Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Tower of London--William Harrison Ainsworth (1840)

I am still intending to catch up on my reading list without wasting all of my marvelous notes. I now have a set of five mostly little-remembered English novels from approximately 1820-1850. I thought to dash these all off in one post, but I seemed to have a lot to to say about the first of these books, the prolific William Harrison Ainsworth's historical novel The Tower of London, which was concerned with the saga of Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, though of course so much time has passed (I began the book March 18, 2009) that I don't remember much of the story, which was 455 pages and probably took me at least a month to read.

Ainsworth wrote 40 novels, and was one of the best selling writers of the Victorian period. He was good friends with Dickens and worked with or was well-known to most of the cosmopolitan literary figures of the time. He threw a dinner party to celebrate the success of the Tower of London that still is considered a noteworthy event in the social history of English literature. The Tower has usually been considered his best book, followed perhaps by Old St Paul's: A Tale of the Plague and Fire of London, which came out the following year. He was 35 and 36 at that peak, though his career would continue for another forty years. Other titles include Windsor Castle (1843), and "The Lancashire novels", The Lancashire Witches (1848), Guy Fawkes (1841), and Preston Fight, or The Insurrection of 1715 (1875). Also notable was Mervyn Clitheroe (1857) in which, according to the introduction to the 1909 Everyman edition "Mr W.E.A. Axton says that (Ainsworth) has accurate picture of the life of the ('famous old Manchester Grammar School') at that time." His fame and his books were already falling into obscurity within a few years of his death, though the authors of the GRE Literature exam are at least familiar enough with him to list one of his titles as a possible (though wrong) answer on their practice tests.

I enjoyed the book reasonably enough at the time I read it, though Ainsworth was subject to almost all of the conventional characteristics and attitudes held by the writers of his day, and lacked any distinctive strengths. As I say, I remember hardly anything of the book, though I am going to go over my copious notes and see what I had to say at the time:

1. "The austere course of life prescribed to, and pursued by, the fathers of the Reformed Church, had stamped itself in lines of unusual severity on their countenances." Page 5. A typical sentence. I noted that 'I hope this is supposed to be comedy'.

2. On page 8 we get our first sinister foreigners, a couple of French ambassadors who pepper their discourses with "Mortdieu!"s and "Pardieu!"s.

3. The speculation that Edward VI was poisoned by Lady Jane Grey's father, the Duke of Northumberland, was naturally incorporated into the story. I had not been familiar with this theory previously, which is well known among people who approach English history from the romantic standpoint, though I do not have the impression that it holds much weight or interest with real historians.

4. "Jane mentally ejaculated...'Whatever betide me, Heaven grant that that noble pile may never again be polluted by the superstitious ceremonies and idolatries of Rome!' Talking about the old (pre-fire) St Paul's Cathedral. Also another characteristic sentence.

5. p. 42 "Can it be possible you are the same Jane whom I left--all love, all meekness, all compliance--or have a few hours of rule so changed your nature that you no longer love me as heretofore?" You got it, dog.

6. The book is full of real men who not merely escape confinement, but burst chains in rage at the thought of another man possessing their lovers.

7. p.66 Another lament about the loss of Old St. Paul's ('the heaviest...sustained by the metropolis in the great fire"). It would be the topic of his next book as well.

8. p. 81 A tour of the bodies deposited in the grounds of the tower brings up Thomas More, of whom we are told "his body was afterwards removed, at the intercession of his daughter, Margaret Roper (played by the delectable Susannah York in the film A Man For All Seasons), to Chelsea." The consensus in the case seems to be that Margaret rescued her father's head, which by custom would have been pitched into the river after its ------cision from the body, and had it buried with herself in Chelsea Old Church, though both Margaret's remains and St Thomas's head have since been removed to St Dunstan's in Canterbury. The specific location of the rest of Thomas More's body is unknown but is assumed to be within the Tower grounds, and there is a memorial to him now in the Church of St Peter-ad-Vincula therein. The details of the remains of very ancient famous people especially are a subject of great matter with me. The reasons for this have to do with feelings and my sense of estrangement from everything, history, the physical world, learning, etc, and are not interesting. One's head must have some facts and dim line of thought to follow in it.

