Mannion knew he shouldn't have signed for the package. Nothing his old school chum Humphries did ever led to anything good. And now, with the police knocking at the door, it was clear that Humphries had stuck him with it again.
My kids aren't me, and lucky for them. They are growing up to be their own persons, in their own ways, having their own particular all-American boyhoods, which they seem to think have been pretty good so far.
But watching them hard at work growing up has made me realize how good I had it when I was growing up. And in some ways I think I got the better deal. There are differences between my all-American boyhood and theirs that make me...well, not sorry for them, exactly, but wistful on their behalf.
The main difference is that they have never lived in a neighborhood where there were close to thirty kids their own age running around all the time.
I took it for granted back then, but how great was it that any of us could walk out the door any time of day (and in summer, well into the night) and be sure of rounding up enough kids for a game of kickball or capture the flag or just a group bike ride down to Friendly's for ice cream?
Not that the Mannion boys have grown up in isolation, but they've been thrown on their own devices a lot more often than I was, and this leads me to ponder another difference between their kidhoods and mine.
I'd have thought that having to spend a lot of time on their own, they'd have developed hobbies.
My time on my own was pretty much defined by my hobbies.
The Mannion boys have had passions, enthusiasms, favorite past-times, beloved toys, specific and lasting and all-involving interests. They've enjoyed collecting things. But neither one has had a way of passing time constructively that I'd call a hobby.
I suppose right here I need a good definition of hobby and I don't happen to have one. That's what I get for writing a post off the top of my head.
Let's try this.
A hobby is a systematized, borderline obsessive form of usually solitary play that requires multiple trips to a specialty store for supplies and parts and manuals and has as its goal intellectual and spiritual and psychological satisfactions beyond simple amusement.
When I was growing up, I had a new hobby practically every year. Sometimes I had two or three going at a time, and a few of them kept me busy for years. My favorite was model-building. I built an entire air force and a legion of superheroes and a whole Round Table of knights in armor. But I also built and flew model rockets. I collected comic books. I was into photography. I filled countless sketchbooks with my drawings and cartoons. One year I became pretty proficient at ventriloquism.
A determined little obsessive can make a hobby out of any form of play or entertainment, and I did that with baseball and my GI Joes, both of which I folded into my history hobby. Some kids are in Cub Scouts for the fun of it. I made a hobby out of being a Cub Scout, which is how I wound up with more silver and gold arrows than any Scout in the history of Pack 82.
The Mannion boys have kept themselves busy, but nothing they've enjoyed doing regularly seems to fit my definition of a hobby or cost the blonde and me as much as my enthusiasms cost Mom and Pop Mannion or require from us as much patience. Neither of us has ever had to go down into a basement workshop where the air was choked with the fumes of airplane glue and paint thinner and try to pull a weeping ten year old away from his workbench which he's refusing to leave until he can make the black paint stop running into the yellow on Batman's insignia.
A few years ago I thought they were on the brink of making building Warhammer figures their hobby. But then it dawned on me that I was the who was on the brink. (I still am. I love the dwarfs and it's only because the nearest Games Workshop closed that I haven't built my own army of them.) They were more interested in playing with the toys the figures that got built and painted became.
I realize that what I'm describing may just be the difference between the kid I was and the kids they are. (Were. Got to keep reminding myself that one of them is six foot one, about to turn 16, and is shaving.) But all my friends had hobbies too, and I don't think any of theirs do. In fact, each of those thirty kids running around my old neighborhood probably had at least one hobby, and I just haven't seen any signs that this is true of the kids I've met through the boys' school activities and sports and Scouts---a lot of their Cub Scout experience was a matter of we fathers trying to instill a passion for our old hobbies in our sons and being disappointed that it usually didn't take.
Here's another thing though. My definition of hobby includes solitude. Most of the work required by hobby has to be done alone. But that doesn't necessarily make being a hobbyist a lonely pursuit. One of the best things about a hobby is sharing it.
Hobbyists like to---have to---gather together from time to time to talk shop. They have to exchange information, pass along tips, trade supplies.
I might have been temperamentally inclined that way---or genetically disposed. Pop Mannion was an industrious collector of stamps and coins when he was an all-American boy.---but I have a feeling that I wouldn't have enjoyed my hobbies as much if I hadn't had friends to share them with. I might not have even taken them up. There were a few I couldn't have even tried without their help and encouragement. No Lance-built model rocket would have gotten off the launch pad without the technical expertise of my pal Sandy Weissman.
Oliver Mannion, reading over my shoulder as I type---maybe his hobby is spying on his father---Note fromOliver- No it's not, it's spying on you and mom.---just informed me that he thinks Dungeons and Dragons could become his hobby, if he had somebody to play it with.
In short, I don't know if what I've been wondering about here is a difference between them and me, a difference between the times we grew up in, or an accident of the difference in the way we grew up and the places we lived in.
