Monday, January 31, 2011
MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947)
I ventured down to the Chickasaw library yesterday, which is about a one-minute walk from where I live.
I wanted to look through their VHS collection to see if there was anything on my 1001 movie list that I could rent there that I hadn’t seen before. Low and behold, I came across Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux.
I’ve seen most of Chaplin’s most famous feature films: The Gold Rush, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, City Lights and Limelight. I’ve also seen many of his classic shorts including 1916’s The Pawnshop, which I purchased from good ole Blackhawk Films on Super 8 during the 70’s. (Note: I did not see The Pawnshop in 1916, but my reference to purchasing Super 8 films is making feel a little old, nonetheless.)
I also broke out my old copy of Charlie Chaplin’s book My Life in Pictures (1975) which gives a brief but telling view of Chaplin’s films and life through the words of Chaplin himself.
Chaplin on Monnsieur Verdoux: The film was disliked in America where its message of anti-materialism was mistaken for immoral cynicism.
Me on Monsieur Verdoux: It’s interesting to see Chaplin in a guise other that of the little tramp. He plays a modern day Bluebeard who marries or takes advantage of middle-aged women for their money and disposes of them afterwards. It is pretty funny despite the dark subject matter, especially some of the scenes with Chaplin and Martha Raye (a later generation came to know as: Martha Raye: denture wearer, but she was a talented comedienne in back in the day).
All these later Chaplin films tended to end with a bit of moralizing. This one might be best summed up with Verdoux calling himself an amateur murderer compared to the systematic murders of states about to go into a bloody world war. Kill a few they give you the guillotine, kill a lot they make you a king.
It wouldn’t be my first film recommendation for those uninitiated with Chaplin, but I think it is deserving of its place in the 1001 movie book.
While I was at the library, I also checked out the VHS of Chaplin’s last starring role, the 1956 film, A King in New York. (Not an entry in the 1001 movie book).
Chaplin on A King in New York: There are funny gags in it…yet even these seem too elaborate to me now, I feel a little uneasy about the whole film.
Me on A King in New York: Charlie’s review of the film and its limitations seems right. I did enjoy seeing Charlie do a scene from Hamlet. It made me think that he might have been a pretty good Shakespearean actor in films if he had been so inclined. The moral to this one is King Charlie, who is visiting New York, will return to the States only when all this Communist witch hunt hysteria dies down. The real life exiled Charlie Chaplin did return to the States in 1972 to receive an honorary Oscar. (See the Richard Attenborough/Robert Downey Jr. film Chaplin for a dramatic and moving recreation of this event.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got tapes to rewind or else the Chickasaw library is going to charge me an extra buck per movie!
Friday, January 28, 2011
MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)
Chris 1, a librarian: Plainly speaking, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is one of the most creative works of art you will probably ever see on the silver screen. I don’t think I’m using hyperbole in calling it a modern classic, if not a masterpiece. The movie has a plot, of course, but recounting it here as if this were a normal viewing experience with a beginning-middle-end couldn’t possibly do it justice. Lynch throws so many plot twists out there; you can’t imagine how it is going to work out-yet it does. At times it takes your breath away with its mastery, but try to keep up! It’s not for the faint of heart! Lynch scatters his puzzle pieces on the floor, but always knows where to pick them up and place them even if the viewer doesn’t. Mulholland Drive brings magical realism into the narrative, complete with bilingual magic show. This has been done in literature by Herman Hesse, among others, but has never been as successfully put onto film before-not even by the maestro Ingmar Bergman. Some may criticize the sex scenes as being gratuitous, but I strongly disagree, as it is instrumental to show the passion inherent in the two main characters. People enter, interact, disappear for no apparent reason. You ask yourself what is the purpose of this? All I can say is-let the master wave his wand and work his magic. You may have to sit through repeated viewings to peel away Mulholland Drive’s many layers, but believe me-that would be no chore. What do you think, Chris 2?
Chris 2, a librarian: Well, Chris 1. I see you’ve bought a complete case of snake oil from that master huckster, Mr. Lynch. Now, I’ll speak plainly: With this convoluted mess of a TV pilot, Lynch was trying to recreate the limited success of Twin Peaks. When he couldn’t find any takers or couldn’t find a way out of the convoluted show he created, he just threw as much of it against the wall and hoped some of it would stick. It’s like he was saying, “This part is illogical, but that’s okay, if they don’t understand it-they’ll call me a genius.” And if I want an experience with magical realism, I’ll read just read Steppenwolf and eliminate “the auteur interpeter” middle man. And about the lesbian love scene that you seem to love so much; If that’s what makes great cinema for you, why don’t you stick with Bob Guccioni’s Caligula? As ridiculous as Caligula was, it at least had a plot you could follow! And don't compare him to Bergman or I may have to hurt you. If I watched Mulholland Drive again as you suggest, I suppose I might pick up more of the plot, but do I really want to? Let’s see: That answer would be: NO!
Chris 1, a librarian: I guess we have to agree to disagree you reptilian pinhead!
Chris 2, a librarian: Now that we can agree on, you inbred buffoon!
Sunday, January 16, 2011
THE SWIMMER (1968)
THE DIANA POOL
The good citizens of Chickasaw, Alabama had just finished watching Citizen Kane on the outdoor portable theater screen at the Civic Center located directly behind the city library. They gave a loud ovation as the new mayor came to the microphone.
Chris raised his arms in acknowledgement of the applause of the crowd.
After the cheers died down, he began to speak.
“I want to thank you. And I think I speak for Orson Welles in his thanking of you as well.”
The audience laughed.
“I come here for you on this special inauguration day, since you have done me the honor of electing this humble librarian as your mayor. The first thing I want to do is put a stop to the rumors that I am using this office as a stepping stone. All I can say I’ve been elected mayor of Chickasaw and as God as my witness, mayor of Chickasaw is what I intend to be.”
The crowd cheered and applauded.
