Wednesday, July 10, 2013


"Do you exist?" Ace Atkins asked McNeil to his face the other night, settling a question - we hope! - that has persistently plagued the "blog." McNeil affirmed that he does indeed exist. Barry B., who was also in town for my birthday, reported that, back in Atlanta, Phil recently remarked again upon his disbelief in McNeil - RECENTLY! - which seems incredible, given that Phil once sent McNeil something in the mail. Did he think he was mailing something to a ghost? Oh, how we stubbornly ignore the evidence in front of our eyes. While he was in town McNeil inspected the cashew tree he mailed me for my birthday, speaking of mail. I have to say, it's looking kind of sickly. I think often of the song "Grandfather's Clock," which is about some old dude who dies when his clock stops ticking (or his clock stops ticking when he dies) and I worry about keeping the birthday cashew tree alive on similar principles of sympathetic magic. But I draw some consolation from SIBLEY'S GUIDE TO TREES, which I've been coveting at Square Books, and which my sister and brother-in-law kindly got me for my birthday (yes, they were also in town! As you will see, everyone was in town. It was really nice! And though I kept saying NO PRESENTS, people gave me stuff, perhaps most startlingly Bill Griffith, who strode across Snackbar with a machete [for me]. "Like ADVENTURE TIME, get it?" he said). For example, I read about deciduous trees in the introduction, and took some comfort from looking at the sickly tree and thinking, "Oh! It's deciduous, that's all. Yes, that's what a deciduous tree must look like." Sometimes we can deceive ourselves with our fancy book-learning, maybe! As far as I can tell, this kind of straight-up cashew tree doesn't generally grow in the United States, though trees in "the cashew family" (including various pistachios) do. "Many species in the family exude a blackish resin from broken twigs and develop blackish spots on the leaves." Check! "Many species in the cashew family... have toxic oils in their leaves and stems." Gosh! Poison ivy and poison oak are related to the cashew. Gee! Yesterday I was thankfully able to point out to McNeil a few new, tender shoots on the cashew tree, nestled among the blackening and withering leaves. But we're not here to talk about trees! I'm sure the main thing you'd like to know is whether we had another "McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival" while McNeil was here. We did not. And yet a peculiar mini-film-festival did occur. Dr. Theresa and Leslie (who was also in town: see?) were idly flipping around the movie channels for something to watch when they came across THREE FUGITIVES, that Martin Short/Nick Nolte team-up that everyone was probably waiting for once upon a time. Some quality of the film - Dr. Theresa and Leslie referred to it as "flatness" - they found compelling and numbing. I came in after they had already succumbed to the flatfooted vibe it exerted. McNeil came in to find all three of us staring dumbly at THREE FUGITIVES. Martin Short is an an unwilling bank robber who needs money for his moppet of a daughter who has LOST THE ABILITY TO SPEAK. "Charlie Chaplin has a lot to answer for," I said at one point. (I think it was a long shot of the Little Girl Who Couldn't Talk alone at the very end of a park bench, her hands folded in her lap, and Martin Short was really pushing the wet-eyed, gulping sad clown thing, to use Bruce Handy's definition of the term, which is looser than mine.) Late in the film Dr. Theresa and Leslie came out of the coma-like trances into which THREE FUGITIVES had lulled them for a segment in which Martin Short is forced to pretend to be a pregnant woman, Nick Nolte "her" concerned husband and the little girl is transformed into the "couple's" little boy. The academic portions of their brains kicked into overdrive at the sight of the gruff loner Nolte learning to be a "true man" by performing the role of the "man." Perhaps he, without changing his physical appearance, was in the most elaborate "drag" of all! The next day (or was it the day after?) in the post-celebration haze, a groggy Dr. Theresa and Leslie felt they "needed" another movie exhibiting the same "flatness" as THREE FUGITIVES, and charged me with finding one that was just beginning on one of the movie channels, which is how we came by chance to FEDS, a buddy comedy starring Rebecca De Mornay and Mary Gross (pictured) as would-be FBI agents. Once again I was moved to say, "Charlie Chaplin has a lot to answer for," but I can't remember why. Besides, the real phantoms hanging over both THREE FUGITIVES and FEDS were Martin and Lewis, of course. Martin Short (who often impersonates Lewis) and Mary Gross are the child-like ids (Mary Gross in a gun shop sticks a pistol in the front of her pants and does a strange, wiggling Jerry-like dance) while De Mornay and Nolte are the loners, the smooth operators, who learn to allow themselves to become dependent on their "weaker" counterparts. (And, as McNeil pointed out during the cross-dressing sequence of THREE FUGITIVES, Jerry often took the "female" role, appearing, for example, in remakes of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR and NOTHING SACRED in the parts originally played by Ginger Rogers and Carole Lombard.) Ha ha ha, I know nobody is reading this! McNeil (who came over in time to catch almost all of FEDS) wondered whether there was a sequel, a FEDS 2, and though it seemed obvious that no one had scrambled for a follow-up buddy comedy from Mary Gross and Rebecca De Mornay, McNeil checked his iPhone, just to make sure. And of course there was no FEDS 2. Yet a sequence that played over the final credits seemed to promise just that. The ridiculous optimism we need in order to continue living! Leslie argued with force and clarity that both THREE FUGITIVES and FEDS were about the fact that we become the roles we perform. Then some great monster in the scheduling department saw to it that CONTINENTAL DIVIDE came on right after FEDS. What a double feature! As no one felt capable of movement, we sat through CONTINENTAL DIVIDE - marking the second time I have seen it in four months, a preposterous circumstance I never would have believed had some Cassandra informed me of it in advance. Yet Leslie, who had never seen it, championed CONTINENTAL DIVIDE for a long spell, repeating "I don't see why this movie is 'bad,'" at a number of points. Well into the second act she spoke of its charms convincingly, citing, for instance, the cinematography that made everything in Chicago look like "old Polaroids," and exclaiming when Blair Brown busted up the shotguns of some eagle poachers against a rock that it was just the kind of thing she (Leslie) always fantasized about doing. But soon, beaten down by the movie's numerous willful missteps, she gave up, finally concluding that CONTINENTAL DIVIDE seemed like a movie that was stitched together entirely of scenes that had been edited out of some other movie. McNeil pointed out that it aspired to the condition of the "screwball comedy," yet lacked that genre's essential ingredient: unnatural speed. The director, he thought, could have improved the movie a lot simply by getting everyone to talk faster. Thwarted by a misguided allegiance to so-called "realism"! Hey, I don't want you to think we only watched movies. Leslie also went through an old community cookbook reading recipe titles and we'd make up songs about them - or, more accurately, imagine who might have recorded a song with such a name, like "Impossible Cheeseburger Pie" (Bob Dylan) and "Baptist Pound Cake" (Leonard Cohen; "Baptist Pound Cake" being a sexy, taboo metaphor - some woman takes pity on Leonard Cohen and feeds him "Baptist Pound Cake" in "the alley behind the church.") In summation: 1) Sometimes we can deceive ourselves with our fancy book-learning. 2) We stubbornly ignore the evidence in front of us. 3) We become the roles we perform. 4) Ridiculous optimism is required for the merest survival. These seem like terrible birthday lessons! So why was everything so much fun?