Do you ever have the feeling nobody’s out there? Like that one episode of The Twilight Zone? That everybody’s gone, somewhere, somehow, into oblivion and there you are, left by yourself: no more broadcast media left because there’s no one there to broadcast it. Except reruns. Or infinite infomercials. But no original content, ever. This is a fear I have sometimes – not necessarily of really being alone, but of feeling alone. Of becoming an island unto myself, cut off from the rest of mankind. Of being unable to reach out and find somebody there, like Robert Neville in every film version of I Am Legend, endlessly calling out via shortwave radio into the darkness, wondering if there’s anyone else left. Isolation is a fear that preys on us. Being left behind or left by ourselves, to fend for ourselves against the dangers of the world without the assistance of our friends or family. We make various attempts to neutralize these fears through one defense mechanism or another, but ultimately it’s still there, and we have to keep crying out to reassure ourselves: “Is there anybody there? Anybody?”
That said, classes are over. I start my only final in an hour. I figured I’d blog to pass the time. Last night, watching The Ghost and Mrs. Muir reminded me of someone I should blog about – I want to start an ongoing series about Actors/Actresses Who Are Awesome. Having already touched on Charles Laughton and Edith Massey, I now turn my attentions toward the great George Sanders.
The consummate English gentleman of leisure, Sanders was frequently smarmy, cultured, and sybaritic. Sometimes he played an out-and-out villain, other times he was something of a hero, but more often he was a high-class lowlife who couldn’t be counted on to commit a murder or save a life. More likely, he’d be reclining on a divan, reading poetry and possibly making witty insults. With all these resemblances to Oscar Wilde, it’s no surprise he would play the dissipated Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), or that this Spanish-language website would describe him as bisexual. Regardless of whether this rather dubious source is at all accurate, sexual adventure and extravagance were a part of the Sanders persona. Frequently he’d play the secondary character who’s not quite evil enough to be a villain, but is still pretty amoral, as in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir or Jean Renoir’s This Land Is Mine. Other times he’d be a tainted, womanizing, but basically honorable protagonist or ally: Rage in Heaven, The Lodger, Lured.
His best roles came in Hitchcock’s Rebecca as the title character’s slimy former lover Jack, who happily adds on layers of confusion to the heroine’s situation (I won’t comment on his other Hitchcock collaboration, Foreign Correspondent, which I haven’t seen in forever), and in All About Eve, where he’s the ultimate Sanders character, venomous theater critic Addison DeWitt. DeWitt looks at others with constant derision, scheming when he can, frequently tearing down egos and careers. Sanders’ performance is a masterpiece of amorality, and he even gets a chance to introduce Marilyn Monroe to film history as “a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art.” Early in Sanders’ career, he starred in 2 film series – The Falcon and The Saint – though he eventually gave up both, handing the role of the Falcon over to his brother, Tom Conway, in the fittingly-titled The Falcon’s Brother. Beautiful how things work out. By the ’60s, Sanders, like many great actors, was reduced to supporting parts in cheap, bad movies (although he did play the menacing tiger Shere Khan in The Jungle Book). He overdosed on sleeping pills in 1972, leaving a suicide note only George Sanders could write:
Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.
Regardless of what problems he had or what sadness his actions reveal, that note contains a surprising amount of audacity and wit. You can imagine George Sanders in the afterlife, above or below, raising an amused eyebrow as we toil from day to day and cutting down all our efforts with a single snide remark.
“Yertle the Turtle – possibly the best book ever written on the subject of turtle stacking.” – Lisa Simpson
Switching gears slightly, I’ve been thinking about the imagery in Dr. Seuss books. Earlier, I read a profile of lesbian comics genius Alison Bechdel, who listed Seuss (or Theodor Seuss Geisel [1904-1991]) as one of her creative/artistic influences. When you browse the Internet, Seuss generally comes up in a context of “My kids love this book” or “This book is great for kids.” So my question: Is there any reason for adults to look at Seuss’s work? I read some of his books many, many times at a young age, including One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which was the source of the rather chilling image pictured above. Why are the sheep going for a walk in their sleep? Seuss himself never provides any answers, but you can just guess they’re up to no good.
Seuss’s books often teach a variety of fairly simple lessons, be they “Don’t let strangers ruin your house” (The Cat in the Hat), “Try new things” (Green Eggs and Ham), “Don’t fuck with the environment” (The Lorax), or “Don’t let the U.S. and the Soviet Union get into nuclear stalemate” (The Butter Battle Book); however, sometimes he just cuts loose and lets his imagination run with itself, as in One Fish, Two Fish or, as I recall, in Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, a book I was describing to Ashley recently as containing bizarre, unearthly architecture, with towers possibly modeled on the skeletons of dinosaurs and lands with multiple moons. I feel like, to some degree, Seuss must’ve been influenced by Escher – only he added a lysergic pastel rainbow, and creatures with wavy hair that were unrecognizable, but vaguely mammalian. He was decidedly multitalented, able to meld these visions from the boundary between dream and nightmare with bouncy, anaphoratic verse. Take for example this piece from One Fish, Two Fish; accompanied by a picture of two kids lugging what looks like a sinister walrus in a barely-large-enough tank, it’s haunted me for years.
Look what we found
in the park
in the dark.
We will take him home.
We will call him Clark.
He will live at our house.
He will grow and grow.
Will our mother like this?
We don’t know.
This is, mind you, all there is to that particular story – it’s a self-contained vignette, so we never get to see how large, exactly, Clark grows, or if their mother likes it. It reminds me of a similar incident in There’s a Wocket in My Pocket: the narrator mentions the vug under the rug, who is briefly shown as a formless lump; he then quickly moves on to the next creature. Here’s another picture from Wocket.
A pair of vaguely chicken-like legs with no real clues as to how the rest of the body looks. Seuss knew a thing or two about preserving ambiguity in the service of excitement and fear. So what’s my point here? For one thing: as Bechdel’s testimony shows, I think, Seuss can easily be an artistic influence, especially when his fantastic creations are some of the first books children are exposed to. Secondly, he seems to put forward an accepting worldview, observing in One Fish, Two Fish that “from there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere,” and priming children for their imminent bombardment with events both good and bad, ordinary and strange. Some of his bizarre imaginings are good, others are bad. “Why are they sad and glad and bad?” Seuss asks. “I do not know. Go ask your dad.” (Of course, no one’s dad could ever explain the reasons behind good and evil either, so he was just passing the buck.)
So ultimately, I recommend taking a critical glance at Seuss’s books. I think that beyond their simplistic language, they explore some pretty fertile territory of the mind. And after all, if children’s books aren’t good enough for adults, why should they ever be read to children? Why should we expose children to shit we can’t stand? Seuss is one of the many great 20th century multimedia artists. He deserves better.
Also, I suspect that if I met a Jibboo, especially in a stark and spectral landscape like that one, I’d run like hell away.