Thursday, April 30, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt thirteen)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

Williams’s increasing difficulty with Carroll as a travel companion added to his depression. In Bangkok, Carroll not only insisted on having his own room; he wanted it to be in a different hotel. “I said: ‘You find me intolerable.’ He said: ‘I find you repulsive.’—And I said, going into my Blanche bit, ‘Not as repulsive as you’ll be a year from now.’” By the time they arrived in Positano at the end of May 1973, the skirmishing had escalated into something like outright war. One night, over dinner, Carroll “was talking persistently about a wish to kill himself,” Williams wrote to St. Just. “I finally got fed up and said, ‘Oh, you mustn’t do that, it would please too many people!”

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt twelve)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

On Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972, Small Craft Warnings opened at the Truck and Warehouse Theater, near the Bowery, a venue that Williams thought a “metaphor for posterity,” signaling a change in fortune if not in style. The Easter opening worried Williams, for it might give the critics a stick with which to beat him. “They’ll say the Resurrection didn’t come off,” he joked. If Small Craft Warnings wasn’t exactly a resurrection and wasn’t exactly a hit, it was still a comeback of sort. The reviews were mixed. “The critics in New York are no longer inclined to make allowances for my advanced age nor for the dues I’ve paid,” Williams complained to St. Just after the opening. “They keep saying, ‘This is not up to Williams’ best, such as Streetcar and Cat’—Well, for Chrissake, how could it be? If it were a major play such as ‘Out Cry,’ it would not have opened at the Truck and Warehouse in the Bowery, would it?”

In fact, the reviews of Small Craft Warnings were sufficiently positive to give Williams hope that the narrative about his work might be changing. Show, a posh short-lived theater magazine, ran a long article subtitled “The Revitalization of a Great Dramatist,” and Clive Barnes’s review in the New York Times concluded that Small Craft Warnings “may survive better than some of the much-touted products of his salad years.” In Time, Ted Kalem welcomed the play as “a five-finger exercise from the man who is the greatest living playwright in the Western world.” “Surely you mean ‘playboy of the Western World’—but never mind,” Williams quipped, when thanking Kalem for his “incredibly beautiful notice.”

Small Craft Warnings turned out to be Williams’s most successful new theatrical outing in nearly a decade; it played two hundred performances, in a run of nearly six months. That June, when ticket sales dipped and the actor playing Doc—a doctor who has lost his license to drink but practices clandestinely—left for a four-day film gig just as the play was transferring to the New Theatre uptown, Williams stepped in. “Goddam it, no, I will play it myself!” he told the producers, who took him up on the offer. “A star is born,” Williams wrote to St. Just. “We have played to packed houses. And no cabbages thrown. I guess I have to admit that I am a ham and that I loved it.” Although Williams’s performances gave the show a commercial kiss of life, onstage he was something of a loose cannon, prone to ad lib. “He never shut up,” the actress Peg Murray, a veteran of three of Williams’s late plays, said. The other actors never knew when their cue was coming. “Just watch his lips,” William Hickey, who played Steve, a short-order cook, said. “When they stop moving, you come in.” When nobody was depending on him for a cue, however, as Murray recalled, “he was wonderful in the part.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt eleven)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

On Christmas Eve in 1971, Williams sent off the final draft of a new play, Small Craft Warnings, to its director, William Hunt. The play, which had begun as the one-act Confessional, had been written out of a despair “just this side of final,” Williams said. It marked his transition to sobriety and his reconnection with the world. A necessarily cautious work that Williams considered “minor,” Small Craft Warnings is a collage of mostly static character sketches: a collection of derelict lost souls who gather in a California seaside bar to drink, carouse, look for love, and flounder eloquently in the avant-garde of suffering. It has no plot structure, no real dynamic besides that of language sometimes beautifully used. “I have no intention—and no power—to change it much from that state of being,” Williams told Hunt. To the Times, he said, “The thing you mustn’t lose in life is the quality of surprise. I lost it at the time I was writing this play.”

Monday, April 27, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt ten)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

When Alan U. Schwartz came to the New York apartment one day to discuss some professional matters, Williams discouraged even the mention of Merlo, which “made the talk somewhat dull on his part,” Schwartz said. The two men drank martinis and tried to make conversation. Off to the side of the large room in a golden cage, Creature, the monkey that Merlo had cared for in Key West (and cried over when he thought it had escaped—“I don’t know why this creature appealed so strongly to Frankie,” Williams wrote), was making chirping noises. After a while, Schwartz looked over at the cage and noticed that the monkey seemed to be in some difficulty; he was not chirping as much and his movements were disjointed. “Tenn, your monkey seems to be sick,” Schwartz said. “Tennessee raised his lidded eyes and glanced over at the cage and gave me one of his knowing smiles. ‘No, Alan, he is just fine,’ he said.” The conversation meandered on until Schwartz realized that the room had gone quiet. “When I looked over at the cage, the monkey was lying motionless at the bottom. He didn’t seem to be breathing . . . . ‘Tenn, I think your monkey is dead!’ I said. Tennessee slowly moved his gaze from me to the cage, studied it for a moment, then looked back at me and in his slightly drunken Southern drawl said, ‘Why so he is. So he is.’”