9. The book does not really explain why Popish Mary was so wanted by most of the populace, including the influential classes. I presume it was to avoid wars of legitimacy.

10. p.128 "Though a contrary opinion is generally entertained, Mary was not without some pretension to beauty."

11. pp. 129-30 Assessment of Elizabeth's hotness (with a further note by me in parentheses. 'Michele?' What does that mean?). "In personal attractions the Princess Elizabeth far surpassed her sister. She was then in the bloom of youth, and though she could scarcely be termed positively beautiful, she had a very striking appearance, being tall, portly, with bright blue eyes, and exquisitely formed hands, which she took great pains to display."

12. p.133 "The sun poured down its rays upon the ancient fortress, which had so lately opened its gates to an usurper, but which now like a heartless rake had cast off one mistress to take another."

13. p.143  M. Dulaire, quoted, in his description of the Grand Chatelet at Paris: "every old building, the origin of which is buried in obscurity, is attributed to Caesar or the devil." The witty French.

14. In 1241, the 'citizens of London' protested expansion of the Tower/prison. They weren't fools, but of course they were stearolled anyway.

15. "Edward the Second commanded the sherriffs of London to pay the keeper of his lions sixpence a-day for their food, and three half-pence a day for the man's own diet..."

16. The citizens protest the gallows erected by Edward IV, circa 1465. He was also all business, however.

In keeping with my goal of posting at least something every week, I will stop here and break this edifying visit into the romantic past into multiple parts.

Monday, June 24, 2013

X-Rated Dream (Microaggressive?)

A smartly dressed girl, smallish, bones delicate and well-proportioned, light brown eyes, light brown hair, alpine features, the same who had insouciantly checked me out at the supermarket in Brattleboro earlier that day, drinking a pointedly better-than-ordinary coffee in a Starbucks-like chain coffee-shop (I don't drink coffee, so I have never actually been to Starbucks or any other coffee shop like place. I would if I had time and didn't always have children with me). I walk up to her, pull a fried chicken tender out of a pocket somewhere on my person, and dunk it in this girl's coffee. I remember nothing else. The dream stopped with the dunking of the chicken tender.

This was yesterday. Today I was walking down the main street in Brattleboro and a good-looking girl, robust and giving off a glow of sorts, passed me with a dog. I would not have thought much more of it but that just after we passed a car sped past from which a man shouted, with great hostility in his voice, some extremely vulgar things--you can imagine what they were--that were obviously aimed at this girl. I am not often present at these kinds of scenes, but it was very nasty, and it is easy to see how if one were exposed to this even a couple of times a year, she would not have any very high opinion of the run of men. Some years ago when I worked for a courier company in Philadelphia, I had to partner sometimes with a guy who was fond of shouting at women this way, with the same malicious hostility in his voice. He was quite a lowlife type. I don't know how old he was--I would guess mid to late 30s, which I considered ancient at the time--but he was overweight and greasy, and had no kind of education or refinement. I noticed when we would go downtown or to the UPenn area he especially enjoyed screaming at women who were obviously professional or belonged to the wealthier classes. I did not disguise the fact that I found his behavior mortifying. The case was not hard; if he had been an open misogynist who nonetheless maintained a harem of attractive women, I probably would have been more conflicted. He of course considered me sheltered and deluded about the real natures of women, which I am pretty certain he considered to be nothing good, though I can't recall the details. What stays with me though is the degree of absolute venom that this guy, and a lot of these other truck drivers, felt towards women, and especially educated women. It was really vicious, and I had kind of forgotten about it until today.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Beers That Made Me: Part 1 of a Series

