Sunday, September 30, 2012

Always on Sunday: Death at a Funeral (2007)

At some point, while my wife and I were enjoying ourselves with copious loud laughter while watching Death at a Funeral [2007: Frank Oz], I said, "I think this movie might be funnier than Four Weddings and a Funeral [ 1994: Mike Newell, with Hugh Grant, Simon Callow, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Andie MacDowell] and Keeping Mum [2005: Niall Johnson, with Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, and Patrick Swayze ]." And she agreed.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Harvest Moon tonight!

Guest Columnist
By André Duvall

For the next several nights, pending clear weather, we have the opportunity to witness one of my favorite annual events of the evening and night skies: the rising of the Harvest Moon, which is the first full moon occurring after the Autumnal Equinox (which fell a week ago today). Tonight (September 29), the moon will rise in its “Full” phase. The exact moment of the full moon is 11:19 Eastern Time, although the moon will for all practical purposes appear full all night long.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fish for Friday

Last Friday a man jumped off the Bronx Zoo Wild Asia Monorail, cleared two fences, and landed in a tiger enclosure. Where, not surprisingly, he was attacked by a tiger. Zoo employees used fire extinguishers to chase the tiger away from the man, but a zoo official was quoted as saying they would have used deadly force if necessary.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thor's Day: Communitarian feeling

"Watsonville Road Vista in Oils,"
by Ken Marks
What common experience, if all mankind shared it, could ensure peace on earth?
    My poet friend Ralph sewed the seed of this question last Saturday during our river walk in Hillsborough. We had been discussing poetry and I mentioned Philip Larkin. Ralph showed little interest in Larkin, which surprised me. He said that Larkin's poetry was too narrowly focused on small life, too constricting. He preferred "expansive" poetry like that, say, of the Sufis.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ask Wednesday: Tom Lowe on the presidential election

Tom Lowe recently joined Moristotle's staff as a contributing editor. For months before that, in his blog comments, he had routinely displayed a ranging familiarity with 20th Century social and political issues.
    We asked him to please talk with us about the upcoming election. [Our questions are in italics.]


What difference does it make who wins the election?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday with Another Voice

Today's voice belongs to
Contributing Editor
Ken Marks
A human-interest story

I want to share a human-interest story with you. It's not the kind you'll see in the last three minutes of the evening news. Not "Man Awakes From 10-Year Coma" or "Teenager Buys 4th House" or "Dachau Survivors Reunited." No, it's the kind you never see—one that disturbs rather than inspires. Yet I think there's some healthful food for thought in it.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Second reading of Atonement

When you read Ian McEwan's 2001 novel, Atonement, the first time, you don't realize what the atonement in question is, and discovering it is a delightful literary experience [emphasis on literary]. But there's also delight in a second reading, for you can spot the many allusions in Part One to what you now know won't be revealed until Part Three.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Always on Sunday: London River

Brenda Blethyn was the reason we decided to start watching the 2009 French film London River, directed by Rachid Bouchareb, but she and several other things too were the reason we continued to watch and much enjoy this quiet, stately film about two parents (Elizabeth and Ousmane) who have come to London to find out what happened to their respective missing children, following the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks there.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Remembering two among the "poor working class"

Tom Lowe's piece on Tuesday referred to "the very poor working class," so it wasn't surprising that when my friend Bill and I took an early-morning walk the next day our conversation turned to what our fathers had done during the Depression.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fish for Friday


New post by Sam Harris, "On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God." [personal communication; excerpt:]
What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thor's Day: Mammon

The term Mammon is used in the Old Testament to describe material wealth or greed. Mammon was personified as a deity, and the worship of material wealth seemed to be some people's religion.
     Wikipedia's entry discusses other historical personifications of Mammon:

During the Middle Ages, Mammon was commonly personified as the demon of gluttony, richness, and injustice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ask Wednesday: Jim Rix on reforming our criminal justice system

Jim Rix became an expert on our criminal justice system in the course of more than ten years' diligent work on the Ray Krone case and in writing a book about it: Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out*. Krone, who is Jim Rix's cousin, had originally been sentenced to die for a December 1991 Phoenix murder that Jim was instrumental in proving his cousin had not committed.
    Having read that book, we were well aware that Jim has an Rx for reforming the U.S.'s criminal justice system. We asked him about it. [Our questions are in italics.]

