PASTOR RICK RECANTS

After my exasperated post about Rick Warren's initial unwillingness to condemn the proposed Ugandan laws prescribing imprisonment, and in some cases the death penalty, for gay people, I feel I must report that Pastor Rick has had second thoughts and has written a letter to Ugandan pastors urging them to speak out against such laws.



As with the Lutheran Church's belated apology for its founder's vile and nauseating anti-Semitism, and the Southern Baptist Convention's belated apology for its sect's enthusiastic support of slavery, and the Catholic Church's belated (and still rather half-hearted) apology for conspiring in the sexual abuse of children, I guess one can say, “Better late than never.”



Perhaps one could also say that getting browbeaten by history or bad publicity or common decency into adopting the most fundamental teachings of Jesus is a curious kind of witness for Christians, so many of whom seem to have a special genius for identifying the most vulnerable and oppressed members of the societies they inhabit and adding to their oppression by every means within their earthly power.

What's up with that, Pastor Rick?

THE CHRISTMAS BLUES — IN THE HEART

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

This song is a bit of a mind-bender.  It’s an ersatz, easy-listening, Tin Pan Alley blues — Dean Martin sang the classic version.  Dylan sings it with a combination of Dino’s nonchalance and the rough vocal directness of a real bluesman.

It’s like hearing Charlie Patton sing “Blues In the Night” in a Las Vegas lounge backed by the Count Basie Orchestra of the Fifties.

It doesn’t have the strong emotional impact of some songs on the album but it’s a lot of fun — and it fills in a few tesserae of the musical mosaic that is Christmas In the Heart.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.

PARIS: DOUBLE VISION — THE GRAND VÉFOUR AS THEATER, PART TWO

The tour of the Grand Véfour restaurant, Paris, seen as theater continues — in notes and photographs by Coralie Chappat:

Le reflet pourpre des banquettes fait office de rideau de velours
étoffant de sa chaleur rassurante les baignoires qui se multiplient en un clin d’oeil.

La somptuosité absorbe tout passage d’être et s’évapore nulle part, dans la multitude des dorures et des ornementations géométriques.  Apparaître-disparaître au gré des
improvisations.  Le lieu divisé en compartiments fait effet de coffre magique des prestidigitateurs.

Dans la rupture avec l’extérieur, l’hôte devient l’espace scénique d’une architecture onirique d’où émanent des effluves enchanteresques.



Ce petit espace magique est à lui tout seul, un monde de fluidité lascive.

See Part One of this report here.

LITTLE DRUMMER BOY — IN THE HEART

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

“The Little Drummer Boy” was one of my least favorite Christmas songs — until I heard Dylan’s version of it.  It’s so sweetly and tenderly sung.  It’s about a musician’s gift to the Prince Of Peace, and maybe it got to Dylan on that level, resonating in a purely personal way.  Time goes backwards and forwards in Dylan’s version.  The line “I am a poor boy, too” now harks back to Dylan’s own “Po’ Boy”, and there’s also the echo of “for Christmas buy her a drum” from “She Belongs To Me”.  Dylan’s songs draw from every area of America’s musical heritage, and on this album of covers he takes the gifts he rescued from the past back to where he found them, rescuing new gifts in the process.

There’s something spooky about the whole album — a sense that Dylan is floating through our culture on multiple levels, summoning whatever he needs to enrich the clichés of Christmas music, to reconnect us with its roots, in history and in faith.

On one level, “The Little Drummer Boy” is a shameless appeal to sentiment.  But Dylan asks, “What if we took the sentiment seriously, as an honest appeal to the heart?”  The answer is tears.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.

PARIS: DOUBLE VISION — THE GRAND VÉFOUR AS THEATER, PART ONE

The first part of a tour of the Grand Véfour restaurant, Paris, seen as a theatrical setting, in photographs with notes by Coralie Chappat — from the “dressing room” of the ladies’ toilettes (above) to the stage set where the drama will unfold . . .

Dans la loge bas de plafond, se soignent les derniers détails avant le
lever de rideau.

