The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Happy Halloween of Copyright Infringement

The 1922 German film Nosferatu (in full above) is now in the public domain, and may be used without permission. Ironically, the classic film itself did just that, so blatantly ripping off Bram Stoker's novel Dracula that Florence Stoker sued, and won an order that every print of the film be destroyed:
The court’s order was followed with amazing thoroughness. All prints of the movie were destroyed, that is, save one.

One print found its way to the United States. Since Dracula was already in the public domain there, there was no way to have a U.S. court order its destruction.

It is from that print that every copy of the film existing today was made.
As someone who is continuing the work of a long-dead author--one that is in the public domain, as are the handful of supporting cast members I have imported from elsewhere--I can feel the pain of F.W. Murnau being told that his work is so derivative as to be a violation of the rights of authorship, insufficiently original to have a justified separate existence. Every creative person's nightmare, really...

Of course, as Murnau did to Stoker, others have done to Murnau:

The game, in short, continues...

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 28, 2013

In Memoriam, Arthur Danto

I am profoundly saddened to see that Arthur C. Danto, the great professor of philosophy specializing in the philosophy of art has died. The Times summarizes his achievements succinctly:
The author of some 30 books including “Beyond the Brillo Box,” and “After the End of Art,” Mr. Danto was the art critic for The Nation magazine from 1984 to 2009 and a longtime philosophy professor at Columbia.

“His project, really, was to tell us what art is, and he did that by looking at the art of his time,” said Lydia Goehr, a Columbia University philosophy professor who has written extensively about Mr. Danto. “And he loved the art of his time, for its openness, and its freedom to look any way it wanted to.”

This led Mr. Danto to propose a new way of defining art — not according to any putatively intrinsic, aesthetic qualities shared by all artworks, but by the “artworld,” a community that included artists, art historians, critics, curators, dealers and collectors who shared an understanding about the history and theory of modern art.

If that community accepted something as art, whatever its form, then it was art. This required an educated viewer. “To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry — an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld,” wrote Mr. Danto in his oft-quoted, 1964 essay “The Artworld.”


But if so many different kinds of things could be viewed as art, what if anything did they have in common? The common denominator, Mr. Danto concluded, was meaning, and that led him to propose that the art of our time was mainly animated by philosophy. Artworks in the Postmodern era could be viewed as thought experiments about such problems as the relationship between representation and reality; knowledge and belief; photography and truth; and the definition of art itself.
I give this extract, because my own experience of Professor Danto was related to, but only indirectly, his main project. Professor Danto generously volunteered his time as an expert witness for us in Nitke v. Gonzales (earlier Nitke v. Ashcroft), the challenge to the application of the "local community standards" test for defining obscenity to material posted online. Although we did not win the larger point--that the speech on the internet cannot logically be defined by the standards of any one community from which it can be viewed, the three judge panel we were before did reject the notion that the most restrictive community in the Nation could be the venue (and thus the applicable standard) for any prosecution of online speech that could be seen from within that community. That rule, based on an older (1996) case from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had effectively allowed prosecutors to claim that the most restrictive community standard in the country governed the whole country. It is no longer good law, and that is some achievement, at any rate.

Professor Danto testified about the artistic merit of the speech of our lead plaintiff, Barbara Nitke, and how the aesthetic and artistic importance of that speech was both serious, and could be misunderstood by prosecutors, judges and jurors.

In his Foreword to Barbara's new book (the link is illustrated with some of her photographs, so if such work offends you, do not click), Arthur writes "Alas, Nitke’s suit did not establish the unconstitutionality of the CDA. I was a poor expert." He is, on that one point alone, in error. I know this because I defended his deposition. In a little room at the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, a very shrewd, very able Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") representing the Government (and an admirer of Professor Danto's, as well; a very likable adversary, really, as all of my adversaries on the case were) conducted a thorough deposition. Arthur looked tired that day, and I thought that the trek from the Upper West Side to lower Manhattan might have been arduous for a man of his age (this was, after all, in 2004, so he would have been 80).

