Thursday, February 07, 2008

Move into the Moment.... with Morphine and Whiskey!

"I approach each thing for the sake of itself. I wish I could do in my life what I can do in my work, which is to really live in the moment. In my life, the past frightens me, the future frightens me. When I'm working, I'm all there." - Sidney Lumet

Perhaps it's age, perhaps it's a few years of living without television, but lately good acting in a film gets me drunk as wine. Sidney Lumet's 1962 film version of Eugene O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is something I'd heard was fantastic, but loooong, and set at the turn of the century, and all talk. I had to wait until I was old! OLD!

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT's dialogue flows like mad poetry jazz out of the mouths of his hopped-up Irish American intellectual alcoholics. I'd heard from somewhere that the only person who could compare with Brando in the original run of STREETCAR was ROBARDS in LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. Damn! I wish I wrote down who said that, so I could say: "You were right!"

Robards doesn't knock it out of the park, he eats the park and then starts chomping down main street, then he stops and shifts to sublime pathos and suddenly the park is back where it was and he's gentle as a flower - just like the real life drunks you know and love and then hate and fear and then love again. But in the movie version it's not just Robards who's a big drunk sensation it's a calm young Dean Stockwell as the consumption-stricken mystic poet younger brother; Ralph Richardson is also superb as the miserly father, an Irish actor (O'Neil's real-life father got rich touring with THE MASTER OF BALLANTREE) warped into self-defeating behaviors by childhood memories of poverty. And Kate Hepburn. Oh god what a fantastical monster-dragon of an addict she becomes! She nails it pinning and screaming to the floor (I'm having a panic attack as I write this in her honor), she disembowels it and strips the meat off for soup and then reincarnates (stop panicking, Erich). Okay, roll the picture.

I suppose this means in order to be truly brilliant you have to be insane or alcoholic or both. It also means you are a lot of the times merely annoying as you drift off into the same soliloqy as the night before... but then there's a flashing moment of brilliance or sensational warmth that keeps your co-dependent family and friends smeared to your side. It's a continual dance of deception that, illuminated in the powerhouse text of O'Neill, begs the question: what is art but the smoke and mirror conjuring of alcoholics and dopers wishing to make their living room elephant "magically" disappear?

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