Sunday, April 26, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt nine)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

While trying to box clever with Davis, Williams was already dazed by harrowing bouts with Merlo, which made it almost impossible for him to concentrate on the professional task at hand. “Frank is not a bad boy,” Williams had written Wood. “In certain ways, his devotion to our pets, his devotion to the outcasts of society, the whores of Rome, the beatniks of New York, the cracked or cracking up ‘lost ones’ in Key West, even the chronic jail-birds and the heroin-addicts, is a bit like Saint Francis of Assisi who embraced the leper in the woods who cried ‘Unclean!’” Merlo, who couldn’t resist the desperate and the wounded, couldn’t say no to Williams.

But Merlo, too, was ailing. He “really didn’t feel well,” Paula Laurence, who was understudying Davis, recalled. “He used to walk the streets at night because he felt so poorly and didn’t want to upset Tennessee.” Williams, however, misconstrued Merlo’s late-night absences as rejection; “It’s over between us!” he bleated repeatedly to Corsaro in Detroit. Feeling the need for devoted attention, Williams had their black Belgian shepherd, Satan, acquired in Rome at Anna Magnani’s urging, shipped up from Key West. “He is a handy thing to have around when you are entertaining strangers whose kindness you aren’t quite sure of,” Williams wrote to Oliver Evans, with an admission that he was “a little scared of him myself.” (The previous summer, Satan had put a bite that required seven stitches in Marion Vaccaro’s hand.) Satan was good company at first. “He used to sit in front of me at the Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, staring into my eyes with those lovely yellow eyes of his, and occasionally sticking out his tongue to give my hand a lick,” Williams recalled.

But one morning, after his stint at the typewriter, Williams went into the bedroom and stepped over Satan, who lay “like a guardian by the twin bed of Frankie.” As Williams slid into Merlo’s bed, Satan growled his displeasure. That night, the dog savaged Williams in his own bed and bit both his ankles to the bone. “He was starting for my throat when Frankie rushed out and pulled him off me,” he said. Merlo had the dog put down the next day. A week later, after his ankles, he claimed, “had swollen up almost to the size of an elephant’s,” Williams was hospitalized. He was under heavy sedation, but there was no way to calm his rampaging paranoia: Merlo had set Satan on him; Merlo wanted him dead; Merlo wanted his money.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt eight)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

Kazan’s other great contribution was to the play’s casting. His prowess secured Newman’s commitment to the production. For the bravura role of Princess Kosmonopolis, Kazan opted boldly “for the inner qualities” of Geraldine Page, an actress he “greatly admired” but who was no protection at the box office. As Alma Winemiller in José Quintero’s 1952 Circle in the Square revival of Summer and Smoke, Page had turned in an uncanny performance that had made the name of the star, the director, and the play. “Miss Page is not the kind of actress who waits to give a performance on opening night,” Quintero wrote in his memoir, If You Don’t Dance They Beat You. “She plunges into her role at the very first reading. It’s almost as if she wanted to forget herself as Miss Page and utilize everything that she owns to become the character that she is playing.” Casting her was a brilliant decision, one that Williams had questioned. “I think it may demand more power and technique than a young actress like Geraldine could give it,” he worried to Crawford, who agreed at first. “The Princess is a pretty cosmopolitan character and I would still be better satisfied with Page if I first heard Margaret Leighton, Vivien Leigh, Eileen Herlie and Edwige Feuillère and maybe even Siobhán McKenna,” Williams wrote to Wood, adding, “It’s a virtuoso part, demanding great stature, stage presence, power, vocal richness and variety, and so forth, but Gadg, we have to remember, has a genius for casting, second to no one’s.”

