Showing 211 - 220 of 257 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

Summary:

Daniel Coulombe (Lothaire Bluteau) is engaged by a Montreal priest to improve on the parish's tired passion play. He is quietly excited by the possibility and invites a group of old friends to join him in revitalizing the ancient tale. They will stage the performance outside by torchlight on the crest of Mount Royal with the lights of the vast city flickering below. The script is modern, visceral, and engages the audience. The actors all manage to improve their life situations if not their finances: a man gives up dubbing scripts for porno movies; a woman leaves an abusive partner to become the Magdalene.

At first, the priest is pleased by their efforts, but he looses confidence and credibility when Coulombe finds he sleeps with one of the women actors. The play is a huge success, but nameless clerical authorities are disturbed by the vibrant sexuality and the avant garde performance; in the absence of support from the priest, "they" revoke the right to perform.

The defiant troupe performs anyway, hoping the police will be sympathetic. A naked Coulombe is arrested off the cross in the midst of his crucifixion scene. A scuffle ensues and he suffers an accidental head injury. Taken by ambulance to a busy hospital, he is neglected, but recovers enough to sign himself out, only to collapse in a subway station. Attended by the two dismayed and disoriented women, he is again taken to hospital where he dies.

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Summary:

It is 1832. Europe is in turmoil of revolution and soon to be ravaged by cholera. Italians who resist the Austrian occupation of their country have fled to southern France where they are ruthlessly pursued and killed by special agents. Handsome, young, Angelo Pardi (Olivier Martinez), is an Italian fugitive whose wealthy but revolutionary-minded mother has purchased his rank of colonel. Upon learning that a friend has betrayed his cell of resistors, he determines to return to Italy carrying the funds raised for a defense.

But cholera has struck southern France. Roads and rivers are barricaded, quarantine is enforced, and he encounters death, decay, fear, and angry crowds who accuse every stranger of having caused the epidemic. Pardi meets an anxious doctor who teaches him a treatment for cholera, but moments later the doctor defies his own treatment to die of the illness caught from his patients.

As Pardi runs from both Austrian and French pursuers, he falls through a tiled roof into the life of the abandoned Pauline de Théus (Juliette Binoche). With almost comic formality, he becomes her chivalrous guide--her "angel(o)"--and leads her safely to her elderly husband through an improbable series of narrow escapes, including cholera itself. The doctor's dubious treatment comes in handy not only for saving her life but also as a pretext for nudity in their chaste relationship. A few years later, peace and health returned, Madame de Théus receives a letter from Italy. Her husband knows that he ought to let her go, but the credits roll as she gazes at the Alps and contemplates her decision.

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The Underpainter

Urquhart, Jane

Last Updated: May-24-2001
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The aging and isolated Austin Fraser paints vividly realistic images inspired by his past; he then covers them with a filmy top coat that obfuscates the clarity. His housekeeper thinks he spoils his work with this "style."

Son of a privileged mining magnate, he spent his summers on the northern shores of the Great Lakes, and his winters in upstate New York. His model, Sara, opened her life to him, and waited. He took without giving in return. His good friend George, destined to inherit his father's China Hall, is satisfied, it seems, with a meager life in porcelain painting and selling--trite, cozy images that Austin scorns. They both remember Vivian, a beautiful sophisticate who floated through their lives one summer long ago. Austin has been away in the big city for many years, but he has a hankering to see George again. Vivian reappears and goads Austin to make the journey back in time.

Wounded in the war, George has found a partner in Augusta--a fragile nurse, haunted by her horrifying war experience and addicted to morphine. But when George is confronted with Vivian again, the peaceful stability vanishes. To his amazement, Austin discovers that George had actually married Vivian that summer, but she left him at the urging of his mother. Her return opens painful wounds. After a night of recollection with Austin, Augusta slips away. Austin waits downstairs while she overdoses on morphia. George finds her dead and takes his own life too. Austin has the bodies removed.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife (Rene Russo) are both working for a federal infectious disease laboratory, but their marriage is on the rocks. A mysterious lethal illness, remarkably like Ebola fever, breaks out at various sites in America, all eventually connected to a pet shop that received a monkey from an illegal smuggling operation. Most cases are immediately isolated and contained, but a town in California develops an epidemic of the new disease.

The lab is called in and the military enforces a strict quarantine that divides families and prevents anyone from leaving the area. One worker dies quickly and Sam's wife falls ill. The crass General Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) is convinced that the nation can be saved only by the annihilation of the town by a gigantic bomb.

A plane sets out on the gruesome mission. Meanwhile, Hoffman leaps from a helicopter onto the cargo ship where the sailor-smuggler has just died leaving a photo of the monkey carrier. Sam makes a televised appeal for help locating the cute but dangerous, little monkey; a terrified mother responds and the creature is snatched from the arms of her child.

With military snipers in hot pursuit, Sam returns to the town, radioing the baffled bomber pilots with a barrage of reasons why they should ditch their mission of destruction. He puts the tiny monkey to work producing anti-sera and vaccines, which--in only a matter of minutes!--rescue the town, his wife, and his marriage. The pilots disobey orders and dump their bomb in the sea.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

After a stressful trip to cold-war Russia in 1964, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins tells how he developed a debilitating illness which confines him to bed. He is admitted to hospital for tests and treatments, and is diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but his condition deteriorates and he is given a gloomy prognosis. He notices that the depressing routine of hospital life tends to produce side effects that aggravate his condition.

With the blessing of one of his doctors, he checks out of hospital and into a comfortable (yet less expensive) hotel where the food is better and he can watch funny movies while he medicates himself with high doses of Vitamin C. He is convinced that the slow improvement in his condition is owing to his individualized methods of therapy and his having taken charge of his own situation.

