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RIP: Omar Sharif

(That’s from Night of the Generals, the second-best movie with Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole in it) 

I can recite all the dialog from Lawrence of Arabia from memory, of course, like all cultivated persons can do. I was too young to see it in the first go-round, but my father took me to see it when it was re-released. My father liked movies a great deal. As the lights came down in the theater, and the Overture started, I remember he told me that Lawrence of Arabia was the greatest movie ever made, and that ever would be made.

He was correct, of course. I have seen that movie countless times, and I still can’t slip a playing card in any visible crack in it. It’s not like any other movie I could name. Nothing is wrong with it. Nobody is miscast in it. No special effect looks cheesy in it.  It looks like The Searchers and sounds like A Man for All Seasons. The music by Maurice Jarre is perfect. You can watch the movie with the sound off. You can listen to it with the picture off. You can read Robert Bolt’s script and not get bored. You can pause the movie and see Robert Bolt smoking his pipe in the movie if you like. He’s in the crowd in the officer’s mess.

I realize that I’ve written about Lawrence of Arabia quite a bit. I Googled Lawrence of Arabia + Sippican Cottage and got 8760 results. Since I rarely get any results from anything I set my mind to, I figure that’s a lot of results. I realized when I saw the list I even put Lawrence of Arabia in my book of short stories, The Devil’s in the Cows. I guess I like it.

Years back, I started poking around and discovered how insanely bad Lawrence of Arabia almost was. It was then that I realized that movie-making is a total crapshoot. You can’t believe everything you read, of course, but the producer, Sam Spiegel, wanted Cary Grant to play General Allenby. Think of that.

Now think of this: The producer wanted Omar Sharif to play the part of the Arab guide that Omar Sharif shoots at the well. A bit part. The part of Sherif Ali was supposed to be played by Horst Buchholtz of all people, or Alain Delon, for crissakes. This would have never happened:

If Alain Delon would have agreed to wear brown contact lenses, he would have shot Omar Sharif at the well, started talking to Marlon Brando, who would have been wearing a sweaty wife-beater T-shirt, I guess, when he went to mumble to Cary Grant about his existential woes.

You heard that right. The part of Major Lawrence
was offered to, get this: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Anthony Perkins. Those are insanely bad choices. Albert Finney was Lean’s first choice, and could have
done it without making a hash of it, I guess, but he turned it down flat because he thought Lawrence of Arabia was going to be a flop. He made Night Must Fall instead, playing a guy that cuts off people’s heads with an ax and then talks to said heads in his room.  Actors sure are perceptive people.

Brando made another wonderful and underrated movie, Mutiny on the Bounty,
instead of Lawrence. It’s amusing to see him forget to have a British accent about halfway through, but he’s about perfect for any sort of character that’s doing a slow burn, and Fletcher Christian is that, surely. That movie lost all sorts of money, but was nominated for
seven Academy Awards. It didn’t win any, because Lawrence of Arabia came
out the same year and stomped it flat. 

But we’re not finished. Not by a long shot. The reporter, Jackson Bentley? He was played by Arthur Kennedy, but only because Edmund O’Brien had a heart attack during filming. Since Arthur Kennedy and Edmund O’Brien are interchangeable humans, we’ll give the casting director a pass, but you might reconsider if you know that neither one was supposed to play Bentley. It was supposed to be Kirk Douglas. Kirk Douglas! Kirk Douglas turned it down because they wouldn’t give him top billing over everyone except whoever played Lawrence, and he wanted more money than everyone else, too. The producer said no thanks, and then promptly paid more money than everyone else to Jose Ferrer, who coughs eleven times in the movie to earn his dough. He got more than O’Toole and Sharif combined. Plus a car.

Twenty years later, in an infinite recursion Mobius Loop kinda thing, Robert Bolt, the screenwriter for Lawrence, wrote a script for Mutiny on the Bounty for David Lean to direct. Lean wasn’t interested and Bolt had a stroke or something, so they made some kind of Australian version of the movie. It had 400,000 exposed Tahitian breasts and Mad Max in it, which is the sort of entertainment they favor down there, I guess.

