And yes, I do all this because I’m allergic to work. I figure as long as I look busy, I won’t have to perform actual labor. It’s worked for nearly half a century so far…
First up, thanks to all of you who sent notes of encouragement after last week’s lengthy discussion of Alzheimer’s. It’s not an easy road to travel, but since when was life ever easy? It’s good to know how many people I have in my corner.
Now on to the blog I started writing two weeks ago, a group of thoughts about a movie I watched even more weeks ago, almost by accident. It’s old. So old that, if you search it on IMDB, it doesn’t even show up on the initial list of possible films, even if you type its exact title. It was made in 1934, and I discovered it because I was watching some films with Joan Bennett on YouTube. (Not a lot of Joan Bennett’s films are available on NetFlix streaming!) I was watching Joan Bennett films because I was reading a biography of the Bennett family, which was recommended by Lara Parker in her latest book, which I reviewed recently. All this discussion of her early film work got me interested in seeing some movies. That’s the way my mind flows. One thing to the next.
I watched Bulldog Drummond with Ronald Colman, and For Me and My Gal with Spencer Tracy. I’d heard of both, and they also featured actors I liked. But YouTube recommended, as it is wont to do, another film with Bennett, The Pursuit of Happiness. I’d never heard of it, nor of its male lead, Francis Lederer. Only I had heard of him. See, Mr. Lederer, born Frantisek Lederer in Czechoslovakia in 1899, worked as an actor until he was 100 years old, and was a frequent television guest star as late as 1971. I know I saw him in Night Gallery, Mission Impossible and That Girl, but he always played the heavy or the wacky European supporting character, so I didn’t remember him.
Lederer was a good-looking guy, and, despite his fairly pronounced accent, found roles as a romantic lead in American films when he was young. In The Pursuit of Happiness, his accent did not sound out of place (to American ears) as a Hessian draftee sent to Colonial America to fight on the side of the British during the American Revolution.
I found this film refreshing for many reasons, not the least of which being that I’m just not a fan of nationalism as a concept. This film thumbs its nose at nationalism, and I like that. It also pokes fun at Puritanism, and has a good bit of fun with human mating customs, which, in any age, are pretty laughable. And yet it dates from 1934, not a time I guess a lot of people would associate with any kind of forward-thinking ideas, since it’s on the far side of the 1940s, when the message of most American movies was one of extreme patriotism, and the Hays office had a firm lock on the morals of the film industry, at least on the morals that were portrayed in the films. Interestingly, it is not a pre-code film. The Hays Office (formally known as the Production Code Administration), led by Joseph Breen, required pre-approval for all films released after July 1, 1934. The Pursuit of Happiness was released almost three months later, so it went through Breen’s grinder.
But let’s not confuse terminology here. I said that Pursuit thumbs its nose at nationalism, and is unlike the films of the 1940s, which were largely very patriotic in tone, in support of America’s participation in World War II. Nationalism and patriotism are not the same thing. To be a bit of extremist, one is wholesome, but can be manipulated by those who follow the other, which is insidious.
Patriotism is defined as “love or devotion to one’s country,” 1 whereas nationalism is defined as “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries.” 2 Sound like the same thing? Note that nationalism injects a belief in one’s country’s superiority, which sounds like chauvinism. George Orwell’s take on the difference was:
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.3
To me, patriotism, based on the latin word “pater,” or “father,” suggests love of your heritage, your history, your traditions, your countrymen and countrywomen, whereas nationalism suggests love of a government or a state. As Orwell suggests, sounds like a lot of collectivist bullshit to me, suppressing the individual for the good of the state. Then what good is the state?
You love your father, parents or family, and you try to get along with them and be at peace with them as long as the relationship is not harming you. If the relationship is harming you, you have the right to break free of it. The same applies to patriotism or your relationship to your country. Your government exists to protect your rights and property. In return for doing that, you will be expected to pay some form of taxes or give some form of service. That may include putting yourself at risk in case the nation needs to be defended. That does not mean the nation has the right to put you at risk in order to profit. Too often, nations have done exactly that: a few in power stood to profit, and so many were put in the line of fire in a battle which had nothing to do with their individual interests.