Kazan maintained that “consanquinity”—by which he meant being American—was a very important factor in casting the role. Still, Page struggled at first to locate the ravaged emotional geography of Princess Kosmonopolis’s character. In preparation Kazan gave her a collection of photographs of silent-film stars and asked her to consider which one her Princess might have been. Page discounted Greta Garbo as too remote, with a coolness that was not indigenous to the Princess’s combustible nature. She discarded Mary Pickford, and her trajectory from sweetheart to diva, as a lazy choice. She was tempted by the steaminess of Theda Bara and the sassiness of Clara Bow. But in the end, she chose the complexity of Norma Talmadge, who seemed to have “an air of great vulnerability, as of someone who would greet everything and everyone with a spontaneous open-heartedness, and I was very touched by it,” she explained. “I felt the shocks and hurts that would fall full force on a heart like that could turn someone into a complicated, volatile phenomenon like the Princess.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt seven)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

Williams honored Merlo’s inspiration in another significant way: he gave him a percentage of the play. “I want him to feel some independence,” Williams told Wood in March. “His position with me now lacks the security and dignity that his character calls for.” Intimacy required equality; the money went some way to ensuring it. The Rose Tattoo was also dedicated to Merlo “in return for Sicily”; the exchange to which the play was a testament, however, was as much psychological as geographical. Even before Williams had written about Sicily or visited it, his identification with the place and with Merlo’s stories about it signaled a hysteric’s desire to merge with the alluring personality of his friend. Merlo regaled Williams with tales of his parents, originally from Ribera, and their large, noisy, bumptious first-generation Sicilian-American family. According to Merlo, sometimes after a family blowup, his mother would take umbrage in the garden and climb into a fig tree to sulk. “I remember Frankie telling us that after one particularly blinding row, she refused to come down,” Maria Britneva recalled. “Having shouted at her, and pleaded with her, her sons eventually took an axe to the tree and brought the whole thing down, with her in it.” Britneva went on, “Tennessee and I . . . were whimpering with laughter. Frankie was livid.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt six)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

Brando’s acting style was the performing equivalent of jazz. The notes were there, but Brando played them in a way that was uniquely personal to him. In his ability to call out of dialogue a heightened sense of emotional truth, the freedom of his stage behavior was mesmerizing and revolutionary. Instead of making everything learned and clear, Brando let the lines play on him and rode his emotions wherever they led him. “He even listened experientially,” Kazan said. “It’s as if you were playing on something. He didn’t look at you, and he hardly acknowledged what you were saying. He was tuned in to you without listening to you intellectually or mentally. It was a mysterious process . . . . There was always an element of surprise in what he did.” By turns charming, witty, wounded, cruel—Brando presented the public with an immediacy that seemed un-worked out; his reliance on impulse made him unpredictable and therefore dangerous. For both actor and audience the experience was a submersion in emotional contradiction. “There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people,” Williams wrote to Kazan when negotiations with Selznick seemed to have broken down. “Nobody sees anybody truly, but all through the flaws of their own ego.” Brando incarnated this ambivalence and made it sensational.

Over the years, as the legend of his performance as Stanley grew from its initial mixed critical response to what the New York Times in his obituary called “epochal,” many theatricals took credit for casting him. Audrey Wood claimed it was her husband William Liebling; with more justification, Kazan maintained it was him; Brando insisted that Harold Churman planted the idea in Kazan’s head. “Gadg and Irene both said I was probably too young, and she was especially unenthusiastic about me,” Brando recalled in his autobiography. After pondering the script for a few days, even Brando called Kazan to decline the role. The part, he felt, was “a size too large.” “The line was busy,” Brando recalled later. “Had I spoken to him at that moment, I’m certain I wouldn’t have played the role. I decided to let it rest for a while and the next day he called me and said: ‘Well, what is it—yes or no?’ I gulped and said ‘Yes.’” To Kazan, Brando was “a shot in the dark”: now only Williams needed convincing. Kazan called Williams, gave Brando twenty dollars, and sent him up to Provincetown to read. “That’s all I said,” Kazan recalled. “I waited. No return call. After three days I called Tennessee and asked him what he’d thought of the actor I’d sent him. ‘What actor?’ he asked. No one had showed up, so I figured I’d lost twenty bucks and began to look elsewhere.”

Brando, who was broke, had decided to hitchhike with his girlfriend to Provincetown. When he finally arrived at Rancho Pancho around dusk in the last week of August, Brando walked into a scene of “domestic cataclysm,” according to Williams. The kitchen floor was flooded, the toilets were blocked, and the light fuse had blown. Like the blackout during the Wingfields’ supper, Williams and his houseguests were plunged “into everlasting darkness.” “It was all too much for Pancho,” Williams said. “He packed up and said he was going back to Eagle Pass. However he changed his mind, as usual.” To Williams, Brando was a spectacle of both beauty—“He was just about the best-looking young man I’ve ever seen”—and prowess. Brando fixed the lights, then unblocked the pipes. “You’d think he had spent the entire antecedent life repairing drains,” Williams said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt five)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

The first day on the road from St. Louis to Taos, Williams’s car and his body began to break down. He felt stabbing pains in his abdomen. “Jack in Black had come out of the bushes,” Williams wrote. As he continued west, both he and the car grew worse. In Missouri, his pain was diagnosed as cramps and nerves; in Kansas, as low-grade appendicitis; in Oklahoma, as kidney stones. After Williams abandoned his car in Oklahoma and got himself by bus to Taos, the Sisters of Nazareth at the Holy Cross Hospital told him that because he had a fever and a white blood cell count of 18,000, his appendix might have burst and therefore he required immediate surgery.

