Blake Bailey has just written “Farther and Wilder,” a biography of Charles Jackson who is most famous for his first novel, “The Lost Weekend” which was made into an Academy Award-winning film (1946) of the same name, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland, both of whom also won Oscars for their work. Milland – who to me bears a remarkable resemblance to Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music – plays Don Birnam, an alcoholic would-be novelist who can’t write a single word because he’s either drunk or trying to get drunk. He treats everyone around him like shit including his brother, his girlfriend, the bartender at Nat’s Bar, random strangers. According to Bailey, Jackson was quite a bit like the fictitious Don Birnam with the exception that Jackson actually wrote a best-selling book.
I saw the movie many years ago and remembered being extremely let down at the end when Don the conniving, boorish, suicidal drunk has a sudden epiphany literally in the final two pages of the script, and resolves to quit alcohol forever and start writing that long-neglected novel to be titled “The Bottle.” I realize the movie was made in the mid-Forties when the concept of portraying disgusting alcoholism was a risky move for Hollywood, but still it’s ludicrous to believe a man thoroughly addicted could so easily set his life on the right track. “Leaving Las Vegas” with Nicholas Cage and Elizabeth Shue captured reality much more accurately, and in some ways could be viewed as a long-awaited sequel to “The Lost Weekend” in which Don Birnam falls off the wagon for good and dies in a pool of his own urine. Tough but satisfying, in contrast to Billy Wilder’s unlikely uplifting denouement.
Speaking of uplifting movies, and by extension, their opposites, below are recent samples from “Pinpoint the Pan,” my little parlor game I play whenever I have a spare five minutes. On a previous blog I explained the object of the game: peruse the TV section of the New York Times, crawling through the movie listings seeking pithy, three- or four-word slams of stinky films that Hollywood deemed worthy of production and distribution. Find more than six and pat yourself on the back. I found this pile of crud on the line-ups of just two nights – amazing how much drivel comes out of Hollywood despite the massive inventory of scripts sitting on desks and in spam folders.
“Strictly minor league” – The Dead Pool
“Deeply square, largely mirthless” – The Hangover Part II
“Sophomoric” – From Dusk to Dawn
“It doesn’t mean mirth” – This Means War
“About as scary as a sock-puppet show” – The Ninth Gate
“Garish and heavy-handed” – Man on Fire
“Vulgar stoner comedy” – Grandma’s Boy
“Mostly shameless weepie” – My Sister’s Keeper
“A travesty” – Nine
“Cluttered” – The Karate Kid
“Nothing but formula” – Life as We Know It
“Sloppy, hectic spectacle” – Van Helsing
“Crushed by excess baggage” – Always
“Feeble remake” – The Out-of-Towners
“Ridiculous and suspense-free” – The Sentinal
“More suds than laughs” – The Nanny Diaries
“Joyless” – New in Town
Finally, I spotted this brief news item in the New York Times on April 19th, thankful for the paper’s helpfulness on identifying the correct subject. All the news that’s fit to patronize.
“The world’s oldest living person, Jiroemon Kimura, celebrated his 116th birthday on Friday with congratulations from around the world. Mr. Kimura, above right, was named the world’s oldest person by Guinness World Records in December.”