Happy Birthday, Truman Capote

A re-post for Truman Capote’s birthday, which is today.

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Gerald Clarke devoted an entire chapter to how this 1957 profile of Marlon Brando came about in his definitive biography of Truman Capote. ‘The Duke In His Doman’ is a famous piece, and was immediately notorious upon its publication. Par for the course in terms of Truman Capote’s stuff. He always made a big splash with things. (I’m an enormous Truman Capote fan, even when I think to myself, “Truman. What are you DOING??”)

So here’s how it all went down. Marlon Brando was over in Japan, filming Sayonara, directed by Josh Logan. Brando was over 10 years now into his celebrity. He was somewhat of a recluse in many ways, and rarely gave interviews. Truman Capote, back in America, had heard some of the problems with the shoot, the issues with casting, the desire to make a film that was authentic about Japanese culture (which Truman gleefully had a feeling would be a giant bust), filming in Japan itself, and knew he HAD to write about the shoot.

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Josh Logan was no dummy and knew Truman was a shit-disturber of the highest order, and basically banned him from visiting the set. I think originally he had said, “Sure, come on over” but then had second thoughts so severe that he jammed his foot on the brakes as hard as he could. Capote could be the most flattering man alive, which is how he softened up his interview-subjects (or, hell, his friends who had no idea that they were also “subjects”), playing on their vanity, etc. etc. Many people were so fooled by him that when the piece came out featuring them, and it was less-than-flattering, they were stunned. (And then, of course, came the Great Purge, when all of Truman’s friends save a couple dropped him, en masse. But that was all in the future at the time of ‘Duke In His Domain’.) Truman was loved, and feared.

Logan knew if Capote were just hanging around on the set, he would gossip and get people to confess things, get quotes that would damn the production far and wide. He had to stave him off. Truman Capote set off for Japan, with pal Cecil Beaton in tow. Once he arrived in Kyoto, to join up with the production, he learned of Logan’s ban. Capote’s vengeful feelings towards Logan are evident in the profile. Logan ends up looking like a dupe, an enthusiastic dupe, a guy who was so psyched to have Brando in his picture that he didn’t take the time to see if Brando was giving a good performance or not. Whatever Brando did, Logan would shout, “Cut – PRINT. That was great!” (according to Capote, so again, grain of salt). Brando would test directors. He was already used to people kow-towing to him, being sycophants, fawning on him, and it made him cynical. If you think everything I do is great, then I know you are lying to me, therefore I do not trust you, therefore I will withhold myself from you.

An interview with Brando was never in the original picture. Truman Capote wanted to write about a big Hollywood production being filmed on Japanese soil, and the culture clash, and everything. Because he was banned from the set, he was at a bit of a loss as to what to do, so he and Cecil Beaton traveled around for a couple of weeks, going to Thailand, and Hong Kong. (When you read the profile, you would have thought Truman Capote had lived for 20 years in Japan, he speaks with such breathless assurance about the culture, and kabuki, and sake, and all that.) Logan continued to ban Capote from hanging out on the set, but Brando had invited Truman to come over to his suite for dinner or a drink. Not an interview, that was not in the cards, that was not expressed, permission was not given. It was 100% casual, “come on over, let’s hang out.” Capote himself said later that interviewing Brando hadn’t ever occurred to him. (Yeah, right, Truman.) Logan begged Brando to cancel the dinner. He had heard Truman bad-mouthing Brando around town for a while. Montgomery Clift is a REAL actor, Brando isn’t … etc. Logan told Brando that “Truman has it in for you”, but Brando, protected by his own fame, innocence, and self-belief, was like, “Oh please, I’m gonna do whatever I want to do and I want to have dinner with Truman.”

He certainly had second thoughts when ‘The Duke In His Domain’ was published a couple of months later. Brando screamed at Logan, “HE TRICKED ME.” Logan couldn’t help but give him a bit of an I-told-you-so lecture. Brando was completely unaware that he was being “interviewed”. He thought he was just hanging out with Truman Capote. Truman Capote was a master at getting people to reveal their innermost selves, and he did that by talking about HIMself. Truman was quite open about this. If you tell someone something about yourself, a secret, a flaw, then the other person may feel inclined to tell you a secret in return. Many many many people have been “tricked” into revealing their secrets in this manner. Truman told Brando his problems, as they sat in Brando’s suite, being waited on by little Japanese waitresses, and then Brando started riffing. Unaware that Truman was memorizing every single word he said. I would imagine Capote left Brando’s suite, heart pounding, thinking, “Holy shit, did that just happen?” And then crouching in a corner with a notebook, writing it all down, having stored it all in his phenomenal memory.

Marlon Brando talked, non-stop, for three hours, to Capote that night. He drank vodka. He clearly felt relaxed. He talked about his problems with fame, his issues with directors, his problems with the Sayonara shoot. He named names. He told Truman he slept with men sometimes, no big deal. (Truman Capote left that revelation out of the profile.) Brando had no idea he was “on the record”.

