A long time (well, okay, make that ‘about four and a half years’) ago I came to the realization that the key to keeping an online journal—and one’s fingers regularly on the keyboard in its service—is serialization: some kind of evolving plot that, like life and Stella Dallas on a diet, keeps thickening and thinning from Monday till Doomsday until the inevitable sundown that not even Guiding Light could outshine.
Despite this realization, though, I have never managed to make a success of stringing together the latest on my follies and failures, mainly because I did not set out to make my person the axis around which this less than celestial body of essays spins. That, in recent months, the revolutions have ground to a near halt and affairs have become all but devolutionary is largely owing to the series of friction that is my one life to live beyond these virtual pages. These days, writing in installments begins and ends in ‘stall,’ which is the least I tend to do best.
The cast of One Man’s Family
Not that the contemplation of the presumably out-of-date lends itself to frequent updates. I mean, what’s the point of being current when your harvest is raisins? For the love of ribbon mikes, how many times can you run away with the A & P Gypsies and still expect anyone to follow the run-down caravan in which you survey the bygone scene? Good for how many yarns are the bewildering progeny of the Happiness Boys, that old “Interwoven Pair,” until any attempt at catching up with the cat’s whiskers and its litter unravels like knitting gone kitty’s corner? Why go on circulating gossip from the Make Believe Ballroom as the world turns the radio off?
Clearly, there is room for a chorus line of doubt when I now announce the beginning of a new chapter in the cancellation dodging saga of broadcastellan. Anyone hoping for a weekly quintuplet of All My Mind’s Children should be advised that this is going to be more a case of One Man’s Family Planning . . .
As I add another candle to the cupcake set aside for the celebration of my fourth blogging anniversary and to be consumed in the solitude of my virtual niche, I am once again wondering whether I should not have taken a scandal sheet out of Louella Parsons’s cookbook. You know, serving it while it’s hot, with a pinch of salt on the side. Dishing it out in a bowl the size of China, a tidbit-craving multitude hanging on your gossip-dripping lips. As the first name in name-dropping, Louella (seen below, cutting her own birthday cake, anno 1941) might have done well as a webjournalist, just as she had on the air, despite a lazy delivery that piled fluffs on fluff and a flat voice that makes Agnes Moorehead sound like a Lorelei by comparison. Her hearsay went over well all the same, its nutritional deficiencies giving none cause for contrition.
On this day, 20 May, in 1945, for instance, Louella rattled off this farraginous list of “exclusives”: that silent screen star Clara Bow was “desperately ill again” after suffering a “complete nervous breakdown”; that Abbott and Costello would “not even speak to each other” on the set of their latest movie; that the Cary Grant-Betty Hensel romance was “beginning to totter”; and that “forty Hollywood films ha[d] been dubbed in German” to “counteract the dirty work done by Goebbels.” Just as you finally prick up your ears, indiscriminate Lolly snatches the plate from under your nose.
As an item of “last-minute news,” Louella announced that, with John Garfield going into the navy, his part opposite Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice was to be played by Van Heflin, who had just received his medical discharge. Doesn’t ring true, does it? Well, that’s the problem with promising “the latest.” It rarely is the last word.
Not that being belated renders your copy free from gaffes and inaccuracies, to which my own writing attests. Yet it isn’t the need to be conclusive or the vain hope for the definite that makes me resist what is current and in flux. I’m just not one to reach for green bananas and speculate what they might taste like tomorrow. I won’t bite when the gossip is fresh; my teeth are in the riper fruit.
So, there is little in it for me to drop names, and pronto. Rather than playing Louella, I fancy myself another Darwin. Darwin L. Teilhet, that is, a fiction writer and early reviewer of American radio programs; he was born 20 May 1904, 101 years to the day that my journal got underway.
It is easy for me to identify with Teilhet, who loved the so-called blind medium without turning a blind eye to the shortcomings of its offerings. In his column in the Forum for May 1932, for instance, he complained that the “dramatic machinery” of Amos ‘n’ Andy “creaks,” but nonetheless insisted that the declared that the “art of broadcasting” was “entirely too important to be ignored or squelched by derogatory attacks. The time, he argued, was
ripe for the conception of a new genus of critic with the radio as his field.
