talk about the death of the author.

January 17, 2007


a word before our word. peter bogdanovich, the doyen of film historian directors (does he get paid for all his appearances, or does he simply do it for the love of the game? i imagine he spends 3 hours a day sleeping, 14 hours a day watching movies, 30 minutes filming his scenes for the soprano’s, and the rest of his time he goes from studio to studio offering to provide dvd commentaries and introductions in exchange for access to their archives so he can sit and watch stock film), suggests in his introduction to Sturges’ The Lady Eve that Americans won’t go see a movie advertised as a farce, but they love screwball comedies. bogdanovich even offers up this OED quote as the origin of the adjective’s association with film:
1938 N.Y. Times 2 Sept. 21/2 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer..has popped up with another of those screwball comedies{em}this one called ‘Three Loves Has Nancy’.


Perhaps i need to emend my imagined schedule for mr. bogdanovich to include 2 hours of researching film words and diligently sending quotes to the OED. the OED has an earlier quote for screw-ball as an adjective, but mr. bogdanovich is correct that the times’ quote is the first applied to the cinema. bogdanovich also posits that 1941 was one of the best years for movies in american history. while he does cite some pretty convincing evidence, could you really disagree with peter bogdanovich, or martin scorcese for that matter? they could claim that 1890 was the best year in cinema history and i’d have to agree. anyway, an interesting diversion before we look at today’s word, crepuscular.


i found crepuscular in the book, Mr. Arkadin, that came in the criterion collection, “the complete mr. arkadin, aka confidential report.” like all welles movies arkadin, was re-cut by the studio–but that isn’t the half of it. there are at least 8 versions: 3 radio plays, several long-lost cuts, and a european version called confidential report that may not have anything to do with anything. criterion decided to release absolutely everything arkadin related on one dvd, much like they did with “brazil,” and interviewed, you guessed it, peter bogdanovich and others for a documentary explaining it all. at some point, a french novel was made of the movie and translated into english. the book’s history is just as problematic as the movie.


at some point an english screenplay was turned into a serial in a french feuilleton. the serial was then credited as a book by welles, translated into french by Maurice Bessy. the serial is then illegally published as a book in france. that book is then retranslated into english with an uncredited english translator and attributed to welles. welles claims to have neither written nor read mr. arkadin. and yet somehow the book exists. it’s translation-of-a-translation status leads to some weird moments. here’s a choice passage: “neither of them was able to suppress an ejaculation. with the father it was one of indignation. but the daughter called out my name, stupidly right enough, but with an almost childlike joy.”

the introduction describes harry lime, the basis for the arkadin character, as mischievous and crepuscular, while arkadin is austere and calculating. the OED renders crepuscular, “1. Of or pertaining to twilight, and, 2. fig. Resembling or likened to twilight; dim, indistinct.” crepuscular is a beautiful word, but none of the OED’s quotes refer to people. the definition that best fits a person is the zoological. “2.Zoology. appearing or active in the twilight, as certain bats and insects.” i don’t want to spoil the Third Man for anyone, one of the best noir films ever, but this definition certainly fits the Lime character.


unfortunately, someone wrote the introduction to Mr. Arkadin (the criterion version of the book) and its author is only dead in barthes sense and not literally absent as in the book itself. still, the fact that there is an author allows me to give him credit when i send the quote into the OED–if peter bogdanovich hasn’t beaten me to it.

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