Sunday, December 19, 2004

A couple nights ago, I dreamt there was some kind of disease on my scalp that made daisies grow out of it. I didn't realise it until I'd gotten back from being out for awhile. I guessed no one had noticed because I was wearing my hat, and I tried to think of any instances when I'd removed my hat during the day. I couldn't think of any, and as I leaned closer to the mirror, inspecting the flowers that were mostly on the left side of my head, I noticed the one nearest my forehead had Glenn Close's face in the centre. She was grinning and wouldn't say anything.

I dropped by Tim's house last night. He gave me a rather nice Christmas present--two pairs of jade chopsticks direct from China. He gets that kind of thing because he put together this web site for a friend of his who seems to have some crazy connexions in China. Tim tells me his friend often receives ancient little statues and things fresh from the tombs.

The chopsticks are nice, and very cold. I'm wondering if I ought to actually eat with them. I'd feel sort of like an emperor, except I'd probably only use them for cheap ramen.

I saw The Male Animal a few days ago, a 1942 film starring Henry Fonda and Olivia De Havilland. There was more subtext in the movie than I think was intended.

The story is that Fonda's character is an English teacher who gets in a bit of trouble for wanting to read a statement to his class by Bartolomeo Vanzetti--of Sacco and Vanzetti--as an example of good writing by someone who isn't a writer. When the trustees of the university catch wind of what Fonda intends to do, they attempt many forms of intimidation, including threats of dismissal.

This is a domestic comedy.

A head representative of the trustees, played wonderfully by Eugene Pallette, is a friend of Fonda’s family, as is a football hero played by Jack Carson. The information above is revealed at a dinner party as is the fact that Fonda's wife, De Havilland, is still very attracted to her old boyfriend, the football hero. Maybe more now than her husband, who's frightening and confusing her with his obstinate desire to read the Vanzetti statement, despite Eugene Pallette's baritone derision for Reds.

What follows is a fascinating scene of Pallette, Carson, and De Havilland joining a night time mob of college football fans as they march to a rally being held next to an enormous bonfire. In the light of the flames, Pallette goes onto the stage and, in his peculiar, booming voice, gives an angry speech about how decent people are American kinds of people. Fonda, who glumly followed along to watch his wife being handled by Carson, is fiercely berated by random people in the mob for not cheering at the appropriate moments.

Oh, yes, this is a domestic comedy. And not a bad one at that.

You see, the real story--for which the above striking scene is but window dressing--is De Havilland seeing Carson, the dumb football hero, as being the real male animal. Her husband, who seems weak for adhering to mysterious principles that run counter to the mainstream, is suddenly terrible to be saddled with.

Most of the movie concentrates on physical and verbal comedy about matrimony and the difference between men and women. But the end of the movie is very rewarding, as Fonda--who is, let us not forget, Henry fucking Fonda, after all--goes in front of his assembled English class and a load of "guests" drawn by the publicity, and not only reads the Vanzetti statement, but makes a statement of his own about free speech.

I dunno but, personally, in this day of attempts an enforcing Christianity in schools and repression of literature, I found Fonda's scene rather stirring. It occurred to me that such a movie would never come out of mainstream Hollywood to-day, and I found it a little distressing to realise that, in some ways, America is now more conservative than it was in 1942.

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