This will not be a display of connoisseurship. I do not think I could make a hierarchical list of my favorite beers by a criterion of quality if I wanted to. I don't have the discernment (and at this point probably not the language, either), for that sort of undertaking. Every day my children ask me some question such as how gingerbread tastes different from graham crackers, and I find I cannot really say. My experience with beer is not far dissimilar most of the time. While all of these long-ago associations rely on a sense of taste to a degree, the strength of the pleasures and feelings of self-actualization that are recollected, along with the mild jolt of elation I still feel upon seeing even an image of their labels, are mainly dependent on the atmospheres which marked my first encounters with the brands. Nothing has made such an impression on me since 2001, and I cannot remember or find the name of the beer I am thinking of in that last instance. Everything I drink now that is not total swill seems essentially the same, and I am willing to try whatever fancy things come my way. But as with books, new experiences that really effect me and change the course of my mind going forward in positive ways just do not happen anymore.

I was going to do the whole thing in one post but the time involved makes me think it is better if we do another series.

Kronenbourg 1664

This is the primary mass market beer of France, and esteemed nothing spectacular, though it is refreshing enough on a hot afternoon, especially if you are sitting at an outdoor table after a long day of sightseeing. I went to France when I was 20, my first time out of the country, which made the ubiquitous Kronenbourg the first beer I ever had the pleasure of being able to order in a bar or restaurant. I mostly stuck to this brand the entire visit, because it was easy to do so. I was alone, I did not speak French very well, I was thrilled enough at being able to hang out in bars that I did not really care about what I was drinking. I was depressed because I was crimped in soul, timid, confused, mentally paralyzed, and I knew I was not doing the trip right, I was not opening up and improving and breathing new air and taking my place among that society of smart young people who travel and make the world turn. This is not a happy beer memory--I am not sure that any of these will be that--and certainly not a triumphant one, but it did symbolize a sliver of Real France that I had managed to lay some claim to, and served as some indication of what my trip could have been, if circumstances had worked out differently. It was a terrible wasted opportunity. 23 years later I have never been able to go back for 1/10 as long, and of course the country and the city of Paris, like everywhere else, is greatly changed from what it presented to me then.

Genessee Cream Ale

I have not had this in 20 years, and I have no doubt that it is terrible. At the time however, perhaps because I was low in spirit, or perhaps because I was accustomed to drinking even worse stuff, or perhaps because I was manipulated by the evocative promise of a "cream" taste, I thought at the time this was absolutely wonderful. The first time, when I was around nineteen, I was hitchhiking outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and was picked up by a couple around thirty, friendly, but in a rough around the edges, heavy metal listening roofer and his Bon Jovi-preferring chick kind of way, where the conversation, especially that part of it directed towards me, was jovial but constantly interspersed with sarcasm and little digs at my lack of any kind of interesting qualities or apparent reasons for my doing what I was doing, which I did not explain to them because I did not think they would really get it. Their car was one of these old deals from the 70s that had ripped up seats and was full of tools and junk and smelled like dogs, though the woman's seat had some kind of macrame afghan covering over it. Anyway, it was near evening at that point, and I had come up from Pottsville, which is a down at heel old city in central Pennsylvania that happened to be John O'Hara's hometown (I did not mention this to my hosts), all day through the mountains in misty, drizzly weather. I had slept out the previous two or three nights too. The lady, sarcastic motormouth though she was, I now realize was probably at least mildly concerned about me, because she insisted that I get a room somewhere and get to bed. These people did not pay for it or anything, but they did take me to a motel that cost $21, which was pretty cheap even at that time. They also threw in a six pack of Genessee Cream Ale (which they had paid for) before they drove off, for which as you can imagine I was extremely appreciative. I think I could only finish off three before I fell asleep that night but I carried the rest with me in my bag and had one a night for the next few days when I could find a discreet and pleasant enough spot to do so in.

