Part Deux: Blog Reactions

Kathleen’s blog entitled Drama, Romance, Fantasy — Oh My addresses some of the differences that arose in turning Portrait of Jennie into a film.  I agree with her in that Spinney has a much larger role in the film than she did in the book, but I don’t really feel that Spinney’s interaction with Mathews changes very drastically from book to movie as Kathleen suggests.  In each medium I saw a distinct, reversed role of gender between the two characters.  In her blog, she then talks about some of the special effects and usage of color in the film, which I didn’t cover extensively in my paper, so check it out.  Kathleen also included a link to a website that covers the movie’s failure when it was released, which is very interesting.  I really agree with what she closes her blog with, “Interesting how a movie may seem better over time. ”  Old movies do have that quality of nostalgia which gives them a pass even if they don’t hold up to the standards of today (I use standards loosely)…let’s just go with special effects that are laughable to us now. 

I love Annie’s blog Eben: When Jackasses Fall in Love, she addresses many of the things that I do in my paper.  The differences in the scene when Eben is painting Jennie, Spinney’s larger role and attraction for Eben, and she drives it home that the movie is about love whereas the book is about art.  I see that Annie wrote her final paper on the book/movie also, and now that mine is posted I can’t wait to read it and see if we agreed on any more points.  The blog is great, and Nathan’s Eben is most definitely an asshole for the most part, but I still prefer the book to the movie, the only thing I disagree with Annie’s post.  Then again, it’s all about personal taste, Annie is more inclined to enjoy the romance and I enjoy the Jackass…wonder what Freud would say about that one.

Dan also discussed the problematic shift from book to movie in his blog Portrait of Jennie.  He was “underwhelmed” with the movie version and he doesn’t like that Jennie’s existence was undermined and made more questionable.  I’d have to agree with these claims, and like Dan I did prefer the book.  In its own merit, the movie wasn’t awful.  I did find myself grinniny stupidly a few times at Eben and Jennie being lovey-dovey, but I also feel while the book and movie share many of the main similarities, that they are also quite different and need to be appreciated on different levels.

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Portrait of Jennie


Robert Nathan’s Portrait of Jennie is a story about art, with a bit of fantasy peering around the edges of its pages.  The         narrator and protagonist is Eben Andrews, an everyman starving artist living in the rumbling belly of New York City during the Depression era.  He is lonely, faithless and uninspired until he meets Jennie, his ethereal muse.  Published in 1939, a movie adaptation was released in 1948 by Selznick Studios, starring Jennifer Jones as Jennie and Joseph Cotten as Eben.  The movie stayed fairly faithful to the book, but shifted the focus from art to love with a healthy dose of fantasy in its eerie dreamscapes and misty surrealism.  When comparing and contrasting the two mediums of Jennie, it quickly becomes a debate of art versus love.  The novel and movie lends us fascinating, tortured, complex characters, ripe for some analysis, as well as the countless themes and motifs that run rampant in Portrait of Jennie‘s pages as well as on the movie screen.