The resulting profile is one of the most fascinating things you will ever read about a celebrity, bar none. There’s almost nothing else quite like it, especially since it is written by Capote, master of the gossipy-observant-psychological form. It is not a hatchet-piece, nothing like that. Brando comes off as eccentric, selfish, manipulative, but also troubled and intelligent. You cannot believe he revealed himself like this so indiscriminately, that he wasn’t more protected. Logan comes off worse than Brando, in my opinion, with his gushing about Brando, no matter what Brando does. Brando seems bored. He tells Capote he is thinking of becoming a monk, or a hermit, or something like that. The world bores him. He wants to do something important. A monk asked him for his autograph the other day, and he was so cynical about it – why would a man like that even KNOW about me? Truman Capote clocks Marlon Brando’s puritanism (it reminds me somewhat of Elvis Presley’s yearning for a contemplative life, a life as a Buddhist monk or a preacher or something, it makes perfect sense when you think of the LEVEL of that fame, so far beyond even the fame of other famous people!)

While I can understand why Brando was mortified about the piece, and infuriated because he had talked vividly about his mother’s alcoholism (it was the inclusion of that quote that he really couldn’t forgive Capote for) and his own boredom with his good fortune (nobody likes to hear about the problems of fortunate people, it makes them resentful) … it is an extraordinary piece of journalism. It really is. While Capote may have been sneering at Brando, and while there is certainly an aspect of viciousness to the profile (in the fact that it was published at all), my heart actually goes out to Brando in the profile. AND, because he was so relaxed (he probably would never relax in the company of a journalist ever again after this experience), he actually talked about his own fame and his feelings about it in a way that is unique! My favorite quote from Marlon Brando – ever – comes from this profile.

“You can’t always be a failure. Not and survive. Van Gogh! There’s an example of what can happen when a person never receives any recognition. You stop relating: it puts you outside. But I guess success does that, too. You know, it took me a long time before I was aware that that’s what I was – a big success. I was so absorbed in myself, my own problems, I never looked around, took account. I used to walk in New York, miles and miles, walk in the streets late at night, and never see anything. I was never sure about acting, whether that was what I really wanted to do; I’m still not. Then, when I was in ‘Streetcar’, and it had been running a couple of months, one night — dimly, dimly — I began to hear this roar.”

I mean, honestly. I can understand, again, why Brando would balk at seeing those words in clear print, but I am so thankful that he was “tricked” by Capote because that is one of the most vivid descriptions from the inside of what it feels like to become famous I have ever read. Fantastic.

Bravo, Truman.

I think Truman himself couldn’t believe it had happened, that Brando was so ready to talk to him in this manner.

It takes place entirely in Brando’s suite in Kyoto. Truman goes off on somewhat-pretentious explanations of Japanese culture for all us rubes back home, but he has a point, in showing the culture clash, first of all, and the problems that Japan in general had with the production. There was a lack of cooperation from the Japanese side. It caused a lot of tension. So we have that part of it, but we keep going back to Brando’s suite, and Brando rambling on and on, stream-of-conscious, about acting and directors and Buddhism and God and life … and he doesn’t sound like an asshole. To me, he sounds like a very isolated young man trying to deal with the rigors of fame and being the “greatest actor ever”, and all that … and he confides in Truman about a screenplay he’s writing, and some of his plans. His perception on James Dean as “sick”, by the way, mirrors Elia Kazan’s.

‘The Duke In His Domain’ is one of the most famous pieces in this collection. I’ve read it a ton of times and refer to it often, and I still find it startling. I get nervous for Brando halfway through. I want to race in and tell him to shut up. But I’m glad I can’t. Because if ‘Duke In His Domain’ didn’t exist, the picture of Brando we have would be incomplete. We owe Capote that.

Oh, and I will say this: I understand what Brando is talking about in the “it’s what happens inside you on the third take”. Capote pretends incomprehension, but I think he did so in order to get Brando to explain further. Again, what a gift to lovers of acting, to have someone “trick” Brando in opening up about the nuts-and-bolts of his process, what it felt like to him.

Life Stories: Profiles from The New Yorker, edited by David Remnick; ‘The Duke In His Domain’, by Truman Capote

“No, [James] Dean was never a friend of mine,” said Brando, in response to a question that he seemed surprised to have been asked. “That’s not why I may do the narration job. I hardly knew him. But he had an idée fixe about me. Whatever I did he did. He was always trying to get close to me. He used to call up.” Brando lifted an imaginary telephone, put it to his ear with a cunning, eavesdropper’s smile. “I’d listen to him talking to the answering service, asking for me, leaving messages. But I never spoke up. I never called him back. No, when I—”

The scene was interrupted by the ringing of a real telephone. “Yeah?” he said, picking it up. “Speaking. From where? . . . Manila? . . . Well, I don’t know anybody in Manila. Tell them I’m not here. No, when I finally met Dean,” he said, hanging up, “it was at a party. Where he was throwing himself around, acting the madman. So I spoke to him. I took him aside and asked him didn’t he know he was sick? That he needed help?” The memory evoked an intensified version of Brando’s familiar look of enlightened compassion. “He listened to me. He knew he was sick. I gave him the name of an analyst, and he went. And at least his work improved. Toward the end, I think he was beginning to find his own way as an actor. But this glorifying of Dean is all wrong. That’s why I believe the documentary could be important. To show he wasn’t a hero; show what he really was—just a lost boy trying to find himself. That ought to be done, and I’d like to do it—maybe as a kind of expiation for some of my own sins. Like making ‘The Wild One.’ ” He was referring to the strange film in which he was presented as the Führer of a tribe of Fascistlike delinquents. “But. Who knows? Seven minutes is my limit.”

