Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dennis Cooper and the Half-Blood Prince

On Dennis Cooper's list of favorite things in 2009—which I hadn't exactly thought of as a useful resource for mainstream commercial entertainment—I was surprised to discover that his movie roster included "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," trailing at number ten behind several hard-to-get independent and French films. I'm not sure why Dennis liked the Potter film, and would probably fear to ask, but having ordered it up from Netflix for my Christmas entertainments, I did feel qualified to concur with his approval.

Roger Ebert felt the film was sort of ok for reasons left unexplained; Anthony Lane of the New Yorker didn't like it at all; Philip French of the Guardian and other critics could find nothing more useful to do than titter over the tentative sexual advances of the now pubescent teenage principals—don't you get the impression at times that movie reviewers never really look at the movies they are reviewing?

The real shortcoming of the film, namely that the same principals are now grown up and really aren't very interesting people and certainly haven't matured into any proficiency at acting, seems to have gone unremarked. The only halfways fleshed-out performance was that of old DumbleBore, whose demise was not particularly regretted, at least not by me. (Let's hope he embraced it definitively and won't re-appear in the next sequel, like Gandalf, who re-emerged from certain destruction in Part Two of Lord of the Rings.)

So why is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince an interesting movie? Because it demonstrates the conversion of a children's phantasy story into a full-blown Gothic novel. Take Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, mash it up with Anne Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, and throw in some stock characters and paraphernalia of Gothic fiction to include madwomen, sorcerers, monsters, demons, villains, revenants, maniacs, dark caves, magic amulets, ghosts, Byronic heroes (= Harry), and whatever the hell else, and you're right back there in the 1820's, ready for business. Quidditch notwithstanding, the film's wonderfully designed Gothic interiors, and the new, expressionistically re-designed battlements of Hogwarts' towers, leave no doubt that the future for Harry Potter lies two centuries back in the past.

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