Do other kids today have hobbies?
If they do, what are they?
Are there still kids collecting stamps and coins? Buying microscopes and telescopes and ant farms and chemistry sets? I know there are parents and grandparents and other well-meaning adults buying these things for them. But are kids themselves saving up their allowances and begging their folks to take them to the store for supplies and parts and manuals?
Lance Mannion deeply regrets the incident on the train but maintains that he was not at fault since he was not the one who brought the snow leopard and the Waring Blender on board. That's all he has to say on the matter at this time. Please refer future questions to his lawyers.
Interesting video essay on Steve McQueen by Matt Zoller Seitz. It's sort of revisionist take on Matt's own feelings about one of his one-time movie star heroes. The upshot is that McQueen's screen image as the coolest, the toughest, and the meanest guy around was the result of artistic timidity and a personal lack of confidence. McQueen wasn't ever going to be a great actor, but he was much less than he could have been because he limited himself to---imprisoned himself within is Matt's analysis---that image.
"I don't want to be the guy who learns," McQueen told screenwriter William Goldman, rejecting a storyline that would have shown his character as softer and more vulnerable than McQueen wanted to play him, "I want to be the guy who knows."
Of course the definition of a hero is practically "the guy who learns."
McQueen's film career was pretty much over by the time I became an independent movie-goer. He was only fifty when he died of cancer in 1980, but he hadn't made a real hit since Papillion, seven years before. I knew who he was and liked him from late-night showings of his movies on television, which means that for me he was essentially a television star. I don't think I've seen a single one of his films on a big screen. And maybe that's why I would never have thought to compare him to the likes of Humphrey Bogart or even his contemporary and rival Paul Newman, as Matt does. That comparison struck me as unfair when I watched Matt's essay the first time, but that's because in my head I think I had McQueen filed in the same drawer as George Peppard and Rock Hudson, stars I knew had had big screen success but who were to me simply among the best leading men on television, which is the only screen on which I saw their movies.
Thinking it over, and reviewing McQueen's movies in my head---he didn't make that many, and I've seen all of them that matter, from The Magnificent Seven through Tom Horn, and a couple that don't, including to my everlasting dismay and bad dreams The Towering Inferno---I can see Matt's point. Even compared to Peppard and Hudson, McQueen is an actor of a very few notes. He's instinctively closed off, from the audience and from his co-stars. In the scenes Matt shows between Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep and Newman and Patricia Neal in Hud, you can see both Bogart and Newman opening themselves up, offering them themselves, to their leading ladies. It's hard to remember that McQueen ever had leading ladies, and at one time or another he played opposite Faye Dunaway, Natalie Wood, and Lee Remick.
It's even hard to remember he had male co-stars. Well, except for Dustin Hoffman in Papillion.
The quintessential McQueen movie would seem to be The Great Esacpe in which he very often seems to be, because he almost literally is, in completely separate movie all on his own, his co-star and love interest being his motorcycle.
But that's a trick of memory and definitely unfair.
Matt mentions Junior Bonner, Enemy of the People, and Baby, the Rain Must Fall as the few films in which McQueen stepped out of his "comfortable prison" of an image. But I'd add The Reivers and Soldier in the Rain, actually my two favorite McQueen movies, in both of which he proved he could do comedy by playing totally uncool, sweet-tempered, good-natured doofuses.
But there's something else working against McQueen in any attempt to assess his career and place him in his right ranking among the movie greats.
He was the most unnecessary leading man of his time.
It wasn't just that for any movie he might have been right for, if you could get Paul Newman instead you got Newman. During his prime, the 1960s into the early 70s, his competition also included, besides Newman, Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Gene Hackman, and Robert Redford.
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas and John Wayne were still hanging around, and then there was Brando.
There's hardly a single one of his best movies that can't be skipped in order to watch a similar but better movie starring somebody else. Of course, part of what made those better movies better is the presence of those somebody elses.
When all's said and done, though, I wouldn't try to stack McQueen's career up against Newman's. The comparison is irresistible but it doesn't really help in thinking about what McQueen did accomplish because who does stack up against Newman?
I think it's more helpful to look at Redford and Eastwood, the two actors who in a way took over from McQueen---with Redford this was literally the case. At one point, McQueen was going to play The Sundance Kid.
Neither of them has shown any great range as an actor. Both have tended to avoid risks, and with Redford that seems to be a case of his sharing some of McQueen's timidity and lack of confidence. But there's something about each of their careers that distinguishes them from McQueen and I think explains why they both accomplished more in their primes than McQueen did in his.
So I'm talking about their work as actors and leading men exclusively, and not including what they've done since as directors.