What is wrong with our criminal justice system?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday with Another Voice

Today's voice belongs to
Contributing Editor
Tom Lowe
Labor's history—lost, stolen, or strayed?

I've been thinking recently about something that has puzzled me for a long time. How America's working class got lost in the Twentieth Century. They lost their identity and history, letting themselves be screwed by their bosses, while being conned into taking the blame.

Monday, September 17, 2012

8+ out of 10: Too much money in politics

The headline used in our local newspaper this morning for an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll focused on one of several issued polled: "Poll: Too much money in politics."
    Yes, whichever editor chose the headline, we hear you, brother, and amen.

WASHINGTON—Americans don’t like all the cash that’s going to super political action committees and other outside groups that are pouring millions of dollars into races for president and Congress.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Always on a Sunday: Under African Skies

Two things I especially like about Joe Berlinger's 2012 documentary, Under African Skies, about Paul Simon's return to South Africa last year for a 25-year reunion concert with the musicians who participated in his 1986 "Graceland" album: the faces and the music.
    The faces, such as those of African jazz musician Ray Phiri and Joseph Shabalala, founding member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and all of the faces of Ladysmith, are glorious, 
then and now, in their musically transported loveliness.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

New limerick species

Verse composed
in the hot tub
Pisces rhyming friday
On Fridays now,  and forevermore,
A limerick we'll endeavor more
    To include among the fish—
    For you, we hope, a tasty dish—
Until we die, then nevermore.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fish for Friday

Something the election campaigns aren't addressing is the question of who is unemployed, and what that might have to do with the state of education in the U.S. today. Here's how Thomas L. Friedman spelled it out last weekend in his op-ed piece ('New Rules') in the New York Times:
The unemployment rate today is 4.1 percent for people with four years of college,6.6 percent for those with two years,8.8 percent for high school graduates,and 12.0 percent for dropouts. [personal communication]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thor's Day: Hope

By Ken Marks

Last Thor's Day, the subject was prayer. Today the subject is prayer's big sister, hope. The two are sisters because they're two sides of the same phenomenon. It's just that the hoper need never assume the position or plead to a deity. Hope is the big sister because she shows her face far more often. She's on battlefields, at political stumps, in courtrooms, in voting booths, at ballparks, in airplanes, on get-well cards, in hospitals, at racetracks, wherever boy meets girl, on stock exchanges around the world, and on the highway when you see an approaching cop car. Hope is ubiquitous.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ask Wednesday: Jonathan Price on the presidential election

Jonathan Price, a retired college Professor of English, has been a lifelong Democrat who does not claim any particular political expertise.
    But he does understand the legend that Stendhal postponed his death to find out the results of a French election. Elections are exciting.
    He has also been a friend of our editor in chief for 49 years. [Our questions are in italics.]

What difference does it make who wins the election?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday with Another Voice

Today's voice belongs to
Contributing Editor
motomynd
9/11: Would we be better off to have ignored it?

Even the bush people living an aboriginal hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Africa know what happened 11 years ago today. Planes flying into buildings did not directly affect their daily roaming search for food, but the U.S. response did. Africa is the emerging front of the war against terrorism, and life there, like so many other places in the world, has gotten more dangerous and challenging these past 11 years. Even for people at the very bottom of the Third World scale, who were already subsisting on what few roots, berries, and grubs they could find.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Persimmon tree very pretty

