The one about a picture being worth ten thousand words?
Well, I’ve been thinking about it a great deal over the last several days, and I’m bound to say, I think it’s rubbish.
We’ve got the picture, all right. The image. But how many words have been expended on the subject of that smile of hers? Or is it a smile? Is it not perhaps just a ‘pleasantly bored but not wanting to give offence by yawning’ expression? How many words?
Ten thousand? Ten million? Who knows?
Maybe it’s just the way her mouth is shaped?
And then there are all the thousands of words that have been expended telling us what her smile may mean. But here’s the thing: We don’t know. Because we’ve only got the picture.
We haven’t got the words, not her words, not her husband’s words, not the artist’s words.
We don’t know what she’s thinking about to produce that dreamy expression, and will never will. Because we’ve only got the picture–which in this case is not worth ten thousand words. It’s only worth three: “I don’t know.”
Which brings me to a recent trend in film-making–the filmic extension of this picture being worth ten thousand words–the paring down of scripts to their barest minimum with a palimpsest of plot remaining whilst giving the cinematographers free rein to show us scene after scene of gorgeousness, but…well without the words there, they don’t connect to mean much of anything really.
I recently saw the newest remake of Jane Eyre with Michael Fassbender. It was beautiful–visually lush. Lots of scenes of the formal garden, its box hedges whited with hoare frost and all that. Beautiful. Breath-taking. But what did it add to our understanding of the developing relationship between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester?
I thi-ink it may have been intended to indicate a passage of time.
In which case, it failed, because they seem to have got the seasons out of sync, with frost followed by non-frosty scene, followed by more frost. And if the development of their relationship over the winter is meant to parallel an inner thawing of Rochester’s perception of life and a springtide of hope, then that was altogether lost by the disenfranchised scenes of frost and thaw and frost again.
Or maybe it was just there to tell me that it’s really cold in winter up in Yorkshire. (Here’s a clue, lads: I already knew that…)
And thus, although we’d had a delicious montage of beautifully set-up shots–every one deserving a place on a wall in an exhibition of fine photography–and there was lots of ‘big music’ telling us that there were significant emotions swirling about and this was an important scene, a turning point, at the end, we were left with only questions. The biggest of which was, “Where’s the last line?” or “Is that it?” [Spoken with voice raised in incredulity.]
Obviously, we were also left stumped by the cluelessness by means of which this greatest of literary love stories with characters who become so united in spirit that she can “hear” him in his hour of desperate need got turned into a travelog for the Yorkshire Tourist Board.
Anyway, as we launch into a new season or even era of costume dramas–some of which are based on novels of significant stature–perhaps it would be well for film and television series makers to remember one vital thing–without a script, you’ve got nothing…so, learn to linger on the words, to love those, the taste those in your mouth and find them good…and you’ll find your audience.
As for me, I think I may reread Jane Eyre, just to remind myself…and after that, A Tale of Two Cities…and maybe after that…some John Donne, or Gerard Manley Hopkins, as in this first verse of his poem, Spring:
Nothing is so beautiful as spring —
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
Because words? They are paintbrush and a rainbow palette of colours, hue and shade, with which to wash the page altogether…