With Eastwood it's simply a matter of artistic discipline. Even in the Man With No Name movies he's careful---as in taking great care---in a way I can't picture in my memory McQueen knowing how to be. Eastwood knew better than to try to reach beyond his range, but he also knew how to maneuver within it. I think he was already directing in his head. He could "see" himself on screen as he acted. It makes him a sharper, more commanding but more useful screen presence. He allowed himself to be used by the camera. Most actors, including McQueen, expect that the camera is there to be used by them, mostly for the sake of making them look good.
Redford, though, has always taken a more skeptical attitude towards the heroes he's played. While he never tried to be a character actor like the stars who came right after him---Nicholson, Hoffman, Pacino---he's usually chosen to play heroes who turn out to be less heroic, less successful, and less sympathetic than audiences might expect a hero who looks like Robert Redford to be.
He has not just played flawed heroes. He has played weak men.
If, according to William Goldman, McQueen insisted on playing the guy who knows and never the guy who learns, then Redford has often insisted on playing the guy who needs to learn and fails to.
WHEN Steve McQueen died 25 years ago in Juarez, Mexico, he left behind two children, some 30 movies and a legacy as "The King of Cool" (the title of a documentary about him). He also left behind two custom-made trunks containing 16 leather-bound notebooks full of drawings, photographs from period magazines, and a detailed script continuity — a screenplay without dialogue — written in a kind of hyper-stylized poetry. These materials were his plans for "Yucatan," the vanity project he yearned, but failed, to make.
He'd never asked for an exciting life. What he really liked, what he sought on every occasion, was boredom. The trouble was that boredom tended to explode in your face. Just when he thought he'd found it he'd be suddenly involved in what he supposed other people---thoughtless, feckless people---would call an adventure. And he'd be forced to visit many strange lands and meet exotic and colorful people, although not for very long because usually he'd be running. He'd seen the creation of the universe, although not from a good seat, and had visited Hell and the afterlife. He'd been captured, imprisoned, rescued, lost, and marooned. Sometimes it had all happened on the same day.
Adventure! People talked about the idea as if it was something worthwhile, rather than a mess of bad food, no sleep, and strange people inexplicably trying to stick pointed objects in bits of you.
The line in question comes in the third act. Hathaway, playing Viola, a young woman shipwrecked on the seacoast of Illyria who disguises herself as a young male page in the court of Orsino, is engaged in raillery with the jester Feste. The jester slyly takes note of her androgynous, beardless appearance and tells the cross-dressed page, "Jove in his next commodity of hair send thee a beard."
To which Viola replies, "By my troth I'll tell thee I'm almost sick for one, though I would not have it grow on my chin."
Viola is in love with Orsino, but he doesn't know she exists. He knows a boy name "Cesario" exists. And Viola can't tell him the truth because she believes...Well, she believes she has to maintain her disguise at all costs, although she never really explains why.
Now it seems to me that in this scene Viola is slyly admitting her love in that line and the actress playing her needs to come down hard on the word my. The beard she wants sent to her is the one on Orsino's chin. Viola is being off-handedly witty, which is her way, and taking advantage of the fact that Feste thinks she's a boy to say out loud what's in her heart. She's hoping Feste isn't paying too close attention to her words and if he catches what she said at all will just casually assume this "boy," who is too young to grow a proper beard, is wishing he was more grown-up. The question for the director here isn't how Viola should say the line, but how Feste should react to it.
Feste is Shakespeare's wisest fool. Viola might think he's not listening, but he might very well have heard her distinctly, picked up the clue, and figured her out. That would change the dynamic between them for the rest of the play. Viola would have what she hasn't had to that point, an ally and even a friend helping her protect her secret.
At any rate, the reading for Viola's aside is so obvious that neither my Arden edition of the play nor my Yale edition includes a note on it.
But Rosenbaum thinks it's too obvious.
He thinks Hathaway needs to put the emphasis on chin because it's a joke about Viola's muff.
Here's where an actress can turn the line into a sexual reference if she wants to. Once, at another rehearsal of another production, I overheard another Viola and her director discuss how to play it. If she emphasizes chin, then she's indirectly but unmistakably wishing for the "beard," the hair, to grow elsewhere, leaving little doubt where that elsewhere is. On the other hand, if she emphasizes the my in "my chin," then she seems to be wishing that the beard would grow on someone else's chin, not between her legs.
It's hard to figure out why she'd care whether a beard was growing on somebody else's chin. The scholarly Arden footnotes both the sexual and nonsexual readings of the line, although its explanation of the latter—that she wants somebody else's beard on her chin—seems reminiscent of the puritanical bowdlerizing of editions past. The footnote says that "... with emphasis on my Viola would like to possess Orsino's beard (and thus) him, rather than one of her own."
Frankly this is tortured nonsense; if you don't do the dirty joke, you're repressing the vitality of the sexuality Shakespeare embedded in the line, the kind of body-part joke he rarely resisted. It's a play shot through with sexual references, and this one would be missed. So much depends on the inflection.
True, that last bit.
