To Gatsby or not to Gatsby, that is the question

Most writers want to be somebody else. Joseph Heller wanted to be Groucho Marx. Norman Mailer wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway wanted to be God. But that job was taken. So he became Ernest Hemingway instead. Mark Twain did not want to be Edgar Allan Poe, though Sam Clemens did imbibe from time to time. He had way too much Mississippi River in him to be anybody other than Tom Sawyer. After all, Tom could tell a whopper with the best of ’em. That’s a fact.

Thing is that Shirley Jackson wanted to be Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. Flannery O’Connor wanted to be a saint. They both just about made it. Jonathan Franzen wants to be John Updike. John Updike wanted to be Henry Green and Proust while J. D. Salinger wanted to be Scott Fitzgerald.

Scott Fitzgerald wanted to be Zelda’s husband. Jay Gatsby had a lot of Fitzgerald in him, especially his desire for Daisy Buchanan. Thing is Fitz was that he was as much Nick Carroway as he was Jay Gatsby. Seems to me that Nick went east to become Herman Melville and go after the great American novel, the “Moby Dick” of the twentieth century. As John Lovitz used to say, “Could happen.” Nick managed to gather the material when he arrived East. Jay Gatsby was Captain Ahab and Daisy Buchanan was the whale. Daisy always wore white and her palace in East Egg was white.

The point of all this is that few things are as they seem on the surface. As my granny used to say, “It just ain’t so. You got to dig deeper, Boy, to get to the marrow of the thing.” And, as far as I am concerned, “The Great Gatsby” is not Jay Gatsby’s story. The character arc points elsewhere and that elsewhere is straight at Nick Carroway. Nick is the one who changes in the novel. From beginning to end, Gatsby is after Daisy. As he floats facedown and dead in the pool, he still believes he can have Daisy.

The movie folks don’t seem to get it. They continue to make movies, doing a Somerset Maugham where the Narrator Nick is barely a character and making Gatsby the protagonist. All through the novel, it’s Nick the reader sees change. It is Nick, the country bumpkin, who comes to the big bad city to make his fortune. It is Nick who gets the Daisy treatment. It is Nick who is impressed with Gatsby and all his parties. It is Nick whom Tom Buchanan confides in about his trysts with Myrtle Wilson. It is Nick who is sadder but wiser at the end of the novel.

If the focus is going to be on Gatsby, then what we get is a character study with a plot thrown in at Act 3. And one thing is for sure. Character studies do not good movies make. By the end of the novel, it’s obvious that Gatsby has been scratching at the wrong door all along. But Gatsby never gets it.

Why would Daisy give up everything for Gatsby? Things like a husband who got his wealth the legitimate way. He inherited it. Jay Gatsby got his the nouveau riche way. He gambled for it. Plus Tom Buchanan treats Daisy like a princess. Daisy is no Jordan Baker. She has enough self-understanding to know that she is fragile. It won’t take much to break her. Plus she and Tom have a child together. Old Gatz forgot that. For a mother, a child trumps a dream any day.

Besides she’s pretty happy in the cocoon her husband has made for her. He may be an s.o.b. but he’s the kind of s.o.b. who will give her the security Gatsby will never give her. The Gatz has beaucoup cash now. But her family warned her about the Panic of 1907. “Here today gone tomorrow,” her daddy wisely pointed out to the darling of his eye.

So where does this leave the film maker? With an older, but wiser, Nick Carroway. Mature enough to know that maybe, just maybe, he can make a life with Jordan Baker while he writes that “Moby Dick” of a novel he’s been meaning to write.

I know. That’s not in the novel. But who knows? It could be in the movie.

Do you have a favorite novel or a favorite writer?

Hamlet Interlude 2: Gertrude

The course of true love never did run smooth. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 1 Scene 1.)

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 1 Interlude.Of all the characters in “Hamlet”, it is Gertrude we feel we have to defend. We know that Gertrude was no Juliet. She was no Rosalind or Viola. She was no Kate. She was definitely no Lady Macbeth.