“The altitude affected my heart, and I did not think I’d pull through,” he wrote Audrey Wood. “Pancho sat in the hospital with me and I made out my last will and testament while the young doctors shaved my groin for surgery,” Williams wrote. “I had nothing to leave but the playscript of ‘Battle of Angels’ and I left it to Pancho.” Pancho took the will and tore it to pieces. “He always had moments of great style, and this was one of them,” Williams said. As Williams breathed in the anesthesia, he experienced “a sensation of death.” “Claustrophobia, feeling of suffocation are my greatest dreads,” he explained later about the moment. As he went under, Williams’s last words were, “I’m dying! I’m dying!”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt four)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

Just before the New Year, Williams moved back to the French Quarter of New Orleans, where he’d begun his artistic adventure in December 1938. Then, Tom Williams had signed himself into a rooming house on Rue Toulouse as “Tennessee Williams, Writer.” Now, his name needed no explanation. “About an hour after my arrival,” he wrote to Wood, “the hotel owner rushed out of his office and seized my hand and exclaimed: ‘Mr. Williams, this is indeed an honor! We saw your play in New York!’” Although he met with three reporters and gave a radio interview soon after his arrival, Williams promised Wood that in New Orleans he was going to have “no telephone and if necessary an assumed name.” He added, “I’m going to be a very serious, hard-working boy again—all else is vanity.” A month later, he wrote to Wood again: “I am switching back and forth between two long plays, the one about the sisters started in Chicago and one about a Spinster begun in New York. Right now I am doing more with the sisters, it is now set in New Orleans and is called ‘A Street-car Named Desire’—there is one by that title that runs close by my apartment, and proceeding in the other direction down the next street is one called ‘Cemeteries.’ In spite of this I am not really in a very morbid state of mind, as this might suggest.” Williams had surrendered to the flesh; his new plays dramatized this capitulation. The ensuing twenty-four-month period would be the most fecund of his writing life.

Monday, April 20, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt three)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

Afterward, the first-nighters filed off to a party in Williams’s honor that Wood was hosting at the Royalton. Williams was too stunned to socialize. He and Windham disappeared into the balmy night. They walked the city for hours and forgot about the party. “I don’t remember feeling a great sense of triumph,” Williams said. “In fact, I don’t remember it very well at all. It should have been one of the happiest nights of my life . . . . I’d spent so much of my energy on the climb to success that when I’d made it and my play was the hottest ticket in town, I felt almost no satisfaction.” Williams’s word for this moment in his life was “providential”—“suddenly, providentially, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ made it when I was thirty-four.” As if to underscore the inexplicable nature of the play’s good fortune, he kept in his scrapbook a published astrological chart showing “a planetary tie-up” the night of the premiere “that is amazing.

To the young playwright Arthur Miller, The Glass Menagerie augured what he called “a revolution” in New York theater. “In one stroke,” Miller wrote, “’The Glass Menagerie’ lifted lyricism to its highest level in our theatre’s history . . . . In [Williams], American theatre found, perhaps for the first time, an eloquence and amplitude of feeling.” “It seems to me that your glass menagerie began a renaissance of our theatre . . . the climate of creation was invigorated,” his friend Carson McCullers wrote years later, assessing the seismic impact of the play.

It was not only the American theater that was reborn. Edwina Williams, to whom her dutiful son gave half his royalties—The Glass Menagerie would run for 563 performances—was also reborn, liberated by her new wealth to leave her disastrous marriage. “I was happy to have my freedom,” she said. “The walls of the house had resounded with wrath for too many years and now there was peace at long last.” Laurette Taylor was reborn as a legend in her time. “The postman can ring twice,” she said. “From here on I’m just kicking the clouds around.” And overnight, in the public’s mind, Tom Williams was reborn as Tennessee Williams, playwright. The day after the opening, according to the front page of the New York Times, “there was a feeling of release—release from a hard winter and a promise of release, soon, from at least some of the cares of the war.” The day was Easter Sunday, 1945.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt two)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

