Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 03/24/20: Grade B Movies in Our Heads, Fun in the Kitchen, *The Two Popes*

1. Back in the winter of 1980, as a graduate student at the Univ of Oregon, I took a course in late 19th century fiction from Prof. Clark Griffith. One of my favorite ideas that he developed in this course centered on the problem of boredom, which Prof. Griffith described as one's mind being emptied out and that in this fiction we were studying, he illuminated how characters fill the emptiness with illusions (or imaginings) of what's real -- what Prof. Griffith called "a grade B movie" -- and live as if that movie were actual. The consequences of living by illusions were never good.

As I start the second half of The Age of Innocence, I can see that Newland Archer is bored. I'm not going to give away details, except to say that increasingly he finds the conventions and rituals of New York City's upper class, as well as his pretend job in a law firm, to be unsatisfying and numbing. They don't give him life; they empty him out. He's restless, prone to becoming a producer of Grade B movies to live by.

2. Today, I thawed the last package of pork chops still left from the pork order we purchased in 2018.

I made a pot of brown rice.

I seasoned and seared the pork chops.

In the Dutch oven, I created a bed of sliced onions and slices of an apple, seasoned with cinnamon. In a bowl, I mixed together yellow curry paste, minced fresh ginger, coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar and poured this spicy, sweet, and salty liquid over the pork chops and apple slices. On top of the liquid, I put frozen green beans, potato slices, carrot pieces, and another half an onion sliced.

I brought the liquid to a gradual boil, put the lid on the Dutch oven, and let this mixture bubble away until the pork was cooked and the vegetables were soft.

I wanted to create a dish with a melange of flavors, sensations, and textures and I think I succeeded and I had a lot of fun putting it together.

3. My first memory of loving watching actors perform as old people occurred in 1981 when I saw Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova play an elderly couple, David and Eva, who decide, in the face of Eva's terminal illness, to travel across the USA where they settle in with their granddaughter in San Francisco.

I haven't watched this movie for many years. I might have this wrong, but if my memory serves me correctly, the movie establishes David's old age with a long shot of him, outside the house he's getting to old to keep up, slowly walking over a couple of railroad tracks, trudging toward the house's porch, and walking slowly up several stairs. I remember being astonished that the movie's director, Lee Grant, had the guts to film this very slow scene and then explore the lives of this elderly couple.

This movie, and my enjoyment of watching actors making movies in their advanced years, was alive in my mind tonight as Debbie and watched The Two Popes.

I was moved by the gravity of both Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce's work, Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.

I don't care to give much of the movie's story away. I'll just say that both men go through a reckoning, a sizing up of the long life each has lived. I loved being drawn into both men's stories, into their relationship, and into each man's experience of growing old.

I thought of the many superb actors who are active today in the later stages of their lives and how much I enjoy their recent work: Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Julie Christie, and many others.

I thought how fortunate we are that audiences exist who want to see stories about characters in the later stages of life and how these experienced actors bring depth, wisdom, affection, suffering, and often some good laughs to the roles they play and the truths they explore.

I just did a search and two of my favorite movies looking at aging are available: Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman in I Never Sang for My Father and Tell Me a Riddle. I'll get back to them before long.

Oh, by the way, Agnes Moorehead was 64 years old when she started playing the role of Endora on Bewitched. We watched another episode tonight before going to bed. Agnes Moorehead is terrific as the show's chief truth teller about the absurdity of her daughter's suburban life. 

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