But the inflection depends on the intent, and the intent belongs to the character. The intent is part of what makes the character.
Why would Viola be lamenting, even humorously, her lack of pubic hair?
Did she have a full Brazilian before she set sail on her cruise and learn since her shipwreck that bare is not the fashion here in Illyria? Has Orsino confided a fetish? Is she telling us she hasn't reached puberty yet? That would make the happy ending we're expecting problematic, if she's younger than Juliet.
Viola is pretending to be a boy too young to grow a beard but that doesn't mean she's the same age as that boy. She's a young woman, not a girl, of marriageable age, and even though in Shakespeare's day that might have meant she was as young as fifteen or sixteen, she was certainly not twelve.
Maybe Rosenbaum is right that it's a sexual reference but wrong about what it refers to.
Maybe it's a joke about oral sex.
If the usual way a girl gets a man's beard "on" her chin is to be kissed by the mouth the beard surrounds and Viola wants that beard but wants it to go elsewhere on her person...
In fact it's unlikely that Viola would make any sort of joke about sex.
When trying to figure out how a line should be said, look at the character.
In Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio delivers his line about the prick of noon, there's no doubt what he means and no doubt for the actor playing him about what gesture should accompany the line. There's also no doubt that this is Mercutio talking.
Shakespeare has established that Mercutio is a rather dirty-minded young rogue, cynical about love and sex, and inclined to find ways to ridicule and embarrass everyone he deals with, including his best friends, when he thinks they're being foolish or self-destructive or pursuing pleasures that don't include Mercutio. He's a bit of an intellectual bully who uses words the way dumber, less subtle bullies use wedgies and noogies. And in this scene he's bullying Juliet's nurse, for no particular reason except to amuse himself and to hear himself talk, one of his favorite hobbies. His sex jokes here are coarse and crude and not particularly imaginative or original, a form of linguistic slumming on the part of the speaker of the Queen Mab speech. He's talking down to what he thinks is the Nurse's level, and apparently expects her to mistake what he's doing for flirtation---You know, Mercutio is one of my favorite characters in Shakespeare, but he's really not a nice guy. But the jokes have one thing in common with the Queen Mab speech, and with everything else he says, except for his terrible last lines. He doesn't mean them.
For Mercutio, words are sounds that are most useful for expressing his mood at the moment, and since he is a moody young man and his moods are always changing, his words are always changing. He can go from lyrical and rhapsodic to crude and vicious in an instant and the words he uses match the shifts in gears---are the sounds of the gears shifting.
In the scene with the nurse he is in a nasty mood to start and he just gets nastier, which is an annoyance to the Nurse, but a disaster for Mercutio himself, because Tybalt is about to enter.
I said Shakespeare has established Mercutio as the character he is. But as far as an audience is concerned, it's Mercutio himself who establishes his own character for us, who in fact creates himself on stage right before our eyes---or rather our ears---through what he says and how he says what he says. Mercutio's wild habits of speech and his careless use of words tell us that he is a wild and careless person. His abrupt shifts in style and form, back and forth from the intellectually pretentious to the crass and vulgar, back and forth from poetry to prose, are the expressions of his mercurial temperament. They make the mercurial young man Mercutio. In Shakespeare character is words, words, words, and so words are fate. Those nasty jokes at the Nurse's expense come out of Mercutio's carelessness and a fundamental cynicism that borders on nihlism. They are expressions of his general quarrel with the world, and they lead him into his fatal duel with Tybalt.
The sex jokes then aren't there for the sake of the laughs. They're they're because they are the sound of the mood that gets him killed.
And that's the way it is with all the sex jokes in all the plays, the same way it is with all the words, words, words. They are the particular expressions of particular characters.
Shakespeare's characters aren't just creations of words. They are creatures of words. They have to tell us who they are but they do it by how they us. The words they use, their idiosyncratic imagery, their styles, are the sounds of them coming into being. The more intelligent and loquacious of them, like Mercutio, like Hamlet, like Rosalind, Cleopatra, and Iago, seem aware of this---and half-aware of us---and attempt to control it. They fight with their author for the command of their own speech and of course through that for command of their own souls and fates. They make themselves up as they go.
So when they speak of what Hamlet calls country matters, they do it in character, and their jokes are like them. Petruchio's are blunt and bluff and good-natured. Lucio's are base and evil-minded. Mistress Quickly's are naive and impulsive and goofily literal. Dogberry's are stupid, accidental, and oblivious. Hamlet's are passive-aggressive, alienating, alienated, and often downright mean.
And so, Viola.
Rosenbaum's preferred reading of that line is a legitimate one for rehearsal. It's worth trying out because it's a way for the actress and the director to ask themselves the question, What if Viola is making a dirty joke here? What would that tell us about her?
It would tell us that she is a very different sort of person than all her other lines tell us she is.