Le lieu se contemple pareil à un écrin où l’on serre amoureusement les
bijoux.

Dans leur existence autonome à l’instar du Palais des Mirages
du Musée Grévin, les miroirs incrustés dans le plafond où les lustres
surgissent du sol carrelé, sont autant d’ouvertures se déployant en
déclinaisons à l’infini.

L’aventure se poursuit dans les galeries de
ce Petit Trianon qui se donne à souhait, l’espace d’une présence et
sort tout droit d’Alice au pays des merveilles.

See Part Two of  this report here.

[Photographs © 2009 Coralie Chappat]

I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS — IN THE HEART

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

One wag reviewing this album said that Dylan’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” comes off as more of a threat than a promise.  Dylan does sound a bit like like the irascible old uncle who’s been invited to Christmas dinner but that everyone is hoping won’t show up, because he always creeps people out.

But the performance takes on another dimension if you remember the provenance of the song.  Bing Crosby recorded the hit version of it in 1943, when legions of young American men with thousand-yard stares were hunkering down in foxholes in Italy or on remote Pacific islands, or training for the invasion of Europe that everyone knew would have to be made eventually.

Many of these men knew they wouldn’t be home for Christmas, except in their dreams, and might not be home for Christmas ever again.  It summed up what they were thinking — in the heart — and broke the hearts of their loved ones back in the States.

Today, the song doesn’t have this resonance — it’s just a wistful, sentimental reverie about a family gathering.  Dylan brings it back to what it originally was, a matter of life and death.

Listen to it with the context of 1943 in mind, which the retro arrangement helps you to do — listen to the weariness and edge of hopelessness in Dylan’s voice . . . and it will break your heart, too.

Perhaps it will also remind you that the context of 1943 is not so different from our own right now, and so incline your thoughts to the legions of young American men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan this year who won’t be home for Christmas, and might not be home for Christmas . . . ever again.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.

HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING — IN THE HEART

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

Dylan’s vocal on this classic carol starts out softly.  Note the difference in the way he sings the word “king” in the first line here from the way he spits it out on “Do You Hear What I Hear”, when he’s speaking in the voice of a shepherd boy chastising pomp.  He’s talking about a different kind of king now, a king of mercy mild.  But then he comes to “joyful all ye nations rise” . . . there’s a little pause before “rise” and Dylan’s voice soars (roughly) on the word.  It becomes a command.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.


PARIS METRO: AN APPARITION OUT OF TIME

A strange vision, reported (and photographed) by Coralie Chappat:

Il est tôt le matin, tandis que je m'engouffre dans la station de métro
Franklin Roosevelt.  Soudainement à ma gauche, je me sens comme
aspirée, mon attention requise par un mouvement intense d'énergie.



Un
massif trou noir marque son envergure, dans un déplacement effleurant à
peine le sol.  Il semble bondir plutôt que monter les escaliers.  Son
passage indiffère,
ne suscitant aucune réaction.  A la manière de
l'esprit, il traverse la réalité sans s'attarder.



D'un geste naturel,
je tire de ma poche, mon appareil photo pour saisir la trace dans mon
objectif de ce que je ressens sans voir.  Je m'accroche à son sillage
mais il s'évanouit au bout du couloir.  C'est fini.  Il a disparu.  Je
monte dans un wagon de ma rame
et tandis que je vérifie sa présence fugace dans mes images numériques,
mon regard se tourne mécaniquement vers le quai d'en face.




La station de métro Franklin Roosevelt dans un silence apocalyptique,
dépouillée de sa chair, semblable à l'Écorché de Houdon, s'est vidée de
sa masse humaine, privée de temporalité.


  

Le père a
ressurgit, comme une anomalie dans la modélisation de
l'espace temps, signant de son sceau, le versant existentiel du lieu. 
Je l'observe sans retenue.  Il couvre sa tête, ouvre son bréviaire,
s'enveloppe dans sa prière. 
Deux ultimes clichés clôturent notre
rencontre
.

