to identify with the darker part of our own nature through the safe and comfortable media of film or literature, or some such. Maybe bad characters or good characters at their worst just make for more compelling cinema/reading. They do create conflict, after all, which is the root of all drama. Or two things can be true. Thackeray had a theory that the only obligation of a character was to be interesting, at the expense of personal ethics or morality, which he famously played out in Vanity Fair, subtitled, "A novel without a hero."

But what really interests me is not the darker sides of characters that are ultimately redeemed or good, but studying the more redemptive aspects of villainous characters. Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers comes to mind. She's depicted as a creature as evil as Satan himself, basically a total psychopath without even the ability to do or feel a decent or unselfish thing. But while she is portrayed as having evil impulses throughout the text, her chief acts of antagonism against the Musketeers are sparked largely by revenge for (SPOILERS) Dartagnan's sexual assault of her, when he pulls a 'Revenge of the Nerds' style bait-and-switch, impersonating her lover in a cruel prank to seduce her. We also know that she was branded as a criminal when very young, earlier than age 15, which is given in the text as proof that she was born rotten; but a reader craving more psychological depth wonders how she came to that life, or if as a child she was unjustly accused or disproportionately punished by the totalitarian feudal French state.

And characters not seen as bad, necessarily, but weak or unlikeable often have interesting motives or hidden strengths. Think of Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, the archetype of a silly, shallow, socially graceless woman mercenarily hunting husbands for her daughters often at the expense of their own happiness. I remember an interview with the actress who played her in the big screen film around '05, saying that she approached the character as the hero of the novel, a mother totally devoted to the survival of her children through the only means at the disposal of a woman of the time; their advantageous marriage. And I've always felt that Isabella Linton, the milksop sister of Cathy's wealthy husband, memorably played by Geraldine Fitzgerald in the film, was the lost heroine of Wuthering Heights. She's dismissed by most readers as  bland at best and annoyingly obtuse at worst, yet another stumbling block coming between the ill-fated lovers. Actually, she's the only person in the story who has the courage and wisdom to remove herself from the cycle of abuse, escaping her disastrous marriage and attempting to raise her child as a single mother in reduced circumstances but a loving atmosphere. And is not even her brother Edward, whose chief motivation is to protect his family from the person trying to orchestrate their personal ruin, not also more noble that Cathy and Heathcliff, who destroy everything they touch. I always felt David Niven brought this unsung heroic quality to the character in the movie, giving a more complex and interesting dynamic to the story.

 

 

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On 12/24/2018 at 10:19 AM, slaytonf said:

Fair fight:  any of a number of physical contests in which the rules of conduct are skewed to favor the strengths of the party proposing the fair fight.

Military dictum: If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn't plan your mission properly.

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2 hours ago, SansFin said:

Military dictum: If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn't plan your mission properly.

Ah! And now Sans my dear, you've inadvertently touched upon the very theme of one of my favorite all-time movies?

Can you guess which movie that is?

(...I'll give ya a little hint here...it's a British film)

 

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8 hours ago, Dargo said:

Ah! And now Sans my dear, you've inadvertently touched upon the very theme of one of my favorite all-time movies?

Can you guess which movie that is?

(...I'll give ya a little hint here...it's a British film)

 

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).

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On 12/30/2018 at 1:00 AM, Dargo said:

Ah! And now Sans my dear, you've inadvertently touched upon the very theme of one of my favorite all-time movies?

Can you guess which movie that is?

(...I'll give ya a little hint here...it's a British film)

 

I am sorry to say that I would never have guessed correctly. I have watched that movie at least once but I would not ever have connected that theme to it.

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On 12/25/2018 at 1:48 PM, TomJH said:

Charles Laughton insisted that the representative of evil in his sole directorial effort Night of the Hunter had to be physically attractive (making the evil that much more insidious, I suppose).

image.jpg

I'll tell you one more thing about that film. For my money the first two thirds of the film, when the emphasis is upon Mitchum's manipulative psychopathic Harry Powell, is the most fascinating. Once the story's attention is turned to the nurturing Mother Goose character (played by Lillian Gish) the film's previously mesmerizing effect upon me starts to slowly dissipate (even though Powell still lurks around somewhere in the darkness).

 

Tom, I couldn't agree more about the comparative weakness of the Lillian Gish part of the film. I once made a comment to that effect and got FIVE frownie faces from a Gish fan.

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32 minutes ago, kingrat said:

Tom, I couldn't agree more about the comparative weakness of the Lillian Gish part of the film. I once made a comment to that effect and got FIVE frownie faces from a Gish fan.

There was a thread on Night of the Hunter a few years ago in which I expressed my dissatisfaction with the final twenty minutes or so of the film.

I then had the gall to come up with a new ending for it, which I saved.

Here, if I could have, would have been my re-write of the final chapters of Laughton's film:

I regard Night of the Hunter as a great work of art (hope I don't sound too pretentious using that word) with, for me, a less than satisfying conclusion. Quite frankly, the "happy" ending is a little bit of a bore for me. Yes, the kids are on screen a lot in this film, but it's Mitchum's character that dominates the majority of the film - until the last two reels.

Pardon me as I now have the effrontery to go into a flight of fantasy and suggest an ending of greater ambiguity that I would have preferred. Of course, this is a total disservice to Davis Grubb and his novel, with my arrogance to think (assuming that the film reflects the novel, a big assumption, I suppose) that I could improve its ending.

I would have given the Preacher a greater send off. If not a dramatic scene of intensity (a la my White Heat suggestion earlier) then how about a moment in which he is allowed to address his final audience prior to execution, as he stands on the scaffold. As at the beginning of the film, you could have had the Preacher in conversation with God, whom he believes he is about to meet.

You could give the Preacher dialogue along the lines of, "They've got my hands tied now, Lord, so I can't show them those two words that govern us all. But you and I know what those words are, Lord, don't we?"

His final words would be a self righteous, "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they are about to do," followed by the last sight of Mitchum's face disappearing as the hangman places a black hood over it. We would NOT see the actual hanging.

There would then, in my imaginary scenario, be a fade-in to Lillian Gish's house at night. And into the darkened bedroom of young John, as he tosses fitfully in his sleep and is then awakened by his own scream. Frightened, he climbs out of bed and rushes to the window, searching around. All is calm outside. Only the sound of the crickets.

A light then streams into the darkened room as Lillian Gish opens his bedroom door.

"John, what it it? Why did you scream?"

"Nothing," he says, "I had a dream."

He climbs back into his bed and Gish sits on the edge of it. She talks soothingly to him and places her arms around him. John relaxes into her arms, saying, "Don't leave me."

"I won't leave you, John," Gish responds, "I'll never leave you."

The camera starts to slowly withdraw from the two figures, with the old woman cradling the boy in his bed, The camera pulls back and out of the room, through its window through which John had just peered and into the night. The house starts to become smaller as we see the star-filled sky above.

There is then a moment, just a moment, in which the audience hears what may be the sounds of the Preacher singing.

Will the terrors of the Preacher haunt John for the rest of his life, or will the goodness of Gish's character finally triumph? It will be up to the audience to decide.

THE END

I have to admit that I like the ambiguity of my ending more than that in the film. I think it would be far more haunting.

And that's the thing about seeing a great movie like this. I love Night of the Hunter so much that I am exasperated by what I see as a flaw in it - its final resolution. Exasperated enough that I have the arrogance to suggest a different ending.

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