“I’d like to thank you all. But I’d like to give a special thanks to my wife Diana, my two daughters and my son, Collin. Let’s give them a hand.”
The crowd dutifully clapped again and Chris’s family smiled and waved back to him from the front row.
“As my first act as mayor, I’m going to do something unprecedented. We’ve just watched the greatest movie of all time, but I want to do something as a tribute to another movie, which is my personal favorite. It’s called The Swimmer.”
The crowd became hushed.
“I know most of you probably haven't seen it, but Burt Lancaster swims from pool to pool throughout his neighborhood until he finds his way home. I can’t do that exactly, because the only pool I know of in Chickasaw is here at the Rec center.”
The crowd laughed.
“But you do have TV’s and I may be coming to your house to watch movies all the way home. I’m calling it, The Diana Pool. The swimming pool element being metaphorical in this case, of course.”
Chris became more animated as he spoke to his people.
“I have the course all mapped out. From here, I can hit Grant Street to the left and visit the Grahams. Then I’ll head back and hit the cutoff and go to the Hammers house on Lee Street. From there, it’s a quick jump to Ray Sawyer Rd. and the Hooper’s place. Then that slight dogleg to the right, the Bunkers on Jackson St., then I’ll loop back around to the northern part of Johnston St. and the Hallorans. That will take me to Jefferson St. and I’ll double back to the Gilmartins. Little Autumndale St. and the Biswangers are next. No street is going to be too small for this mayor to visit. It’s a quick jump from there to 3rd St. and the house on the hill to…to…that’s funny I can’t remember who lives on the house on the hill.”
The crowd, including Chris’s wife, looked away with noticeable discomfort.
“Wait, I remember. That’s Shirley’s…I mean the Abbott house. That’s right. And from there I’ll bypass my own street back here to 1st street where I’ll go in that pool right over there. You got to get your feet wet if you want to be a librarian. Of course, if you want to be a politician, you better dive in headfirst. And from there I’ll head home, to 2nd St. and I will have completed The Diana Pool.”
The crowd was silent momentarily before erupting in yet another round of applause.
Chris walked down from behind his podium and glad-handed the people before embarking on his journey. He felt their eyes on his back as he left the grounds of the Civic Center. He couldn’t help but feel like Dorothy in Oz saying goodbye to all the munchkins that surrounded him.
Chris walked speedily to the left and quickly came to the Grahams house. He found the door was open and went in.
Mrs. Graham seemed surprised to see him, but offered Chris a smile. “Chrissy! I’m so glad to see you.” She gave him a big bear hug.
The coolness of her dangling earrings brushed up against him.
Chris smiled at her.
“It’s good to see you back on your feet,” she said.
“Mrs. G…I’m always on my feet when I’m around you.”
“Oh, don’t talk nonsense. You were always so flirty,” Mrs. Graham said.
“That’s because I was always so crazy about you. Between you and me, Mr. G is one lucky son-of-a-gun,” Chris said.
Mrs. Graham looked shocked. “I find that hard to believe. If I had only known…well, never mind. Have a seat. We’re about to watch one of Mr. G’s favorite movies, The Planet of the Apes.”
Mr. Graham came into the room, “Get you damn paws off my wife you damn, dirty librarian.” He smiled as he said it and followed it up with a friendly bear hug of his own for Chris.
“Hey, if there’s anything I can do for you let me know,” Mr. Graham said seriously.
“Well, I could join you in watching Planet of the Apes and I wouldn’t turn down a cool glass of lemonade. It’s a real scorcher outside. Though I could have sworn I saw a dark cloud. Ah, Chickasaw, it’s my town now. Chickasaw seems like a dream to me now.”
“You were always such a poet, but you’re going to get something stronger than lemonade,” Mrs. Graham said.
Mr. Graham was one step ahead of her as he handed Chris a martini.
“Have this, I’ll make another one for me. Start the movie hon.”
2 hours later.
“Statue of Liberty, again. Gets to me every time. I’ve got to be going,” Chris said.
“Don’t rush off, Chris. But if you have to, I repeat, if there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.” Mr. Graham looked at him with that uncharacteristically serious expression again.
“I count on the support of all my people. Hey, what’s that list? Chris asked.
“Oh, that. We’re putting together a fundraiser for the Republican Senatorial candidate. Five-hundred a head.”
“Why didn’t you ask me? Put me down.”
Mr. Graham looked surprised.
“Oh, Chris. You don’t have to-”
“I said put me down. Don’t you think I’m good for it?” Chris walked over and added his name to the list.
“I’m off, my friends, to the next stop of The Diana Pool.”
Before he left, Mrs. G. gave him a hug with a trace of a tear in her eye.
“Good luck,” she said.
“And if there’s anything we can do,” Mr. G said before Chris could interrupt him.
“I know. I know. I’ll let you know.”
Chris shook off their rather odd behavior and headed to the Hammers of Lee St.
Chris spotted Mrs. Hammer on the porch fanning herself. Conveniently enough, she was already watching a movie.
This was going to work out just fine.
When he came closer he recognized the movie as Charles Bronson in Death Wish.
Mrs. Hammer spotted him and came to the screen door.
“What are you doing here?” she spewed out.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Hammer. I’m making the rounds of Chickasaw going from house to house and watching movies. Watching movies…I’m calling it The Diana-”
“That’s fine that you come around for something frivolous.”
“I see you are watching Death Wish. No one’s tougher than ole Charlie Bronson.”
Chris noticed the squint in Mrs. Hammer’s eyes eerily matched the squint in the eyes of Charles Bronson behind her in a manner that was disconcerting.
Mrs. Hammer pointed a finger. “All that time my son was in the hospital. You never came to see him. You never called. You never did anything.”
Chris thought for a moment. Yes…er…yes, how is ole M. C. doing? Is he feeling better?”
Mrs. Hammer tightened her jaw in anger. “If you ever come on my property again, I’m going to call the police.”