The thunderous applause of The Glass Menagerie’s Broadway first-nighters, which greeted Laurette Taylor on her first entrance, sent Taylor so far off course that she jumped into the second act; it also gave Dowling, now onstage as her son, Tom, time to guide her back on track. “I said, ‘Ma, c’mon now,’” Dowling recalled. “She came back like a little terrier.” A bucket had been placed in the wings for Taylor. “The few minutes she had between scenes, she was leaning over and retching horribly,” Tony Ross recalled. “She played almost through a fog,” Dowling said. When they weren’t on stage, the cast, at once amazed at Taylor’s performance and aghast at her offstage vomiting, clustered in the wings to watch her. “There was nothing left inside of her, poor thing, but on stage—good God!” Ross recalled. Even Williams from his sixth-row seat soon realized that he was present at a special occasion. He was struck by Taylor’s “supernatural quality on stage.” “I had never seen a performance like it in my whole life. It was something like out of another world,” he said. Later on, he would recollect, “Laurette’s basic tragedy was not in herself but in the shabby microcosm of the commercial theatre. It had nothing to offer her that corresponded to what she had to give. Her talent was like a chandelier, all glittering crystal and gold, that was hung incongruously in a kitchen.” But now, miraculously, even for the critics in the audience, something rarely, if ever, experienced was happening before their eyes: illumination and revelation coalesced in Taylor as Amanda worried about her children and invoked her long-lost life of youth and hope. “There is an inexplicable rightness, moment by moment, phrase by phrase, endlessly varied in the transitions,” Stark Young would later write in the New Republic. “Technique, which is always composed of skill and instinct working together, is in this case, so overlaid with warmth, tenderness, and wit, that any analysis is completely baffled. Only a trained theater eye and ear can see what is happening, and then only at times.” At intermission, Wood had to be disabused of her high anxiety. “Stop all this hand clasping and stop digging your elbow into my side,” Robert Edmond Jones told her. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about—any longer.”

The Glass Menagerie began with Amanda calling Tom to the dinner table. “We can’t say grace until you come back to the table,” she said to her dreamy son. As they intuited from Taylor’s weird radiance, Williams and the enthralled audience were in the presence of it. Taylor seemed to inhabit and to transform into light the punishing suffocation and loss of his “haunted household.”

Saturday, April 18, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt one)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

Battle of Angels bore witness to Williams’s quest for spiritual transformation, for “new patterns,” as an antidote to “this welter of broken pieces, wreckage, that floats on the surface of life.” “I have spent so many years making myself over in such a way as to get along with bastards, cultivating a tough skin, rejecting my tender responses before they are rejected,” he said. The regenerative power of the primitive—the shedding of psychological skin—is signaled by Val’s snakeskin jacket, “a shameless, flaunting symbol of the Beast Untamed!” and an emblem of both his protean metamorphosis and his wild, feral nature. After Val is lynched, Christ-like, by an angry mob of townsmen, the snakeskin is the only part of him that remains. Hung up by the Conjure Man on the back wall of the dry-goods store in the play’s last moment, the jacket glows in a shaft of sunlight—a radiance that clearly suggested the sacramental. The Conjure Man, the final stage direction reads, “seems to make a slight obeisance before it. The religious chant from across the wide cotton fields now swells in exaltation as the curtain falls.” The moment announces Williams’s romantic credo: instead of dedicating himself to God, he made a god of the self.

Friday, April 17, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, excerpt seven)

from The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke:

Bloch saw the other spectators around him talking to each other. He did not watch the one who happened to be speaking but always watched the one who was listening. He asked the salesman whether he had ever tried to look away from the forward at the beginning of a rush and, instead, to look at the goalie the forwards were rushing toward.

“It’s very difficult to take your eyes off the forwards and the ball and watch the goalie,” Bloch said. “You have to tear yourself away from the ball; it’s a completely unnatural thing to do.” Instead of seeing the ball, you saw how the goalkeeper ran back and forth with his hands on his thighs, how he bent to the left and right and screamed at his defense. “Usually you don’t notice him until the ball has been shot at the goal.”

They walked along the sideline together. Bloch heard panting as though a linesman were running past them. “It’s a strange sight to watch the goalie running back and forth like that, without the ball but expecting it,” he said.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, excerpt six)

from The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke:

Bloch was quite drunk. Everything seemed to be out of his reach. He was so far away from what happened around him that he himself no longer appeared in what he saw and heard. “Like aerial photographs,” he thought while looking at the antlers and horns on the wall. The noises seemed to him like static, like the coughing and clearing of throats during radio broadcasts of church services.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, excerpt five)

from The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke:

She turned on the radio on the kitchen cabinet; it was nice to watch her walking back and forth while the music came out of the radio. When somebody in a movie turned on the radio, the program was instantly interrupted for a bulletin about a wanted man.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, excerpt four)

from The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke:

Bloch noticed that each time he mentioned something and talked about it, the two of them countered with a story about their own experiences with the same or a similar thing or with a story they had heard about it. For instance, if Bloch talked about the ribs he had broken while playing, they told him that a few days ago one of the workers at the sawmill had fallen off a lumber pile and broken his ribs; and if Bloch then mentioned that his lips had had to be stitched more than once, they answered by talking about a fight on TV in which a boxer’s eyebrows had been split open: and when Bloch told how once he had slammed into a goalpost during a lunge and split his tongue, they immediately replied that the schoolboy also had a cleft tongue.

