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This report is taken from PN Review 246, Volume 45 Number 4, March - April 2019.

from ‘The Notebooks’
of Arcangelo Riffis
Marius Kociejowski
I wish we had spoken of a film I knew Arcangelo grudgingly admired, based on a play by Tennessee Williams, a writer who, for the most part, he greatly disliked. I think one reason we never spoke of Night of the Iguana was because he found it impossible to square what he perceived of as truly good with a despised source. A good poem by a poet he loathed, Auden, for example, was allowed no admittance, likewise a piece of music, say Benjamin Britten, for whom he had a special hatred. There are references to Night of the Iguana in the notebooks that would seem to suggest the film stumped him. There is a scene in it that should have spoken to him loud and clear. The virginal Hannah Jelkes character describes a mildly perverse act, although it was strong stuff for the time, which she forgives in the one who committed it. ‘Nothing human disgusts me, Mr Shannon,’ she says, ‘unless it’s unkind, violent.’ It is as moving a scene as any I have seen on screen and I think one of the reasons it works as it does is because, as played by Deborah Kerr, Hannah Jelkes tells it without so much a falter in her voice. As I read Arcangelo’s childhood tale, her words kept coming back to me.

Why did we argue so much? Why did I endure him for another three decades or more? It’s what people ask me and I say yes, but. But what? And then I have a mental struggle of sorts, any resolution to which makes no sense to anyone else ...

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