When I was just about fifty, my wife she said to me, "Come here and take a lesson from the lovely persimmon tree. 'Simmon tree very pretty, but the 'simmon branch get heavy and sometime need support, so the fruit of the poor 'simmon can ripen, and be sweet enough to eat."
    With apologizes to Peter, Paul, & Mary and their "Lemon Tree," I'm a happier man and wiser now that I propped a limb of our Fuyu persimmon tree with a wooden pole on Saturday and installed some bungees from three rebar posts around its trunk.
    As I reported on July 4 ("Green persimmons"), I've already removed over 80 young persimmons (about half), but the increasing weight of the remaining fruit is taxing our tree's uneven branching, with six to eight weeks still to go to full maturity.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Always on Sunday: Cracker

Robbie Coltrane (born
Anthony Robert McMillan
in 1950) is the cracker
The word "cracker" as the title of the 1990's British TV series means several things:
    It's about a criminal psychologist, Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald (played by Robbie Coltrane), who cracks [solves] cases. The Manchester police are lucky to have him on retainer, even if they often ignore his advice, to their disadvantage.
    His conversation crackles with wit—not the same as making wisecracks, which are mostly flippant; there's nothing "sitcom" about this serious drama—Fitz's conversation sparkles with insight.
    A number of the characters (mainly the criminals, but also Fitz sometimes) seem to be cracked; i.e., somewhat crazy if not really so.
    Fitz is a brilliant, likable, witty, infuriating character, indispensable to police in questioning suspects, whose hearts he fathoms in a few minutes of conversation and observation. He's addicted to gambling, a tribulation to his wife of twenty-five years (Barbara Flynn), who nevertheless tells him that other men don't have a tenth of his head or a quarter of his heart.
    Comparable characters in their brilliance and self-absorption come to mind: Doc Martin and Dr. House.
    Episodes of Cracker are well and believably developed; they almost always come in two or three 50-minute parts.


At some point three or four episodes in to Season 1, I said to my wife, "Do you think that Robbie Coltrane ever did stand-up comedy?" He has such presence and his talent for improvisation is obvious.
    She agreed that he might have done stand-up and googled it to find out. According to IMDb, he's "one of Britain's most popular comedians."
    If you're a fan of wizards (which I am not), you might recognize his name for playing Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter films.
    Or do you remember his name from Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1989)? Coltrane played Sir John Falstaff, "a fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight...primarily a comic figure...embodying a kind of depth common to Shakespeare's tricky comedy" [wikipedia].
    Cracker is something to enjoy highly. We access it via Netflix download.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The day the music died

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
in a library
I know where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news that Philip Larkin had died. I was driving to work through Durham and was on that section of road right after Duke University Rd. becomes W. Chapel Hill St. I was listening to Morning Edition on WUNC 91.5 FM. And since Larkin had died the day before, on December 2, I know from the 1985 calendar that I heard the news on a Tuesday.
    Larkin was a librarian and a poet. He was a contemporary of Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), just as Kingsley's son Martin was a contemporary of Christopher Hitchens (both born 1949). They all knew, liked, and wrote about one another.
    Hitchens introduced Larkin's main poetic theme, death, in the prologue of his memoir, Hitch-22, in the course of talking about having been prematurely "killed off" by a London magazine that contained the sentence, "Martin [Amis] was literary editor of the New Statesman, working with the late Christopher Hitchens and Julian Barnes...." [p. 12]
    Julian Barnes had titled his own meditation on death Nothing to Be Frightened Of1. To Larkin, as with Woody Allen, it certainly was something to be frightened of. But whereas Allen didn't (and presumably still doesn't) want to be there when it happens, Larkin didn't want to be dead, and he wasn't consoled by the thought that when he was dead, he wouldn't be dead, because he wouldn't be:

Philip Larkin...observes in his imperishable "Aubade" that [not knowing that you are dead] is exactly the thing about the postmortem condition that actually does and must make one afraid:
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true....
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear....[p. 14, Hitch-22]
But given that I blog daily, whether I have anything to say or not, it was because of another bit about Larkin that I'm writing this article today. (Let's not dwell on death for now.)
    As I indicated recently, I've been reading Kingsley Amis's Memoirs. It has a chapter on Philip Larkin:

[Larkin] always knew where he stood, never fooled himself or said anything he did not mean. When he told you he felt something, you could be quite sure he did feel it, a priceless asset to a poet, and a poet of feeling and mood at that.
    The same quality ensured that when he had nothing to say he said nothing, a turn of mind that helped him not to write any bad poems. [emphasis mine; at about 2 hours, 25 minutes in the digital recording I'm listening to]
    That is, I wanted to take this occasion to say something that I do have to say: I apologize for the times I've had nothing to say, and said it.
_______________
  1. A couple of quotes from Barnes's book can be found at http://moristotle.blogspot.com/2008/12/it-is-difficult-for-us-to-contemplate.html and http://moristotle.blogspot.com/2008/12/other-possibilities-beyond-brute.html.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fish for Friday

The article "Paul Ryan’s marathon puffery matters less than his convention whopper" seems to fit nicely with some of Ken Marks's points about politicians. [personal communication; excerpts from the article:]
What troubles me far more about Ryan’s honesty [than his exaggerating his marathon-running time] is the story he told last Wednesday night in his convention acceptance speech about the closing of the General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville. The VP nominee linked a 2008 Obama campaign speech in Janesville expressing the hope that the factory would last for a century with GM shuttering the plant within a year. The obvious implication was that Obama’s economic policies as president led to laid-off factory workers in Ryan’s home town.
    There was one problem: The time sequence proves nothing of the sort....
    Truth-telling does matter in political campaigns, even if “fact” has become a subset of “spin.” Athletes might occasionally exaggerate their exploits to impress listeners, but it requires a different form of hypocrisy knowingly to tell a whopper about your home town in the biggest speech of your political career.
Levity is not permitted if it concerns Obama's birth certificate or Bain Capital or Swiss bank accounts.
     There are many things that divide us. However, we can't really debate these things anymore, can we? Because Our Side is as pure as new snow, and Their Side has hearts of darkness.
     We all do it. Our guts choose a candidate. Then our brains look for confirmation, and helpfully screen out anything that disagrees with us. [from a letter to a local newspaper]


Thanks for suggesting that my health might improve if I exercised more (and for not brow-beating me about it, which I would hate). I have, in fact, started taking long walks. Gentle prompting probably works better for most people than strong urging. Ever heard of the folk tale in which the sun and the wind wager to see which can get a man to remove his coat? The sun, of course, won.
     Aaahhh...the old sun and the wind fable, eh? Did you ever hear the one about the beggar at an intersection who meekly asked, and received very little, and the man who poked a shotgun in a car window and got all the cash, and the car?
     Ooh, good one! But you weren't just coming back for the sake of humor, but for the profound truth involved, right?
     Yes, it is a profound truth that people react much more quickly to the demands of a person with a gun than to the begging of someone who is unarmed. [personal communication]

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thor's Day: Prayer

Last week, as I went out one morning to check the trap I'd set the night before, I felt an impulse to pray, to pray that the trap would be empty. For, though I'd agreed with my wife that we would try to remove the rabbits from our back yard, I still hated the thought of their being made to leave their Eden. I especially hated to think that the first one trapped would be taken to a nearby wood and released alone, away from its family.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ask Wednesday: Editor in chief on changes at Moristotle

Morris Dean is ecstatic
about the recent changes
Ask Wednesday regularly features an interview with an interesting person on an interesting topic.
Moristotle has just added two new regular columns, for interviews and other voices, added three contributing editors, and invited queries from potential guest columnists.
    We asked our editor in chief to tell us what all this means for the blog. [Our questions are in italics]:

The addition of contributing editors is a big thing, right?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday with Another Voice

Today's voice belongs to
Contributing Editor
Ken Marks
The enablers

The last Thor's Day post evoked the terrible images of people born to indifference, abuse, and blighted circumstances. Through those gates, children proceed toward a destiny that we often call "hell on earth." Worse yet, as they move through adulthood they spread hell on earth as surely as a virus begets a plague. But there are other kinds of hell, ones with an atypical genesis that leave a much different mark on the rest of us. We all know of such a case, but it bears retelling if only for its cathartic effect.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Welcome contributing editors

With the addition of three contributing editors (Tom Lowe, Ken Marks, and motomynd) and two new regular columns, Moristotle is taking a significant leap forward.