Monday, April 13, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, excerpt three)

from The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke:

The policemen, who made the usual remarks, nevertheless seemed to mean something entirely different by them; at least they purposely mispronounced phrases like “got to remember” and “take off” as “goats you remember” and “take-off” and, just as purposely, let their tongues slide over others, saying “whitewash?” instead of “why watch?” and “closed, or” instead of “close door.” For what would be the point of their telling him about the goats that, he should remember, had once, when the door had been left open, forced their way into the pool, which hadn’t even been officially opened yet, and had soiled everything, even the walls of the restaurant, so that the rooms had to be whitewashed all over again and it wasn’t ready on time, which was why Bloch should keep the door closed and stay on the sidewalk? As if to show their contempt for him, the policemen also failed to give their customary salutes when they drove away—or, anyway, only hinted at them, as though they wanted to tell Bloch something by it. They did not look back over their shoulders. To show that he had nothing to hide, Bloch stayed by the fence and went on looking in at the empty pool. “Like I was in an open wardrobe I wanted to take something out of,” Bloch thought. He could not remember now what he had gone to the public pool for. Besides, it was getting dark; the lights were already shining on the signs outside the public buildings at the edge of town. Bloch walked back into town. When two girls ran past him toward the railroad station, he called after them. Running, they turned around and shouted back. Bloch was hungry. He ate at the inn while the TV set could be heard from the next room. Later he took a glass in there and watched until the test pattern came on at the end of the program. He asked for his key and went upstairs. Half asleep, he thought he heard a car driving up outside with its headlights turned off. He asked himself why he happened to think of a darkened car; he must have fallen asleep before he figured it out.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, excerpt two)

from The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke:

At the tavern he found a waitress just scrubbing the floor. Bloch asked for the landlady. “She’s still asleep,” the waitress said. Standing up, Bloch ordered a beer. The waitress lifted a chair off the table. Bloch took the second chair off the table and sat down.

The waitress went behind the bar. Bloch put his hands on the table. The waitress bent down and opened the bottle. Bloch pushed the ashtray aside. The waitress took a cardboard coaster from another table as she passed it. Bloch pushed his chair back. The waitress took the glass, which had been slipped over the neck of the bottle, off the bottle, set the coaster on the table, put the glass on the coaster, tipped the beer into the glass, put the bottle on the table, and went away. It was starting up again. Bloch did not know what to do any more.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, excerpt one)

from The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke:

It was a beautiful October day. Bloch ate a hot dog at a stand and then walked past the stalls to a movie theater. Everything he saw bothered him. He tried to notice as little as possible. Inside the theater he breathed freely.

Friday, April 10, 2015

the last book I ever read (Thomas Bernhard's Gargoyles, excerpt five)

from Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard:

At his last visit, my father recalls, Prince Saurau, commenting on the flood, kept exclaiming “landslide” and spoke of “despair assailing his mind.” Again and again he exclaimed “landslide” and kept reckoning “flood damage, flood costs, flood sums.” The whole region was afflicted by a mild but “insidious” smell of decaying cadavers—on both banks of the Ache a great many drowned cattle had been wedged against houses and trees, torn open, bloated, some “dismembered by the power of the water” (my father), and many head of livestock from the Saurau barns in the valley had not yet been cleared away. And because of this smell the prince had kept exclaiming words like decay, dissolution, and the word diluvianism. Then he had suddenly declared that the noises in his brain were wreaking far greater devastation inside his head than what could be seen on the banks of the Ache down below. “Here in my head,” Saurau had said, “there is actually inconceivable devastation.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015

the last book I ever read (Thomas Bernhard's Gargoyles, excerpt four)

from Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard:

We are not alone at our table for long. An elderly man, obviously the father of the restaurant owner, sat down with us. He kept asking us what we knew about the crime in Gradenberg. He did not let us eat in peace.

Down toward the Fochler mill the valley narrowed in a way that struck even him as sinister, my father said. I recalled that the mill is situated deep in a dark gorge; shortly beyond it the path winds up to the Saurau Castle.

We paid and left. In the restaurant a band of schoolchildren were being fed. They were given hot soup and admonishments not to make noise. What gruesome people these innocent creatures will inevitably become, I thought as we left the restaurant.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

the last book I ever read (Thomas Bernhard's Gargoyles, excerpt three)

from Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard:

Students were always prey to a kind of restlessness, I said, because as long as they are at school they live in a no-man’s land between the parents they have left behind and the world they cannot yet attain, and their instincts still draw them back to their parents rather than toward the world. There are often tragedies inside that no-man’s land, which happen when they realize that they can neither return to their parents nor step out into the world. In the last six months in my dormitory alone three students have killed themselves, I said. Up to the last, there had not been the slightest symptom of emotional or psychic trouble in any of the three.