Now, at a deposition, you are helpless as counsel. You can object to the form, and instruct your client not to answer questions that call for privileged information, or where (as only rarely happens) the question is inherently abusive ("When did you stop beating your wife?" sort of stuff). If the witnesses crashes and burns, you go down with the ship, looking as unconcerned as you can. After the initial pleasantries, and pedigree, the AUSA made her move. She spread out several pictures by Barbara, and then laid out a series of similarly-themed photos from some of the sleaziest porn magazines you could find. The latter depicted similar activities to those in Barbara's pictures, and were superficially similar in layout. She then asked Arthur why Barbara's had serious artistic value and the others did not.

Arthur's pause was just about the longest I can ever recall a witness taking. It seemed to go on forever, and I felt butterflies in my stomach. The AUSA even seemed conflicted.

Then, having collected his thoughts, Professor Arthur Danto gave a cogent, thorough disquisition in which he pointed out the differences in composition, layout, viewpoint, and analyzed the different goals of Barbara and the anonymous photographer in the ratty magazines. He pulled from his memory examples of Medieval and Renaissance art to illustrate his analysis, and my adversary, far more informed in matters artistic than am I, was rapt.

It was a hell of a performance.

I met Arthur's wife Barbara Westman Danto, at their apartment on one of my visits there to discuss the case, and I grieve for her, and his two daughters, Ginger and Elizabeth. I realize that my little anecdote is just one small tile in the mosaic of a great career, but thought it should be shared. The Times reports that he did not do negative criticism, because he found it cruel. I did not know that, but I believe it. He was a kind man--a good one, with an infectious sense of humor and modest withal.

And quite possibly the most adroit witness I ever called to the stand.

If the pause didn't kill you, that is.

Rest in peace.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Luck of Phineas

Possibly the most heartwarming story of vigilante justice you will ever read:
After accusations arose of two previous unreported biting episodes, the Salem mayor, Gary Brown, deemed Phineas a vicious dog under town ordinance, and ordered him euthanized. The dog’s execution was delayed by a court appeal — and there was a brief, unexplained disappearance last fall — but then reinstated in March by Judge Scott Bernstein. City officials quickly moved Phineas to a secret location — it turned out to be the basement garage bay at the fire station — so he would not be snatched before his execution.


Concern and doubt festered for days, until a rainy night, the day after the latest court hearing to decide Phineas’s fate. As the Sanderses cleaned up from dinner with their four children, the man appeared at their door, asking for them by name.“I just want to tell you,” he said, “that Phineas is doing just fine.”

“Well, that’s good,” Mr. Sanders said, exhaling.

The man explained that he had seen a Phineas billboard and read about the case on Facebook. Sympathetic, he snatched Phineas and took him to a safe place where he was playing with another dog, the man told them, his fake mustache slipping down his face.He asked them to set up a safe house, they said, where he could bring Phineas for them to play with. But he did not trust cellphones. So he asked them to activate a landline, and when they had the safe house ready, they were to post the sentence, “I saw a dog today that reminded me of Phineas,” on the Facebook page. That would be his signal to call and arrange a meeting.

Ms. Sanders posted the message last Monday, and the man called on Wednesday night from a disposable cellphone. He arranged to return Phineas to them on Saturday morning. With the judge’s decision still pending, they were not taking any chances: They planned to ship Phineas to an undisclosed location.

Yet in a final twist, Judge Bernstein essentially said Friday that the drama should never have happened. He ruled that Phineas did not even bite the girl and overturned the death sentence.

Still worried that people might want to harm Phineas, the Sanderses kept the Saturday reunion secret. The man, wearing his fake beard, arrived at the drop point in a rural patch surrounded by dirt roads before the Sanderses arrived, and when an intermediary told him they were still on their way, he left Phineas and said, “Well, I’ve got to go.”

Minutes later, Salem’s most popular dog was bounding into his owners’ arms.
A lovely story.

Phineas Finn, of course, was famous for his luck, too. As Barrington Erle famously said of him "I never heard of a fellow with such a run of luck.”

What do you mean the dog wasn't named after that Phineas?

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Good Villain

The tricky bit about writing a good villain is to find his or her core--his own viewpoint and motivations, I mean. Bringing back the Rev. Mr. Emilius (promoted to Bishop, so the Rt. Rev. Joseph Emilius, now) was something I knew I would do as soon as I wrote chapter 1, but it wasn't until later in the process I knew why I was going to bring him back.

