The first connection I made between the book and the movie was “Oh! Their names are the same!” It seemed kind of dumb at first, but I doubted it was a coincidence. Hitchcock’s Johnny is a male reporter sent to Europe to find out if war is brewing and accidentally stumbles on a conspiracy plot. The plot was a lot more thrilling and mysterious than the book Foreign Correspondent, although I imagine the female Johnny would have been inspired by this movie – there is no direct reference to the movie, but I think female Johnny wanted to be like Hitchcock’s Johnny, being sent on an important mission to glean information from some enigma (For him, Ambassador Van Meer. for her, cage fighter Scooter). Female Johnny wants to stumble upon some big secret, get her big break as she’s been trying to do for the past couple years, and make a name for herself (or use her fake one, as Hitchcock’s Johnny was given one, although he didn’t like it as much).
Both Johnny’s targets are distant and difficult to connect with. Van Meer seems almost stupid and whimsical in his conversations with “Haverstock”, then he’s killed/kidnapped. Scooter actively avoids many of female Johnny’s (or Ute’s, her professional name), writing brief and mostly impersonal responses to Johnny’s long and worshipful letters. While the novel Foreign Correspondent is not nearly as exciting plot-wise as Hitchcock’s movie, the main characters’ goals are almost identical. But it seems that trouble can only be found when one is not looking for it, as “Haverstock” only found out about the conspiracy because he got a little too curious, while female Johnny is trying her damnedest to get something juicy but only getting stonewalled wherever she goes. It’s like she’s trying to live a fantasy, but only in her head, since her attempts in real life only yield terse answers.
Foreign Correspondent is different from The Flamethrowers in many ways, but the most immediately obvious way is style. Joanna Howard uses a bubbly, geeky, spastic prose to define her narrator, and the results are odd. I found myself laughing out loud for some sections (“This particular harbor town was not nearly as seedy as often depicted in serial dramas on premium cable. I did not get shanked or mugged even once” (58). Other sections simply confuse me: like Johnnie’s tendency to abbreviate yours to yrs (56). While I find the novel to be highly conversational and readable, it is also filled with heavy, detailed descriptions and strange title phrases. I found myself wondering what the purpose of those titles were—at first I thought maybe they were quotes from Foreign Correspondent, the film, but they aren’t all from the movie.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the strangeness of the prose and the casual, unfulfilled sexuality of the content (grappling, buying fancy lingerie—for Scooter?) are combined here to create a narrator that comes off as insecure. I got the sense early on that Johnnie was a bit of a nerd, if only from her day-glo skeleton t-shirt, which she is clearly enamored with (4). Her extravagant writing seems like a defense mechanism to me: if she just keeps talking, she doesn’t need to experience that uncomfortable pause where no one responds.
On a side note, we keep trying to figure out the connections between the text and the film, but, like Johnnie and Scooter, the relationship seems a little one-sided. Johnnie is an adoring fan attempting to emulate an idol; the book is wordy and infatuated, and named after a Hitchcock classic. Maybe the disconnect is on purpose? Just a theory.
Here is an excellent interview with Joanna Howard about Foreign Correspondent. The interviewer asks some questions that we’ve been pondering in class, like what the purpose of the link between the book and the movie is, and why she chose to include nonfiction things like Lingis in her fiction book.
I thought it was interesting that she sort of dodged the question about what the relationship between the book and the movie is, so it’s still up for interpretation! I was also interested to read that she used Johnnie to “penetrate communities” (specifically male) because I wrote about this so some extent in my paper.
I admit that I enjoyed the film version of Foreign Correspondent much more than the novel. I was prepared to take lengthy notes on the parallels of the events in the film and the novel, however I was a little frustrated to find that the only obvious relation was the windmill scene. Additionally, where finding meaning and relevance to our world in the novel was chore-like, I enjoyed finding meaning in certain scenes of the film.