To get back to the topic at hand, making movies is a profoundly hit-or-miss proposition. Not only can anything and everything go wrong, everyone involved tries as hard as they can to make it go wrong; but sometimes they fail, and so they succeed by accident. By some sort of cosmic cock-up, they gave Omar Sharif the part of Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia.

I thank God for small favors.

25 Manly Things Every Manly Man Should Know How To Do

I wear wingtips to the beach. Deal with it.

I’ve been reading Popular Mechanics again. I checked their back issues, just to be certain, and indeed, men used to work there once upon a time. I think men used to read it, too, not just women who wave it under their boyfriend’s nose while saying, “See, Orlando Bloom can defrag a hardrive while giving a foot massage, what’s your problem?”

I thought that I could help. Lend a hand, like a narcoleptic at a bandsaw, as they say. I am, after all, the Manliest Man on the Intertunnel. I know Lawrence of Arabia once brought a horde of Bedouins out of the Nefud Desert, but I once brought a man out of a wine cellar four times in an hour-and-a-half. Seriously.

Since the Dos Equis guy got ten minutes older and now he’s just another guy in the nursing home, I thought I should step up to the plate and offer the youngsters some guidance on what makes a Manly Man. It’s not enough that they should learn simply from studying Freddie Mercury posters while listening to Black Oak Arkansas records. I mean, that’s pretty manly stuff, and it’s a good start and all, but this is Graduate School for Pheromones, baby. Here’s my 25 Manly Things Every Manly Man Should Know How To Do:

  • Parallel park a supertanker
  • Gap a spark plug while windsurfing
  • Bring a woman to orgasm using only cologne
  • Walk into any room, approach the biggest, meanest person there, say nothing, and then punch them in the throat — Bonus points are awarded if there are any adult males in the room.
  • Circumcise a Great White Shark — A boat is cheating.
  • Eat a flash cube — Remember to punch anyone that asks you what a flash cube is.
  • Drink from the skull of your vanquished enemies — If you’re currently battling a squirrel in the attic, it’s more of a shot glass thing.
  • Hear the lamentations of their women — That’s why you should always wear hearing protection. Don’t want to miss out on the lamentation because of tinnitus
  • Carve a holiday turkey with a chainsaw
  • Iron a button-down shirt while you’re wearing it
  • Fell a tree
  • Tree a feller
  • Use a torque wrench to, like, you know, torque things
  • Wear a hockey helmet to a board meeting
  • Drive a stick shift to drink
  • Grow your own lasagna
  • Mix concrete in your wife’s blender and get away with it
  • Replace a broken windowpane using molten glass
  • Know how to treat severe sunburn caused by exposure to the little lightbulb in the refrigerator that holds your beer
  • Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on anyone that sneezes
  • Give a tick Lyme Disease
  • When you’re at work, and there’s a Women’s Studies graduate in the next cubicle, every time you make a mistake loudly declaim: At home I put my wife on top so I can screw up there, too!
  • Lose those love handles using a jack plane
  • Build a fire in the wilderness using only one match and fourteen gallons of gasoline
  • Your mother

I Can Work The Beatles Into Anything

So, Richard Dawson kicked the bucket. He’s one of those fellows nobody much has anything bad to say about. (Parse that sentence, college boy)

I suppose everyone will remark about his turn as the host of a vapid game show, but he’ll always be Corporal Newkirk to me.

His biography says he ran away from home when he was 14 and joined the Merchant Marines, and later boxed for money when the rozzers weren’t looking. Then he became an actor by acting like himself. In short, he was exactly, precisely the opposite of every male child in the English-speaking world today. Let’s face it. Chicks dig that sort of thing.

