An epic in every sense
In times of stress, I find myself returning to films that are both reliably distracting and yet still rewarding. So quarantine here in New Jersey drove me back to watch David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), one of my favorite films.
Telling the story of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), the British officer who led an Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I, Lean and his screenwriters, Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, take some liberties with the truth, but it hardly matters. This is an epic in every sense of the word. Even on a small screen, Freddie Young’s stunning cinematography, accompanied by Maurice Jarre’s iconic score, is breathtaking (the most recent Blu-Ray restoration retains both the overture and intermission, and also includes hours of bonus material).
There’s something about the exotic beauty of the film, the massive scope, the sheer “movieness” of it that’s always made it special for me. Its nearly four-hour running time is full of unforgettable moments. Omar Sharif, in his first major role, gets one of the
greatest entrances in cinema history, riding out of an endless horizon, more mirage than man. The scene where Lawrence risks his life to go back and rescue his friend Gasim, I still find deeply moving, no matter how many times I’ve seen it (“Nothing is written”).
Though the film features a who’s-who of great British actors – Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, etc – it’s O’Toole as Lawrence, blue-eyed, beautiful and haunted, who’s at the heart of it. Still a relative newcomer at the time, his screen presence is undeniable. You can’t not watch him.
At the time of the film’s release, a New York Times review criticized it for never really solving the riddle of Lawrence the man. Fair enough, but I also think that’s one of the points of the film. Lawrence himself is unsure who he is. He finds his identity only in action, a journey which takes him from clownish innocent to cold-blooded killer. He’s a troubled loner turned messianic figure, eventually undone by his own hubris. And when his efforts are no longer politically useful, he finds himself discarded, a footnote to history.
Just out in Germany with his fifth publication at Pendragon, „Zum Greifen nah“ (Gone Till November). Wallace Stroby’s four Crissa Stone novels have been published to great acclaim in Germany, they were translated by CrimeMag publisher Alf Mayer.
On board of the Corona Princess
Jim Nisbet, writing from Sausalito
Hard to tell where we are, exactly, here aboard Spaceship Earth, aka, the Corona Princess. Certainly not on the bridge, no more than in the engine room, and the bars are closed. Maybe we’re stranded on one or another of the afterdecks? But aboard it we are, with no doubt, bound for ports unknown.
One is heartened by the awareness that what first attracted one to California is truer than ever. Fresh air and sunshine, room to move, smart people in sufficient number, with a renewed drought just around the corner, and the certainty of, sooner or later, an earthquake. Yes, we are all wearing bandanas, and standing six feet apart, and mostly staying home. Curiously, the scientists I know are more cautious of the coronavirus than most people. In the agora, such as it is, there are varying degrees of concern on display, ranging from nonchalance to not showing up at all.
A friend writes from Chelsea, in lower Manhattan, that opera, theater, the symphony, bars, restaurants, the hurly-burly — every last reason to be in New York is gone. He’s stuck in a 500 square-foot apartment on the fifteenth floor and afraid to get into the elevator with or without his neighbors. When he does make it to the sidewalk, he is regularly forced into the gutter by hyper-aggressive millennial joggers in full protective gear. Can William Burroughs‘ Wild Boys be far behind?
Here in Sausalito, as usual, walkers of dogs are a great source of gossip and information, and number among the more relaxed citizens of the town. Sausaltio is some 7500 people, hemmed, and delightfully so, by the San Francisco Bay on its eastern shore, and by a particularly steep run of the Coastal Range to its west. Climb up to that latter ridge, and you soon drop straight down to a seething Pacific Ocean.
As recently as last year, some 275,000 bicyclists passed through the town annually, altogether an incredible total; these days, with zero tourists, there is plenty of elbow room. You can jaywalk across any thoroughfare with impunity. It’s very easy to take an urban hike without coming anywhere near another person, and, so far, we are allowed to do so, with or without dogs. Yet the streets and sidewalks, bike paths and docks are mostly deserted.
