I’m not one of those people who think we are living in 1934, but I’ll let you know when I change my mind. I did get that whiff once. Historical parallels are useful; they have lessons. And they are misleading, because events zig when you expect them to Zog, as a disappointed white supremacists might say.
Last night I watched Sarajevo on Netflix. It concerns the fellow who was appointed to put together the report on the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. He is, of course, steely and dedicated to truth, since the film decided from the start to fit him for a halo. He is dedicated, honest, curious, decent. It’s the last quality that set him apart from a doctor played by Heino Ferch, who played Albert Speer in Downfall with the same sense of quiet Teutonic self-possession. The Doctor is the sort of fellow you’d respect, or find interesting, right up until the moment when the Jew-hatred comes out, and shoulders are shrugged over matters of war.
I’m sure it takes liberties. But it’s the recreation of the period that’s so smartly done; all they need are some old office buildings with extremely creaky wood floors, shoot it with natural light, and you’re there. You can sum up the era with a shelf of yellowed papers bound with twine - the files, so many files, the whole Kafkaesque sense of the implacable, unreachable, impenetrable state. Achieved in the film by the slightest of means.
There are moments of the film that make you think of Kennedy assassination movies, and I’ll leave that for you to note, if you wish. It’s the damned folly of the times that strikes you, though - the peak of civilization, overflowing with confidence, newly mechanized and blessed by technology, about to commit suicide out of a sense of restless impatience.
I’ve been looking at a lot of WW1 American magazines lately, and it makes me realize that the pre-20s period of the American 20th century is almost terra incognita to me. As it is to most, probably. Does it matter? Shouldn’t history really start in 1929, or 1934?
Perhaps, but you can make the case that if there wasn’t a Gavrilo Princip, there wouldn't have been Hitler. And Princips are much more numerous. Princips in any society are as common as coins.
It's the week of sorting old family scans.
I mentioned that I loved to see the pictures of the house where I grew up, and it’s always the stuff in the background that interests me.
This is why I take pictures of the house in its ordinary state, when nothing’s going on. I’d give anything for a 45-second movie of the inside of house in 1965. If I think about it I can tell you what it looked like, from the white-spined World Book to the delicate light fixtures on the piano no one could touch because they were special to the hallway with a plastic runner on the carpet, ending with a picture of Jesus Knocking on the Door next to the bathroom, to the cedar closet we couldn’t open because all the cedar would get out -
-and I am sure it would horrify and depress my Mom to know that I saw so many things in terms of can’ts and shouldn’ts, instead of remembering it all as a happy place. Which I do. But perhaps part of making yourself, assembling your sense of self from your memories, arises in part from the friction, however you remember it.
It’s remarkable how much you can remember from a picture. Here’s another, and I’m sure Mom was telling Dad Ralph no, don’t take a picture.
That was the living room BS, or Before Shag. I remember many of the objects on the top shelf:
The candle had a plastic webbing, which you could shift around if you tried, but DON’T, because it would loosen it and ruin it. (See? There I go again.) The tall vase - no memory. The slanting windows in the old door: classic 1962. But then there’s this.
||See it in the original picture? Computer, enhance.
Without having to think about things for more than a second I knew what it was: Grandma and Grandpa, looking dour as usual (which they weren’t; they just look like that in photos, because they came from the era of Mandatory Photographic Solemnity) standing in . . . the kitchen? Good thing I’ve scanned every family photo and put them in folders:
The kitchen in the farmhouse, long ago knocked down. I wonder why the drapes were closed. Who was going to look in? The sink behind: can still taste that hard well-water.
Oh. Right, forgot: that picture I discussed the other day, the creek in winter - the water running, the snow heavy? While doing this scanning project I remembered that I bought my parents a new one for Christmas, years later. I think the old one migrated to the basement. It's possibly in my Dad's house now.
The painting I gave them? No idea where it went. No idea what it looked like, either.
As I've said a few times, I have tried to give Daughter the bestest most happy childhood, and now and then she upbraids me with the trials of being an Only. You can say A) you were a miracle of modern science, and B) would you have preferred to cede your status at age 4 to someone else who was the main focus of the family, and room with someone interested in the childish things you had put away, or was a boy who scribbled through the house like a tornado? It could have been great. It could have been annoying. You never know. It was what it was - and it's been fine, no?