Nathan’s Eben Andrews is as deep, dark and murky as the waters that overtake he and Jennie in the novel’s denouement.  He grapples with God, his purpose as an artist, and time.  He frequently muses on the suffering that he endures because of his profession, it is “a winter of the mind, in which the life of his genius, the living sap of his work, seems frozen and motionless, caught–perhaps forever–in a season if death; and who knows if spring will ever come again to set it free?” (Nathan 1).  Once Eben meets the young, mysterious, and vital Jennie, he realizes that she is spring and has come to set him free from his season of death.  She is the perfect model for his creative work and immeaditely turns him into an artist of merit, tearing him away from prosaic landscapes and banishing his literal and figurative hunger.  Nathan’s Eben also has a tendency of being callous and sharp-tongued.  It is curious that these traits appear to be an assertion of his masculinity, as he only gets into verbal scuffles with the female characters in Portrait of Jennie.  Miss Spinney and Mrs. Jekes are strong female characters that occasionally find themselves at odds with Eben’s often flinty demeanor, whether it be over the condition of his shoes or payment of his rent.  Eben is especially stern with his other-wordly companion, Jennie, while she is posing for her self-portrait.  She comes to his apartment crying because her mother and father have died during a traipeze act, and rather than comforting her, “I thought it would be better if I let her cry herself out” (Nathan 56).  (Insert: ‘Hey, uh…can I still paint your picture? You’re pretty when you cry.’)  He then turns his back and begins talking about the portrait, later becoming so engrossed in his work that she falls asleep and almost to the floor.  Though several times he asserts an almost fatherly power over her with dismisal of childish ideas, he does love her and even seems to be afraid of her and her unknown, mystical origin.  Watching her in his apartment, “I felt my heart contract with a sort of fear, and yet at the same time with delight” (Nathan 58).  Not only does he fear her because of her time-slipping abilities, but also because his love for her is illicit.  She is a young girl, begging him to wait for her to grow up, and somehow their temporary age gap is glossed over due to the unusual circumstances.  Upon her second return to finish posing for the portrait, Eben notes, “She seemed to stand almost within the shadow of vigorous womanhood.  I thought: I must finish my portrait quickly, before it’s too late…” (Nathan 60).  It seems that Eben’s all-business attitude with Jennie is not the product of his self-control and respect for her age, but that art is his true love in this scenario.  In choosing between Jennie and his canvas, the canvas is the victor.  


Hollywood production opted to tweak the rough Eben Andrews into a more palatable romantic.  Still the same starving artist sifting through all the great questions of life, he is a much more amiable character.  He befriends Miss Spinney and Mrs. Jeke only makes one short appearance, wherein there is no ill-will but rather she speaks highly of him.  I expected Cotten’s performance to be a bit awkward, as it would be easy for his undeniable fixation with young Jennie to come across as lecherous, and ruin Nathan’s carefully constructed safety zone of innocence.  Fortunately, Cotten was nothing less than a gentleman, whereas in the book, Eben’s title as such was questioned.  Rather than direct Jennie or scoff at her childish mannerisms like a controlling father figure, he indulges in her energies and remains lighthearted with her.  Cotten’s Eben doesn’t appear to feel the same urgent sense of impending doom that Nathan’s does while in Jennie’s presence.  The scene in which Eben finishes Jennie’s portrait is a much more poignant and romantic one, the two staring at it in wonder as Eben flourishes the corner with his signature.  In this scene Jennie is a part of the masterpiece, rather than posing dociley in the corner, lending her image to the artist delirious with the beauty of his work instead of her own.

Here, with my two Ebens in tow, I’d like to illustrate how I believe that the novel’s Eben loved Jennie for what she brought to his art, while the film’s Eben seems to harbor a truer love for her, seeing his new success as simply an enhancement to their impending life together.  Nathan’s Eben skips town after his volatile confrontation with Mrs. Jekes, and Jennie the pursuer comes to find him.  Though I don’t even know where to begin in unraveling the rules and constraints of time, I read Jennie’s death as resulting directly from Eben’s own personal growth.  Jennie was there for him as long as he needed inspiration, and by the close of the novel Eben was much better off than he was in the beginning, mentally and financially.  Several times throughout the course of the novel Eben comments on Jennie’s weightlessness, but when the waves are threatening to crash down upon them, “I tried to lift her, then, but she was to heavy for me” (Nathan115).  He isn’t a murderer by any means, but the novel was always more about his artistic development than Jennie, and his art didn’t have a use for her anymore, and he accepts her death a bit too calmly.  Eben even unknowingly kills Jennie in his mural at the restaurant…no coincidence there.  The scene of Jennie’s death is quite different in the movie version, in which Eben dashes away to the abandoned lighthouse to try and save Jennie and fight time.  They clutch onto one another, pledging their eternal love while Eben tries to get them to the lighthouse and off the rocks.  But nature won’t let them stay together, and Jennie is swept away.

