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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
A day late, I know, but R.I.P. Gene Wilder, dead at 83. Wilder was a superb comic actor and, from every account I’ve ever read, a thoroughly good man.
“Young Frankenstein” is one of my very favorite movies and certainly my most favorite Mel Brooks movie. This is primarily due to the writing, in which I believe Wilder had a significant hand. (Well, okay, the outstanding cast, too.) The trouble with most Brooks comedies is that they tend to start wandering, devolving into sledge-hammer slapstick or getting too cutesy. (The latter is my main problem with “Blazing Saddles”. Of course, it has a lot of good material in it, but it can’t stay in character, and by the end has gone completely haywire.) Not so with Y.F. – even with all the silly little asides, it holds true to the genre it parodies right the way through. As I say, I believe Wilder should be given credit for this.
It also occurred to me that I haven’t seen “Willie Wonka” in quite a long time, so I tossed that into the ol’ Netflix queue just now. I’ve often wondered how that film compares to the Roald Dahl book. (On principle, I’ve never seen the Johnny Depp remake bye the by.) Certainly it is old-fashioned in its rayther strict morality and quite out of date. The kidz are all Mike TeeVees and Veruca Salts now, and any suggestion that parents are responsible for such spoiled rotten brats would probably get one sent to the Camps.
(Mention of Wonka reminds me of a little throwaway bit in the movie of interest to musick-lovers. At one point, Wonka plays a little tune on a “musical lock” in order to open a door (into the fizzy-lifting water room, I believe). Mrs. TeeVee leans over to Grampa Joe and smugly mutters “Rachmaninoff”. Of course, the tune is nothing of the sort but is instead the opening couple of bars from the overture to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”. Wonka gives Mrs. TeeVee the smallest part of a condescending glance before moving on. I’ve often wondered what percentage of the audience the writers expected to get that bit. Significantly higher back when the movie came out than now, I’d bet.)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
This post is sort of a follow-on to the one below because it’s about another thing I often ponder while going walkies in Your Nation’s Capital.
Despite the fact that I studied him in school back in the day, I can only quote one small snippet of Alexander Pope off the top of my head:
Vice is a monster of such frightful mien, that to be hated needs but to be seen. But seen too oft, familiar with her face, first we endure, then pity, then embrace.
As it happens, this is apropos to any number of topics these days, but I find myself remembering it mostly when my walk takes me by the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
I’ve said here somewhere before that I thought the thing was hideous and I still do. Further, I think its placement right next door to and in plain sight of the Washington Monument is an exercise in aesthetic bird-flipping akin to the decision of that rat-bastard Francois Mitterrand (another raging narcissist, btw) to let I.M. Pei drop his beastly pyramid right on the doorstep of the Louvre.
However, more and more lately I’ve found myself thinking that if one scores the thing not in absolute terms but on the scale of Smithsonian architecture, it’s not quite as bad as all that. Still bad, as I say, but not as bad.
I mean, consider some of the other offerings. Air & Space and American History are both blocks and slabs of 60’s Soviet Modernski. American Indian looks like Jabba the Hutt’s lair on Tatooine. The Hirshhorn is a giant hat box. And the Castle itself is that kind of twee red-brick Neo-Gothic that gets mocked by writers like Waugh and Wodehouse and for some reason makes me think of Queen Victoria pretending to be a Highland shepherdess.
Indeed, the only two museums on the Mall I actually like are the West Building of the National Gallery and Natural History, both of which feature clean, elegant, Neo-Classical designs. If I wielded the great Pen and Phone of Executive Overreach, I’d raze all the others and rebuild them along these lines.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. (Well, the razing part might, given the current world situation, but that’s not exactly the same thing.)