“I think I’ve seen enough of this movie to count it.” Chris said. “I’ll be on my way.” Chris scooted away from the Hammer household as quickly as he could manage.
Before he got to the Hooper’s, Chris leaned against the fence just off Lee Street. He felt a wet tongue on his hand. He smiled in recognition.
“Molly Bear! What are you doing all the way over here? Did momma let you out?”
It was Chris’s prized Golden Retriever. Chris laughed at his fuzzy friend and reached over the fence to pet her. Then he turned to his right and eyed the field in front of them.
From the opposite side of the fence, Molly Bear appeared to do the same.
“Ready to race girl?”
Before waiting for any kind of affirmation, Chris took off running along the fence.
Despite his head start, Molly Bear soon overtook him and left him in the dust. Chris pulled up after about thirty yards and began panting.
As he saw Molly racing into the distance, he yelled out, “You win. Go on home girl. Go on home. Tell momma to lock the door and keep up with you better.”
Molly Bear was now out of sight and Chris walked slowly to the Hooper’s house on Ray Sawyer Rd.
Chris heard some music in the backyard of the Hooper place. As he got closer he recognized The Doors song, “Break on Through.” He interpreted this as a subliminal message and let himself into the backyard where three lounging teenagers gave him a non-committal wave.
It was then that he spotted her coming across the yard drinking a fruit drink of some kind through a straw.
“Julie Hooper!” Chris yelled out.
Julie Hooper dropped her drink and rushed over embrace him.
“It’s so good to see you Mr. Chris! It’s been ages,” she said.
Chris scanned her over.“Oh, my God. You’re just all grown up now.”
Julie blushed as he continued speaking. “You’d appreciate this. I’m on a quest of sorts.” Julie nodded in appreciation as Chris went on. “Julie, I’m going from house to house in Chickasaw and watching movies. I’m calling it The Diana Pool!” Anyway, don’t let me go on. I want to hear about you-but hey, maybe later you could come by and visit the girls.”
Julie looked confused. “The girls? Are you putting me on?”
“No, no they’re probably in the backyard now, tanning, texting their friends and playing fetch with the dogs. I’m assuming Molly Bear has made it home of course. Hey, I almost forgot. I need to find a television and watch a movie.”
“Well, there’s a couple of guys in the den watching something,” she said.
Chris smiled as Julie took him by the hand and led him inside.
“Pulp Fiction, Perfect. I can watch that for the tenth time, no problem.”
“That time line still confuses me,” she said.
“That’s why your friendly neighborhood librarian/mayor is here to explain things for you.”
2 hours later.
“I got it that time!” Julie said excitedly.
“Repeated viewings can really make a difference. Well, it’s time for me to head to the next house. Why don’t you come with me?”
Julie thought for a minute. “Okay, sounds like fun!”
Mrs. Bunker greeted Chris and Julie warmly after they came into their house on Jackson Street. They appeared to be having a gathering of some sort.
“So glad to see you,” Mrs. Bunker said after giving him fake kisses on each cheek. “I’ll tell Bunky you're here. I think he’ll think its grand.”
They really got this together quickly after the inauguration, Chris thought.
After Mrs. Bunker left for the kitchen, Chris came across an old acquaintance, but had little trouble remembering her name.
“Hello, Chris” she said. “Long time no see.”
“Glad to see you again too.” He kissed her hand, but recognition was slow in coming. “I got it! You played the Doctor in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Am I right?”
The woman self-consciously grabbed at her eyebrows. “I guess I should have waxed yesterday. Thanks for being so subtle.” She moved away from him, trying to sweep her hair further down her forehead.
Mr. Bunker came up to Chris and vigorously shook his hand.
“Good to see you out and about, my man. I’d just like to tell you how I thought it was such a lousy break you got. Just cause you can get a guy cheaper and is maybe a year or two younger doesn’t mean they have to give you the bum’s rush.”
Chris again was confused. “I thank you for your support Bunky, as always, but I really don’t know what you’re talking…but, oh, I’m sorry. Julie. Everyone, you all know Julie Hooper, all grown up now.”
Everyone smiled and nodded as Julie playfully slapped at his arm to signal him to stop going on about her. He winked at her before escorting her over to the bar.
“Let me buy you a drink, as they say,” Chris said.
Chris poured two glasses of Don Perrignon and gave one to Julie. “I’m taking for granted of course that you are drinking age.”
They wrapped their arms around each other and drank out of the other’s glass.
“Skoal” Chris said.
Julie whispered in his ear, “Skoal to you. But don’t you need to watch a movie? You know, your quest?”
“Of course!” He yelled over his shoulder. “Bunky! What’s up in your DVD player?”
“You want to watch a movie, now? Well, I was watching Midway before everyone got here. You know how I like Dubya Dubya Two movies.”
“Great. How symbolic. Midway through the journey. Average movie, about midway on the rotten tomato meter. Can I just watch a few minutes? Then we’ll be on our way.”
Mr. Bunker seemed sympathetic “Sure, Chris old man, we got to take pleasure where and when we can get it.”
After a few minutes of viewing, Chris turned off the TV. “Well, that’s enough. I know how it ends. Two Charlton Heston movies in one afternoon is a bit much. Hopefully, the rest of the day will bring more variety because I really don’t feel like sitting through Soylent Green today.”
Chris and Julie bid the Bunkers farewell and headed on. The couple bid him goodbye in return, but Chris sensed a little condescension in their tone.
After Chris and Julie returned to the street, he took note of them. “They acted strangely. Like they felt sorry for me. Most odd.”
“Who’s next?” Julie asked.
The Hallorans on Johnston St. I’ve got to get motivated for them.
“Why don’t we go to the park first,” he suggested.
Julie agreed as they were practically at the park anyway.
Upon arrival, it seem to be a lot more run down than he remembered.
“Not much here as far as equipment.” Julie said. “But I can still do this.”