A dog walker of our acquaintance lost one of her two blue-blooded pugs to old age, leaving her with several extra bags of a high-end salmon- and vegetable-based specialty diet dog food that she orders from Beverly Hills. Carol looked it up: its $55 for 16 ounces of this cryptokibble. Linda (her license plate reads PUGLIFE) passed on a bag. Dexter Brown, Jr., a thorough-going mutt, or American Brown Shorthair, as Carol calls him („Really?“ remarks the odd passerby, „I’ve never heard of that breed…“), loved the stuff. The sixteen ounces, mixed with puréed pumpkin and ordinary kibble, lasted about a week. But and so, Linda said, when she heard it was to Dexter’s taste, come on by and I’ll give you several bags, for Lola, the remaining pug, now refuses to eat it. What Lola doesn’t want, Lola doesn’t get.
Dexter and I had never been to Linda and Lola’s home before. It’s the last house on a cul-de-sac whose name is very similar to a street just down the hill, leading me to ring the doorbell at the wrong address. After a long pause a young woman’s face appeared in the eye-level door lite, her eyes round with trepidation.“Hello,“ said I.
„Wh-what do you w-want?“ came the muffled reply.
„I’m looking for Linda.“ – „Linda? There is n-no –.“ – „Don’t let anybody in!“ shouted a male voice from far back in the building. „Don’t open the door!“ – „No Linda?“ I tried again. „I-I–,“ the girl stammered. „You got the wrong house!“ the male voice shouted. „Go away!“
With a glance over her shoulder, the girl shook her head. „No L-Linda h-here.“
„Sorry to bother you,“ I assured her as I backed away. Fear, too, is communicable.
The next address I tried was the correct one. Linda introduced me to her husband, whom I’d never met. He looked me up and down. „Is this the boyfriend you been telling me about?“ – „Yes,“ Linda replied. „But don’t worry. His wife knows and she’s cool with it.“ – „When do I get to meet her?“
We did the dogfood handoff, and that was that, with a mutually agreed codicil that, after this is all over, there will be Martinis.
The custom kibble is going fast. But for the time being, Dexter’s in heaven.
Meanwhile, Linda and Lola have stopped showing up for their morning walk.
There are all kinds of reactions to the plague, most of them evolving.
For perspective, we’ve been reading Hillary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy, which is centered around the life of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s fixer until Henry fixed him, about halfway through his reign. Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies, and The Mirror and The Light are the three titles, in the first of which we find a curious thing, though a mere detail in the greater scheme of the work: it’s called the English sweating sickness.
The English sweating sickness, so-called, took its victims from perfectly healthy to perfectly dead in four to eight hours, with no discernible pattern as to age, gender, state of health, collateral damage nor, be it said, social status. Some survived, many didn’t. A previous affliction did not preclude a subsequent bout, nor several. Your wife and children could die of it while you might not be taken by so much as a fit of sneezing — as happened, in fact, to Thomas Cromwell. The disease came and went, mostly in England, but eventually on the continent (Calais was in English hands at the time) over a period of roughly 60 years, 1485-1551, after which it disappeared from history. To this day, nobody knows what it was. I’d never heard of it until I read Mantel. There’s a Wiki.
This trilogy is historical fiction at its finest. The text is literary, intelligent, funny, breathtaking throughout the three volumes, and absolutely guaranteed to pass the time. The first two volumes each won a Booker Prize, England’s highest literary award, an unprecedented feat. Mantel took eight years lucubrating the third volume — it’s just been published in English — and the wait was entirely worth it. There’s probably a certain resistance against awarding it the third Booker; show me the competition, and perhaps I’ll give it a thought. Meanwhile, the tome is translated into some thirty languages. Recommended.
Finally, as to Donald Trump’s toadies — on top of the fact that, while they can hardly be said to have their hand on the tiller of the Corona Princess, they’re not letting anybody else anywhere near it, either — one is reminded of Baby Smerdiakov: “Pretending, sir, is not very difficult for an experienced person.”
Published by German cult label Pulp Master, Jim Nisbet has quite some novels in print in Germany and is wellknown. Among his German editons: „Dunkler Gefährte“, „Tödliche Injektion“, „Der Krake auf meinem Kopf“, „Welt ohne Skrupel“.