As for the new AA Museum, they’ve planted a bunch of young trees around it. All I can hope is that as the shrubbery grows and fills in, it’ll mellow the thing’s starkness somewhat.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
My apologies to those two or three of you who still linger over the decanter and the Stilton for my lack of posting this past week. Mostly, it’s been a matter of lack of opportunity because of real life logistics. Also, to be perfectly frank, many of the thoughts that have wandered across my braims regarding the current State of Things in the last few days probably would not be prudent fodder for broadcast on these here innertoobs, given my current employment status. After all, Daddy still needs his paycheck IYKWIMAITYD.
Suffice to say, SMOD, where art thou?
Anyhoo, a completely unrelated question:
I’ve watched Die Hard 3 numerous times now. It’s my favorite of the series, largely because of the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson. (I also like the depraved villainy of Jeremy Irons.) But here’s the thing: To this day, I cannot understand the trick involving the 3 and 5 gallon jugs of water used to defuse the bomb in the park. I like to think I’m a reasonably logical fellah, but I have viewed that scene again and again and paid close attention to the dialogue, and I still Do. Not. Get. It.
Any Friends of the Decanter care to ‘splain this thing to me?
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo was frowsting over a cup of coffee in his favorite chair in the Port Swiller library early Saturday morning when he noticed that the goldfinches at the thistle feeder directly outside the window were beginning to show the first faint signs of their yellow summah plumage. With gardener’s logic, I realized that my plans to spend the day doing nothing suddenly were kaput, and that I had to get out and chop back the butterfly bush which so dominates the Port Swiller garden. (Very long time friends of the decanter will recall that I refer to these bushes as Kong and the Konglings. For those of you who don’t recall, the original Kong was a very, very small and frail seedling that I cultivated in the Port Swiller basement something like thirteen years ago. Somehow or other, it survived not only its incubation, but its transplanting into the garden. Since then, when all my other original cultivational experiments have withered away, it not only has thrived, but has multiplied copiously.)
A couple hours of hacking and hauling later, I stood looking at the results. I can’t put it any better than did the Eldest Gel who, shouting over from the rope swing, said, “Hey, Dad! It looks like a forest fire swept over your garden! Haw, haw!”
Everybody’s a comedian these days.
Give it another couple months, the jungle will close right back in and will be filled with birds and butterflies, as has been my intent the past few years. I am mulling over some plans to make the whole thing somewhat more formal, but not yet. Not yet.
Speaking of which, remember the Great Panic over the imminent dooooom of the Monarch Butterflies because Globull Warmeninzs? Well, maybe not so much. Funny, it’s almost as if Nature has the capacity to sort things out for herself or something.
On a different note, last evening Ol’ Robbo watched Radio Days for, I’m fairly certain, the first time. A pleasant little tribute by Woody Allen to his WWII-era yoot in Rockaway, Lon Gyland. In fact, Robbo’s father-in-law grew up somewhere in Brooklyn a few years later himself, so there was a lot about this movie that I definitely got. The biggest thing, though, was the epiphany that this was Julie Kavner. Marge Simpson before she was Marge Simpson, although the voice and the humor were plainly there already. Very zaftig, if you know what I mean. (‘Course, the movie came out in ’87, the year I graduated from college, which is a damned sobering idea.)
On another note, I also read Cary Elwes’s book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride. If you’re a Princess Bride fan (and if you’re not, what the hell’s wrong with you?), it’s a moderately interesting read: A goodish bit of behind-the-scenes backstory and trivia, but in my opinion somewhat too much, er, glad-handing. Were I Emperor, the Superlative Abuses Squad would have been down on Elwes with billy clubs and handcuffs before he got half way through his first paragraph.
But….You don’t pen a 30th anniversary book in order to trash the thing that’s keeping you in royalties, so who am I to second guess?
One legit sour note to the book: Elwes, in speaking of fan enthusiasm, relates the story of some young thing who had recently had “As You Wish” tattooed on the back of her neck and asked Elwes to autograph below the tattoo with a sharpie. I ask you, friends, just how pathetic an image is that? And what do you do if you’re in the position of being asked to sign, and therefore approve, such a thing?
Well. All I can say is that I am very thankful I have not pledged my personal worth in this world on the altar of celebrity.