Julie did a handstand before coming back down perfectly to her feet.
She took a bow as Chris applauded and blew wolf whistles.
“Let me give it a shot,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t know, Mr. Chris,” she said.
Before she could talk him out of it, he attempted a handstand and flipped immediately over onto his back.
“Oh, no!” Julie cried out. “Are you all right?”
Chris rubbed his back as Julie came over to comfort him.
“That really smarts,” he said. “Teach the old man a lesson. But I’m fine.”
Julie plopped down next to him. “You need to take care of yourself…You know I’ve never told you this before, but I used to have such a crush on you. I wanted to always be with you on your shift at the library. I read a couple of the books you recommended just so I could show you how smart I was.”
Chris looked surprised. “Now you’re putting me on. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Julie blushed again.”You were married and I was basically a kid.”
Chris chuckled and looked to his left. “Look at that, Azaleas blooming at this time of year.”
“Oh, Mr. Chris you always can make me laugh.”
Chris didn’t see the joke, but took the opportunity to draw her hand to his and kiss it. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
“Jim Morrison?” she asked, clearly uncomfortable with the intimacy of his touch.
“No, Aldous Huxley. Or was it William Blake? I guess Jim Morrison probably said it too.”
Julie drew her arm away from him.
“You did know I was married now,” she explained.
Chris looked confused. “I think I knew that. Older man, right? Huh. If you were going to marry an older man you should have asked me.”
Julie forced out a laugh as she kept talking.
“I met him through a computer dating service…I-”
“Nothing wrong with that, met my wife the same way.”
Chris brushed his hand against Julie’s cheek.
“Julie, I know you’re married now, but will you let me look after you…protect you…like a bodyguard?”
Julie pushed his hand away, pulled herself up and ran from the park.
Chris called out to her in anguish to return, but she quickly disappeared into the night.
Chris was limping slightly after his fall, but proceeded, by himself now, to the Halloran’s.
The warm greeting he received from the middle-aged couple on Johnston Street was welcome, but he still felt the need to avert his eyes from their appearance as they let him in their front door.
“Oh, don’t be such a prude Chris, ole man. I don’t understand why you never became a nudist,” Mr. Halloran said.
“God gave us this body. Why hide it? Besides, I’m not totally nude, I am wearing pearls,” Mrs. Halloran said.
“What can we do for you? We are so sad to hear about the way things are going.” Mr. Halloran said.
“What?” Chris said. “No, everything’s going fine. In fact, I’m going from house to house in Chickasaw and watching a movie at each one until I get home. I’m calling it The Diana-”
“Well, you’re in luck. We were just about to watch our favorite movie, Last Tango in Paris,” she said.
“You are welcome to join us old boy, but you are way too overdressed.” Mr. Halloran said.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing Last Tango. Could I at least keep a towel on?” Chris asked.
“Fine bashful Barney, there’s one in the bathroom.” Mrs. Halloran said disapprovingly.
After Chris went into the bathroom, Mrs. Halloran turned to her husband.
“What do you think he’s really doing here? I hope he doesn’t ask for money again.”
“Quiet down dear. He might hear you.”
Chris came out of the bathroom wrapped in nothing but a Sponge Bob towel.
“That’s our grandson’s. He’s less hung up about going au naturel than his mom, I’m afraid. But that’s another story. Let’s watch the movie, shall we?”
“Yes, yes. But what that’s list you’re making, Karen?” Chris asked.
“500$ a plate dinner for the Democratic candidate for Senator. Not that she has much of a chance to win in this backwater.”
“Oh, put me down for a plate.”
“Put me down, Karen. I’m good for it. I’ve just misplaced my wallet.”
Karen wrote down Chris’s name, but made sure to write it in pencil.
2 hours later
“Beauty of mine, sit before me. Let me peruse you and remember you…always like this.” Chris said in his best Brando imitation.
“Very good. Very good indeed. But if you don’t mind ole boy, we’ve got to attend to a few phone calls about this dinner.” Mr. Halloran said.
“We’re are so delighted you stopped by to visit,” she said.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve got to go anyway. I’ve got more movies to watch.”
Chris left the house and closed the door behind him.
The Hallorans heard a knock ten seconds later and opened the door.
“I almost forgot my-”
“Your clothes. Right here ole man.”
Chris turned a little red as he took them from him.
The Hallorans waved farewell to him from the window.
He could make out “Hang in there ole man.” on Mr. Halloran’s lips.
Chris smiled and waved at them, but breathed a sigh of relief as they closed the blinds and were out of his vision.
Chris headed to the Gilmartins on Jefferson Street. He noticed a red-headed boy sitting on the steps of the house signaling to him.
“Hey Mister, want to buy some Pokemon cards?”
“Well, I don’t have any money. I think I’ve misplaced my wallet.”
“Sorry, cash only.”
Chris laughed and slapped the boy gently on the back.
“Don't I know you? You’re…”
“I’m Collin. My parents are out of town right now.”
“Out of town? I just saw them at the…never mind. So, Collin. I know this is a strange request, but could I possibly go in your house and watch a movie. It doesn’t matter which movie. Any will do.”
“I’d like to help you, but our TV is broken.”
“Do you have a laptop. We can watch one of those streaming videos or whatever it’s called.”
“Got one, but it’s in the shop.”
Chris sat down dejectedly. Well, that’s it then. My quest is over.”
Collin seemed to sense Chris’s sadness and ran into the garage and reemerged with a VHS copy of Pokemon 2000.
“Oh, you have a VCR?”
“No, but if you move the case back and forth it’s just like looking at it. Or do you think that would be cheating? I spend a lot of time alone and like to use my imagination.”
Chris took the case from Collin and shook it like the boy suggested.
“You know what? I think that counts,” Chris said.
Chris gave Collin a hug.
“You’re a good kid. I need to be getting on, but you have to come by and see the girls sometime.
“Do you have to go?”
