"As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books." – Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Last fall, I talked with Cindy Brown before the release of her second Ivy Meadows Mystery The Sound of Murder. She asked what I was working on. I was torn between editing a mindfulness text and The Catalonian Candidate. We talked about the conflict between what we wanted to write and what we could write that might be more "commercial."
I'd recently stopped reading a best-selling thriller with a plot that depended on ever more grotesque and twisted scenes of inhuman violence. Whatever ingenious denouement the author could come up with, it wasn't worth the depravity to get there. I'd read another conventional mystery, which, though well structured, featured a graphic Vietnam conflict atrocity against a young girl. That story resolved with an unexpected twist, but was it really worth it?
If I followed the market, I'd probably write something with a cunning serial killer, but for the sake of my own mental health, and for the sake of the reader, I don't want to imagine something that would shame me if some sicko acted it out in real life. I said that I wasn't sure what I would do next, but I wasn't going to write anything that would contribute to screwing up the culture. We shook hands on the deal, so I'll hold Cindy to her side of the bargain. Here's the challenge I had holding up mine.
As I mentioned in The Mystery of Why We Write, it was my father's idea to introduce me to Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange inspired angry young men who didn't get the satire to try their own tribute versions of a little of the old ultraviolence by breaking into houses and raping women while singin' "Singin' in the Rain." When Kubrick received anonymous threats against his family while shooting Barry Lyndon, he worked out a deal with Warner Bros. to pull Clockwork from distribution in the UK. Warner Bros. honored that agreement until Kubrick's death in 1999.
Compared to that movie, Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest was pretty tame stuff. I never heard of any people killing themselves trying to scale Mt. Rushmore. But as I reached the age that Cary Grant was when he shot that film, I began to realize that my mother's Old Hollywood was also guilty of a subtler form of violence against women's self-esteem.
Jesse Royce Landis (aged 62) played Cary Grant's (54) mother. She was far too old to play his love interest.
That job would go to Eva Marie Saint (34).
In The Manchurian Candidate, we were asked to believe that Angela Lansbury (37) had somehow given birth to Laurence Harvey (34).
My father was 49 when I talked him into seeing That Obscure Object of Desire at the University of Chicago. I'd seen it at college and knew that he'd like it. I thought it was hilarious and wanted to see it again. While my mother was happy with Hays Code Hollywood's creative metaphors for sex, my father preferred New Hollywood's leaving-less-to-the-imagination approach. Desire had enough nudity to compensate for the subtitles. As we drove home, he said that he'd once known a tease like the girl in the movie. I had, too (sort of): a father/son bonding moment. But neither of us thought twice about the 38-year age gap between the leading man and the older of his two leading ladies. Fernando Rey (60), Angela Molina (22), Carole Bouquet (20).
A couple years ago, as I was in the midst of reading the Pierre Luoÿs story The Woman and the Puppet, from which Luis Buñuel adapted his film, I saw a trailer for a movie based on a Philip Roth novel called The Humbling. I haven't seen the movie, but from the trailer I gathered that Greta Gerwig's (31) object of desire was Al Pacino (74).
Sorry women in your late thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, you're too old for Al!
I don't know if it took the absurdity of that trailer (thankfully, the movie's a comedy, perhaps even a good one; Buck Henry co-wrote the script), or the age difference between the characters in the The Woman and the Puppet (a 35-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl), but it finally hit home to me what I had loved about that tumultuous, impractical, impossible relationship.
Though there was a gap of two lifetimes between the man and the woman in Desire, what made it all so funny was that they were doing their best to live like people invented in story books…or at least like people in the movies.
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