Thursday, January 3, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 01/02/18: *Spy Who Came in From the Cold*, Green Curry, Villanova Slips by DePaul

1. I remember back in the summer of 1991 I house sat for the Ostlers in Eugene and used the quiet of their house to work (unsuccessfully) on my dissertation. Back then, as I did for many years, I was living without a television, but the Ostlers had a tv and VCR and I distinctly remember renting British movies, including The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. This movie's been on my mind lately, in part, because I've been in the mood to watch some bleak black and white British movies.

All I remembered from watching the movie twenty-seven years ago is that, as a spy story, its plot line had several back flips and somersaults and I had a vague memory of the movie's stark photography and existentialism.

By the way, I'm not in a bleak mood. I just happen to enjoy black and white movies, especially ones that confront a character -- in this case, Alec Leamas, an alienated, burnt out British spy on his last mission -- with the truth about his or her existence, about how the character navigates an amoral world, a world without essential meaning, a world where one is charged with making one's own meaning in life.

Indeed, Alec Leamas is alienated, burnt out from years of living by the code of expedience, of the most amoral pragmatism, and it's left him embittered. For much of the movie, T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men" came to mind. It was as if Leamas' career had emptied him out, dried his voice, left him stuffed with straw.

And, so, this movie reaches its climax when Alec Leamis is on a precipice, with an existential choice as to go one way or another, fully knowing the consequences of going toward safety or danger. He's experienced one defining moment in the movie's trial scene and faces another as the movie draws to a close.

I wish I could say what the choice is, what it involves, and what he decides to do. But, you might decide to watch the movie and you should not know ahead of time what the details of Alec Leamis' existential dilemma are or what action he takes.

I will write, though, that Richard Burton played the role of Alec Leamis perfectly, embodying his character's fatigue, faint desires, impatience with idealism, and resignation in his steely eyes, hardened face, and exhausted body language.

I knew that Burton had been nominated for an Oscar in 1966 for this performance and I looked back to see who else was and who won the award. Most notably, for me, Rod Steiger was also nominated for his work in a bleak black and white American movie, The Pawnbroker, another existential movie examining a damaged character named Sol Nazerman, who lives in a state of despair and alienation after his experience as a prisoner at Auschwitz.  It's a brilliant performance.

I've never seen the movie featuring the winner of the 1966 Best Actor Award. It wasn't Richard Burton. Nor Rod Steiger.  Lee Marvin won the award. The movie was Cat Ballou.

2. Happily, around dinner time, I knew I had a block of tofu in the fridge and a can of coconut milk in the cupboard. I try to always have curry paste on hand and fish sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar. I wish I'd had some ginger. Maybe next time. So, I made myself a green curry sauce and poured it over crispy tofu and fluffy jasmine rice. I'd eaten a plate of red curry and salmon on my birthday and I wasn't very pleased with it. I like my Thai curry creamy. I wondered if the place where I ate used an inferior coconut milk, a thinner, more watery one. My sauce was creamy and I did a good job balancing the saltiness of the soy sauce, the savory richness of the fish sauce, and the sweetness of the brown sugar. Only one ingredient would have made it even better.  Eggplant.

3. After spending a couple of hours with Richard Burton and the double crossing world of spies in Cold War Europe, I relaxed by watching the Villanova Wildcats play the DePaul Blue Demons.

I don't think I'd seen DePaul play since the Blue Demon hey day from the mid-70s on into the 80s when they were coached by Ray Meyer and then his son Joey.

Much like St. John's, DePaul is a once successful program trying to revive and, early on in this game, the Blue Demons were on fire. Eventually, though, the hometown Wildcats wore them down, got some timely scoring from Phil Booth and Eric Paschall and came back to win, 73-68.

Villanova lost four starters from its national championship team a year ago and is not, right now, a powerful team. I'm eager to see how their season progresses as they move more deeply into their conference schedule.

It's fun having a tv and an internet service so I can watch these games. 

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