“I’ve got to head towards home. And you’ve helped me out a great deal. I’ll call you tomorrow and you can come see the girls. They’re probably be in the backyard tanning, texting their friends and playing fetch with the dogs.”
“Go if you have to.” Collin turned away from him.
Chris thought about staying to comfort the boy, but by this time Collin wasn’t really paying attention to him anymore and decided to leave for his next stop.
Chris rolled his eyes when he saw the sign that read Autumndale Dr. as he went up to the Biswanger house. It sounded to him like a party going on as he distinctly heard “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” playing through the window.
Leave it to the Biswangers to crank up Leo Sayer. Chris thought as he entered the open door of the house. There was a party going on. People were dressed in bell-bottoms & polyester and a couple of makeshift disco balls were hanging from the ceiling.
A 70’s theme party. That seems really typical of the Biswangers.
Chris walked through the first wave of people before running smack into Mrs. Biswanger.
“Well.” Doris Biswanger said. “Now this party has everything, even a gatecrasher.”
“Does this gatecrasher rate a drink?” Chris asked.
“Do whatever you want. I don’t care.” She said and walked away.
Chris walked over to the bartender. “Martini-very dry.” Chris said.
The bartender was slow to move, but made Chris his drink.
“I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you new?” Chris asked.
“I’ve always been the bartender,” he said, standing rigid and making no further comment.
The man made Chris nervous, so he picked up his drink and walked away. It was then than Harry Biswanger waived for the music to be cut off to make an announcement of some kind.
“Thank you all again for coming to our 70’s party. Now we’d like to hear a few words from our special guest.
Special guest? Chris wondered. Who could it be? Nick Saban? Ray Sawyer? Maybe a Senator. But at the Biswangers?
“Let me introduce…a lady that needs no introduction…Mrs. Joan Rivers.”
Chris did a spit take with his martini. What the hell is Joan Rivers doing in Chickasaw at the Biswangers?
Joan Rivers stood up and said, “Hello, my Alabama friends. I have one question for you. Can we talk?”
The crowd laughed approvingly at the signature line. Chris couldn’t keep himself from wincing.
Mrs. Rivers continued. “I flew in here from Liz Taylor’s and let me tell you that lady can really eat. I mean, her blood type is Ragu.”
The crowd laughed again, but Chris turned away praying this would be over soon.
After a few more one-liners, Mr. Biswanger took over again. “Thank you. Thank you. That was wonderful. It’s time for our movie now, in honor of our special guest. I present to you…Rabbit Test.”
As Chris groaned, a couple of the guests turned around angrily in his direction.
Well, it is a movie. Even if it is a really bad one.
2 hours later
After the movie, everyone applauded and Joan Rivers took a bow. Harry took the opportunity to roll out a record player in front of everyone.
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Rivers and continuing with our theme, I’m going to play some single 45’s. To you younger in the crowd, this is what they look like.” He held one up and a couple in their twenties looked at the small black record with the big hole in the middle as if Biswanger had just brought out the Rosetta Stone.
This whole thing was not going well for Chris.
Biswanger turned it on and put the needle down. The first song was Top of the World by The Carpenters. The song played, I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation…down on creation…down on creation before skipping to the rest of the song.
Chris stood up. “Hey!” he yelled out. “That’s my record! I know the skip.”
Chris went over to the stacks of wax and went through them. “Sister Mary Elephant by Cheech and Chong, Mull of Kintyre by Paul McCartney & Wings, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John and Kiki Dee, Kodachrome by Paul Simon, Grover Henson Feels Forgotten by Bill Cosby, King Tut by Steve Martin …These records are mine! Where did you get these, Biswanger?”
Mrs. Biswanger marched up to Chris “We got them at a yard sale if you must know.”
Chris turned away from her, in the direction of Harry.
“I’ll give you double what you paid for them.”
“So you’re saying you’ll give me a dollar for them?” Harry Biswanger asked.
“I’d give it to you now, but it seems I’ve lost my wallet.”
“I think it’s time for you to go.” Mrs. Biswanger said as she motioned to the bartender, who came and took Chris by the arm and led him to the door.
“You’ll hear from my lawyers,” Chris said as he looked at the guests, including Joan Rivers, who were all looking back at him with disdain.
The bartender led him outside and gave him a cold stare before going back into the Biswanger house.
Chris felt chilled to the bone as he hurried away from Autumndale to 3rd St. and the home of Shirley Abbott.
When Shirley opened the door, he could see traces of lines under her eyes after she removed her sunglasses that he hadn’t noticed before.
“Hello, Shirley,” Chris said with a smile that was not returned.
“What are you doing here?” she said walking away from him into her living room, yet not throwing him out.
“I’ve been on a quest to go from house to house of Chickasaw and watch movies along the way. I’m calling it the…It probably sounds a little silly to you.”
“Why, yes, it does. But it shouldn’t surprise me. I thought you might have grown up since you got ejected from the front row of your luxury box.”
“I guess not. What do we have to drink?”
“We? That’s funny. We have some Vodka. I usually drink straight out of the bottle, but there’s a little orange juice left if you want.”
Chris laughed, but couldn’t tell by her tone how serious she was about her drinking habits.
He made a Screwdriver for himself and for Shirley. She put the drink aside after he handed it to her.
“I repeat my question. Why are you here?” She asked.
“I told you. I’m on a quest-“
“Yes, to watch movies or some other such rubbish. Fine. Have a seat. I was just about to watch a movie myself while I painted my toenails.”
“Wonderful. So what’s today’s feature?”
She showed him the Blu-Ray cover.
“Sex and the City 2? Boy, you must really be mad at me to put me through that.”
“You solipsistic son of a bitch! Do you really think I’ve been just waiting for you to come by all this time just so I could play this movie so I could get a rise out of you? You self-centered, egotistical…”
“Whoa! Truce. I’ll be good.”