Well, chicks did dig Colin Emm the truckdriver’s son, and he dug them right back. I think he kissed them all, sequentially towards the end, but in a big pile on the floor with Bob Crane at first. One of them was Diana Dors, who was often billed as the British Marilyn Monroe. I think that meant she filled out a bustier nicely but had crooked teeth. She married Dickie Dawson in 1959, and during an eight-year marriage, they had two sons. Both Dickie and Diana sound about as wild as one another. She was the youngest person to ever register a Rolls Royce in England, using all her ingenue bucks. And he was the guy that got busy with the only girl that Swindon ever felt the need to memorialize with a statue. She makes Jessica Rabbit look like Olive Oyl.

Oh yes; the Beatles. Well, if you were somebody in 60s England, I mean really somebody, you were on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s. Hell, only Marilyn Monroe’s face is pasted in there, but Diana’s in the front row in all her glory.

Way to go, Dickie. Only Lawrence of Arabia, if that’s who the Easter Island head in front of George is supposed to be, managed to get better billing than your wife.
Like the man said: No matter what — keep smiling. Some of that must have rubbed off on John Lennon; he smiled here and there during this video, even though you could tell he was thinking of murdering Paul McCartney the whole time for making him sing Hello Goodbye:

How To Live Like A Human Being

It’s William Holden’s birthday. Born in 1918, died in 1981. Drank a bit.

He’s got a long resume. I won’t belabor it.

He was only a little older than my father. He represents one of the two types of men that post-war veterans like my dad wanted to see on the screen. There was the overtly masculine Holden, and the passively masculine Jimmy Stewart. You can fill everyone else into the two columns as you like.

My father liked Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was a pilot in WW II, and had that self-effacing dutiful dignity the fifties had in spades. Holden was something else altogether.

I remember them both mostly cast as a regular “everyman,” thrust into daunting affairs, who shrugged their shoulders, winked, and carried on. Self-reliance was big then.

David Lean is the greatest filmmaker ever. No one will likely ever match a career that encompasses the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai again.

One of the rare and wonderful things that happen too occasionally in films and plays is the encapsulation of great themes into compact settings. Henry V‘s big speech can be yelled off an empty stage and still resound, after all. The superfluous writ large is more the modus operandi now.

Actors live to be given great things to say, and work and pray that dumb luck and effort will give them a chance to say the magic thing that makes them immortal. William Holden dragged his arse all over an imaginary Burma fashioned in Ceylon for his chance to explain the passing of the dutiful splendor of the British Empire into oblivion, and the concurrent ascendancy of America. It’s featured at the 1:18 mark of the trailer:

Sleep well, Bill Beedle. Oops. You’ll always be Commander Shears to me.

(Stay) Out Of My Way

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. Douglas Adams

[Editor’s Note: First offered two years ago.]
{Author’s Note: This is the Intertunnel. An Intertunnel Year is seven dog years. So this item is ninety-eight years old. We can re-run it. No one remembers nuffin’ anyway. And there is no editor.}

I found out something fascinating yesterday. You can be educated, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for free.

No, I don’t mean the rheotorical you; I mean you. And me. Anybody.

Well not anybody, of course, because not everybody is educable. But there are no entrance requirements, no interview, nothing; they just put the curriculum up on the Internet and let you use it. As Lawrence of Arabia says to Ali, pointing across the trackless waste of the Nefu desert towards Aqaba: “It’s just a matter of going.” Simple, really.

Indeed. Now, you’re not going to get to ask anybody any questions, get help from your peers, go to any keg parties, or clap any erasers for brownie points or anything. The stuff is just laying around there. You’ve got to do something with it, no one’s going to show you the way.

Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other. Ben Franklin

Now, if you know the vernacular of the 1700s, you’d know that “dear” means “expensive” or “difficult” in that aphorism. And Ben knew what he was talking about, because he was talking about himself, really. He’s one of a long list of people that taught themselves what they wanted or needed to know. Like most autodidacts, he knew amazing and voluminous amounts of things, but there were large gaps in his learning. This is the danger in not having a curriculum set out for you.

