Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel
No surprise there.
The dogs woke me at 1:30 this morning. I still have no idea why, although I expect it has something to do with two new dogs who moved into the area, even though they're about 200 yards away at the closest point to our yard, our dogs take great umbrage to their presence.
I woke up in pain. After letting the dogs out I took some ibuprofen and meditated about some of the great moments in movies. It helped get me to sleep in a nice way.
Somehow think about movies almost always starts with John Wayne. I don't know why, it just does. I guess I'm still surprised that he was a lineman at USC.
Wayne had a few great moments; indelible scenes that stay with you forever. Whenever things get hopeless I always have a flash of Wayne as Ringo in "Stagecoach", falling forward into the dust as he takes on three bad guys with only a winchester and 3 bullets. And that moment in "True Grit" when Wayne confronts Robert Duvall and Duvall's gang in the natural arena. After Duvall points out the obvious truth that Wayne is old, fat, one eyed and tired Wayne shouts, "Fill your hands you sonsabitches!" Put his horse's reins in his mouth and rides at the gang firing wildly.
A lot of movies have moments like that, moments that help us survive what our own imaginations might not let us survive. That's one of the reasons for art.
I wasn't thinking about those moments I was thinking about the moments that codify a movie so well that it burns and illuminates not only our lives but the lives of others, enabling to let us see things we perhaps never even sensed.
Like for me the greatest moment for Wayne came in "The Searchers". Its a movie loaded with great moments, like the crazy teenaged girls who've escaped the Apaches, or the moment when Wayne scoops up Natalie Wood as though she were no more significant than a doll, a wisp an image. But moment that fits my definition is when Wayne returns Natalie Woods to her family. He stands in the doorway a hero, but a hero ignored, Jeff Chandler pushes past him and we know that because of Wayne's efforts all will be better for the world, the people in that house whose life he has touched and improved will leave a version of happily ever after. But Wayne just stands in the doorway, gripping his own right arm with his left hand, while the Sons of the Pioneers acting like some bumpkin Greek chorus exhort him to ride away, ride way.
The house looks so dark, cool and inviting. We know it is filled with celebration and happiness, while the world beyond the doorway is bright, harsh and unrelenting. (The technology required to get that shot are remarkable considering 1957 film stock and lenses.) And Wayne turns away and does that John Wayne walk to his horse while invisible hands slam the door shut, locking him forever outside.
What makes this great is that in 45 seconds without being lectured or told we understand so many things; the nature of heroes, the way some men are meant to only be alone, how single decisions can unhinge and change the trajectory of a life, decisions fueled not with logic but with emotion.
I'm glad they never made a sequel to "The Searchers". It would have destroyed that perfect moment.
Who doesn't remember Steve McQueen in "The Great Escape"? When he's sitting on his motorcycle looking at the miles long barbed wired fence that is the only impediment to his freedom. The German army closing in on him, surrounding him. And that moment when he revs the bike up, spins it around and makes that unforgettable leap. A fails.
What propels the scene from cool to the frisson I'm talking about is that while McQueen lies tangled in the wire that this is not a failure, its just a set back. He'll escape and if needed he'll escape again. Freedom is our nature and it doesn't take greatness or even great determination for all of us to be seeking freedom until we finally succeed.
There is a difference between totally cool and the frisson that impacts and makes fact of the swirl of thoughts and emotions that circulate around us everyday. Clint Eastwood's "The Unforgiven" offers up the best example of this. Everyone remembers the final scene in the bar where Eastwood blows everything apart and there's that great confrontation between Eastwood and Gene Hackman where Eastwood hisses out the line, "I've killed women and children, just about everything that's lived or crawled and now I'm going to kill you."
That scene is just cool entertainment but the scene proceeding, the bit that sets all this up is the powerful one that cuts to the quick of our humanity.
The whole film has shown Eastwood to be extremely strong, strong enough to change his life for a woman he loves and after she passes away his strength carries him through to continue for the sake of his two children. The biggest change has been for him to avoid liquor at all costs. Eastwood listens to the girl who brings them their money. He listens to the atrocities Little Bill has perpetuated against Eastwood's only friend.
Against a silver streaked black and gray sky he listens and in his shock and pain he gets week. He takes a bottle of whiskey and in between his horrified questions he pours the whiskey down his throat. The camera takes a low angle as if to frame him heroically against dramatic sky. Eastwood's aged face and cracking voice destroy any illusion of heroism, it simply denies us the ease of assuming he's transforming into a mere beast.