From Dean the conversation turned to other actors, and I asked which ones, specifically, Brando respected. He pondered; though his lips shaped several names, he seemed to have second thoughts about pronouncing them. I suggested a few candidates—Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Montgomery Clift, Gérard Philipe, Jean-Louis Barrault. “Yes,” he said, at last coming alive, “Philipe is a good actor. So is Barrault. Christ, what a wonderful picture that was ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’! Maybe the best movie ever made. You know, that’s the only time I ever fell in love with an actress, somebody on the screen. I was mad about Arletty.” The Parisian star Arletty is well remembered by international audiences for the witty, womanly allure she brought to the heroine’s part in Barrault’s celebrated film. “I mean, I was really in love with her. My first trip to Paris, the thing I did right away, I asked to meet Arletty. I went to see her as though I were going to a shrine. My ideal woman. Wow!” He slapped the table. “Was that a mistake, was that a disillusionment! She was a tough article.”

The maid came to clear the table; en passant, she gave Brando’s shoulder a sisterly pat, rewarding him, I took it, for the cleaned-off sparkle of his plates. He again collapsed on the floor, stuffing a pillow under his head. “I’ll tell you,” he said, “Spencer Tracy is the kind of actor I like to watch. The way he holds back, holds back — then darts in to make his point, darts back. Tracy, Muni, Cary Grant. They know what they’re doing. You can learn something from them.”

Brando began to weave his fingers in the air, as though hoping that gestures would describe what he could not precisely articulate. “Acting is such a tenuous thing,” he said. “A fragile, shy thing that a sensitive director can help lure out of you. Now, in movie-acting the important, the sensitive moment comes around the third take of a scene; by then you just need a whisper from the director to crystallize it for you. Gadge” —he was using Elia Kazan’s nickname— “can usually do it. He’s wonderful with actors.”

Another actor, I suppose, would have understood at once what Brando was saying, but I found him difficult to follow. “It’s what happens inside you on the third take,” he said, with a careful emphasis that did not lessen my incomprehension. One of the most memorable film scenes Brando has played occurs in the Kazan-directed “On the Waterfront;” it is the car-ride scene in which Rod Steiger, as the racketeering brother, confesses he is leading Brando into a death trap. I asked if he could use the episode as an example, and tell me how his theory of the “sensitive moment” applied to it.

“Yes. Well, no. Well, let’s see.” He puckered his eyes, made a humming noise. “That was a seven-take scene, and I didn’t like the way it was written. Lot of dissension going on there. I was fed up with the whole picture. All the location stuff was in New Jersey, and it was the dead of winter—the cold, Christ! And I was having problems at the time. Woman trouble. That scene. Let me see. There were seven takes because Rod Steiger couldn’t stop crying. He’s one of those actors loves to cry. We kept doing it over and over. But I can’t remember just when, just how it crystallized itself for me. The first time I saw ‘Waterfront,’ in a projection room with Gadge, I thought it was so terrible I walked out without even speaking to him.”

A month earlier, a friend of Brando’s had told me, “Marlon always turns against whatever he’s working on. Some element of it. Either the script or the director or somebody in the cast. Not always because of anything very rational—just because it seems to comfort him to be dissatisfied, let off steam about something. It’s part of his pattern. Take ‘Sayonara.’ A dollar gets you ten he’ll develop a hoss on it somewhere along the line. A hoss on Logan, maybe. Maybe against Japan—the whole damn country. He loves Japan now. But with Marlon you never know from one minute to the next.”

I was wondering whether I might mention this supposed “pattern” to Brando, ask if he considered it a valid observation about himself. But it was as though he had anticipated the question. “I ought to keep my mouth shut,” he said. “Around here, around ‘Sayonara,’ I’ve let a few people know the way I feel. But I don’t always feel the same way two days running.”

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8 Reasons To Watch Transparent

I’m stealing the click-bait-y title:

8 Reasons ‘Transparent’ Is a Very Important Show You Need To Be Watching.

I watched the pilot and loved it; Tambor already brought me to tears twice. Exquisite acting.

But what I really want to say is that #6 on that list is the most exciting reason of all.

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Happy Birthday, Jerry Lee Lewis

There are so many great clips of Jerry Lee Lewis, in his heyday, and even more recently, and there are a few black-and-white clips of him performing that truly makes it clear how radical and out-there and damn near frightening he really was. He kicks his piano stool out of the way to stand up and you think he’s going to come right at you.

But the clip below, of a rock ‘n’ roll medley, done with Tom Jones in 1969, is one of my all-time favorites. It satisfies on multiple levels: their communication, their sheer joy in performing, their support of one another’s awesomeness without ever ceding their own power. This type of performing is out of style. Which seems ridiculous. Because it’s just good old-fashioned entertainment. Entertainers who are willing to just BE in front of us. Simply BE. They are full enough to handle it, full enough to take that attention.

It’s actually hard to do what they’re doing here. Otherwise more people would do it. You have to have the gift, and the expressive talent. You have to know what it is to be a performer, an entertainer. You have to have come up in a world where you can ONLY rely on your talent and charisma. You have to have started out playing in barns and county fairs in the middle of the day with a lot of other shit going on. No sounds and lights to cue the crowd to listen to you. You had to MAKE them listen.

What we see here is the result of years of performing in front of live audiences. Years of experience. They know who they are. They know why they are there. They need us, but they need each other too. And so we in the audience get to relax. They don’t need us too much. They are not demanding out attention with something lackluster, hoping we don’t notice. They don’t bluff their way through it. They rely on nothing other than themselves. It’s deeply joyful and exhilarating, letting them take the reins.

I don’t need to worry about them.

And so happy birthday, you maniac.

