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Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't look now

My dad and I went to see The Birds yesterday afternoon as part of a local theater's Hitchcock for the Holidays series. I had seen it years ago on video, but it's pretty cool on a big screen. The reel cut off abruptly at the end, and there were a few members of the audience who wanted to see what was going to happen next.

Hitchcock adapted the story from Daphne Du Maurier, whose novel Rebecca also became a Hitchcock classic. This year, New York Review of Books Classics published Du Maurier's short stories, including "The Birds," in the collection Don't Look Now. It's a great collection (with a great cover), especially the title story and "Kiss Me Again, Stranger." The latter is about a man who falls in love with a mysterious woman who takes him on a non-date to the cemetery. I still can't get the weirdness of the narrative perspective out of my head. It's clear early on that he's deluding himself at least partly, but the implications of that fantasy become troubling at the end. It's far creepier than Patrick McGrath describes it in the introduction--he says it's proto-feminist, but that focus on the female cipher takes away from the strangeness of the male narrator's behavior and self-presentation. This story and several others remind me of one of my favorite writers, Shirley Jackson, who is also really good with subtle dread.

"Don't Look Now" was adapted into a sexy film, but I was not impressed with the ending at all. It's the same as in the story, but what's horrifying and bizarre in print looks grotesquely comical onscreen. I did love, however, Donald Southerland's canal chase scenes because Kiefer Sutherland does the exact same thing, cut exactly the same way, in my guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Flatliners. I guess there are some similarities between father and son's chases after malevolent whatevers...

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Blogger Brette on Thu Jan 08, 10:47:00 AM:
My mom and I also watched this over the holidays. The movie does end abruptly a la the Sopranos, with Melanie and Mitch and all driving slowly away in her convertible amongst all the birds.

My favorite scenes: Melanie Daniels is speeding along the PCH in her convertible, with her tires screeching and the love birds leaning the wrong way into the turn; then when the horse and wagon comes crashing into the inferno in the harbor. Where did that horse and wagon come from? The neighboring set where they were filming How the West was Won??

Donald Fagen's Christmas story

From Slate: Donald Fagen talks about Jean Shepherd's old radio shows. I rarely watch A Christmas Story all the way through, but it's one of those movies I'll stop to watch at any point--which works out fine because some cable station shows it for 24 hours. In my head, I began reading the essay in Shepherd's voice when he narrated the film, a style which Fagen mimics wonderfully:
Toward the beginning of the show, Shepherd frequently read news clippings that listeners, his "spies," had sent in. These were mostly odd little fillers he called "straws in the wind," indicators of the prevailing mood. Once I mailed Shep an article from our local Central Jersey paper about a guy who, after being fired for some petty infraction, got loaded and tossed a Coke bottle through every store window in the local shopping mall. A couple of nights later, I'm listening to the show and Shep does his usual bit: "So, this kid sent me a piece ..." and ACTUALLY READ MY CLIP ON THE AIR! Wham: I had connected. My life as an independent consciousness had begun. I remember scurrying down to the "TV room" and announcing this amazing event to my parents. Having always considered both Shepherd and my uncle Dave to be half-cracked, they were greatly underwhelmed.

Then when things get bitter, I started to hear the source for the unreliable narrators from "Don't Take Me Alive" and "Kid Charlemagne":
To an adolescent back then, long before a therapeutic vernacular had entered the language, this was reassuring news. It's possible that Shep's greatest lesson to the gang wasn't just "things are not what they seem" but rather "things are not what they seem—including me."

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Friday, December 19, 2008

No snow globes allowed!

Notes from a semi-grueling flight:

There are signs in 1988 holiday cheer font all over LaGuardia: "No snow globes allowed in carry-ons. They must be packed in your luggage." I know, I know, it's the liquids ban, but there's also this type of snowglobe threat.

Overheard: "You're Rebecca? I'm Rowena! That's easy to remember because of Ivanhoe!

The eighteen-ish guy sitting next to me on the flight was reading a black pleather-bound book with gold gilt edging on the pages and a red ribbon to mark his place. "Are you reading Neil Strauss's The Game?" I asked. "How's that working out for you?"

"It's just for entertainment, ma'am."

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mora Boone, 1901-2008

My great-grandmother, Mora Boone, died this week. She was just about to celebrate her 108th birthday. I'm glad I got to spend time with her at her birthday party last Christmas. My great-grandmother saw a lot of things change in her life: just to give one example, she traveled around Texas in a covered wagon when she was little and never flew in an airplane, although she did get to ride in my grandpa's Prius. She was an enthusiastic Internet user for her genealogical research.

A few years ago, she established the Mora Waddell Boone and James L. Boone Sr. '21 President's Endowed Scholarship in the education department at Texas A&M. She took classes at Texas A&M before women were allowed to receive degrees there, so she finished her degree at Sam Houston State Teachers College. From the Aggie Spirit article about her life with my great-grandfather (they were married for 74 years before he died in 1996):
Boone does not lament about not being able to complete her degree at Texas A&M. Instead, she expresses great joy when discussing the university's integration of women in 1963. "The women won at last!" she exclaims.

At 103 years old, this great-great-grandmother dose not miss a beat when discussing her life. It has been filled with the richness of educating students, raising a family and sharing it all with her beloved husband.
The young couple shared a passion for education--both in therms of learning and teaching. James Boone was a member of the Texas A&M class of '21, but he wouldn't receive his degree until 1937. Like many of his fellow cadets, his time at Texas A&M was cut short for service in World War I. Responsibility also called him to the family farm following his father's death. But those circumstances granted him a pleasure that few could enjoy in the 1930s: His wife also was his fellow classmate.

James and Mora Boone began long careers as high school teachers. He taught mathematics and civics courses and served as principal and superintendent. She taught English and then worked as a school librarian. Both served public schools in Lolita, Needville, Houston, and Beasley over 32 years.

I've typed out this tribute to her before, but I like this appreciation by one of her former students from the American Profile in 2002:
Stay in school

As a boy, I worked with my father on Model Ts, Model As, bicycles, tractors--anything that required a wrench--in his blacksmith shop and garage. In the eighth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Mora Boone, stood in front of the class and announced, "If I ever took a trip around the world, I would take (Henry) with me as my mechanic."

My father died when I was 15, and I, being the oldest boy, was about to quit school in Beasley, Texas, and go to work in the gas station to help support my mother and the younger children. Mrs. Boone and her husband, the school principal and superintendent, gave me a maintenance job at the school, so I stayed to graduate.

Mrs. Boone's faith in me influenced my joining the Air Force and completing 33 missions in a B24 bomber as a flight engineer and top turret gunner during World War II. Back in the United States, I continued on in my own business--I had a diesel service and gas station, garage, and towing service in Arizona and Texas.

Mr. and Mrs. Boone both influenced many lives during their years at Beasley.

Henry W. Ellison
Camp Verde, Ariz.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Sun Dec 14, 12:30:00 PM:
This is such a fascinating life story, Alice! I am very sorry for your loss but very happy you have so many great things to say and share about your great-grandmother!