Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Quote of the Day (P. G. Wodehouse, on a Man With a VERY Unpleasant Experience)

“He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life, and found a dead beetle at the bottom.” — English humorist P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), The Man Upstairs and Other Stories (1914)

Monday, May 30, 2022

Quote of the Day (Ambrose Bierce, on Dying Civil War Soldiers Reaching for a Last Drink of Water)

“Possibly his impressionable mind was half conscious of something familiar in its [an unfamiliar form] shambling, awkward gait. Before it had approached near enough to resolve his doubts he saw that it was followed by another and another. To right and to left were many more; the whole open space about him were alive with them--all moving toward the brook.

“They were men. They crept upon their hands and knees. They used their hands only, dragging their legs. They used their knees only, their arms hanging idle at their sides. They strove to rise to their feet, but fell prone in the attempt. They did nothing naturally, and nothing alike, save only to advance foot by foot in the same direction. Singly, in pairs and in little groups, they came on through the gloom, some halting now and again while others crept slowly past them, then resuming their movement. They came by dozens and by hundreds; as far on either hand as one could see in the deepening gloom they extended and the black wood behind them appeared to be inexhaustible. The very ground seemed in motion toward the creek. Occasionally one who had paused did not again go on, but lay motionless. He was dead. Some, pausing, made strange gestures with their hands, erected their arms and lowered them again, clasped their heads; spread their palms upward, as men are sometimes seen to do in public prayer.”—Civil war soldier (and later journalist-satirist) Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?), “Chickamauga,” in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians: And Other Stories (1891)

Memorial Day originated in the wake of the Civil War. Just how harrowing the conflict was can be glimpsed through the life and work of a Union soldier who went on to win considerable fame—and, because of his mysterious disappearance a half-century later, just as much notoriety—as a writer: Ambrose Bierce.

Bierce felt that a noncombatant simply couldn’t understand what a veteran had experienced on the battlefront. Nevertheless, whether through a sense that he ought to bridge this gulf in comprehension or as an exorcism of the torment he had experienced, he wrote a collection of stories based on what he’d seen, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians.

Trained as a topographical engineer, Bierce missed few if any details about landscapes and spaces, as seen here. I have not been able to find as many photographs in the “Western theater” of the conflict (where Chickamauga—the second-bloodiest battle of the whole war—took place) as battles in the East such as Antietam and Gettysburg. Bierce’s verbal account, then, will have to stand for the images that never were visually recorded and sold, but continued to haunt survivors for the rest of their lives.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Alexander Pope, on God’s Absolution and ‘This Eternal Sleep’)

“All is calm in this eternal sleep;
Here grief forgets to groan, and love to weep,
Ev’n superstition loses ev’ry fear:
For God, not man, absolves our frailties here.”— English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), “Eloisa to Abelard” (1717)

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Quote of the Day (Ray Davies, on Rock ‘n’ Roll in a ‘Gone to the Catskills' Transition)

“A certain element of rock is over, but I don’t think it’ll ever be dead. As long as there’s a kid on the street with a guitar who wants to make a noise, rock will be alive somewhere. Stadium rock, yes, I think that is over. Rock and roll’s going to a period of transition. It’s just gone to the Catskills. It’ll come back.” —English rock ‘n’ roll singer-songwriter Ray Davies (pictured here at left, with his former—maybe future?—band, The Kinks), interviewed by Andy Greene, in “The Last Word: Ray Davies,” Rolling Stone, Apr. 6, 2017

The Catskills...Hmmm...If what Davies has in mind is East Durham, then rock 'n' roll's in quite a "period of transition"—and may emerge with an Irish brogue!

Friday, May 27, 2022

Quote of the Day (Mark Twain, on the Lack of Weather in One of His Books)

“No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood. Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. Nothing breaks up an author's progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of weather are bad for both reader and author.”—American novelist and humorist Mark Twain (1835-1910), The American Claimant (1892)

This weekend, my area of northern New Jersey is slated to have a spell of nasty weather. For all of Twain’s commendable attempt to avoid literary cliches by not writing about weather in his books, I suspect he would have been almost totally unable to maintain that resolution during these days of climate change!

