WHAT’S LEFT OF OSCAR WILDE?
Some will say not much. It was aristocratic like hell, it was witty like Hades, it was gross like Beelzebub. What’s left in our world where honor is a valueless stigma, if not stigmata, where greed is what everyone gargles every morning with, where sex is the funniest thing you can invent whereas love is a parody of the latest high porn free access flesh fornicating temptation.
But it sure is an illustration of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 21st century. And the latter is definitely graphic. So, let’s try to find something in these famous classics that are becoming more and more some cultish marginal clandestine culture.
OSCAR WILDE — THE UNCENSORED PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY — 2012
The main character is not so much Dorian Gray as Lord Henry Wotton. He is the one who manipulated the seventeen-year-old Dorian Gray as if he were a puppet-master playing with his puppet on its strings and rod, unseen and yet the one who provided society, meaning here the top elite of this society, with the daily gossip that can only entertain their idleness. Both Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton were part of this idle society and Lord Wotton occupied his time with making Dorian Gray do what he, Lord Wotton, would like to do but couldn’t since it was a lot funnier to have someone else do it.
We all know the trick of the painting that ages in the place and stead of Dorian Gray and takes on itself all the perverted crimes of this Dorian Gray it is supposed to represent. What is important here is the fact that Dorian Gray is going to remain innocent-looking and as if he were forever 16 or 17 years old in his body, while his soul — if he has a soul, or if the concept of soul was relevant here — is getting more and more wicked and lost. I will not use the words “sin” or “sinful” here because that’s an easy Christian way of looking at the problem. What this picture means is that for everyone what looks good has to be good, even when you know it is bad, at least according to the social gossip and the moral rumor.
In spite of all the rumors against or about Dorian Gray, and the long list of ruined members of the elite who got connected — too closely — with Dorian Gray, he will always be welcome in his all-male club, and in all social events, even those involving his victims. What you see is what you get, isn’t it? That has never changed, and if what you see is worth getting, you just have to get it, and you get it, poison and all, no matter how dangerous it could be. And you will run away to the other end of the world in shame afterward, and you will commit suicide with no explanation, and you will lock yourself into absolute reclusion. This visual dimension of the human experience is brilliantly shown here, though it is slightly over-developed when dealing with the intellectual interests of Dorian Gray in transmuted objects, in transgressive experiences.
He starts with perfumes, transmuted scents transfixed into a trap for other people who fall to that attraction. You should not follow your nose. Then he gets into jewels that are flashing color and beauty all around and attract all the social magpies in this world. Then he goes into embroideries which are beautiful needlework that in reality hides what can be ugly, what is ugly underneath. Dorian Gray collects and cultivates illusions, in fact, surrogate simulacra that look like beauty but are not the real beauty of the person who carries or wears them.
Dorian Gray then becomes the only subject — or rather the only object — of Lord Henry Wotton’s study about the possibility to make some idle and vain young person explore all the possible fields of corruption and ugliness in society, while keeping their fair appearances, their obsessive attractions to other people, though it runs against the reputation of this young man. He is, in fact, full time mental and sensuous temptation for everyone who is bored with their idleness. When the pie is too sweet, why not drink some hemlock tea?
Oscar Wilde is, of course, thinking of his own case and experience: to be seduced by a young and vain person, but it means no love or at least it does not mean love. What the book, even in this uncensored edition, is not at all clear about is one “perversion” this English aristocratic society cannot accept morally though it practices it vastly and nobody frowns on it as long as no class difference has been trespassed. This is homosexuality. Yet it is hinted at the fact that the artist, as for one, had some desire along this line but it is clearly hinted that Dorian Gray refused it. We can even wonder if the painting’s black magic is not the result of this repressed love, or rather attraction, for an aristocrat on the side of the artist, or for a non-aristocrat on Dorian Gray’s side. Then the killing of the artist is nothing but the final castration of Dorian Gray’s desire, its total repression by the elimination of the object of this anti-social attraction for someone under his own station, and that elimination has to be done with a knife, a phallic symbol of some sort.
That would explain why then he decided not to take advantage of the young village girl he had seduced in the worst feudal way since his homosexual desire was finally repressed and kept under control. Without an object his desire became pointless and he could, in fact, turn it against himself. If the subject has no object, then the subject becomes his own object. He did not have to compensate for his desire and escape from it by raping a girl far under his own aristocratic station. He had to turn his own desire onto himself and narcissistically caused his own destruction.
