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The Marlowe Problem - Laura Wise

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May 18th, 2014


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05:53 pm - The Marlowe Problem
At last at last I got to see Only Lovers Left Alive. It was straight-out wonderful, feeding a lot of my aesthetic needs: languorous pacing (but nicely judged), sumptuously decaying locations, proper married-people romantic interaction between Adam (Tom Hiddleston's delicious character) and Eve (Tilda Swinton's awesome character), witty and metaphor-rich dialogue with a nod or two towards camp.

But it also got me thinking about my Christopher Marlowe problem.

Only Lovers Left Alive is another one of the battalion of modern texts in which W Shakespeare is slagged off and Christopher Marlowe exalted, and I am as ever baffled why. Or rather, I know why, but cannot imagine myself into that reader-position at all.

Marlowe in these texts is a beautiful overreacher, more Miltonic Lucifer than Faustus. (See Elizabeth Bear's Ink and Steel for an explicit example. I threw the book across the room several times and, while I finished it, never picked up its sequel.) Super-Marlowe is wise and foolish and sexy (even when old, if played by John Hurt); He Knows What True Poetry Is. There's a conceit of aestheticism and danger around this vision of Marlowe, and thus he is valorized over a Shakespeare who (as in OLLA) gets epithets like 'bourgeois philistine'.

As a bourgeois philistine myself, I roll my eyes at this. But I also notice that Shakespeare's ability to write political figures, his pitch-perfect characterization of middle-class and working-class figures, his mastery of fantasy and romance, and -- it has to be said -- his ability to write parts for women are never mentioned in connection with Super-Marlowe. And maybe that's why I will sigh a little, even in a film that otherwise is exactly to my taste, when Christopher Marlowe is exalted.

I should probably amend my subject-line. It's not THE Christopher Marlowe Problem, it's MY Christopher Marlowe Problem.

In conclusion: Only Lovers Left Alive is languid, talky, visually arresting great fun, and I loved it to pieces, despite my CMP.

Is there a popular conception of a writer or genre that makes your jaw clench in annoyance? Or am I alone? ;)

Cheers, and may you have feasts and dancing to take you into your next week.

(14 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:gwynnega
Date:May 18th, 2014 11:08 pm (UTC)
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I'm really looking forward to seeing that movie, in spite of the Marlowe thing! It is a rather weird trope, to be sure.

The film of The Hours made me roll my eyes wildly at its portrayal of Virginia Woolf, who apparently had no friends and no political views, and seemingly walked into the sea immediately after she finished writing Mrs. Dalloway.
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From:laurawise
Date:May 19th, 2014 11:59 am (UTC)
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[blinks] I've never seen The Hours, but... oh dear me NO. That would be a Do Not Want.

Hugs and a good Monday!
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From:wildrider
Date:May 19th, 2014 02:06 am (UTC)
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We haven't seen it yet, but I've always wondered why people today are so set on making Shakespeare less than he was. Maybe modern people just can't conceive of one person being that brilliant.

I liked Marlowe's work, too -- but why is it he can't be brilliant on his own, without putting Shakespeare down?

I have to see the movie and think about it some more...

[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:May 19th, 2014 12:01 pm (UTC)
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I liked Marlowe's work, too -- but why is it he can't be brilliant on his own, without putting Shakespeare down? EXACTLY.

(Apparently Jarmusch is one of those anybody-but-Shakespeare conspiracy theorists in Real Life, so I guess that explains that aspect of the movie.)

Cheers and hugs!
[User Picture]
From:paratti
Date:May 19th, 2014 08:45 am (UTC)
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Oh, yes. Whedon.

I'm glad OLLA was good:)

((Hugs))
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From:laurawise
Date:May 19th, 2014 12:02 pm (UTC)
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Hee, I should have known you would say Whedon! :)

Cheers and hugs, and breathable air despite the Flower Show.
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From:kathyh
Date:May 19th, 2014 09:17 am (UTC)
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another one of the battalion of modern texts in which W Shakespeare is slagged off and Christopher Marlowe exalted

Oh, dear! I share your problem with that. Sadly early death and melodramatic life trump reasonable life span and dramatic inner life.

If this portrait of Shakespeare was the authenticated popular one we might view him differently. I think he looks quite hot :)
[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:May 19th, 2014 12:03 pm (UTC)
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Sadly early death and melodramatic life trump reasonable life span and dramatic inner life.

I love that phrasing, K.

And you're right, I love that portrait too! :)

Hugs and a good Monday.
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From:paratti
Date:May 19th, 2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
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Apart from the Jimmy Hill chin;)
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From:laurawise
Date:May 19th, 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
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It is not a Jimmy Hill chin, L.

(Hee.)
[User Picture]
From:freixenet
Date:May 19th, 2014 12:06 pm (UTC)
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You know, I came across OLLA in a completely different context this weekend--and here it is again. Clearly, I must see this film, even with the reservations expressed. Your aesthetic sensibility is far more refined than mine, so I appreciate the insight, even if it is "your" Marlowe problem. :)
[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:May 19th, 2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
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The film is gorgeous, just gorgeous. Slow-ish, which I'm going to write about in another post, but fab.u.lous.

Cheers and a great Monday!
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:May 19th, 2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
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It was All Love. :)

Cheers and hugs today!

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