Fraternitas

Last night, as part of my recent Robert De Niro fascination, I watched Raging Bull, an unrelenting film about the humiliating self-destruction of a boxer who has Othello-esque jealousy issues.  I don’t necessarily recommend that you watch it for fun.  It is a great piece of film-making, though.  It was directed by Martin Scorcese, who is good at stripping attractive Italian-American actors of their dignity (cf. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator).

I’ve been ruminating since last night on the final scene of the movie, in which De Niro’s character, Jake LaMotta (a real person, BTW) is preparing himself for an event in which he plans to recite from a variety of authors including Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams.  (Don’t ask how that happened; it’s complicated.)  While looking in a mirror at his ravaged face and rapidly aging body, he quotes at length, and with proper attribution, from the “I coulda been a contender” scene in On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando (who, along with De Niro, played Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather and II, respectively–irrelevant movie nerd fact).  In that scene, Brando’s character is essentially blaming his brother for the failure of his prize-fighting career.  So when LaMotta quotes those lines, he is not only commenting on his own downfall as a fighter but also touching upon his fraught relationship with his own brother, who was his manager until they had an ugly falling-out.

Anyway, I didn’t plan to say that much by way of introduction to a poem I wrote this morning, but I always say more than I plan to say.  The poem, which is called “Fraternitas” (brotherhood), includes allusions, some more overt than others, to not only the two above-mentioned sets of brothers but also some other pairs you might recognize.

I coulda been a contender

But I’ve been walking around my whole life with your hand grabbing my heel.

I could have been king

But you were born first

And Dad liked your noble deeds better.

You said, “Let us go out to the field,”

And you beat out my brains

My manhood

My heart

And you left what was left over

A bad imitation of a man

A second son

Even if I came out of the womb first.

I blamed it on our parents

I blamed it on a woman

But it was you

It was you

You were the one who shot me in the back

And sucked out what nourished me.

But we’re brothers.

Of course I love you.

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Swallowed in the sea

I wish you could hear the wind where I am right now.  Then you might begin to understand with me that the old literary commonplace about the wind sounding like a human voice–moaning, screaming, calling–is more than just an old literary commonplace.  It’s a blustery day at Whalehead Beach, the tide is freakishly high (at least it looks that way to landlubber eyes), and the ocean’s surface is frothy.  The wind sounds like the voice of someone lost at sea (sorry, another cliche).  A formation of large birds flies by, and I think of the Ancient Mariner’s albatross.  I am also thinking about the climactic storm at Yarmouth in David Copperfield, and also about a Coldplay song, as you can tell by my title.  I am so little acquainted with the ocean that apparently I am unable to think about it except in terms of books and music.

These pictures will make you think I’m exaggerating; I am too scared (and cold) to go down on the beach and get a better view.  Anyway, you would need audio to really get a sense of what the sea is like right now.

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Charlie Chaplin and Peter Pan

This evening I watched probably the saddest comedy I’ve ever seen.  It had a happy ending, but only after the protagonist had survived a great deal of physical danger, loneliness, and mockery.  The film, a selection from my PhD candidacy exam “reading” list, was Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925).  It was only an hour and nine minutes long, and it was originally a silent film, though Netflix sent me a 1942 version that had a cheesy narrator and some dubbed-in dialogue in the narrator’s voice–even the female voices.  (If I were a silent film purist, which I’m not, that probably would have ruined the experience for me.  Fortunately, the narrator knew when to keep his mouth shut.)  Despite what might sound like obstacles to good storytelling (short running time and characters who don’t talk–even at the ending; you hear that,The Artist?), this turned out to be a hilarious comedy at times (I LOL-ed when the protagonist trashed the cabin in his joy after the girls promised to come over for New Year’s Eve dinner) and at other times a heart-breaking tale of man’s inhumanity to man.  Actually, it was mostly woman’s inhumanity to man; the men had guns and axes, but the women had cruel laughter, which the resilient “lone prospector” (Chaplin) was able to shake off less easily.  (Spoiler: The girls don’t show up for dinner.)

Other fun things about The Gold Rush: The special effects were pretty darn good for 1925.  (I didn’t even know they had special effects in 1925!)  Also, and perhaps most importantly, this is the movie from which Johnny Depp’s character in Benny and Joon draws his impression of the “dance” of two rolls on the ends of two forks.  Now I realize how stunningly accurate the homage is, right down to the facial expression.  If only for that reason, you should watch this movie.  But see if you can get the original version.

And now for my other, unrelated topic.  You know I love Peter Pan, the character, right?  You know how excited I was to see him at the Melbourne Zoo; you saw the picture I took as proof.  (See the post “Fairies in Melbourne.”)  I want to establish this because I’m going to share a poem I scribbled down Sunday night after watching the Alluvion Stage Company production of the musical Peter Pan.  The poem is rather critical of Peter, the character.  But my love for someone doesn’t mean that I can’t see the point of view of other characters who may not have such a rosy outlook on said person (eg. Harry Potter, Snape).  You can probably guess easily enough which character is speaking in this poem.  I’m probably reading more animosity into the story than is actually there, but I enjoy pulling out subtexts.  This poem isn’t great; I need to work more on the vocabulary and sentence structure because I want the voice to start out sounding like an adult (or someone who wants us to think he’s an adult) and descend gradually into childishness.  But, for now, here it is.

A clever chap, I suppose.

A good swordsman, you’d be a fool to deny it.

Very smart at plotting, and that sort of thing.

But really, what English young person doesn’t know the ending of Cinderella?

But he isn’t English, after all.

He’s some sort of heathen.

Probably doesn’t even know what the British Empire is.

And doesn’t understand how a shadow works?

Ridiculous, really.

Not as clever as Wendy thinks he is.

Not as clever as he thinks he is.

A horrid boy, actually.

Always has to be the father.

Always has to be the chief.

Always has to be the hero.

A horrible selfish boy

Who never,

Never

Lets anyone else be the leader.