Tom Lowe is a visual artist and photographer. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and increasingly finds himself quoting Shakespeare: Puck, "What fools these mortals be!"
    My association with Tom goes way back, to my senior year at Tulare Union High School—his freshman year. We can only assume that we met that year, but neither of us can prove it.
    Tom's contributions to Moristotle have so far been limited to refreshingly informative comments. You can actually find all of the posts he's commented on by searching on "tom lowe" in the search box near the top of the sidebar. (Bet you didn't now that.)


Ken Marks is a self-styled elderly gentleman, distinguished, charming, gracious, scholarly, an astute observer of the passing scene, and prone to exaggeration. I am confident that you will come to appreciate and love Ken's elegant wit nearly as much as I do.
    Ken and I have a lot of past together from our days at IBM in San Jose, California, where we both engaged in the various activities of "information development"—writing, editing, and planning software publications, and training writers new to the organization. I left that organization in 1983, but Ken and I have kept in touch, I hope to mutual benefit—certainly to mine. He still lives in San Jose.
    Ken has already contributed much to Moristotle, including the article "The case for religion" and many comments, which you can find by searching on "ken" alone (since no one else named Ken has ever commented). (Thank Ken for that attempt at humor; it's just the sort of thing he would say, only say better.)
    And Ken's special contribution has been, and continues to be "Ken's Photo Treasures," which you can investigate by clicking on the slideshow immediately beneath the staff listing in the sidebar.


motomynd is a vegan, a trail runner motorcyclist who fell briefly for what he now calls the "Ronald Reagan con job that we could all have something for nothing" and has vowed to devote the rest of his life to making up for that horrific mistake.
    Perhaps not all of the rest of his life—he spends a lot of time on motorcycles (see his website, "motomynd: all things motorcycle") and in other very active pursuits, including photography...and writing and commenting on Moristotle. Besides his many comments, he has contributed seven articles, starting with "Quantity of life, or quality?" (2011-3-15). Come to think of it, some of his Moristotle work seems to be devoted to making up for that mistake.
    I met motomynd on a walk in the Spring of 2010. He of course was running, not walking, and I was fortunate that he stopped and we introduced ourselves. I only want our friendship to be as good for him as it has been for me. I have learned a lot.


The two new columns are

  • "Ask Wednesday" which debuted last week and will regularly feature an interview with an interesting person on an interesting topic. This coming Wednesday's column will feature Moristotle's editor in chief's answers to some questions about what all this means for Moristotle.
  • "Tuesday with Another Voice," which will start tomorrow and be reserved for articles by the contributing editors and guest columnists. Moristotle is interested in publishing well-written articles that gleam with the good sense we hope we always display. Queries are welcome. Send them to moristotle@gmail.com.
    Last week, Ken Marks was the first person interviewed, on the topic of digital painting, and he'll be providing the first "Tuesday with" article tomorrow. Thank you, Ken!

A companion post for today displays our four editors' styles of writing and thinking (and feeling) as they react to a baby boomer's boom-boom. Read on!

