Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
In Bed with Ulysses: What Better Way to Spend Bloomsday?
addition to its now universally acknowledged literary significance, the efforts
to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses in
the face of widespread censorship was the major publishing story of its
day. Actually, the novel’s publishing
history is still unfolding. Many
scholars recently rejoiced when it along with most of Joyce’s early works went
into the public domain, liberating them from what they considered an
unreasonable and erratic estate executor.
It should make this year’s Bloomsday celebration quite lively. Joyceans in Brooklyn will also be able to mark
June 16th, that fateful day spent with protagonist Leopold Bloom, by
attending the premiere theatrical engagement of Alan Adelson & Kate Taverna’s
In Bed with Ulysses, which opens this
Monday at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, irrespective of Stephen Joyce's controversial stewardship.
Bed, Adelson and Taverna celebrate
Joyce’s language, but not necessarily his personality. Indeed, many leading Joyce scholars make no
bones about the author’s self-centered neuroses. They certainly do not make him sound like a
particularly pleasant husband, plundering his relationship with wife Nora for
his autobiographical novels, while bizarrely prodding her to justify his extreme
jealousies. Still, it provides good
fodder for documentaries.
his work is something else entirely. In
staged readings of Ulysses, performed
by established legit actors, including Kathleen Chalfant (known for the original
New York production of Wit) reading
in the Molly Bloom persona, the film luxuriates in the rhythms and ribald
tartness of Joyce’s language. While we
do not hear anything to make the typical Brooklyner blush, there might be just
enough to make a PBS broadcast, as is, a tad tricky.
of the performers have a good feel for Joyce’s words and the archival images of
1904 Dublin that often accompany their readings give viewers a vivid sense of
where the novel came from. Adelson and
Taverna also incorporate a fair amount of focused and on-point expert
interviews, the most notable being novelist and Joyce biographer Edna O’Brien,
an impressive literary figure in her own right.
Of course to nobody’s surprise, grandson-executor Stephen Joyce never
makes an appearance.
In Bed with
an easily digestible combination of Joyce biography and Ulysses crib notes, with fair servings of Irish history and theater
arts mixed in. Obviously, Irish cultural
institutions should be very interested in the film, but its exploration of
Bloom’s Jewish heritage and the extent to which Limerick’s 1904 anti-Jewish
riots and boycotts informed the novel should expand the demographic audience
considerably. Yet, the Joyceans who
continue to be intrigued by the literary icon’s revolutionary novels are the
real target market.
Informative but never too heavy, In Bed with Ulysses is readily recommended
for those who appreciate literary biography or looking for a way to ease into
the somewhat intimidating novel. It is
also a chance for borough loyalists to support Brooklyn filmmakers at the
Brooklyn Heights Cinema, before the scrappy art-house goes into temp space
while their current location is redeveloped.
It runs there for at least one week, beginning this coming Monday
(6/11), which indeed includes Bloomsday next Saturday (6/16).
Labels: Documentary, James Joyce