Regret is the most useless emotion. Regret nothing; accept the bad and say hurrah for the good. The reason I remember the shouldn’t and couldn’t is because the latter years of my teen hood were characterized by a schism with my Mother I could not influence. There was omnipresent judgment in the air, invisible and tremulous, and I have spent my entire parenting experience avoiding that. I’ve tried to be like my Dad, who cut me acres of slack. We didn’t do much with the space he allowed us; it would take decades before I could start to learn about his inner landscape.
It just kills me that I have these emotions about my Mom, because I know she loved me and wanted the best, and would have been mortified to know I remember the shouldn’ts and couldn’ts, and that I was happy to go to Minneapolis because I wouldn’t seem to be disappointing her anymore. But these are small things in the long run, salved by age and love.
Name your photos, that’s all I’m saying. Save the outtakes. Shoot the things you take for granted. Make sure every day has a laugh and a lesson, and there’ll be nothing to regret.
Unless you shoot Archduke Ferdinand, you stupid son of a bitch.
From the popular, famous, and generally forgotten cartoonist Clare Briggs:
A rare piece of editorializing, and a brave move - you could alienate a big chunk of your audience like this. Unless there are nuances we're missing today. As in, give Mom the vote so she'll stop making Dad's life hell with all her politics.
But I don't think so. So which feller needs a friend?
More on Briggs:
Briggs had three brothers, who grew up to all have creative careers, one as a musician, one as a writer, and the third in advertising. After five years in Dixon, Briggs was 14 when his family relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he lived until 1896 when he was 21. Life in the Midwest gave Briggs the source material for the small town Americana that he later depicted in his cartoons.
But he had to move to New York to do it.
We return to the never-ending failures of . . .
He's pure evil! And he's licensed and accredited! Of course, he could be a podriatist. He'd still be Dr. Satan.
Let's rejoin our tale:
Too bad he can't control the Remote Control by Remote Control.
Well, he would. Our hero:
When last we saw Bob and Lois, they were about to drown:
That came in handy.
Back on the ship, where a nasty fist fight was gong on, the blonde secretary picks up a gat and points it at the bad guys, but they grab one of the minor characters - Speed, the Comic Relief Guy - readjust their hats, and kidnap the good doctor. Then the bring up the diving bell so the serial isn’t hampered by the death of its main characters in a metal tomb, horrible expressions of their bloated faces.
Dr. Satan realizes that the Control Tubes are all gone now.
You know, I think he should have figured this out ahead of time. Well, they get Speed The Sidekick Dude and hook him up with one of the devices that allows Dr. Satan to . . . what’s the phrase? control people remotely. So they can use him to get . . . the remote control.
While Dr. Satan is telling Dr. Scott about his evil plans, and how Speed is under his control, and has a bomb, our Hero Bob walks in, and grasps the situation. He calls the cops and has a sensible request: turn off the electricity to the entire city, so Dr. Satan can’t set off the bomb.
Because Dr. Satan wouldn’t have a backup generator. Alas, the cops realize you can’t just - well, here’s the logical response from the authorities:
The bomb is removed from Speed, the power comes back on, Dr. Satan blows it up, surely aware that his record of failure is still 100%. Then henches swarm into the area for some enthusiastic fisticuffs:
They win, because it’s their turn, and kidnap Dr. Scott. Bob Wayne - who hasn’t been the Copperhead yet this eo - shoots a hole in the gas tank so he can follow the trail of gasoline. (He saw that in another serial.) They hijack a truck, which happens to be full of gas; turnout being fair play and all that, they open up the spouts and dump gas on the ground. And so:
Didn’t we just see that in the previous serial? Yes, we did. But this one’s first: Dr. Satan was released in 1940, and Government Agents vs. the Phantom Legion was made eleven years earlier. This is the original stuff. And it’s great!
WE HAVEN’T EVEN GOTTEN TO THE ROBOTS YET
That'll do; see you around. Thanks for the visit.