Raven Maniac: Cusack as Poe

It’s been kind of a heavy week, and today I say we cruise into the long weekend with a bit of levity.  Something light and fun, like stashing still-beating human hearts under the floorboards of your bedroom.

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe……talk amongst yourselves.

Gifts of the Poe gravesite visitor

I discovered EAP when I was in the third grade.  My incredible teacher Rosie Galperin would allow us to turn off the lights, put our heads down on our desks, and listen to LP’s of Vincent Price reading Poe.  It was the real deal: The Pit and the Pendulum.  The Tell Tale Heart.  Hop-Frog.  Stuff so terrifying I didn’t even know what was going on half the time, but I knew it was brilliant and cut into the marrow of human fear. 

I get the impression this EAP film will be something entirely non-literary and more murder mystery, but if one can accept that, it could introduce interest in Poe to a new generation of readers.  I’m pretty sure you would get sued today if you let 8 years olds listen to those records, which is just a damn shame.  Oh, and p.s., Mrs. Galperin claimed to be an actual witch.  We ate it up with a knife and fork, but naturally that wouldn’t exactly play today either.

Let’s start with The Biggest Issue, which is for many of us, John is Lloyd Dobbler.  I love Lloyd, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve grown up since 1989 and so has John.  If you still conjure only Lloyd when you hear John Cusack’s name, you need to catch up.

You can Google John’s film career, I won’t go through the list.  But keep an eye out for a movie called Identity, which is incredibly entertaining and more than a little creepy.  As far as versatility, don’t miss this rather stunning collection of Cusack movies montaged to turn him into 007.

More than one voice has decried that Johnny Depp is not being cast as Poe.  Really?  Because a muscled sexy pirate is just what I think of when I think of Poe, how about you?

I could sort of see the point of view (also popular) that Robert Downey, Jr., would be a good candidate, but I disagree.  Again, too fundamentally attractive in a traditional sense and too cool to get the job done.

John Cusack is a solid choice.  He’s pale, brainy, and attractive in the way only depressed, intelligent guys in black who shun the sun can be.  Poe was a depressed intelligent guy in black.  Cusack will need more to make it work, but I think the foundation is not bad.

Now………Steve Buscemi.  We might be going somewhere very serious there.  But nobody asked me.

The Crucible: Our national play

Most people are aware that “polls” show a truly bizarre number of Americans question whether or not the President of the United States is a citizen of the country he leads.  I don’t want to get into the specifics of this current climate of suspicion, i.e. from the partisan angle, but I do have another interest.  After reading this Timothy Egan column yesterday, I was left with a question he doesn’t address. 

Just a little bit of history repeating....

 Why do we do this all the time? 

Let’s start with the fact that our county is not very old.  By global standards we are still in utero.  So we don’t really have the track record as a society and as a people from a national perspective that some countries do; but what we have suggests to me that we are pretty freaky-deaky, haunted-house-lovin’, “what was that sound” kind of scaredy cats on a cyclical basis. 

Allow me to elaborate. 

Arthur Miller’s seminal play, The Crucible, is still studied in American high schools but apparently is not being particularly well taught.  If it were, one has to wonder if we seriously would be seeing columns like Egan’s.  Consider: 

The Crucible is a dramatization of the Salem witchcraft trials that took place during 1692 and 1693. Miller wrote the play as an allegory to McCarthyism, when the US government blacklisted accused communists.  Today it is studied in high schools and universities, because of its status as a revolutionary work of theater and for its allegorical relationship to testimony given before the House committee on Un-American Activities.  (EDG note: McCarthy’s activities are often confused with this House Commitee.  The McCarthy era and this House Commitee are two distinct historical references with related themes.  See links below.) 

I remember the way the hair on my body stood up when I learned about the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  About who Joe McCarthy was and what happened in the United States only the decade before I was born.  I could hardly believe it was real, but today as I live my adult life in 2010 I realize the next generation is going to have the same experience with what is happening right now

Perhaps the generations just after the Salem witch trials got cold chills, too.  It appears, however, that our goose bumps don’t last long.  We are very good at refusing to see ourselves doing the same thing over and over again, and of turning away from the obvious.  