Baby boomer goes "boom-boom"

A friend of a friend tells us he called a guy the other day to see how he was doing in his battle with Parkinson's:
The guy almost immediately launched into an anti-Obama tirade...so I knew he was feeling better. This is a guy in his mid-60s who had a six-figure income from the phone company most of his career due to his union job, but is now completely anti-union. He always drove fast cars and big trucks, but now he says he hopes gas goes to $10/gallon so it will freeze the economy and help get rid of Obama. He is devoutly pro-NRA and staunchly pro-gun and thinks people should be able to own machine guns if they wish, and he wants Obama out "before he starts banning guns," but he chooses to overlook Romney's ban on assault weapons when he was in office. The guy is all for Romneycare but completely against Obamacare.
    In other words, this guy is just as much a racist as he always was but is now wise enough to do it in code. He is a poster child for the "true boomers" (those born 1945-1950), as opposed to the "screwed boomers" like me who weren't born until after 1950 and therefore had our prime earning years napalmed by the Bushies. If the true boomers' parents were the "greatest generation," the boomers themselves should be called the "selfish generation," and this guy is a poster child for that as well.
What do Moristotle's editors make of this "true boomer" and his tirade?

Ken Marks. What can one say? The world is replete with people who are ignorant, deluded, cantankerous, spiteful, vindictive, and selfish, in all sorts of kaleidoscopic combinations. They are beyond reforming; we can only hope to marginalize them. There are ways to do that, but only generationally. How to do it might make for an interesting column.

motomynd. Your "friend of a friend's" tirade sounds like too many of the one-sided "conversations" I have to suffer through when I visit people I was raised with in Central Virginia. With rare exception these people were raised by bigots who judged others by the color of their skin, their accent, or just the type of car they drove. In true trickle-down fashion the people I was raised with also became small-minded, deeply prejudiced people, as are their children.
    When Barack Obama was elected and people put on their rose-colored glasses and rejoiced in the death of racism, it seemed about as believable as democracy in Russia. Today's racists may be smoother about how they express themselves, and they may at least look around before dropping the "n" word, but the thoughts and instincts are the same now as they were 50 years ago.


Tom Lowe. Having listened, and in younger days tried to argue with, this sort of BS, I’m having a visceral response to the boomer’s tirade. So I’m going to get rhetorical:
    “I’m sorry, sir, that having Parkinson’s has made you face your own mortality (I stick an Insulin needle in me every morning- which is no fun); and I’m sorry that having white skin and balls hasn’t turned out to be a lifelong entitlement. But you do have that medical plan your union negotiated, Bain Capital never got around to your company, and your pension, your mortgage isn’t underwater, and you have friends and relatives-in spite of yourself.
     
Ya know something? From what I’ve seen, those scary people you want to shoot with that automatic weapon have a much scarier life than you. Even with the three jobs they both work, it’s still a long way to the emergency room if anyone gets sick, and there’s too much month left at the end of the money. Their kids may be hearing about the Dream Act in school, but there’s the drug dealers on the corner and that drone hovering over the neighborhood to get past first. ’Cause they don’t see the Land of Opportunity open to them, just struggling, and hoping it will be better for their children. So, go sit over there with the other straw-men, Ray Bolger will be right along to teach you the new routine. We wont Occupy your Laziboy.

Morris Dean. I've never thought much about the various distinctions among "boomer generations." The U.S. Census Bureau defines "baby boomer" as "a person who was born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom between the years 1946 and 1964." [Wikipedia, which goes on to say:]
The term "baby boomer" is sometimes used in a cultural context...impossible to achieve broad consensus of a precise definition...Ascribing universal attributes to a broad generation is difficult...Nonetheless, many people have attempted to determine the broad cultural similarities and historical impact of the generation, and thus the term has gained widespread popular usage.
    But if our friend of a friend is correct that the generation born between 1945 and 1950 includes a disproportionate number of the Parkinson's guy's type, then we can hope that most of them will have died or succumbed to Alzheimers by 2025 or so, and that the Republican Party may have regained some of its senses and the NRA have lost its strangle-hold on Congress.
    Unfortunately, being a member of the generation born during World War II, I'll likely have died or succumbed myself before then and be unable to witness the presumed improvement in our politics.
_______________
"Welcome contributing editors"