On a more positive note, in keeping with the whole Princess Bride theme, ol’ Robbo just got a new coffee cup with bears the legend: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You drank my coffee. Prepare to die.”
Now that, my friends, is teh funny. Except I’m not kidding…….
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Because my post on Netflix loading seemed to be such a hit the other day, I thought I’d fire off another one this evening. (Remind me to write an essay soon on the frustration of having so many meatier current events on which I could comment but for the fact that I might lose my job for doing so, thus my self-sensoring confinement to this kind of personal trivia. Not that Bob and the boys from NSA aren’t building up some useful data for my appearance before the Committee for Public Safety even from posts like this one.)
Are you ready? Well here is the next wave of additions:
My Cousin Vinny – I have actually been at more than one legal clinic in which the prosecutor’s opening statement at the trial (even though Vinny called it total BS) was shown as an example of how such a presentation is supposed to be done. I love the resurrection of Fred Gwynne’s career that came from this flick.
Lethal Weapon 4 – The best of the bunch, IMHO, mostly because I think they finally got the balance of humor and action right.
The Gods Must Be Crazy – Because of what was said in the comments on the previous thread. We’ll see what happens.
Breaker Morant – One of my all-time favorites, although I gather that the “real” Morant, so far as anyone knows anything about him, wasn’t quite the Renaissance Gentleman portrayed by Edward Woodward.
The Simpsons Movie – Oh, I dunno. Why not?
The Alamo – The one made a few years ago with Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett. The film was came up among the Moron Horde over at Ace’s place the other day and got a surprisingly sympathetic hearing. Personally, I’ve never seen it before and was intrigued.
The Lion In Winter – Because classic. I once wrote a skit in high school in which the family were ordered to attend therapy together. My English teacher described it as “very dry and witty”.
Hamlet – the 1990 version starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, among others. Mostly to get the nasty taste of Ken Branagh’s try out of my mouth. I’ve a vague memory that it really isn’t all that bad, although I have a hard time understanding why Mel didn’t simply head-butt Claudius and take him out without all that needless moping and sulking around. I mean, it’s Mel Gibson, for Pete’s sake!
Noises Off – Backstage pandemonium as a theatre production gradually goes to pieces. Mrs. R and I saw a fantastic stage version of this show many years ago. IIRC, the movie sort of runs out of steam toward the end, but it still has some good laughs.
Quark – The Series – Short-lived late 70’s spoof of Star Trek starring Richard Benjamin as the captain of a galactic garbage scow. I re-watched this within the last 10 years and found it held up really surprisingly well. And oh, those twins……
Love At First Bite – Haven’t seen this in quite a long time. “Children of the Night! Shut up!”
Thank You For Smoking – I simply cannot recall whether I have seen this movie. I’ve certainly read the book, along with most of Chris Buckley’s other satires.
30 Seconds Over Tokyo – With Spencer Tracy. I have an informal rule of thumb that I always toss at least one WWII movie in when loading up the queue.
M*A*S*H – The movie, which I find hysterically funny for the most part. The only dud is Robert Duvall’s Frank Burns (who is actually an amalgam of two separate characters from the memoir on which the movie was based). Liberals trying to make fun of conservatives never get it right and always slip into Clang! Clang! Clang! caricature mode by default. (God damned Army…..) I also tossed in the disk featuring bonus materials this time.
So, all told, I now have about 40 films in my queue, together with another 23 in the dreaded “saved” category, which basically translates into “hell if we know when we’ll get it to you or even if we actually have it, but feel free to go on hoping). I said below that these would keep me occupied until Opening Day, but I’m now thinking that they may well last me until the all-star break.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Usually it’s another month or so before ol’ Robbo has to deal with thunderstorms on his drive home in the evening but today’s possibly-tornado-packing big boomer caught him just as he was crossing the Potomac. Wicked pissah of a storm. It was as I crawled along the bridge in the midst of the tempest that the thought came back to me that a rag top on a car is absolutely no protection whatsoever against lightning strikes.
