Liminal moments

There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time takes the backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crosses the line into manhood. The boy is walking through the street of his town. He is thinking of the future and of the figure he will cut in the world. Ambitions and regrets awake within him. Suddenly something happens; he stops under a tree and waits as for a voice calling his name. Ghosts of old things creep into his consciousness; the voices outside of himself whisper a message concerning the limitations of life. From being quite sure of himself and his future he be comes not at all sure. If he be an imaginative boy a door is tom open and for the first time he looks out upon the world, seeing, as though they marched in procession before him, the countless figures of men who before his time have come out of nothingness into the world, lived their lives and again disappeared into nothingness. The sadness of sophistication has come to the boy. With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun. He shivers and looks eagerly about. The eighteen years he has lived seem but a moment, a breathing space in the long march of humanity. Already he hears death calling. With all his heart he wants to come close to some other human, touch someone with his hands, be touched by the hand of another. If he prefers that the other be a woman, that is because he believes that a woman will be gentle, that she will understand. He wants, most of all, understanding.

— Sherwood Anderson

The devil

She had seen the devil in her house one day and chased it upstairs with a prayerbook and shut it in the box room. Afterwards, she asked my grandfather to brick up the door to the box room so the devil couldn’t get out. Years later, after she died, he unbricked the door and we went in, consumed with curiousity, to find a printing press. He threw it out, but not before we helped ourselves to a number of blank calling cards and some of the leaden letters.

— Jo Walton


No man ever quite believes in any other man. One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man. In the highest confidence there is always a flavor of doubt—a feeling, half instinctive and half logical, that, after all, the scoundrel may have something up his sleeve.

— Mencken


He who travels by sea is nothing but a worm on a piece of wood, a trifle in the midst of a powerful creation. The waters play about with him at will, and no one but God can help him.

— Muhammed As-Saffar

Our Greatest Living Film Critic, V

Volume V, Jan. – Feb. 2019

The Dam Busters (1955)

Watched The Dam Busters (1955), about the real but hard to believe Operation Chastise, where the RAF used 6-ton bombs to blow up German dams by skipping them over the surface of the water. Surprisingly good movie, despite primitive VFX and an unfortunately named dog. The story followed both the engineer who came up with the plan (Barnes Wallis: any relation?) and the pilots who delivered them. Evidently a riot in the RAF is roughly as intense as a tickle fight anywhere else. As in real life, the best leader is also the handsomest. I give it 3.75 engraved cricket bats out of a possible 5 engraved cricket bats.

Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

Watched Kelly’s Heroes (1970), in which Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas lead a small army deep into Nazi territory to steal $16 million in gold bars for themselves. An anti-Vietnam movie set in WWII. Because Donald Sutherland is in it, it has a greasy hippy vibe, but because Clint Eastwood is in it, it doesn’t quite go full Laugh-In. Telly Savalas is cool as hell in this movie. Don Rickles stops just short of calling people hockey pucks, and is great as always. From scene to scene, people hold the guns wrong or not. Lots of very good explosions. Apparently the studio cut out the scenes that would have made it great. I give it 3.75 gold bars out of a possible 5 gold bars.

Giant (1956)

Watched Giant (1956), starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and pre-LSD Dennis Hopper as a little twerp. Sprawling epic about wealthy Texans and the 20th century. James Dean was a squinty-eyed, fidgety lowlife from the first scene, and I was afraid he was supposed to be the good guy. I’m glad I was wrong: Bick Benedict isn’t perfect, but at least he’s got an arc. It starts slow, then accelerates in time and pace. I guess uncle Bawley can fly a plane? Good performance by Liz Taylor. Texas looks like Mars in this movie. Some great shots, and great set direction throughout. The black horse became the black car, and that’s the changing west, get it? Never forget Pedro the turkey. This movie is almost 3.5 hours long, but in the end it was worth watching. I give it 4.5 bedside coffee pots out of a possible 5 bedside coffee pots. (edited)

Mission: Impossible Fallout (2018)

Watched Mission: Impossible Fallout (2018). The plot is a labyrinth, at its center there’s a cavity; empty space. Along the way there’s awesome car fishtailing, a cool tactical sequence, a ridiculous bathroom fight where someone tears a pipe in half, and a foot chase sequence whose stakes depend on how fast an old man can run. This is a world in which the government is totally incompetent, if not adversarial, and only Randian supermen can save the day. Henry Cavill makes a great cartoon villain. Heads up, Hollywood: if you shoot a nuclear bomb, it doesn’t detonate. The movie sets up a moral dilemma (exposited by Alex Baldwin 10 minutes into the movie) and then totally abandons it in the climax. The presence of such honest, straightforward practical stunts in this movie make the CGI stunts in this movie look even worse. Maybe the best Mission: Impossible movie, tied with GhostPro. I give it 4 iphone apps out of a possible 5 iphone apps, or whatever I gave GhostPro.

Ed Wood (1994)

Watched Ed Wood (1994), which I’d never seen before. Johnny Depp’s performance does not work for me: he is never believable as a real person. The main cast all feel like cartoons, and then the bit players all feel like real people. In general, the movie wasn’t consistent about whether it was trying to mimick a B movie or not. It felt like a collection of anecdotes rather than a story. The black and white photography was unsettling in a good way, for the most part. Martin Landau was incredible as Bela Lugosi: I’d heard he was, but still surprised me how good his performance was. I give it 3 double-jointed Hungarians out of a possible 5 double-jointed Hungarians.

Sui Generis

Those which we call monsters are not so with God, who in the immensity of his work seeth the infinity of forms therein contained. And it may be thought that any figure doth amaze us hath relation unto some other figure of the same kind, although unknown unto man.

We call that against nature which cometh against custom. There is nothing, whatsoever it be, that is not according to her. Let therefore the universal and natural reason chase from us the error and expel the astonishment which novelty breedeth and strangeness causeth in us

– Montaigne

The stuff about God might not be in the original draft; I haven’t checked. Gide noted that Montaigne’s original drafts were entirely irreligious, but that to pre-empt any chance of heresy, however remote, he later added certain sentences, “like so many lightning-conductors”, to channel away the dangerous attention of the ruling Catholic church.

Regardless of whether this is one of those lightning-conductors, I liked the hypothesis that nothing, however monstrous and accidental-seeming, is completely of its own kind.