 


Le poids de sa spatialité se fond en moi.

WINTER WONDERLAND — IN THE HEART

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

The lyrics to this song don’t have a lot of weight to them — they’re just an excuse for wintertime merriment.  Dylan tried for something similar, though more lyrical, in one of his own songs, “Winterlude” from New Morning.

It’s the musical arrangement which delights here — the incredibly cute and sexy girl voices backing Bob, with some sleek Andrews Sisters harmonies, set the mood of infectious cheer.  An anomalous steel guitar peeks in to the proceedings and is welcomed with open arms.  The number bops along happily and so does Bob — he seems to really enjoy the idea of the kiddies knocking the snowman down.  (Peggy Lee, in her version of the song, offered the same sort of deadpan approval of the mischief in question.)

When Bob says that he and his gal are going to “frolic and play the Eskimo way” it sounds as though it might involve more than rubbing noses by the fire, but by then I’m sure the kiddies would be fast asleep, thoroughly exhausted by their antic vandalism earlier in the day.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.

RICK WARREN AND THE CHURCH OF THE BLESSED PONTIUS PILATE

I agree with Barack Obama that this nation needs to have an open, civil, humane and respectful conversation about divisive cultural issues like gay marriage.  I would even agree that the conversation needs to include neurotic homophobes like Rick Warren, a man who went out of his way to hurt and shame homosexuals by comparing their behavior to pedophilia — the sexual exploitation of children, a form of rape.

Recently, Warren has refused to condemn the view of an African pastor he’s worked with who believes that gays should be put to death.  “I don’t take sides in matters like this,” Warren has said.  He doesn’t takes sides on the issue of putting people to death for their sexual orientation?  He has apparently joined the Church Of St. Pontius Pilate.  (We shouldn’t be too surprised — this is the most popular religious denomination on the face of the earth.)

It’s hard to imagine how a man like Warren could converse openly, civilly and respectfully with people he considers the moral equivalent of child molesters, of rapists, a man who refuses to condemn the murder of gays because they are gay.  But many people share Warren’s irrational and hysterical attitude to gays and lesbians and they are Americans, too.  Their attitude was formed either by social conditioning or by personal conflicts about their own sexuality, which aren’t crimes, after all . . . though perhaps not easily conducive to the kind of good-faith dialogue this nation needs.

The irrational nature of Warren’s views about gays and gay marriage is reflected in the intellectual dishonesty of his arguments, one of which is that all cultures and all religions have for five thousand years defined marriage as a union between a man and woman, whereas is fact many cultures and religions, including Judaism at one time, have also defined or do define marriage as a union between one man and several women.  Warren is strongly against polygamy, however.  It’s his prerogative, I guess, to pick and choose between historical precedents about the definition of marriage, but he certainly can’t claim any kind of intellectual integrity while doing so.

Warren is also a hypocrite.  He doesn’t allow “unrepentant” homosexuals to join his church, and used to state this policy very clearly on his church’s web site.  During the controversy over his role in Obama’s inauguration, however, this statement was removed from the web site.  The policy hasn’t changed, presumably — Warren just doesn’t want too many people to know about it.  Is it necessary to point out that if Jesus had directed his ministry only at the “repentant” he would have spent his whole life sitting on a rock somewhere waiting for the imaginary saints to show up to get the good word?

But even if neurotic, irrational and hypocritical folks like Warren have a place in the national conversation about homosexuality, why must they drown out the voices of the non-neurotic and honest opponents of gay marriage?  There are thousands of religious figures in America who oppose gay marriage but don’t feel compelled to insult and humiliate gays, or to stand silent when there’s talk of murdering them, while making the case for their opinion.  Doesn’t the media have some responsibility to present sane viewpoints on this subject, even as it reports on the lunacy of popular kooks like Warren?