Road closures all over the neighborhood forced me to tack widely around before I could finally get back to Port Swiller Manor, there only to discover that the power was out and the driveway was an inland sea due to the drains all being plugged by debris.
Ah, well. Just like Helen Hunt back in the day, tt’s the wonder of nature, baybee!
Yeah, I think I’ll toss that movie into the Netflix queue now that I’m thinking about it.
(By the bye, did anyone else get that creepy National Alert System announcement earlier in the afternoon? I heard it on the radio, but I gather it was simultaneously flashed out over other broadcast systems as well.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As friends of the decanter may know, ol’ Robbo remains a devotee of Netflix’s DVD service. I have long found it very satisfying to load up the ol’ queue, forget about what I put in it, and then be pleasantly surprised by the stream of envelopes coming through the mailbox. I tend to do this loading in bursts of between 20 and 30 titles at a go and then letting them run out before recharging the list.
While I usually do my loading just off the cuff, today I decided to try a slightly different experiment by keeping a small notepad with me all day and jotting down films that occurred to me from time to time. Here’s what I came up with:
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension – Because wherever you go, there you are.
Impromptu – A, well, highly romanticized version of the meeting and falling in love of Frederic Chopin and the poetess George Sand. It’s one of those Merchant/Ivory-inspired period pieces and really pretty good, especially as it shows what a lot of shites Franz Liszt and his pals were.
Flash Gordon – Because sometimes you just have to go for the worst. Also because Queen did the soundtrack.
Dodgeball – Because sometimes you just have to go for teh stoopid.
The Ref – I meant to watch this around Christmas but didn’t get the chance. Always enjoyed Dennis Leary’s brand of brutal Irish humor.
Lost In La Mancha – Documentary about the collapse of Terry Gilliam’s effort to film a Don Quixote movie (which I believe he’s still trying to do). Fascinating behind-the-scenes look at movie-making in general and Gilliam-style movie-making in particular.
Topsy-Turvy – Gilbert and Sullivan attempting to save their partnership. This is one of the Mothe’s favorites.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – I don’t know why I don’t own this. Best of the series IMHO. “You call this archeology?”
The Freshman – Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando, who is damned funny lampooning himself. Plus Bert Parkes singing “Tequila”. What’s not to love?
Eric the Viking – One of the smaller Python offshoots, but it has its moments.
Jabberwocky – Ditto.
Sharknado 3: O, Hell No – See Dodgeball above.
Lost in Translation – Bill Murray really is a superb actor, all the goofball stuff aside. You watch this movie just to see the subtle changes in his expressions.
The Dam Busters – Because Lancasters with bouncing bombs vs. Nazis, that’s why!
Casablanca – I don’t know why I don’t own this, either.
Battleship – Well, because Liam Neeson action movie, I guess.
Analyze This – Robert De Niro is even funnier lampooning himself than is Brando. And scarier.
Star Trek: First Contact – Best of the TNG movies, as far as I’m concerned.
The Last Valley – One of those very long Omar Sharif movies from the late 60’s/70’s. In this one, he’s a student fleeing the ravages of the 30 Years’ War and winds up running into Michael Caine and a band of soldiers in an as yet unplundered remote village. There they bond and wind up holding the place in defense against other marauding bands. It has a sort of Seven Samurai feel about it in this.
I also attempted to watch Ed Wood, the movie about the guy who made Plan 9 From Outer Space, but the DVD was cracked. I sent it back, of course, but is it worth asking for a new copy? Unlike all of the movies listed above, I’ve never seen this one. (I’m like that, preferring to watch films over and over again and only now and again introducing a new one to the rotation.)
Between these and what I’ve already got in my queue, I reckon I’m good to go until Opening Day of baseball season at least.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As mentioned in the post below, ol’ Robbo decided to give up the grape for Lent this year. We’re now in the middle of the fourth day, and although so far I’ve been able to avoid the temptation (said by H.L. Mencken to be felt by all normal men) to spit on my hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats, it hasn’t been easy.
