Here is an obituary of the Harvard philosopher, who has left this Earth. To be honest with you, most of Cavell’s work is over my head. Much of it seems to deal with the ultimate breakdown of language and the difficulty of meaning anything.
Cavell wrote the epigraph for my favorite book:
and at some point, somebody (Etan?) recommended I check out:
which meant a lot to me.
This book is a study of seven screwball comedies:
The Lady Eve
It Happened One Night
Bringing Up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
His Girl Friday
The Awful Truth
These Cavell calls comedies of remarriage. They’re stories (mostly) where the main characters have a history, and the plots involve the tangles as they struggle, fight, and reconnect.
What the book really gets it is: what is revealed about us or our society when we look at what we find pleasing and appropriate in romantic comedies? Why do we root for Cary Grant instead of Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story for instance?
It’s fun to watch these movies and read this book.
It’s dense for sure. I read it before the Age of Phones, not sure how I’d fair today. But I still think about insights from it.
At one point Cavell says (in a parenthetical!):
I do not wish, in trying for a moment to resist, or scrutinize, the power of Spencer Tracy’s playfulness, to deny that I sometimes feel Katherine Hepburn to lack a certain humor about herself, to count the till a little too often. But then I think of how often I have cast the world I want to live in as one in which my capacities for playfulness and for seriousness are not used against one another, so against me. I am the lady they always want to saw in half.
RIP to a real one!
But there are devices one can use to set up a story, aren’t there? Such as the love rack, or the algebraic analysis of a story.
Devices, yes. Like the old switcheroo. I used quite a few in my book called Past All Dishonor. It’s about Virginia City in the Civil War days of the big whorehouses. It’s about a boy who fell for a girl who worked in a house. Every guy in town could have her for ten bucks except him, and the reason was that she half-loved him. This was a very nice situation, and I was able to do something with it. I was able to top it, and that’s always what you try to do when you have a situation: You pull it, you switch it, you top it, which is the old Hollywood formula for a running gag.
Do you have any memory of the origins of The Postman Always Rings Twice?
Oh yes, I can remember the beginning of The Postman. It was based on the Snyder-Gray case, which was in the papers about then. You ever hear of it? Well, Grey and this woman Snyder killed her husband for the insurance money. Walter Lippmann went to that trial one day and she brushed by him, what was her name? Lee Snyder.* Walter said it seemed very odd to be inhaling the perfume or being brushed by the dress of a woman he knew was going to be electrocuted. So the Snyder-Grey case provided the basis. The big influence in how I wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice was this strange guy, Vincent Lawrence, who had more effect on my writing than anyone else. He had a device which he thought was so important—the “love rack” he called it. I have never yet, as I sit here, figured out how this goddamn rack was spelled . . . whether it was wrack, or rack, or what dictionary connection could be found between the word and his concept. What he meant by the “love rack” was the poetic situation whereby the audience felt the love between the characters. He called this the “one, the two and the three.” Someone, I think it was Phil Goodman, the producer and another great influence, once reminded him that this one, two, and three was nothing more than Aristotle’s beginning, middle, and end. “Okay, Goody,” Lawrence said, “who the hell was Aristotle, and who did he lick?” I always thought that was the perfect Philistinism.
How did it work?
Lawrence would explain what he meant with an illustration, say a picture like Susan Lenox, where Garbo was an ill-abused Swedish farm girl who jumped into a wagon and brought the whip down over the horses and went galloping away and ended up in front of this farmhouse which Clark Gable, who was an engineer, had rented. And he takes her in. He’s very honorable with her, doesn’t do anything, gives her a place to sleep, puts her horses away and feeds them . . . He didn’t have any horses himself, but he did have two dozen ears of corn to feed hers. Well, the next day he takes the day off and the two of them go fishing. He’s still very honorable, and she’s very self-conscious and standoffish. She reels in a fish (they used a live fish—must have had it in a bucket). She says, I’ll cook him for your supper. And with that she gave herself away; his arms went around her. This fish, this live fish, was what Lawrence meant by a “love rack”; the audience suddenly felt what the characters felt. Before Lawrence got to Hollywood, they had simpler effects, created by what was called the mixmaster system. You know, he’d look at her through the forest window, looking over the lilies, and this was thought to be the way to do it; then they’d go down to the amusement park together and go through the what do you call it? Shoot de chute?
