Why Colonel Sartoris?

Allow me to explain the puzzling title. Colonel Sartoris is William Faulkner's greatest character. He exemplifies those values that his society cherishes, namely tradition, patriarchy, courtliness, and courage. Though modernity's slow march tries to strip him of these things, Sartoris continues to live as he always has, knowing that "the past is never dead. It's not even past." He seeks order in the honorable folkways and mores of his forbears. Let us not forget his example.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Recommendation: Moonrise Kingdom

A pre-teen love story?  Coming-of-age story?  A comedy?  An indie film? With a blockbuster cast?  And the title?!  What?

Coming into the movie, having read its synopsis, seen its previews, and being even casually aware of Wes Anderson and his cinematic predilections, the movie would seemingly raise too many questions to justify purchasing a ticket, much less making it a safe bet (at least when you're a very, very cheap man).  Maybe these considerations weren't present for most, but they sure were for me.  I love Wes Anderson, and the movie got a lot of buzz, but it was so . . . odd.

And the movie remained odd throughout.  In a delightful, captivating, offbeat, quirky way; sort of a "Pied Beauty" of cinema, at least in the sense of its idiosyncracies of its dialogue, characters, and plot.  It was not "pied" in editing or screenplay: the movie flowed seamlessly from start to finish.  Wes Anderson is the best out there at integrating character-narrated letters, flashbacks of live action, and cutaways or voice-overs of narrators (a la Alec Baldwin in The Royal Tenenbaums) altogether to produce a visually and emotionally enthralling diorama of color, humor, sympathy, and nostalgia.

The emotional range of the movie is stunning.  Anderson's ability to evoke sympathy or scorn for a character is unmatched, and he paints with his audience's full palette of feelings.  And he does not limit his expansive palette to feelings: the movie is also a visual feast of color, landscape, and costume.  Bill Murray's madras is perfect, as are Bruce Willis's skinny, short ties and Frances McDormand's sundresses.  Even the patina on Edward Norton's pocketknife is perfect.  All of the characters comfortably inhabit their own space and play their parts in a groundedly realistic fashion--even in the midst of the film's fantastic plot.

The Maine (best guess) coast.  Indian Summer, both in the natural calendar, and in the characters' childhood.  It's an extremely touching story told with a lighthearted, genuine realism.

Bottom line: if you don't like it, you either had no childhood or have never been outdoors.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Opening: Ceremony, Silliness, and Superciliousness

I must confess that I have no idea what to make of the Opening.  My gut reaction was that I did not like the last half, and I'm still trying to digest why I didn't like it, what about it I did not like, and how the multitudinous patchwork of Britannica was selected and deployed.  And, frankly, I am at a loss but will try to make sense of it all.

First, all of those questions are really re-phrasings of the same theme.  My anglophilia makes this all the greater perplexing; I should have loved the British-ness of the ceremony.  And, I think, I have arrived at my answer: it as not what I would call "British."  Hence I loved the first half, culminating with the Queen's arrival, and disliked the last half.

I liked the sense of progress, place, and pride that obviously framed the first half of the British narrative.  They did two things: captured the idyllic countryside of an Edwardian Downton Abbey and Georgian England and also her dynamic surge into an industrial giant, whose newfound capacity for industry coupled with its ingrained sense or order and devotion to duty allowed a small island nation to rule much of the world for a century.  I liked that England.  Notably absent, of course, was any hint at its colonial rule (which allowed Canada, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Hong Kong, etc. to become the stable democracies they are today) or its coolheaded courage/"stiff upper lip" (Dunkirk, the Blitz, the Spanish Armada, Omdurman, etc.).

It focused on hard exports that the country produced (iron, coal) and the "soft" ones, notably children's literature (J.K. Rowling, J.M. Barrie) and music.  I have no quibble with that.  But the National Hospital Services bit (nightmares, etc.) totally threw me.  And Boyle's second half, what with its social media and love-story plot was completely lost on me.  I have no idea how that story is quintessentially "English."  It's perhaps human, but it does not really celebrate British identity, nor did it give a unique twist (British or otherwise) on a common trope.

Tragically, the ceremony did not celebrate England's greatest virtue: tradition.  It hinted at tradition (the Chelsea veterans), but it was largely uncelebrated.  In my mind, that is what England has above all other countries.  England's tradition (a la Tevye's ode in Fiddler on the Roof) is what binds its people together and engenders its triumphs.  It is embodied in the monarchy and its trappings, indeed, the entire social order, but it is useful because of two reasons: (1) it allows people to have both a personal and national identity; and (2) it allows people to understand their roles in society.  It is a stabilizing, cohesive force that has goaded England far beyond the capacity it might otherwise have had.