I know, I know: Offer it up.
In order to avoid overloading myself with abstinences to teh point of bringing down the whole programme, I decided that it would be a bad idea to try also, as I usually do, to cut out (secular) books, musick and teevee/film (and, I guess, the innertoobs), at least at first. We’ll see how things go. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not pursuing my Lenten reading. (As usual, I’m starting out with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales.) Instead, it means that I’ll probably fiddle around with the mixture, gradually thinning out the pleasure part as the season progresses. My goal is to be able to devote Holy Week to pure contemplation of Faith.
Anyhoo, I thought I’d offer up a few random observations on what I’m reading, listening to, and watching at the moment.
Books: I think I mentioned somewhere below that I had started in on Anthony Powell’s magnum opus, A Dance to the Music of Time. Arranged in a quartet of books of three smaller novels each, it tells (from his point of view) the story of Nicholas Jenkins, a young man of respectable family, from his school days in the 1920’s up through the 60’s. It begins with the interactions at school among Nick and his friends Charles Stringham and Peter Templar, as well as those with the awful Kenneth Widmerpool, and gradually expands outward, taking in family, friends, professional and chance acquaintances, spinning a complex web of repeated personal encounters and relationships as the characters leave school and pursue their various lives, loves, and careers. All of this is set against the backdrop of the (arguably terminal) change in British society across the 20th Century: Post-WWI; Roaring 20’s; 30’s crash; WWII; post-War hardship; rise of the Left; goddam 60’s hippies. And of course, not only do the characters interact with each other, they are all enmeshed in these larger social movements as well.
On Ash Wednesday, ol’ Robbo found himself in the middle of Temporary Kings, the next to last of the twelve books, and decided that, since I am so close, I would push on through to the end. Ol’ Robbo has never been what one might call a “quick” study. I usually have to read a book repeatedly to really start getting into the meat of the thing. This is, I believe, my third time through ADTTMOT, and I must say that I am enjoying it exponentially more than my last go. As I say, Powell weaves an immensely complicated web of personal interactions in a quite satisfying manner, but what I appreciate more and more is his rayther droll wit. While Nick (whom I suppose to be the author’s alter ego) is caught up in the immense personal and social upheavals going on all around him, he never really gives away much about what he thinks of it all. From Powell’s deliciously dry observation, however, I’m guessing the answer is not that much. (UPDATE: I noticed that the last book in the series, Hearing Secret Harmonies, published in 1975, was dedicated to Robert Conquest, the great anti-Stalinist and social conservative. So there you go.)
Musick: Recently, long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, in the process of cleaning out his collection, sent ol’ Robbo a big box of CD’s of Renaissance Musick, figuring they would find a good home at Port Swiller Manor. Of course, he was right: Ol’ Robbo loves teh vitality of this era, from the dolorous introspection to the toe-tapping exuberance, all of it pleasantly free of the self-centered navel-gazing of the Romantics. On the whole, ol’ Robbo likes his musick a bit more formalized (the Baroque period being my favorite), but this gives him plenty of delight as well.
Anyhoo, I’ve started working my way through the stack. A few observations:
Dansereye 1551, Tielman Susato (c. 1500-1561): When thanking ODT for his gift, I mentioned that very few of the composers (apart from some of the English ones) were at all familiar to me. I put this CD on thinking I was in for something new, as Susato’s name did not immediately ring any bells, but soon started laughing: The first few tracks happen to be included (in different arrangements) on a compilation of Renaissance dance musick I own and love entitled Terpsichore. Small world after all. By the bye, the performance here is by the New London Consort under Philip Pickett, a very good group. The CD is copyrighted 1993 – I hadn’t realized they had been around that long.