I’ve never been able to learn things properly. I always just wanted to be left alone in the library with the information that interested me. But you’ll notice that Ben Franklin didn’t espouse his method of learning, and neither will I. It’s a self-selecting cadre I inhabit, and if you join because you think it’s sexy, you’ll likely make a mess of your life. Try going into IBM and telling them you know the things an MIT education encompasses, but you have no credentials to prove it. The tests you didn’t take online aren’t in the Human Resources person’s desk, either. Grab a broom.

The only real way to learn anything in this world is to do it alongside someone that knows what they are talking about. But the person that knows what he’s talking about is a rare thing, and rarer still is that person that will help you. They’re busy. But sometimes they write it down. And you can learn it from them, even if they’re halfway across the planet, or dead as a Pharoah.

People drop out of college now, and say: “Bill Gates dropped out of college, and he’s rich. No problem.” Believe me, you’re not Bill Gates. If you were, you wouldn’t be looking around to see what other people were doing, and mimicking their approach. Being an autodidact is a force-play. You run to second base on a ground ball or you’re out. There’s no deciding in it. You are or you ain’t. Bill Gates and his ilk stole second and third and home, and you’re still trying to bunt.

A sympathetic Scot summed it all up very neatly in the remark, “You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing.” Sir Arnold Bax

Regular people make the world go round. By definition, most people are regular people. But if it’s enough for you to have the stuff in your head, because you can use it, and know how to pan through the whole placer to find the glittering dust that’s there in the ore, it’s there now.

It’s just a matter of going.

Tradition That Captures The Imagination

That’s the wall in Winston Churchill’s schoolroom at Harrow.

There are public figures that capture the imagination. Many people inhabit the dreary world where politicians are the only people they consider important. Yecch. I suppose back when politicians were generally private citizens that dropped what they were doing to sort out the affairs of their nation, until they could do their Cincinnatus act and go back to their plow, that made some sense. Even if it’s an act, like Eisenhower’s protestations of indifference to the charms of importance, I prefer it to the modern version — never done anything their whole lives that doesn’t involve a government sinecure. George Washington wasn’t exactly a shrinking-violet man-of-the-people, but I really do get the impression that he held his nose for eight straight years and put up with being President. I can’t picture George Washington as a lifer in politics tapping his foot funny in a Men’s Room.

There’s a brace of men that captivate almost everybody. Teddy Roosevelt. Mark Twain. Lawrence of Arabia. Albert Einstein. Maybe the king of them all is Winston Churchill. The guy was endlessly interesting.

Oh, yes — the picture I offered of the wainscot wall in Churchill’s schoolroom at Harrow. Harrow is a “public school,” which means it’s a private school. Welcome to England, and English.

I like tradition. I’m not a reactionary. It’s not the same thing.

The word “harrow” no doubt refers to the ancient farm implement for tilling the soil. Children were a crop to be cultivated; the perfect metaphor for school. Allowed to grow, yes, but pruned as well as nurtured. Sometimes, even in very straitlaced circumstances, that growth is allowed to run its tendrils outside the pot it’s in. Carving your name on the wall would come under that heading. Perhaps not encouraged. Overlooked with a wink, more likely.

The very word “wainscot” is ancient beyond reckoning. A wain is a type of wagon with splayed sides used on a farm. Wooden wheels would have to be angled in at the bottom to work properly without any bearings on the axle. The wain’s sides would be splayed out to make the most use of the space between the wheels and carry as much as possible. Medieval woodworking used split, not sawn wood, especially oak, so a wain was a board wide enough for a farm cart’s side, and eventually gave it its name. And in its turn, wide boards to line the lower half of the walls of a room took their name from the side of the cart they resembled: wainscot. Tradition.

When I was young, I haunted a very old-school library. It still looked just like this photo:

The tables were made of white oak, hard as a banker’s heart and dark as a politician’s soul. And ever square inch of them had someone’s name carved in it. Most of the work was done by digging at the surface with the tip of a ballpoint pen. It took forever to make any impression in the unyielding surface. But so many people had done it, overlapping each other and eventually working on a layer of existing names, that the tops began to look like a kind of inkstained black coral. It was impossible to write on a piece of paper placed on the surface. You had to place a pad of some sort under your work. It was magnificent.