Posted in Music | 3 Comments

I’m So Happy That …

1. the moment below actually occurred … that it wasn’t just dreamt up in some alternate-universe alternate-history story-book

and

2. the moment was captured on film.

Look at these two men. Beautiful. A perfect clip.

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Revolver stands as a document of a time when all four of The Beatles seemed to share a common vision.”

My brilliant cousin Liam O’Malley (also a musician, you can check out his great band Dr. Mars on iTunes) writes an essay about The Beatles’ Revolver.

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The Boxtrolls (2014)

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It’s fantastic. I would have flipped my lid over it at age 8, 9, 10, and I flipped as an adult as well.

My review of The Boxtrolls is now up at Rogerebert.com. The film opens today.

Posted in Movies | 4 Comments

Happy Birthday, T.S. Eliot

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Poets like William Carlos Williams and Hart Crane both said that they needed to forcibly divorce themselves from Eliot’s influence in order to be able to write in their own way. Everything sounded like an imitation of Eliot. Interestingly enough, Eliot felt that way about Joyce’s Ulysses, published in 1922, of which he said (among many other things), “I wish for my own sake that I hadn’t read it.”

I went through an Eliot phase in high school, mainly because my drama class had gone to see Cats in New York, and also we had had to read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in English class, and there was something about the descriptions (the yellow fog and I loved the part about the yellow smoke rubbing its back against the window panes) that I really liked. I was very into adjectives back then, which maybe one day I will write about because it took a truly obsessive form (I had to break myself of the habit, which lasted well into adulthood) and I’m not sure what that was all about. Perhaps part of my obsession in capturing beauty, because I know that it was not built to last? Eliot’s work was really good with the adjectives. I kept lists.

I like that Eliot had, like many artists, a struggle committing to be a poet. His parents thought it would be a waste of energy, and they wanted him to have a “real” job. For a while he kept up the pretense, studying philosophy, going for his dissertation, but all the while, the poetry was growing in him.

So guess who entered the picture around this time?

Ezra Pound. What a shock. Boy got around.

Pound read early drafts of Prufrock and browbeat Harriet Monroe (editor of Poetry) to publish it. Monroe didn’t want to at first. She said no. Pound tried again. And again. Until finally she caved in 1915.

I don’t think I knew that T.S. Eliot was American until, oh, yesterday. Cats seemed really British to me, as a teenager, especially because of the composers of the musical being British (not that that has anything to do with anything, just describing my own journey here) and then “T.S. Eliot” the name sounds oh so British. No, the dude was from St. Louis. When I found out his nation of origin, I had to re-think my entire concept of the guy. Eventually he became a British citizen, and he lived in Europe for most of his life. Interesting, though: his family was originally from Massachusetts, but T.S. Eliot was raised in St. Louis. Eliot ended up going to Harvard and while there, he suddenly felt himself to be a Midwesterner. But this was interesting because during his time in St. Louis, he felt totally like a Northeasterner. There was geographical displacement in this man from the beginning, and you can really see that in his poems. He belonged nowhere. And everywhere. He was not a “local” guy.

He said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1948:

In the work of every poet there will certainly be much that can only appeal to those who inhabit the same region, or speak the same language, as the poet. But nevertheless there is a meaning to the phrase “the poetry of Europe”, and even to the word “poetry” the world over. I think that in poetry people of different countries and different languages – though it be apparently only through a small minority in any one country – acquire an understanding of each other which, however partial, is still essential.

That all sounds very nice and grown-up, doesn’t it? But Eliot had witnessed the fracturing of “understanding”, in World War I and World War II, and his later poems express the fear and anxiety of that desolate time in Europe. Eliot had a troubled first marriage, and lost a dear friend in World War I. There were other events, too, including the death of his father, that all worked on him and his psyche. A terrible time for him, a terrible time for the world. The result was The Waste Land, completed in 1921 and published in 1922. Like Yeats’s Second Coming, the poem describes the overwhelming sense of doom and fear in the world, of evil stalking the land, slaughter, carnage, chaos. The breaking down of civilization, the fracturing of all that was known, and also the fracturing of the belief that things can be known in the first place.

Eliot was, of course, in England at the time, which made a difference in his outlook. Americans were greatly affected by the two world wars, obviously. We made enormous sacrifices, and raced in (to quote Eddie Izzard) like “the cavalry in the last reel”, but the countries of Europe, covered in trenches and barbed wire, terrorized by air raids, had a different perspective. Awful as it was, it helped launch art into the modern age.

In order to understand the 20th century, The Waste Land is essential.

Interestingly enough, the form of The Waste Land represented a break with Pound. The poets Pound promoted found themselves eventually having to ‘break’ with him, because his influence was huge as well, and he was pushing them all towards a certain kind of expression. He was responsible for many of their artistic breakthroughs. Pound was instrumental in helping Eliot put The Waste Land together, which had existed in only fragments. I love that the fragmentary nature of the poem remained intact, though, because it is an accurate reflection of the world at that time. That is what cataclysmic events do. Psychologies and cultures fragment.

Eliot had suffered a nervous breakdown, and needed help with the poem. Pound stepped in. Pound took all of the different drafts and acted as an editor, piecing it together. It says a lot about Pound that he saw what Eliot was working towards, and although Pound’s goals (and, in some cases, tastes) differed from Eliot’s, Pound put all that aside and honored Eliot’s goals/taste. Perhaps Eliot would have leaned towards a more streamlined approach, perhaps Pound sensed that the poem needed its fractured format.