Later, when I was in college, there was an occasion when a case of Genessee Cream Ale was the evening's offering--actually I might have been the one who provided that offering, but in any event, the remembrance of my old associations with this beer acted upon me positively on this occasion as far as my overall spirits, and my impression was that other people found it a marked improvement over the usual fare as well. My recollection is that the night overall was one of the happier ones in the annals of my freshman year group of friends. Maybe we thought it must be too good for us to have on a consistent basis, or perhaps subconsciously we knew that we could never recapture the particular spirit of camaraderie that had infected us that night, and which the beer would inevitably call up the memory of. We did, even long afterwards, sometimes talk about why we had never gotten the Cream Ale again and ought to do so before even what was left of the original crowd went its inevitable ways; but our hearts evidently weren't in it, for it never happened.

Watney's Red Barrel

This was the "good" beer on draft at the Little Campus Tavern in Annapolis, which does not exist anymore. It cost $1.90 for a glass like this:

The cheap beer, which was Michelob, went for $1.10 in the same glass. I usually got that. The Watney's would be for a special occasion. That's if you were drinking beer at all. Cocktails were $2, and at happy hour, which lasted from 4 to 7pm if I remember correctly, you got 2 identical drinks for the price of one. I was thinking the other day how when I was in school I would to go to the bank on Friday and take out $25 or $30 for the whole weekend. I didn't have any credit cards, and I did not have an ATM card either, because I knew that especially if I was drinking I would not be able to resist withdrawing cash to buy myself food or more drinks. I can only remember a few occasions where I had spent all of my money by Saturday night and was very unhappy that I couldn't get more, but obviously I lived through them. I wish I could live this way now, but getting to the bank when it's open, and with a bunch of children to boot, is a hassle, and you'd probably have to go every day unless you want to carry around hundreds of dollars in cash at all times. I spend more on a single tank of gas now than I spent in a week in 1992. Of course my grandparents could remember when you could slap a dime on the counter at Woolworth's and be served a full meal, so we didn't think we were all that lucky at the time.

But this is about Watney's. Its redness, of which it was so proud, seemed to me to truly effect the taste. It was different, and that difference seemed to me to lie in that redness, almost like it was a beery cherryish syrup injected into a ordinarily-bodied ale. I don't know whether I thought it good or not. I liked it, and it was certainly better than Michelob and anything else readily available, but I don't know that I ever knew it was good, the way I knew beers were good when I got to the Czech Republic. So the influence of Watney's is really the influence of a now-defunct tavern operating under a woefully outdated business model even in the early 90s. And it was a good influence, too. I have never felt that a minute of the time I spent in the place was wasted, even though you could hang out there for many hours and drink a lot before you had spent 10 dollars. But then at that time of life, very little that you do is an absolute waste of time compared to nearly everything later on.

I have to go to bed.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Would I Want to Be One of the Google People?

It isn't really my ideal, but I will give them credit, they at least have a real identity, and such a one as I never foresaw when I was coming up in the world.

I was reading about them in this article--the beginning of which, before it gets into an exploration of current trends in experimental pornography, presents a very vivid picture of the phenomenon. I do not actually know any people like this, and certainly none close to the extreme specimens of the type delineated here, but I believe in their reality. There is something both clear and essential about them that seems to me worth investigating. I would be interested in seeing the way that they live and think depicted in good art, beyond their diets and exercise regimens, which do not speak to me as I desire to be spoken to.

At one time--1974, at least, when almost everything would still have been possible for me--it was a possibility, albeit a remote one, that this would be the sort of adult I might develop into. I feel farther away from being a full-fledged Google person even than other major identifiable contemporary types, but had I at any point in my upbriniging been introduced to some aspect of this general culture, if something therein had clicked for me and I had realized by it something about who I was--I might be a lot closer to it than I am. In my current state, it seems to me I have passed through life much as it is said of Magellan's ships that managed to cross from the tip of South America all the way to the Phillipines without coming upon any land. I have been affected by little, touched by little, absorbed by little in the life around me. Doubtless I appear to others as some identifiable contemporary type, one of the stupefyingly sluggish ones. Whatever identity this be, it will certainly have been nothing I have been conscious of choosing.