VIOLA I left no ring with her: what means this lady? Fortune forbid my outside have not charm'd her! She made good view of me; indeed, so much, That sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue, For she did speak in starts distractedly. She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion Invites me in this churlish messenger. None of my lord's ring! why, he sent her none. I am the man: if it be so, as 'tis, Poor lady, she were better love a dream. Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness, Wherein the pregnant enemy does much. How easy is it for the proper-false In women's waxen hearts to set their forms! Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we! For such as we are made of, such we be. How will this fadge? my master loves her dearly; And I, poor monster, fond as much on him; And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me. What will become of this? As I am man, My state is desperate for my master's love; As I am woman,--now alas the day!-- What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe! O time! thou must untangle this, not I; It is too hard a knot for me to untie!
Viola is a shyer and more timid young woman than Rosalind and Portia, Shakespeare's other famous gender-benders. Those other two get a kick out of pretending to be boys. It makes them bolder and more brazen. It frees them.
But Viola feels trapped within her disguise. First of all, she is not very good at being a boy. She is often embarrassed by what she has to do to pass herself off as a guy and when being a guy gets her into guy trouble---a duel with the fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek---she nearly faints from fright and the only thing protecting her is that Sir Andrew is more frightened than she is. (It's easy to imagine Rosalind enjoying the chance to show off her fencing skills.) But beyond that, Viola's disguise has gotten her into trouble from two sides. She has fallen in love with a man who thinks she's a boy and therefore has no romantic interest in her, and a woman, Olivia, has fallen in love with the boy Viola's pretending to be, and is making a serious and aggressive play for "him."
In both cases it would be in her best interest to throw off her disguise, but she can't do that. She's stuck inside her boy's clothes. Worse and worse, she feels she needs to remain in disguise but the greatest threat to that is her own body.
We should see Orsino casually slapping "Cesario" on the back, throwing a friendly "arm" over his shoulder, and see Viola visibly shrinking within her clothes. The same goes when Olivia leans in close, hoping to prompt a kiss. An accidentally misplaced hand, a too tight hug, and the game's up. It's not just that Orsino or Olivia might touch something that shouldn't be there---a pair of somethings. With Olivia, Viola might give herself away by clenching up too tightly, pulling away too fast, and with Or by not clenching up, by going all soft and pliant, by melting into his arms.
If Viola has any of her own body parts on her mind, it's her breasts, not her crotch. One good heaving sigh, her nipples showing a mind of their own at the wrong moment, and the traitors will have exposed her.
Viola then needs to be on guard and doubly modest. Rosalind might be played as having a grand time toying with Orlando by acting seductively when he thinks he's talking to a boy. But Viola should be played as always pulling away, with one eye on the lookout for the nearest avenue of escape---intellectually as well as physically. Her wit then is part of her defense. She uses words as a deflection. Which makes it highly unlikely that she would risk giving herself away to Feste that way.
Her aside makes the most sense not as a conscious joke, but as mental relief. For a second she, reflexively, stops pretending, and in her head does what she's afraid she's going to do with her body around Orsino, respond to his touch and melt into his arms.
In short, wishing for a beard that is not on her chin is not a dirty joke. It's an expression of romantic longing. It may be erotically charged. But if it is, it's because Viola herself is erotically charged. She's sexy. The joke isn't.
By the way, Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, and his essay isn't all about or even really about Viola's aside. It's about all the asides and all the lines and all the words in all the plays and how to say them so that they make sense and make character and make poetry. It's about how to speak the speech since Shakespeare himself isn't here to pronounce it to us.
Still. I don't think Viola would make that joke if she did lose control and give in to even a fleeting temptation to expose herself---Rosenbaum's reading of the line suggests an imaginary striptease, but I mean that almost literally. Viola is always on the verge of revealing herself, and when she finally does it will be a matter of undressing. In performance, the actress playing her "proves" Viola's a girl by exiting the scene for the time it takes to change and coming back in a dress. But in the fictional world the characters inhabit, and into which we can follow them in our imaginations, Viola will prove to Orsino that she's a woman by climbing naked into bed with him. That's the moment she's dreaming of, longing for, and trying her darndest to put out of her mind. Thinking about it is her problem.
But it's not likely that when she does let herself look forward to it, she worries that when the moment finally arrives Orsino will be disappointed because she doesn't have much of a beard.
The New York Times review of Twelfth Night is here. You can get tickets through the Public Theatre's website.
Take note, Angelina. It’s possible to be a sex symbol without making other women want to put a tack on your chair.
It was the smile, of course. And the fact that nothing but the hair looked excessively fussed-over. Since every woman fusses over her hair, it bound her to us, instead of pushing us away, the way breast implants and see-through blouses do. She isn’t showing an acre of skin, only the results of a health y, athletic lifestyle and the sort of thoroughbred good looks that some people get through the luck of the genetic draw. You know what that poster says? Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. It wasn’t something she could help.