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Quote of the Day (Terence, on a Playwright’s Disasters in Ancient Rome)

“Now for my sake give a fair hearing to my plea. Once more I am presenting The Mother-in-Law, a play for which I have never been able to gain a hearing uninterrupted, so much has misfortune dogged its progress….When I tried to produce it the first time, the report of boxers (joined to the belief that a tight-rope walker would appear), the throng of their admirers, the shouting, and women’s screaming forced me off stage before the end. I then decided to employ my usual approach on the new play and try it out again; I put it on a second time. The first act was going well when news arrived that there was to be a gladiator’s show. In surged the people, pushing, shouting, jostling for a place, leaving me powerless to hold my own.”—Ancient Roman playwright Terence (c. 186-159 BC), “The Mother-in-Law,” in The Comedies, translated by Betty Radice (1965)

And the creators of modern theater—an anxious crew depicted in the Michael Frayn farce Noises Off—think they have it bad!

(The image accompanying this post, a Roman mosaic, depicts actors and a musician. It comes from “The House of the Tragic Poet” in Pompeii.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Quote of the Day (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, on the Perilous ‘Dreamful Ease’ of Languishing)

“Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.” —English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), “The Lotos-Eaters” (1832)
This poem, inspired by an episode from Homer’s Odyssey, came to my attention through an article last year by The Wall Street Journal’s Barton Swaim. The piece likened the situation of Odysseus and his men to the phenomenon of “languishing” experienced by so many during COVID-19.
The metaphor may have seemed appealing at first glance, with its sense of losing a purpose-driven life. But the strange creatures that Odysseus encounters were slothful and blissed-out from consuming narcotic-like fruits and flowers—more like the hippies of the ancient world—rather than the anxious people working at their computers over the past two years.
Moreover, Odysseus’ purpose was to get home, to Ithaca; the purpose of the COVID-anxious population since the start of the pandemic has been to stay home, until the danger abates.
One year after Swaim’s article, the United States is at a different stage of the pandemic, with many having returned to offices. But the life many of us remembered no longer exists, any more than Odysseus' circumstances did after 20 years away from Ithaca.

Last year, psychologists and economists hoped that, with the development of vaccines, Americans could progress from “languishing” to “flourishing.” But that has not quite come to pass.
And who knows? Despite the protests of politicians like New York Mayor Eric Adams, some restrictions from the first year and a half of COVID-19 might be put in place again, if the current surge continues. 

In that case, a different poetic metaphor for our time will need to be found—one that takes full account of the “dreadful past” that Tennyson, at this early stage of his career, so marvelously evoked.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Quote of the Day (Leslie Jamison, on Empathy as a Choice)

“Empathy isn't just something that happens to us - a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain - it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.” — American novelist and essayst Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014)

(The accompanying photo of Leslie Jamison was taken at the 2014 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, on Oct. 24, 2014, by Larry D. Moore.)

Monday, May 23, 2022

Movie Quote of the Day (The Three Stooges, in a Typical Moment)

Moe [played by Moe Howard]: “Now then, gentlemen: Remember your etiquette.”

[Slaps Larry and Curly]

Larry [played by Larry Fine]: “What's that for?”

Curly [played by Moe Howard]: “We didn't do nothin'!”

Moe: “That's in case you do when I'm not around.”— Hoi Polloi (1935 short starring The Three Stooges), screenplay by Felix Adler, based on a story by Adler and Helen Howard, directed by Del Lord

Moe Howard: The guy who truly put the "slap" in "slapstick."

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Soren Kierkegaard, on Human and Divine Justice)

“Human justice is very prolix, and yet at times quite mediocre; divine justice is more concise and needs no information from the prosecution, no legal papers, no interrogation of witnesses, but makes the guilty one his own informer and helps him with eternity’s memory.” — Danish Christian theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), “Against Cowardliness,” in Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses (1843)

Saturday, May 21, 2022

This Day in Film History (John Garfield Dies, KO’d by Blacklist)

May 21, 1952—No longer able to land a film role in Hollywood despite box-office success for the prior 13 years, back in the New York theater scene close to his heart, John Garfield died at age 39 of a heart attack.

