top of page

We can all see it

Thursday 4/6/23

I am writing at a very high level. One saw excerpts from the recent Beatles pieces. The recent essay on joy. The Whiteman jazz piece. The op-eds on painting, classical music, prayer, ghost stories. The new fiction, of course. All of this is within days. Inside of a week.

Who is better at any of those things? In those areas? Who can even begin to come close?

There is the proof. Put it next to anything by anyone else, and it isn't possible to not know what is better and the best. The unrivaled quality of the work exposes what is happening.

Now I'm doing it with this new film piece on Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow. Find me a single better piece of film writing anywhere. It can't be done, because it doesn't exist.

It is not the work that's the issue here. It is never the work that is the issue and that has never been the issue. And it is not anything I've done to anyone, because I have done nothing wrong, whereas these people are corrupt and filthy.

This is who they hate and ban, the person who writes the first example one sees below, which took a minute to do. How would one compete with this, let alone all of this? It isn't possible, so the field must be tilted so as to have virtually no horizontal axis at all.

I see them come here to this journal. They monitor it. Then I watch them get in touch with the members of their sinecures. It goes all over the country. I see it. They say, "He's on to us," in effect. They know that here is a real problem and that they are entirely in the wrong and as corrupt, bigoted, and cowardly as anyone can be. They rip. They give warnings. They try to get others to suppress as well (which doesn't matter because it was all already in place). Because this person can do this, and is a good person, and is everything they are not, and refused to keep being discriminated against.

From a couple days ago:

We tend to think of the worst blows as being dramatic and heated in nature, violent. The cup is dashed to the ground, the storm clouds reverberate with thunder, the match gets put to the fuse. Crash, crack, boom.

But when we ponder the times that our lives have been the most trying, we recall that the blows delivered within those pockets of pain had an element of politesse, of someone not being straight with us, or of us failing to be straight with ourselves. Harm has a special, favored knack of advancing through smiling lips and signifying shrugs indicative of deflections, as well as promises delivered without any intention of fulfillment.

In short, the way people commonly handle other people, with all of the hurt that brings, because the world has never lacked for cowardice like it lacks for an active, thought-out devotion to doing the right thing. The countervailing effects of conscience typically come too late when they come at all, and that’s one particular cavalry that often fails to make it out of the fort so that harm may be undone, because the person who would need to open the door is able to find a way not to listen.

How are you going to compete with that? How are going to say, "I think this person whose books I put out there or whose pieces I run or whom I help give awards to is better at this kind of writing than Fleming." It's impossible. Put them side by side. Everyone will know.

From yesterday:

The four local children are summoned and the news is broken. Life patterns will change, because the parents need to be taken in. Everyone knows what isn’t explicitly said—that Bark won’t be working again. He’s going to keep trying, but a time has come when things are going to be what they’re going to be. And herein begin the problems that are much worse—in that they reveal more—than the considerable problem of a foreclosure.

The adult children, with their own families, begin to prevaricate and manipulate. There’s a sort of emotional dodgeball at play, with attempts to avoid having to act and accommodate. No one is able to say, “We don’t want you in our home and the disruption that brings,” but that message is in every gesture, cadence, look.

Cinematographer William C. Mellor shoots these people as if we, the viewer, are in attendance at a family reunion. There’s no hard-cutting, no swish-pans. We look from person to person that we haven’t seen in a while. We witness their faces, how they’ve changed since we last saw them. Family reunions take all forms. Sometimes they occur without choice or desire; for a funeral, for instance. We wish to clear the throat and speak up ourselves, offer space for Bark and Lucy if we have it, or say some words in the direction of a possible solution so that someone else can then add words of their own. Get some positive momentum going. We can get through this. We’ll figure it out.

But we’re not really there. What we hope is that we wouldn’t behave like these children do. Nell (Minna Gombell) is the only child who has room for both Bark and Lucy, but she pulls a classic stall tactic. She has to talk to her husband, she says. Next, the stall tactic gets super-sized when she adds that she’ll require three months of attempting to persuade him.

