The Audacity of Lope

I have put off writing about Fuente Ovejuna for so long that I may have to read it again—not an unpleasant thought. Until then, Lope de Vega is not far from my mind. I was checking out my Google Analytics and just by chance, I came upon this great image under the heading, The Audacity of Lope:

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Brilliant. I wish I were that clever.


The image was created and posted by Javier Candeira.

RIP: Mr. Bunny Rabbit

Captain KangarooI was looking up “French antique folding chairs” when I came upon the picture on the left of Captain Kangaroo. It was from a blog post from 23 January 2004, the day that Bob Keeshan (AKA Captain Kangaroo) died. The picture caught my eye not because of the Captain but because of the little guy he’s holding: Mr. Bunny Rabbit.

It is a sad statement that Marcel Proust warned us about, coming up on 100 years ago: we lose the past. And something I had lost but regained from the picture is the memory that Mr. Bunny Rabbit wore horn-rimmed glasses. I guess the idea was that he was farsighted. In reality, there were no lenses in the glasses, so I think it was a fashion statement.

What I did not forget was all the larceny that Bunny Rabbit committed. Carrots were not safe around him. Whether via the con or the sneak, carrots would soon be his.

Thus, the first thing I created in the “Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour” was Wordsworth—a carrot-stealing, rabbit hand-puppet who is an homage to Mr. Bunny Rabbit. Of course, he’s more well-rounded than Bunny Rabbit; he also writes poems, because he’s the reincarnation of his namesake. Because it’s written by me.

When I was a kid, I hated Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood because the puppets were awful. And I was none too keen on Captain Kangaroo, because I only liked Mr. Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose. Unfortunately, they were on screen too little of the time. I don’t require much: hand puppets without wooden heads. If only I ran a studio, the world would be a brighter place.

We’ll always have Bunny Rabbit. We didn’t have—we lost him until finding that picture. Next 23 January, buy a carrot for Mr. Bunny Rabbit.

A Good Cry

This is the sort of thing that commonly makes me burst into tears. Not because it is awful. It is actually kind of sweet:

I don’t understand what this guy thought he was doing. He wanted to protect the children from multiculturalism by killing them? Sixty-nine of them? Anders Behring Breivik[1] really deserves terrible punishment. I don’t believe in murder, so that’s out. Anyway, I don’t want to turn this guy into a martyr for proto-fascism. And torture is out. But life in prison with only bread and water doesn’t sound too harsh.

[1] Why do we always give the full names of murderers? It is because the media do not want there to be any mix-ups. I would be very unhappy if a guy named Frank Henry Moraes killed a bunch of people and the press referred to him as “Frank Moraes.” Apparently, this rule does not apply when you have the same first and last name: Sirhan Sirhan.

Something Went Wrong For Fay Wray

Fay WrayThe other day, I was over at Big Lots and I noticed they had the 3 disc King Kong Deluxe Extended Edition for $3. This is the most recent remake of the classic, released in 2005, directed by Peter Jackson. I really like this film. Of the three versions, it is by far the best. The original is quite good, but the subplots are weak, the portrayal of the natives is racist, and Kong is kind of dorky. Still, I own it. The 1976, John Guillermin, remake is an embarrassment. (It still seems strange to me that when people talk about bad films they turn to interesting low-budget films like Plan 9 From Outer Space rather than terrible big-budget films like Jeff Bridges in Kong.) Even though I already own the original release of Jackson’s Kong, I bought the Deluxe Extended Edition.

The best thing about this film is that Kong becomes a real character. Despite 43 years of technical innovations, the Kong in the 1976 version was no more real than the stop-motion original. In fact, what I hate most about the film (but there is a lot of competition) is the stupid, static look pasted on Kong’s face whenever he looked at Dwan (the Ann Darrow character in the other films). In Jackson’s version of the film, Kong is a real character who interacts seamlessly with Ann Darrow. In the other versions, it is hard to care too much about the obviously fake creature. Kong’s death in this version, however, is heartbreaking. I could say much else about this film: the script is great; the casting is perfect; and all the other things I usually gush about.

The Deluxe Extended Edition contains the film with 13 extra minutes. These are all in the second half of the film and are no big deal. On the first film disc is 38 minutes of deleted scenes. These are a big deal. They take an already rich story and expand it. It isn’t surprising that I would think this, however; most of these scenes are from the voyage to Skull Island, which is my favorite part of the film.

The third disc of the set is basically one long documentary. It is interesting and certainly worth the $3, but I could have lived without it. There was one really great part of it, however. Naomi Watts, who plays Ann Darrow, met with Fay Wray, who played her in the original. I’ve never thought much about her; I don’t think I’ve seen any other of her 100+ films. Unfortunately, she died right before they started principle photography on the film. She was 96. You would think if she’d hung on all that time, she could have managed another year. Sad.