But this is about the Google people and it I must concentrate and remember to write about them, and not myself. Are they satisfied with themselves and at home in the world? Are they fully realized and alive men and women, by some venerable and durable standard of classical literature and philosophy? I have often felt that this may require generations to develop in a high degree, and modernity certainly does not allow for that slow of a pace of development. There seems to be a guardedness about them, with regards to their capacity for intimacy, of the body and mind both. The substance of their cognitive superiority, the pleasures and ecstasies that its forms inspire, will of course be inaccessible to anyone contemporaneous to them who has not acclimated himself to the conception of existence that moves all of these trends and developments, or is unable to do so.

How much the world gets away from one as one ages in almost all cases, even where discipline and study in youth have borne real fruit. Where they have borne no fruit, the case is hopeless. At the moment the world has not gotten away from the Google people. They are the drivers and the primary actors in it (I am talking about the people who have adopted the ultra-up to the minute aesthetic and ethos touched upon in the article; I don't know whether these people are genius in-the-guts tech workers or not, though I suspect most of them would be in the 'ideas' or 'promotion' or 'early adaptor' class of this movement rather than programmers). Even more importantly, perhaps, their education has not gotten away from them. Perhaps they are, as the saying goes, free men. Mine seems to have gotten away from me, for almost all practical and social and moral purposes anyway. But that is a topic for another day's posting...

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Classic Movies 1950-1960

These are all well-established classics that a certain class of mind is supposed to like. There is another class of mind, that consisting of independent spirit or intelligence, which would probably not deign to bother with them, except to pick out their inanities. I do not belong to that class however.

I had seen all three of these before now, but only once, maybe twice in one instance, and all a long time ago.

Inherit the Wind (1960)

I don't love this movie, but I kept getting the nagging suspicion that it was better than I was giving it credit for. For one thing, I think I was letting myself be deceived by the circumstance that its sets reminded me of a television show of its period. Here are some of what I thought was good about it:

The screenplay is very good, despite being apparently didactic. It is an adaptation from a well-regarded play of the time, which (the time) had a definite strain of earnest concern for social justice and liberty about it. It is frequently intelligent, and thorough, while being lively enough to move the story along and keep the attention of viewers like myself, who like mild stimulation but are generally too tired/out of practice to give much mental exertion.

I saw Spencer Tracy again, and was more impressed with him than I was in Father of the Bride, which I had just seen a week or two before, because I thought he was more or less playing himself in that other movie, and would effectually be the same guy here; but he played a quite different guy, and rather subtly, such that I don't have any sense that one of these characters is more indicative of who he is than another.

It probably does not have to be noted, but Spencer Tracy's physique and overall look, for somebody who was a major star for three decades, is pretty amazing. The guy's upper body was mashed potatoes, and he always looked 10 or 15 years older than he actually was. When he did Father of the Bride, he was 50, about the same age as Brad Pitt and George Clooney are today (or, to make a more contemporary comparison, as Cary Grant was circa To Catch a Thief. On the other hand, Wilfred Brimley was an even older-looking 50 at the time of his career-making performance in Cocoon). He is 60 in this one. I used to thnk of 60 as old, but many 60 year olds nowadays prefer training for and running marathons to loading up on steak and martinis (Tracy is what 60 looks like when you focus on the latter). Even Philip Seymour Hoffman probably employs a personal trainer and dietician.

The great Frederic March played the William Jennings Bryan character, I suppose well. He is at least quite unrecognizable to me as Frederic March in his costume, the bald head especially.

Things that irritate me about this movie:

I have no particular love for Bible-thunping rural white southerners, but I thought the rather raw contempt poured out on them in this movie did not really do the filmakers much credit--it certainly did not add anything to the quality of the film. I realize that this came out as the civil rights era was starting to gain heat, and though there is no direct racial dimension in it, anti-southern sentiment among the mosr progressive social justice liberals--and Stanley Kramer was perhaps the most avowedly politically motivated major studio director of this time--was running high. Nonetheless, given the star power on display in the movie, and the extras showing the film being feted at gala celebrations in Berlin and Cannes, my class instincts kicked in with the feeling that this was not quite a fair fight, and while maybe at some level it was an honest representation of the reality on the ground, it was not an artistically worthy or fair one.