And its in that moment that so much is revealed about ourselves. The little kid cheerleader who sees the whiskey as Eastwood's spinach. We know as he drinks he's turing into an indomitable killer. Then there's the profound sadness. We see a man so overcome with grief at losing his friend that he destroys himself the only way he knows will work. Eastwood gives up the sobriety and humanity he has struggled to maintain for nearly a many years as he was a mad outlaw. He gives up what he has fought to become out of rage, loneliness and a love for another that is greater than the love he has for himself.
"A Man Who Was Superman" is a movie I hold in high regard. I seem to be pretty much alone in this. Its okay. I can always wait for the rest of the world to catch up.
"A Man Who Was Superman" has a lot of those cool moments. But it also has an explosive scene that plays so simply and elegantly that it speaks not only of talent but fortuitous happenstance.
The movie is about this guy who is stark raving bonkers. He dresses in bright Hawaiian shirts and chinos. This is his "Superman" outfit. Most of the time he is deliriously happy. He spends his days helping people, saving kids, catching purse snatchers, doing what he can to save the planet. He always smiles, remembers people and adores his life.
He has bad moments. He can't always fly because Lex Luthor has exposed him to kryptonite. And he has psychotic breaks. He lives in a condemned building. One morning the wreckers show up. He sees the bulldozers as carnivorous monsters. He fights them.
This fight lands him back in the mental hospital. They treat him. He's heals. The medicate him to at least hold his level of healing. Everyone is certain they are doing the best for him.
"Superman" becomes Mon Suk. Mon Suk shuffles through life. Not happy. Not sad, He simply is. He remembers the trauma that drove him to madness but it is a distant memory that he cannot touch. The drugs see to that.
In his madness Mon Suk was tracking down a beast that lived in the sewers. It turns out the beast was actually a patch of explosive methane gas. It blows.
Mon Suk is a witness to the explosion. Many people are hurt, house and cars catch a fire. The fire engines rushing to the scene get caught up in the explosion. There is no more help coming.
For every person injured there are ten spectators who watch.
Mon Suk watches too and sees that a little five year old girl who was "Superman's" friend is trapped in the fire, trapped on the third floor. And the drugs that keep him calm, that keep him in twilight allow him to simply watch.
Helpless he turns and walks away, doing that drug induced shuffle, holding his briefcase to his chest. He walks away.
A friend goes to look for him and she finds Mon Suk at a garden hose. He's dousing his head and his clothes. At first she thinks he's gone mad again but then she realizes that he's planning to go into the fire and rescue the girl. I guess you can't kill Superman.
In that moment you realize that sanity does not always mean happiness and that sometimes it takes insanity to save the world. It rushes at you and forces you to identify with Mon Suk. It makes you realize we can all be something more than the rest of the world thinks we can be. Its beautiful and its frightening.
Meditating on movies always brings something out of me. Something I feel is good. Even bad movies can sometimes have that fleeting movement where happenstance has more art than the guys behind or in front of the camera. Moments that encapsulate life and meaning.
I love the movies.
Its been raining for 18 hours now. Hard rain. All the snow has melted and the ground feels like primordial ooze. The dogs all had groomer baths . . . gentle dog and giant dog also got haircuts. My puppy got her nails trimmed. They seem to enjoy ruining the clean look playing in the muck. They make me laugh and it will all wash off eventually.
I'm pretty much over the cold. One odd side effect. I seem to have expended so much energy fighting the cold that I'm irretrievably fatigued. It takes a huge amount of energy just to move.
It's nowhere near the fatigue from leukemia. I just don't like it. I don't like the feeling of wanting to just curl up in a ball and forget the world. The rain and mud makes me not want to take a walk with the dogs. I may have to anyway. Cold rain and mud are better than this feeling.
My friend's cold is still lingering! This worries me more than I'm worried about myself.
She basically had two days off. She had to drive an hour to a meeting (GO GO LITTLE NEW CAR!) and then we had a lot of errands to run but I would have hoped that it would have been a gentle enough time for her to recover more fully.
We picked up our new glasses. Just lenses, used old frames. They help me a lot. Even through the cataract. I have to wear them a couple of weeks to see if my eyes are stable enough to invest in the tinted bifocals I'm supposed to wear outside.