- Watching Trading Places this evening for the first time in many, many years, I was reminded of an old thought: that the movie's best moments don't come from the obvious sources (Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, or gorilla-on-man-gorilla love), but from Denholm Elliott as the butler Coleman. He steals every scene he's in, and usually with just a lifted eyebrow here or a signed restraint there. Most of you know Elliott by face if not by name. He was Marcus Brody opposite Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones, and he was delightful comedic relief there, too. Oddly, comedy was never one of his primary genres: he regularly played villains and characters broken or breaking on the inside. If I can do anything today-- even more than nagging my compatriots to get out and vote-- it would be to encourage my readers to have a Denholm Elliott film night. Check out his integral sadness in Woody Allen's otherwise languid September, or his sad alcoholism in The Defence of the Realm, or his protective paternality in Brimstone and Treacle. In retrospect, he never did get to play the part I think he was meant to play, the cynical British correspondent Fowler from Graham Greene's The Quiet American. Michael Caine eventually did it, about fifty years after Sir Michael Redgrave. Neither quite got it. Elliott, I know in my gut, would have-- brilliantly.
- The pending election has also had me thinking about delicious endings. For reasons not entirely within my ken, novels seldom seem to me to end on the right note, to have one of those endings that one reads and says inwardly, "perfect." I've read-- as most of you can imagine-- more novels than I can remember anymore, but one that sticks with me, like a memory of a first love, is from the oft-forgotten Evelyn Waugh novel A Handful of Dust. I'm tempted to recount it here, but I won't. The last sentence sounds like it should be sentimental, but it's not-- not in the least: "There are passages in that book I can never hear without the temptation to weep." In fact, it's brutal, vicious, and a death-sentence, literally and figuratively. And it's perfect. (There's actually a chapter of epilogue, but it's pure coda.) One of my favourite endings, ever.
- Irony: in the film adaptation of A Handful of Dust (with James Wilby, Judi Dench, and Kristin Scott Thomas), that final speech is delivered by Sir Alec Guinness as the benevolently menacing Mr. Todd. The novel to which Mr. Todd refers is Dickens' Little Dorrit, which when finally filmed starred (wait for it) Alec Guinness, as the debtor-patriarch William Dorrit. Go figure. Further irony: Denholm Elliott eventually took over from Guinness one of the latter's most lauded roles, George Smiley. Even when I don't intend it, my thoughts sometimes seem as if they're within six degrees of Alec Guinness.
- Tuesday should be weird, with meetings and all, and my students will be watching It's A Wonderful Life. You can only imagine my disbelief last week when I asked my students if they had seen the film before. Only two had. It makes me wonder about the kids these days.
BTW: Jimmy Stewart starred in The Shootist with Lauren Bacall, who starred with Alec Guinness in A Foreign Field. Damn....
- Odd background quote: "Things that are banging on their knees shouldn't be hanging out there." Discuss and comment.
- The realization that I've now had Jenny, my character of a cat, for a year has caused me to think of something much more sombre. I won't write about it here, or anywhere, but it strikes me that it would have been almost ten years. I don't know what to think about this fact. Actually, I do, but that's neither (as they say) here-nor-there.
- People are in for a bit of a shock this week from the Not-So-Good Doctor. We shall see what happens. My students will probably react with something Linda-Blair-like--- hopefully sans pea soup.
- Many of the observations I had meant to post have now vanished into the recesses of what others might generously call my "brain." (It doesn't qualify, except generously and/or glibly.) Oy.
- This week is Robbie Burns' Day, or-- more appropriately-- Raaabbie Burrrrns Day. I won't be near a computer to post here to celebrate it, so go read your Burns. Don't just do the Scotch. Do the Scotch, certainly. But do the Burns, too.
Tomorrow I have to read a paper on Sidney-- itself not a bad thing, at all-- save that I don't think I'll have anything to say beyond what has already been said about it by (cough, cough) a genuine Sidney man. And I have somehow to find time, before week's end, to write a letter for a lass as she applies to a Canuckistani university. Damn, damn, damn. I'm a freaking idiot. And a freaking idiot directed Star Wars, and it starred....