Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I tend to like Pirandellian pieces. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it is named after an Italian author/playwright, Luigi Pirandello, whose most famous work is the play Six Characters in Search of An Author. Pirandellian refers to works wherein the characters are self-aware of their author, the author is inserted into the work or the line between story and reality is crossed in some way. The most recent example I can think of is Stranger Than Fiction. (See it if you haven’t! I have a post about it here.) Actually Nim's Island does it more recently but I've not seen it. I’d like to bring up another wonderful movie to see on the subject of writing and writers, Pirandello Style!

Recently the famous At the Movies with its trademark Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down has retired. Well, thank goodness for it when it did air, otherwise I might never have known about this movie. Siskel and Ebert reviewed the 10 most underrated films of the year 1986. One of them caught my attention. The Adventures of Mark Twain. Besides being noteworthy for its clever content, the movie is Claymation. The whole movie. Way before Wallace & Gromit’s feature film. It’s a feast for the eyes and imagination.

Another quick history lesson: Mark Twain came into the world with the arrival of Halley’s Comet. Seventy six years later, when it returned, Twain died. He said, I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."

The above is what the movie is based around. That, and a loose adaptation of his novel Tom Sawyer Abroad. In the film, Twain (Samuel Clemens) like his character, reveals a big airship with which he will travel the world. But his real goal, we learn, is to catch up to his destiny with the comet. In Abroad, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stow away. They do in Adventures, too. Ah-ha! Pirandellian! Yes, delightfully inexplicably Tom, Huck and Becky Thatcher fly away and interact with their creator. Twain seems very aware of who they are. To make it even more odd, the ship has an Indexivator (Index-Elevator) which will not only take you to the various floors of the aircraft but also to the works of Twain! At one point Tom is snatched back into his story by Aunt Polly’s arm coming out of the “black void” of the Indexivator. Injun Joe nearly escapes to get them. And, in one of my favorite scenes, the kids have a bout with The Mysterious Stranger. Twain also reads from The Diary of Adam and Eve to them and the book comes to life, so to speak.

It’s a movie packed with action, dark patches, laughs, surprises, inside jokes and witty quotes from Twain.
It’s a gem.
I’ve been showing people a scratchy overworn copy on video tape. How excited I’d been to find it on DVD a few years back.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes of Twain, presented in the movie: The human race in all its poverty has only one truly effective weapon - Laughter. Against the assault of Laughter, nothing can stand.


Danielle Mari said...

As a huge fan of ol' Sam Clemmens, I definitely want to see the flick! Thanks for the advise. I must disagree, though, that this or S than F really qualify as Pirandellian (what a term!)... Although they include the fictionalized representation of an author, Pirandello actually wrote himself into the script. I know, I know. It seems a nit-picky difference-- but to me that difference makes all the difference. His choice to inject himself (though argued by many as meer egotism) magnified a main theme of Six Characters: to smear the line between art and reality. It's the difference between someone else writing you into a plot about your life and you writing yourself into one of your stories... takes the idea of questioning reality to a whole new level.
Ok, I'll pack up my literary soap box and go polish my nerd glasses.

Peter Von Brown said...

Very well...but as I learned the term, it applied to the author-character relationship in general. Whichever way, it's a crazy literary mind warp.