So, this new edition does not break any new barrier, but the traditional slightly censored edition was just as clear. A couple of sketchy allusion to this type of desire is just adding some fresh cream to the pie.
And no one will be surprised by the end that is exposed — and that’s the proper word — in ninety-one words and six lines. A prime number split along the wisdom of Solomon. Well, well, well! Note the book has a strong and strange anti-Jewish side which was quite “normal” in those days, but which is slightly irritating today. The victim of any segregation always finds compensation. Dorian Gray is quite within the limits of normalcy after all. Do not expect any epiphany from him and his story.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
BEN BARNES — OSCAR WILDE — DORIAN GRAY — 2009
I have nothing to add about the story itself that is known by everyone and that I have covered and reviewed so many times as a novel. But the film here upgrades the vision of the perversion Dorian Gray is immersed into. The film makes graphic what is only alluded to in the book. We could wonder why, though, the film is so fast and flimsy on these scenes of perversion and reduces them to perversion instead of showing them as pleasure. That’s the moralist trap. Dorian Gray does not dive into “perversion” but into “pleasure” and as much as pleasure is not love, even if love can go along with pleasure, most of the skimpy visions of these pleasures make them immoral and unethical by their very skimpiness. That might have made the film longer, but it would have been worth it, to really see what could attract a young man in these activities.
That turns the desire to remain young forever absurd, idiotic even, coming from a retarded mind. Dorian Gray is not human, he is devilish and mentally retarded. I just wonder if he would not be considered by some autistic.
And yet there might be something interesting in this film, something the film insists on that is maybe not as clear, or as much emphasized upon in the book. Love as a salvaging adventure after a life of inconsequential involvement with other people for one’s sole enjoyment, even if at times it meant making others suffer. Love would be the epiphany or the salvation of Dorian Gray. But it is not possible and then the end, the killing of the portrait, is some kind of vengeance of Dorian gray against this picture, in fact against himself.
But I do not think it is vengeance. The locking of the gate and the pulling of the gas wall light to release the gas, to no avail since there is no explosion, is more an act of vengeance from Lord Wotton because his daughter fell in her father’s trap. Imagine the hunter’s dog falling into the wolf trap the hunter had set up to catch a wolf. I think there is and should be some sense of justice in Dorian Gray at this moment: to make his picture eternal in its youth and to free the world of the social canker he is. Then and only then it becomes an epiphany because Dorian Gray put an end to his own perverted and not perverse life. Here he is condemned by Lord Wotton to die in a fire in a house that anyway does not burn up, hence he simply commits suicide by killing the real him that lives in the picture.
As you can see there is no love in this. My dear young lady. You love me. I love you. I kill myself for you to have the picture of the man you love forever, for your eyes to contemplate it over and over again, the way all the women he abused and took advantage of were admiring him still so young-looking twenty years after he had enjoyed them, and they all seemed to remember that drastic moment as if it had been for them a miracle.
Enjoy the film and wonder how the underground train ran in that early 20th-century story without any smoke. There are some details like this one that should have been taken care of. Was the underground already electric, or weren’t these early lines in a trench and not a tunnel?
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
BBC — OSCAR WILDE — THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY — 1976
The film is luxurious and beautiful as for the setting, the costumes, the music, and even the acting since some of the actors are well-known and have been well-trained by well-seasoned careers. At first, the film is very closely faithful to the book, but we plainly jump from Sibyl Vane’s affair that ends badly to quite a few years later when Dorian Gray dispatches Basil Hallward and finally eighteen years after Sibyl Vane, with absolutely no element to know what happened in the meantime. Such an enormous ellipse is by far too much to be realistic. We just jump into the unknown and we are supposed to know what he did, that is to say, to know the book, which by the way was not yet uncensored in 1976.
But even after this quick jump, the film shortens the end. Dorian Gray does not make Lord Wotton pay for his perverting advice by seducing his daughter, which gets rid of the vengeful motivation of Lord Wotton then and it also gets rid of Dorian Gray’s ethical and even simply rational stance at the age of something like just under forty when he realizes in his mind that has aged even if his body hasn’t that he has to look at life in a different light. And maybe he has to get to some existential stability. And then Lord Wotton cannot accept that at all, and he will do what he can to get rid of him. All that is taken away and summarized in one killing dagger-blow from Dorian Gray at the painting and the very improbable, too rapid and even skimpy shift of the monster in the painting to the monster on the floor with a dagger in his chest whereas the eternally young Dorian Gray is back in the picture.