Assigning causes of death can be difficult, and in Garfield’s case it was certainly problematic: 

*Did he die as a result of the rheumatic fever he had contracted almost 20 years before, maybe worsened by his smoking habit? 

*Had the middle-aged star absorbed more punishment than he could stand in an attempt to portray a young boxer in a revival of the Clifford Odets drama Golden Boy

*Had his coronary incident occurred during a romantic interlude with the female friend he was visiting at the time of his death, as some salacious gossips had it?

But there is another factor that underlies all of these theories: the stress of lingering questions about alleged Communist associations that, after nine years, had resulted in his blacklisting from Hollywood.

In perhaps his signature movie role, as an ambitious boxer struggling to win a title and maintain his integrity in Body and Soul, Garfield received his second Oscar nomination. When he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951, he found himself in the uncomfortable position of life imitating art.

Like his character Charlie Davis, Garfield was reluctant to give up the position in his profession he had worked so intensely to achieve, including creature comforts. Like Davis, he did his share of bobbing and weaving when faced with his moral dilemma, including releasing a ghostwritten article for Look Magazine, “I Was a Sucker for a Left Hook,” claiming he had been duped by Communist ideology, in a futile try at compromising with investigators.

But in the end, again like Davis, he found one demand too many to stomach, in this case violating the moral code of the Lower East Side and the Bronx of his childhood: Don’t be a snitch. His bottom line was that he refused to name names.

It may be so hard to assess all that Garfield lost by making his stand because we have lost a sense of his place in movie history. He opened doors to others (Ben Gazzara cited him, in an interview with Lillian and Helen Ross in The Player: A Profile of an Art, "the first actor I had seen in the movies who felt close enough to my own life to be reachable"), but at the same time his reputation was so Himalayan that it could intimidate those who hoped to follow. (For the same book, Kim Hunter recalled how, in rehearsals for A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon  Brando kept saying, "They should have got John  Garfield for Stanley, not me; Garfield was right for the part, not me.")

*He was the first film “Method Actor”. Before Brando, Clift and James Dean became famous for using this naturalistic style of portraying characters, Garfield got there first.  He learned it originally as a member of the ensemble Group Theatre in New York, then brought the style to Hollywood. As author Isaac Butler described it in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Garfield made a crucial adaptation for his first film, Four Daughters in 1938: “He couldn't just do a stage performance on camera. If you've ever seen someone just give a stage-size performance on camera, it's really too much because the camera picks up so much that an audience at the theater will not see. It can really see you think or people talk about it reading your mind. ... So he really had to learn how to do much less and much less and much less, and to strip away and to learn how to perform with a new kind of ease and spontaneity that the camera would kind of pick up and enjoy.”

*He was "the first Jewish film sex symbol," according to Gil Troy's 2018 "Daily Beast" article. The actor’s given name was Jacob Julius Garfinkle, but his friends nicknamed him “Julie.” He was more than handsome; his intensity gave a palpable erotic surge to his scenes with Lana Turner, for instance, in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

*He was crucial in the development of film noir. Other actors—Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum come to mind—are more indelibly associated with the genre. But Garfield not only brought a rebellious persona, but also what TCM “Noir Alley” host Eddie Muller called, in Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, “a fiery desire to Make a Difference,” leading to “a caravan of writers, directors, and actors from the New York stage.”

*He pioneered the movement of movie stars into independent production. So chafing at the largely “B” movies to which he was relegated at Warner Brothers that he was suspended 11 times during his nine years at the studio, Garfield started his own production company, Enterprise Studios. A decade later, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas would follow suit with their own companies.

Ironically, the creative freedom that Garfield won through this daring move also helped lead to his blacklisting, according to his daughter Julie in this YouTube clip.  Hollywood studios resented the challenge to their ironclad control that his new venture represented. When HUAC approached them, looking for a liberal Jewish star that they could make an example of, they had three men in mind: Edward G. Robinson, Danny Kaye, and Garfield. Now on his own, Garfield had the least protection.