Agree with Rivers:
Saw Malis at the show, here was his review:
I thought Hamish Linklater was really good. A very easy, relaxed, natural way of delivering Shakespeare.Hanks was Hanksing it up, but fun.It’s interesting how jokes written in the 1500s can still make people laugh.
How quickly nature falls into revoltWhen gold becomes her object!For this the foolish overcareful fathers,Have broke their sleep with thoughts,Their brains with care, their bones with industryFor this they have engrossed and piled upThe cank’red heaps of strange-achieved gold;For this they have been thoughtful to invest,Their sons with arts and martial exercises.When, like the bee, culling from every flowerThe virtuous sweets, our thighs packed with wax,Our mouths with honey, we bring it to the hive,And, like the bees, are murdered for our pains.
I know thee not, old man. Fall to they prayers.How ill white hairs becomes a fool a jester!I have long dreamt of such a kind of man,So surfeit-swelled, so old, and so profane,But, being awakened, I do despise my dream.But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.Make less they body hence, and more thy grace.Leave gormandizing. Know the grave doth gapeFor thee thrice wider than for other men.
(The topic here is depression and suicide, if you’re in no mood, but I found these brief stories valuable.)
Rob Delaney is such a joyful presence. I’ve thought many times about something he says in this Tumblr post about depression
What a good preserver to hang on to.
If no one else wants to do this to me, why would I do it to me?
Not sure it can help you if you’re at wit’s end but seemed to me a thought worth filing away for an emergency.
I’m really glad Rob Delaney’s alive!
Saw this story linked on someone’s Twitter. It comes from
That was the year that was
Tariq Ali talks to David Edgar
on the LRB. I don’t know who those people are really but I know Christopher Logue is some kind of master.
Don’t be silly. Come on – we’ll sit down and rid of this nonsense that’s in your head.
How cool and compassionate.
Glad they’re all alive. (Well, were alive, in Logue’s case.)
And I’m glad you’re alive too, Reader!
In Shakespeare’s time, there was a comic actor who was more famous than any playwright. His name was Will Kempe. His most popular bit was morris dancing from London to Norwich.
In February and March 1600, he undertook what he would later call his “Nine Days Wonder”, in which he morris danced from London to Norwich (a distance of over a hundred miles) in a journey which took him nine days spread over several weeks, often amid cheering crowds. Later that year he published a description of the event to prove to doubters that it was true.
Perhaps Kempe originated the part of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s plays.
Kempe’s whereabouts in the later 1580s are not known, but that his fame as a performer was growing during this period is indicated by Thomas Nashe’s An Almond for a Parrot (1590).
An Almond for a Parrot is a great title.
Perhaps he was the Will Ferrell of his day.
Although he had been a sharer in the plans to construct the Globe Theatre, he appeared in no productions in the new theatre, which was open by mid-1599, and evidence from Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which there is no promised continued role for Falstaff, and Hamlet, containing its famous complaint at improvisational clowning (Act 3, Scene 2), indicates some of the circumstances in which Kempe may have been dropped
The lines in question:
HAMLETO, reform it altogether! And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.
In real life Will Kempe was the Shakespearean clown who was the superstar of his day.
Audiences would flock for miles around to watch the great man perform his Falstaff or famous jig at the Globe theatre after one of the plays by the great darling of the stage – and the age – Will Shakespeare.
And in Upstart Crow, Ben Elton’s BBC2 comedy reimagining of the life of the great poet and dramatist, Kempe is presented as… a cocky C16th Ricky Gervais.
The character, played by comedian Spencer Jones has precisely aped Gervais’s voice and mannerisms and frequently boasts about his popularity abroad. But instead of being big in America – like Gervais is now – Kemp is always telling people he is huge “in Italy.”
“Oh, did I get an award?, oh, that’s right I did,” he says channeling the Office star. “A proper one. Not English. Italian.”
He is described in the comedy by fellow actor Henry Condell as an “insufferable smuglington” because of his successes.
Here’s a clip of Upstart Crow.
A crazy scene described:
by Gary Saul Morson. Reminded me of Sophia:
Similar advice is given at the beginning of this book:
which I found really helpful. The jist being: make it as easy as possible, even automatic, to start creative work.
The starting is the hard part.