Thursday, September 20, 2012

Smelling Salts

Miss Manners, Hints from Heloise, Dear Abby---forget them! The most helpful people in the world are the folks at the Canadian sports website (we looked in at them back on February 4, 2012, “The Life Worth Living"). 
TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays and Yunel Escobar will hold a news conference at Yankee Stadium live on at 3:30pm et today to discuss an alleged homophobic slur that was written on the shortstop's eye-black over the weekend.     ... 
Several pictures posted online show Escobar with the message written in Spanish in his eye-black, a type of sticker players wear under their eyes to reduce the sun's glare.
The words under the 29-year-old Cuban's eyes were "TU ERE MARICON" which can be translated as "You are a ------."
Okay, I should have posted a sarcasm alert. 

Here we are in the 21st century and an arm of the media devoted to all sorts of macho doings (ice hockey, football in all its incarnations, boxing, etc.) is so much like a Victorian maiden aunt that it can’t even give us a letter to work with. Some other newspaper and magazine websites at least let us play charades (First letter—“F”) or fill in the blanks (what comes between “F” and “T”?). But let’s give TSN some credit; they gave all the Latinos north of the border the right dope. So far as I could tell, the mighty Washington Post would only venture as far as “gay slur.”

Report things as they truly are? One would think that the self-styled paper of record, The New York Times would feel that it was its duty to do so. Unfortunately, the NYT is the prissiest of the prissy. Consider the opening lines of a 2008 book review entitled “Between Truth and Lies, An Unprintable Ubiquity” (My god! It’s everywhere—and we can’t print it!):
Harry G. Frankfurt, 76, is a moral philosopher of international reputation and a professor emeritus at Princeton. He is also the author of a book recently published by the Princeton University Press that is the first in the publishing house's distinguished history to carry a title most newspapers, including this one, would find unfit to print. The work is called "On Bull - - - - ."The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity:"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much [bull]. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize [bull] and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry."
The Times couldn’t even allow itself to print the title of the book under review! And in the text itself the paper had to resort to using one-half of the dreaded word as a euphemism for "that single obscenity." Basically what the Times was saying was: “Here is “bull” plus four letters—figure it out in your own dirty mind.” I imagine that other readers of the review reacted as I did when I originally read it over four years ago. They worked it out in their filthy little heads, and, when they got up off the floor, continued reading.

Why in the 21st century (I’ve just had a glance at the calendar again) can’t these people treat their readers as adults? We know all the curse words and the slanderous ones. If the media would report them, we would look them in the eye on the printed page or computer screen without getting the vapors.

But maybe I am wrong--and media giants such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph (UK), and ESPN are correct in thinking otherwise--in assuming a level of cosmopolitan sophistication on the part of their readers and online viewers.

Perhaps the place where 21st century adulthood is to be found is on the pages of papers such as the Lethbridge Herald of Alberta, Canada, whose 15,000 readers probably didn’t fall over in a swoon when they read:
Escobar had written under his eyes "TU ERE MARICON," which can be translated as "You are a faggot.


Friday, September 7, 2012

And Now . . . Homage to Welles

“Joe, the turtle boy . . . He walks and eats and sleeps just like a turtle but talks the English language as well as you and I. And shaves himself with a safety razor. And as an added attraction, folks, Joe plays the zither” 
Carnival barker’s spiel in I’m No Angel (1933)
How many American moviegoers in 1933 knew what a zither was is uncertain. But just over a decade-and-a-half later probably most people (and not just moviegoers) in the United States and Great Britain did know. For the theme from the movie The Third Man  (1949), played by Anton Karas on that instrument, became a smash hit in both countries, including a spell of eleven weeks as the number one recording in the US. Set in an ally-occupied Vienna that is still hung over from the war, the movie itself, directed by Carol Reed and adapted by Graham Greene from his novel of the same name, is one of the great noir mystery/thrillers of all time.

Title characters of films and plays come in all varieties; they can even not come at all (Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot) or be dead the whole way through (Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry). It takes about an hour before moviegoers catch a glimpse of the title character of The Third Man, and even then the first things they see are his highly-polished winged-tip shoes; the rest of him is cloaked in darkness. When a sudden circle of light penetrates the recess in which he is hidden, his face is seen in semi-profile. The cheeks are puffy, the texture soft and smooth, and there is the look of an incipient doubleness to the chin. The title character is Harry Lime; the actor, Orson Welles.

All Welles’ physical features that were so wrong for the itinerant Irish seaman in his own film The Lady From Shanghai (see my previous blog entry) are absolutely perfect for the black- marketeer Harry Lime. A black-marketeer—but not a criminal at the scuffling end of the game. He is an entrepreneur, dressed in a comfortable overcoat, a fashionable hat, and soft gloves (as well as those highly-polished wing-tips). And he has the physical complaint of successful businessman—dyspepsia (he regrets that his favorite tablets are no longer available in Europe).

Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotten), a naïf lured to Vienna by his old pal Lime, knows Harry to be something of a rogue, and he can’t understand why Major Calloway of the British Army (Trevor Howard) is so keen to nab him. After all, what’s a little hustling of stolen tires and such like? Except it’s stolen penicillin, which is then watered down to ineffectualness. The results to patients, especially the children, are disastrous.

When Holly does get to meet Harry in the Prater amusement park, they ride the famous Ferris Wheel to the top, and Harry, looking down to the ground, speaks of those Holly has called “his victims”:
Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.”
Harry Lime is the type of role that Welles was born to play—no phony accent, no pretense of a past murder with his own hands. No, his voice displaying a jauntiness touched with an edge of menace, the soft-featured and well-tailored Harry Lime is Welles at his white-collared best--an entrepreneurial criminal whose reading of history* is the most famous set piece in the film:
Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.“ 
*Supposedly written by Welles himself.