In Christian theology, we are all guilty of putting Jesus to death — i. e. we’ve got nothing on P. Pilate — and are all relieved of the sin of this by Jesus’s sacrifice.  But even Pontius Pilate had the common decency, or perhaps just the good taste, not to show up among the disciples after the crucifixion, offering to buy them all a drink and let bygones be bygones — much less start a church in Jesus’s name.  The disciples would undoubtedly have been too shocked by this to be insulted — they would have more likely tried to get the poor guy some professional help. Rick Warren needs our love, like everyone else, but he also needs lots and lots of therapy and he needs to be recognized as the deranged and tragic figure he is.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Warren does a lot — really a lot — of good charitable work around the world.  But is it too much to hope, in this Christmas season, that he might someday read the Gospels he pretends to preach — he must have a copy of them lying around somewhere — and find his heart touched by their message?  (Hint to Pastor Rick — the take-away from those books is neither “Crucify him!” nor “I wash my hands of him”.)

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR? — IN THE HEART

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

The lyrics of this song usually sound prissy and cute in most interpretations — Dylan somehow invests them with a portentousness verging on menace.  “Do you hear what I hear?” he asks, and he doesn’t want any bullshit from you in response.  “If you don’t hear what I hear,” he seems to imply, “what the fuck is wrong with you?”

This wild divergence from expectation goes right off the rails when Dylan gets to this verse towards the end:

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
     “Do you know what I know,
     “In your palace warm, mighty king?
     “Do you know what I know?
     “A child, a child
     “Shivers in the cold,
      “Let us bring him silver and gold.
     “Let us bring him silver and gold.”



Dylan spits out the phrase “in your palace warm” and the epithet “mighty king” with something thrillingly close to contempt.  This is not an innocent boy reminding his monarch to do good — it’s the least of men speaking truth to power.  The child shivering in the cold is a rebuke to pomp — “let us bring him silver and gold” is not a suggestion but a directive, from a shepherd boy to a king.

And then Dylan shifts gears to sing in the voice of the king, who seems amazed by what has been revealed to him, that a child, sleeping in the night, will “bring us goodness and light”.  At the end of the last repeated line, he hits the word “light” with all he’s got, in a poignant surrender of his impossible responsibilities . . . to a child.

This is interpretive dramatic singing of the highest order, reworking the whole song into a new thing — into the singer’s idea of what it’s all about.  Sinatra couldn’t have pulled this off.  Pavarotti couldn’t have pulled this off.  Dylan couldn’t have pulled this off in the years when he was doing his classic, iconic work.  We’re lucky that he lived long enough to learn how to do it, and that we lived long enough to hear him do it.

Am I exaggerating?  Do you hear what I hear in Dylan’s vocal on this song?  And if you don’t hear what I hear, well . . . what the fuck is wrong with you?

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.


PARIS: DOUBLE VISION — LA DAME À LA LICORNE

The tapestries depicted here, La Dame à la licorne, The Lady and the Unicorn, are part of a cycle of six, created during the 15th Century.  The designs were drawn in Paris and the tapestries woven in Flanders from wool and silk.  Among the greatest glories of medieval art, they now reside in the Musée de Cluny in Paris, where my friend Coralie recently went to visit them.  She sends this report about her reaction to them:

Je n’ai pas rendu visite à la Dame à la licorne depuis mon
adolescence.  Je suis très impatiente de la retrouver.  Il me faut
traverser plusieurs pièces de l’hôtel de Cluny, monter des escaliers,
avant d’accéder à la salle où elle réside.  Je me demande si je la
trouverai changée.  J’ai une forme d’anxiété qui envahit mon corps.  Un
étroit corridor m’invite au recueillement ; je devine sa présence à
proximité.  Le couloir débouche sur une immense pièce dont le sombre
m’empêche de distinguer le plafond autant que le sol dans lequel mes
pas s’évanouissent.  Il me semble pénétrer l’immensité de la nuit.  La
tranquillité est celle de l’infini.  Le noir est tellement épais que je
ne perçois aucune présence autre que la sienne.  Au milieu de cette
sphère céleste, un petit banc métallique sur lequel je me libère de mes
affaires, flotte comme par enchantement.  Je tourne lentement sur
moi-même et tandis qu’elle m’enveloppe de son manteau intemporel, je
m’immerge dans son monde hypnotique.