I returned to the library 25 years after I had practically lived in there. The tables were gone, replaced with nondescript rectangles and inelegant chairs that looked like they belonged in an officepark lunchroom. No one has defaced them with infinitely interesting whorling cicatrices. The tables themselves are a defacement, and so no one bothers to ruin them with their runes.

The beloved temple of words of my youth can no longer produce a Churchill; but you could take out Ishtar on VHS in there now. Which is nice.

Holding It Back

It’s a solitary thing, to write. I hole myself up in a place that’s illegal to put a murderer in –too small. But you have to get away from the wrong kind of noise. Cicadas are OK. The wheezing of the refrigerator cycling on and off is not. A lawnmower four blocks away is delightful. Next door makes you dream of slitting throats.

My wife looks after the workmen. All their noises are foul. They get up too early and still smell of last night’s revelry sometimes. They swear loudly as their feet crunch noisily in the gravel of the driveway, thinking that by some magical transubstantiation of time and space they’re not brutes if they only swear outside where the woman ain’t. They remind me of a pack of dogs, only not as clean.

All save one. I watch him. I can’t write while they’re knocking around the place, so I started to watch out of boredom and frustration. There is one guy…

I don’t know how to explain it, though explaining it is my business. No, that’s not right. I obfuscate to fill the pages. I do describe, though. How to describe him?

He’s not like the others. It’s the best I can do. I made a serious error once, and they noticed me looking and started talking to me. The fetid gravy of my money being wasted was basted on the banal essence of their interests. I retreated. I watched from afar.

You didn’t need to be close to see he was different. He never spoke but to make himself understood. He pointed to things with his index finger, but never pointed to a person that way. I wonder if anyone but me ever noticed that. The beasts that were his brethren never noticed anything.

He seemed to be in charge in a way I’ve never seen. Maybe in the military it’s that way, when the Lieutenant is getting everyone killed, including himself, and the Sargent starts to point the way infererentially. The ideas must not seem to come from you, just appear in the ether.

He was not in charge in name. He was just one of them. The fellow in charge was never there except to apply verbal emollients to my wife and extract a payment from me. But when he left, they all looked to the quiet man.

How did he do it? I couldn’t look straight at them. But even if I could, I don’t think I would be able to get it. People yammer in team-building exercises in conference rooms about leading by example, but they are like teenage boys talking about grown women. It’s academic what you’d do.

I became obsessed with the idea. Why did this fellow command others’ respect? Not fear, or affection, not even interest –respect. Why did they defer to his judgment without even knowing it? Who taught this man? Is it on a shelf somewhere, a plebeian Eliot’s five foot shelf of books?

The others always left five minutes early. He’d poke around their work, dropped where it stood, and move it here a bit so it wouldn’t fall over. He’d turn their plane irons on their side. Sweep the little blocks away from underfoot for the next day. It was like watching a calloused Jeeves tidying a Wooster’s room without seeming to expend any effort. Extraordinary.

“Good afternoon.”
“Yes, it’s certainly that.”
“I’ve been watching you.”
“You have paid the band. It’s your tune.”
“You have a way about, you; it’s interesting.”

There was a certain kind of a pause. I’d picked up on it. An insuck of breath, almost inaudible. A kind of weariness? I don’t know.

“Everyone has a way about them, sir.”
“My name is David. Call me David, please.”
“Yes, sir.”
“I wanted to ask you how…”
“How it is you do it.”
“Do what, sir?”
“What you do; I’m not sure how to encompass the whole question in one question. The others, they look to you for what to do. They watch you all the time and you bend them to your will.”
“I do nothing of the sort, sir.”
“I’ve watched you. You might not know it, but you do.”

There was another slight insuck of breath. I didn’t know what to expect. I shouldn’t have confronted him, perhaps, but I had to get this on paper or the whole month was a loss. My wife would have her house and I’d have blank foolscap pile. I could get something out of this, easy.

