Unlike the Greek, England has no true mythology

Unlike the Greek, England has no true mythology

 

Once upon a time, I made jokes about films like HOWARD’S END.

I regarded films of its kind as stuffy, slow, melodramatic “chick flicks”. In my eyes, stories like HOWARD’S END, or REMAINS OF THE DAY, or SENSE AND SENSIBILITY couldn’t hold a candle to real movies like…well…TERMINATOR 2.

This same stretch of time, I took my coffee with lots of milk and sugar. I now drink it black, which is to say, tastes can certainly change as time goes on…if we let them.

HOWARD’S END is about the coming-together of two families, with a particular British manor at the centre of the goings-on.

On one side there’s the Schlegel family of Margaret, Helen (Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter), and their brother Tibby. On the other side, The Wilcox Clan of Henry, Ruth (Sir Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave), Paul, James, and Dolly.

For a brief moment, Helen and Paul are engaged – but that relationship is soon dissolved over questions of class. Shortly after, Margaret Schlegel and Ruth Wilcox become unlikely friends, with the former keeping the latter company in her dying days. They get so chummy, in fact, that Ruth decides to bequeath Howard’s End to her new friend – a move that riles the rest of The Wilcox family.

However, because they know that Margaret has no knowledge of the decision, they destroy all evidence of it, and don’t let her be any the wiser. Instead, Henry begins to court her…perhaps to do right by her, or perhaps to manipulate his way into what is rightfully his.

All the while, in the background, young Leonard Bast continues to be fixated on being with Helen, and also of increasing his prospects – perhaps with the help of Henry Wilcox.

But how is a man to rise above his station…and capture the attention of someone as spirited as Helen Schlegel?

 

Helena Bonham Carter in Howard's End

 

 

I think what I least expected from a story like this is just how much it would make me think about chance and legacy.

The story mechanism of Helen and Bast meeting after she mistakenly took his umbrella stands as a clever reminder of the way chance used to enter our daily lives far more than it now seems to. Nowadays, few people actually meet when one person mistakenly walks off with someone else’s possession (they’re more likely to meet thanks to an IM sent to someone else’s account). What’s more, we have become so disposable, that we are unlikely to chase down an item as frivolous as an umbrella.

Once upon a time though, that was so plausible, that an author used it as a central device in his story. What is the modern happenstance that will endure in this way – the moment of fate or dumb luck that will set two souls on a collision course? What is the taken umbrella of the information age?

Likewise, how long will it remain conceivable that one’s legacy could be kept secret? We seemingly know all…tell all…keep our own personal dossiers updated for all newcomers to seek and search. The great revelation regarding Henry Wilcox is a beauty, and one that will ultimately seal his fate – but how long will that situation be conceivable?

The classics will be affected, so too will the modern additions to the canon. Details that forge our fate like chance and legacy will seem as foreign as Shakespearian english. Just how will that checker a story like HOWARD’S END?
Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t make mention of the most notorious death that occurs within this film.

I won’t say specifically who (just in case you’ve read this far and don’t want to be completely spoiled on a twenty-five year old film), but a key character is killed when a bookcase tips, spills all of the literature it contains, and flattens the poor, unfortunate soul standing before it.

It seems  little sick to say this, but the scene actually gave me something of a smile! Death by literature!! Who could possibly conceive of a better way to shuffle off this mortal coil? Yes indeed, words are weapons in this cray existence we live in, but you never expect them to truly do you harm!

As I watched the volumes tumble about this character – and, yes, the actual piece of heavy furniture do most of the damage – I thought about how one’s final thoughts and visuals could be the fluttering words of Keats…Shakespeare…Austen…Shelley…and so damned many more. Heck, one’s final moments could even be dotted with pages from Forster himself, prehaps this very scene. Would that be meta?

Sick as this might sound, that’s right up there as one of the ways I would like to go. Probably number two all time where movies are concerned…and I never would have guessed it would come from a period drama.

(In case you’re curious, this scene still takes the cake as my departure of choice)
Samuel West and Helena Bonham Carter

 

 

For many years, the only way HOWARD’S END had drifted into my orbit was its mentioning in “High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby. In the book, Rob expresses his disdain for all things Merchant and Ivory. He seems to abhor their work, and likewise the way they appeal to his stodgy parents. It makes their taking him to see HOWARD’S END on a Sunday night a bitter pill to swallow.

For the longest time, I absolutely sympathized with that poor record store owner, since these sorts of stories seemed like a fate worse than death. They seemed stuffy, slow, pretentious, and about a dozen other negative things that I can’t nail down just now.

However, unlike Rob in “High Fidelity”, I have found that my tastes have changed as the years have passed. That’s not to suggest that I am suddenly all about the E.M. Forster or the Merchant and Ivory – perish the thought. Instead I dare suggest that I am able to appreciate a lot more of the subtleties, the politics, the world-building, and the restraint that stories like these employ. Had I seen this film at age fourteen when it was released, I would have hated it (or wouldn’t have fully grasped it). Heck, even if I’d seen it at age twenty-two when I first read the Hornby book, it probably still wouldn’t have landed.

So I suppose there’s something to be said for letting a film lay in wait until you are ready for it…or for growing up enough that you are able to approach old things in new ways…or both.

That’s not to suggest that I’m about to join the Merchant and Ivory Appreciation Society anytime soon. However, if my family wanted to take me to see a film like HOWARD’S END on a Sunday night, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed.

Look at me; I’m growing.
blind-spot-01

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.

 

Here’s the round-up for June so far…

 

Rebecca watched THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI

Simoa watched THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

Coog watched RAN

Erin watched THE KING AND I

Wendell watched THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

Joshua watched THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC

Andy watched PEEPING TOM

Brittani watched DO THE RIGHT THING

Paskalis watched RAIN MAN

Sean watched C.R.A.Z.Y.