Los Ministriles – Spanish Renaissance Wind Music: Composers such as Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Manuel de Tavares and Manuel Cardoso. Good stuff, but I couldn’t tell you what makes it particularly Spanish in character. (I suspect some of this musick is also, in fact, Portuguese.) This is not due to the album, but to my own ignorance. Of course, the “Renaissance” took different forms in different parts of Europe. I also believe that, given Spain’s particular history, it took different forms in the different kingdoms united under Ferdinand and Isabella. Naturally, then, so would the arts within those kingdoms.
On that front, let me also recommend a CD in my own collection: 1492: Music From The Age of Discovery – The Waverly Consort. Mrs. Robbo and I saw them perform this album in concert eons ago and bought the CD on the spot. It blends Spanish, Italian, Jewish and Moorish musick from the time in a most satisfactory combination that really gives you the flavor. (There are some similar Old/New World crossover CD’s in ODT’s stack that I haven’t reached yet, but will mention when I get to them.)
Fortune My Foe: Music of Shakespeare’s Time – Les Witches: So far as Renaissance artists go, this is closer to ol’ Robbo’s own home turf, featuring composers such as John Dowland, Thomas Morley and Michael Praetorius. (It also includes the weird -and aptly-named – Nicholas Le Strange. However despite what the Amazon description at the link may say, William Byrd is not included.) Ironically, despite the album’s subtitle, most of these composers were, in fact, chased out of England by Queen Bess in the early 1570’s on (among other things) anti-Catholic grounds, and set up shop in Sweden and Northern Germany. The local publick radio station used to run a track from Les Witches some years ago that must have been from this album – they’ve only put out a few, and most of them very recently – but I can’t recall which one it was.
Screen: The other day, because she had been watching it in her English class and wanted my opinion, Eldest Gel and ol’ Robbo sat down to watch Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet. I lasted about 45 minutes of the scheduled four hours of screen time. In a word? Bombastically unwatchable. Nobody tops ol’ Robbo in his admiration of Branagh’s obviously outstanding talent as a Shakespearean actor, but I’ve been saying the same damn thing ever since his Henry V first came out: What Branagh needed more than anything else in his efforts to bring the Bard to the big screen was an iron-fisted director with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!!” Alas, he didn’t have one and went to seed as a result.
Similarly, I’ve been picking my way, act by act, through the old BBC production of Othello starring Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins. Hoskins is great as the scheming Iago, but as fine an actor as he otherwise is, I just don’t get Hopkins’ treatment of Shakespeare. He hesitates, blanks out, inflects oddly, sometimes doesn’t quite seem to grasp the psychology of his character. It was the same thing when I saw him on stage in 1987 doing Lear. Strange.
I am also working my way through Christopher Guest’s cycle of “mockumentaries”, just having polished off Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Made in the early 2000’s, part of me wonders whether these films could even be offered these days, given the number of triggers in them that would send the Social Justice Movement cry-bullies into catatonic fits. Indeed, the inclusion of the fact that I’ve watched them on my Permanent Electronic Record is probably more than enough on its own to get me sent to the Happy Fun Reeducation Camps when the revolution comes, if not simply shot out of hand. On the other hand, they’re all wicked funny, so it would be worth it. (Anyhoo, there’s plenty other anti-revolutionary material on my PER already, so the question is largely moot.)
Finally, I just finished the 1st season of Star Trek: The Original Series, with “The City on the Edge of Forever” (with a young Joan Collins) and “Operation – Annihilate!” (the one with the flying killer washcloths, one of which hits Spock in the back: I once saw an outtakes clip where it hit him in the fanny). I don’t have much to say about Star Trek:TOS except that the show has held up surprisingly well all these years and is just as entertaining to me now in my 50’s as it was in my misspent yoot (obviously for a different combination of reasons, although skimpily-clad alien space babes still enter into the calculus). Of note: Netflix offers up the revised versions of the old shows, with modern computer graphics cleaning up and enhancing the more painfully primitive special effects of 50 years ago. While I abhor the kind of retro-tinkering George Lucas indulged himself with in the Star Wars franchise, I have no problem with what has been done here: The alterations are seamless, in line with the original spirit, and not designed to draw attention to themselves. It’s amazing what can be done when Ego is taken out of the equation.