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Bear

Engel, Marian

Last Updated: Jul-06-2000
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sometime in the 1970s, the historian Lou is sent by her Institute to research the life of a nineteenth-century colonel on the island he once owned in the middle of a wide river in northern Ontario. A magnificent house remains with a shack behind where a huge male bear is chained.

At first Lou is afraid of the bear, but gradually she feels sorry for it, allows it into the house, and eventually into her bed. The experience leads her to reevaluate her life, her friendships, and her loves. The summer passes and a wistful Lou returns to the city, and the indifferent bear, to his captivity.

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Summary:

The spoiled Long Island heiress, Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) is suffering from severe headaches and visual disturbances, which she tries to ignore in pursuit of wild parties and frenetic horse-back riding. Her friend and secretary, Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald), and the old family doctor bring her to Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). Steele has just sold his neurosurgical practice and is about to catch a train to Vermont where he will devote himself to fulltime research on malignant brain tumors. He delays his departure to operate successfully on Judith's glioma.

He and his patient fall in love. But Steele learns that her disease will recur in a predictable manner: blindness followed by painless death. He and Ann conspire to hide the prognosis from Judith. A wedding is planned and the move to Vermont. But Judith uncovers the secret and flies into a rage at the treachery, breaking off the engagement.

She tries to drown her sorrow of impending doom in drink, a frivolous dalliance with a drunken suitor (Ronald Reagan), and a more serious dalliance with her horse-trainer, Michael (Humphrey Bogart). On the verge of sin with Michael, she realizes that her only hope lies in life itself, marriage and the house in Vermont. Steele conducts his laboratory research in a back shed and the couple carry on as if her death sentence did not exist.

Living a lie provides their few months of happiness, their "Dark Victory," Judith says, over the cruel promise of her death. Just as Steele is invited to New York to present his research, her vision begins to cloud and fade. She tells Ann, but keeps the news from her husband. He leaves the now blind Judith and her friend in the garden planting bulbs that will bloom in spring. She sends Ann away too, and lies down to face her romantic (but painless) end alone.

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Paradise News

Lodge, David

Last Updated: Feb-04-2000
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Atheist theologian and ex-priest, Bernard, takes a leave from his college in the grey, industrial town of Rummidge, UK, to escort his unwilling father, Jack, to Hawaii at the request of his elderly aunt, Ursula, who is dying of cancer. Bernard's domineering sister, Tess, is strongly opposed. To save on costs, they join a charter tour.

On the day of arrival, Jack is hit by a car and confined to hospital. Bernard spends many days traveling between his dad's bedside and Ursula's in an inadequate nursing home. The near-but-far separation between the aged siblings gives Bernard time and opportunity to discover their past.

The exotic, touristic "paradise" on earth and an affair with Yolande, driver of the car that struck his father, awaken Bernard to the sensual pleasures of existence. Ursula, always portrayed as the selfish black sheep, had been sexually abused as a child by her oldest brother Sean--venerated as a hero by the family for his death in the war. A lad at the time, Jack knew of the abuse.

With credible evidence and an impressive lack of self-pity, Ursula explains to Bernard that the experience ruined her marriage and her life. She wants Jack's apology. With the help of his sister and his lover, the newly secular Bernard brings about a reconciliation to the greater peace of all involved, including himself.

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Death in the Seine

Greenaway, Peter

Last Updated: Feb-04-2000
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Between April 1795 and September 1801, 306 bodies were pulled from the river Seine in Paris. A register of these deaths, indicating, sex, age, hair colour, wounds (if any) and a description of clothing (if any) was kept by two mortuary clerks, Citizen Bouille and Citizen Daude. If witnesses came forward in the days that followed, the names, occupations of the "silent guests" and the witnesses would be added together with the circumstances of the deaths. In most cases the cause of violent death was unknown, or unrecorded--be it "accident, misadventure, suicide, or murder." Bouille and Daude would not speculate.

This artistic documentary uses a male narrator and an eloquent text to present 23 out of the 306 cases: traveling clerks, hearty horsemen, children, mothers, mistresses, aged widows, and a laundress with her little daughter drowned together. These people had lived through the Revolution, the Terror and the early Consultate and it seems reasonable to wonder if the political circumstances they had experienced were somehow connected to their demise. On the other hand, the occupations--tobacco-pouch maker, carter, delivery clerk--invoke the continuity of daily life in the great city despite the political turmoil.

Each case is presented with the site and details of the discovery of the body, followed by a description of the external anatomy as the camera moves slowly and clinically upward over the naked corpse from the feet to head. The shadowy antics of the crude yet sympathetic bureaucrats Bouille and Daude appear throughout, as they retrieve bodies, wash them, label them, and arrange for the witnesses to view them with enforced respect. But we know less about Bouille and Daude than we do about their "guests."

The narrator reminds us how memory rarely survives more than three generations. Who will remember us, he asks, or these actors who lay very still? And as the register ends, the Revolutionary calendar that governed it ended too. These people who no longer exist could be said to have lived in a time that also no longer exists, because it is no longer measured.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The writer describes her experience as a cancer patient, thrust into "the Land of the Sick" by the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer four years earlier. Although she is not ill, the fear of mortality embedded in a diagnosis of cancer is a dragon that haunts her existence.

To cope with the dragon she relies on talismen: her doctors, personal will, and her garden peas, an emblem of everyday life and its constant renewal. The talismen create the semblance of control over her situation. She observes that "doctors and patients are accomplices in staging a kind of drama" and that the patient and her continued well-being become talismen for the doctor too.

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