That’s a shame because the BBC has a better reputation and here it is not up to it.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
JOSEY NIEUWENHUIS, “DORIAN GRAY,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2cn1iejufk, FUNUDA FILMS, 2016
This film is a mystery in many ways, but its director has a LinkedIn page and profile. Josey Nieuwenhuis is connected to Grandville High School, Grandville, Michigan, as a graduate. But he defines himself as a Funuda Films director where he has been active from 2000, and he is still active there, which means he has been a director there for more than 19 years. And yet he is not listed at IMDb and the film is not listed either and this is surprising for someone who has been a director for 19 years. And on LinkedIn, he defines himself as follows: “I have extensive talent and experience with editing in both Photography and Film.” I have just sent a message to him on LinkedIn and I hope I will get an answer soon.
The film referred to here is both a fair adaptation and at the same time slightly too short, too superficial on the central question of how a young man can be manipulated by another, older indeed, into doing what the older man would like to do but does not have the guts to. Lord Henry Wotton is a devilish manipulator of human puppets and Dorian Gray is a perfect case. But we do not enter Dorian Gray’s real dark side because Oscar Wilde is clear on one element: you cannot manipulate someone who is not “manipulatable.” Dorian Gray is the easiest manipulatable person you can imagine. And yet Oscar Wilde shows how he is able to resist the major manipulation, the sexual manipulation from the painter himself, and how he will bring this painter to confessing this attraction, appeal and desire and that will cause his doomed destruction in the hands of Dorian Gray himself with a — mind you — phallic knife of course.
The adaptation is fair in a way because it systematically uses the dialog in the novel. Oscar Wilde is a playwright more than anything else and this novel is full of long dialogs that are very dramatic and perfectly written for the stage. Josey Nieuwenhuis uses these dialogs without any rewriting, or little rewriting, in his scenario. But he is apparently unable to use the long prose passages that describe the slow and tortured, twisted, distorted evolution of Dorian Gray starting with the desire to experiment with life and yet the will not let himself fall, glide or slip into anything gay, as we would say today. He is, in fact, a typical repressed homosexual who is attracted by men and yet censors his attraction and compensates for it by punishing himself with relationships with women whom he destroys in the end. All the men who approach him get ruined or destroyed in a way or another, even the master manipulator who is led to a divorce from his wife. So, he is surrounded with suicides, shameful escapes, total reclusion away from this unethical world for some, and eventually these men being killed by the devilish man himself. This is underrepresented in this film.
The black magic of the painting imposed onto it by Dorian Gray himself who is thus the main black magician, sorcerer, witchdoctor or dark wizard. He imposes corruption, distortion, and destruction onto anyone who approaches him (men) and women are just collateral victims to deal with the desire he does not want to acknowledge and accept in himself. He is not clearly sexually approached by other people. At least it is not said as bluntly as that in the novel. He is only sexually responding to a more or less understood evolution towards this sexual dimension in the most destructive way, a response to his own attraction to these other men around him that he cannot cope with or simply tolerate. And the only one who confesses his attraction to Dorian Gray, the painter, will be instantly killed by this Dorian Gray because for him this confession is the accusation that he, Dorian Gray, is the real perpetrator of this attraction: he creates this attraction in the painter, and this accusation is beyond Dorian Gray’s capability to accept anything of the sort. He is so repressed in his gayness that he destroys anyone who would make him think, no matter how little, that he is an active subject in this appeal, that he is the appealer, the source of the appeal.
This film then is slightly too short and the abstinence and reclusion of the end of the novel are not really brought up. When he finally decides to stop ruining women to satisfy his unaccepted and repressed gay desire, he has to commit his own destruction, which he does, strangely enough, by trying to destroy the painting, hence the ugly picture of himself, what Oscar Wilde calls his soul.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
BBC — OSCAR WILDE — AN IDEAL HUSBAND — 1969
We can never know with this particular comedy if Oscar Wilde is being witty or satirical, and no matter how hard you may try, you will not know. Of course, in Oscar Wilde’s days, it must have been mostly witty and just a little bit satirical. The dandy was once again at his best showing how superficial the aristocratic society of Great Britain was, but at the same time he was showing the charm of this aristocratic society, the charm and the wickedness of these aristocrats since they are also the worst cheaters with life and politics, and the worst possible blackmailers, meaning terribly cruel and at the very same just terribly bad at it.
