Thursday, February 22, 2007


Saw Altman's last film Prairie Home Companion last weekend and enjoyed it immensely.

I started watching it while the Yahmdallah clan was out and about (delivering Girl Scout cookies I believe), assuming they would not be interested. But after they filed back in, everyone was glued - even the 2 year old, during the songs.

Garrison Keillor should've gotten an Oscar nod for the script, I think. Meryl, of course, NAILS the Midwestern accent, hitting that sweet spot between the slightly-over-the-topness of Fargo and too little to tell.

But, to my surprise, I thought Keillor did one of the best jobs of acting in the whole flick. If he didn't look like a Boston Terrier on stilts (he's a tall son of a gun), he'd prolly have a career as a character actor. (Please don't consider that a slam on Garrison's looks, as I think he's amongst what I call the "Beautiful Fugly" - someone who's so interesting looking that they rise above standard beauty.)

I've mostly stopped buying DVDs of movies for myself because I already have the ones I'll watch again, but I might have to pick this one up. I think I might be visiting Lake Wobegon a few more times.

Our favorite scene was his reaction when he thinks death has come to claim him. His soliloquy on the character of the Swedish and Norwegian descendants in the Midwest, which includes the truism, "We are a dark people: people who believe it could be worse, and are waiting for it to be worse," is also a highlight. My wife shot a knowing glance at me whilst she giggled about that one.

But, we know this about ourselves and so strive to be cheerful. Keillor, again, coins this particular Midwestern trait in one of his recent articles for Salon:

February is the season of small sorrows when everyone feels middle-aged even if you are 16, but there are cures for this. One is skating and another is the convivial lunch. You meet three friends at the Chat 'N' Chew and order soup and a sandwich and you yak and yak and nobody tries to sell you aluminum siding and nobody unloads his sorrows or displays his trophies and nobody harangues you about politics. You tell stories. If things drift toward the ponderous or the maudlin, somebody tosses in a joke. If somebody launches into a lecture, you stuff a rag in him and get back to that beautiful contrapuntal conversation that is possible with friends. They are the people with whom you can be at your best, playful, extravagant, sarcastic, self-disparaging, semi-brilliant and ever buoyant.

Conviviality is no small achievement. Back when I was young, most major American writers seemed to be alcoholic or suicidal or both, and we students absorbed the notion that the true sign of brilliance is to be seriously screwed up. The true poet is haunted by livid demons, brave, doomed, terribly wounded, and if one was (as I was) relatively unscratched, you concealed this and tried to impersonate doom.

The prime minister of high culture was T.S. Eliot, who suffered from a lousy marriage and hated his job and so wrote "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," a small, dark mopefest of a poem in which old Pru worries about whether to eat a peach or roll up his trousers. This poem pretty much killed off the pleasure of poetry for millions of people who got dragged through it in high school. The first line of "Prufrock," as you may recall, was "S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse" -- he opened with six lines of a language 99 percent of his readers do not understand! How better to identify yourself as a serious poet than to be incomprehensible?

So the best minds of my generation skipped poetry and became historians or went into business or took up farming. Who would make a career out of pretending to be crippled? And they sensed that, in the poetry biz, there is not much conviviality. (They were right.)

Heh. Too true.

I, too, loathed, loathe, and will continue to loathe the poetry of T.S. Eliot, all the way down to the copious footnotes that let you in on all the tepid literary in-jokes Eliot slathered onto his pustulant verses. Every time I had to wade through one of his wastelands during my Lit. degree, it conjured up images of that time I'd mistakenly put a tupperware of leftover Campbell's soup in the cupboard rather than the fridge; when I retrieved it for use a week later, the weight clued me into the fact it was already occupied. Stupid me held the thing right in front of my face and slightly below it as I opened it (chemistry majors will be smirking at my obvious blunder). A small sphincter lazily gawped open on the golf-ball sized bubble that had formed in the mottled gray scum, releasing the very stench of hell and a bag of moldy chips itself. I damn near passed out and barely got the abomination set on the counter before my fight-or-flight response reflexively swept me from the room. I think I actually peeked around the corner of the doorway before I went back to throw it away, as if it might've grown gray furry legs and pursued me.

T.S. Eliot is also directly to blame for Cats, too. One can only hope that Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche have been given the job in hell to ceaselessly perform Cats in the nude accompanied via MIDI versions of the songs for Eliot as he's forced to footnote the oeuvre of Susan Polis Schutz.

See what I mean about being a dark people?

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