Shirley turned the movie on and began painting her toenails. After a couple of minutes, Chris got antsy and bored, as most men did while watching Sex and the City 2.
“May I?” Chris asked indicating he would apply her nail polish.
She shrugged, unsmiling.
Chris took her foot and gently administered a couple of swipes on her big toe. He stopped for a moment before bending down and kissing her foot. Then he felt the blow from her other free foot to the side of his face knocking him down.
She looked a little guilty that she kicked him so hard, but she didn’t back down verbally. “Serves you right. You just don’t seem to understand anything.”
“Understand? I don’t understand any of this, any of what is happening to me. I was snubbed by the Biswangers…of Autumndale Drive and even worse, I was snubbed by Joan Rivers!”Chris rubbed his cheek where Shirley had kicked him as he continued. “I kept telling people that I didn’t want to use my office of mayor just as a stepping stone, but that’s not really true. I admit I had my eye on the Governor’s mansion and after that…who knows.”
“What on earth are you going on about?” Shirley said as she came over to him and applied a warm washcloth to his face.
Chris grabbed her hand and nestled it against him. “What happened to us, Shirley?”
Shirley was temporarily caught up in the moment before she pushed him away. She wadded the washcloth up and hurled it at him.
Chris could only look at her with his jaw open in surprise.
Shirley turned beet red as she stood up and began shouting.
“You are just a bastard! Who do you think you are, you library lothario! I never told you about the time I followed you and your wife, Mrs. Perfect SAT score and the rest of your family. You were going to see Harry Potter and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air or whatever the hell it’s called. You were going into the theater you all looked so happy with such big smiles on your face. But two hours before you were with me and I was one who put that smile on your face. How I cried…how I…You know I was just acting when I was with you! I never liked it! I never liked you! Get out! Get out! And don’t come back. These stacks are closed, baby!”
Shirley shoved him out the front door and slammed it shut.
“You’re lying. You liked it.” Chris said softly to himself. He took a couple of steps away from her house, pumping his fist in defiance and yelled.
“YOU LIKED IT.”
Chris was cold now as he made his way back to Chickasaw Civic Center and the swimming pool. It was open. A cleansing dip was all he could think about now.
“One dollar.” The man at the gate said.
Chris put his hands on the counter. “I’ve lost my wallet somewhere. Can I pay you tomorrow?”
“One dollar.” The man at the gate said again as he pointed at the sign.
Behind him, Harvey Jones and his wife came up and paid their admission to get into the pool.
“Harvey!” Chris said. “Could you loan me a buck to get into the pool.”
Harvey reached for his wallet, but his wife put her hand against his arm. “Don’t do it Harvey. Why should you?”
“It’s just a dollar, honey.”
Harvey handed him a dollar and his wife rolled her eyes as the Joneses went in ahead of him.
“Hey, buddy.” The man at the gate said as Chris entered the pool area. “You’re going to need some trunks.”
“I don’t have any trunks. I just want to dip my feet in for an minute and leave.”
“Stop giving me such a hard time. You got to have trunks.”
Chris started to argue, but then he heard a television playing in the lifeguard quarters. He peeked in to see what was on. The two lifeguards had a DVD player and they were watching a movie. Chris took a step forward to see what it was.
“Taken? That one with Liam Neeson? God, I hate that movie!”
The lifeguards seemed irritated at the intrusion and shut the door and presumably continued watching their film of choice.
When Chris turned around, Harvey, his wife and another Chickasaw resident named Les were facing him.
“Chris, at the public pool. Guess this is what can happen to one when he’s not careful,” Harvey’s wife said.
Les waved a portly finger in Chris’s direction. “Chris, I need that money you owe me. I run a respectable business. No more credits.”
“What’s that Les? Sure, if I owe you money. I’ll see to it. Sure.”
“Listen to him Harvey, he’s trying to get away with something. In trouble again, just like those daughters of his.” Mrs. Jones said.
Chris turned to her angrily. “What are you talking about? My daughters are in the backyard now, tanning, texting their friends and playing fetch with the dogs…And my daughters worship they very ground I walk on!”
Harvey stood in front of his wife. “Oh, yeah? You know what I heard your daughters saying about you? They were laughing at you behind your back and making that little L sign with one set of their fingers and a seven with the other. I couldn’t catch all they were saying but they were clearly laughing at you-”
“L7? A square! Me? You liar!” Chris pushed Harvey to the side and stomped out of the pool area and headed home to 2nd Street.
The crash of thunder could be heard in the background as Chris crossed the stretch of road between 1st and 2nd street. He almost got run over by a car, before another passing vehicle honked and threw garbage at him. He paid no attention to any of this as the light rain quickly became heavier. Chris came up to the front gate of his house, but was unable to get the latch on it undone.
He walked around to the back of his house and went through the backyard. As he stepped in a mud puddle, he noticed Molly Bear’s doghouse, which was worn from disuse and had a broken wooden sign that said Molly Bear swinging in the breeze on one nail. He walked passed it to the wooden deck where his daughters liked to tan and saw that weeds had grown all over it. He could have sworn the he heard the girls laughing, but realized that there was no one there. He approached the back door and reached for the handle and tried to get in. It wouldn’t open. If he had been able to look inside the house, he would have noticed it was dark and empty.
Well, almost empty. He walked around to a side window where he saw a ray of light. He wiped the fog off the glass and saw a small black and white television in the back corner of the living room. He smiled as he could make out the picture on the tube. It was Burt Lancaster, starring in Chris’s favorite movie.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964, JAPAN)
I proved to be just a smidgen late once again from capturing that last insect in my specimen jar. I promised myself that I would be more alert and quicker next time. And was that really a grasshopper? Sure looked like one. I laughed at the thought of a grasshopper in the middle of the Gobi desert. A mirage perhaps? Who knows? I did know my pack was feeling a little heavy, so I scrunched my back to get a knot out. A knot out of my back, not the backpack, of course. I thought I’d spotted something else of interest and tried to look at it before it crawled back into the sand. I took out my magnifying glass. No, it was gone too. No problem, they’ll be others, I thought. I looked up at the setting sun. All by myself, in the middle of nowhere with my insect samples and entomological books. What a gorgeous sunset! If I had been more prone to believe in God, that would have been the moment I most likely would have become a believer. It was a nearly perfect moment, in fact. It was then I experienced a sharp pain in my head and everything went black.