Gene Kelly--yes, the dancer, though at least they don't have him break into any numbers here--is not well cast as a cynical newspaper reporter who I believe is supposed to be H L Mencken. Having read even a little H L Mencken, I cannot imagine he was anything like the character depicted here, though one would assume most of the brain trust involved in the making of the movie would have been more familiar with his works than I am, or even known the man personally. My impression of Mencken is that he was a rather pitiless person towards people he considered inferior (pretty much everybody), who never smiled, and only laughed with people who had demonstrated some worth. Kelly plays the role as a kind of nihilistic, wisecracking, light person, which does not ring true to me.

Donna Anderson (this is not in the category of things that irritated me) is the token babe in this, and she has an appealing 1960 look, which is why I mention her. She went on to have a modest career in television, though not in any shows that I ever watched.

Paths of Glory (1957)

This was a St John's favorite. I think they showed it twice there, once as the regular Saturday night classic, and a couple of years afterwards as part of the Wednesday Kubrick series. It has a sensibility that fits comfortably there. Its time is close to the heyday of the College's modern era--I believe Jacob Klein himself was still the dean in 1957. It has a kind of classical spareness both of plot construction and in its sets and general style. Its themes are the sorts of things you can talk about at the bar afterwards without straining yourself or falling asleep, so that you feel you taking part in mental life to some degree. So needless to say my viewing, after about a 20 year interval, was heavily colored by these associations.

I had forgotten that one of the guys was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb from his platoon because, among other reasons, he was a 'social undesirable'. At times I feel like there are some people nowadays--perhaps even myself--could stand to gain by the sort of concentration upon self-improvement that the threat of being sentenced to execution because you are so repulsive to people might inspire.

An Adolphe Menjou sighting! He is in the cast as a cynical, weaselly, sybaritic French general (I think there are several redundancies).

I still don't really understand the part at the end where a terrified German girl is put in front of a pack of ravenous, wolf-whistling French soldiers and manages to subdue their raging boorishness by singing a melancholy song.

Conscripting armies to fight wars, especially wars like this where 75-90% of a birth cohort is killed, and the military leadership considers itself justified to make an example of conscript citizen-soldiers it considers not to be fighting with enough zeal by shooting them, is almost unthhinkable in the current state of society, on the mass scale of the 2 world wars especially. Aside from reticence about possibly being killed, huge segments of the present population simply don't regard the state as having authority over them to that degree. Power, yes, but power to which they are in a state of antagonism, not something to which they see themselves as owing a duty.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

This is even more firmly ensconced in the Pantheon than the other two, so much so that many of the more highbrow or edgier iconoclasts on the internet take glee in knocking it down as much as they can, along with its similarly popular and acclaimed director, the great Billy Wilder, by whose creations they are decidedly unimpressed. I actually worship these people in a way, at least when they are obviously the sort of people who are cool and are successful with women, or are themselves desirable women hopelessly beyond my social reach, but unfortunately even when I am able to share their tastes I am unable to partake of what must be the exhilirating sharpness with which they savor their particular likes and especially their dislikes. Needless to say, I am a fan of Sunset Boulevard. Like other Billy Wilder films, it is fantastic (in the sense of being over the top in its storytelling and characterizations) and yet seems to me more like real life than a hundred other movies, and good ones too..

Quickly, some favorite dialogue bits:

JOE (upon Norma's declaring that he needs some new clothes): What's wrong with this shirt?

NORMA: Nothing, I suppose. If you work in a filling station.

That line kills me for some reason.

Near the end when Betty Schaffer comes to the house and discovers the truth about Joe:

BETTY: No, no. I haven't heard any of this. I never got those telephone calls. I've never been in this house...Get your things together. Let's get out of here.

JOE: All my things? All the eighteen suits, all the custom-made shoes and the eighteen dozen shirts, and the cuff-links and the platinum key-chains, and the cigarette cases?