In Phineas Redux, the two men never appear together--even in the television adaptation (scripted by novelist Simon Raven), they share the screen only in a brief scene in the courtroom where Phineas is standing trial for the murder committed by Emilius, and Emilius is brought in to demonstrate the grey coat he could have worn might have been the one identified by the shaky witness Lord Fawn (As Lord Fawn is played by Derek Jacobi, who, like Anthony Ainley (Emilius) played went on to play the recurring Doctor Who villain the Master, this episode is a Whovian's delight.) In the novel, it is Mr. Chaffanbrass's Solicitor's clerk Scruby who dons the coat, and so Phineas and Rev. Emilius do not meet, that we see.

And yet, vastly different as Emilius and Phineas are, there are some comparisons to be made. They both are charming outsiders, who rise in society due to their charisma and ability to win the admiration of others, especially of women. In a sense, Mr. Emilius is a tawdry, distorted mirror image of Phineas--Phineas as he might appear, say, to Mr. Kennedy, Lady Laura's insanely jealous husband. They have one other thing in common, as occurred to me in writing the introduction to a trial in which Phineas is defense counsel:
For the criminal trial is many things—a search for truth, a drama, a battle in which every technique of rhetoric and wit is brought to bear in the contest for victory. But it is nothing quite so much as it is a crucible testing the characters of all involved, though none so harshly as that of the accused, which must, unless it is of true steel, crack.

Phineas Finn had not cracked. Neither, though, had that other man, Joseph Emilius. If ever they were to meet again, each would have the measure of the other in a way that very few could understand, almost none who had not undergone the ordeal they each had survived. While the one man strove to use his days to do good, and the other sought to bend the precepts of what is good to his own uses, both had faced the extremity of fear and shame—and had come through intact.
After writing that, how could I not bring them together?

Finding his core required an evaluation of the outer man in trying to find the inner. The novel is informative, as Trollope always gives his characters their due, even the villains. Emilius' coolness under pressure, his seemingly unshakeable faith in his own rectitude is admirably well described, as is his slightly oily charm. Emilius has grit, whatever else he has--he never breaks, despite the mounting odds against him.

Anthony Ainley's performance was also suggestive. His portrayal of Emilius is highly stylized and theatrical--for Ainley, Emilius is a man conscious of playing a part, and aware that his every motion is calculated, planned, and affected. The real Emilius is only briefly glimpsed, as Ainley portrays him--once, in a moment of insolent ease with his then-wife Lizzie and once later in a hostile confrontation with her and Mr. Bonteen.

The clip above shows Anthony Ainley at his first Doctor Who convention, in 1981. He uses many of the mannerisms he brought to the screen as the Master, but also the conscious display of a very calculated, mannered performance of a character that made his Emilius so memorable. Note how he veers back and forth between the likable, unaffected cricket fan and the suave, musical tones of the Master. He knew who the fans wanted to see, and gave them enough of it to satisfy. That's just what Emilius does--he's constantly onstage, giving his devotees what they want, while the real man beneath is unseen, save in glimpses.

Which leads to the question: What is Joseph Emilius protecting?

And my answer to that question--consistent, I believe with every word Trollope wrote about the man in the two novels in which he appears--is what led me to what I believe to be the man underneath the mask.

Update: In a surprising bit of unconscious plagiarism, I did not mention that the point of the parallels between Phineas and Emilius (even their names echo each other) was brought into relief by Nicholas Birns in his lecture to the the Trollope Society on Phineas Finn and the Bidungsroman; after our discussion at the lecture, Professor Birns was kind enough to share with me his prepared text, which I have found very helpful in many ways, and it is a pleasure to acknowledge his insights.

Corporations Are Separate Entities, My Friend!

The Sixth Circuit's decision in Eden Foods, Inc. v. Sebelius is, to my mind, rather well done. In holding that a for-profit corporation cannot assert its owner's religious belief as grounds for an exemption from generally applicable statutory schema, the Court explains why the choice of incorporation especially blunts the argument for such exemption:
When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity. Granting an exemption from [statutory schemes] to an employer operates to impost the employer’s religious faith on the employees.