Eliot said later, about The Waste Land:

In The Waste Land I wasn’t even bothering whether I understand what I was saying.

My Norton Anthology says, in its introduction to Eliot:

When the poem itself was first published, in 1922, it gave Eliot his central position in modern poetry. No one has been able to encompass so much material with so much dexterity, or to express the alienation and horror of so many aspects of the modern world. Though the poem is made of fragments, they are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that might be joined if certain spiritual conditions were met. In this way, Eliot’s attitude toward fragmentation was different from Pound’s – Eliot wanted to recompose the world, whereas Pound thought it could remain in fragments and still have a paradisal aspect that the poet could elicit. In other words, Pound accepted discontinuity as the only way in which the world could be regarded, while Eliot rejected it and looked for a seamless world. He began to find it in Christianity.

Eliot was quick to dismiss his own importance (you can see it in his Nobel speech), and he said, at one point, that The Waste Land wasn’t so much a treatise on the alienation and fragmentation of the modern man, but just a piece of “rhythmical grumbling”.

Here is the poem that started it all (for him and for me).

There were many things that I fell in love with when I was 14 that I then outgrew, like colored legwarmers and Rick Springfield. But “Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” I will never outgrow.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
. . . . . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola

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From Masculin Féminin (1966), directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

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Force Majeure (2014); written and directed by Ruben Östlund

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Force Majeure. A superior or irresistible power. An event that is a result of the elements of nature, as opposed to one caused by human behavior.

Force Majeure premiered at Cannes this past May and won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. Word of the film emanated out from Cannes, in the way that “buzz” starts to happen, over Twitter, through early reviews. Force Majeure opens in the U.S. on October 24 (probably in limited release), and is also Sweden’s official entry as Best Foreign-Language film. I went into the film only knowing that there was an avalanche in it, and that it was a unique version of a “disaster movie”. Some of the reviews I have read since give quite a bit away. It’s not that there’s a secret, or that there are plot-points that need to be protected. But I am quite happy with my experience of going into the movie knowing really nothing about it. So consider that before you read any further (or view the trailer).

A Swedish family (dad Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), mom Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and two kids, Harry and Vera, played by Vincent Wettergren and Clara Wettergren) go on holiday in the Alps. They stay in a nice resort, huddled in the middle of the mountains, peaks rising up all around. Ebba confesses to a friend she runs into at the reception desk, also on a holiday, that they have taken this holiday because Tomas works too much and needs to spend more time with his family.

During lunch on a rooftop cafeteria overlooking the slopes, the family and the other guests eating watch as a spectacular controlled avalanche barrels down towards them. It’s moving fast. People feel safe, they “ooh” and “ahh” and take out their phones to capture the magnificence. But very quickly everyone realizes that the avalanche appears to be coming right towards them. And although they are several stories in the air, the wall of snow coming at them is taller. Panic erupts. The screen goes to white.

And then stays white. We hear the screams, the running feet. We see nothing.

As the event dissipates, as the white disappears, melting into nothingness, providing us with sight again, it becomes apparent that Tomas made a choice, when that avalanche was about to hit. He made a choice that is the impetus for all that follows. It is a choice he denies, vehemently, throughout. Ebba, though, knows what she saw. Her marriage is called into question. Her life choices. And for Tomas, it is an assault on his identity and self-perception that leads him into treacherous psychological waters, an abyss of nothingness, a total obliteration of Self. The two young children are helpless bystanders as they watch their freaked-out parents become aware of the sheer amount of wreckage left in the avalanche’s wake.

Filmed in a formal and omniscient way, with repetitive stunning shots of the slopes, the ski-lifts barreling over the blinding white, the resort seen as a vulnerable block of concrete surrounded by an austere landscape, Force Majeure ends up being a brutal look at concepts of masculinity, heroism, courage, and what all that might mean in a modern world. It also contains the suggestion that modernity could be swept away in a second by a natural disaster, a “force majeure.” Are we ready for it? Tomas works in an office. He is a family man. He is domesticated. That is not necessarily a negative thing. But when a moment occurs where he needs to rise in a more traditional role, he fails. Horribly. The expectations not just from Ebba, but from his fellow male counterparts, stare at him in the face. Leer at him, jeering and mocking.

Ebba can’t “let it go.” Much of Force Majeure (which was also written by Östlund) is made up of long conversational scenes, between Tomas and Ebba and various friends. A couple joins them on vacation. Immediately, Ebba and Tomas tell the story of the avalanche, each one sharing their different versions. They want outside approval for their point of view of what happened. And yet they can’t agree on what happened. These scenes are long, complex, with shots that repeat, metronome-like, so that you realize you are going into a Hall of Mirrors. What is perception? What is identity? Does it exist all on its own, or must it be reflected back to you? What happens when the reflection does not match the desire? The couples who are forced to listen to these varying interpretations, start to weigh in with their own opinions. Tomas and Ebba’s anxiety and trauma start to wear off on others. The fallout is not isolated to one family. It makes the other characters wonder: “Who am I, when push comes to shove? Would I do what Tomas did? Can I even explain Tomas’ actions, or excuse them? How will I be in a moment when heroism is required? Will I fail?” The dialogue is intricate, fascinating. The acting is deep and extremely strange. These are people facing the abysses within. These are people who have never been tested, who have never been forced to look at, really look at, who they are in the world.

