A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 565 – The Ninth Gate

The Ninth Gate – September 16th, 2011

I am once again visiting a friend of mine for the weekend, so Andy and I watched our movies for the weekend separately. It’s very different, watching a movie without him. But in the case of this movie, I’m fairly sure I watched it without him the first time I saw it too. In fact, I’m fairly sure I watched it in the same place, with the same friend. It’s a movie she enjoys and I remember watching it in her living room and I don’t ever remember watching it at home. In fact, we didn’t own it until after this project started. It was one of the cheap DVDs we got from my coworker’s husband. So while I watched this in one state with the friend who introduced me to it, Andy watched it in another state, by himself. Sorry, Andy.

I find this movie to be highly amusing mostly because it is one of the few movies that has Action Antiquarian Book Research. This whole movie is about a hunt for a set of rare books and the collectors who want them. Okay, it’s also about the devil and arcane rites and power, but mostly it’s about rare books. Oh, and about how the devil, or one of the devil’s minions, has a thing for Johnny Depp. But come on. Johnny Depp. Duh. Of course the devil wants him. I’m not entirely prepared to rule out that he has made a deal with the devil, really, what with him not aging and all. Sort of like Iman. Wait, where was I. Got distracted by gorgeous people who age gracefully. Right. Johnny Depp. He’s not quite as rogueish here as he is in things like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but he’s not too far removed. As rare book buyer/dealer Dean Corso he is frequently unscrupulous, often underhanded and definitely charming.

Now, here is where I digress a little bit and talk about rare books. One might think that the rare book world is a fairly sedate one. And to an extent that’s true. On the other hand, it does have its fantastic stories. Take, for example, Steven Blumberg, who licked bookplates off of rare books he stole from universities. Yes, you read that right. He used his own saliva to dampen the bookplates without harming the pages they were attached to, then peeled them off. He crawled through air vents, stole lock cylinders, impersonated staff members and stole millions of dollars’ worth of rare books. Not even to sell. He stole them because he wanted to “properly” care for them himself. They had to set up a special task force to identify and return the books he stole. The rare book world is fierce, okay? Aside from the actual supernatural element to this story, I do not for one moment find it hard to believe that a collector looking to acquire the “authentic” version of a book or the plates inside it would go to extreme measures. Okay, maybe not quite this extreme, but still.

And how extreme are we talking? Well, murder is pretty extreme, obviously. Corso is hired by collector Boris Balkan to authenticate his copy of a book entitled The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. There are two other surviving copies out there and he charges Corso with the task of looking at them and comparing them to each other. What Corso finds is that each copy is authentic, but each is slightly different. There are a number of engravings in the book, but looking at them together, each book has three engravings with the initials LCF and the rest with the initials of the author. And each book has a different set of LCF engravings. Clearly there’s something mysterious afoot, right? Of course. There was a story that the author made a deal with the devil and that got him burned as a witch and his books destroyed. The surviving copies would seem to be a curiosity, except that as Corso researches them and travels to find the other two copies, people keep showing up dead and the books themselves go missing or are damaged. And then there’s the mysterious woman following him around.

It’s not really clear whether Corso deals with the devil itself or with a minion. It’s not like the character has a name in the credits or anything obvious like that. But what is clear is that she’s got some pull in dark places. And she doesn’t want Balkan or any of the other collectors or dealers who handle the books. She wants Corso. And, as my friend says, “she’s fun!” And she is! She plays with him and teases him and she doesn’t actually do things for him. She points the way and lets him figure most of it out on his own. She’s also remarkably low key, which explains why she’s not terribly impressed by all the fancy trappings of the cult and ceremony later in the movie. She’s one of the three major reasons that I do like and enjoy the movie, despite its director.

The other two reasons would be Johnny Depp, whom I do enjoy watching, and the rare book action. I just find it thoroughly fantastic that the movie is this dangerous quasi-action thriller based entirely around rare books. It means there are lots of tense scenes where Corso carefully examines engravings and discusses bindings and paper. Of course, it also features him smoking around the rare book and carrying it around, unwrapped, in his satchel. But whatever. My friend and I figure that the smoking is a conceit of the film, because there’s almost always some sort of fire when the book is out and visible on screen. Still, the librarian in me cringes at how the book is handled. Gloves, people! Gloves and acid free boxes! I guess since it’s really only ultimately valuable for the engravings no one cares if it gets some finger smudges.

Anyhow, I do enjoy the movie. It’s a fun supernatural thriller and it does focus on books, so it’s not surprising that I like that aspect of it. But it’s also not really my genre and I’m no fan of Polanski, so I doubt I’d have gone out of my way to buy this had a used copy not been available cheaply and easily. Mostly I enjoy it for the company I’ve watched it with. This particular friend is a very good one and she very much enjoys this movie but didn’t seem to mind my snarking on how the book was handled, which makes it all the more fun to watch.

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September 16, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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