By incorporating his business, Potter voluntarily forfeited his rights to bring individual actions for alleged corporate injuries in exchange for the liability and financial protections otherwise afforded him by utilization of the corporate form. Adoption of Potter’s argument that he should not be liable individually for corporate debts and wrongs, but still should be allowed to challenge, as an individual, duties and restrictions placed upon the corporation would undermine completely the principles upon which our nation’s corporate laws and structures are based. We are not inclined to so ignore law, precedent, and reason.
To break out that last bit a little: In other words, a corporation is afforded the legal fiction of personhood, and therefore is separate from its owners--that's the whole jurisprudential basis for incorporation. The argument that the owner can assert his or her personal constitutional rights through the corporation, but not be liable for debts run up in the corporation's conducting of its business really would be allowing owners to have it both ways.

Also, of course, the constitutional claim for any exemption is, as I have pointed out (more than once, I must admit), is quite weak, in the wake of Employment Division v. Smith (1990). There is, of course, RFRA, but the constitutionality of RFRA is far from clear (is it an impermissible establishment of religion, to extend greater privileges than constitutionally required? Unclear). As is the application of RFRA to the exemption at issue--is the cost involved sufficiently weighty and proximate to an act the employers believe to be inherently sinful as to amount to a substantial burden on expressing religion? And if so, does conscription violate RFRA? Taxes? Quite neatly, the fact that corporations are not their owners allows those questions to be decided another day.

(Hat-tip to LGM)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Course Correction

When I first started blogging, getting on for eight years ago now, I was anxious to have a forum to discuss free speech, legal issues, and whatever struck my fancy. A lot of the time, I wrote about politics--sometimes scathingly, occasionally trying to reach across the aisle and understand the views of those with whom I sometimes stridently disagreed.

Ultimately, I found that emphasis limiting, and as I found myself drawn increasingly toward the spiritual, started "Anglocat" to discuss that side of life. And then I merged the two blogs here.

Now, here's the tricky bit: In the Age of Obama, politics have, I am sorry to say,become increasingly toxic. As the Tea Party rose, and bitterness with it, I too often took the bait, and responded in kind. I noticed in the recent shutdown and debt ceiling crisis that my tolerance, my sense of humor, even of irony was gone.

What was it Nietzsche wrote? "He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process become a monster himself. And if you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss will stare right back at you."

I do not mean to suggest that those with whom I have disagreed are at all monstrous, let alone monsters--but I do think that it is all too easy to reflect that which is common in our politics today: Raw, roiling anger. And I have, on occasion, been guilty of feeding that beast.

As a life-long student of politics (one of my two undergraduate majors), I find the joy is gone from it for me. I find so much more interest in the novel I am writing, the study for the diaconate, cat stories, the clinical pastoral training I'm undergoing, too--all of these are edifying, fun, and joyous.

So I am taking a sabbatical from politics for now. Time for a new direction for this blog--or rather an old one. I propose to write more about the work I am doing--fiction and non-fiction (I intend to post a link to a new long-form article on that I will publish on Friday), and books I am enjoying (Simon Raven! And Anthony Powell! Not to mention it's time for periodic re-visit to Jane Austen). And did I mention that Mark Twain's Autobiography, Volume 2 is out?

It's time for a course correction--"Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning." Kirk has his flaws, but he's seldom dull.

As we lawyers say, you are invited to attend and cross-examine. Come on the prowl with me.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fitting Phineas Into His Times

Just dropping a few thoughts regarding Phineas at Bay. I have made to the halfway mark of Volume Two (that is, the 3/4 mark of the whole), and that has me thinking of the actual book--how I'd like it to look, what sort of framing materials or illustrations might be apt.

Now, back in 1989, I bought off a street vendor (he had a lot of books, and old original prints), a series of six caricatures from Vanity Fair. I had them all framed, and have hung them in each of my homes in the last 24 years. For years, I always smiled at one in particular--not because it is the most witty (far from it; it's unusually respectful for VF), but because to me it looked like a perfect caricature of Phineas Finn at the time of the action of Phineas Redux (1874). I then promptly forgot about that caricature, despite seeing it every day--remember Sherlock Holmes saying "You see, but you do not observe"? Guilty, m'lud). Until last night, that is, when I noticed my old friend, Phineas Finn over the mantlepiece:

(OK, it's really William Beauclerk, 10th Duke of St. Albans, 1840-1898.)