Nathan’s Jennie Appleton first appears in the novel as a  precocious little girl, aging years in mere weeks, that immeadiately latches on to Eben upon their first encounter, wishing that he would wait for her to grow up.  We are clued into her ghostly nature when she is playing hopscotch and lands “as silent as a dandelion seed,” (Nathan 3) as well as several other references to her weightlessness as she progresses through time.  When she takes Eben’s hand through the fog of a daydream that follows her everywhere, he admits “she wasn’t a ghost, and I wasn’t dreaming” (Nathan 5).  Her portrayal of femininity is a difficult one to map as she moves from childhood to womanhood so quickly (which was done surprisingly well in the flim), though she always seems artless and experienced at the same time.  In her girlishness she tries to show Eben that she is capable of being a suitable mate, playing house by tidying his studio and an attempt at cooking.  In the movie, Jone’s Jennie doesn’t seem quite as bent on illustrating her femininity.  The film has seemed to taken into account that Jennie is actually the one in control of this relationship with Eben.  Though time throws her where it may, she can only  appear to him, leaving him waiting for her.  Both mediums of Portrait of Jennie show that even as a little girl, Jennie is the pursuer, the holder of the gaze that rests her sad eyes upon Eben.  She seeks him out and decides that they will belong to one another.  Once again, it is difficult to try and get around the constraints of time, as well as the fact that she died once but has to die again, but why did Jennie die while Eben survived the waters?  Is her death necessary because she is the pursuer and the holder of the gaze?  Cynthia Freeland, in her piece entitled Femininst Frameworks for Horror Films, sums up an important point made by Linda Williams’ previous essay the best.  “Williams argues that women who possess the gaze…are typically shown themselves to represent threats to patriarchy and hence require punishment” (FTC 744).  Not only does Jennie shake the masculine establishment of power, but she also threatens the human constant of time.  No matter how you look at it, she has to die (not only because she’s dead already).


In the novel, we do not see as much of Miss Spinney as we do in the movie version.  Instantly she is defined as a spinster, made obvious by her name, and supported by her independent attitude as well as a wise, typically masculine persona.  She bosses around Mr. Mathews, and has a “rough way of talking” (Nathan 29).  She derides Mathews’ opinion that women should posses the impossible quality of being timeless and eternal, though Jennie is able to pull it off.  Miss Spinney would most definitely fit into Molly Haskell’s category of “superwoman” in her essay on Female Stars of the 1940’s.  Spinney is already an old maid, automatically making her devoid of sexuality or appeal, so instead of “exploiting her femininity, adopts male characteristics in order to enjoy male prerogatives” (FTC 624).  The book and movie offer us a nicely done role-reversal of gender in the relationship between Spinney and Mathews, her more submissive and feminine counterpart.  Eben is able to make the old woman blush from time to time, but only in the movie do we see more of a romantic tension between them.  Ethel Barrymore’s Miss Spinney forms a close friendship with Eben and he confides in her during tea and carriage rides.  He is the first man in several years to compliment her femininity and tells her that she has beautiful eyes.  While Jennie is too young for Eben, Spinney is too old, creating a parallel and a likeless between the two women.  At the close of the movie when Eben is bed-ridden and has lost Jennie, Spinney is by his bedside, like a mother but with pleading eyes.  The connection between Jennie and Spinney is acknowledged when we see the old woman holding onto the young girl’s scarf that she forgot years ago.


Overwhelming themes of love, life, death, time, faith, art, and more fit sungly into Robert Nathan’s little book.  We see Eben’s point of view on these in introspective passages that burst away from the simple prose and the expectations of fantasy and towards a canon of beautifully written literature.  Eben presents himself as a toiling artist whose creative life makes him more sensitive to these dense but delicate themes.  We see how this is a book about art the clearest through his interactions with his old friend Arne.  While Eben’s style apears to be more realistic and representative of the world that he endlessly describes and revels in, Arne’s style is more abstract and garish in comparison to Eben’s tame landscapes.  These two artists give us a crash course in two different schools of thought.  Arne believes that art should represent the present, and he smatters his bright colors with an urgency to paint the world as new and unfolding towards progression.  Eben believes that the goal of art is to present the world with a quality of timelessness, images that keep in stride with the present, past and future.  This point of view, along with Jennie’s ability to transcend time, paints a portrait of the past and future infiltrating our present world, bringing up the theme of time.  Nathan neatly laces this into his novel, and I feel that the usage of these themes in the movie was the film’s one fatal flaw.  The movie opens with a churning storm cloud, and a booming voice like thunder gives us a run-down of nearly all of these heavy life questions that Nathan explores in his novel.  