Yet while I regret that the Ceremony did not sufficiently extol and reflect the glorious tradition that the country operates on, the Ceremony showcased a quintessentially English trait: understatement.  Understatement?  With fireworks, and a parachuting James Bond and a 100-foot-tall Voldemort?  Indeed.  While the spectacle registered on a grand scale, England did not take it upon itself to portray whatever grave virtues she thinks it possesses.  England doesn't beat you over the head--at least intentionally--with its notion of how things are done.  It is understated about it.  Even the Queen's address did not rely on fanfare or bravado.  She simply stated that the games were now opened.  Instead, England focused on the little things that enliven the and lift the human spirit.  And while I think the focus on social media, love story, children's nightmares all got out of hand and reflected maybe trying too hard not to be stodgy, it was somewhat refreshing to see such a tradition-bound people so creatively share the pride they have in their small island.

Even if I liked it only about 50%.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reminder: You DID Sign Up for This . . .

"And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen; I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business"

This is one of those times when I think back to Hyman Roth's line in Godfather II.  Because right now, I need to say to myself "This is the business profession I have chosen."

So this morning, I woke up after working until midnight, went to Chick-Fil-A for a coffee, and went up to the SMU Law Library.  Which was closed.  So I sat in my car, drank some coffee, and promptly walked through the doors at 8:30am, when it opened.  Then, I spend the next couple of hours reading Anderson on the Uniform Commercial Code.  It was 10:45 when I came up for air.  I figured I'd walk across the street back to Chick-Fil-A, get a refill (that's fine, right?  It's only when you re-use the styrofoam cup the next day that you get in trouble, I think . . .).  So I did that, and then--because I was in 2-hour parking--I moved my car up into the next parking spot to avoid getting a ticket.  "Pretty clever," I thought to myself.  More on this later.

So I keep reading Anderson, and when I come up for air again, it's 1:35pm.  Egad.  Still no breakfast/lunch.  But I figure I'm close, so what the heck.  I finish my research in Anderson: altogether, I made it through about three volumes in their near-entirety, and two in sections.  And then I figure I might as well examine Hawkland's UCC, which is right there.  As I'm researching, I'm marking down every page with relevant information that I'll want to copy later.  And then I cart those seven volumes downstairs to the copier, where I spend about an hour and fifteen minutes copying.  That was fun.

Remember that parking ticket that I artfully avoided?  Well, the meter-maid had apparently come back with a vengeance, and nabbed me somewhere between 10:50am and 4:30 pm, when I emerged from the library.

My stomach is on a rampage, so--research complete (for now)--I head across to Goff's to get a bite.  I outline on my legal pad as I eat.  I go to get my car inspected (because I had a ticket for expired inspection) and, as I wait, continue to outline on my legal pad.

I make it back to the office at 5:45, and here I am.  Writing my memorandum on why we might or might not be able to sue.

Cue Hyman Roth.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mayberry, RIP

Andy Griffith died today.  I heard the news in the elevator returning from lunch.  I thought my co-worker was putting me on when he said "Andy Griffith died."  I was sort of stunned; I didn't believe him.  But he was right.

In my mind, this is the analogy.  Ravens at the Tower of London : England :: Andy Griffith : America.

NO one--and no show--typified America like The Andy Griffith Show did.  I challenge any reader to find a single television show that more coherently or comprehensively represents American thought, culture, philosophy, or sensibility than AGS.  Every "food group" of person we meet is encountered in the show: not only are they portrayed to a tee--they exhibit exactly those qualities (both tragic and comedic) that we expect--but they also are encountered almost as often as we'd encounter them in real life.  Otis the town drunk, Floyd the barber, Gomer Pyle the gas station attendant, Goober Pyle . . . it's too good.  They all play those traits exactly that we find everyday.

And that is why the show was America.  It wasn't a kid's show, it wasn't a comedy, it wasn't a drama, it wasn't a satire.  It was life.  Varnished somewhat, but life.  In America.

I--as a child born when it was being re-run in 1982--love it because of its humor, realism, and its downright Americana.  And, of course, I love its morals.  It doesn't beat its viewer over the head with preaching.  It espouses common sense.  You watch it, and you think that Andy spouts wisdom.  Who wouldn't believe that?  "OF COURSE, that's the right outcome!  I'm glad it turned out that way," you say when the plot resolves itself.  And you should.  Because no better show was better at capturing human nature than AGS.

And I thank you, Andy Griffith, for portraying that.