Of the over 4000 lines, Gertrude had only 155. That was not many lines compared to the beaucoup lines Claudius and Hamlet get. Even Laertes had more to say than she did, and he was off in Paris doing whatever. Yet, like her son, we make her carry a heavy load. As big as Claudius and Ophelia. Almost as big as Hamlet. We make her out to be a schemer. We make her out to be a co-conspirator. We make her out to be a slut. She was none of them.

Since she is not around to speak up for herself, she ends up getting the blame for a crime she may not have committed. One thing is for sure. Gertrude was a survivor. She lived in an age when a woman needed a husband. Especially if that woman was a royal. Women were the property of their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, their kings, even their sons. Perhaps she was an Eleanor of Aquitaine who knew how to make the best of a situation.

Back in Gertie’s Ham Senior days, it was possible she was feeling unloved by Hubby.  He was out of town a lot. She was feeling unbeautiful too. She was losing that figure that made her the belle of the ball when she was younger.

There was a good chance she had a bit of Guinevere in her. Claudius, the king’s younger brother, showed up and he was her Lancelot. Started wooing her with candy and flowers. She had never paid much attention to him before. After all, he was five years younger than she was. When he left the court for parts unknown, he was a scrawny kid with no grace at all.

Then he returned. He was all shiny and new in that knightly outfit of his, his long brown hair cascading over his shoulders, those dark eyes speaking of his admiration for her. (Don’t you just love that word “cascading”?) Claudius danced the light fantastic with her and made it feel like walking on air. Unlike Ham Senior, who was such a klutz. Every second or third step he made ended up on her footsies.

Every time Claudius walked into a room, her heart went pitter-pat faster and faster. She started having dreams about the happiness she would feel if Claudius were her husband and king instead of Ham Senior. If there was a guy in the room who could get a girl’s chastity belt unzipped, it was Claude.

Then she came up with a plan. Or did she? We shall never know. Shakespeare wasn’t talking.

We do know that Lady Macbeth had no children. She could only be ambitious for herself and her husband. Maybe Gertie was ambitious for her son. Maybe that was why she married Claudius. She didn’t want him to marry someone else. That someone else might produce an heir to the throne and replace her son. Seems to me that this was her plan, her way to make sure Junior got the throne when Claudius died.

One other thing. There were only two women, Gertrude and Ophelia, in the castle. Which left few dating options. So I guess that was why Gertrude was Obvious Choice Numero Uno for Claudius.

He could have gone with Ophelia. Polonius would have liked that. But Gertrude had already made it clear that she was the one for him. She had the Queen job down, she knew how to dress well and stink pretty, and Claudius was taking no chances. He wanted the King job. He wanted it bad. Gertrude was just the person that would secure that throne for him.

Besides his heart belonged to Gertrude back in his Lancelot days. Now that he was Arthur, she was his Gwen.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: Timbuktu

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is Timbuktu.

I usually don’t watch a movie based on a trailer. I find most of the trailers these days tell enough of the movie to keep me from seeing the movie. Especially comedies which have most, if not all, of the jokes. Seems the trailer-making folks have forgotten that trailers are an artform. Their job is to get me to want to see the movie. Only “Gravity” recently has done that for me.

So when I saw the trailer for “Timbuktu”, I went, “Hmmm.” Then “Maybe, just maybe.” The music got my initial attention. I especially wanted to know how a blues number was in a movie that had a setting where the blues shouldn’t be. In addition, there was this contrast between the guys with the guns and the ordinary people. All this intrigued me.

I must say that my expectations about the movie had risen against my better judgement. When the blu-ray arrived from Netflix, I decided maybe this one needed a night when I could focus on the movie.

I was not disappointed. This is a film I want to see several times. The ancient Malian city of Timbuktu could be a distant world from ours. The setting did remind me of David Lynch’s “Dune” as well as Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky”. Life there is that alien to a modern westerner.