One of my favorite scenes is when Johnny/Huntley is riding in the car with Van Meer – the perfect interviewing situation. As he tries asking questions about the potential war, Van Meer is describing things outside the car that he finds intriguing. Van Meer tells Johnny/Huntley that he enjoys London in the summer, and he wishes that parks will always be in existence. A story about an exclusive, accidental interview with a powerful person regarding subjects like summertime and parks is so much more humanistic than gaining information just to beat out competitive correspondents. In thinking back to the class where communication was mentioned, I couldn’t help but think that the kind of correspondence that Johnny/Huntley was assigned was purely fact-relaying communication rather than involved communication. In relation to “hearing is not the same as listening,” understanding and involving yourself in a topic is more important than getting quick facts and answers – which is why I believe the plot was so dramatized and exciting; Johnny/Huntley was able to get a better story than he would have by just asking a couple of hollow questions.
On pages 94-95, Johnnie gives us the content of the very first letter she sent to Scooter. I’m not quite sure what I expected it to be, although I was surprised at the clear-headedness and maturity Johnnie seemed to have written the letter with. She begins by asking questions about places in her hometown – the reason seems to be because she wants to remember those places, not necessarily for the purpose of engaging Scooter MacIntosh in a conversation.
The rest of the letter is interesting because she seems to explain why she will be adamant about corresponding with Scooter: “Because in your sport heart means taking a hundred punches in the face and ribs, standing up getting back in, being caught in an armbar or choke or clench…In my sport, heart is more about believing I can accomplish anything with my words.” (95) She doesn’t seem infatuated by Scooter himself, rather she is more concerned with her infatuation with writing. I’m not sure how she went from that to being so involved and obsessed with Scooter, but I am glad she was able to re-evaluate her actions at the end, and move on to other stories.
“Lingus, by contrast, reminds us that “to sense something is to be sensitive to something, to feel a contact with it, to be affected by it” (Lingus, PE 59 – Sparrow, 104). Tom Sparrow’s “Bodies in Transit” helps to unpack some very interesting ideas that Alphonso Lingus had about the power and effect of sensation, and how it differs from the way that perception allows us to organize, define, and clarify the world around us. Rather, sensation, Lingus argues, is more of an emotional and physical experience, not something that necessarily helps us to better understand our context but something that leaves an impression — and often it’s a powerful one, even if we can’t define it. Working with Sparrow’s interpretation of Alphonso’s ideas helps me to better unravel Johnnie’s condition. She seems to be a person heavily engaged in sensing the world around her and the people she wants to connect with; there is a desire certainly to know and define Scooter — his hopes, his fears, his opinions, whether or not he will be able to visit the beach and pick green coconuts during his visit to the Florida Keys — but I also see in Johnnie a desire to sort of dwell in the sensation of Scooter. She seems fascinated by the idea of him, and how this hazy figure makes her feel internally, and the sort of inspiration and mad fervor he elicits in her. She seems to operate on an interesting axis with her letters, between engagement with perception as well as sensation as defined by Lingus.
The book is an interesting display of distance and desire. How desire is a by product of distance and seems to be the largest proponent to how and why Johnnie’s imagination is so driven. Such a case was familiar when watching Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, the windmill scene. It struck me how familiar the settings were and how very deliberate this must have been. So I researched and found an interview that was done with Joanna Howard. It seems that my thought that Johnnie and the author are as akin as it may seem and not a biographical fallacy. She states in regards to Hitchcock and other directors in authorship, ” these were strange filmmakers and strange films. They involved sensational plots, exciting distant locales, or weird scenarios in spectacular architectural spaces.” And she goes on to say, “Growing up in a rural area of the country—Oklahoma—these distant, incomprehensible worlds captured my attention and continue to enter my mind when I sit down to write.” This sort of thought process that’s so fantastically imaginative comes across as very personal. Personal to the point of questioning how much of Johnnie is Howard or visa versa? Which also makes me wonder how much of this is motivation from the writer or is it equal parts rhetorical value? By this I mean how much is it supposed to be that way. The story claims the readers obsessions and ambiguous truths. Were Johnnie maybe too obsessive at times and oddly taken by urges I feel that is a caricature of what obsession can do to someone. The effects of the distance that desire can create in the pursuit to materialize, in context of the book a relationship (at least talking) to Scooter.