Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bloomsday in Austin (and Prague and Paris)

 Every year I fail at celebrating Bloomsday. I've never even made it to an Irish pub on June 16th, let alone put together something cool like the daylong project this blogger came up with for doing Bloomsday in Houston.

This year, the day lined up with Father's Day, so--since I figured I'd spend my day doing family things--it looked like I would miss the celebration again. I did buy some Guinness, and I sent out a Facebook status based on the first sentence of Ulysses' Bloom section ("Mr. Scholarly Texan ate with relish breakfast tacos made with potatoes and bacon."). A half-hearted tribute to the novel, I guess.

But it was shaping up to be a great day, nonetheless. We had brunch with H's family at Nau's Enfield Drug, and then H's parents agreed to take the little one for the night, so H and I planned to go out. We've been hoping to see Before Midnight, the third film in Austin director Richard Linklater's trilogy. Like most couples of our generation, we secretly imagine that Jesse and Celine are loosely based on us.


We got lazy and decided to stay in. Or, as we justified it to ourselves, we needed to re-watch the first two movies, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, so we would be properly prepped for watching the third (at some unspecified future date).

Through all this, Joyce never left my mind. I know this because, in Before Sunrise’s opening scene, when Jesse and Celine are shuttling along the train tracks between Budapest and Prague, Jesse shares his harebrained idea of putting together a public-access film series featuring regular people from different cities around the world, each recording his or her life unedited for twenty-four hours.

"Hey," I said to H, "that’s like 365 film versions of Ulysses." H wasn’t impressed. (In the film, Celine isn't impressed either. I told you they're like us.)

But I knew the Joycean echo wasn’t a coincidence when, in the film’s climactic moment, the parting lovers decide to meet again in Prague in six months. In the process, they reveal the date on which the film's events have taken place: June 16th. Bloomsday!

At that point, I remembered that Before Sunrise isn’t Linklater’s only tribute to Joyce and Ulysses. In his first movie, Slacker (1991), Linklater has a character read aloud from the novel after a bad breakup. Aside from that reference, Slacker borrows from Ulysses in two ways. First, by setting the entire film within a span of twenty-four hours around Austin, Linklater is clearly trying to record “the physiognomy of the city,” to quote Carpentier, “like Joyce did with Dublin.” And the film’s technique of jumping from character-to-character with each interaction (so, for example, the camera will follow one person down the street until he encounters another another person, and then after their interaction the camera will follow the second person) comes straight from the “Wandering Rocks” episode of Ulysses. 

Dazed and Confused (1993) is a slightly more polished version of what Linklater was doing in Slacker, and less showy in its experimentation. But the elements are there: the whole thing takes place in a day (and night), and the narrative jumps from character to character again. Rather than walking around Austin, Dazed and Confused's characters drive, and that's one of several ways the film's Joycean nature is more muted. Still, some people have caught it. 

So, no, I didn't hit a pub (or several), and I didn't spend my day wandering the streets of where I'm from. But in the end, I did have a very Joycean Bloomsday. And a very Austin Bloomsday. And, all right, I admit it, a very slacker Bloomsday. 

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