So, what can survive?
First the very idea that to be well born, meaning in the aristocracy, rich or poor who cares really, provided you have a good title, then the rest is nothing but calculation and conspiration in the withdrawing wings; to be well born and well educated, meaning in one Ivy League university of Great Britain, as they would say in New England, meaning in a public school that is, of course, private and hyper super califragilisticexpialidociously selective; to be well born and well educated is no guarantee that you will be honest. In fact, you have to be slightly dishonest to get the fortune you may not have because idleness runs in the blood of the aristocracy and doing nothing does not provide you with a rich lifestyle.
And our main character is just such an embezzler, but it is supposed to remain secret, except that a blackmailer appears and decides to earn some money without doing anything except menacing not an innocent man, but a guilty man who can be ruined if his guilt becomes public. Isn’t that a shame. But there is always a good friend who will be able to save the day and destroy the plot. The irony of the satire is that the blackmailer is a woman and the dishonest victim is a man.
But then what’s left in life? Nothing except idleness. And boredom. Then the males and the females have only one objective and it is to get married. Do not expect anything lurid, ole-ole, frantic or simply marginal. We are not in Oscar Wilde’s time going along with gay marriage, LGBTQI adventure, and if there is anything trans then it is a transvestite in comedy and farce, to trap the other, the one you want to marry but you’re not quite sure yet. But Oscar Wilde does not seem to like anything like transvestic transvestment. A dandy for sure, and quite a few of his characters are slightly on the dandy side, spending more time to choose a buttonhole every morning and for any occasion than to seriously read the Times, without any pictures, or the news from the Stock Exchange.
It is in a way funny, well-acted, beautifully set and produced, but frankly, it is so superficial that even the most careless newborn would not be able to get drowned in this little rivulet of a brook right at the end and bottom of the garden.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
BBC — OSCAR WILDE — LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN — 1985
Marital life among the aristocratic elite of British society one hundred and thirty odd years ago. Pathetic and melodramatic, but the melodramatic that creates no empathy at all. What’s surprising is that Oscar Wilde condescended — for monetary reasons probably — to write such a play, apart from the fact that the aristocratic elite is going to love it because it makes them moral and even human. Mind you, pay attention to the intricacy of the situation. There is no plot, just an intricate situation. Lady Windermere, an orphan in a way who was abandoned by her mother though she was told, and she believed, she died shortly after her birth. She is married to a very rich Lord. A strange woman, meaning a woman whose circumstances are totally unknown of everyone, comes up and she is taken care of by Lord Windermere, which brings up some gossip about his marriage. We know from the very start it is not true and there must be some secret that has to do with Lady Windermere, and sure enough, it will be revealed she is Lady Windermere’s mother, right at the end and in total secrecy since only Lord Windermere is in the know.
The peripeteias of the story are trite and entirely based on the imbroglio created by gossip versus blackmail versus revelation versus secrecy. I am sure that the little dog of Chopin’s famous waltz has lost his tail in his chase by now. Luckily it is rather perfectly well acted in a beautiful real natural, though mostly made of stone and brick, setting. But what is left after the whole story?
Women are wicked for sure but there is always a good spot somewhere, no matter how evil they may be. In the same way, women are good for sure but there is always a wicked spot somewhere, no matter how good they may be. But we can say exactly the same thing about men, and the whole rigmarole turns around and around like a Merry-go-round in a funfair. Has Oscar Wilde aged? For sure my dear, for sure. He has aged a lot and the dandy of his days has become the ghost of a dandy haunting the opera of our life.
The only thing that is left at the end is that all men and women have secrets and that they all lie when necessary, in the name of their greed, or in the name of their honor, or even in the name of their ethical goodness. Love is the most transient situation that lasts as long as necessary for some advantage in life to be conquered, be it some wealth, or be it a son or a daughter. Apart from that, love is permanent treachery and the truth is that love is blind and has to be as blind as an alley that rhymes with cul-de-sac.
In this play, there are a lot of mottos hammered into us by the setting, the acting, the directing, the music too, and of course the mise-en-abyme that is such a charm in Hollywood. But we are here at the BBC! Sure! Is there a difference between the BBC and Walt Disney? Of course not, and I am sure Steven Spielberg would be flattered to be compared to the BBC. But that does not add one gram of weight and one-eighth of an inch of depth to the play that is just quaint and entertaining, because quaint mainly.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU