Read, Listen, Watch

Staff Picks and Suggestions

Perfume: Story of A Murderer

In Emily’s vein of movies that are underrated: Perfume: Story of A Murderer, by Tom Tykwer, the director of Run Lola Run. The movie is about a throwaway-child-turned-perfumer who possesses a uniquely acute sense of smell. He becomes obsessed with smell and with the art of capturing scent. When he catches a whiff of the most ‘sublime beauty’ he can imagine and discovers it is the scent of a beautiful girl, he goes on a murder spree to create the greatest perfume the world will ever know, from – dun dun dun – essence of human! Okay, so it sounds really dumb, but it actually has some really interesting ideas. I would not call it just some murder mystery story or slasher or horror or anything like that. For one thing, Grenouille (the murderer) has no scent of his own – and this is from a man whose entire worldview is dominated by scent. Good grief, talk about existential crisis! Also, it’s just incredibly visually beautiful – fetishism is a largeish theme and the heightened color or focus on individual objects of the women (hair, lips, eyes) really mirrors that. It’s also very visceral – there are these just insane montages and sequences that function as allegories for scent (another interesting thing – scent as the main theme in cinema, a fundamentally scentless medium) that just make your stomach turn over, either with disgust or delight. That said, I’ve met few people who actually liked it and although I personally love it desperately, I can see why it can be annoying and unsettling. First of all, it is uncomfortably flip-floppy in the realm of realism. It’s shot in a way we are used to recognizing as being realistic. Then, throughout the movie, it sneakily throws in unrealistic or odd little seemingly-purely-symbolic little events and occurrences – not enough to make you shift your perception of the realism but enough to make you say ‘Wait, what..?’ Then you forget about them and the movie behaves for a while, until – BAM – the ending, which is basically out of unrealistic-creepo-metaphor-land. And before you have time to really come to terms with this betrayal of you by the movie, it’s over, and you had no closure, to time to grieve the loss of reason, no time to figure out what the heck was going on! But once you suspend that disbelief for a bit, there really is a lot there. I ended up buying the movie and the soundtrack, too.  Anyway, here’s the preview:


Recently, (over Easter) I saw the movie Stardust. I had seen advertisements and read reviews of it this past summer, and had wanted to see it then, but didn’t end up having the chance to. I saw it with my whole family, and everyone really loved it. Diann had earlier written a post on Neil Gaiman, and he’s the author of the comic the movie is based upon. I’ve checked out the first volume of his Sandman series before, but couldn’t really get into it. I found Stardust to be a visually stunning movie, and to have a magical and sweet story at its core. I think it’s quite similar to The Princess Bride, but its humor is a bit more subtle. (Sorry Billy Crystal!) Stardust follows young English lad Tristan Thorn, as he attempts to recover a fallen star; a journey that takes him from the 19th century village of Wall, into the supernatural kingdom of Stormhold. That the star is not just a piece of molten rock, but a young woman is the first of many new discoveries for Tristan. The movie seemed both humorous and generous, in a way that you rarely see. As you can tell, I endorse it! It also made me wonder-what are other good movies that you think may have fallen through the cracks?

Summer Reading

With the new warm weather, and 70+ degree temperatures, I’ve been thinking about Summer Reading.  Though April’s a little premature for summer, we’re going to add a Summer Reading Category to Snell Snippets.  Bloggers can add their favorite summer reading picks.  (Or bemoan summer reading assignments-The Odyssey is one that I’d put in that category!) I like mysteries in general, and particularly classic, 19th century ones in the summer. In the past that’s included books like The Woman in White. This summer, I’m looking forward to reading The Mysteries of Udolpho and possibly Armadale.  I also like the kind of beach reading that you can read in a day.  One of my best friends keeps up a steady diet of Trollope and Eliot throughout the summer, but I’m not that disciplined!  What are your favorite summer reads? I also think that some authors and books lend themselves particularly well to summer.  F. Scott Fitzgerald springs to mind – I brought Tender is the Night with me to the French Riviera, but I don’t think the synergy was quite what I hoped for.  I’d also be interested in starting a book club, if people were interested in reading any of the same books over the summer.

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

I finished my first TBR Challenge 2008 book: Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire. It’s been many years since I read his Wicked, of which Son of a Witch is a sequel of sorts. At first I felt a little lost, and I think that I may have missed some of the nuances of Emerald city and Munchkinland politics, and which I might have better understood if I had just finished Wicked. But soon enough, I found myself enjoying the novel on its own merits. Son of a Witch is an orphan’s coming-of-age story. It’s an absorbing tale that focuses on Liir, who may be the son of the late Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba Thropp. Maguire really creates an appealing and fully realized alternate universe, and because even the bare bones outline of the Wizard of Oz is so well-known, it works. The novel spends many of its pages going into detailed vignettes from Liir’s past. A large middle chunk of the novel deals with his military experience, and while it’s a fantasy novel, it’s hard not to draw parallels to real soldiers, be they in Iraq, Vietnam or Germany. Son of a Witch weaves together a large cast of characters-some as well-recognized as Dorothy and the Scarecrow, and other original creations like Elphaba’s nefarious brother, Shell. Having read most of Maguire’s other adult fiction, a shared trait across his novels that I really admire is his thoughtful characterization. Maguire really seems to respect his characters, and even if they’re not exactly human, he almost always conveys a weighty sense of their humanity. I found myself particularly engrossed towards the end of the novel, which I felt, succeeded in striving towards a big crescendo. This also made me think about book endings. I know there are books that I’ve felt have been shattered or redeemed by their endings. What do you think? How much does a book’s ending impact your feelings toward it? Share those titles! And if anyone’s read Son of a Witch, please weigh in!

Desk Set

If you like movies and libraries, I’ve got a recommendation for you. Desk Set (1957) is a comedy, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, set in the reference library at a television network. Hepburn is the head librarian and Tracy is a man hired by the company to install the “electronic brain” aka very large computer in the reference department. The librarians fear that with the installation of this new bit of technology, they will all soon be out of a job. Faced with this possibility, Hepburn sets out to prove that no computer can ever match the abilities of the human mind. You can find this film and many others here in Snell Library.