When we get threatened, we freak out.  Full-on, outta your mind, freak out. 

As a people, it seems we are perfectly willing to take the very slim chance that we are right in our suspicions, and to risk a phenomenal amount of character “capital” in the process. 

In Salem, it was a similar gig.  Throw a suspected witch in the lake.  If she drowns, she wasn’t a witch.  If she floats, she’s a witch.  Burn her. 

In the play, the character John Proctor is pressed to death.   This was the process of placing giant slabs of rock on top of a human being to try to force confession and/or to kill the person.  When asked if the allegations against him are true, Proctor says only two words:  “More weight.” 

This is not a partisan issue.  It can’t be.  This is an American issue.  We must turn the page on this crazy behavior and call it out wherever it crops up.  We know we’re prone to it.  We have some nasty tendencies, that is obvious.  But we are also young, and we have time to grow up into a nation better than this. 

No more weight.

Men Who Eat Biscuits

I watched Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (2009) Saturday night, and was awed by his performance as a 57-year-old alcoholic “has-been” country singer trying to find a reason to live.  Bridges won the best actor award for this role last year, and I was remiss in not seeing this sooner. 

Jeff Bridges as Bad Black

Bridges is one of my favorite actors, and is a man who (much like my beloved husband) cannot disguise a core of masculine beauty, despite his best efforts.  His character, Bad Blake, somehow manages to shine glimmers of someone uniquely special and attractive, even grizzled, overweight, and covered in his own vomit.  To some degree it feels like he is trying to become as unappealing as possible to repel human interest so he can drink and die in peace, yet he is failing miserably.  Everywhere he goes, the people he encounters still want his attention and his story.  Part of the trouble is that he is encountering fewer and fewer people. 

The movie bills itself as about Bad’s ongoing struggle to deal with the success of a young man he once mentored who now is a mega-star out of Nashville playing to crowds of thousands, while Blake is playing bowling alleys.  I didn’t see this angle as key.  It was mildly interesting but seemed to be only a vehicle to drive dialogue about Bad’s real issues.  He abandoned a young son 24 years prior, and hasn’t written a song in decades.  He has almost no money, and what he does have he drinks.

Crazy Heart is the second movie I’ve seen in which the male lead is drinking himself to death.  The first was Leaving Las Vegas (1995), with Nicolas Cage.  Cage’s character Ben utters one of the most poignant statements on alcoholism I’ve ever heard when he says, “I can’t remember if I can’t stop drinking because my  wife left me, or if my wife left me because I can’t stop drinking.”  In contrast, the line Bad delivers that stuck with me after the movie was his statement to a four-year old boy, “Whole worlds have been tamed by men who ate biscuits.”  This was delivered with humor, but was like a laser cutting through all of his dysfunctional garbage.  Inside, this character clearly was still a gem who would get out if he could, he had just lost his way and had no idea where the door was anymore.

Both films are Oscar winners, and both use alcoholic disintegration as a lens into human pain and struggle.  LLV is a powerful movie, one that successfully explores some very difficult elements of the human condition; but it also presents a man who has no interest in disconnecting his life from alcohol.  It is very dark, and very depressing, and Ben’s problems seem so self-absorbed and self-centered it was difficult for me to have true empathy for him.  The human condition can surely be dark and depressing, but it can also be much more inspiring, and Crazy Heart shows a man on the edge of losing his options who grabs control of his life back in a very intentional and resurrectional way.  Directed by Robert Duvall, Crazy Heart shares some thematic relationships with The Apostle.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t ruin it for you with much more detail.  I will say that it does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen of honoring characters who make unexpected choices, and of following them through the fallout from those choices to a thoughtful conclusion.  If you love character as the real story in film, you will like this movie.