The avalanche we see in Force Majeure is a controlled one. Throughout the film, there are constant blasts from speakers placed out on the slopes, to shift the snow so that the skiers will be safe. At first, the characters in Force Majeure are not aware of how bad the psychological damage has been. They think they, too, may be able to control the avalanche. In scene after scene, relentless, sometimes extremely hilarious (believe it or not), Tomas and Ebba realize that the event that has befallen them cannot be controlled. They try. They talk. They plead their case to their friends. They listen to the responses. They go skiing again. They try.

But what was seen cannot be unseen. Their marriage is hurtling at breakneck speed towards a bottomless pit. And, even more frightening, Tomas’ entire sense of self begins to shatter. At first slowly, because he resists. And finally, devastatingly, he can no longer control any of it.

Östlund films this uncontrollable landscape of trauma and fear in an extremely controlled way. Shots repeat. We see things from far off: the resort, the mountains, the horizon. Even the interior of the resort, strangely repetitive, stacked balconies around an open space, is filmed in a way that destabilizes our understanding of what we are seeing. It’s eerie. The effect makes one extremely uneasy. Nobody is a villain. Human beings do not always do their best when push comes to shove. Everyone hopes that in a crisis situation they will be the resourceful one, the one who holds a group together, who has ideas about what to do. Even if we are not conscious of that hope, it’s there. Östlund films some of it as though it is a play: long shots, with people talking. I didn’t have a stopwatch on the length of these shots, but he basically lets these devastating conversations play out, without pushing in close, or editing the heck out of the footage telling us where to look. And so these scenes, with everyone sitting around trying do damage-control from that initial event, start to feel even more frightening than the avalanche we saw. Östlund, and his camera, doesn’t blink.

The physical disaster of the avalanche happens in the first 10 minutes of the film. The emotional disaster that follows, however, is the thing that really spreads, obliterating all in its path.

Force Majeure is one of my favorite films of the year thus far.

The-US-Trailer-For-The-Film-Force-Majeure

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Happy Birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald

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So you see that old libel that we were cynics and skeptics was nonsense from the beginning. On the contrary we were the great believers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Generation”

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Fitzgerald was one of those writers I liked right away, even though I read most of his stuff at 14 or 15, and was forced to for school. I clicked with his books. I credit a lot of that to my 10th grade teacher, Mr. Crothers. His love of The Great Gatsby permeated his lectures, and his enthusiasm inspired the class. (Excerpt from book here). I really “got” it. I remember the book as being much longer than it actually is. When I recently re-read it, I was shocked by the slim-ness of the volume.

As an early teenager, I already had a fascination with flappers: that might have had something to do with seeing Bugsy Malone on TV when I was about 12. Jodie Foster and Scott Baio as little kid gangsters and gun molls, driving cars with their feet like the Flintstones. I loved that movie, and I loved Jodie Foster’s spit-curls, and her costumes. In junior high I did a whole paper on the 1920s for history class. Even back then, I would take on independent research projects in topics that gripped my imagination.

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I wrote stories about flappers and vaudeville show girls and bootleggers. It was a highly evocative era for me, perhaps indicative of my fantasy of being grown-up, and on my own, and rebelling, doing what I wanted to do.

All the time I was idealizing her to the last possibility. I was perfectly conscious that she was about the faultiest girl I’d ever met. She was selfish, conceited and uncontrolled and since these were my own faults I was doubly aware of them. Yet I never wanted to change her. Each fault was knit up with a sort of passionate energy that transcended it. Her selfishness made her play the game harder, her lack of control put me rather in awe of her and her conceit was punctuated by such delicious moments of remorse and self-denunciation that it was almost – almost dear to me … She had the strongest effect on me. She made me want to do something for her, to get something to show her. Every honor in college took on the semblance of a presentable trophy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw” – a story written when he was an undergraduate

F. Scott Fitzgerald (or Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) was born in St. Paul Minnesota in 1896. He went to Princeton, and afterwards joined the army. Somewhere in those early years, he sold his first story and when he was only 23 years old he wrote and published his first novel: This Side of Paradise. It was a smash hit, one of those zeitgeist books: it described the moment in time that everyone was experiencing, a mood coursing through the molecules in the collective atmosphere. Fitzgerald was immediately seen as the voice of that era and that generation. The jazz age kicking in. Fitzgerald was the poster child for it. This Side of Paradise remains one of the greatest books about American undergraduate life ever written. It didn’t hurt that he was so handsome, either.

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People projected their own desires onto him, their ideals for who they wanted to be. He was glamorous, urbane, free from societal conventions. He seemed to live the life others wanted to live.

And yet, he was also the man who wrote: “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”

As everyone knows, F. Scott Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre, a Southern belle who hailed from Montgomery, Alabama.

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Girls, for instance, have found the accent shifted from chemical purity to breadth of viewpoint, intellectual charm and piquant cleverness … we find the young woman of 1920 flirting, kissing, viewing life lightly, saying damn without a blush, playing along the danger line in an immature way – a sort of mental baby vamp … Personally, I prefer this sort of girl. Indeed, I married the heroine of my stories. I would not be interested in any other sort of woman.

Interview with F. Scott Fitzgerald, in January, 1921

Zelda was the Clara Bow for the literary set. She was who they were talking about when they talked about “jazz babies”. Zelda was the original article.

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They had their wedding reception at Chumley’s, a former speakeasy and literary hangout at 86 Bedford Street, which unfortunately is no longer there. There was no signage, nothing to point you to it. You had to know where it is. The phrase “86 the plates, 86 the table settings” comes from the address of Chumley’s, or so the rumor goes. It was a message from the days of Prohibition: 86 Bedford, baby! The cops are coming, 86 those cocktails, and let’s get the hell out of here.

