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Thar She Blows

February 28, 2007

Some scattered thoughts upon watching John Huston's 1956 movie adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck:

1. I've seen the film a couple of times before, but I never noticed the ominous power of the sound effects in this film until this viewing. The cawing and wheeling of the birds above the whale, the uneven clip-thud-clip-thud as the whalebone-limbed Ahab wanders the deck at night, the rustle of Pip's tambourine that sounds for all the world like the shaking of bones, the sea shanties, and the roar of the sea itself are all still echoing around my head.

2. Any remake of this film should star Johnny Depp. What an Ahab he'd make. That actor was born to play the role.

3. The crew of the Pequod is on a suicide mission. Ahab's charismatic captainship has them in thrall. Their zealous pursuit of the whale reminds me slightly of suicide bombers in the Middle East or the power of David Koresh or Jim Jones over their followers.

4. The expression "Thar she blows!" is absurd in this film. Moby Dick is a male whale.

5. I wish I could have witnessed Orson Welles' stage version of Moby Dick in the 1950s. (Welles played the minor yet memorable role of the preacher Father Mapple in Huston's movie.) Reading Kenneth Tynan's description of the production whets my appetite even more:

"At this stage of his career, it is absurd to expect Mr Orson Welles to attempt anything less than the impossible. Mere possible things, like Proust or War and Peace, would confine him. He must choose Moby Dick, whose setting is the open sea, whose hero is more mountain than man and more symbol than either, and whose villain is the supremely unstageable whale. He must take as his raw material Melville's prose, itself as stormy as the sea it speaks of, with a thousand wrecked metaphors clinging on its surface to frail spars of sense. Yet out of all these impossibilities, Mr Welles has fashioned a piece of pure theatrical megalomania: a sustained assault on the senses which dwarfs anything London has seen since, perhaps, the Great Fire." (June 19, 1955)



  • I loved the Book, though the middle did require extra focus for little brained me. So many big words and obscure references in Moby Dick. So many sentences like: 'Ahab was like Bilku on top of Mount Sirne, lavish with his strength, but so unctuous that the propinquity made him appear like Sheyma in the battle of Danitoh.' I was always reading and going "Oh, yeah, Herman Melville, that's exactly what I was going to say Ahab was like, he's so obviously like that." I loved the movie and am a huge Orson W. fan so I was obviously the target audience for this blog. Is there even one still to see from that production? Keep up the great work.

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