“Since time began man has looked into the awesome reaches of infinity and asked the eternal questions: What is time? What is life? What is space? What is death? Through a hundred civilzations, philosophers and scientists have come together with answers, but the bewilderment remains … Science tells us that nothing ever dies but only changes, that time itself does not pass but curves around us, and that the past and the future are together at our side for ever. Out of the shadows of knowledge, and out of a painting that hung on a museum wall, comes our story, the truth of which lies not on our screen but in our hearts.”

This introduction ties everything up quite nicely, but I felt it to be a bit offputting and pretentious.  I prefer to read this rather than having a God-esque voice throw everything at me, hoping to have me trembling in my seat and questioning my mortality before the movie ever really starts.  Whereas the themes above are presented in the movie with a very heavy-handed manner, the theme of art takes a backseat to make the way for romance.  Nathan’s character Arne doesn’t make it to the bigscreen, so we lose a lot of the art that is at the forefront of the book.  However, some filters and camera work added a nice touch with scenes of a canvas-like texture that reappear throughout the film.

The movie also stays true to some of Eben’s musings on art through his inner monologue and his vivid descriptions of the city and of nature that painted scenes for readers, complete with color and composition from the artist’s discerning eye.  Nathan’s Eben Andrews is conflicted with life’s (and the afterlife’s) mysterious nature and is simultaneously is dazzled by the world’s beauty; the purpose for his art and for his existence (God or no God).  He lives to do justice to its granduer, no matter if it results in poverty.  Cotten’s adaptation of Eben has that same zest for the world, but more so for Jennie.  Jennie’s presence in the novel is marked by shifts in light, and an aura that sends Eben’s perceptions into a fog of delirium, a “feeling of being in a dream, and yet awake” (Nathan 24).  The cinematography of this film captures that element of dreaming quite well.  The lovers are frequently drifting through haze, mist, or fog, resembling a dream-sequence rather than reality.  The storm clouds at the opening of the film, and the same ones that gather and rip Jennie from Eben’s embrace, come to suggest that dreams can’t last forever.  The clouds that are representative of Jennie are also a part of the nature that Eben praises, but it is also what tears them apart.  Just as Jennie can summon forth a disorienting fog, she can do the same with light, bringing forth clarity.  At one point in the novel Jennie visits Eben in his modest living space, “its four stained walls holding the present in a cube of unmoving light” (Nathan 43).  This exact scene is played out in the film when Jennie comes back from the convent in her white gown, and the small room is illuminated with a glow that emanates from her.  Jennie not only improves the lighting, but is a source of enlightenment for Eben.  The film version of Portrait of Jennie is a much more convincing love story than the novel.  Cotten convinces us that he really does love Jennie more than his art, with his soft eyes and charming smile moving about to Debussy’s The Girl With The Flaxen Hair (I’m about 99% sure that is the song that reappears during poignant moments in the film).

I’ve tried to reconcile the novel and film versions of Portrait of Jennie.  While the movie kept quite a bit of the original plot and dialogue (and how could we forget the themes) they are still two different stories.  It boils down to whether you prefer a good romance or a bleaker love affair with art.  Though deep down I do consider myself to be a romantic, I still prefer Portrait of Jennie the text over its move adaptation.  I’m more easily seduced by breathtaking sentences than Joseph Cotten’s unthreatening sex appeal and his charms.

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Werner Herzog

I found the footage of Werner Herzog eating his shoe in the spirit of keeping his bet with Morris, but while he isn’t choking down the leather, he has some very interesting things to say about television and the quest to provide adequate images for our culture.  Morris has most definitely found images of humanity in Gates of Heaven.  I’ll post this for everyone to see while I try to come up with something of weight to say about the film — I’m still sorting things out…as it is quite a different take on human relationships.