L’inscription À mon seul désir qui surplombe la tente de la sixième tapisserie, me fige sans pensée, m’épanouissant de son mystère.  Il s’entame dès lors un échange entre
nous, comme s’il se déroulait à mon insu.  Puis, elle anime – en moi -
sa beauté, s’y déplie, comme en territoire conquis.  Le phénomène
s’avère si naturel, qu’une résistance en serait inconcevable.
M’ennoblissant de présence initiatique, elle se fait l’hôte de mon
corps, lieu de son apparition.

Sans permettre au temps qu’il puisse se signifier, je quitte la pièce machinalement.  Malgré la lumière extérieure, je porte en moi, l’empreinte de son passage.  Elle vaut
tout autant.  Ce sentiment véhicule une complicité, sans que les jours
qui se succèdent, ne puissent en altérer la fraîcheur.  Je ne suis plus
comme avant.

[Photographs © 2009 Coralie Chappat]

HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS — IN THE HEART


                                                                                                                   [Photo © William Gedney]

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

Imagine a bad Christmas.  You’re alone in a strange city, half drunk,
lost, wandering amongst the fake cheer, the commercial decor, the
canned holiday music oozing out over the street.



An old rummy, someone in worse shape than you’re in, comes up to you
and grabs your hand and looks you in the eye and says, “Merry
Christmas,” as though he means it, as though he really believes
Christmas is going to be a new start for him, and for you.


It’s not much, but it could be enough to get you through the night.
“What a deluded old fool,” you might think at first, but you’re a
deluded old fool, too, and what choice do you have but faith?  It’s
either that or go back to your hotel room and slit your wrists.

Christmas In the Heart, Bob Dylan’s heartbreaking Christmas album, is a
cry from that old man, a handshake from that old man, an irrational
gesture of hope from that old man.



The album opens with “Here Comes Santa Claus” — which has devolved
into “Here Comes the Holiday Shopping Season” in the popular mind.  Its
words suggest other things.


Hang your stockings, say your prayers . . .

As Dylan sings, growls, “say your prayers,” he’s speaking from a place
of desperation, from the edge of the apocalypse.  “Say your prayers” –
there’s nothing left to do but that.  The last radio is playing.



He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor
For he loves you just the same.
Santa knows that we’re God’s children
And that makes everything right.

Everything?  Yes, Dylan’s voice testifies — everything.

Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light.
Let’s give thanks to the Lord above
For Santa Claus comes tonight.

The song bounces along merrily into a transcendent vision.  What’s
coming, right down Santa Claus Lane, is salvation.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.

ONE STEP BEYOND — DON'T GO THERE

Paul Zahl (of The Zahl File) offers another meditation on an extraordinary bit of American culture from days gone by, the T. V. series One Step Beyond.  If you don't remember it, or never saw it, Paul suggests that you might do well to keep it that way, just for your own peace of mind:

EXCRUCIATING — BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE . . .

by Paul F. M. Zahl


Way Out
, Roald Dahl's television show, was the ugly one, the ghoulish
one, the cruel one.



Twilight Zone
was the high end of these early television gems of the fantastic — moralistic and righteous, at times redemptive and even hopeful. 
Christ got at least two positive mentions in the Rod Serling scripts,
and the team effort showed in the artful results.



But in between, in between the cruelty of Roald Dahl and the justice of
Rod Serling, came the observing eye of . . . John Newland.



Newland is barely remembered today, but in the late 1950s and early
1960s (and even into the 1970s) he produced, directed, and acted in
scores and scores of  television shows, mostly in the supernatural or
thriller line.  Speaking of
Thriller, Newland directed “Pigeons from
Hell” for that great series, scaring us all where it counts — early
childhood — and leaving us with that tender scar forever.




