Celebrating Yule’s end
Huston bows out with an elegant aside
“Looking at Joyce recently,” media theorist and James Joyce scholar Marshall McLuhan wrote in a 1987 letter. “A bit startled to note that the last page of Finnegans Wake is a rendering of the last part of the Mass. Remembered that the opening of Ulysses is from the first words of the Mass. The whole thing is an intellectual Black Mass.” A Canadian of Scots-Irish descent and a lover of language, McLuhan often celebrated the bardic tradition and the “gift of gab” conferred on the sons of Erin by the famous Blarney Stone. I expect that he also celebrated Bloomsday, the annual commemoration of Joyce and his works that’s held today (June 16) around the world. Observed since at least 1924, it takes place on the date Joyce chose to set the events of his novel Ulysses: June 16, 1904. It takes its name from the book’s central character, Leopold Bloom, the Dubliner whose memorable Thursday features a series of mundane encounters that mirror those of the mythological Greek hero. Considered a modernist literary landmark, it was also at the centre of the most famous obscenity trial in U.S. history. Given his influence on the arts, it’s surprising how few filmmakers have attempted to bring Joyce’s work to the screen. Today’s three additions to the Reeling Back archive (with links to each following the Afterword to this posting) include directorial legend John Huston’s 1987 farewell feature, his adaptation of Joyce’s short story The Dead.
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