The actor had first appeared on a list of names of Hollywood actors with suspicious associations in the early 1940s, but within a few years—especially through the attention of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover—he came under heightened scrutiny. Garfield was not and had never been a Communist, but he knew people who were: his associates at the Group Theatre and his wife Roberta Seidman.

Additionally, Garfield was vulnerable because of his habit of signing petitions and joining organizations without questioning who might be behind them. A self-described "Democratic liberal," he did it all "without giving it a second thought, almost as if he were autographing for a friend," observed Robert Nott, author of a 2003 biography of the actor, He Ran All the Way.

Eventually Garfield’s phone would be tapped and he would be subjected to surveillance—even when he went to Harlem to visit his dying friend, blacklisted actor Canada Lee. He told HUAC that he would gladly testify about himself but not his wife or his friends. Though he thought this deal had gotten him through his trouble, he learned that HUAC investigators were poring over his testimony for possible perjury charges.

At this point, he was brought into an FBI office and told that the agency already had paperwork showing his wife’s membership in the party, so all he had to do was confirm it and he would be cleared. Instead, he told them what they could do in unprintable terms and walked out.

Altogether, Garfield went 18 months without work. Under the strain of the investigation, he drank more heavily and separated from his wife.

On the day of Garfield’s death, his friend, playwright Clifford Odets, confirmed, in his own HUAC testimony, what the committee knew already: that the actor had never been a Communist.

Garfield's penultimate screen appearance was in The Breaking Point, a Warner Brothers adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. Like a Hemingway hero, Garfield was, in the end, a proud loser, someone willing to experience grievous sacrifice--even the loss of his life--rather than break with the code by which he lived. 

You can sense something of this bloodied yet unbowed attitude in this still from Body and Soul. He didn't have a chance to make enough such classics (his early death precluded him from the chance to make On the Waterfront and The Man With the Golden Arm), but he put all of himself into his work, and film watchers discovering his less-famous films for the first time are in for a treat.

Quote of the Day (Helen Lawrenson, on the Unheralded Merchant Seamen of WWII)

“There is no doubt about it, the merchant seamen took it on the chin during the first half of this year —with no guns, no patrols, antiquated lifebelts, and practically no safety precautions. They were sent out as helpless targets for the subs; but their morale was as magnificent as it was unheralded. That precautions are now being taken to protect them doesn't detract from their courage….

“Those who have been torpedoed and rescued ship right out again as soon as they can get out of the hospital.  That takes plenty of nerve, but the merchant seamen have it. They don't get much publicity, and you seldom hear anyone making speeches about them. They don't get free passes to the theater or the movies, and no one gives dances for them, with pretty young actresses and debutantes to entertain them. No one ever thinks much about their "morale" or how to keep it up.  It was only recently that a bill was passed to give them medals.  And because they wear no uniforms they don't even have the satisfaction of having people in the streets and subways look at them with respect when they go by.”— American editor, writer and socialite Helen Lawrenson (1907-1982), “ ‘Damn the Torpedoes!’”, originally published in Harper’s Magazine, July 1942, reprinted in Reporting World War II: Part One: American Journalism, 1938-1944 (Library of America anthology, 1994)

Perhaps because of husband Jack Lawrenson, the charismatic co-founder and leader of the National Maritime Union, Helen Lawrenson—previously known for her writing about New York society in the 1930s—wrote with marvelous empathy for the sacrifices and heroism of the American merchant marine in WWII.

At the time Lawrenson reported on these sailors for Harper’s in May 1942, U.S. merchant vessels had, through the first four months of the year, endured more than 100 attacks by German U-boats off American coasts. Nearly 1,000 seamen were killed during this time. Even after precautions were finally taken, an average of five or six of these boats were sunk in April alone.

The image accompanying this post—a recruitment poster from 1944—illustrates these men’s grim determination in the face of all hazards.