I woke up hurting. The blow to my head, or whatever it made me pass out, had left me woozy. It took a few minutes for me to focus. An Asian woman, moderately attractive but no Nancy Kwan, brought me some water in a tin cup. I sat up and drank it. My skull was still throbbing, but I managed to sit up with her assistance.
“Thank you.” I said.
She sat back silently and smiled as I finished my drink.
“The obvious question,” I said, putting down my cup. “Is where am I and how did I get here?”
“What do you remember?” she asked.
Her English seemed good. Much better than I could speak any Asian language I had studied.
“Well,” I said, as I nodded approvingly at her non-verbal offer of another cup of water.
“Well,” I repeated. “I was looking at the sun setting, it was almost a religious experience I’d say. And the next thing I know I felt an excruciating pop against my head and then…I was here.”
“A religious experience you say?”
“Yeah, though I don’t really have a religious affiliation one way or another. I’m a man of science.”
She put her hand up to her mouth to stifle a giggle. “Tertullian said the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And he was buried and rose again; the fact is certain because it is impossible.”
Her quote made me think she might be a nun of some kind. I didn’t know what to say to her statement.” So, I’m not in Hell?” I asked, laughing uncomfortably.
“Hell is other people. And I may be other people, nevertheless you aren’t in hell.”
I scratched my head. “Hell is other people. Was that Kierkegaard?”
She tried to stifle yet another giggle. “No, silly. That’s Jean-Paul Sartre.”
I guess I failed this round of Philosophical Trivial Pursuit. That’s all right. I was a entomologist, not an existentialist.
“You’ve had a nasty bump. Would you like me to give you a neck massage?” She asked.
I did consider taking her up on her offer, but thought better of it. “No. Thank you though. I’m really feeling much better now. It is I that should help you to show my gratitude. Is there anything I can do for you before I head on my way.”
She took me by the hand and led me to her front door. “Yes, there is something I need help with if you would be so kind. By the way, your backpack is over there in the corner.”
She had retrieved my pack. My most valuable possession and I had almost forgotten about it. I nodded in approval. I really owed her a favor now. I was determined to help her with whatever she wanted.
As we went outside, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Her house was at the bottom of a thirty-foot hole in the dessert. I noticed sand slowly seeping down to the bottom of the dune from the top. She grabbed a pair of goggles and a shovel that was propped next to her front door and handed them to me. She took another shovel and signaled for me to follow her. As the sand came down she scooped some up and brought it to a gully on the other side of her house and dumped it. I stood still for a moment before following suit. I felt I owed her, though I didn’t understand the point of all this.
After doing this a few more minutes, I yelled out to her over the slither of falling sand. “Miss, what is the reason for this? I don’t understand.”
“Reason is the most obstinate adversary of thinking,” she said.
“What? I couldn’t hear you.” I said.
She yelled back at me. “Reason is the most obstinate adversary of thinking, Martin Heiddeger.”
I heard her that time, but didn’t know how to respond. I just kept scooping up the falling sand and taking it to the gully at the other side of the house. We repeated the process for the next eight hours before the sand finally stopped.
I was exhausted. I sat down next to her. She offered me a cigarette. I didn’t smoke, but felt obligated to take it anyway. “This was a most interesting experience, miss. And I’m glad I could be of assistance to you, but I must be on my way. I have my research to do. Where is your ladder to the top?”
She giggled once more, putting her mouth to her lips yet again. “There is no ladder. This is your home now.”
During the next few weeks, I tried to understand the reasoning and rationale for my captivity. I failed to get a satisfactory explanation out of her; all she would say about my question was the real is rational and the rational is real. I had no interest in pursuing a Hegelian dialect with her, at least that what she called it, so I dropped the subject.
Every day was the same thing. The sand would fall and we would move it to the gully in the back of the house, presumably to prevent it leaking through to the next house down (which I could not see and wondered if even existed.) I boycotted work one day, but the sand got so high I was worried about our safety and ended up helping her.
Every day three swarthy looking gentleman would come to the top of our dune and throw down our rations for the day. I reasoned, quite rightly she would later confirm, that these were the thugs that hit me over the head and took me to this place. I still couldn’t figure out why we were there and what the point of all this was.
I was angry with her for her complicity in all of this, but after our work for the day was over she treated me quite well. After a couple of months at the bottom of the dune, comparing her appearance to Nancy Kwan was not quite as far-fetched as I had first reasoned. By the time she finally offered herself to me, I accepted.
One night when we were lying in bed together, I took a long drag of a cigarette. I was content for the moment, but still curious about some things. “The last two men that were down here. Are you ever going to tell me what happened to them?”
She blushed. “I didn’t want you to know about the others. It is immaterial. I know our captors yelled something down to you about them, so I will tell you. My first husband died, buried somewhere underneath the sand. My second husband threw himself down the gully to the next house. An ancient type of ritual suicide.”
I got out of her bed and slumped down onto my cot. She followed me and put a hot compress to my head and tried to offer me words of comfort. “Do you see why I didn’t want to tell you? Third times the charm I hope.”
I sprang up and grabbed her by the hands. “What about you? I know I keep asking you, but why do you put up with this? Don’t you want your freedom? You know freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose?
“Oh, is that Kant?” she asked.
“No, it’s Kris Kristofferson,” I said.
She looked puzzled before I continued. “I’m trying to talk about the quality of your life. Down here it’s the same every day.”