Newland's big achievement was hosting three seasons of a series concerning the
paranormal.  The series was entitled
One Step Beyond.  It was created by Merwin Gerard and consisted of
thirty-minute 'docu-dramas' of supposed instances of possession,
ghostly presence, telepathy, and predictions of dreadful futures.



I have been watching
One Step Beyond since the day it was birthed, in
1959.  Almost all of the shows have been on video since the beginning,
as they were somehow in the public domain.  And now — there is a God
– Paramount has released the first season of
One Step Beyond in
splendid condition.  Oh, and the music, especially the theme called
“Fear”, written by Harry Lubin, is the ultimate science-fiction/horror
theme.  Anyone who is reading this would recognize it instantly.  (I
listen to it right before bedtime every night.  Mary loves it, too.)



But what has come to me in recent viewings, with an almost stunning
power, is a sort of personal truth about the inner spring of these
tight dramas.  It is a truth about the supernatural in general, and it
springs from its source.  These stories, with few exceptions that I can
see, are about love lost or love gone wrong.  Someone has lost someone,
and is desperate with grief.  He or she is completely naked to the
possibility of contact.  Or someone has done somebody wrong, and the
guilt is killing them.  Or, even, somebody
hates somebody else, and the
hate gets objectified, in some kind of paranormal occurrence.




Below are some examples of what I am talking about.  (“The Dead Part Of
the House” is available on the official Paramount DVD release (above), the
rest are available for download or viewing through YouTube or related
sites.)



Season One, Episode Nine:  “The Dead Part of the House”



A widower hates his nine-year-old daughter because she survived an
accident that killed her mother.


He resents his little girl.  And she knows it, and the child is
perishing for love, in front of his eyes.


She develops three ghostly friends, and in a benign move, these
supernatural friends are able to bring her father to his senses.




Phillip Abbott plays the father and conveys an irrational paternal
hatred, based on a love for his wife gone awry, that is painful to
watch,
in the extreme.  The little girl is entirely sympathetic, and so
completely shaken.  Moreover, the child's kind aunt is powerless over
her brother.



It is Tennessee Williams, as far as I am concerned, on a claustrophobic
'50s television set, yet completely unself-conscious.



Season Two, Episode Seven: “The Open Window”



A painter of fashion models — his current model is played by Louise Fletcher –
observes a woman in an apartment across the way preparing to commit
suicide.  She has been rejected romantically and her little
black-and-white four-walled world is killing her.  Her disconcerting
monologue and preparations, overheard and observed, have several
antecedents in theater and movies.  But the television camera closes in
on her, with dissection.  It is impossible to watch.  And it's only
1960!


As for the denouement, you'll have to see it yourself.  But it's not
really about the genre, it's about human attachment severed and love
torn to shreds.  How did Newland, who produced and directed, get this
out at an early hour Friday night?  I don't think anybody at the
network or the sponsor must have seen it as serious, because it was
about, uh, ESP.  But it was very serious.



Season Two, Episode 20: “Who Are You?”



A little girl wakes up in her bed and doesn't recognize her parents. 
Her parents are loving, devoted, and dear.
  She runs away and finds the people she believes to be her parents.  They, for their part, are living in a total darkness of grief, having
lost their own little girl recently.

The little girl we are watching is possessed of the spirit of the
other, dead little girl.  And she is horrified by the attentions of her natural parents.  And her grief-stricken 'real' parents are horrified by
her.

This child is totally lost, but alive and real, a whole self of
yearning.


When “Who Are You?” is over and the implications of the first 20
minutes — these shows are all 29 minutes long — begin to sink in, the
situation becomes excruciating.


In short, don't watch this.



Just two more examples, but they can be multiplied by a score of others:



Season Two, Episode 32: “Delia”



Here is a humdinger, which begins so quietly and prosaically that the
middle section takes you completely by surprise.


A vacationing American man is trying to recover from a second lousy
marriage, and is drinking in a bar on a quiet island off Mexico.
  Another American, a sexy divorcée, at a table nearby, invites him
over.  She is beautiful and the kind of woman most men would love to
meet under such circumstances.  But he turns her down.  He is
impossible.


