Do you remember that scene in Dumbo when he gets drunk and there are pink elephants floating all around him -- just like in the ZZ top lyric when cowgirls are "floating across the ceiling?" Watching Tim Burton's new movie feels a lot like that. There is glitz and glamour, sheen and shine, music and showbiz and, of course, pink elephants, only this time they're made of well-shaped bubbles.
With the recent musical The Greatest Showman and the conclusion to Madagascar 3, audiences have gotten used to seeing the circus on screen, but Burton brings his own special twist. His weirdly shaped towers, his maniacal villains, his damaged and strange cast of characters, his spectral shadows in the mist... Into this idiomatic array comes the original plot - an elephant that can fly who is parted from his mother. The original is a classic, and like the countless other remakes which are dangerously entering cinemas, Burton was on risky ground. And not only is the original beloved, but to make a flying elephant seem awesome or impressive - when not in a cartoon format! - is pretty tough. It's comical and silly, when you imagine it inside of your head. But he pulled it off, and we're lucky to have this movie.
The internal mirrors between the one-armed soldier Colin Farrell and the strangely-featured Dumbo, the motherless kids and the forcibly orphaned Dumbo, were neat and insightful. We see through them how a broken family can be re-made; Dumbo's family is literally reconstituted, and the human family re-knits and re-grows while helping him out.
Selfishly, I wanted more of Farrell's war exploits, but the film was fairly long and aimed at children, so I can't complain about such an absence. Eva Green was incredible as always, though her screen-time was perhaps a little short. Michael Keaton's villain was great, and the scene when he loses his temper in the tower made me giggle. (And considering my inner-child is alive and well, I'm sure the kids will love it.)
With Danny Elfman back on his team, and Disney at the rear with funds, Tim Burton has directed another fantastic film. He'll never top his The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I'm sure die-hard fans of the original Dumbo will be pedantic sticklers, but as a film unto itself, 2019's Dumbo is a joyous extravaganza. And I bet you'll smile.
You just know that Ian Fleming has looked at diamonds. It can't be fiction: the descriptions are too loving, too sincere. The experience Bond has of studying the diamonds, then, was probably Fleming’s own. He says:
Bond put down the piece of quartz and gazed again into the heart of the diamond. Now he could understand the passion that diamonds had inspired through the centuries, the almost sexual love they aroused among those who handled them and cut them and traded in them. It was domination by a beauty so pure that it held a kind of truth, a divine authority before which all other material things turned, like the bit of quartz, to clay. In these few minutes Bond understood the myth of diamonds, and he knew that he would never forget what he had suddenly seen inside the heart of this stone.
James Hilton, writer of some twenty novels, countless short stories and screenplays, ought to be more well known. His first novel was published while he was still an undergraduate at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and both Lost Horizon and Goodbye Mr Chips are acclaimed best sellers. But who today has heard of him? The films of his books came out in the middle of the twentieth century, and half the people who watched them are dead. His books are re-published infrequently and apart from the occasional TV-version of Mr Chips, his name isn’t mentioned. This needs to change, because Lost Horizon is one of the finest novels in the world. Its calm and quiet tone, of which Hilton is a master, soothes your nerves and relaxes your mind. The formal but not ostentatious register is a delight, and the sentences run like warm water over chilled and tired hands. Such a style is appropriate, for the novel is set in Shangri-la, a Tibetan lamasery where the world stops at the gate -- or, rather, at the entrance to the mountain pass. Beyond that natural barrier, the residents enjoy everything ‘moderately’. That is their byword, their adverb of choice. They live moderately; they love moderately; they work moderately; they relax moderately. They take their time over meals; they never discuss serious matters while drinking tea, but wait until the tea is over.