The artist, by the way, is not the famous "Spy" (Leslie Ward), but the somewhat less famous, but highly regarded, Delfico, who was well known for his caricatures of Verdi. Spy did get a hold of Trollope, though:

One interesting problem has been how close to get to actual history. In keeping with Trollope's (and many other Victorian novelists--Conan Doyle did this in every Sherlock Holmes story, pretty much) penchant for keeping dates elusive, I'm setting the date in 189-, and feeling free to pillage the entire decade for plot points, characters and context. This allows me to stave off the evil moment (from my plot's perspective) when the Tories take over the Government. For Phineas' conflict with his old friends to have any heft, it must matter, and if the Liberals are in Opposition--well, really, who cares what any of 'em does, as long as everyone's harrying the Government.

In addition to being in Trollope's vein, it is almost required by Trollope's own novels; The Prime Minister (1876) depicts a caretaker Coalition Government, comprised of both major parties. It prefigured the Coalition Governments of World War I and thereafter, but especially Churchill's wartime National government, in that the two main parties joined together. It was, in fact, inspired by Aberdeen Ministry of 1852-1855, in which a breakaway faction of the Tories, the Peelites joined with the Whigs (later the Liberal Party).

By dropping a coalition into the middle of the 1870s (because the novel savors of its time), Trollope completely ditched the political history of his own day. So I am left walking an uneasy tightrope; I need to honor Trollope's own divergences from British political history, while making my political scenario at least plausibly of its time; moreover, I have to fudge the Conservative ascendancy as long as possible, as well as finding a role for Phineas in the political history of the sunset of the Victorian Age.

So, my use of history has been guided by these wise words:

In Memoriam, Elvie

I am sorry to report that Elvira Kitteh (as we first named her) or Elvie is with us no more.

She was a little outdoor cat who came to the back window with Mr. Popplethwaite, but for whom we found a home, with a kind-hearted and generous friend.

Elvie was a turbulent outdoors cat, but a happy indoors cat, and for the brief period of time she got to live the life of an indoor cat, brought joy to her person and friends.

Apparently, she suddenly started losing weight and appetite, and when our friend brought her to the vet, she was diagnosed with a large malignant tumor.

We are richer for having known her, and though saddened by her loss, I myself am grateful she chose our yard to wander into.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Limits of Empiricism

Seriously, this Sunday Review Article by Adam Liptak is perverse:
If judicial activism is defined as the tendency to strike down laws, the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is less activist than any court in the last 60 years.

Nonetheless, Justice Ginsburg’s impression fits with a popular perception of the court. In 2010 in Citizens United, it struck down part of a federal law regulating campaign spending by corporations and unions, overruling two precedents in the bargain. In June, it struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act.

The court will no doubt be accused of yet more activism if it continues to dismantle campaign finance restrictions, as it seemed ready to do Tuesday at arguments in a case about limits on campaign contributions from individuals.

But these decisions are outliers when measured against the court’s overall record over the last nine years.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the liberal court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren from 1953 to 1969 invalidated federal, state and local laws at almost twice the rate of the Roberts court. But the more conservative court that followed, led by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger from 1969 to 1986, was even more activist, striking down laws in almost 9 percent of its cases, compared with just over 7 percent in the Warren court and just 4 percent in the Roberts court. The court led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist from 1986 to 2005 was also more activist than the current one, at 6.4 percent.
But that is, of course, a ridiculous measure. Because the question is not merely how many statutes the Court strikes down, but whether it is enacting a political agenda, as opposed to appropriately enforcing constitutional boundaries in so doing.

Let me unpack that a bit. Brown v. Board of Education was a case that applied the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause to strike down state laws that required African-American children be educated separately from white children. It struck down laws that created a legally mandated, state enforced apartheid. Even though Brown was the decision that sparked "Impeach Earl Warren" campaigns throughout the South, the fact is that I have not ever seen a persuasive argument that Brown was wrongly decided as an application of the Fourteenth Amendment. I have seen critiques of how the Court distinguished its earlier "separate but equal" cases into oblivion, as being less intellectually honest than just admitting they were wrongly decided, but no reasonable view of the Fourteenth Amendment exists under which state enforced apartheid can stand.

Yet, under Liptak's approach, Brown, faithfully applying the text Fourteenth Amendment, is a data point for determining the Warren Court was a judicially activist court.