She held her hand out to me. “I have you now and I had hoped having me would be enough for you.”
“Nothing personal, but it isn’t. Free will. That’s what matters to me. I could be with you, but it needs to be my choice, not by the insane whims of a bunch of thugs.”
She was clearly disturbed by choice of words in describing our captors. “Oh, please don’t call them that. They are freedom fighters. Patriots…I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking about that Thomas Paine quote-Patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings.”
“Steal a little, they put you in jail. Steal a lot they make you king,” I finished her quote with the Bob Dylan punch line.
She giggled. “I don’t think that’s how he said it. But I like it.”
We both laughed. It was good to break the tension that had been forming. “You want to read?” she asked.
“We read every night before bed. Why do you ask now? Hey! Why don’t I read your books and you read mine for a change.”
She agreed. I picked up Volume 5 of her Encyclopedia of Philosophy and tried to make out the small print. Philosophy was a bit much for me, I must admit. I looked under the heading for Existentialism. All it said was, Existentialism-see Existentialism. It was then I realized our switching reading material was not such a good idea after all.
She read out the contents of the books from my bag as she went back to her bed. “An Introduction to Entomology: or Elements of the Natural History of Insects (1828) by William Kirby, Rats, Lice and History by Hans Zinsser 1935, Historical Scarabs by W. M. F. Petrie 1889 and this article Controlling Sex in Butterfiles, The American Naturalist-September, 1873. Oh, my. I’ll be asleep in no time if try to read this.”
I came over to her and snatched the article and took my books away from her and tossed her Philosophy Encyclopedia onto her bed. “I’m sorry that the natural world holds so little interest for you. I think you should stick to you irrelevant philosophical ramblings of long dead and buried Europeans. I don’t feel like reading anymore. Let’s just go to sleep.”
I was angry with her, but that didn’t seem to faze her. She came over and began to rub my shoulders and took my mind off of reading anything else for the night.
Weeks became months. My clean-shaven face became a long, scraggly beard. My medium build became, through our daily chores, more muscular, even beyond what it was in my youth. My resolve to escape out of my predicament never diminished. I believed in love now, for I did love the woman, contrary to all logic. Was it love or was it just settling into what had now become inevitable? I believed in God now, too. Was it God or was my way of defining the world so limited now that I had no other way to describe it? Nevertheless, I still wanted my freedom. I would beg my captors when I caught sight of them to please let me go. To let us go. What they were doing was wrong. They agreed one time to let me go if I, well…If I did the act with the woman in front of them for their amusement. I was willing. I didn’t care anymore. I was an animal now, anyway. Might as well do it for the pleasure of others. What did I have to lose? Luckily, in retrospect, the woman refused. She still had some dignity left. I apparently had none, but she was right. All this time, I kept thinking about my experiences toward the external world. But, in the end one experiences only oneself. Nietzsche. She taught me that.
One morning I woke up to her giving me my 6 a.m. cup of coffee, as she did every morning before we went out to our daily digging chores. However, this morning, there was no accompanying smile. She looked at me with apprehension for a moment before speaking. “I’m pregnant.”
I shot up and grabbed her by the shoulders and hugged her. “Oh, this is good news, I…”But as I thought about it in real terms, I became distressed. A baby? What kind of life could there be for a baby down here? Is there a book on how to be a good father at the bottom of a sand dune?
She cracked a smile and I held her tightly until the sands began coming down once again.
During the next few weeks I became very tired from having to work extra to compensate for her. She was too weak to be of much use in shoveling sand. She could barely get out of bed.
One day, I noticed that she was bleeding. I didn’t know what was going on. I had no medical degree; I was a scientist. If she had been an insect, I might have had a better idea of what to do, but I was helpless here. I went outside and yelled up to my captors for assistance. After about an hour, I saw a rope ladder plop down beside me. How I had longed for this sight for so many months, but now all I could think of was helping the woman. My three captors came down the rope, unsmiling. There was a fourth man that came down. He had a medical bag with him and when he reached the bottom I led him to the woman.
After a brief examination, he shook his head. “We have to get her to a hospital,” was all he said to me. My captors went back up the ladder and threw down a makeshift hammock attached to a rope. The doctor and I carried the woman and put her on the hammock. She was weak now but she reached out and passed her fingers across my face before they began to pull her up.
As she ascended, she told me that Kant said that being is not a real predicate, or concept of something that can be added to the concept of a thing. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I wasn’t sure what half the things she said meant. All I knew was that I loved her and that probably wouldn’t ever see her again.
The doctor went up the ladder after them. I presumed they were going to take care of her. It certainly seemed like they were going to. Nevertheless, in my loneliness, I sat and cried for half an hour.
It was then I became aware of the obvious. They had left, but they didn’t take the ladder with them. I looked up. My escape could be just a minute away. I put a foot on the bottom rung before thinking it through further. I hopped down and went back to fetch my gear. I saddled it on my back and crawled up to the top. It was a pretty easy climb for me with my new muscles and my adrenaline pumping at top level. I looked down at the house. The sand would come and there would be no one to dig it out. It would be buried and the next house would be…wait! I never saw the next house. She was just repeating what she was told about the next house being buried if we didn’t do our daily digging. Was this all an elaborate trick? Was there any point to any of this? And who would even build a house at the bottom of a dune in the first place? I still saw no one. The air was cold, but I was bundled up. I didn’t feel the weather anyway. I was free. I was free. I was headed to…to wherever I wanted to go.
Dateline: January 1, 3011. An important archaeological discovery was unearthed today. At the bottom of a sand dune, a type of ancient dwelling was discovered not seen by human eyes for hundreds of years. Even more significantly, remains of a humanoid, identified as a male, were found directly outside its premises. Next to the remains was a carrying bag of some kind made of as a yet to be identified substance containing several copies of what the ancients once referred to as “books.” Scientists have identified the title of one of the ancient texts as The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volume 5.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006, GERMANY)
Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)