I myself had never even though of taking my life, I said. But my father remarked that the idea of suicide had always been a familiar one to him. Even as a child, when other ideas became too much for him, he had often sought refuge in this idea. But whenever the idea did come into his head, it had always taken the form of an alternative that made life possible, hence something rather restful, never something in its own right. Both of us were thinking how dangerous it was to have my sister continually absorbed in thoughts of suicide, either brooding about it or actually attempting it. From the time she was little she had inclined toward self-destruction. What had first been a bit of dramatics, my father said, might later develop into a genuine emotion that could end in the real thing.

Beyond Abraham the hills were covered with large orchards. The farmers had set out their casks of cider in the sun. The houses are old. There is hardly a more isolated region than that between Geistthal and Hauenstein.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

the last book I ever read (Thomas Bernhard's Gargoyles, excerpt two)

from Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard:

“With closed eyes I see everything much more distinctly than I did then,” she said.

“I have been thinking whom to leave my clothes to. They’re in the wardrobe, all in good condition… I made my house over to my son long ago, though I haven’t let him know.”

She could not say he was not concerned about her, she added, but he did no more than was his duty. Her daughter-in-law had always hated her. It had started as spontaneous dislike at their first meeting and had grown ever stronger over the years. “My son doesn’t dare to love me any more because of the way his wife hates me.” And by now, Frau Ebenhöh said, she was “crushed” by the more and more revolting stories her daughter-in-law concocted about her. The fact was that with her husband’s death she had become all too vulnerable to the ill will of her son and her daughter-in-law. Her daughter-in-law had thrust her into the outer darkness of hopeless solitude, and her son had done nothing but look on. He’d entered into marriage much too soon; he’d been immature and regarded that girl from Köflach as a way to escape from his parents, and had gone downhill instantly. He was now employed as a helper to a tanner in Krottendorf, and worked even on Sundays. His clothes reeked when he came on a visit; they gave out a frightful odor of cadaver, and so did his wife’s clothes and the grandmother’s clothes. Whenever they came, the whole house was filled with that odor of cadaver. After they left, she had to keep the windows open for hours or she couldn’t bear it. But they themselves never noticed they smelled so awful.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spencer Haywood, Class of 2015

Congratulations to Spencer Haywood on his long-awaited Basketball Hall of Fame induction.

the last book I ever read (Thomas Bernhard's Gargoyles, excerpt one)

from Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard:

“Bloch has the art of seeing his life as an easily understood mechanism that he can keep regulated, speed up or slow down, according to his needs,” my father said. “However he uses his powers, the result is always practically useful, which makes the whole thing bearable. He finds pleasure in this art and is always trying to teach it to his family.” Basically, my father said, Bloch was the only person he could talk with in a manner that was never awkward, and also the only person whom he wholly trusted. Bloch had become a friend who meant more than other lost friends, all those others scattered throughout the countryside pretending to be its intelligentsia, exiled in deep, sunless valleys, in small towns and dull marketplaces and villages, accepting their monotonous fate as country doctors in a way that used to pain him when he himself was still a student, but now only repelled him. For all these people, the high point had been their university years, he said. Once discharged into a world disastrously trustful of them, they fell into a horrible familial and consulting-room apathy, irrespective of whether they worked in hospitals or in private practice. He was shocked, my father said, by the total submergence of these former classmates, as he discovered whenever he wrote to one or another of them, letters he felt to be increasingly pointless. Lifelong dilettantes, they married much too soon or much too late and were destroyed by their increasing lack of ideas, lack of imagination, lack of strength, and finally by their wives. “I met Bloch just at the moment when I had no friends left, nothing but correspondents connected with me by a shared youth and the shared trustfulness of the world toward us.”

Sunday, April 5, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Sound of Music Story, excerpt eight)

from The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time by Tom Santopietro:

The moral certainty found in The Sound of Music, one that caused fans of the film to so embrace the look, sound, and feel of the onscreen world that their repeated viewings came to represent a form of wish fulfillment, seemed to represent nothing less than an attempt to live inside the movie and become von Trapps themselves. Audience members knew there was a distance between their own lives and what was on screen, but they wanted to be inside that world nonetheless. It’s a notion Woody Allen plays with beautifully throughout The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), in which Cecilia (Mia Farrow), married to an abusive man and drowning in a dead-end job, depends on the movies for her escape. She sees the movie The Purple Rose of Cairo so often that the film’s star walks off the screen, into her life, and falls in love with her. For all the women who dreamed of marrying Captain von Trapp, and all the children who wished for a governess or mother just like Maria, the notion struck home. Whether naïve or savvy, these super fans shared one overriding desire: to dive into the screen and live in the world of The Sound of Music. Only total immersion in that world would suffice. In the words of Nicholas Hammond: “Everyone in the world wants to be in our home movie—you show it to your kids.”

