Sunday, June 18, 2017

On the Death of Flounder

By Steve Evans

The death Friday of Stephen “Flounder” Furst marks the passing of another key cast member from Animal House, a film now almost 40 years old yet immortal in its invocation of time, place and attitude.

If you’re worth knowing at all, you’ve seen the film. More than once. No need for me to rehash the plotline here. My agenda lies elsewhere.

People often assume Belushi was the first among the cast to die. Not so. It was co-writer Doug Kenney, who also had a small role as Stork. Kenney's life was no less interesting and at least as tragic, which brings us to a greater theme buried deep in Animal House.

Most men, if they are honest and spent any time in college, will confess an abiding love of this great comedy. For many of us, university life wasn’t exactly as portrayed on the grounds of Faber College in John Landis’ anarchic film, but it was often close enough. For all the puerile humor on display, I defy anyone who’s actually been to a toga party to tell me it wasn’t all kinds of debauched fun. Or that a road trip to Emily Dickinson College wouldn’t yield results as seen in Animal House. It is no coincidence that the mighty Otter, while sauntering the halls of this all-girl school, quietly whistles Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – yet another subtlety I’ll betcha never noticed before.

Keg parties. Chasing girls. Smoking grass with the cool professor on campus. Riding motorcycles indoors. Deflating pomposity. Delivering the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. These are essential rites of passage for the red-blooded male seeking some enjoyment out of life.

Because you gotta enjoy it while you can. Look out on the horizon past graduation and what do you see? Mortgages. Despicable bosses begging to be ice-picked in the face. Marriages. Diapers, diatribes and divorce(s). Graying hair. Fading health and inevitable mortality. Who needs that shit?

We cannot recapture the decades in the rear-view mirror or even act that way any longer because carrying on like lunatics might get us accused of arrested development. But we can still reminisce and laff and, especially, we can wonder whatever happened to that seemingly drop-dead gorgeous redhead I picked up that one night at Rockitz and who had vanished from my apartment by dawn along with a couple of my jazz records all those years ago.

Yes, let us indulge in healthy remembrance of things past and conjure some of that old magic with a surefire spell. Chant with me now: “Toga, toga, toga, toga!”

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2017 by Steve Evans.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy Bloomsday

By Steve Evans

Today marks the 113th anniversary of Leopold Bloom's wanderings throughout Dublin. I'll make my own observance of this sacred day with a pint or three of Smithwick's later this evening. I'm talking, of course, about the greatest novel by James Joyce. Published in 1922 and set during the course of a single day, June 16, 1904, Ulysses remains a masterpiece of innovative narrative structure, deploying inner monologues and stream-of-consciousness techniques to enrich the reading experience. Leopold, his wife Molly and friend Stephen Dedalus pop off the page as fully realized living, breathing, complex characters unlike any portrayed in fiction before or since. Widely banned when it first came out, the novel was not allowed in the United States until 1934 following a famous, precedent-setting obscenity trial. Ulysses is structured in 18 episodes, roughly corresponding to Homer's Odyssey, a source of inspiration for Joyce, who transposed the epic journey to the quiet turmoil and perfectly ordinary existence of characters set in his native Ireland. Molly, for instance, is a representation of Penelope from the Odyssey, however, where Penelope is eternally faithful to the protagonist, Molly is most certainly not. This only makes her the more interesting of the two.
I love this novel so much that I measure the merit of other individuals by whether they've read it, too, and then I ask: how many times? The book overflows with so many riddles, enigmas and allusions that it affords a lifetime of fascinating study to the literary obsessive. Joyce chose June 16 for the day of his novel's events because that was the date he went on his first outing with future wife Nora Barnacle. After strolling around Dublin all day, they wound up in a southern suburb of the city known as Ringsend, where she stroked him off, no doubt creating a memorable moment fixed forever in the author's mind. The closing lines of Ulysses deliver some of the most breathtaking prose the English language has given us, equal to if not surpassing Shakespeare's powers to plumb the depths of the human condition. In terms of innovation, audacity and the author's avowed determination to present reality through the fullest blossom of his artistic ability, Ulysses must rank on the short list of superb literary achievements. Below I've embedded the loose 1967 film adaptation of Ulysses, not because it is a great picture (it isn't) but because director Joseph Strick had the chutzpah even to try filming what I still consider an unfilmable novel. Strick proves my point, though the film is not without interest. It's a curio: as much a product of the 1960s as it is of the source material written 45 years earlier. Yes, and now I'm off to read Molly's soliloquy.
Cinema Uprising copyright © 2017 by Steve Evans.