Monday, May 10, 2010

Tolkien Documentary (II)

So, I've now watched the second in my stack of Tolkien documentaries, J. R. R. TOLKIEN AND THE BIRTH OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS [2004]. Turns out that while I picked this up (at Half Price Bks) in 2005, I never watched it -- I'm sure I'd remember this one. Must have gotten lost in the shuffle.

In essence, it's a one-hour retelling of Tolkien's life, with a narrator voiceover to a montage of still photos mixed with plenty of little film clips as well (much of it modern-day film inexpertly antiqued, with faux-scratches added, always in the same spots). So, if you want to know what various streets Tolkien lived on over a century ago look like now, this film will satisfy yr curiosity.

Oddly enough, it devotes about two-thirds of its time to his early life: by the time they get to the end of WWI they only have about twenty minutes of screen time left. I think this is probably in imitation of most children's biographies, which tend to focus on the subject's childhood, but it means shorting the period when he actually wrote all the things that make people want to know about him in the first place.

My verdict? Mostly harmless.

By watching this, you won't learn anything you wouldn't have learned from reading Carpenter (indeed, if you read TOLKIEN: A BIOGRAPHY you'd know much more than you'll get here). The main virtue of this documentary is that it shows a lot of the places Tolkien lived and worked in his life, esp. in Birmingham. And, if it's genuine, the best photo I've seen of their house at Bournmouth.

The main drawback: some of their photos are faked. That is, if they don't have a picture of the thing they're talking about, they go ahead and show you something they think might look like it without informing you of the substitution. The fact that they're willing to fake stuff undermines the viewer's confidence: that early photo looks like it might actually be Bloemfontein, but I strongly suspect the family photos of the Suffield and Tolkien clans they show are just some random Victorian-era photos they turned up.

minor annoyance #1: when discussing Tolkien's self-identification with the Beren & Luthien story, instead of the Tolkiens they show a guy with elf-ears as Tolkien/Beren and then an elven couple (with elf-ears v. much modeled on the Peter-Jackson film) for Edith/Luthien & Ronald/Beren. Not only does it look really stupid, but apparently they don't get it that BEREN'S NOT AN ELF.

minor annoyance #2: they don't know how to pronounce JRRT's second middle name, Reuel. Fair enough, but consistency wd be nice. Here the first time it's pronounced Rowell, as if it rhymed with 'Howell' or 'Powell'. Thereafter it's Raoul, wh. makes me think more of Tears for Fears' album RAOUL & THE KINGS OF SPAIN than JRRT.

minor annoyance #3: their suggestion that Tolkien blotted out the memory of having been bitten by a spider when he was a year and a half old due to suppressing a traumatic memory. My theory wd be that he didn't remember it because most folks don't remember things that happen to them when they're less than two, you know?

Ah well. Here's hoping hobbit proverbs prove true for the third try, and hence the next documentary.


1 comment:

David Bratman said...

The inverse of the probable random photos in this Tolkien documentary is the one that, in the course of discussing Tolkien and WW1, showed a photo of the tombstone of a Lt. R.Q. Gilson, without indicating in any way that this wasn't just a random soldier's grave.

Tolkien's childhood life was complex and eventful, in terms of home moves and other such matters, and a frequent failing of children's biographies of his is that they get bogged down in the detail of these events, which really aren't that significant to understanding his work (though the general tenor of his childhood is), and potentially bore the young reader with that detail, not addressing the question of why one would want to read this biography in the first place.