Intelligently and conscientiously pursued over a period of time, it [the criticism of radio programs] might not only draw to itself a large number of followers among the radio audience but actually have some effect in improving the quality of the programs which are directed at them.
Today, a reviewer of such programs cannot expect to garner any sizeable number of followers, much less to have an effect on what aired decades ago. Tuning in, like virtue, is its own reward; and though the time may not be ripe for the likes of me, it sure seems ripe for the rediscovery of the presumably out-of-date. In these days of economic recession, we might find a return to the low-budget dramatics of radio particularly worthwhile. I, for one, would make the pitch to the networks that abandoned the genre half a century ago.
“Today, the real humorist is fast disappearing.” The “Today” here is 30 January 1949. The voice is that of satirist Fred Allen, who made the claim when called upon to expound on “The State of American Humor” for the benefit of folks tuning in to NBC’s Living 1949. “Yessir,” Allen declared, “the average comedian is a mouth that speaks the thoughts of others’ brains. Machine age humor, like the automobile, is turned out on the assembly line.” As a wordsmith who preferred to live by his own wit, Allen was the free spirit in a machine that increasingly generated shoddily assembled audience participation programs, the temporary demand for which ran him out of business that year—a dead giveaway that executives were not in it for laughs.
What Allen in his dread of the mechanical and the mercenary could not foresee is that, sixty years on, the “[m]achine age” would give those determined to publish the thoughts of their own brains an instrument with which to bypass the assembly lines and make a beeline for the byline that would otherwise be hard to come by; a forum in which freely to exchange ideas instead of turning out commercial copy in exchange for a few pay-per-click pennies; and a means of reaching out to the “real” among the virtual whose minds are not of the assembly line persuasion.
One way of acknowledging such commercial-free souls and inspiriting kindred is to bestow the Dardos. It might sound like some post-apocalyptic cult; but in truth it is a token
given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.
I am certainly grateful to the two journalists who saw it fit to stamp me thus. After all, Ivan (Thrilling Days of Yesteryear) and Jeff (The Easy Ace) are among the few who share my enthusiasm for broadcast history and historic broadcasts—the kind of kilorecycling that has been going on here for nearly nigh on four years. In felicitous low-fidelity, they are committed, as I am, to re-popularizing the post-popular, to tracing the mainstream that has dried up or run its course into a sea of indifference. Their work “adds value to the Web” all right; but that is rather too prosaic a way of putting it—and, as far as my web experience is concerned, an understatement besides.
Thrilling is what Inner Sanctum’s Lipton Tea lady might have termed “brisk” entertainment. It is entirely without additives or artificial sweeteners, which makes taking refreshment there a guiltless pleasure. Ace, meanwhile, tells it “The Way It Was”; in his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,” he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine, which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past. To relate to them both has been at once “Easy” and “Thrilling.”
The same can be said for the task at hand. In keeping with the “rules,” I
1) accept the Dardos by displaying it here, along with the names of those who bestowed it and a link to their respective journals; and
2) pass it on to another five blogs I deem worthy of this acknowledgement, contacting each of them to let them know they have been selected.
The five journals I single out here have kept this niche in cyberspace from feeling like a padded cell or isolation ward to me. They are all eligible for the “Helen Trent” award, far from mute testament that because a blogger is “thirty-five or more,” an active life online “need not be over,” that blogging “can begin at 35.” The Dardos I bestow upon them because I appreciate their wit, their ebullience and their tenacity; because they do as they please and, by doing so, make me say, “please, keep doing it.”
As Emerson put it, the ‘perception of the comic is a tie of sympathy with other men, a pledge of sanity, and a protection from those perverse tendencies and gloomy insanities in which fine intellects sometimes lose themselves.”
A fine intellect not in danger of gloomy insanities is Doug, who keeps Waking Ambrose. Ambrose Bierce, that is, whose Devil’s Dictionary he translates and updates for the 21st century. What’s more, Doug invites all of us to do the same, and, having acknowledged our contributions, regales us with stories and verse, then finds time to make the rounds and drop us a taut line. In all this interactivity, he is a paragon among bloggers.
There are journalist on the web with whom I keep having imaginary conversations. With Elizabeth of Relative Esoterica, whom I picture as a Myrna Loy unencumbered by a William Powell, I discourse on film noir and biography as we listen to the jazz about which she is not only knowledgeable but passionate. We agree that, while it is unwise to be fanatic about anything, it would be wretched not to feel enthusiastic about something or other.
