Saturday, November 28, 2009

Persistence of— Er, what was that again?

Last week I praised the makers of the Italian Commissario Montalbano television series, based on Andrea Camilleri's novels, for Montalbano's dance of hysterical joy when his scheme to lure a political fixer works.

I remembered the novel, The Shape of Water, only as describing Montalbano's thoughts when the scheme succeeded, and I gave the moviemakers credit for turning the thoughts into action. But I was wrong; the scene is an accurate transcription of Camilleri's original, as I've discovered on rereading the book:
"Montalbano covered the receiver with one hand and literally exploded in a horselike whinny, a mighty guffaw. He had baited the Jacomuzzi hook with the necklace, and the trap had worked like a charm ... Montalbano heard Rizzo yelling on the line.

"`Hello? Hello? ... What happened, did we get cut off?'

"`No, excuse me, I dropped my pencil and was looking for it. I'll see you tomorrow at eight.'"
I was so impressed with the filmmakers' adaptation that I credited them with invention when they were really just following the book. My favorable impression made me misremember. What tricks has your memory played on you? What scenes from books or movies have surprised you on rereading or re-viewing because they were not the way you remembered them?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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18 Comments:

Blogger Graham said...

A couple of years ago I re-read Gene Wolfe's "The Doctor of Death Island" and realized that I had the point of the story exactly backwards!

Fortunately this was not a failing memory, just the cluelessness of my much-younger self.

November 29, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My memory will occasionally transfer dialogue from one character to another, sometimes to the detriment of good sense. I did this with Ernst Lubitsch's movie Trouble in Paradise a few years ago.

November 29, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

I suppose this comment goes a bit beyond the borders of the question, but my each of my readings of Charles Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE (a novel which qualifies somewhat as a mystery or detective story) causes me to wonder whether I had really read the novel previously; many of my recollections are proven to be mistakes, and each reading surprises me with something "new" that I had not noticed or understood in earlier engagements.

Now, taking on your question a bit more directly, my readings of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories always revelations (like my experiences with Dickens). Of course, in the case of the Holmes stories, faulty memory, inattentive readings, and recollections from film and TV versions further complicate my renewed engagement with the text.

Finally, taking a different approach to your question, I have reached an age where memory is a bit too porous (and I am incredibly envious of people with good memories). So, there are many books that become "new" experiences for me when I revisit them. Lately the problem has become so much more pronounced that I joke with people and say that I really need to have only two books in my house. I can read one, then read the second, and then return to the first (because I will have almost completely forgotten the first during the reading of the second); perhaps this is not an uncommon "problem" among people (like me) who were born before the middle of the 20th century.

November 29, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

POSTSCRIPT: Please ignore the multiple typos and errors in my previous posting. My concentration and my keyboarding skills are deficit today.

November 29, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Age has apparently not affected your typing (I'm old enough that I still "type," though type is no longer involved); your spelling is impeccable.

Holmes is an interesting test case for memory because of the factors you mentioned. The character's pervasiveness in our popular culture creates memories.

I wonder if particular types of literature are especially protean with respect to how we remember them.

November 29, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Graham, the trick my memory played on me in re Trouble in Paradise interesting. Since the first time I saw it, I've thought of it as the closest thing to a perfect movie I'd seen. That's probably why my memory inaccurately transferred the movie's one slightly over-acted sequence from Miriam Hopkins, one of the co-star's, to Kay Francis, a supporting payer. And I hope this memory is accurate. It's been a couple of years since I've seen the movie.

November 29, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

In my field (teaching literature at the university), I come across a lot of what I call "partial or false memory" with respect to literature among students. Our western culture has iconic figures in literature (Odysseus, Beowulf, Hamlet, Macbeth, Huckleberry Finn, and others), and students almost universally assert their familiarity with those figures because of students' reading experiences; however, in too many cases, students have never really read the texts but instead merely read about the texts (through Cliff Notes, for example) or heard about the texts through other classes when texts were assigned as reading but students relied instead upon lectures for information. So, what I encounter are plenty of people who assume they are "educated" about literature but have never read the literature (and are unlikely to ever read the texts because of students' reliance upon partial or false memories about the texts). These same students, however, will absolutely insist that they "remember" the iconic figures from the literature because they believe (falsely) that they read the texts. I do not know if this responds to your query, but your query reminded me of this phenomenon--one which drives me crazy in the classroom.

November 29, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hamlet came to mind earlier in this string. A more homely example involves Woody Allen and Casablanca, in which movie no one ever says, "Play it again, Sam."

November 29, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Not only did Bogey actually say "Play it, Sam," without the "again," but Holmes never wore a deerstalker cap in the novels or short stories. That was a film invention.

November 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, there has also been disagreement over the origin of the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson." The one fact everyone who knows his or her Holmes seems to agree on is that Holmes never uttered it in any of Conan Doyle's stories. What seems to me the most plausible claim is that originated in a pre-Basil Rathbone Holmes movie.

Once one recognizes that Humphrey Bogart never said, "Play it again, Sam," the again in Woody Allen's title takes on the air of a yearning, nostalgic tribute.

If I recall correctly, the line as delivered in the movie is somthing like "Play, it" followed by which Dooley Wilson balks, and Bogart says: "Play it! You played it for her; you can play it for me. Play ... `As Time Goes By.'"

November 30, 2009  
Blogger Joy said...

I was suprised the second time I watched Hitchcock's Psycho to discover it was in black and white. I'd remembered the blood mixing with the water in the shower in vivid red detail. Ah the power of the imagination.

November 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's the best answer I've received to this post. It may even bump Psycho up a notch or two on my personal list of Hitchcock's best. Thanks for the comment.

November 30, 2009  
Anonymous John H said...

Speaking to the point made made by RT I'm sure I remember the book I "read" many years ago for an old English language class. "life is like a sparrow flying through the mead hall". Maybe that's not quite correct but I'm sure I would recognize the rest of it if I saw it again. But yeah, 30 or 40 years go by and who was that pretty girl next to you in class?

December 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The pretty girl was Linda. The poem might have been:

William Wordsworth

PERSUASION

"MAN'S life is like a Sparrow, mighty King!
"That--while at banquet with your Chiefs you sit
"Housed near a blazing fire--is seen to flit
"Safe from the wintry tempest. Fluttering,
"Here did it enter; there, on hasty wing,
"Flies out, and passes on from cold to cold;
"But whence it came we know not, nor behold
"Whither it goes. Even such, that transient Thing,
"The human Soul; not utterly unknown
"While in the Body lodged, her warm abode;
"But from what world She came, what woe or weal
"On her departure waits, no tongue hath shown;
"This mystery if the Stranger can reveal,
"His be a welcome cordially bestowed!"

December 12, 2009  
Anonymous John H said...

Yeppers, that's the one. I got to trying to remember it but couldn't so I looked it up. It's 6th or 7th century and regards the king converting to Christianity. I found a couple of versions but they were all very similar.

December 15, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Some early Scandinavian king, I recall. For some reason I associate the sparrow with the sort of hall those old Norsemen and Danes would feast in.

December 15, 2009  
Anonymous John H said...

It's old english from the Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede. Tells about King Edwin getting advice about christian missionaries in Northumbria in the 7th century. I've run into several translations.

December 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had roughly the right time and the right part of Europe, then. I've read bits of Bede but could not remember where I'd read the sparrow parable. Thanks.

December 16, 2009  

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