This morning I needed some writing advice about how to refer to a portion of female anatomy. So I called my good buddy Wev McEwan, figuring that since she's a writer, she's female, and she has anatomy, she'd be the right person to ask.
She didn't pick up, and as I was explaining what I was calling for to her voice mail, making the point above, that since she was a writer, a female, and a possessor of anatomy I was depending on her advice, something dawned on me.
I don't in fact know that Wev has anatomy.
We've never met.
For all I know she is exactly what she is on the phone, a disembodied voice.
All these years I might have been talking to a Star Trek character, one of those incorporeal beings of pure energy that are always popping up to lord their intellectual and moral superiority over we mere humans who are unfortunately trapped in our meat packaging.
Wev doesn't usually lord her superiority over this particular piece of meat, but sometimes she can't help herself. That's the way it is with superior beings. They act so...superior.
I've been lucky. I've made a bunch of good friends through this blogging thing. And I've had the pleasure of meeting and spending time in person with many of them. But it's very odd to me that one of the friends I feel closest to is one of the ones I have not actually met.
Sometimes I love the 21st Century. Sometimes it just freaks me out. But most of the time I'm just in awe, like Miranda in The Tempest. "O brave new, virtual world, that has such people in it."
I'm still waiting for Wev to call me back. But maybe I should just expect her to show up here as glimmering and humming globules of light materializing through the wall.
Updated to provide medical evidence of a blogger's physical existence: Isn't this just like her? The McEwan has gone to extremes to prove that she is in fact a corporeal being. Show off.
I'm wondering if at this point Woody Allen's making movies to keep himself alive.
Retirement will kill you, and he sure doesn't seem to be making his films for anyone.
It's not as if he's lost touch with his audience. It's as if he doesn't have an audience in mind anymore.
With the exception of Anything Else, every movie he's made over the last decade has seemed to be an exercise, and the point of the exercise as far as I can tell has been to bring together a group of actors Allen admires and give them things to do that are slightly offbeat compared to the work they usually do. So the point of Melinda and Melinda became Will Farrell taking on his first serious acting assignment and the point of Scoop became Scarlett Johansson playing a nerdy ditz and the point of Cassandra's Dream became turning Obi-wan Kenobi into a slimy cockney villain.
The point of Vicky Cristina Barcelona seemed to be to give everyone involved with it a nice vacation in Spain, but I've been told I totally missed the boat on that one. And I did, in one regard. I thought Rebecca Hall who played Vicky might be a bad actress. Then I saw her in Frost/Nixon and discovered that she's a good and sexy actress. Allen must have wanted her to be that off-putting and annoying. So the point there might have been to find out how dull and unerotic a romantic heroine can be and still be a romantic heroine.
Apparently, the story was written in the nineteen-seventies. Only now, like something out of “Sleeper,” has it been defrosted. Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David), once a professor of physics, has been reduced to teaching chess to kids. He has a limp (the result of a failed suicide attempt), a scuzzy apartment, and a firm belief that he was tipped for a Nobel Prize. So he tells us, anyhow, turning and talking to the camera in the first scene, and then throughout the film. This was a beautiful trick when deployed in “Annie Hall”—in a schoolroom, at the movies, during lunch with Annie’s family—but those monologues were cut short as other voices intruded, eliding the narcissism of the hero and forcing him to join a crowded world. Boris, by contrast, is allowed to rant at leisure, barely drawing a laugh, and we are left with the sense of a locked-in soul—a proud one, too, as if he alone (plus, by implication, the director) were witness to an inarguable truth.
Oh well. Not that I take Anthony Lane's word as gospel, but I probably was going to give Whatever Works the skip anyway. The premise creeps me out. I don't mean the idea of a teenage girl attaching herself to a man as old as Larry David who also happens to look like Larry David, although that is kind of creepy. I mean the idea of Larry David playing a character whose existential angst I'm supposed to sympathize with.
It is intriguing me that Allen wrote the script over thirty years ago. Something else has been going on with Allen's movies over the last half dozen or so years besides self-preservation and professional curiosity-satisfying. Allen has been revisiting old themes and plots. Match Point was a return to Crimes and Misdemeanors, Scoop a reprise of Manhattan Murder Mystery. And Whatever Works appears to be a variation on the ideas and tropes he introduced in Manhattan. Actually, I'd like to know when in the seventies he wrote the script. It sounds as if it could have been a first draft of many drafts for a movie that evolved into Manhattan. Check back later. I'm going to google this when I have more time. Somewhere I'm sure there's an interview with Allen that answers this.
At any rate, I don't see these variations on old themes as Allen repeating himself. I see what he's up to as something similar to an old painter going back to the landscapes and faces and scenes that inspired him when he was young in order to see where he began so he can figure out where he has ended up and maybe draw strength and renewed inspiration from the example of his younger self. Possibly he'll also discover something important he overlooked the first time, something he should have seen and painted that he was too naive, too stupid, too inexperienced, or in too much of an ambitious hurry to know he should have caught and painted at the time. How many times did Hopper paint that house? How many lighthouses did he do?