This is the situation in which Lederer’s character, Max Christmann, finds himself at the beginning of the film. A Hessian scholar with no interest in a military career, he finds himself drafted, essentially sold into slavery to the British, in order to fight against the American Colonial forces during the Revolutionary War. He has no hatred for Americans, and no loyalty to the British. Once his country has betrayed him by making him a slave, he has no loyalty to it either. He gratefully accepts an offer from George Washington, posted on fliers all over the countryside where he is supposed to be fighting, to give Hessians who defect a homestead and asylum.
In World War II and even today, Lederer would an unlikely romantic lead at this point. He’s a defector, a deserter, and he’s one of the enemies of the power that would become the United States. Not many films even today would treat so lightly a man who showed so little regard for governments or politics. Indeed, even the most liberal-minded entertainments now seem to want to drill into our heads the idea that we must respect politics, else we’re not good citizens.
But Christmann wants what most of us really want: to be left alone. To start is own farm, to marry the woman he loves, to live.
The movie isn’t deep, don’t get me wrong. Once Max has made his choice, after surrendering to the lovely Prudence Kirkland (Joan Bennett), the plot quickly devolves into poking fun at the mating customs of America in the 18th Century, with much discussion of “bundling” and “bundling boards.”
Lederer and Bennett have wonderful chemistry, and Charlie Ruggles, as Prudence’s wise-but-drunken father, is a joy to watch.
Doubt you’ll find it on Netflix. Me, I found it one YouTube.
Ever have that sinking feeling? “I was supposed to do that… two days ago… I did it, right?” I get that feeling a lot. Usually, the answer turns out to be yes, I did it. But in this case, I was sitting, happily, at my friends’ house, cradling a glass of a very nice Balvenie Caribbean Cask in the afterglow of the latest episode of Marvel’s Agents of Shield, when I realized… It’s Tuesday. My blog and my podcast were supposed to be up on Monday.
What the hell happened to Monday? (I actually asked that question out loud.) Continue reading
And she says to me, “Oaaaah, yeah, hon, they’s been throwin’ each other under buses right and left out dere in de alley!”
Okay, so, no we don’t really talk like that. We’re Baltimorons only in the geographical sense.
My actual question concerned my growing perception that people in the workplace are faking it. They take credit for work they didn’t do. They’re desperate to make it look like they’re accomplished big things, and they’re equally desperate to make it look like they never make a mistake. They therefore cast a lot of blame and aspersion on their colleagues. Colloquially, they throw each other under the bus an awful lot.
I had a meltdown Friday night. Fairly small thing, but one damn thing on top of many other things had me spending about fifteen minutes screaming at the heavens, demanding to know why I keep getting, um… used for the universe’s gratification without benefit of lubricant… when, day in and day out, I feel like I do nothing but the right things.
Huge self-pity fest. You have those sometimes. Nothing to do but get over it. I consider it the equivalent of the pressure valve on the water-heater kicking off, venting off some steam, and preventing the whole system from exploding. If it happens once, you may not even notice, or you notice and just monitor. If it happens once too often, well, there’s an obvious need for intervention.
Lara Parker is the (still) lovely lady who played the witch Angelique (and a few other roles) on the 1960s horror soap opera, Dark Shadows. She appears very briefly in Tim Burton’s recent film adaptation of the series, and she’s done a boatload of Dark Shadows audio productions for Big Finish, also usually playing Angelique.