Stuck on the edge of the desert, life goes on despite the city being occupied by jihadist. The citizens find ways to thumb their noses at the occupiers. Like boys playing football (soccer) without a soccer ball. Refusing to wear gloves which the jihadist demand for some strange reason. Singing and playing music against the jihadist directive. It gives a real glimpse into how life goes on, no matter who’s in charge.

But the main story is of a cattle herder,Kidane, his wife, Satima, and Toya, his beloved daughter. It is this family’s relationship, and the ordinariness of it, that director, Abderrahmane Sissako, uses to reveal the humanity of these people.

It’s been a long time since I have been introduced to a great contemporary film. In addition to a wonderful story and great music, the cinematography was absolutely gorgeous. But I gotta tell you this is a great film. I was not disappointed at all.

What movie, set on earth, have you seen recently that made you think of another planet?

The Rediscovery of Sex

I was watching an old 1930s movie recently. A couple got married. They never had a honeymoon. The husband carried his blushing bride over the threshold, dropped her in the living room, then went off to work. The wife went shopping.

In the one scene in the bedroom, there were twin beds. Both husband and wife wore pajamas. They gave each other a good night smooch, then each crawled into their twin bed and went off to zzzz-land. No time in the movie did the couple even hint at the s-word.

Since movies are a very good reflection of real life, none of the thirties romances had sexual activity. If couples were having sex, they kept it on the q.t. Guess that was why it was called the Great Depression.

It got me thinking. How did they avoid sex? I mean, these days sex is everywhere. It’s on magazine covers. It’s in the ads. It’s in the movies. It’s on tv. It’s in the music. It’s even on the evening news. We can’t seem to get enough of it. So just how did our forefolks avoid sex? Why would they want to anyway? Why did it take a World War to bring back sex?

Big questions. Recently Uncle Bardie came across an ancient tome called  “The Real Kinsey Report” that explained much that has been hidden from history. Lord Byron was one of the last two people in England in the Nineteenth Century to enjoy a ménage à duet, his female partner à duet being the other people. As the famed Lord was making a strategic withdrawal, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were engaged in hanky panky on the HMS Queen Mary. The thing is there was more hanky than panky.

Vickie and Bertie were off on their honeymoon. Of course, you do know that the origin of the word “honeymoon” was Anglo Saxon for “tiddlywinks”.  As soon as Bertie showed his blushing bride his tiddly and she showed him her winkie, they both realized this would never do. She said, “Ewwww.” And she meant it. He said, “Yech.” And he meant it. That was the end of sex as our forefathers and foremothers knew it. The end of foreplay. And afterplay too.

They returned to Buckingham Palace and declared that there was to be no more sex in the land. To make sure that their command was obeyed, they proclaimed a proclamation and they decreed a decree. Every female over the age of twelve not only had to wear a girdle. She had to wear a corset, even when she went to bed. Especially when she went to bed.

Unlike Prohibition, the new regime of non-coitus dilecti was widely popular. The Germans loved it. The Russians loved it. The Chinese loved it. The Greeks loved it. The Americans loved it. The Italians, not so much. Only the French resisted. And the Canadians who were half French anyway. The Canadians just shook their heads and thought, “Are they crazy? How are we to keep warm, eh?”

Late in the century, the French came around. We all know the details. It was the Albert Dufus Affair. Seems that A D was messing around with the Can-Can. Needless to say, it was uncanny how candid the Can-Can can.

The Can-adians never came around. Oh, sure. They too had a coitus interruptus with the Yukon Gold Rush. It was a brief run. Why have all that gold and not have anything to spend it on? So it was soon back to the business of coitus-ing all over the place. Like they say, nobody can the way a Can-adian can-can. Canada, what a country.

Since men and women didn’t make whoopee during the Great Sex Out, they didn’t need to smell good either. So no one took a bath.

Talk about Weather Changes and Global Warming. For almost one hundred years, Earth was bathed in a certain smell. Scientists blamed it on the Industrial Revolution. The truth is it came from the lack of bathing. The smell almost destroyed the ozone layer. The planet was carbon dioxiding all over the place.