With Clifton of Canary Feathers I converse about the radio programs that enriched his childhood—be it One Man’s Family or Kaltenmeyer’s Kindergarten—and years in broadcasting as he plays an old but beautifully restored church organ surrounded by cats who flit in and out of a scene brightly lit by . . . a leg lamp. In my daydreams, I can readily dismiss the fact that felines make me sneeze.
With fellow expatriate Fred, he of The Synchronicity of Indeterminacy, I go on about Quiet, Please and the Columbia Workshop as he persuades me to open my mind and ear to contemporary sound artists and aural storytellers. His own stories are a popular and critical success. He might be fascinated by automatons—but is living proof of that the imaginative thinker need not fear extinction. His journal(s) would have put his aforementioned namesake at ease.
With John, the “urbane pagan” of Enchanté, I have had many a conversation; I see him whenever I am back in New York City. A few years ago, he expressed to me his intention of starting a web journal. He finally got underway, and what a way he’s got, casting imaginary musicals—On the Fritz! (“A sparkling new musical about Prussia’s gayest prince [and greatest king]”—or musing about the state of his follicles.
With all of them I feel a certain “tie of sympathy.” That those ties are machine-knit does not make them synthetic. Otherwise, I would hardly be one-hundred percent woolgathering about them . . .
I’ve had quite a few “silent nights” here at broadcastellan lately (to use an old broadcasting term); and yet, I have been preparing all along for the weeks and months to come, those dark and cheerless days of mid-winter when keeping up with the out-of-date can be a real comfort. Not that the conditions here in our cottage have been altogether favorable to such pursuits, given that we had to deal with a number of blackouts and five days without heating oil, during which the “room temperature” (a phrase stricken from my active vocabulary henceforth) dropped below 40F. Not even a swig of brandy to warm me. I have given up swigging for whatever duration I deem fit after imbibing rather too copiously during the New Year’s Eve celebrations down in Bristol.
Those are not the blanks (let alone the ones in my short-term memory) that I intend to fill here. The gaps in question are in my iTunes library, which currently contains some 17500 files ranging from the recent BBC adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm to World War I recordings. The vast majority of these files are American radio programs. They are readily gathered these days; but the work involved in cataloguing them for ready retrieval can be problematic and time consuming. For now, I am not lacking time; at least not until our long planned and much delayed move into town, real estate crisis be damned. Anyway . . .
For the past few weeks, I have been filling in each of the fields as shown above, verifying dates, checking the names of performers, comparing the sound quality of duplicate files, and researching the source materials for adaptations. It took a while to arrive at a convenient system. When I started the project anew (after the crash of an earlier Mac), I made the mistake of entering the date after the title of the broadcast (entries in lower case denoting descriptive ones). As a result, I could not readily listen to a serial in the order in which its chapters were presented. I would have been at a loss to follow and follow up today’s installment of Chandu the Magician (1949), as if having missing out on the chance of getting my hands on Chandu’s “Assyrian money-changer” by sending in a White King toilet soap box top sixty years ago were not difficult enough to bear.
Listing, though, is to me almost always less satisfying than listening; it is also far less difficult and engaging. Listening often results in research, in comparing adaptation to source, in reading up on the performers, or in finding contemporary reviews. About the 21 January 1946 premiere of I Deal in Crime, for instance, broadcast critic Jack Gould complained that it “creeps along at a snail’s pace” and that Ted Hediger’s monologue-crowded narrative style was “not helped” by William Gargan’s “rather lackadaisical” delivery. While he did not have instant access to thousands of such programs, Gould nevertheless noted the sameness of such nominal thrillers and their “stock situations.” To him, Paul Whiteman’s Forever Tops was the “real lift” of the evening’s new offerings on ABC, a reference that compels me to find a recording of that broadcast . . . .
In this way I spend many an hour before once again sending another missive into the niche of space I, as keeper of past broadcasts, have grandiloquently styled broadcastellan.
