What happened to the hippies? (That is: Where did they go?)
That question seeded my newest novel, What’s Left. The book, to be candid, has grown into something much bigger, and I hope more relevant to more readers. It’s about what’s happened to Cassia, born a decade after the hippies faded into, well, wherever.
Admittedly, I’m a pretty sedentary guy. I spent my career in an office. And a writer spends hour after hour at a keyboard or researching or reading. So here’s what I do when I’m in full-body motion. And remember, “favorite” here is all relative.
Swimming a half-mile a day, usually in Dover’s indoor pool.
Hiking and walking.
Folk dancing. New England contras and squares, Greek, and English country, especially.
Singing in a choir. I’ve mentioned the Revels Singers how many times now?
Stacking firewood … there’s an art to keeping it from collapsing.
Shoveling snow … just don’t tell anyone it can be pleasurable in short doses.
Mowing the lawn … love my battery-powered Ryobi.
Collecting seaweed for the garden … yes, it’s a pain, as well. Some things are mixed blessings.
Pushing a wheelbarrow. Usually, there’s an additional chore involved, like trimming the hedges or moving compost.
I hope to get bicycling back on the list. I loved it as a kid.
Do I really have to define this? To be honest, until recently about all I knew about the topic came from overhearing someone who’s truly terrified about it, but then you have to realize he’s terrified by everything, including his own shadow. A little research, though, casts the possibility in a much calmer light. For instance:
It’s essentially a suburban phenomenon, should it erupt, starting at the malls. You don’t go there, do you?
That also means it’s afraid to venture into the ghetto – and anything close to center city.
It self-selects for Trump country, something like the plagues of Egypt. By the way, there’s no harm in sprinkling your doorposts with sheep’s blood, just in case. (You may want to keep some on hand.)
It also heads straight for Walmart. Think of the cockroach hotel ads, “They go in but they don’t come out.”
It runs in terror at the slightest whiff of high culture – paintings, fine literature, jazz, classical music, opera (especially) ward it off. Keep a good supply of Shakespeare quotes at the tip of your tongue. They’re better than any arcane spell you could cast.
There’s some debate about whether it’s spread by infected people or by an airborne virus. Here’s a hint: It has no sense of humor – it’s completely defenseless against laughter. Or really bad jokes. (“You hear the one about two zombies go in a bar?”)
As people? Traditional slow zombies will get in the way of the newer mutant fast zombies. They’ll start tripping over each other, which will lead to biting their rivals. New research indicates their blood types won’t match and that will be that. End of the show.
Or consider traffic gridlock. Major highways and bridges stop moving at a given volume – and many zombies will expire right there. You really didn’t expect them to be walking anywhere, did you?
And as a virus? Simple. Stockpile your vitamin C. And take it faithfully.
They won’t want your home-canned green beans. Or any other greens, for that matter. It’s too quiet where I live. Zombies would be looking for live action. I’m more worried about garden slugs.
So what potential global catastrophes are keeping you up nights? And how would you advise coping?
Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.
While Orson Welles usually gets the genius kudos, much of the creative brilliance in this 1941 masterpiece arises in the seasoned experience of his collaborators Herman J. Mankiewicz and Gregg Toland.
The nature of the story itself. It’s not exactly likeable. We want to befriend Kane but can’t. He starts out as charming but more and more becomes a sphinx. The newsmen themselves are nobodies. As for his wives and lovers? And yet there’s something gripping in the rise and fall of this spoiled rich boy turned tycoon and populist turned brutal cynic and failure, plus his times. (Sounds topical, considering the White House now, doesn’t it?) Pulling this off is much more difficult than it sounds, and yet we’re swept along throughout. In short, anything but a conventional screenplay.
The soundtrack. Welles and Mankiewicz were grounded in radio drama, not filmmaking. And so they brought to Hollywood a revolutionary ear for not just dialogue but everyday detailing background sounds like footsteps and doors. Their radio perspective also meant they could envision a scene from the way it unfolded within a viewer’s head and not just how it might appear on a stage in front of us, the way directors and writers had framed movies before this.
Cinamatographer Toland. In his work with Hollywood great John Ford, Toland had begun exploring a new technique called deep focus, which allows multiple things to be present within a single shot. In Kane, this comes to full fruition. Tons have been written about what’s happening in the background or how multiple items come together to make their own statement or put everything into a fresh comprehension. And it holds opportunities for emotional depth previously absent in cinema.
Optical illusions. Again, give Toland credit. They serve as guideposts, according to film critic Roger Ebert in his lovefest to this film.
Visible ceilings. You never saw these in a movie before. Sometimes it required cutting a hole in the floor. But it made for some much more dramatic visuals. Again, Ebert has much to say about this, for good reason. I think the ceilings are an emblem of many other similar breakthrough touches that advance this movie light years ahead of convention.
The blending of drawings, real sets, and wipes. Welles was surprisingly economical in obtaining some of his spectacular impressions and moving the story across time.
The witness. Always in a corner, observing or even commenting. A great storytelling device.
Complete artistic control. RKO executives agreed to make no cuts in the footage. In addition to writing, directing, and taking the starring role, Welles had unprecedented complete artistic control. Amazing. The one compromise was forced by the film board, which nixed the brothel scene. Alas.
Common misperception. Unlike the widespread tale, the story’s not even about William Randolph Hearst, whose opposition undermined of its chances for commercial success.
Kane prompted Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel in homage. Not that I viewed them in chronological order.
Oh, yes, if you want to know about “rosebud,” you really do have to look up Ebert’s take. We do miss him.
What movie and its special effects have especially impressed you? These days we practically take them for granted.