The number is arbitrary. Three hours, three days, three months, three years. It’s all the same. Her intention is to look as if one is trying without trying at all. The lack of respect is crippling. What can one even say to one’s child? Where did it all go wrong? Where did we? Is this how you were raised? And then the kicker of kickers, which is thought but not said by the likes of a Bark and Lucy: I would always take you in, because I love you more than life itself, even if it meant giving you my home.

The cruel wheel of the plot is now in motion. Until Nell can get that answer that is never coming, Bark and Lucy split up, with each going to live with another child. Bark sticks to the job search. The families resent the presence of what they deem as interlopers. Bark and Lucy do nothing wrong. They are valuable people with much to offer. Wisdom, time, energy, love. Nor are they going to be around forever, as the saying goes, but what an opportunity it is—seen from a different point of view—to have that time with one’s cherished grandparents or parents. You may look back on that living situation thirty years later and count it as one of the best things ever to happen to you. Not a lot has more value than the fair counsel of someone who loves us.

With kids, grandparents have special value and functionality. Sometimes mom and dad don’t have the best perspective. They’re too caught up in the grind of life. Make no mistake: life has been grinding at Bark and Lucy, but they are also people who have stepped back and see what is to be seen with a better, calmer view. Both are valuable assets to any home, allowing that those within those homes are willing to be open and take a couple steps back themselves.

Lucy tries to remain sanguine, to show faith in Bark, whom she never doubts as a person or in his intentions, but she’s not dumb; she knows the deal. Words of this nature meet the ears of her seventeen-year-old granddaughter, who glibly tells Lucy to “face facts.”

It’s the 1930s version of “get real,” spoken from the lethal, candid mouth of babes. The viewer feels the full force of this hit. The line is funny in theory, but in actuality it’s a dagger. Lucy regathers. She loves this kid. She gently points out that it’s easier to face facts when you’re seventeen, and asks her granddaughter’s permission to go on pretending—by which she means, employing a brave face—because facts are quite challenging just now for someone her age. Besides, she’s really saying the words for Bark, so that he knows he’s believed in. There are times when that’s all that remains of what was; but without it, it’s unlikely anything else can start.

We must remember that this is the Great Depression. Downsizing was a theme of the day. Families who lived apart came to live with each other to save on the rent. Closer quarters were almost a given. McCarey never gives us the impression that Bark and Lucy are really changing all that much in anyone’s lives. They’re not gobbling up the food budget. They live quietly. Bark isn’t some embittered presence. Lucy isn’t a meddlesome busybody. They take up little space. And again, they are coming near the end. Were their offspring living in rambling homes with wings of extra rooms, you get the impression that the song and dance of avoidance and excuse-making would be much the same.

At the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956, Duke Ellington sat at his piano comping along as one of his tenor players, Paul Gonsalves, began a solo on the number “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” that came to define his career. The solo extended longer than anything most had ever experienced in jazz, and longer than anyone expected, including Ellington himself. Gonsalves pushed on, and Ellington continued to watch and listen. He wanted to see what happened. How it all worked out. For Duke Ellington, this was life. It wasn’t just that he let it happen—most bandleaders would have cut Gonsalves off; it was that he was open to it playing out.

That’s a crucial trait for an artist to have, and one found in evidence in every work of timeless art. Leo McCarey lets the story of Bark and Lucy play out in Make Way for Tomorrow, and that story is also the story of us, because we go into the lives of all of these people as if we were them, which means we likely go back to times in our past, just as we imagine how we will be in times yet to come. And how we really are right now, when we get down to it.

Make Way for Tomorrow is a film that encourages us to get down to it. To view. And face. To be open to how life is unfolding, which is also an openness of adjusting and acting accordingly and in the best way possible. It’s often not that we don’t know the best way, or a better one, anyway—it’s that we’re doing something else regardless.

Novelist Graham Greene—who also had a stint as a film critic—loathed Make Way for Tomorrow, and thought that he had been misled by the description from Paramount that went out in advance of the movie. What was Paramount going to say? “Come and confront the person you really might be, ingrates!” That wouldn’t work. The poster art for the movie makes it look as if it were some sentimental charmer, with romance for the younger crowd and some twinkly-eyed older people, too, though that poster art rarely showed Bark and Lucy together as though trying to preempt any talk of depressing elderly types. Better to pop in with a wry, crusty nugget of wisdom, than be the stars of the thing.