I've never had nice clothes or accessories, and rarely think about wanting them, but I want them when I see them.

The Oscar for best actor in 1950 went to Jose Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac. I haven't seen that, so maybe it was the clear cut winner, but as, similar to Brando the next year in A Streetcar Named Desire, if not quite so dramatically, William Holden's role and presence is one of the more memorable performances in the history of the movies, I am thinking he probably would have been a deserving winner. Incidentally, Spencer Tracy was also nominated that year for Father in the Bride, another iconic role, but not I don't think in the same class as Joe Gillis. I like William Holden as a actor. He had that All-American midwestern charm combined with an unassuming studliness, a type which seems to have disappeared from the national scene in the last generation. He was apparently very good friends with Billy Wilder. This is noteworthy to me because Billy Wilder is one of the all time giants in his field and it is curious to know what kind of friends and intimates such people have. William Holden had some problems with alcohol such as we tend to frown on nowadays, most notably killing a person in a car accident while driving drunk. He also died at the age of 63 by falling onto the edge of a table while intoxicated in his apartment and bleeding to death, which is sad, really, but he had a little bit of an artistic flair about him, enough to be likable, and the possession of a restless and regularly unsatisfied soul often seems to be a prerequisite for attaining to this state.

Nancy Olson, who plays the fresh-faced aspiring screenwriter Betty Schaefer and represents to Joe the illusion of escape from the deformation of his soul that has been expedited by his taking up with Norma Desmond, was know as "Wholesome Olsen" in her high school days. That was in Wisconsin; in the 40s. That's pretty wholesome.

Doubtless this has been remarked upon before, but Norma Desmond is basically Don Quixote in drag and possessed of a massive fortune. The scene where she goes to the studio and is not able to be disabused of the conceit that she is still the greatest star in the world is reminiscent of various Don Quixote episodes, especially those in the second part where people begin to humor him by acting as if he were really the knight he claims to be.

Given Buster Keaton's current status in the very first rank of the Pantheon of the all-time greatest movie directors and actors, it never ceases to astound to see his cameo appearance with fellow washed-up, and at the time forgotten, silent film stars essentially playing themselves as Norma Desmond's old friends. In 1950 though the means of delivering old movies, to the extent people were even interested in seeing them, especially silent ones, was pretty limited, and film history as constituting some part of one's artistic education had not yet entered the general consciousness; which pretty much left Buster Keaton on the outside looking in, though he remained active and made guest appearances on venues like The Donna Reed Show, which would sort of be like Woody Allen appearing in a bit part on The Big Bang Theory, except that Keaton is normally considered now to be a major modernist artist, admired by Samuel Beckett and other cultural titans of the 20th century.

Contemporary Bonus: I watched Silver Linings Playbook because besides being much touted I knew it took place in Philadelphia and mildly deranged Eagles fans constituted a major part of the plot, and a decent Philadelphia-themed movie is pretty once in a generation event. I have to say it was very entertaining, though I would have liked more Inside Philly stuff and I think at some level the movie would have to be considered a failure because it purportedly is about rather dark subject matter, but I, and probably a lot of other people, came away from it thinking that maybe getting arrested and committed to a mental institution, taking a few years off to hang out at somebody else's parents' house (I don't want to live with my own parents), jogging, reading books, watching football games, visiting my zany Indian psychiatrist who really cares about me, and practicing dancing with a 23 year old babe who is also a mental health patient while I recover might be just what I need in my life at this time.

Regarding such Philly stuff as there was: They started strong by having the Bradley Cooper character carrying something around in an empty jar of Hellman's Mayonnaise, and I thought, this is going to be good, because Philadelphia people, for reasons which I have never understood though I too suffer from the affliction, cannot endure any other mayonnaise than Hellman's. I cannot bring myself to purchase another brand. I had to do the shopping for my son's camping trip with the scouts and they told me, 'just buy the store brand of everything' but I couldn't bring myself to put another brand of mayonnaise in the cart. The really odd thing about this is that most sophisticated people outside of the 215 think it is an absolutely terrible variation on mayonnaise. My wife thinks it is nasty stuff, but she has been to Philadelphia enough times to know that what I am talking about is real, and something deeper than taste. Apparently French mayonnaise is so incredible that normal people after having one bite are never able to stand the taste of Hellman's again. But this doesn't apply to people from Philadelphia.