Much has been written over the years about the “The Greatest Generation” who served in the armed forces during WWII, and I hope to blog more about them myself in the future.

But the merchant seamen in the war faced their own perils in hauling vital cargo in the conflict, and for years their bravery went comparatively unrecognized (the likes of Lawrenson excepted).

Estimates for the number of these men who lost their lives in the war ranged from 6,000 to 9,000, and the survivors of these attacks would not soon forget the fire, explosions, runs for their lives, circling sharks, and floating in open water after their boats were hit.

They couldn’t forget all that—and neither should we. While Lawrenson’s article gives an excellent contemporary account of their dangers and courage, William Geroux’s May 2016 piece for Smithsonian Magazine offers a longer-term perspective on what we owe them.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Quote of the Day (Dashiell Hammett, on a Curious Episode in His Time as a Pinkerton Detective)

“The chief of police of a Southern city once gave me a description of a man, complete even to the mole on his neck, but neglected to mention that he had only one arm.”—American crime novelist and former Pinkerton operative Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), “From the Memoirs of a Private Detective,” originally published in The Smart Set, March 1923, reprinted in Dashiell Hammett: Crime Stories and Other Writings (Library of America anthology, 2001)

TV Quote of the Day (‘Modern Family,’ As Jay Makes a Logical Deduction About a Case of Exhaustion)

Manny Delgado [played by Rico Rodriguez]: “For whatever it's worth, my eyes have stopped itching, I can taste my food, and I have a lot more energy.”

Jay Pritchett [played by Ed O'Neill]: “You took a three-hour nap yesterday!”

Manny: “I was tired from the marathon.”

Jay: “The Downton Abbey marathon?” — Modern Family, Season 6, Episode 13, “Rash Decisions,” original air date Feb. 4, 2015, teleplay by Daisy Gardner, directed by James Alan Hensz

Off and on for the first half-century of its existence, I have been something of an aficionado of Masterpiece (or, as it known earlier in its younger days, Masterpiece Theatre). By my count, I’ve taken in about 30 different mini-series under the umbrella of the British import—not just acclaimed entries like The Jewel in the Crown, Prime Suspect, and The Forsyte Saga, but even the likes of Strangers and Brothers, The First Churchills and The Last of the Mohicans. 

But Downton Abbey? I’ve seen only about three episodes from its first season. It wasn’t that I hated it, mind you. But it was never really “appointment TV” for me.

And so, while the Crawleys became something of a cash cow for the PBS system, tried out almost as much as those musical specials for nostalgic baby boomers during those fundraising marathons, I’ve been largely content to sit on the sidelines.

That’s been nothing like the case for a pair of male relatives of mine. While I, comparatively speaking, have watched everything on Masterpiece but Downton Abbey, they have watched nothing but that show. The wonder of it is that these guys normally are neither Anglophiles nor culture vultures, but more than happy to spend several hours a night watching one sports event or other.

It was a sad day indeed in those two households when those relatives and their wives watched the last of the original 52 episodes of the show after six seasons. Then came the movie version in 2019, and—wouldn’t you know it?—they were among its troop of fans out for opening weekend.

This weekend, when each of these relatives will be otherwise engaged, that won’t be quite the case with the premiere of Downtown Abbey: A New Era. But you can take it to the bank that the first chance they get, they’re going to catch up to the latest adventures of the Earl of Grantham, Lady Cora and Crew.

And, beyond that, the next time there’s a PBS Downton Abbey marathon, they’ll be taking it very seriously indeed, unlike Modern Family’s Jay.