Greene was flippant and even ageist, dismissing the movie as “a depressing picture about an old couple,” which also makes him either disingenuous or dim. He said that it gave people “a sense of misery and inhumanity,” which is to completely miss what this movie actually is.

Our humanity does not exist within a vacuum. That doesn’t mean it’s a relative conceit, measured against our surroundings and the humanity of others. What it means is that our humanity is challenged frequently, and it would be easy to allow this humanity to lessen.

That’s how it works with most people. The quantity is reduced over time. The greatest sense of humanity—and the greatest actual outflow of it—can be a matter of refusing to let that humanity be diminished or vitiated despite what is happening, or what is being done to you. There is nothing that may be more human, if we’re talking the full extent of the human drive, human self-respect, and human strength. The self is sacrosanct. One finds a way to say, “You will not take that self from me. Further, you will not impel me to take any portion thereof from myself.”

Graham Greene didn’t know what he was talking about when he summarized Make Way for Tomorrow. He sounds more like one of the children of Bark and Lucy than Bark and Lucy themselves. McCarey is quite plain in his message for us: Be a Bark. Be a Lucy. Be them, as they are individually and as they are in regards to each other together. No matter your age and your circumstances. Never turn away from that humanity. It’s all that keeps you from being a wolf outside the door, minus the brute strength. But it is additionally what elevates us to a level that is otherwise impossible to get to, where we may approach completeness as perhaps nothing else does.

It doesn’t matter that Bark and Lucy aren’t absolutes, established in full on that rarefied level. What matters is that they’re still going, still trying. They’re adding. Age is of no consequence. It’s their humanity—and ours—that is the picture itself. Further, if we’re talking old people and leaving calendar years out of it—because what do they really measure anyway?—then Bark and Lucy are the youngest people in this movie. They’re not calcified. Today is going to make way for tomorrow and tomorrow is going to bring what it brings. But the human spirit is ageless and protean. It is potentially reborn every day in each of us, and younger than a baby who has just said its first hello to the world.

So, if you're at Bloomsbury's BFI Film Classics series, and you're the editor there, what's your reason for having been rude right away--and of course I have the email--to this author who had been lined up to write a book in the series on A Hard Day's Night before the series was handed over to you and then axing that book sans explanation? What is your reason for taking his email that was, as always, good-natured, professional, and simply about an idea for another book book, presented in a rich and fascinating way, and sending it all over the place but not replying to any of the ideas he has suggested? What is your reason for not replying when this person, despite being treated in this manner, over several years, still remained polite, professional, and essentially just took it, and sent you a full chapter, outline, and summary, for a book on The Curse of the Cat People? With all of the work that entailed.

How do you explain away that books were written by other people, who have done next to nothing, and write in a jargon-y, academic style, about films he had first proposed to you? The writing is not good enough? The writing is peerless. There it is. Right up above and in so many other places. We can all see it for what it is.

The track record is not impressive enough? He has written about film hundreds of times in just about every venue there is and the track record crushes anyone else's. He speaks regularly on the radio, too, as no one else can speak, about film.

Plus, it's a series actively looking for authors and even has a prompt on its webpage saying how they can get involved and write a book which is going to net a payment of just a grand. He's already done a short book for Bloomsbury on a single work of art. He's already done a short film book on a single film. He is steeped in more experience than anyone else has for this kind of undertaking. So what is happening here? Why will he be ignored when he suggests a book on Make Way for Tomorrow and has the likes of this piece to show? And also a fresh half hour radio interview about Leo McCarey and his work?

I put that out there as prelude to a post that I don't want to write on here--and I hope I don't have to--which would be very detailed and incriminating.

I am not going to sit back and allow myself to be discriminated against. It's not the work. And no one thinks it is. It's not the track record. And no one thinks that either. It's not anything I've done to anyone. Because I haven't done anything to anyone.

bottom of page