Well (I am saying “well” once more, for old times’ sake), broadcastellan is entering its fourth year today. It all began on 20 May 2005, when I decided to keep an online journal devoted to old times, good or bad, to the culture that, however popular, is no longer mainstreamed, but, as I explained it in my opening post, marginalized or forgotten. Looking at broadastellan through the lens of the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine,” you will notice a few changes; but, overall, things are just as they were when I set out. Except that I am much more at ease and far less concerned about my online persona, its definition and reception, more fully aware of my status and the consequences of casting myself in the role of marginalien as I have come to accept and embrace it. No, it wasn’t this way right from the start.
Having earned my doctorate and relocated from New York City to Wales, I felt the want of continuity. I was reluctant to immerse myself in Welsh culture, let alone its language, for fear of not being able to recognize myself as the cosmopolitan I had impersonate with some success for most of my adult life. The dissertation was placed on the shelf; and my career alongside it. Still, I was not done with American popular culture as I had rediscovered it during years of research.
Not having been able to ride my hobbyhorse all the way to the bank, I thought I’d start parading it here on this busy commons. I sure wasn’t ready to put it out to pasture and wash my hands of it with the soap derived from its carcass. Initially, I might have been confused about the purpose of such a vanity production. I wanted this mare to be petted, even though I was prepared to take it out for others to deride. Nowadays, I am mainly writing for myself, for the kick I get out of being kicked by it into the thicket of research and the paths of (re)discovery.
Whenever I see a show, watch a movie, read a book, or listen to a radio program, broadcastellan encourages me to make it relevant to myself, to investigate and connect—and on the double at that. Right now, I have eight books before me, all designed to warrant my title. After all, it was the aforementioned Eve Peabody who declared that “[E]very Cinderella has her midnight.”
Eve Peabody, the self-proclaimed American blues singer who arrives penniless in Paris, posing as a Hungarian baroness, no less. I’ve always related to this Cinderella’s identity crisis—and admired the sheer ingenuity with which she made it all happen all over again. In the words of Ed Sikov, she proves “tremendously elastic,” a quality that prompted New York Times DVD reviewer Dave Kerr to remark on the “unpleasant degree” to which writer Billy Wilder was obsessed “with the theme of prostitution.”
“I thought that Eve Peabody was a very interesting character,” director Mitchell Leisen remarked. “You see, there’s a bit of good and a little bit of bad in all of us.” Yes, Leisen’s Midnight, like all proper Cinderella tales, has an edge; and, at last, it is being brought into digitally sharp focus. Earlier this month, the screwball comedy Elizabeth Kendall referred to as the “ultimate girl-on-her-own fairy tale” was released on DVD, perhaps in anticipation of the by me dreaded remake starring one Reese Witherspoon.
Since Britain has not caught up with this gem, it shall be one of my first purchases next week when I shall once again (and probably again and again) take the train down to J&R Music World. What with our UK DVD/VCR recorder refusing to accept my US tapes, I have long waited for this moment to catch up with what Ted Sennett has called “one of the best and brightest romantic comedies of the [1930s].” Of course, there’s always the radio.
On this day, 20 May, in 1940, stars Claudette Colbert (pictured above, in an autographed magazine cover from my collection) and Don Ameche reprised their roles in this Lux Radio Theater adaptation (>which you may enjoy by tuning in the Old Time Radio Network). Perhaps, though, the wireless is not the proper medium in which to appreciate a Leisen picture, distinguished as his work is for what James Harvey calls “that look of discriminating opulence.”
Still, you get to hear some of the best lines in romantic comedy, albeit soften at times to appease the censors. For instance, when confronted with a cabbie eager to take her for a ride, even though she confessed to having nothing but a centime with a hole in it to her name, she offers to pay him for driving her around town while she goes hunting for a job. “What kind of work do you want?” he inquires. “Well, look,” Eve replies, “at this time of night and in these clothes I’m not looking for needlework.”
Like Eve, I have gone round in circles (apart from the proverbial block). The ride may not amount to much to many, but this is not why I keep on mounting this hobbyhorse of mine. It is the sheer pleasure of taking my mind for a spin. And, to answer my own question, there is still time for a few jaunts. After all, it is not quite midnight . . .
Herewith, my five-hundredth entry in the broadcastellan journal. Without making a big to-do about it, I shall mark this occasion by summoning the irascible, inimitable Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), whose carte de visite (pictured) lies among the books and papers in my attic room, the “Sage of Chelsea” whose house in 24 Cheyne Row I can be seen inspecting below. Featured here as a character in a radio play about Margaret Fuller, America’s first female foreign correspondent (“The Heart and the Fountain” [28 April 1941], Carlyle had much to say about the press, to which he referred as the “fourth estate.” Perhaps, that makes us web journalists the estate 4.0. What is our role, our place, our worth? Whether derided, courted or ignored, we carry on surveying and opining, spreading and reprocessing what goes for news these days. In my case, chiefly old news.