And, as in the case of Hopper, about whom it is a mistake to think that he was only and mainly interested in painting the people and the buildings and the rooms in his pictures---he was painting the light---Allen may be using his movies to look at things that aren't obviously on the screen.
Allen may be painting the light and I just haven't seen it yet.
I didn't like Scoop. I hated Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Cassandra's Dream left me cold. Match Point was all right, but Melinda and Melinda was so-so, and Hollywood Ending and Curse of the Jade Scorpion were just plain unfunny. His last really good film was Sweet and Lowdown and that was ten years ago now. But I don't want to say Allen has lost his touch and I sure don't want him to stop making movies, even if I never like another one of his films, because I think he's capable of a late in life masterpiece, like Verdi and Tolstoy, and he's actively working towards it.
I'll be glad to sit through a dozen versions of Whatever Works to get to his Otello or Hadji Murat.
Here's the problem: The most primitive dinosaurs in the famous theropod group (that later included Tyrannosaurus rex) had five "fingers." Later theropods had three, just like the birds that evolved from them. But which digits? The theropod and bird digits failed to ma tch up if you number the digits from 1 to 5 starting with the thumb. Theropods looked like they had digits 1, 2 and 3, while birds have digits 2, 3 and 4.
That mismatch failed to support the widely accepted evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds.
Now, newly described fossilized hands from a beaked, plant-eating dinosaur, called Limusaurus inextricabilis, reveal a transitional step in the evolution of modern wings from dino digits. The finding could resolve a debate over which fingers ultimately became embedded in the wing.
TOWN OF MONTGOMERY — Curt McDermott first heard the characteristic "chip chip" call of the sedge wren before he saw the bird in Benedict Farm Park. Then he called in his father, Ken, a veteran bird-watcher, to confirm the rare sighting.
In 50 years, the sedge wren has been seen only two other times in Orange County: two years ago in the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge and once in the 1970s, McDermott said.
This male wren has been collecting nest material to lure a mate to the park on Route 17K since last Wednesday. But so far, he's also mostly attracted birders and the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The small, secretive bird is planning a family on 100 acres slated for haying.
As if to affirm its utter worthlessness, the Post follows up the canning of Dan Froomkin by publishing a stream of effluent from Paul Wolfowitz, who seems to believe that Obama's ability to shape events in Iran is roughly on par with the Reagan administration's ability to shape events in the Philippines 23 years ago. Never mind, of course, the fact that one's ability to usher someone like Ferdinand Marcos from power is correlated in a non-trivial way with the fact that Marcos presided over a client state that the US once literally owned, and over which it continued to assert significant military, political and economic power. Which is so totally like what's happening in Iran, I'm not sure why the comparison failed to strike me before now.
MONROE — It was eight years ago that Jim Bacchiocchi lamented the end of his industry. "When the economy gets good, I do badly — people just ... buy throwaway shoes," said the then-46-year-old shoe repairman, talking to a local reporter about retiring.
Back then, Bacchiocchi watched one cobbler after another close shop, as the number of customers waned, the craftsmen grew older, and the young chose higher-paying desk jobs over learning a skilled craft. But Bacchiocchi and his shoe-repair store on Stage Road in the village stuck around, and even though that "good economy" he spoke about isn't that good anymore, sticking around is paying off.
Bacchiocchi and other cobblers (those still around, that is) claim to have seen as much as a 35 percent uptick in business over the last year, thanks to the worst economy since the Great Depression...
Consider this. To fulfill a promise he made to his late wife, Carl Frederickson, the Spencer Tracyish old man who's the hero of Pixar's latest, flies his house to South America. The name of his precise destination, the place he and Ellie dreamed of visiting, the mysterious land where their childhood hero Charles Muntz disappeared on his last adventure?
The other day, a commenter on my post on the Toggle-Alex romance in Doonesbury called me "insufferable." Imagine how insufferable I could be if I followed this line of thought to any depth.
So I'll just follow it into the shallows.
A major influence on the makers of Up is George Lucas. There are quotes from and allusions and oblique references to Star Wars and Indiana Jones throughout. There are references to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and other movie serials and comic books that influenced Lucas, and to the pre-motion picture days writers who influenced the writers and producers of those works, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Conan Doyle. In fact, visually, Paradise Falls---
---is a direct quote from the silent movie adaptation of Conan Doyle's The Lost World:
Through Lucas all those old books, movies, and comic strips have entered the imaginations of two generations of young movie-goers who never saw or even heard of the originals.
It's been said that Lucas, with a little help from Steven Spielberg, brought the spirit of adventure back to movies.