(For those of my readers who can’t get enough of the show, you’ll want to check out the Downtown Abbey Online blog.)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Quote of the World (Derek Walcott, on the Poet Falling ‘In Love With the World, In Spite of History’)


“For every poet it is always morning in the world. History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.”— Saint Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott (1930-2017), “Nobel Prize Lecture,” December 7, 1992

(Picture of Derek Walcott taken at his honorary dinner, Amsterdam, May 20, 2008; permission is granted by Michiel van Kempen, secretary and treasurer of the Werkgroep Caraibische Letteren, The Netherlands; by courtesy of the photographer Bert Nienhuis.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Quote of the Day (W.H. Auden, on May)

“May with its light behaving
Stirs vessel, eye and limb,
The singular and sad
Are willing to recover,
And to each swan-delighting river
The careless picnics come
In living white and red.”—English poet, playwright and critic W.H. Auden (1907-1973), “May,” originally published in 1934, reprinted in Collected Poems of W.H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson (1991)
I took the image accompanying this post in May 2014, at New York’s Central Park.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Quote of the Day (Jorie Graham, on Missed Warnings of Climate Change)

“It was time
she said, to move on, her gaze
looking out at the avenues and smaller streets,
at the silk dresses on the mannequins in
storefronts, all of them, across the
planet, the verandas poking out under the
hemlocks, violin strings crossing from
one century to another, although now I could hear they were
sirens all along,
invisible and desperate the warnings
in their rise and fall.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham, “Time Frame,” London Review of Books, Apr. 21, 2022
The image accompanying this post shows Jorie Graham at a poetry reading at the Library of Congress, Dec. 6, 2007.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Quote of the Day (Joe Queenan, on a Technology Nightmare)

“Here’s another nightmare scenario: the ‘Internet of Things’ has all your music linked from a server in the basement to a single upstairs remote control that connects to the home-entertainment unit. Suddenly your audio system won't play anything but Il Divo. U2 is gone. Sinatra is gone. Brad Paisley is gone—and he took Miranda Lambert with him! Even the original-cast soundtrack from ‘Mamma Mia’ is gone. It's Il Divo, Il Divo, Il Divo, 24 hours a day. And you don't even own any Il Divo recordings.” — Humor columnist Joe Queenan, “Moving Targets: When the ‘Internet of Things’ Attacks,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2014

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (George Herbert, on Writing, Gardens and God)

“And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
            I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O, my onely Light,
                        It cannot be
                        That I am he
            On whom Thy tempests fell all night.
            These are Thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flow’rs that glide;
            Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us where to bide.
                        Who would be more,
                        Swelling through store,
            Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.” —English poet and Anglican minister George Herbert (1593-1633), “The Flower,” in The Poems of George Herbert, edited by Ernest Rhys (1885)

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Quote of the Day (Nigel Andrews, on ‘Nosferatu,’ ‘The Masterpiece of Broad-Daylight Horror’)

“It's a masterpiece, the masterpiece of broad-daylight horror….The film’s poetry of terror comes from real locations, mainly shot in daytime.

“Cityscapes: the unforgettable hollow-eyed tenement building (filmed in Lübeck) in which the vampire finds his last-act townhouse. Nature: dark mountains and bristling forests. Castles: the stone arches and beetling walls of Nosferatu’s Carpathian home. Those arches become a master-touch. In shot after shot, Max Schreck’s hideous Count, dressed to kill and made up likewise, emerges from the inverted U of dark tunnels or from frame-fitting gothic doorways, like a creature serially birthed or rebirthed from vertical coffin-wombs.”—Nigel Andrews, “‘Nosferatu’ at 100: Why the Vampire MovieMasterpiece Still Has Bite,” The Financial Times, Apr. 5, 2022

Much like the monster it depicts, the German silent film Nosferatu has managed to live on despite a sustained effort to kill it. It represented such a naked case of plagiarizing Dracula that the widow of novelist Bram Stoker won a copyright infringement lawsuit, and almost succeeded in destroying all known prints of it.

But one print made it out—to the United States, where it was already in the public domain and, thus, beyond the ability of any court to destroy. Copies were subsequently made from that single print, and it has since been studied in film school—and appreciated by horror fans—the world over.

(For a useful short history of this lawsuit and its aftermath, see Jonathan Bailey’s 2011 post from the “Plagiarism Today” blog.)

In 1979, Klaus Kinski, spending four hours a day in makeup, played “Count Orlok” in Werner Herzog’s sound/color version of the film. But it can’t exceed in influence F.W. Murnau’s silent classic, whose use of shadows and stark black and white became synonymous with German Expressionism.