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Grab the tissues…it’s gonna get hardcore!

Here’s a present for anyone who’s looking for some action tonight.  Check out the condensed movie Love Story along with the smooth-groovin’ sex jam (and theme song) as performed by Andy Williams.  Be safe, meaning stay away from sharp things.  This movie is clinically despressing.  You’ll bawl (or ball, however you wish to see it).

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Final thoughts on Jo March…

quatre_filles_du_docteur_march_1933_little_women_7.jpgWith our closing up of Little Women and its three film adaptations, I was trying to figure out which actress best portrayed the beloved firecracker.  Definitely not 1949’s June Allyson.  She’s chatty, annoying, and her cheesy smile hurts me.  In my opinion Winona Ryder is a better contender, though she seems fragile and nervous for the most part.  She can definitely carry the role of the tortured artist, and she conveys Jo’s fitfulness for change and growth.  Katharine Hepburn would have to be the winner though.  Physically she is more like Alcott’s Jo March, and she carries the headstrong spirit better than Ryder.  My only complaint is that Hepburn’s “Christopher Columbus!” is really exaggerated and made me wince after the 5th time I heard it.  But it’s forgivable since she best represented the Jo that readers know and love.

While I was thinking about the character of Jo March, something hit me that I hadn’t even thought of earlier.  But no, it couldn’t be true…could it?  Is it even right to ask this about one of America’s favorite characters?  But I can’t shake it.  Is Jo a proto-lesbian of the 19th century?  It seems presumptuous and maybe insulting, calling a woman a lesbian because she is strong and independent.  She energetically takes of the role of the man of the family while her father is away.  She says several times that she wishes she were a man.  She hates acting girly or dressing so.  Jo loves her sisters and wishes that they could all just stay together and love one another, and not need anyone else.  She expresses her wish to marry Meg so that they could stay together.  I’m not insinuating incest here, though how interesting and twisted that would be, but for most of the book Jo doesn’t even entertain the notion of romantic love and is ambivalent to men and reacts strongly against advances.  When Jo married Professor Bhaer, it seemed more like a matching of intellectual passion rather than passionate love.  It is also suspect (and a bit strange) that he is old enough to be her father.  It seems that Jo has found a father figure to discuss literature with, and she’s taken care of the problem of what will become of her. 

Since there isn’t any hard-hitting evidence of her loving women romantically, then perhaps she still fits outside of traditional molds as an asexual woman that strongly identifies with the masculine side of the spectrum.  I have not read any of the sequels, but it would be interesting to see if any of this held weight in a broader portrait of her married life.  I’d love to hear opinions on this.

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women.jpgApparently Little Women was reimagined as a pulp fiction novel, I’m guessing in the 50’s when smut got big.  I’ll do some research, but for now I just really enjoy this cover.

Update — well this isn’t the goldmine I was hoping for, and the backstory isn’t very exciting on this precious cover.  It appears that sometime in March of 2006 there was a contest wherein book designers created pulp covers for classic literary works, Little Women being among them.  I find it interesting that the artist for this cover (Rebecca Cohen, Coco Co.) made the cover actually look aged and well-read, dog-eared and loved for several years.

Check out the other 5, including the Illiad and Alice in Wonderland (my other personal favorite).

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I was hasty…and I’m a sucker for Little Women

After a lot of thinking, er no, feeling, I’ve decided to take back what I said in class about Little Women.

I love it. It’s timeless and warm, comforting like an old country song.  Upon finishing the book, I realized that I had spoken too soon.  When I dished out my less than glowing opinion of the book, I was only at the tip of the iceberg (about page 150).  Then I tumbled into it.  Instead of going out Friday night, I stayed in and devoured it.