Saturday, April 4, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Sound of Music Story, excerpt seven)

from The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time by Tom Santopietro:

It was not, of course, only The Sound of Music that inspired vitriol in the mid- and late 1960s. Reviews from that sour era of upheaval reveal that critics were writing in a particularly acerbic and ofttimes nasty fashion. If in the twenty-first-century age of the Internet all criticism appears to be shot through the prism of irony, critics in the mid-sixties simply grew mean, as if the more vicious attacks, the more firmly they established their bona fides. Former favorites such as Doris Day were not just criticized, but actually ridiculed. As pointed out by Mark Harris in his first-rate study of late 1960s Hollywood, Pictures at a Revolution, Time magazine didn’t just dislike Charlie Chaplin’s Countess from Hong Kong, but eviscerated it with a headline that screamed: “Time to Retire.” Countess from Hong Kong may not have been a great film—and it wasn’t—but the film involved three certifiable legends in Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, and Sophia Loren, and as such was worthy of even-handed consideration. By the mid- and late 1960s, if the film in question carried even a hint of sentiment, let alone sentimentality, the knives were drawn and shots fired. Explaining why a film didn’t work was less of a priority than wit at the expense of others.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Do We Have Spirit?

I wrote about "Spirit," the ubiquitous (at least during March Madness) Enterprise Rent-A-Car ad, for Vice Sports.

the last book I ever read (The Sound of Music Story, excerpt six)

from The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time by Tom Santopietro:

A consummate team player, McCord even contributed to the number in a fashion having nothing to do with his work as cinematographer. As shooting dragged on, the painstaking and gentlemanly McCord realized that the inexperienced, tired, and generally out of sorts Duane Chase simply could not provide the necessary ear-to-ear smile required by Wise for one shot in the number. In stepped McCord, not with any change in lighting, but rather, with antics behind the camera that made Chase not just smile but grin. A veteran Academy Award-nominated cinematographer making an inexperienced child actor laugh for the sake of the shot—it all boded well for Wise’s team-oriented approach.

Chase’s grin had been successfully captured but that was just one shot among dozens required by the number. The much bigger problem lay in the fact that the number was designed to show Maria bonding with the children through music, yet having just met the seven young actors, Julie Andrews barely knew their names. To further complicate matters, it quickly became apparent that during each and every scene with the children, Julie Andrews would have to be at the peak of her game on every single take—no matter how many—in case the take in question should happen to be the one in which all of the children hit their marks and struck the right emotional notes. The children could and would stumble, overstep their marks, and miss their cues, but Julie Andrews needed to be letter perfect. Every time. Said Charmian Carr: “I never saw her make a mistake.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Sound of Music Story, excerpt five)

from The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time by Tom Santopietro:

No, none of the names suited Wise, and he decided to screen test British stage actor Keith Michel, whose test delivered the goods in spades. Onscreen, the well-trained actor revealed a warm, masculine presence, one nicely suited to the role of a stern yet loving father. In the end, however, Michel’s screen test registers like the fascinating screen test Robert De Niro underwent for the role of Sonny in The Godfather: the actor hits all the right notes, fills the frame nicely, and yet somehow doesn’t fit the character closely enough. Talented though he was, Michel wasn’t quite right, although certainly closer to the role than Walter Matthau, whose January 1964 test landed wide of the mark. No, Wise’s first choice remained, as it had throughout the casting process, the highly respected but then relatively unknown stage actor Christopher Plummer. Said Wise: “I just knew he would give it an edge, a bit of darkness.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

the last book I ever read (The Sound of Music Story, excerpt four)

from The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time by Tom Santopietro:

Although the majority of Broadway musicals were traditionally top-heavy with music in the first act, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s completed score proved to be even more front loaded than usual, with only three new songs (and three reprises) in the entire second act. Pleased with the audience response, the authors made few substantive changes during the show’s tryouts, with one key exception: Rodgers insisted that the captain be provided with a solo in the penultimate scene in order to underscore his love of family and country. The result was “Edelweiss,” the last song ever written by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Diagnosed with cancer of the stomach at the end of the third week of rehearsals, Hammerstein had been too ill to attend most of the show’s out-of-town tryouts, but when he felt well enough, he traveled to Boston and wrote this last lyric. The “bless my homeland forever” message of the song proved universal, managing to simultaneously strike a patriotic chord in nearly all audience members while deepening their understanding of the captain. (So effectively did the song come to symbolize Austria in the public’s eye that when the president of Austria visited the Reagan White House, the director of protocol mistakenly thought that the song was the Austrian national anthem and instructed the Marine band to play the song upon the Austria president’s arrival).