Even this remake wasn’t the end of the rat-like Count Orlok. Screenwriter Daniel Waters and director Tim Burton alluded to the old masterpiece by bestowing the name “Max Schreck” on the ruthless business mogul who aids the Penguin in Batman Returns.

In 2000, Willem Defoe played Schreck in an Oscar-nominated performance in Shadow of the Vampire. Written by Steven Katz and directed by E. Elias Merhige, the film offers a different kind of alternative history: what would have happened if the silent version’s director, F.W. Murnau, in an attempt at utmost realism, had cast a real vampire, Schreck, as the Count, then had to race to complete the movie before the actor consumed the entire cast and crew.

Films of the original will not only appreciate the recreation of iconic moments, but also many droll bits of dialogue, as when Murnau, introducing Schreck to everyone on the set, speaks of his “somewhat…unconventional” method of acting, or when the director, objecting to his star’s feasting on another actor, asks why he couldn’t have gone after the script girl. “I’ll eat her later,” Schreck responds.

Friday, May 13, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘Veep,’ As an Aide Unloads On Her Precedent-Setting Oval Office Boss)

“I have bitten my tongue so long, it looks like a dog's cushion. But no more! You have made it impossible to do this job. You have two settings, no decision and bad decision. I wouldn’t let you run a bath without having the Coast Guard and Fire Department standing by. But yet, here you are running America. You are the worst thing that has happened to this country since food in buckets and maybe slavery. I've had enough. I'm gone.”—Vice Presidential (and Presidential!) chief of staff Amy Brookheimer [played by Anna Chlumsky], to boss Selina Meyer, in Veep, Season 4, Episode 5, “Convention,” original air date May 10, 2015, teleplay by Sean Gray and David Quantick, directed by Stephanie Laing

Staff alumni of VPs and Presidents from both parties, I’m sure, watched Veep over the years with their fair share of chuckles over the futility and humiliations experienced by their former bosses—or, at times, the ridicule that those spin-obsessed bosses brought on themselves.

But I would have to think that aides of Kamala Harris identified even more strongly with what they saw on the cable comedy.

In a real-life case of life imitating art imitating life, Harris’ chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, is taking a page out of frazzled and enraged Amy Brookheimer’s playbook by getting out while the going is good—though, perhaps, not with the heap of vituperation unleashed at Selina Meyer.

Ms. Harris undoubtedly feels aggrieved over the media’s rough treatment over all her aides heading for the exits. (Not a good look for her management skills, should she ever attain the top office.)

But she is lucky, in turn, to have a boss who’s not only been through some of what she’s experienced (not, of course, as a female veep), but—unlike others who’ve been in his place, like Richard Nixon—is uncommonly tolerant of mistakes. (Perhaps because he himself has made his fair share of them.)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Quote of the Day (Jonathan Franzen, on ‘The Dream of Limitless Freedom’)

“The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.” —American novelist Jonathan Franzen, Freedom: A Novel (2010)

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Quote of the Day (Bernard Bailyn, on History as a Craft)

“History, never a science, sometimes an art, is essentially a craft.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Bernard Bailyn (1922-2020), Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades (2020)

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Quote of the Day (Colin Barrett, on a Would-Be Poet)

"Bobby Tallis possessed the drainpipe physique, knee-length mackintosh, and balefully frail demeanour of a poet, or so he believed...as he pursued a lavishly wayward course...One hand broodingly ensconced within a pocket, Bobby smoked as he walked."—Irish fiction writer Colin Barrett, “Anhedonia, Here I Come,” originally printed in The New Yorker, April 18, 2016, then reprinted in Homesickness (2022)

Monday, May 9, 2022

Quote of the Day (Kurt Luchs, With a Backhanded Job Recommendation)

