Sunday, August 14, 2011

Name of the Rose

I've only just caught up with the movie, The Name of the Rose. It's now around twenty-five years old. It's so old, in fact, Christian Slater is a teenager in it; he was 16 or 17 at the time it was made. On the other hand, Sean Connery looks no older or younger than he does in dozens of other movies. He must have something in his contract specifying that he will always look the same (after he'd finished with 007, that is.)

It must also be notable as the movie with the ugliest cast (apart from Connery and Slater, of course). It opens with an emphasis on the particular ugly features of one actor (Elya Baskin) and then presents us with a range of the most ugly faces, as though a requirement for being a monk in the times of the Inquisition was to be not in any shape or form handsome. The hunchback must intentionally be one of the ugliest people to appear in a movie...

The film opens with the peculiar title: A palimpsest of Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose". Of course we all know what a palimpsest is when we see it. Except me. I didn't the last time I came across this word, which was in church a few weeks ago when the preacher used it in relation to something to do with the Scriptures. I had to look it up on my wife's smartphone at that point, and had forgotten what it meant by the time I left the building. In a somewhat curious coincidence, the copy of the movie that I've just watched on DVD belongs to aforesaid preacher.

For those few of you out there who really, really don't know what this words means, here's Wikipedia on the subject: A palimpsest is a manuscript page from a scroll or book from which the text has been scraped off and which can be used again. The word "palimpsest" comes through Latin from Greek παλιν + ψαω = (palin "again" + psao "I scrape"), and meant "scraped (clean and used) again."

How that applies to the movie vis a vis the book I've yet to learn, but may in the course of my ongoing research on the matter. The trivia on imdb doesn't give us any hint, though there are some rather suspect pieces of information there - more so than usual, I think.

The movie seems to thrive on an image of these dark ages that is incessantly ugly and brutal. I guess that wasn't an impossibility for the times, but it does rather go over the top (especially when you consider that much of the movie is about the making of books, highly ornamented ones at that). The homosexual monk is straight out of Fellini, (himself no mean searcher-out of peculiar-looking people); left-handed or not, it seems unlikely he would have survived in the way he does in such an environment. The peasants of course are all ugly (though not so much as the monks, perhaps!) and brutish - except the one female character in the story, who's really too good-looking to have come out of this environment. Her sex scene with Slater (or Slater's body double?) leaves nothing to the imagination, and is typical of the way in which European movies seem to think excess is better than subtlety. (The pig disembowelling scene is equally overdone.)

Umberto Eco's book, on which the film is based, is about far more than a murder mystery - it's semiotic (related to the study of signs, language as sign, and so on) in approach, making it a difficult subject to film - though there are still some elements of the semiotic in the movie. This may be how the palimpsest aspect comes in; the film reworks the material in its own way. But don't ask me...I'm just one of the (slightly less ugly) peasants.

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