Friday, September 21, 2012


Last week, I had lunch with a Frenchman from Ireland who knows Neil Jordan. And I was excited beyond reason. I am a die-hard Jordan fan, since ‘The Crying Game’, of course. And, I’ve seen most of his films, even lesser-known ‘Angel’, and his underwhelming ‘Ondine’. Understandably, I am looking forward to seeing ‘Byzantium’, Jordan’s return to the vampire genre after ‘Interview with the Vampire’. And, I don’t want to believe the early bad reviews.

The Guardian does not have much nice things to say about it. Henry Barnes says Neil Jordan's return to the land of the undead doesn't raise the stakes on the vampire genre:

... Gemma Arterton plays Clara, a single mum supporting her daughter, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), by working as a prostitute in the amusement arcade of a rundown seaside town. Occasionally, when the mood is right, Clara will pick a special someone and bite them to bits. She's a vampire you see, re-born in the early 19th century after contracting tuberculosis, and looking pretty smoking for a 200-year-old consumptive.

Clara is a survivor – brassy and hard-hearted, happy to chomp on the clientele. Eleanor is more conflicted. She's troubled by their secret and unwilling to lie for much longer. But it's only when the pair move into the rundown Byzantium guest house and falls for a young leukemia patient who's considering ending his life, that she's really tempted to give everything up.

Jordan strikes an uneasy balance between Blade's fountains of blood (represented by Clara) and the tortured souls of Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In (Eleanor). The quieter moments, marked by some touching scenes between Ronan and relative newcomer Caleb Landry Jones, are almost always sacrificed to Clara's bloodlust. There's no time to dwell on an interesting subplot involving Eleanor's decision to feed only on the town's willing sick and elderly (a veiled statement on the right-to-die movement perhaps?) because Clara's got another couple of heads to lop off.

Similarly unbalanced is the film's gender politics. We're lead to believe that prostitution is Clara's destiny, bestowed on her at a young age by a boggle-eyed nemesis (Johnny Lee Miller) and reinforced by her hounding by a group of vampires known as the Brotherhood. They're a downright sexist bunch. Women can't be biters, so they're here to clear out Clara and Eleanor and keep it boys only. It's another stab at originality, but it would have hit home a lot harder if Arterton didn't spend much of the film sprinting around in her underwear.
More here.

More about Neil Jordan here.

And how can you utter the name Byzantium without remembering the poem by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Following is the poem:

William Butler Yeats

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miraclc than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

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