Scott and Zelda lived their relationship in public. They created personae, they acted parts, they showed up at places looking amazing, they relished in their own publicity, keeping massive scrapbooks of their clippings from the gossip pages. They were partners in self-promotion and self-absorption.

Here is an excerpt from a letter Zelda wrote to Scott (who was anxious about her flirting and fidelity):

Scott – there’s nothing in all the world I want but you – and your precious love – All the material things are nothing. I’d just hate to live a sordid, colorless existence – because you’d soon love me less – and less – and I’d do anything – anything – to keep your heart for my own – I don’t want to live – I want to love first, and live incidentally – Why don’t you feel that I’m waiting – I’ll come to you, Lover, when you’re ready – Don’t – don’t ever think of the things you can’t give me – You’ve trusted me wiht the dearest heart of all – and it’s so damn much more than anybody else in all the world has ever had -

How can you think deliberately of life without me – If you should die – O Darling – darling Scot – It’d be like going blind. I know I would, too – I’d have no purpose in life – just a pretty – decoration. Don’t you think I was made for you? I feel like you had me ordered – and I was delivered to you – to be worn – I want you to wear me, like a watch-charm or a button hole bouquet – to the world. And then, when we’re alone, I want to help – to know that you can’t do anything without me.

Here’s a page from their scrapbook:

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Dorothy Parker has a vivid (and oft-quoted) memory of seeing the two of them after their marriage:

Robert Sherwood brought Scott and Zelda to me right after their marriage. I had met Scott before. He told me he was going to marry the most beautiful girl in Alabama and Georgia! … But they did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking.

Zelda and Scott were in sync in those early years. They wrote essays together (at least the essays carried two bylines) detailing their peripatetic life, and some of it is truly wonderful stuff some of it. (I was reading Fitzgerald’s collection of essays The Crack-Up in the spring of 2009, before I stopped being able to read altogether in July, so I wrote a lot about it at that time. Here’s a post I wrote about one of those essays. I was in the beginning stages of my own “crack-up” when I wrote that essay, and I think that is apparent in the writing, so my apologies. Just a word of explanation for the tone of that piece.) Scott and Zelda had fun with the public perception of who they must be (and we continue to imagine them, we continue to speculate and dream about them, which is what Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was all about.

Zelda wrote a review of Scott’s book The Beautiful and the Damned in which she blithely references their relationship in an amusing way:

It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters, which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald – I believe that is how he spells his name – seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.

Fitzgerald wrote in a letter to a friend:

I’ve always known that, any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has “kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more,” cannot be considered beyond reproach even if above it … I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self respect and its these things I’d believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all that she should be … I love her and that’s the beginning and the end of everything. You’re still a catholic but Zelda’s the only God I have left now.

We all know what ended up happening to Zelda. While they lived in Paris, she got it into her head that she needed to be a ballerina. She became obsessed. Soon, she was dancing for 6, 7, 8 hours a day. She was in her early 30s, way too old to be a prima ballerina. Friends who visited the couple in Paris told stories (in letters, and later, to biographers) of arriving at their hotel room or rented rooms and Zelda would greet them at the door in a tutu and ballet shoes. She would dance for them. These stories are painful to read.

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In 1922, Fitzgerald wrote in a letter to editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribners: “I want to write something new — something extraordinary and simple & intricately patterned.”

The Great Gatsby was published in 1925. Fitzgerald worked hard on the book and was tormented throughout the process. He wrote, and re-wrote, and re-wrote, holding off Perkins, as long as possible. It was a precious book to him, a deeply personal book, and he feared he had not succeeded.

Perkins’ long letter to Fitzgerald, after he finally received the manuscript, is an amazing insight into the book, and also into Fitzgerald the Writer.

I think you have every kind of right to be proud of this book. It is an extraordinary book, suggestive of all sorts of thoughts and moods. You adopted exactly the right method of telling it, that of employing a narrator who is more of a spectator than an actor: this puts the reader upon a point of observation on a higher level than that on which the characters stand and at a distance that gives perspective. In no other way could your irony have been so immensely effective, nor the reader have been enabled so strongly to feel at times the strangeness of human circumstance in a vast heedless universe. In the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg various readers will see different significances; but their presence gives a superb touch to the whole thing: great unblinking eyes, expressionless, looking down upon the human scene. It’s magnificent!

I could go on praising the book and speculating on its various elements, and meanings, but points of criticism are more important now. I think you are right in feeling a certain slight sagging in chapters six and seven, and I don’t know how to suggest a remedy. I hardly doubt that you will find one and I am only writing to say that I think it does need something to hold up here to the pace set, and ensuing.

He then goes on to list a couple of pages of specific criticisms.

One of the criticisms is as follows:

The other point is also about Gatsby: his career must remain mysterious, of course. But in the end you make it pretty clear that his wealth came through his connection with Wolfstein. You also suggest this much earlier. Now almost all readers numerically are going to be puzzled by his having all this wealth and are going to feel entitled to an explanation. To give a distinct and definite one would be, of course, utterly absurd. It did occur to me though, that you might here and there interpolate some phrases, and possibly incidents, little touches of various kinds, that would suggest that he was in some active way mysteriously engaged. You do have him called on the telephone, but couldn’t he be seen once or twice consulting at his parties with people of some sort of mysterious significance, from the political, the gambling, the sporting world, or whatever it mayb be. I know I am floundering, but that fact may help you to see what I mean … I wish you were here so I could talk about it to you for then I know I could at least make you understand what I mean. What Gatsby did ought never to be definitely imparted, even if it could be. Whether he was an innocent tool in the hands of somebody else, or to what degree he was this, ought not to be explained. But if some sort of business activity of his were simply adumbrated, it would lend further probability to that part of the story.