Actually, when I think of Fay Wray, I don’t think of King Kong—at least not directly; I think of this:

Peter Bogdanovich once said to Orson Welles that he loved Marlene Dietrich, but that it was a shame she only ever made two really great films. “Well,” replied Welles, “You only need one.” As much as I like this remake of King Kong, the original is still the classic. And it is Fay Wray, and not Naomi Watts, who is immortal.

Wally, Andre, and the Waiter

My Dinner With AndreWhen I was 18, my girlfriend and I went to see My Dinner With Andre at the Plaza Theater in Petaluma. We were, to put it mildly, pretentious young intellectuals. After the film, we went to a restaurant and ordered french fries that we tried to “really taste.” If I weren’t involved in the memory, I would find it charming. But I am involved, and I find it at least a little embarrassing.

Thus it was with some glee that I approached watching this film 30 years later. Before, I found Wally to be a pathetic character, deserving of equal doses of pity and scorn. In contrast, Andre was an admirable man tackling tough questions with as much success as anyone could hope from. Now, I expected to find Andre a pretentious bore and Wally a kind of working class hero of the intelligentsia. But it was not to be.

My Dinner With Andre made me feel a little better about myself, because I think my outlook on the world has done more than change over the past three decades; it has improved. I found that I quite liked both Wally and Andre. I saw myself in both of them; I saw everyone in both of them. More than anything, I saw us all in the waiter—a character I didn’t even notice at 18.

This is a film about two connected issues: class and needs. Wally is motivated by fear, because his place in society is dominated by insecurity. Andre has transcended fear, because of his professional success, which has removed economic uncertainty. But he is just as lost as Wally—maybe more so. Wally looks forward to a life where simple creature comforts can make him happy. I don’t see the next step for Andre, other than a sad resignation that some things are unknowable.

The waiter is the most interesting character. In his role, he constrains the other characters, even chastising Andre when he gets too exciting. Yet, the waiter has no power, other than the anonymity of the role he plays. At the end of the film, when all the guest are gone and Wally and Andre are about to leave, he smokes a cigarette. It is the only time we see beyond the character he plays. Unlike Wally and Andre who are only aware of the characters they play in life in the most intellectual terms, the waiter knows his character as well as he knows the tuxedo that he wears as part of it.

Everyone gets what they need in My Dinner With Andre. Andre gets to relate to another human being. Wally gets a free meal. And the waiter gets paid. But it is a horrific image of life. Any of the three people could easily fit into any of the three characters. If the waiter had been born with modest talent to upper-middle-class parents, he could have been Wally. If one of Wally’s plays had been a hit, he could have been Andre. If Andre had had some very bad luck, he might be a waiter in some posh New York restaurant—or worse. I don’t think that it is an accident that this is a major theme Wallace Shawn’s Essays. It is an issue that upsets him greatly. And me. And that should upset everyone.


XXXLast week, I read Michael Erard’s exceptional Um… Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What they Mean. It is the kind of book that changes you. At least, it does so if you care about language. Regardless, the subject of the book was very much on my mind in the months leading up to reading it.

You see, I’ve been making videos and annoying my friends by making them watch them. This is all supposedly leading up to public videos that are basically of the “talking head” variety, but cleverly disguised. What I’ve learned is that, much as I might want to cut from sentence to sentence, I must be able to do one to two minutes continuously in front of the camera.

I’m a pretty good public speaker and an excellent impromptu speaker. But there is a big difference between performing for people and performing for a camera. Once you start recording yourself, you become painfully aware of every slip, stammer, and pause. And you really notice—Are hypersensitive do?—your own personal cliches. For me, the most annoying is, “Okay?”

Verbal disfluencies come in two types. The best known is the hesitation disfluency: use of “uh” and “um” and other indicators of planned pauses. “Uh” means, “I’m inserting a short pause here.” “Um” means, “I’m thinking; don’t interrupt.” In conversation, I do not use a whole lot of these. However, when doing the videos, trying to remember some speech I’ve worked out but haven’t memorized, I use “um” a lot.

In normal conversation, I use the repair disfluency: repeated words and phrases. This is like, “Mozart wrote Don Gio, The Magic Flute…” Or, “When I was a kid, when my father was a kid…” And if I go in front of the camera cold and start ranting, these are the kinds of errors that I commit.

Generally, the hesitation disfluency makes someone sounds a little thick. But this is a misimpression. Everyone commits these errors and they even commit them at about the same rate as those they are around. How you are disfluent is determined by your style: do you like to plan things out or just wing it. This is verbally speaking, of course; I know that I am more the type who likes to wing it verbally but apparently in no other part of my life.

