Love and Death

November 20, 2011

Reading through What Is to Be Done?, I found myself remembering Woody Allen’s film, Love and Death, from 1975.  The stilted dialog and philosophical expositions in the novel are so wooden, they seem like the parody of Allen’s film.  I am amazed at how much of the film I remembered, but I thought it was much funnier this time around, despite the fact that when I saw it, I was in my Russian Lit phase.

It’s a wild parody and pastiche of 19th century Russian literary themes, primarily Tolstoy’s War and Peace and various Dostoyevsky works, with visuals that humorously echo Ingmar Bergman.  In the scene above, Allen, a new recruit, shamed into enlisting to fight Napoleon, is upbraided by a black drill sergeant.  He goes on to inadvertently save the battle by being shot out of a canon into the French generals’ tent.

I even found Diane Keaton, an actress to whom I usually react as to the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, very entertaining.

Pudd’nhead Wilson

September 26, 2011

I owe a note of thanks to the Argumentative Old Git for his comment that led me to Pudd’nhead Wilson, a rather neglected work by Mark Twain.  This very funny, very darkly humorous and ironic tale is a twist on the Prince and the Pauper and all those switched-at-birth fables and comedies – this time, with a slave and a slave owner as the subjects.

The title character is not really the main character, nor is he the fool (puddinghead) that everyone takes him for on the basis of one offhand remark he made twenty years before the main action of the novel in Dawson’s Landing, Missouri.  Of course, the slave woman Roxy doesn’t seem to be what she is, because she is white to the eye, but a certified, bought and sold negro.  So too with her son, Valet de Chambers.  She cares for him, and The Master’s son, Tom, whom her own child resembles.  As with all slaves, Roxy lives in fear of being ‘sold down the river’ to hard servitude in the deep South, but she fears even more for her son:  What might happen if her good and kind master dies and his heir or creditors are hard hearted?  She resolves to protect the future of her son by switching him with Tom, and Tom’s rather negligent father is none the wiser.

Her son, now Tom, grows up to be an arrogant, profligate, disreputable gambler, while the real Tom grows into a typically obsequious house slave.  So much for blood telling all.  There are some Italian twins who visit, a murder, a trial, and a thrilling resolution by Wilson, a frustrated lawyer who finally gets his chance to show his wits in court, saving the falsely accused twins with his fingerprint collection, a hobby he has pursued for years.  Of course, these same prints reveal the secret about Tom and Chambers, and their situations are set right, in traditional comedic fashion.  Of course, the story was originally called The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson because things don’t turn out so well, when people are restored to their proper places within the social system.

Twain is savaging just about everything in this short novel.  The reader has the sense that he was throwing up his hands with disgust at the fatuousness and cruelty of the human race.  You can read the entire text of this strange work, and view some fascinating illustrations and associated materials at this excellent website.

Nieztsche and the Demon at Noon

April 30, 2010

One post here that has received a tremendous number of comments is my statement about why I think Nietzsche is an overrated thinker.  The fury of many of the comments surprised and amused me.  I might also add, it confirmed me in my opinion of the great philosopher.

Those who disagree, and who have a sense of humor, should read this book by J.B. Botul (Frédéric Pagès), the celebrated “hoaxer” who fooled Bernard Henri-Levy.  Et voilà!

Adolescent j’ai dévoré ses livres.  Certains anti-nietzschéens prétendent d’ailluers que c’est un philosophe pour adolescents…J’avais de cet homme l’image d’un héros, d’un chevalier glorieux marchant d’un pas résolu vers la conquête du monde par la seule force de sa pensée.

As an adolescent, I devoured his books.  Some anti-Nietzscheans claim elsewhere that he is a philosopher for adolescents.  I had an heroic image of this man, a glorious knight marching with a firm step towards the conquest of the world, with only the force of his ideas.

I am reminded of the character in the comedy film, Little Miss Sunshine, the teenager under a vow of silence, who is always “devouring” the pages of Thus Spake Zarathustra.


It’s too late, Elaine!

February 12, 2010

The climactic scene in The Graduate, as everyone knows, is when Ben crashes the “arranged” wedding of his inamorata, Elaine, stands on the glassed-in balcony over the aisle watching them kiss before the minister, starts shaking the glass, and wails, “Elaaainnne!!”

The older generation goes berzerk, Elaine responds with “Bennn!”, and the two young people fight their way to the door of the church.  Elaine’s mother, Mrs. Robinson, grabs her and shouts, “It’s too late, Elaine!” to which she retorts, “Not for me, Mother!”  Ben flails about with a cross and locks the crowd in the sanctuary by ramming it into the door  and they make off in a yellow bus to the consternation of the other riders.

That short exchange between mother and daughter is what the movie is all about.  The dried up, lifeless, loveless, older generation tries to ruin the lives of their children, as theirs were ruined, but love is stronger, the vitality of youth breaks free, life has a chance.  The older generation sends the kids off to war in Vietnam, but the kids protest and fight back.  They want her to marry a cookie-cut medical student – she wants to marry Ben, who doesn’t know what he wants to do.

They sit in the back of the bus, giddy, a little sobered by what they’ve done.  They’re young and beautiful.  Ben is inwardly bubbling at the thought that he’s finally done something he really wants to do.  Elaine may be wondering what she’s getting herself into with this guy.  The problems of real adult life come later.  For now, the fairy tale carries the day.


October 24, 2009


RIP Soupy Sales.

If anyone has the lyrics to “Catch a pickled herring, put it in your pocket…” I’d be most grateful.