Just as would be Lochner v. New York, which found that state maximum hour laws violated the "due process" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which, the Court found violated because
Under that provision, no State can deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The right to purchase or to sell labor is part of the liberty protected by this amendment unless there are circumstances which exclude the right. There are, however, certain powers, existing in the sovereignty of each State in the Union, somewhat vaguely termed police powers, the exact description and limitation of which have not been attempted by the courts.
One must, I suppose, admire the sheer brass of Justice Peckham's sniff at "somewhat vague" state powers, which comes almost in the same breath as his declaration that a provision which allows for the deprivation of life, liberty, and property as long as "due process of law" is afforded acts to categorically preempt a statute regulating the hours of work. No such limit on state power exists in the text; the Court simply made it up, because the majority disapproved of the legislation.

That both decisions--one plainly enforcing the Constitution's terms, and the other patently grafting onto the text a legal principle that cannot be found in it--equally count in determining the "activism" of the Court at a given time shows one of the limits of quantitative empirical analysis. Not all decisions striking state (or federal) legislation are equally reflective of activism. Some are simply correct enforcement of the constitutional boundaries, while others are clearly political acts, overriding majoritarian decisions on a flimsy basis. The great majority, of course, are not so clear cut.

You'll note that I am not addressing any controversial cases here; my point tonight is not to argue for my vision of constitutional interpretation against, say, that of John Roberts or William Rehnquist. Indeed, there are cases where I would agree that liberal justices have been guilty of judicial activism--William Brennan, and, for that matter, Thurgood Marshall, both of whom I admire in many ways, in death penalty cases glossed over the fact that the death penalty is expressly referred to in the Constitution; it's a little hard to plausibly argue that it inherently violates the document that refers to it approvingly, even though I agree with them that it is bad public policy. (A better argument, one more grounded in the text and facts, is that of Jed Rakoff, that our current system fails to afford due process in capital cases. That I find entirely persuasive.)

Rather, my point is that the numbers don't provide the essential data; a decision can only constitute judicial activism in any meaningful sense if the Constitution does not, reasonably interpreted, proscribe the statute deemed to violate it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"My life is run his compass": The Donmar Julius Caesar

This afternoon, I saw the Donmar Warehouse all-female production of Julius Caesar at St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. I really think that, if anything, the Times review was not laudatory enough.

From the moment we audience members were herded into a bleak, cavernous receiving room, hemmed in by guards and watched as if not entirely to be trusted, the production's conceit that we were attending a production at a women's prison was credibly and consistently maintained. At various times, that conceit surfaced, whether to allow for a moment of humor (perfectly played by Harriet Walter, who starred as Brutus), or to infuse a cruel intensity to the Cinna the Poet scene, the conceit served the play throughout, adding layers of meaning.

The cast was remarkable; without wishing to dispraise any member, I was especially impressed by Jenny Jules's Cassius and Susan Brown's Casca. And Claire Dunn, doubling effectively as Octavius and Portia, took two roles that can, if not handled just so, seem weak in comparison to the higher octane characters on stage, and made them formidable in different ways. (Also, she speaks verse so naturally that it seems utterly spontaneous, and her own.) Not to mention Cush Jumbo's manipulative, sometimes epicene, sometimes steel-hard, Mark Antony, who drew laughs of recognition of the various rhetorical moves in the famous "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech without losing any of its intensity. She neatly let us know that she knew that we knew all of the various manipulations she was performing--and dared us not to fall for them, anyway.

But, I must confess, for me the play belonged to the two titanic figures at its center. Harriet Walter's Brutus was superbly a man of honor, and not a pompous windbag (as the role can degenerate into); she inhabited so completely the inmate inhabiting the Roman that it was hard to know where one began and one ended. Ms. Walter's face was drawn, ascetic, and strong throughout; she used her lanky physicality to create both a dangerous woman and an equally dangerous man, each of whom was haunted by conscience.

And Frances Barber's Caesar? Deglamorized by the conceit, Ms. Barber was by turns jovially bullying, charismatic, commanding, and cruel. She depicted a Caesar whom Ms. Walter's Brutus could truly love--and yet see as a tyrant "in the egg." Her calling out of Cassius, her effectively jocular strutting with her gang, all carried absolute conviction--but nothing more than her last laugh before uttering the play's most famous line.

After the doors had slammed, with the inmates back in lockdown, but before the curtain call, a lone audience member strayed across the stage area in a motorized wheelchair. The cast came out as she crossed to receive a standing ovation. Brutus gracefully disengaged and avoided the lady; Julius Caesar paused, checking his advance to let her pass, with the sort of benevolent, if dangerous, smile Cassius was wont to receive earlier on.