According to Carlyle, “fourth estate” is no mere “figure of speech, or a witty saying,” but “a literal fact,” and a “very momentous” one at that. Publishing one’s thoughts, the Scottish philosopher-historian remarked, “is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable.” What might he have said about the phenomenon of web journalism? I shall put a few words in his mouth, a cheekiness duly signalled by brackets, and update his thoughts as expressed in Heroes and Hero-Worship (1840):
Writing brings [publishing]; brings universal everyday extempore [publishing] as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. The requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually there [. . . ]!
On all sides, are we not driven to the conclusion that, of the things which man can do or make here below, by far the most momentous, wonderful and worthy are the things we call [Blogs]! Those poor [digital bits and bites, . . . ] what have they not done, what are they not doing!—For indeed, whatever be the outward form of the thing [. . . ], is it not verily, at bottom, the highest act of man’s faculty that produces a [Blog]]? It is the Thought of man; the true thaumaturgic virtue; by which man works all things whatsoever. All that he does, and brings to pass, is the vesture of a Thought. This [modern world], with all its houses, palaces, steam-engines, cathedrals, and huge immeasurable traffic and tumult, what is it but a Thought, but millions of Thoughts made into One—a huge immeasurable Spirit of a Thought, embodied in brick, in iron, smoke, dust, Palaces, Parliaments, [cars, highways], and the rest of it! Not a brick was made but some man had to think of the making of that brick.—The thing we called [digital bits and bites] is the purest embodiment a Thought of man can have. No wonder it is, in all ways, the activest and noblest.
All this, of the importance and supreme importance of [bloggers] in modern Society, and how [web journalism] is to such a degree superseding the Pulpit, the Senate, the academia and much else, has been admitted for a good while; and recognized often enough, in late times, with a sort of sentimental triumph and wonderment. It seems to me, the Sentimental by and by will have to give place to the Practical. If [bloggers] are so incalculably influential, actually performing such work for us [. . .] from day to day, then I think we may conclude that [web journalists] will not always wander like unrecognized unregulated Ishmaelites among us! Whatsoever thing, as I said above, has virtual unnoticed power will cast off its wrappages, bandages, and step forth one day with palpably articulated, universally visible power.
Perhaps, I am squandering this magical potential, the thaumaturgy of casting myself broadly, by writing obscurely on the obscure, all the while revelling in my own obscurity. And yet, without romancing the scale, the struggle and the thrill of writing seem to outweigh any desire I might have to be read, let alone understood . . .
In written communications, I generally refrain from cursing. I am not sure why so many web journalists feel compelled to express their emotions—even their apparent lack thereof—in terms referring to certain uses of the male sex organ or the issue of our daily excretions. I gather that both spell relief, as does the act of swearing. We all have to get it out of our system once in a while; and I am not one to recommend mealy-mouthing the unsavory by resorting to equivalents of a truculently tossed paper napkin; such disingenuous substitutions have been the curse of radio drama. Back in 1938, for instance, a production of O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beyond the Horizon met with a storm of protest when it was broadcast over NBC’s Blue network. As Francis Chase Jr. recalls in his Sound and Fury (1942), the FCC forced an affiliate in Minneapolis to justify such language under the threat of refusing to renew its license after a single listener complaint about exclamations of “Hell,” “Damnation,” and “For God’s Sake.”
To be sure, I am under no obligation to act in the public interest; and somehow I cannot bring myself to avail myself of defused verbal missiles like “darn,” “drat” or “shucks” (the last of which I, as a German, would have trouble pronouncing during moments of distress). That said, I don’t hold with those who believe that mentioning acts of penetration renders the thought expressed more penetrating. If I censor myself here, it is because I am trying to come to grips with whatever has me by the throat as my hands flit across the keyboard, erasing as much as they produce. I do not have to recreate verbatim what escaped my lips some time ago, as long as I manage to capture the feeling of that moment. Writing it down does not just mean getting it out; to me, it must also mean getting over it. It is a chance to let go of something rather than to let oneself go all over again and make a display of the discharge. Writing is the process of cleaning up, which is not to say that it is the concealment of disorder. Posture and composure become especially important when life seems to be in the very process of . . . decomposing.
