21 January, 2009

"Revisited" revisited


Ah . . . . "Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred and Profane Memories of Charles Ryder." There are always those touchstones that seem to continue to influence one throughout one's life and Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece from 1945 is one of mine. I received the DVD of the new film yesterday and have been watching various bonus tracks and commentaries since then. And, my, it brings back memories . . . .

I first met the story, in a different form, in the early '80's when I watched the PBS mini-series based on the book.
I can recall that I had a gruesome series of piano lessons on Tuesday evenings, and every week I would create some new, grand lie to tell Mrs. Cranston so that I could leave my lesson early and be home in time to see it from the opening credits. Seriously, it was like drowning in beauty and clearly one of my early influences and the beginning of my love of English design.

I was excited, although frankly a bit worried, when I heard that there was a new film production set to release in 2008. How was anyone ever going to be able to re-create the magic that I had felt as a teenager sitting in our darkened living room in Mississippi. The good news is . . . they didn't try.

The new film is as different from the mini-series as either of them are from the original book (which I re-read usually once a year.) The story has been compressed, of course, and some plot lines re-ordered, but one must expect that when a 300 page book in condensed into a 2 hour film. I had the opportunity to see the film with a friend who had not seen the mini-series, so I had a chance to compare my impressions of the film with someone seeing it with 'fresh' eyes. Whilst not as grand as the book, and in many ways, not a magical as the TV series, it is a compelling re-imagination of a complex and twisting story. If you saw the film, I highly recommend the TV series. There are lengthy sections that are verbatim from the book and the cinematography is spectacular. and seriously, one of the best soundtracks on earth.

The Great Hall, Castle Howard
Ah . . . but my love of "Brideshead" does not end there . . . Above is a photo of the great hall (just under the central dome) at Castle Howard, the residence used as the setting for both the mini-series and the recent film. In 2002, I had the great fortune of spending a good part of a cold, rainy February day investigating the grounds and touring the house.

For those of you who know me (and know of my penchant for sneaking into churches to sing), I love hearing the acoustics of amazing spaces. While I was at Castle Howard that afternoon, there was a violinist playing folk songs in the great hall. I was still wandering about when I noticed that there was an sudden silence - and that the musician had taken a little break for some tea.

I asked one of the docents, somewhat humbly, if I could sing a bit . . . just to hear a human voice in the space. She giggled and said "Certainly."

So . . . after a deep breath, I launched into a series of Byrd motets and marveled at the sound flying around the huge dome. Wow. It was one of the most magical moments of my life. Just as the last echo faded, a kind gentleman walked through and thanked me for singing. I humbly thanked him, thanked the docent, and went on my way to see the glorious long gallery one last time before leaving.

It was several moments later when I realized the gentleman was, in fact, the honourable Simon Howard, the castle's current resident. I'm glad I didn't know who he was at the time, for surely I would have fumbled a awkward response . . . lol.

Ah, "Brideshead Revisited," such a constant in my life.

Thanks to ArchitectDesign for reminding me of that story . . . and to Netflix, for sending the film right when I needed to see it.

still hearing the echoes,

for more information on Castle Howard


Anonymous said...

Cool story. The house looks amazing!

I actually really hated the new movie. It could never be as well made as the tv show was.

Charlotte in NY.

ArchitectDesign said...

I blogged about the 2008 version of the movie both before and after I saw it. I think I would have enjoyed the newer version much more if I had never seen the original series or read the book. It certainly is visually stunning like you say, but the story was disappointing. Ahh....to have fresh eyes again; i'm sure I would have loved it!

GrannySmithGreen said...

Singing in THAT space! Oh, my goodness! What an absolute treat! It reminds me of when our chamber choir went on tour. We were so silly. We broke out in song at any acoustically strategic moment! A particular favorite was Ave Verum Corpus. Simply divine! Wish I could have been a fly in the castle that day!

The London Cheapskate said...

I wouldn't say I share your passion for sneaking into churches to sing, but I would like to sneak into a couple of the more expensive London churches. St. Paul's for example is supposed to have a great crypt...but it costs to get in. Now were one to, say, come in for Sunday services and accidentally take a wrong turn into the crypts...


Tickled Pink And Green said...

I saw both and I liked the original (Jeremy Irons) soooooooo much better. I remember loving the big ole sitting room they were always in. Much more to my taste.

VoiceTalk said...

Ah what memories this post brings back. I saw the original series on PBS which as a teenager and - like you- it inspired my passion for all things English. The new film is lovely. However, the poetry of the book and the original series is something else altogether.

I envy your singing in the hall!


Anonymous said...

I was so enchanted by your descriptions of your childhood and how even back then, you were so taken by the grand archetectures of the English in that show. It is good to know that I am not the only one who has always had clearer memories of house parts whether it be inside or out and colors and textures. These have always stood out in my mind more than what an Aunt or Uncle or cousin said or did. But rather what was the setting in which they all were. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece. Thank you.

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