For ten years after the Anti-Fornication Act of 1840, there were no babies born. “Why no babies?” the Victorians queried. Everybody liked babies. Oh, sure. There was the poop. Good thing the babies outgrew that. Not the pooping. Changing the diapers they pooped in.

The Victorians did not equate pregnancy with sex. They believed babies were delivered by storks. But there wasn’t a shortage of storks. So. Why no bambinos? It just wasn’t natural. Before they could say, “We’re really screwed,” a solution appeared on the horizon. It came from a most unusual source.

The North Pole. And it was not Santa Claus who presented a solution. Everybody presumed it was Dr. Livingston. But Dr. Livingston was deep in the heart of Africa presuming.

It seems that the Sir Rutherford Rutherford Expedition returned from its Arctic exploration with an amazing artifact. You’ve heard of the iPod. The Eskimos had their own version. An ePod.

A what? Yes, you heard me right. I said an Eskimo Pod, known as an ePod. Eskimos were born from ePods and it had been going on for centuries.

When ePods were first introduced to the rest of the planet, people were very skeptical. Some even afraid. Here is some footage taken at one of the first Royal Society meetings:

Soon the Victorians calmed down and realized this was the answer to a prayer. No sex and beaucoup babies. Before you knew it, most families were raising a crop of ePods in their backyards.

There were those who resisted like Abraham Lincoln. “Fourscore and seven years ago” was not about the Declaration of Independence. Abe was talking about the wild sexcapades our forefolks had back in the Olden Days. The Boston Tea Party was a protest, not over a tax on tea, but a tax on condoms.

I bet you thought Manifest Destiny was about increasing the size of the United States westward. It was not. It was about spreading the ePod Gospel. Custer and his Cavalry were taking a wagonload of pods into Indian country. Sitting Bull had seen the future and he wanted none of it. It was every Indian’s right to have babies the organic way. None of that genetically modified babies for the Sioux.

Despite the resistance, the ePods became the way children came into this world by the beginning of the twentieth century. Oh sure, there were rebels without a cause like D. H. Lawrence and his Lady Chatterley. FDR was rumored to have said to Eleanor on their first night as a married couple, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

This was the way of things until World War II. The War destroyed most of the ePods. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they wiped out the ePod Supply of the entire United States. FDR wasn’t kidding when he spoke before Congress and said, “This is a Day that will live in Infamy.” He really meant it. By the end of the war, the Atom Bomb radiated the few ePods left.

For the next few years, the world was in despair. What to do? What to do? The Korean War was fought because the Allies believed the North Koreans were hoarding ePods. They weren’t. So the Allies lost interest and declared a Truce.

No one seemed to know what to do. Then Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr parted the waters.

Burt and Debbie showed us the way. Sex was back. And this time it was here to stay.

At least, till another ePod outbreak.

Hamlet Interlude 1: It’s good to be the king

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Henry IV Part 2. Act 3. Scene 1.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Hamlet Act 1 Interlude. We’ve all thunk the words, “It’s good to be the king.” Perhaps that was what Claudius was thunking. Ham Senior’d ride into the castle courtyard on his big, black stallion, returning from battle victorious over his adversary, Fortinbras Senior, blood still on his sword. All the women drooled over him. Even before he could shake the dust, they were ripping his their bodices off, wanting to have their way with him.

It is at moments like these that Claudius should have reflected on the words of Richard 3 on the Battle of Bosworth Field, “My kingdom for a whore.” Why Richard wanted a prostitute at that particular moment even scholars cannot guess. What motivates a king to say what a king says at any time is often beyond logic.

Richard should have asked for a horse instead. If he wanted a good ride, that would be the best way to go, don’t you think? That way he could’ve gotten out of Dodge real fast. The tides of war were going against him. There was a new sheriff in town and his name was Henry. It was indeed the winter of Richard’s discontent.

One thing was for sure. Richard was no Henry 4. He was more of his namesake Richard 2 than he cared to think. Unlike Henry 5, he could not rally his troops on Saint Crispin’s Day. It was no where near that feast day when he said the “my whore” line, being it was August and all.

