June 2008

It has indeed been a very fine birthday. Thank you to all who sent cards and presents. And a special thank you to all of the Beck family for the very generous present of a new camera. Pictures of Thomas can return to the blog! Further, individual thank you’s will be coming soon via snail mail. In the meantime, enjoy the new pictures!

Thomas and Veronica at work

When the Modern Library released their list of The 100 Greatest English Language Novels of the 20th Century in 1998, I was a bit surprised I hadn’t read more, even though I was way ahead of anyone else I knew. I had read 33 at the time and decided, first, that a lot of the list didn’t belong, and second, that if I was going to criticize it, I needed to know it. So over the course of the following two years I read the other 67. With their list completed, I set to work writing my own.

I have spent the last several years reworking my own list. I follow the same criteria as the Modern Library: written in English (except Darkness at Noon, which was on their list, so I put it on mine), novels, published in the 20th Century. This eliminates a lot of great fiction of course, including all foreign novels (The Stranger, 100 Years of Solitude, The Trial, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle), all 19th Century works (although outside of the Russians the only novels I love from the 19th Century are A Tale of Two Cities and The Red and the Black) and short story collections (Dubliners, Interpreter of Maladies, Stories of John Cheever, Where I’m Calling From). Also, of course, we also have a new group of fantastic novels it eliminates: those from the current century (Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell, Bel Canto). These may all be the subject of future lists.


it doesn't get any better than thisThe problem with AFI’s lists isn’t the final lists. It’s with the ballots they send out. Their recent top 10 genre lists had ballots of 50 films each from which to select their top 10. And for some reason, those ballots included mediocre recent Disney films like Pocahontas and Mulan rather than Lilo and Stitch, the best Disney film since Aladdin. They also, for some reason, even though it was eligible, didn’t include Ratatouille. Or Watership Down, a film I have always loved.


joydivision Many of the key scenes in the film seem familiar, like you’ve seen them somewhere before.  Ian Curtis calling Tony Wilson a cunt for not having them on his show.  Tony signing Joy Division to a contract with his own blood.  Ian collapsing on stage in an epileptic fit kicking off the Derbyshire Riot.  Ian watching Herzog’s Strozeck before hanging himself.  They seem similar, yet somehow different.
Of course you have seen them before, if you’ve seen 24 Hour Party People.  But that was a comedy and Control is not a comedy.  It’s a straight forward musical biopic.  And I do mean straight forward.  Photographed in black and white, with musical highlights of a career spread throughout the home story of the musician, this is very much the kind of biographical picture Warner Bros was so famous for in the late 30’s and early 40’s, except they never would have made a film that was so god awful depressing. (more…)

Thomas had his four year check-up today. It was with a new doctor (his fourth!) so a lot of it was her getting  to know him. She had seen him briefly in the winter about a cough, but even so she commented that he seemed to have much more verbal capacity than he did at their first meeting. And much to my surprise he weighs 39 1/2 pounds!

Unfortunately, since I broke our digital camera, there are no pictures yet from Thomas’ birthday on Friday. We did take a bunch with a disposable camera, but have not yet had them developed. Anyways, Thomas had a great fourth birthday – although he’s a little confused as to how old he is now. We had just got him responded to questions about his age with “I’m three years old” and he hasn’t quite got the “four years old” part yet. In fact when we correct him he tries to jump ahead and says “I’m five years old.

We spent the day at the Boston Children’s Museum. Following Erik and Thomas’ trip in for the Celtics parade, he’s spent a lot of time on buses and trains lately, and he’s done a really good job with it. (We quietly sing The Wheels on the Bus.) After an exhausting day in town we came home to open presents and eat his birthday cake which was shaped like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Thank you to all the relatives who sent him some truly wonderful presents–formal thanks coming soon.

We also measured him on his Sprout Stick and he’s currently 3 ft 5 in, a growth of about 3 inches from last year.

How do you go from this...

How do you go from this . . .

How did it go so wrong? There’s an old Dilbert strip where Dogbert is doing a seance and says he is going to talk to Jackie Mason. When Dilbert points out that Jackie Mason is still alive, Dogbert replies “Then I’ll be talking to his career.” I feel this way about Rob Reiner.