At any rate, there you have it.
UPDATE: R.I.P. Justice Antonin Scalia. As I may have mentioned here before, his family are fellow parishioners of mine and I’ve seen him many times at Mass although I never got up the nerve to try and start a conversation. I’m sure he would have been gracious about it, but I’m equally sure he would have been annoyed at having to deal with a groupie on Sunday.
I must say that I was flatly repulsed by the amount of pure bile and venom that erupted across the innertoobs when news of Scalia’s death broke yesterday. Disgusting.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Mardi Gras!
Ol’ Robbo celebrated the evening by killing off his current box o’ wine (I’m giving up the grape for Lent – prayers appreciated) and watching some Monty Python.
I must say that, although said Python was a definite influence on my misspent yoot, the older I get, the more apparent becomes the distinction between the gold and the dross. At times, the Team still seem to me to be absolutely transcendent in terms of their humor, but the hackery of some of their other bits also becomes more apparent.
How lovely to possess the DVD technology to bleep right through the tedious bits and get on to the keepers.
Which are your favorite Python items? And, relatedly, which are your favorite presentations of them: TeeVee, film or record?
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Over the past couple weeks, ol’ Robbo has found himself reading several books new to him. Some brief impressions [Spoiler Alert!] re each:
The first is Unbroken: A Word War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, a copy of which was loaned to me at New Year’s by the Former Llama Military Correspondent, which means he probably never will see it again. (I’m as bad as Hugo Bracegirdle about returning books.) It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, Troubled Yoot Extraodinaire, who discovers a talent and drive for competitive running which leads him to shatter all kinds of scholastic records and lands him a spot in the ’36 Olympics in Berlin. Before he can make a return appearance, war breaks out. Zamperini is drafted into the Army Air Corp and finds himself bombardier on a B-24 in the Pacific Theatre. After some early success, he is one of only three survivors when his plane crashes into the ocean. These three (one of whom dies) then spend the next 40+ days adrift in a small life raft with no food or water but what the occasional fish, bird and rainstorm can provide, surrounded by hungry sharks, subject to extremes of sun and wind, and once even strafed by a passing Japanese bomber. Eventually, the two survivors get picked up by the Japanese and sent to POW camps. Then the real hardship begins: Beatings, starvation, torture, slave labor, exposure. Zamperini falls victim to a particularly sadistic Japanese corporal known as The Bird, who beats him senseless daily. Somehow or other, they manage to endure several years of this until the War ends and they are liberated. Liberation is pure joy. Once back in the States, however, Zamperini discovers that the War is not, in fact, over – at least in his own head. He quickly goes into a power-dive of self-destructive behavior and it is only when his wife drags him to a Billy Graham sermon that he finds redemption and gets himself back together. The rest of his life is remarkably peaceful, rewarding, and spiritual.
The book is meticulously detailed and clearly, if rayther dryly, written, but I have a few things. First, the title. Zamperini wasn’t “unbroken”. Even according to the text itself, he was most thoroughly broken by his torture within the Japanese camps by The Bird and took that brokenness with him back home. (He nearly strangles his wife in his sleep, thinking in a dream that she is The Bird.) As for his redemption, it should be noted that Zamperini, while floating in the life raft, promised God that if He delivered him, Zamperini would devote the rest of his life to Him. He also reported, during that same period, several times hearing choirs of angels around him. Well, we hear nothing more of this until the remembrance of that promise seems to come back to him at the Graham sermon, where it’s presented awfully cut and dry:
1.) Graham – “You need to get with God.”
2.) Zamperini – ” Oh. ‘Kay.”
4.) Spiritual Profit!