Into this idyllic setting, a place with impossible views, a wide library and a comprehensive music room, come four unusual guests. They consist of Miss Brinklow, a missionary; Mr Bernard, an american with a suspicious past; young Mallinson, a flighty and distressed foreign-service worker, and Hugh Conway, the novel’s protagonist and hero. I say hero, but that’s the epithet Mallinson - not Conway - would use. In truth, Hilton gives Conway a deep and complex psychology, a character that resists one mold. He has been painted as the hero by others: he played sports well at Oxford, fought in the war, can speak multiple languages, can play Piano at concert level, is a successful mountaineer, was an Oxford Don and has a promising career in the foreign office. He keeps his cool and never seems scared. But that’s how others view him. Personally, he insists he is not a hero. Rather, his coolness is a disaffected stoicism, a reluctance to feel after feeling too much in the war. His brilliance is good-luck and interest, rather than genius. His success is merely good fortune, for in fact he is incorrigibly ‘lazy’ and would rather sit on the sidelines and watch. This trait prompts one of the novel’s greatest lines: “laziness in doing foolish things can often be a virtue.” (We all know people who should adopt that as a mantra.) This nature, one-part hero and one-part passive observer, becomes important when their plane is hijacked at Baskul. Unable to change their course, they are lead by an anonymous pilot into the Tibetan heights, and then they are landed at the bottom of a valley. Soon, a party of climbers come down, carrying a man from the Lamasery. This figure is Chang, and he takes the four western castaways up to Shangri-la. The hijacker of the plane is, rather mysteriously, dead.
All seems well at first: the food is good, there is warmth and reading and tea, there is music and art and gold. And then Mallinson, eager to leave, begins to inquire about guides. The High-Lama speaks to Conway alone, judging him the wisest of his party, and explains that no one can leave. The reason is both complex and simple: the valley can extend your life by hundreds of years, and if you leave, your age will catch up with you. While being trapped is unpleasant, the valley is a respite from the horrors and noise of the world; it’s a place of peace and plenty, a life-boat sailing from the wreckage of a broken world. However, it can only take so many people, and if Mallinson left, people might find out. As it stands, the valley could manage with four new guests -- indeed, the dead pilot was infact from the Lamasery, and had been sent to collect new people. He died because his extended years came rushing back to get him.
Conway, rather than being horrified, is simply intrigued. The High Lama explains that he could have all the time in the world to study and play music, to relax and live-moderately. Conway, tired of the noise, broken by the war, is happy to remain. Barnard, for reasons better left unsaid, will also stay. Miss Brinklow wishes to convert the Buddhists, so she will stay too. But Mallinson, with a lover at home and his whole youth before him, cannot accept it. He needs to leave, and the chance that he can’t drives him to despair. He begs Conway to help him, and Conway has to make a choice: stay, in what is basically a paradise of learning and leisure and studious health, and reject the world of love and fear and excitement and the charm that brevity brings. Or: go, and face the horror and noise and love and death and un-peaceful living. The one has friends and urgency and passion; the other has contemplation and a chance at a small eternity.
This dilemma forces us, as readers, to ask ourselves the same question: would we sacrifice the pain of brevity and the chaos of life for an existence without passion, excitement, family and love? On some days, it’s a charming proposition. And on others, it’s the worst thing imaginable.
Told through several frames - a narrator who reads another man’s book, itself an account from somebody else - there is mystery and suspense, charm and ambiguity. Written in the winter of 1932, fresh from the horror of the First World War, hurtling towards the Second World War and deep in The Depression, Lost Horizon offers itself to the world. With its setting, style and subject matter, the book is Shangri-la -- an eternal story, an eternal reprieve, that readers can return to again and again. And I have. This will be my second review of Hilton’s Lost Horizon, as it was one of the earliest books I reviewed, back in 2013. I loved it then, though I was younger and knew a lot less. Now, I’m older, and have hopefully acquired one or two grains of knowledge. When I read it again in sixty years time, I’ll have one or two grains more. Imagine, though, what you could do with three hundred years of reading time?*
*Finish The Faerie Queene, most probably. :P
Check out this two minute clip of Hilton discussing his novel.
For a wonderful ebook, click here: http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/JamesHilton/JamesHilton.html
To buy a paperback, click the cover below:
THE BOOK CLUB
Author - James
A twenty year old English student at Cambridge University. I fell in love with literature at an early age and have been with it ever since.