Now that's acting.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Two Fat Englishmen

I have recently been reading with enjoyment some of the novels of Simon Raven. I have also enjoyed a fair amount of the novels of Kingsley Amis, especially The Green Man and The Old Devils.

Amis, like Raven, lived an unconventional life; bibulous, with complicated romantic entanglements, and a level of self-indulgence that cannot have been good for either of them. Amis was by far the bigger figure in their day, though Raven matched him for wit, if exceeding him in snobbery. Still, they both left behind interesting literary remains--novels that are of their time, but still work, and have a certain louche charm to them that most writing today lacks.

Anyway, you can imagine my enjoyment of the spectacle of Raven interviewing Amis:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oh, My Giddy Aunt! Patrick Troughton was apt to say as the Second Doctor; two complete "lost stories" have been found; the famous James Bond pastiche, The Enemy of the World and the proto-UNIT story (introducing Nicholas Courtney as Col. Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, better known as the Brigadier (he got promoted), or just the Brig.

Here's the trailer for Enemy:

And here's the trailer for Web:

Available on iTunes, eh?

Ah, well. My digital library groweth apace.

What a lovely 50th Anniversary find!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Christ is in the Corridors Here"

Today I started the Clinical Pastoral Training portion of the deacon formation program. I have no intention of writing about it in any detail, but I did want to say that my first day was not what I expected at all--there were many moments of grace, and an incredibly powerful moment in which I prayed with somebody, as requested, and we grasped hands.

Now, extemporaneous prayer with strangers is not my forte. But today, the words flowed, and God's grace was in the room; I felt it like a physical presence.

The Catholic chaplain put it best, when we spoke at the end of my shift. "Christ is in the corridors here," he said. I believe that; I am awed by the courage, the good humor, and the devotion of those I met today, and those with whom I am working.

Redrum Redux

I have to confess that in this conflict between Stephen King's and Stanley Kubrick's visions of The Shining, I am squarely on the side of King's:
It’s no secret that Stephen King dislikes Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of his 1977 novel, “The Shining,” but now that King is publishing a sequel, “Doctor Sleep,” he’s being asked once again to explain why. “I felt that it was very cold, very, ‘We’re looking at these people, but they’re like ants in an anthill, aren’t they doing interesting things, these little insects,’” is what King said recently when a BBC interviewer asked him about the film. He also described Kubrick’s characterization of Wendy Torrance, played by Shelley Duvall, as “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that’s not the woman I wrote about.”

Kubrick himself, and the film version of “The Shining” in particular, is the locus of a certain kind of obsessive yet strangely inarticulate worship; the faithful tend to incant the words “genius” and “masterpiece” and “great” over and over again, as if those terms constituted the workings of an argument rather than its conclusion. These are people in thrall to the very idea of greatness, and they cleave ferociously to their idol. Almost as soon as a clip of King’s interview was released, a haughty but insubstantial retort came in the form of an article on the website of the British magazine the New Statesman, “Stephen King still won’t accept Kubrick’s genius” by Mark Hodge. The title sums up the entirety of Hodge’s argument. “[Kubrick's] film has usurped the book within pop culture,” he writes. “That rare achievement is perhaps something which irks King the most.”
I think these criticisms of Kubrick are spot on. Even the harsher of the two--that his depiction of Wendy Torrance is profoundly misogynistic--seems fair to me; Shelley Duvall's Wendy is in the film just to scream and be stupid, and Kubrick's other films display a streak of misogyny as well. As long ago as 1972, Roger Ebert pointed out the distancing effects used in A Clockwork Orange to minimize the violence committed by Malcolm McDowell's Alex, and other camera techniques to make Alex the seemingly most normal character in the film; Pauline Kael went even further:
The writer whom Alex cripples (Patrick Magee) and the woman he kills are cartoon nasties with upper class accents a mile wide. (Magee has been encouraged to act like a bathetic madman; he seems to be preparing for a career in horror movies.) Burgess gave us society through Alex's eyes, and so the vision was deformed, and Kubrick, carrying over from Dr. Strangelove his joky adolescent view of hypocritical, sexually dirty authority figures and extending it to all adults, has added an extra layer of deformity. The "straight" people are far more twisted than Alex; they seem inhuman and incapable of suffering. He alone suffers. And how he suffers! He's a male Little Nell -- screaming in a straitjacket during the brainwashing; sweet and helpless when rejected by his parents; alone, weeping, on a bridge; beaten, bleed- ing lost in a rainstorm; pounding his head on a floor and crying for death. Kubrick pours on the hearts and flowers; what is done to Alex is far worse than what Alex has done, so society itself can be felt to justify Alex's hoodlumism.
The violence in Clockwork only feels real when Alex is on the receiving end. Kael, like King, also accuses Kubric of coldness, describing him as "a director with an arctic spirit."