The Spirit of Adventure is the name of Charles Muntz's airship and the ideal that Up celebrates.
Milton gets in there through the story of Anakin Skywalker---there's a swordfight in Up that conjures up images of the light saber duels between Luke and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Well, a sword and metal cane fight.---and Anakin's story---Vader's story---is a retelling of Lucifer's, the fall of the brightest and most beloved angel.
All the old stories inform each other, so I'm not insisting on a direct connection. But the story of how the best of us can undone and destroyed by our vanity is an old and important one. I think it's a story that has faded from Americans' collective memory, even though it ought to be one of our national myths, the cautionary tale we tell ourselves over and over again. Lucas brought it back, although it doesn't seem to have sunk in yet. But he's made it familiar enough that the makers of Up could gloss it without having to spend time developing it.
How a hero can turn into a villain and why this individual tragedy isn't necessarily the story's end, how it can even lead to a happy ending, is the theme of the Star Wars saga.
Through the fall of Anakin, through the failures of Obi-wan and Yoda, through the redemption of Han Solo, and the triumph of Luke, Lucas reminds us again and again that heroism isn't a quality belonging to an individual, it's an ideal that an individual attaches himself or herself to. The hero serves the ideal and when he loses track of that truth, when he mistakes himself for the cause, he is doomed.
Anakin is ruined by his vanity. Obi-wan and Yoda are blinded, weakened, even corrupted a bit, by their devotion to the Jedi Order and to a political system that they have mistaken for an ideal. Luke is saved, and saves others, through his selfless devotion to an ideal, which, by the way, is not the Force, but the goodness inherent in the individual heart.
Unless that's what the Force is.
Carl and Russell, the nerdy little Junior Wilderness Explorer who unwillingly comes along on the adventure but then joins in enthusiastically, are a very unlikely pair of heroes but they are heroes and recognizable as heroes despite their weaknesses and shortcomings, because of their devotion to the ideal the movie's villain was once devoted to but abandoned for the sake of vanity and ego.
The spirit of adventure.
A few quick thoughts in place of a review: Up rates pretty high on my personal Pixar meter. Fourth, I think. Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up. After that it's Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and Cars. Toy Story is in a class all by itself.
This is the second Pixar in a row in which the audience is treated to a long stretch that is essentially a silent movie. Actually, Wall-E was a silent movie. Its very little bit of dialogue was unnecessary and was practically just sound effects. In Up, almost all the important exposition and most of Carl's character are given to us without dialogue.
Of course, Pixar has been delivering silent movies regularly. All but one of the shorts that have played before the main features have been silent movies. The one that wasn't, Boundin, was the worst, the only complete failure.
Up feels a little underpopulated. There are only four developed characters, and one of them is only on screen for a few minutes. None of the dogs, not even Dug, has much of a personality. On the other hand, that one character who disappears from the movie less than a third of the way through is so vividly portrayed that we continue to see her and feel her presence throughout the whole rest of the movie. Ellie is Up's spirit of Adventure.
The 3D isn't necessary. After my first "Wow! That's so cool!" moment when the white letters of Walt Disney Presents appeared to float in the air of the theater halfway between my eyes and the screen, I forgot all about it.
I liked it that the 3D glasses are shaped like Carl's heavy-framed specs though.
Your turn: Rank the Pixars on your personal scale.
David Rohde, a New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban, escaped Friday night and made his way to freedom after more than seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr. Rohde, along with a local reporter, Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was abducted outside Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 10 while he was researching a book.
Mr. Rohde was part of The Times’s reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize this spring for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.
Mr. Rohde told his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, that Mr. Ludin joined him in climbing over the wall of a compound where they were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. They made their way to a nearby Pakistani Frontier Corps base and on Saturday they were flown to the American military base in Bagram, Afghanistan.
“They just walked over the wall of the compound,” Ms. Mulvihill said.
Read the story in the New York Times at listen to Times Executive Editor Bill Keller talk about Rohde's kidnapping and escape at NPR.
Thomas Prusik-Parkin -- who allegedly dressed up in his dead mother's clothes to collect government benefits -- swears he's "not Norman Bates," even though he is obsessed with the movie.
Prusik-Parkin bizarrely turned a jailhouse interview with The Post yesterday into an opportunity to ramble about the fictional killer's psyche.
"Whenever [Bates] looked through the hole [at actress Janet Leigh undressing in her motel room], he would get excited," the mild-mannered Prusik-Parkin said of the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock flick starring Anthony Perkins as a cross-dressing, murderous innkeeper.
"He'd kill her, then in his head think it was his mother."
Prusik-Parkin is not accused of murder, but authorities do allege he was so convincing in his dress-up antics that he was able to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars in Social Security and rent subsidies.
"That wasn't me," Prusik-Parkin said from Rikers Island when asked about surveillance images that show him dressed in his mom Irene's clothes.