It can be trite, idyllic and sometimes nauseatingly sweet like an episode of Leave it to Beaver, or Full House when the music starts to play at the end and someone has learned a lesson — but those things don’t make it any less wonderful than so many readers have discovered since its publication.  When I finished the last page, I was 10 again (but smarter, hopefully).  You know how you feel full and complete after a really good visit with your family?  Or how a believer feels after hearing a really good sermon?  I take the risk of sounding corny when I say this — but that’s about how I felt after reading Little Women.  It’s good clean fun, moving, pure and homey.  It’s kind of like a huge feast for the soul.

I’m not quite sure if I knew what a feminist was upon my first reading, and I went into this reading with my guard up.  I mean, the title alone…you get what I’m saying.  I over-analyzed the portrayals of gender while reminding myself “what do you expect from a novel written in 1869?”  But once I let my guard down and became immersed in the 4 girls, it realized it is a novel beyond its time.  It is truly a novel of ideas and presents the endless possibilities and opportunities available to women.  A writer, a housewife, an artist, dead (just kidding).  Though a bit preachy at times, it is about growing and bettering oneself as a person, not just as a girl or a woman.

So while I cannot succinctly pin down an apt description of that feeling, I’m sure at least one person reading this will know exactly what I mean.

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There’s nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat

millersxing07.jpgThe protagonist of Miller’s Crossing, Tom,  harkons back to Hammet’s Ned Beaumont, the cynical idealist that keeps his friends close and his enemies closer. 

It would appear that just as much as his gambling habits, Tom’s hat is an equally important element of his identity.  And though he says that a man chasing his hat is foolish, he is constantly chasing something, if not an identity.  Like most gangster flicks, Tom lives in a world where nothing is certain and change could come at the drop of a hat (or a gust of wind).  Friendship, character, and hell, I ain’t afraid to say it; ethics are constantly in jeopardy, and Tom continually has to makes choices of whether of not to chase them, or let them blow away.

Appearing to be emotionally detached from just about everything, I think he does care.  Even in his line of work, he cares about honor, ethics, love, friendship.  But just as we only see Ned Beaumont from the surface, we can only speculate as to what’s going on behind Tom’s sunken eyes.

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I go ga-ga for Clint Eastwood

Let’s talk about how suggestive this trailer is…

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Sanjuro’s Motive

03-mo-yojimbo.jpgSanjuro, the protagonist of Yojimbo, is the quintessential cowboy of classic Westerns. He is a wanderer, drifting into defunct towns to help the helpless and defeat the unjust. His demeanor is stoic, seemingly asexual, pure and noble. Once the dynasty that held him in employment dissolved, he is left to exist on his own, and forge his own meaning. In most Westerns, or Western-esque flicks, the motivation of the main character coming to town and saving the day is clear. For money, for love, for revenge, you name it. So what is Sanjuro’s motive for intervening in the town divided by equal, opposing forces?It first appears that Sanjuro has simply found the perfect situation in which to make the most of his skills as a warrior and make a profit. After all of his playing hard to get, he gives the 30 ryo to the family of the woman held captive. He could have still been the hero without parting with his money. So money isn’t his motive.

Perhaps it’s to lead the rock ‘n roll lifestyle of a dangerous man that oozes machismo, drinking and womanizing until he grows bored and moves to the next town. While he drinks his fair share of sake, he doesn’t have women on the mind. He even seems indifferent to the opposite sex and maintains a pure and almost holy image. Could he just be bored and view the town as an opportunity to exercise his wit and his agility? It doesn’t appear that way. He doesn’t know anyone in the town, so he’s not personally invested in anything that happens.

Maybe it’s just me that finds action without motive suspect. It seems too good to be true, but I find Sanjuro to be a pro-bono mercenary for the meek. He’s a servant looking for a master, a defender looking for someone to defend. The character of Sanjuro is a very deliberate portrait of a pure hero. From the beginning of the film, viewers are conditioned to think of him as a giant of a person, fulfiller of mountains and broken towns. The light seems to find him in every shot, and he is a Christ figure, rising from the dead to finish his work. He is the ultimate gun-slinger (without the gun), with no discernible weakness, carefully spoken, Christ-like and virtuous. Long story short, he’s the man.

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