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Always on Sunday: Anonymous

Sunday's regular movie review.
The wondrous words of the writings attributed to William Shakespeare are the hero of the 2011 speculative-historical movie Anonymous. Scenes from eight or ten of Shakespeare's plays are portrayed, either in a royal court setting with the young (Joely Richardson) or old Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave, Joely's mother) in the audience, or on the public stage with their rowdies and a handful of envious younger writers (Ben Jonson [Sebastian Armesto], Christopher Marlowe [Trystan Gravelle], Thomas Nashe [Tony Way], Thomas Dekker [Robert Emms]) wishing they could write like that.
Anonymous (2011: Roland Emmerich) [A costume drama set in the period roughly 1575-1605 resting on a collection of mostly debunked speculations about who really wrote Shakespeare's plays, whether Queen Elizabeth might have had one or two children, one of them by the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), and whether the actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) might remotely possibly have himself murdered Christopher Marlowe to prevent him from exposing Shakespeare's willful fraud. Set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I and the rebellion against her by the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid).] VG [IMDB's plot summary
    The VG indicates that I enjoyed the movie and thought it better than just averagely good entertainment. But I can recommend it only for mature audiences capable of keeping their informed disbelief alive while possibly enjoying an Oliver Stone, JFK-type of historical fantasy. Fellow movie fan Ken Marks seconds that warning:
Snow White is a fabrication. Anonymous is a speculation. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but it's a speculation that virtually no Shakespearean scholar takes seriously. Yet Hollywood has the temerity to offer the public supposed historical revelations! Will the multitudes who see it come away thinking, What a fanciful presentation? Not a chance. Their reaction will be, Well, well—for how many centuries have we been in the dark?
A few things I really liked about Anonymous:
    Vanessa Redgrave's utterly convincing impersonation of a doddering elderly woman (whether or not the historical Elizabeth doddered).

    Rhys Ifans's nuanced performance as Edward de Vere, the film's dashing, sensitive lover of a queen, father of one of her sons, skilled swordsman, and the actual genius who wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare (however speculative these conceits may be—except perhaps for the swordsmanship).
    The rapt faces of the younger writers in the theater as they listen to language they can't believe the inarticulate, barely schooled actor William Shakespeare could possibly have penned (however much of a Mozartian genius the actual Shakespeare is generally believed to have been).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"Have some gin instead"

Kingsley Amis taught at
Vanderbilt University
in the late 1960s
Martin Amis is a major figure in Christopher Hitchens's 2010 memoir, Hitch-22. Martin's father, the English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), is also a presence in Hitchens's memoir.
    Over the past two months I've sampled as many of Martin's and Kingsley's books (about a dozen) as I could download in digitally recorded format, both fiction and not. None of them appealed to me and proved as readable as Kingsley's 1991 Memoirs. It's unputdownable, more fun than Hitchens's own memoir, which is a lot longer and weightier, discoursing seriously as it does on international politics and such matters.
    I've been tempted several times in the first two hours of listening to Memoirs to quote something here for your delectation. Here's perhaps the best so far:

John Wain [minor English poet, novelist, and critic] slotted in his three years of undergraduate residence while I had been away at the war. He had been found unfit for military service (lungs), like Philip [Larkin] (eyes), like others who, when counted in with those who had craftily evaded service elsewhere, like Dylan Thomas, made up quite a total and suggests, as part of an answer to the old question, Why were the Great War poets better than the Second War lot? Because a good half of the Second War lot managed to stay out of it.
    I digress, however....
    I found [John Wain] most attractive, lightly caustic with a voice and manner to match, knowledgeable, worldly wise, a budding academic without crap....
    ...He was full of stories, like the one about the sherry bottle that held something other than sherry. The inconvenience of his rooms in Redding had led him to pee habitually into a bottle last thing at night, emptying it first thing in the morning. Once, about to hand some guests glasses of what was meant to be Tio Pepe, he had noticed at the last moment that this was not so and deduced in the nick of time that what had gone down the pan that morning was the Tio Pepe.
    "Hold it," he had blurted, "this isn't good enough for you. It's piss, in fact. Have some gin instead".... [at about 1:45 into a 12:52 reading]