I’m over-simplifying a bit, of course, but I wish that aspect of things had been unpacked more thoroughly, because it seems to me the key point of the entire narrative. (I’m reminded of what Mattie Ross says in Charles Portis’s True Grit about how nothing in life is free except the Grace of God and that none of us deserve it.) Oh, well. At least it’s better than the recent movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, which, according to my sources, pretty much ignores the whole God thing altogether.
Second is The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, “abridged” by William Goldman. For some years I’d been meaning to read this, fond as I was of the movie version, so recently I bought both the book and the DVD to add to my collection. (An aside: Robin Wright appears in some of the extra features commentary and is quite RCBfA-worthy, IYKWIMAITYD.) This particular edition of the book is a special “30th Anniversary” one, containing both a 30th Anniversary and the 25th Anniversary author’s prefaces. The “abridgment” consists of Goldman (who wrote the movie’s screenplay as well as a bunch of other famous ones such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “All The President’s Men”, “The Stepford Wives”, and “A Bridge Too Far” (aka, “A Movie Too Long”)) putting together all the “good parts”, i.e., the action sequences, and summarizing and commenting upon long, useless, cranky, Melville-like asides by Morgenstern in between. From the preface, I learned that the whole Fred Savage/Peter Falk reading biznay in the movie was based on Goldman’s recollection of his own father’s reading the book to him when he was a kid sick in bed. I also learned some of the historick background of both the story and of Morgenstern, and of the apparent ongoing legal squabbles between Goldman, his publishers, and Morgenstern’s estate over the publication of all these materials.
Then I did a little background check and discovered that the whole “Morgenstern” thing – together with what Goldman let fall about his childhood, his marriage, his reading to his own son and his research travels – was a hoax. Goldman wrote the whole damned thing himself.
Bastard. Ol’ Robbo hates getting pawned.
I’m sure you remember in the movie when Vizinni says the “Greatest Mistake” is getting involved in a land war in Asia? I’d always thought of that as a bit of stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam, perhaps gratuitously introduced by the director, Rob “Meathead” Reiner.
When I first came across the line in the book, however, still thinking Morgenstern was For Realz, I thought, “Hmm…Could the original author have been making a cranky reference to Alexander teh Great’s foolish attempt to conquer India? The various wars between Rome and Persia that went so badly for some Emperors? Even the ill-fated Song Dynasty resistance to the Mongol invasion of China?”
When I realized what was afoot, however, I went back to my first conclusion: Stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam.
It’s a helluva fun read, nonetheless.
Finally, I’ve just started a book picked up for me by Mrs. Robbo as a small token of my upcoming mumbledy-mumble birthday: The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshall, The Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge. Marshall, who first rose in the service of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, became a sort of early 13th Century equivalent of the Very Model of a Modern Major General and was deeply involved in the rise of the Knightly Class as well as the history of the English Throne during the reigns of Richard the Lionheart, Wicked King John and those immediately around them, particularly Henry II’s first son, Henry. The text is based in part on a valedictory biography of Marshall penned shortly after his death, but also supported and damped by other available contemporary references.
I can’t say that much about the book yet except that Asbridge goes to great pains to make sure his readers understand the difference between judging Marshall according to his own time and judging him according to modern sensibilities. This is increasingly important in our own godawful age, in which it is becoming all the more common to attempt to simply “disappear” people and events which don’t fit in with the current narrative. Nonetheless, Asbridge slips a bit now and again. At one point, he remarks that toys given to medieval boys and girls were often “gender-normed”. In other words, little boys were given toy soldiers and little girls were given dolls. [P.C. Police: Get….OUT!!! Me: So, what?] Also, he has the annoying habit of using C.E. (“Common Era”) for dates instead of A.D. (“Anno Domini”). This may be the academic standard now but it grates on ol’ Robbo’s soul mightily. Back in the day, the ol’ Jacobins tried to chuck the calendar completely and start with a brand new one. It seems their modern equivalents have got wise enough to appropriate and assimilate their target rayther than obliterating it.
Anyhoo, so far quite an interesting exploration of an era of which I don’t know much beyond a few facts about the main players.