So he asked for a prostitute at an inappropriate time. Unfortunately there was no Falstaff to procure one for him. Guess that is what happens when you take on a Tudor. England had asked, “Tu dor or not Tu dor.” And they had decided Tudor would be just fine.

Shakespeare knew a thing about kings. He could easily paraphrase the actor in an ad who said, “I’m not a doctor. I just play one on tv.” In other words, “I’m not a king. I just play one at the Globe.” Don’t forget that Mel Brooks’ Louis 16 stole from Shakespeare when he said, “It’s good to be the king.”

Not.

It was never good to be the king. It drove George 3 mad. If not madness, there was always regicide. And I am not talking Reggie from the Archie comics either. I’m talking guillotine regicide here. Too many kings had lost their heads too many times. If not their heads, other parts of their bodies. Just look at what happened to Nicky 2 in Russia.

One thing was sure. It wasn’t about to happen to Elizabeth Numero Uno, known by one and all as Elizabeth Regina, E.R. Not if she had anything to do with it. She came by her suspicions rightly. She was not forgetting what had happened to her mommy and she was not about to let it happen to her. There were all those English Catholics plotting, and their plots were plotting. They kept saying, “You’re illegitimate.” Of course, she was illegitimate. English rulers all the way back to 1066 and further were illegitimate in one way or another.

E.R.’s strategy: A smell of treason and off with their heads. A lot of folks feel sorry for Mary, Queen of Scots, but don’t. It was her own darn fault. She had lousy taste in men. Even though Mary was caged up like a little birdie, she just couldn’t leave well enough alone. She did her canary impression and sang her head off. Her head literally dropped into the basket.

E.R. knew her history. She knew that her granddaddy poached the crown from Richard 3 who had done his share of poaching. Henry 7 may not have known how to speak poetically. By all accounts he was a plain speaking guy. His son would do that for him. But Seven sure knew how to get a throne. Kick some Richard 3 butt.

Claudius had done what kings always did. He regicided for his throne. Thing was that he didn’t remember his English History 101. He repeated the same mistake Richard 3 did. Richard did a Hansel-and-Gretel and pushed the Princes-in-the-Tower into the oven, then he had them for lunch. What Richard forgot was that there is always a Henry waiting in the wings. Or a Fortinbras. And with some poison claret too.

In Shakespeare’s day, kings mattered. They mattered a lot. The king determined whether the country prospered or suffered. A king was placed on the throne by God and only God could remove him. This was back when folks believed in God, and they knew that you didn’t want to mess with God. You might grow warts or something worse. So, God help you if you de-throned a king. Without a very good reason. And I am talking really good here.

This is why Hamlet hesitated. Hamlet knew he better have a damned good reason to remove Uncle Claudius from the throne. He must be absolutely sure Uncle Claudius murdered his dad. Once he determined Claudius was an assassin, Hamlet not only had the right, he had the responsibility to execute the king.

Shakespeare tackled this question with “Richard II” and his history plays. So he was back in familiar territory. The question he hadn’t answered satisfactorily was what kind of person had the right to do the deed.

If you remember, Bolinbroke had a darned good reason. Richard II stole his inheritance. Yet there were those who never accepted Henry IV as king. They believed what Nixon said in the David Frost interviews. “If the president says it is legal, it is legal.” King Richard II had said the theft was legal.

So what does all this have to do with Hamlet? Elizabeth I, the ruler of Merry Olde England, had enough people try to detach her head that the question was on everybody’s mind. Elizabeth 1 woke up everyday, thinking, “Whose head am I going to have to chop off today?” Her daddy hadn’t raised a fool.

So why did Claudius do it? Why did he murder Ham’s dad? Maybe he fell head over for Gertrude. He returned from Wherever-Claudius-was-returning-from and saw Gertrude. He was beside himself. It doesn’t really matter if that is what happened. He dood the deed. Claudius not only homicided and regicided. He done fratricided. Even Macbeth didn’t go that far. The king was not Mac’s brother. For Claudius, there would be karmic consequences.