“Have you ever seen Lawrence of Arabia, sir, when Lawrence is shot at the train?”
“You mean the movie? No, we don’t go to movies. I read the Seven Pillars of Wisdom in school.

There was another insuck of breath.

“Do you know Elvin Jones, sir?”
“The drummer?”
“Yes, that’s him.”
“What’s he got to do with Lawrence of Arabia?”
“Nothing, sir, I expect. But it’s like him.”
“I don’t follow you. You’re a musician, too?”
“I am not. But you see, when Elvin Jones is playing the ride cymbal. Do you know it?”
“I must admit I don’t follow you.”
“You see, it just sizzles. It sizzles with a kind of power. “
“But it’s quiet. He just touches it.”
“No. Don’t you understand, he’s bringing his arm down, every time, as hard as he can — and at the same time, he’s holding it back, holding it back, but not quite as hard as he’s hitting it, and the leftover hits the cymbal.”

And then he took his hammer out of the holster, and plunged it into the wall next to my head.

Chick Flick

I’m not subjected to chick flicks much. My wife is a perfectly sensible person, and is not in need of much “Sisters Gettin Their Groove Of The Ya Ya Yanni Ripped Bodice You’ve Got E-Mail You’ve Got She-Male Altar of Andie MacDowell A River And A Spotted Liver Runs Through It.” She’s not much interested in westerns either, whether they’re of the John Wayne variety or the more recent cuddlin’ cowboys. Thank the lord.

But then again, she’s not all that interested in watching “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Godfather” over and over again either. Chicks are like that. I guess. What the hell do I know about it?

But if I had to point out a chick flick, and say convincingly it’s both good and estrogeny, could I do it? No fair saying “Groundhog Day.” Everybody likes that one. It’s like saying your favorite book is the Bible during a presidential debate. Yeah, sure it is. I bet you read it when you’re in the bathroom and at the beach, too. Yeah, guys like “Groundhog Day” too, but all in all, we’d rather watch Sonny Corleone hit his brother-in-law with a garbage can lid. Again.

OK, so you hold a gun– or perhaps, a curling iron –to my head: pick a chick flick that’s good and chicks like.

That’s easy. “To Sir, With Love”. And the music’s good too:

You can make a lot of money making bar bets about who sang that one. Take action all night long on Petula Clark and Shirley Bassey, and then clean up when you tell them it’s Lulu. It’s the best kind of trivia question, too; everyone has a guess, and everyone that guesses wrong says: “Of course!” when you reveal the answer, not: “Who?”

Why is “To Sir, With Love” a chick movie you ought to watch, especially if you’re a chick? Because it’s about becoming a woman,and doing so by shedding all the infantile delusions young girls have about being an adult, and really being one. Let’s face it, if this movie was made today, the teenage girl Judy Geeson played would blossom as a woman by sleeping with the teacher, that handsome Sidney Poitier. That’s icky all around, and forty years ago, they knew that. Do you think you’d find this quote in a movie today:

I am tired of your impudence, rough behavior, and sluttish manner. There are certain things a decent woman keeps private. If you must play these disgusting games, DO THEM IN YOUR OWN HOME AND NOT IN MY CLASSROOM!”

It’s important that people barely grown don’t think they’re being adults by doing adult things in a childish way. Why chicks put up with movie after movie of old men trying to cadge one last blast of jerky adolescence out of the world at young girls’ expense, like vampires, and watching young women submit to such indignities as an entre to adult society, is beyond me. I don’t much care for the obverse of that seedy coin either– old broads trying to find one last landscaper to sleep with them before they swap the G string for Depends. Double ick.

Back when they made this movie, people could still write sophisticated lyrics with a sort of narrative in them– neither a sermon nor a simple exhortation to nihilism — and people still knew how to sing them. And as you watch little Lulu belt it out, you can hear her gratitude and admiration for the man that allowed her to be an adolescent while coaxing her into being a real, adult, woman. A woman person.

Yeah; it’s a chick flick. Chicks are people too, ain’t they?

Tag: Lawrence of Arabia

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