Reiner is on my initial list of Great Directors, the handwritten list in my old Powell’s notebook that began my five year project. And at the time, it looked like he still belonged there. But sadly, after watching The Bucket List last night, he’s finally been eliminated.


After heading into town to watch the Rolling Victory Parade of the World Champion Boston Celtics (17 titles – eat it Lakers fans! – that means you, family members), Thomas and I stopped to get something to eat at a little market / deli. After we had eaten and left, we got about twenty feet before I realized that Thomas had stolen an avocado. I walked him back in and had him put it back. Luckily, no one even noticed.

On to Best Supporting Actor – my top 10, once again, of alltime, listed chronologically.

1942 – Claude Rains as Captain Renault in Casablanca

“Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”

1948 – Walter Huston as Howard in Treasure of the Sierra Madre

“I know what gold does to men’s souls.”

1951 – Karl Malden as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell in A Streetcar Named Desire


Malden with Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Malden with Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire.

“No, you’re not clean enough to bring into the house with my mother.”


1972 – Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

“My father assured him either his signature or his brains would be on the release.”

1988 – Kevin Kline as Otto in A Fish Called Wanda

“Apes don’t read philosophy.”

1989 – Denzel Washington as Trip in Glory

“I ain’t fightin this war for you, sir.”

1993 – Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List

“I forgive you.” (possibly the most disturbing line in film history)

1994 – Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood

Ed: Why are you buying a coffin, Mr Lugosi?”

Bela: Because I’m planning on dying soon.

1996 – William H Macy as Jerry Lundergaard in Fargo

“Right now! Darn tootin!”

2001 – Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Arnor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You shall not pass!”

Huston, Malden, Kline, Washington and Landau all won the Oscar. The other five were all nominated. This was a harder one to do. I spent five minutes staring at the screen before I could bring myself to delete Gene Hackman in Unforgiven.

Streetcar will probably end up on all four acting lists. It truly is the pinnacle of film acting. But these 10 are all so diverse. We have cynicism (Rains), wisdom (Huston), naivety (Malden), not the mention the purest example of evil on screen (Fiennes). We also have the ultimate stupid person (Kline). And McKellen’s performance is the most brilliant when he doesn’t speak. He has several phenomenal reaction scenes (when Bilbo reaches for the Ring, when Frodo mentions there is writing, when he touches the Palantir, when Elrond refuses to let the Ring stay in Rivendell, when Frodo agrees to the take the Ring).

A quick note before my post – if you have any interest in the connection between films and literature, please check out my friend Tavis’ blog. Writing it is the best part of his day.

Instead of responding to AFI’s Top 10 Films by Genre (Field of Dreams isn’t a sports movie?), I’m going to go through a few top 10 lists of my own. For the first list I have decided to throw in the top 10 performances by an actress in a supporting role. Since it was hard enough to decide on these 10, they’re chronological, not ranked.

1. Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers in Rebecca

2. Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire

3. Harriet Andersson as Petra in Smiles of a Summer Night

4. Shirley Jones as Lulu Bains in Elmer Gantry

5. Maggie Smith as Charlotte Bartlett in A Room with a View

6. Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill in GoodFellas

7. Diane Wiest as Helen Sinclair in Bullets over Broadway

8. Julianne Moore as Amber Waves in Boogie Nights

9. Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean in Adaptation


Meryl Streep in the performance that should have won an Oscar: playing Susan Orlean in Adaptation (2002)

10. Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator

Hunter, Jones, Wiest and Blanchett won the Oscar and the others were nominated, except Andersson. It almost came down to a coin flip for Andersson between her sexy, alluring maid in Smiles or her dying woman alienated from her sisters in Cries and Whispers.

This is not only the first list, it’s also my first try at linking to the movies. There’ll be plenty more lists in the next couple of weeks as I transition into working much more as our new babysitter, Emily (a high school girl who has been volunteering in Thomas’ class) starts to take over watching Thomas for the summer.

Thomas and I were in Trader Joe’s last night picking up a few groceries. As we checked out, the bagger asked if Thomas wanted a balloon. He responded, on his own, that he wanted a balloon, and when she asked him what color he wanted he said “yellow balloon.” It’s great to see him starting to respond and interact with other people-not just us and his teachers.

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