So King (and Miller) have this one right, I think; for all of Kubrick's impressive set pieces--and they are impressive--The Shining is a much better story as a novel than as a film, and when I heard King was re-visitig it, I was ...wary.

Now, don't get me wrong; I think Stephen King is a very talented writer, and that his best books* don't get the respect they deserve because he is seen as a genre writer, and as one who does not follow the rules of literary polite society. This is a pity, because Stephen King at his best is very, very good indeed--when I read Salem's Lot, I was a in my early teens, but the part of the book that grabbed me by the throat was the heartbreaking spectacle of Father Callahan, whose alcoholism so undermined his faith that he failed in the great challenge he had always yearned to confront. Or the small-town people whose lives have disappointed them, and so they turn sour, and sometimes mean. I re-read that book last year, and it stands up. And so does The Shining.

And so, I am very glad to say, so does Doctor Sleep, King's new book, a sequel to The Shining, which takes Danny Torrance from childhood to manhood. Laura Miller's praise for the book--she describes it as "among King's best books"--expresses my own view. King's revival, so many years later, of the characters from the first book--Wendy, Hallorann, and Dan himself--is extraordinarily successful, although it helps if you remember the woman King, not Kubrick, created. There is even a grace note concerning Jack Torrance--one which makes no sense if you are thinking of Jack Nicholson, but which is utterly perfect if you remember what King actually wrote.

*Speficially excludes Cujo. What the hell was the point of that, dare I say it, dog?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Round the Second Curve (By this Counting...)

So today marks la Caterina's and my second wedding anniversary. Or, we've been "together" seven + years, or (if you go back to the very beginning, that is), it is now seventeen years since I met her, and clearly thought, Yes, that one--she's special.

But two years as a married couple, two years in which we have grown together, loved, written, read, defended our various cases in court, read each other's papers and edited, and watched an unholy amount of BBC adaptations of the works of Anthony Trollope. And Downton Abbey. And Call the Midwife. And, of course, Doctor Who.

So the night began in celebration. At her suggestion, we went to Locanda Vini e Ollii, which is, simply, my favorite restaurant in Brooklyn. We feasted on olives, fresh baked bread, home made pasta, a seafood stew in a broth that was out of this world good, and desserts and coffee--all with the unique love of the pleasures of the palate that is this restaurant's hallmark. They welcomed us, and saluted our anniversary dinner, graciously.

And then, of course--because life does this--we had an emergency cat call--one of the Trap-Neuter-Return ladies with whom La C runs the Brooklyn Navy Yard cat colony needed a cat carrier for an injured unneutered feral in Greenpoint. So, fresh from work and dinner, off we went. La Caterina and her colleague and a Joe, volunteer she knew, a middle aged man who has been honored for his volunteer work on behalf of animals, tried to trap the cat, but he'd worked out what was going on, and wasn't having any. As we were about to leave, a worker at a nearby metal shop (or whatever the hell it was--c'mon it was pitch black out there, and my interest in these details was not at its peak) came over and told us that he had found a kitten--an honest-to-goodness little kitten--in the shop, and was afraid it would get hurt in the machinery or in the rat traps. La C and colleague went over with the cat carrier, and Joe and I remained behind.

The feral male came out, knowing it was safe with just us, and ate the food that had been left to entice him. Meanwhile, Joe looked me over, in one of my usual three piece suits.

"You drive a limo?" He asked.


"Your job. You a limo driver?"

I didn't, but could have, answered, if that's what it takes.

La C had, meanwhile, picked up the kitten in her hands, and plopped its unresisting little form into the carrier. Her colleague will take it in for medical care, and the process of getting it adopted out will begin.

Me? I just drive the limo.

It's a pretty good gig; I think I'll keep at it.