What has been breaking down of late is the non-matter of my online existence. Another Mac has crashed—and that a mere three months after the previous wipeout (as lamented here). Never mind that I have learned little since the last incident and that many a souvenir has gone down the virtual sewer. What I noticed is that the crashes occurred while using iRecord, the software with which I copy audio files on the web. As a lover of radio programs, I use it quite a lot. Make that past tense.
To have one’s computer hard disk erased in the attempt to store what is fleeting is beyond “ironic” (another word I dislike). It is a rotten business, being shipwrecking for one’s love of the airwaves. The phrase “blistering barnacles” comes to mind. Indeed, most of Captain Haddock’s celebrated curses will do nicely just now.
Well, this is it. Twelfth Night. In Elizabethan England, Epiphany (6 January) marked the culmination of the winter revels, that topsy-turvy escape to the kingdom of Upsidedownia. For me, it is an apt time to return to this journal in earnest by looking back at my own follies, being that the first daft act of the year has me lying in bed with a cold. I am feeling—to borrow and immediately discard what unaccountably has been declared word of the year—decidedly subprime (wouldn’t below par or having peaked do just fine? Then again, it is a banking or business term and should therefore be ugly and subliterary). I had meant well, braving the wind and the rain, walking our dog after a three-week separation. Just a few days earlier I observed that 2007 has really been a wonderful year; in case yours has proven otherwise, I apologize for rubbing it in like so much VapoRub.
It was a year of traveling and theater-going that, a fall from a ladder notwithstanding (as a result of which my right pinky is now more likely to remain extended during high tea) was free of strife, hardship, and disappointment. Sure, there were those seemingly endless weeks without phone or wireless internet, there was a move into town that fell through, and there were a few minor upsets in my now sidelined teaching career. And then there was that summer that wasn’t. “For the rain it raineth every day.” Yes, it has been a wet year at that. It began in stormy Glasgow and ended in a drizzle on Waterloo Bridge in London, where the annual firework spectacular disappeared behind a thick curtain of sulphurous mist.
Among the recent theatrical highlights numbered the New World Stages production of Charles Busch’s Die Mommie Die, with the 2003 film adaptation I have caught up since. It had been seven years, almost to the day, since I saw Busch’s rather more conservative Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, starring (opposite Linda Lavin and Tony Roberts) the wonderful Michele Lee. The star of Die Mommie Die, of course, is the playwright himself. Some unnecessary crudity aside, it is a brilliant evocation of the 1960s and the end of the Hollywood era. It is also a darn good mystery—a rather better mystery than Christie’s nonetheless charming Mousetrap.
I am not a lover of camp, which, according to my own definition, is a wilful act of misreading. Die is a careful reading of the state of the women’s picture in the 1960s, the schlock that reduced a number of silver screen A-listers to sideshow freaks.
The heroine of Die Mommie Die is washed up, all right; but Busch does not derive most of his laughs from strapping her into a ducking stool. His play is as much an homage as it is a send-up (catering to those familiar with the histrionics of Crawford, Davis, and Susan Hayward); and it is this careful balance that, despite some vulgar touches, makes his play succeed both as thriller and farce.
Yes, I am rather traditional when it comes to film and theater, but that is not why I did not care much for Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker (now playing at Sadler’s Wells)—having enjoyed his Car Man earlier this year—and sought refuge at the Prince Edward Theater to take in one of the final performances of Mary Poppins on New Year’s Day. I am not opposed to trying out something new; but I find more pleasure in finding the new in the supposedly out-of-date.
A great while ago the world begun, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, But that’s all one, our play is done, And we’ll strive to please you everyday.
Yes, I am back, Monday through Friday. And not going on about the weather—until something well nigh catastrophic or at any rate sensational compels me to break this rule . . .
