Click on the image to enlarge.
Dramatic geniuses can get a bit eccentric towards the end of their careers. In his late romances, Shakespeare pretty much abandoned plausibility and consistency of tone — he just threw together incidents and scenes and characters and language that interested him and cobbled them together this way or that. He basically said “fuck you” to the “well-made play” and pleased himself.
The results were both magical and unsettling. The same can be said of many of John Ford’s late-career movies. They’re not tightly constructed, they veer around drunkenly between themes and dramatic arcs, with the director concentrating on the stuff that interested him, whether it had a clear structural function or not, and fecklessly tossing off the other stuff.
This is true of Donavan’s Reef (above) and Cheyenne Autumn — both of which are uneven as dramatic works but have passages of great beauty, as powerful and moving as any in Ford’s work.
It’s true also of Two Rode Together, above, a Ford film from 1961. The film starts off at a stately pace, apparently setting up a buddy adventure between the characters played by its two stars, Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark. But Ford quickly loses interest in the adventure. He pauses to let the two great actors banter with each other, in leisurely and absolutely riveting exchanges. He makes breathtakingly beautiful shots of horses and wagons moving across the landscape and neglects the visual possibilities in scenes that have dramatic weight in the story.
The adventure sort of fizzles out by the end, but by then Ford has switched his interest to the sexual and racial dynamics in the romantic subplots his leads get entangled in.
It’s like listening to a great storyteller drinking and talking by the fire, getting sloshed and losing the thread of the tale he started out to tell, but still captivating you with his voice and with the brilliance of his digressions.
The result is a perplexing film that is also great and immensely pleasurable — like Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. You know that wherever the tale is going, the journey is going to be worth it — maybe not in the ways you expected but . . . somehow.
Click on the images to enlarge or isolate.
. . . center of the known universe.
A new Amazon customer review:
Another good collection from Fonvielle
The most recent release from Lloyd Fonvielle, Christmas in the West is a collection of six short stories set in various time periods in the West. While the majority of them are authentic Westerns, “Christmas in December” is set in contemporary times and “Twilight” takes place during World War II.If you’ve read Fonvielle’s previous work, Christmas in the West is largely more of the same. His characterization and plotting is as tight as ever, interweaving characters from all walks of life in a believable, honest and non-sentimental way. My personal favorite story is the aforementioned “Christmas in December,” about a neglected young man who takes up with a Vegas escort, deftly avoiding even the slightest hint of bathos.
If you’re looking for a brief but enjoyable fiction collection, Christmas in the West is worth a read.
For the review and book details, go here:
Western stories?! Yes — and recommended
Don’t be fooled by the title; this is not your Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. These are skillfully-crafted stories couched in a succinct and no-self-indulgence prose, presumably influenced by Elmore Leonard, with clever, unpredictable, and often witty turns of plot. Despite the strictures of the genre, each story and each character is different. Recommended.
To see the review and for book details, click here:
I was first introduced to Lloyd Fonvielle and his writing through his website, which I try to visit as often as possible. It is always full of engaging and interesting content. After following for a while, I read Fourteen Western Stories and thoroughly enjoyed it. Missouri Green was next up and I again had a wonderful time reading it. A short, but concise story with wonderful characters. I especially enjoyed the dialogue throughout this western tale. It is a great read and I look forward to digging into more of his work in the future.
Go here for the review and book details — Missouri Green.
My Amazon customer review of Paul Zahl’s new (and extraordinary) book on world religions:
Paul Zahl is a Christian preacher and theologian, but here he ranges beyond his own faith to examine the world’s religions — using an intriguing way into them, to wit:
Imagine you have ten minutes to live. You’re in a near-death situation, like the patient who’s being operated on and suddenly finds himself looking down on the action as the doctors try to save his life. What do you need to know when your life’s end is near? What is there to know? What can this religion or that religion say to you when you really need some light? PZ’s Panopticon weighs the world’s organized religions, such as Christianity and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism; but it also weighs “dead” religions like those of the Aztecs, the ancient Egyptians, and the Greeks and Romans. There are also religions that are not called religions, like money and fame and sex; family and your children; ideology; and power. PZ’s Panopticon is a wild ride. But it’s part of a trip we are all going to take.
You can buy it here.
Click on the image to enlarge.
PZ offers some thoughts on a novel and a film that have been regularly misunderstood, or at least mischaracterized:
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
This is an interesting movie (1956) and a very interesting book (1955). Sloan Wilson, a master novelist who understood marriage and men, wrote the novel. Darryl F. Zanuck produced the movie, and Nunnally Johnson scripted it and directed it. It starred Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones.
Tom Rath, the gray-suited Westport commuter of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, is carrying inside himself absolute shock at the things he had to do in France in l944 and the losses he suffered in the Pacific right after that. No one knows this about Tom Rath — he is taciturn and diffident, like many survivors of that war. Not even his wife knows. There is another aspect, too, of his time overseas that returns to haunt him. Nothing can be compartmentalized, even on the New Haven Line.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a truly explosive novel and movie, nuclear but also abreactive. It is not about conformity. It is about engaging pain. Fortunately, Tom and Betty Rath do engage the pain. They are enabled somehow to go into it, rather than shy away from it. They are literally saved by a kind of confrontation with their suffering. Their story is almost ennobling.
When you think about the Eisenhower years, or if you have experienced a trauma since the Eisenhower years — like maybe last week — you could learn from Sloan Wilson. You could get something out of quiet Tom and not-so-quiet Betty Rath. Life’s acuteness forces them to go towards, not suppress and flee — like my own tendency, for example. It is not exactly “fight or flight” in the Raths’ case. But it’s certainly not flight.
While you’re at it, read Sloan Wilson’s Georgie Winthrop (1963) — the year of the Great Event we’ve been recently remembering. Poor George Winthrop. He is not allowed off the hook either. But he comes into something, too. Something good. Or at least, survivable.
[PZ also points out a telling difference between the U. S. and the European advertising art for the film. In the German poster above, the context of the tale is emphasized by the ghost of the soldier he once was standing behind and towering over the figure of Peck. In American advertising art, this ghost figure did not appear. This suggests that American audiences would not have been immediately attracted by an image of PTSD haunting returned American soldiers. That subject had to be treated obliquely, in the guise of crime thrillers, for example, in the film noir tradition, or in the guise of a tale about "suburban conformity".]