Wolf Moon Rising is her third novel set in the Dark Shadows universe. (Or, more correctly, the Dark Shadows multiverse, which she’s expanded with this volume.) In her first venture, Angelique’s Descent, she gave us a biography of her character. That is, she chronicled one of Angelique’s numerous lives, albeit a short one. Angelique Bouchard was born in the 1770s and lived on the island of Martinique, where she was a servant to Josette DuPres, daughter of a wealthy French merchant. As a very young woman, Angelique fell in love with an American, Barnabas Collins, a young man on his first business trip abroad, representing his family’s company. Sadly, Barnabas had his fun with Angelique, then met her mistress Josette and forgot all about the poor servant girl. Josette, as heir to another fortune, was more fit to be the wife of a rich New Englander.
Okay, I’m doing something a little different this week. It’s not going to be a regular occurrence, but it may be something I play with when I’ve got something to say that’s important, either from a publicity perspective, or from a “this is important to me personally” perspective.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog at StevenHWilson.com, then this week you’re also reading the script for my weekly podcast. (And you can hear my reading, as well, here!) If you’re a regular listener to my podcast, that is the Prometheus Radio Theatre podcast, then this week you’re listening to my blog. Again, not a permanent change. Next week my listeners will hear the next chapter of Phil Giunta’s wonderfully scary novel By Your Side, and my readers will hear about Lara Parker’s wonderful expansion of the Dark Shadows mythos, Wolf Moon Rising. But this week, and now and then in the future, both groups will receive the same message. Continue reading
I haven’t been to a con on Farpoint’s old weekend (Columbus Day, politically incorrect as it now is) since, well… Farpoint 2000. People still complain that Farpoint made the choice to move from October to February, but, well, if we moved back now we’d be against Capclave. And that would be a shame, because Capclave is not a con I’d want to miss, or hold a con up against. It’s not a huge con, just as Farpoint isn’t. It is, like Balticon, a literary SF con, sponsored by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). The program was chock-full, with six tracks running until midnight Friday and Saturday, and I was kept quite busy throughout, which is how I like it.
Explicit Language Warning!
Yeah, that’s my second warning in as many weeks, isn’t it? Of course, you only know that if you’re still here after last week, right? Are you still here? I promise, this time out, not to say anything that will offend the sensibilities of my left-wing readers. Oh, except this observation: Miley Cyrus is a lot prettier when she’s trying to look like Michele Bachman than she is the rest of the time these days. There. That’s done. You’re safe now. On with the show. Which may offend the sensibilities of everyone not offended last week.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an actor I admire a lot, ever since I first saw him play David Collins in Dan Curtis’s 1991 primetime remake of Dark Shadows. He’s one of the most talented performers of his generation, taking on roles that are sometimes provocative, sometimes downright bizarre, but, even when he’s doing a comedy like 3rd Rock from the Sun or a blockbuster like The Dark Knight Rises, never pedestrian.
Recently, he broadened his career horizons by making his debut as a writer-director with Don Jon, a film in which he also starred. This film is laugh-out-loud funny, insightful and daring. I recommend it wholeheartedly… but… It may make you uncomfortable. It is very, very explicit. The opening line, narrated by Gordon-Levitt as Don Jon, contains the f-word and describes the state of his genitalia. It gets more explicit from there. So be warned. It made a lot of viewers in the theater where I saw it uncomfortable, even as they enjoyed it. Continue reading
I’m currently re-visiting an old favorite, untouched on my shelf since I received it as a Christmas gift the year it was published, 1983. The Robots of Dawn is a sequel to The Caves of Steel, which I’ve reviewed previously, and The Naked Sun. These are the first three of Isaac Asimov’s “robot novels,” which eventually became precursors to his more famous Foundation series. This particular novel was written some 25 years after the books it sequelizes. Times had become more liberal, allowing Asimov to openly discuss topics in human-robot interactions that he hadn’t been able to visit within the confines of 1950s SF. Specifically, The Robots of Dawn prominently features the complications which result when a human woman marries a robot. Lots of author before had probably speculated on robot sex, and many have since; but this was speculation on robot sex by the master of the robot story. Continue reading