“Kurt's influence on everyone in our company was so extensive that there are still employees who won't start their cars without checking under the hood first. You ask how and why Kurt left our company. Unfortunately, a court order prevents me from sharing all the details. But I can say in perfect candor that I heartily recommend Kurt as a resourceful and indefatigable addition to some other firm—any other firm.”— American humorist and poet Kurt Luchs, “Letter of Recommendation,” The New Yorker, Mar. 22, 1999 issue

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Charles Peguy, On God the Father Viewing the World)

“Just as the wake of a beautiful ship grows wider and wider until it
    disappears and loses itself,
But begins with a point, which is the point of the ship itself....
So the huge wake of sinners grows wider and wider until it disappears
    and loses itself....
It begins with a point, which is the point of the ship itself.
And the ship is my own son, laden with all the sins of the world.
And the point of the ship is the two joined hands of my son.
And before the look of my anger and the look of my justice
They have all hidden behind him.
And all of that huge cortege of prayers, all of that huge wake grows
    wider and wider until it disappears and loses itself.
But it begins with a point and it is that point which is turned towards
Which advances towards me.
And that point is those three or four words: Our Father who art in
    Heaven; verily my son knew what he was doing.”— French poet, essayist, and editor Charles Peguy (1873-1914), “I Am Their Father, Says God,” in Mysteries, translated by Julian Green

Saturday, May 7, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘Game of Thrones,’ In Which Olenna Takes the Measure of Cirsei)

"I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met. At a certain age, it’s hard to recall, but the truly vile do stand out through the years." — Queen of Thorns Olenna Tyrell (played by Diana Rigg), to Cirsei Lannister, in Game of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man,” original air date June 5, 2016, teleplay by Bryan Cogman, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire," directed by directed by Mark Mylod

Friday, May 6, 2022

Quote of the Day (John Gapper, on a Crucial Event in ‘Carbon Lock-In’)

“There was a period in the early 20th century when electric (or steam) batteries nearly emerged as the dominant form of propulsion for cars, before the gasoline-powered combustion engine triumphed.

“We are still trying to overcome the destructive environmental impact of this historic event, although improvements in battery technology, regulatory initiatives and changes in consumer preferences are progressing. It’s a great example of what’s known as carbon lock-in – the entrenchment of carbon-emitting industries and technologies in everyday life.”— Business columnist John Gapper, “Debit Cards, Electric Cars and Ghosts of the Technological Past,” The Financial Times, Jan 22-23, 2022

The image accompanying this post, of John Gapper, was taken Oct. 15, 2010, by The Financial Times.

TV Quote of the Day (‘Yes, Minister,’ on How A Political Rival Succeeds)

[James Hacker is discussing a British cabinet rival with his wife Annie.]

James Hacker [played by Paul Eddington]: “Don't forget, there's Basil Corbett. He's still out to get me.”

Annie Hacker [played by Diana Hoddinott]: “Oh, he's out to get everyone.”

James: “He's a smooth-tongued, hardnosed, cold-eyed, two-faced creep.”

Annie: “Why is he so successful?”

James: “Because he's a smooth-tongued, hardnosed, cold-eyed, two-faced creep.” — Yes, Minister, Season 2, Episode 5, “The Devil You Know,” original air date Mar. 23, 1981, teleplay by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, directed by Peter Whitmore (uncredited)

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Quote of the Day (Sir Winston Churchill, on How ‘All the Great Things Are Simple’)

"All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honor; duty; mercy; hope."— British Prime Minister and Nobel Literature laureate Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), “On a United Europe,” speech at the Albert Hall, London, UK, May 14, 1947

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Quote of the Day (Adam McKay, on Why ‘Politics’ Is a Misused Word)

“I think ‘politics’ is a misused word. Like the language that Wall Street used around subprime, there's an agenda to convince people this stuff is boring, they don't need to pay attention. We should call it ‘power.’” —Screenwriter-director Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice), quoted in Danny Leigh, “Without President,” The Financial Times, Jan. 12-13, 2019

The image accompanying this post shows Adam McKay at the 2019 Berlinale (i.e., the Berlin International Film Festival), was taken Feb. 11, 2019, by Harald Krichel.