After a couple more paragraphs, Perkins writes:

The general brilliant quality of the book makes me ashamed to make even these criticisms. The amount of meaning you get into a sentence, the dimensions and intensity of the impression you make a paragraph carry, are most extraordinary. The manuscript is full of phrases which make a scene blaze with life. If one enjoyed a rapid railroad journey I would compare the number and vividness of pictures your living words suggest, to the living scenes disclosed in that way. It seems in reading a much shorter book than it is, but it carries the mind through a series of experiences that one would think woudl require a book of three times its length.

The presentation of Tom, his place, Daisy and Jordan, and the unfolding of their characters is unequalled so far as I know. The description of the valley of ashes adjacent to the lovely country, the conversation and the action in Myrtle’s apartment, the marvelous catalogue of those who come to Gatsby’s house — these are such things as make a man famous. And all these things, the whole pathetic episode, you have given a place in time and space, for with the help of T.J. Eckleburg and by an occasional glance at the sky, or the sea, or the city, you have imparted a sort of sense of eternity. You once told me you were not a natural writer — my God! You have plainly mastered the craft, of course; but you needed far more than craftsmanship for this.

The Great Gatsby was not the phenom that This Side of Paradise was. Reviews were mixed. In 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a heartcracking letter to Perkins:

Would the 25-cent press keep Gatsby in the public eye – or is the book unpopular? Has it had its chance? Would a popular reissue in that series with a preface not by me but by one of its admirers – I can maybe pick one – make it a favorite with classrooms, profs, lovers of English prose – anybody? But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much!

Only posterity would place Gatsby in the canon.

Zelda had her first breakdown in 1930. Fitzgerald’s drinking problem went to a deeper more entrenched and dangerous level. He was devastated by her illness, and devastated by what was obviously a slacking off in the public reception of his work. It’s tough when you become a mega-star at 23. Fitzgerald needed to support himself, so he started cranking out short stories for the big mags at the time, stuff that paid the bills but left him feeling empty.

F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at 44, leaving an unfinished novel The Last Tycoon behind him.

When I read Gatsby at age 15, I completely “related” to Nick, the narrator, the relatively innocent bystander, who looks on at the decadence of Daisy and Jordan and Gatsby, trying not to judge (as he says on the first page of the book), and trying to come out of the situation unscathed. By the end of the book, Nick is changed. And so are we, whether we like it or not. Nick was my “way in” as a know-nothing little teenager.

But now, reading it as an adult, with a lot of wreckage in my rear view mirror, I found myself entering the story through the eyes of Gatsby. I understood Gatsby, suddenly. Carrying a torch for years, infusing his whole life, his every action, with significance, poetry. Choosing the dream-world over reality.

It is only NOW, after reading it from an adult perspective, that I can truly understand why the book is such an epic human tragedy. A particularly American tragedy.

Now I understand. Now I understand. I wish I didn’t. It is a terrible kind of understanding.


First edition, “The Great Gatsby”

The first pages of the book are so extraordinary they cannot be improved upon.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought — frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that any intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

And after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction — Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament” — it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

And here, in his essay “Early Success”, written in 1937, (an essay that often makes me think of Elvis Presley, who also became an “early success”), Fitzgerald writes:

The uncertainties of 1919 were over – there seemed little doubt about what was going to happen – America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it. The whole golden boom was in the air – its splendid generosities, its outrageous corruptions and the tortuous death struggle of the old America in prohibition. All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them – the lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamond mountains of my short stories blew up, my millionaires were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy’s peasants. In life these things hadn’t happened yet, but I was pretty sure living wasn’t the reckless, careless business these people thought – this generation just younger than me …

The dream had been early realized and the realization carried with it a certain bonus and a certain burden. Premature success gives one an almost mystical conception of destiny as opposed to will power – at its worst the Napoleonic delusion. The man who arrives young believes that he exercises his will because his star is shining. The man who only asserts himself at thirty has a balanced idea of what will power and fat have each contributed, the one who gets there at forty is liable to put the emphasis on will alone. This comes out when the storms strike your craft.

The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. In the best sense one stays young. When the primary objects of love and money could be taken for granted and a shaky eminence had lost its fascination, I had fairy years to waste, years that I can’t honestly regret, in seeking the eternal Carnival by the Sea. Once in the middle twenties I was driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo, and though it was out of season and there were no Grand Dukes left to gamble and E. Phillips Oppenheim was a fat industrious man in my hotel, who lived in a bathrobe – the very name was so incorrigibly enchanting that I could only stop the car and like the Chinese whisper: “Ah me! Ah me!” It was not Monte Carlo I was looking at. It was back into the mind of the young man with cardboard soles who had walked the streets of New York. I was him again – for an instant I had the good fortune to share his dreams, I who had no more dreams of my own. And there are still times when I creep up on him, surprise him on an autumn morning in New York or a spring night in Carolina when it is so quiet that you can hear a dog barking in the next county. But never again during that all too short period when he and I were one person, when the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled in a single gorgeous moment – when life was literally a dream.

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