What Michael Erard’s book did to me is make me more sympathetic to verbal blunders, at the same time it has made me hypersensitive to them. I used to only notice them in my videos. Now I notice them everywhere. So if you are brave and true, read Um… Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What they Mean. You have been, uh, you know: warned!

My Vote for President

Unfortunately, he isn’t running in the United States: Francois Hollande.

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Why, oh why, can’t we have a real political debate in this country? Why are we limited to “right” and “far right”?

Sarah and Kory

Sarah PalinHidi-ho gentle readers. For once, I haven’t been writing here because I’ve been in a good mood. Fancy that.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ve been happy by real people standards. Every day starts with my lying in bed hoping the day will go away. When this doesn’t work, I put on They Might Be Giants[1] because it makes me feel less alone. And I have a huge crush on Joanne Woodward in that film. She was far too good for Hud. But irregardless of my feelings about this, Kory Stamper has a new video out.

Why is it that Merriam-Webster does not set up a system that allows people to embed their videos? As I well know, there are many fans—thousands come to this site each month.

Back in 2010, I predicted, “And I know how this all ends: just when I get used to Stamper’s new hair color, she’ll change it back.” As a public service, I feel I must warn you that I was right. Stamper’s hair appears to be back to its original color—or close anyway.

This time, Stamper is doing what she and all the folks at Merriam-Webster do best: leading the fight against the grammar Nazis. This time, it is “irregardless.” (Did you like my little joke above, or did it just infuriate you?) I have never been one to use words like irregardless or refudiate. But I don’t have a problem with them. I’ve had many grammar snobs take me aside and try to have a hate-on about people who would use such a construction. Sorry, but I don’t run like that.

Similarly, when Sarah Palin, “invented” the new work “refudiate,” I wasn’t bothered. For one thing, this was a very understandable language disfluency: her mind wasn’t sure whether to say “repudiate” or “refute” and it came out “refudiate.” That’s not only understandable; that’s a good new word, even though it must have been similarly coined millions of times before.

I never accepted the “Sarah Palin is stupid” line. She most clearly isn’t stupid. She is really ignorant and even more evil, but she’s not stupid. In fact, I think a year with me—forcing her to read Don Quixote[2], Moby Dick, and most important, Thomas Paine : Collected Writings so she could learn what the Founding Fathers really thought—and she might be okay. Unfortunately, too many people think she is already the Billy Joel ideal: perfect just the way she is.

On the other hand, without talking to her husband and children, we are forced to assume that Kory Stamper is perfect just the way she is. Irregardless, there is no doubt that she is great in her new video.

[1] Sorry folks, this DVD is rare and expensive. It includes 10 minutes of deleted scenes and a short featurette: Madness…It’s Beautiful. Or you can watch it on Instant Watch on Netflix. (I’ve given it 5 stars. It is far from perfect, but like Don Quixote itself, it is great. But be warned, you need to see it at least twice. It is unlike any film you’ve seen before.)

[2] I’ve linked to an exciting relatively new translation by Burton Raffel. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but it is quite different from Putnum or Grossman, who, despite all the fuss, is really very similar more than 50 years later.

Wanker of the Decade

Tom Friedman - Artist's ConceptionAtrios is celebrating a decade of blogging. And despite a maddening number of typos and grammar errors, he is still a good read. By way of celebration, he has been counting down to worst political pundits in a “Wankers of the Decade” series. Well, the time has come. Today, he posted his The One True Wanker of the Decade. Who is it? I had already figured it out, given that he hadn’t mentioned him in the runners up. He is the guy who all thinking people love to hate: Thomas Friedman—the optimistic “centrist.” You should read the whole article, but here is a taste:

Friedman possesses all of the qualities that make a pundit truly wankerific. He fetishizes a false “centrism” which is basically whatever Tom Friedman likes, imagining the Friedman agenda is both incredibly popular in the country and lacking any support from our current politicians, when in fact the opposite is usually true. Washington worships at the altar of the agenda of false centrism, and people often hate it. Problems abroad, even ones which really have nothing to do with us, should be solved by war, and problems at home should be solved by increasing the suffering of poor and middle class people. Even though one political party is pretty much implementing, or trying to implement, 99.999999% of the Friedman agenda, what we really need is a third party catering precisely to this silent majority of Friedmanites.

Ha cha cha cha!

Must See TV

I’m spending almost all my time on a video series and some publishing matters as well as my taxes, where I paid only a slightly less percentage than Mitt Romney, even though he made 1000 times as much. Anyway, that’s why there hasn’t been much posting. Until I get around to something, you should really check out this interview with Larry M. Bartels, author of Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age:

Watch The New Gilded Age on PBS. See more from The Open Mind.