He takes a self-pitying walk down to the beach, and half way down,
meets an extremely beautiful, refined, and quite un-sexy woman sitting
alone by a tree.  She knows all about him, connects with him instantly
– as he with her — and they are completely and in a single minute one
in love forever.  She is the lost and final love eternal, with eternal
eyes and never-ending smile. 


He exits for a moment, comes back — and she is gone.


He spends the rest of his life searching for her, and ends up back on
the island, where he awaits her return, and drinks himself to  death. 
I won't give away the ending.


This little parable is the ultimate dream of romance between a man and
a woman.  Drink to me only with thine eyes.  I will spend my life
awaiting your return.  And die in the process.


After you see “Delia” once, it becomes impossible to watch it again. 
Get thee behind me.  (Get thee to a nunnery) 


He should have stayed with the giving brunette. 
Hélas, he didn't.


Season Two, Episode 33: “The Visitor”



This one is a celebrated episode.  It starred Joan Fontaine, with Warren
Beatty, in either his first or second appearance ever.


It concerns a woman in older middle-age who has left her husband,
against his will, for the bottle; and has pulled herself completely
within herself at their cozy mountain get-away.  A nice fire is burning
on a snowy night, there's plenty of money, and there's a bar full of
whisky.  But a young man knocks at the door, his car having broken down
in the snow, and he is trying to get to the hospital where his young
wife is having a baby.  He cannot get there.


Who he is and why he is there and what he has come to do?  All is
revealed, neatly and affectingly. 


Again, this is about love gone wrong, about malice as the consequence of hurt,
about grief causing people to go mad — and all on a minuscule set, with one
camera, two actors, and dread, with heart. 


Don't see this one either.




I watch these episodes of
One Step Beyond and have to tell myself not
to watch any more.
  They are saturated with grief.  They are fistfuls of loss and love that
is separated, by the curtain of death, from fulfillment, even promise. 
Yes, there is compassion — and none whatever of the ghoulish joy in
karma that
Way Out featured every time.  I would call these instances
of Baby-Boomer television masterpieces of wrecked emotion, and love's
attachment snapped forever.



How come these are so powerful — if “excruciating” means powerful?
  I would like to finish this article by trying to say why.


In the first place these are completely uncompromised one-act plays. 
The camera prowls around — I honestly think of Rossellini and the
inquiring camera, maybe even the camera as protagonist, though I fear
that sounds pretentious.  (I invoked Tolstoy once in a conversation
with Joe Dante, and he suddenly started to look at me coolly.  I sure
wanted to withdraw that particular comment.)  Yet it is true that John
Newland's camera moves around a lot, in interior spaces about the size
of a closet most of the time.  In addition, his close-ups, which are
numerous, completely fill the screen.  These are intimate dramas –
they are about one or two, or at the most three, characters.  The
people's faces are tortured.  They are anguished.  The unflinching
close-ups mostly record grief and separation.  What are ghosts
in these stories other than objectified presences of love become
unattainable?  Thus the excruciating atmosphere of
One Step Beyond.


There is one other thing:


When  I was eight and nine years old and saw shows like this, I
definitely connected with the fear and dread. But


I didn't really get the truth.  The psychology was completely at the
edges, or rather,
out of the question. 

I just knew, to my bones and my nerve ends, that something serious was
going on.


Too serious.
 


Twilight Zone
, which saved the day, was more distanced somehow.  It
didn't raise the resistance that was raised by
One Step Beyond
Neither could I have appreciated
The Glass Menagerie.  (Still can't
watch the last act.)



My advice to you, dear reader, is Skip This One.  Sit It Out.


It's too close to home.  Take away the supernatural part of it, and
there is only human loss.


Oder — and I truly wish I had done this when I was president of a
theological seminary — show “Delia'”and “The Dead Part of the House”
to a class for future ministers on . . . pastoral care.  In the church,
and in the frayed and hungry world around us, you're going to encounter
quite a few Delias and a whole directory full of The Dead Parts of
Houses.