Well, I’ve been struggling to keep up, which makes me feel and appear rather dumber than usual. I have gotten into the habit of editing my journal entries online, of dumping scraps here in hopes of making something of them, eventually. “We must beat the iron while it is hot, but we may polish it at leisure,” Dryden famously said. As a poet, composing in solitude, he probably never thought of doing the polishing in public. At any rate, given the relative obscurity of broadcastellan, I often assume that my composing here is very nearly done in private; but the realization that one looker-on had landed here after scouring the web for references to “Dr. Harry Heuser,” no doubt with the intention of checking my credentials, rather put me off the idea of performance editing. And yet, as dumb as it might be not to wait until such time as the half-cooked turns into a dish fit for tossing into this dumb waiter of a vehicle, I am not easily reformed. It is quite literally too late for that now.
I just got back from an evening of theater. There is always time for that; and the offerings here in the small seaside town of Aberystwyth, just outside of which I reside, is gratifyingly varied. Once again, I can’t wait to share my thoughts, however dumber they will be expressed in the shoddy prose of the moment. Before my memories go stale or my mind blank, I have got to share my thoughts on the Compass Theatre Company‘s production of Pinter’s “Dumb Waiter,” with a “Pair of Chekhov’s Shorts” thrown in.
The shorts suited us just fine. “The Evils of Tobacco” and “The Proposal” (translated by Neil Sissons), are comedy sketches Chekhov wrote for the vaudeville stage early in his career, “Evils” being a monologue and “The Proposal” a one-acter for three characters. Both pieces deal with what is generally thought of as the end of comedy, marriage, by inviting us to see the end of marriage as comedy.
The henpecked husband ostensibly lecturing about the “Evils” of smoking is really more keen on, and indeed desperate to, share his thoughts about his miserable existence as dictated by his controlling spouse. The monologue was delivered with humor and pathos by Michael Onslowe, who was seen in all three pieces. “Evils” would work well on radio, I thought. It is one of my hard-to-kick habits always to think of what I see in the light (or darkness, as it were) of its radiodramatic potentialities.
Nor does “The Proposal” pose any great challenges to the adaptor for radio, even though Sisson deftly exploits the physical aspects of comedy in the slapstick treatment of the suitor’s nervous disposition. As the title suggests, “The Proposal” tells of an intended match, the advancement of which goes awry. However old and slight these two plays, the laughter was not derived from our perception of their datedness; nor did they greatly rely for their effect on the audience’s nostalgia for this kind of entertainment. They simply still work as comic banter.
Pinter’s “Dumb Waiter” is rather more dependent on what is unexpressed, even though Gus, one of the two hapless hitmen waiting for their next job, seemed to have echoed our attitude toward this final play on the bill when he exclaimed: “It’s worse than the last one.” Commenting on the dump of a hotel in which he and his partner Ben are waiting to carry out their next assignment, he adds: “At least there was a wireless there.” Is “Dumb Waiter” radiogenic? Surely not in the way that Pinter’s “A Slight Ache” plays with your mind.
Still, the titular contraption prominently mounted in the center of the stage, and the speaking tube attached to it, made me think of the wireless that Gus was missing. Indeed, it very nearly made me go “Yoo-hoo! Is anybody?” as I thought of Molly Goldberg’s old apartment and the role her dumb waiter played in her everyday communications with the unheard Mrs. Bloom. I guess, a day without radio to me amounts to something like an existential void. It is certainly more than “A Slight Ache.”
Well, never mind. I would have liked to conclude my week of listening; but I am preoccupied this evening. My old Mac seems to have given up the ghost last night—or at least it refuses to give up my files. I had been iRecording “The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker,” when my Mac began to act up. Clinker, indeed, to pick up a word of thoroughly pre-Victorian crudeness! As of now, my library of recordings and images seems to be irretrievably lost. It has been about two and a half years since the last blackout, and I don’t seem to have learned a thing. If only I had taken the time to burn a few DVDs. So, I am just going to share this latest addition to my collection of Claudette Colbert memorabilia, which arrived here earlier this week as a loving gesture to mark the third anniversary of my move here to Wales.
What I noticed right away when I looked at the poster was that no mention is made of Colbert’s Imitation of Life co-star Louise Beavers in this announcement of the film’s rerelease. That just takes the pancake, doesn’t it? After all, Beavers plays Colbert’s business partner on whose recipe the entire venture depends as much as on Colbert’s savvy to sell it. Promoters of the film were apparently less inclined to tackle race relations as the picture’s distributors. Sometimes, beautiful images tell an ugly story. An old story, too, of art imitating life . . .