Monday, September 8, 2014

A fool there was. . .

In other words, I just got my library copy of The Movies by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer. I've barely leafed through it, but already I've found some things I remember from when I was a child. I was movie-hungry even then, and this book was an excellent primer, especially about the silent era. It fairly radiates excitement and boyish enthusiasm. My only problem with it so far is the near-drooling about Chaplin, about whom he writes about twenty pages, while Harold Lloyd gets maybe two. No clock-dangling, no nothing. Here's a sample which I also remember:

“Intellectuals lured into the movie houses in search of the source of his fame found that this world hero was a homeless tramp whose shabby elegance and careless poverty bespoke a spirit equal to life’s cruelest and most humiliating blows. They found in him as many things as have been found in Hamlet. They found him sly, cruel, pretentious, disdainful, crude, witty. They found a touch of madness in him, and a bottom of hard common sense. And behind this urban lover of nature, this hopeless, hoping lover who snapped his fingers at the universe, there was something that hurt.”

Oh yes. I suppose that's the common point of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd: not just that they were superb and superior comedians, unique talents that would never come around again, but that they came from deprivation, pain and shame. It could be argued that Lloyd got off the easiest, since he never lived in hovels or was thrown across the stage like some inanimate prop. But the family moved every year or so, and his father was shiftless and unreliable - not quite a crook, but seen as a charming failure. Finally his parents divorced, which was nearly unthinkable then, no doubt causing people to murmur that Harold came from a "broken home". Even worse, his mother had to work as a milliner to help keep the family afloat. Tension must have abounded, and Harold went out and worked three or four jobs at a time, furiously trying to make up for the awful abyss at the core of his childhood.

"The Vampire" poem at the start of this post is loosely based on a Kiplng poem, which in turn inspired a wildly-popular movie starring Theda Bara in 1915. That long ago. There's no credit for the delicous and memorable parody, so it likely came from a movie mag of the period. 

The Vampire

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the years we waste and the tears we waste
And the work of our head and hand,
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
And did not understand.

A fool there was and his goods he spent
(Even as you and I!)
Honor and faith and a sure intent
But a fool must follow his natural bent
(And it wasn't the least what the lady meant),
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
And the excellent things we planned,
Belong to the woman who didn't know why
(And now we know she never knew why)
And did not understand.

The fool we stripped to his foolish hide
(Even as you and I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside --
(But it isn't on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died --
(Even as you and I!)

And it isn't the shame and it isn't the blame
That stings like a white hot brand.
It's coming to know that she never knew why
(Seeing at last she could never know why)
And never could understand.

-- Rudyard Kipling 

Bonus verse, gleaned from a 1928 newspaper whose name I have forgotten. . . 

A fool there was and he saved his rocks
Even as you and I;
But he took them out of the old strong box, 
When the salesman called with some wildcat stocks,
And the fool was stripped to his shirt and socks,
Even as you and I.

I want to say to the poet: stick around another year, and you'll lose your shirt, too.

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