I thought they got the Christmas scene at the house with the lights, the kind of food, the Frank Sinatra Christmas song in the background, pretty accurately. When you are a kid you assume everybody everywhere listens to Frank Sinatra Christmas albums, and Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole and Perry Como and other people like that, but people in New Hampshire, for example, really don't. In general people in New England after they are about 25 don't seem to have popular music records or radio on obsessively in the background all the time, and especially at parties, like everybody I know did growing up. Sometimes my wife will let me put a record on when we have a birthday party or family guests, but the sound is put low and we always turn it off when it is time to eat or serve cake. The music in this movie was good in general. There was nothing in, other than the Sinatra, that was specific to Philadelphia life, but it was all things people would be into if it came on.

Things that were wrong: The most egregious error was when the Jennifer Lawrence character talked about a car broken down, 'on 76, near the King of Prussia Mall'. Though I-76 is the main east-west highway running out of Philadelphia, I have never heard anyone refer to it by its number. In town out to Valley Forge the road is always called the Schuylkill Expressway, after the river it runs alongside, at which point it joins with the Turnpike. Both the Expressway and the Turnpike predate the numbered Interstate highway system and everybody still refers to them by the old names. Most other state and U.S. roads are also called by their local names. I-95 is referred to by its number. This is nit-picking, but when somebody in a movie refers to something you have been on or heard spoken about a thousand times using a term for it you have never heard anyone use in real life, it is rather jarring. New Yorkers certainly wouldn't stand for it.

Also a real die-hard Eagles fan could never be friends with a Dallas Cowboy fan. The mindset and life experiences are too disparate for any real bond of intimacy to develop. I don't even think I could be in love with a woman who was in any way a serious Dallas Cowboy fan. This is extreme, because sometime in the early 90s I remember watching a TV show--I think it was Beverly Hills 90210--where one of the guy characters had to dump a gorgeous blue-eyed Aryan goddess he was dating because she revealed racist tendencies, and of course my reaction was, "Who cares?" If anything, I thought a girl who sincerely disliked blacks or Arabs or whomever could probably be counted on not to run off with one under my nose, and that seemed at the time not an unappealing thought to me. But a Dallas Cowboy fan, you know it would be doomed from the start.

I like the high school reading list he does, though he continually is frustrated by the endings of the books and hurls them through the window. A lot of the books he reads I never read either in high school or afterwards--Lord of the Flies, The Grapes of Wrath, whichever of the two early Hemingways he reads. I don't remember much which novels I read in school. A Separate Peace, I remember, and Great Expectations. David Copperfield had been the Dickens novel they had read at my school up to about 1980, when they changed it because David was too long. I'm guessing by now Dickens has been dropped from the curriculum altogether.

I've got to finish this post tonight, so my last points will be quick and un-expanded upon.

So let me get this straight. You go home and catch another man having sex with your wife in the shower and you beat him up, you get arrested? That doesn't sound very American to me.

Jennifer Lawrence does strike me as embodying some especially characteristic strain of this new generation of women (the millenials) that we are getting. It would take me at least an hour though to tease out what I mean by that, so I will leave it for another time.

Like many movies that crave mainstream approval nowadays, there are a lot of extraneous multicultural characters thrown in whose characters nor multicultural qualities are essential to the plot. The materialistic wife of Bradley Cooper's vaguely ethnic (Hispanic?) friend who was being driven to an early grave by stress had some reality as a character, but was completely extraneous to any story (then again, the story itself is largely extraneous to what is interesting about the movie). The Indian psychiatrist who turns into a face painting, insane Eagles fan on fall Sundays is a nice try, but a bit of a stretch, I think. It's clear they had no idea what to do with the black guy.