1. Moving on Tuesday, so most my time is taken up in packing. Fortunately, I’ve been doing it in increments for months, so there isn’t a whole lot left to be done. Mostly it’s a matter of deciding how to pack up the delicates and deciding what will be needed between now and then.
2. I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on the Church councils on the way to and from work, which is also a handy little summary of Church history (and, consequently, the history of the west). It’s fascinating and, oddly enough, comforting. Yeah, things are bad now, but things have been bad before, and people survived.
Not only survived, but thrived. At the same time as the corruption, petty power plays, and rampant stupidity was operating in the highest levels of the Church, there were also great Saints pursuing piety and working to save souls. The trick, it seems to me, is to focus on your own duty and make sure that, whatever may be said of the rest of Christendom, your own little patch of the kingdom is doing its job.
3. A rather interesting thought: the lecturer on the above happened to touch on Limbo, the section of Hell where those who die in Original Sin, but without grievous personal sins (e.g. infants, the just pagans, etc.) dwell. He commented that when most people describe Heaven – “a place of total happiness, where you meet all the dead and are content forever” – they are actually describing Limbo. The Beatific Vision – that is, Heaven proper – is something quite beyond that.
The way I think of it is that what God wants to do is not simply to make us perfect men, but something well beyond manhood. The Saints are, in the most literal sense, super human: something that is human and more. Which means they are not just happier than those in limbo, but happier in a way and to a degree that a simple human being could not conceive.
4. To take an analogy I think I’ve used before, it’s the difference between the happiness of a dog and the happiness of a human being. Dogs can be thoroughly happy in their doggish way, but the particular happiness of intellect, art, human love, and piety, and so on is simply beyond them. They can just sort of scrape the surface of it through their interactions with human beings, but they can’t go any further.
A saintly life in this world is like being the dog of a good and happy family: we experience the full doggish life, but also touch on something greater that we could never have gotten on our own and cannot fully experience or understand. Becoming a saint would be akin to a dog becoming fully human (except without the evil side of human nature: so, like a St. Bernard becoming the St. Bernard or something).
5. The short version is that, even while acknowledging that God will always be far beyond any conception we have of Him, we have an inveterate habit of vastly underestimating Him.
“That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him” is not hyperbole.
6. Anyway, I recommend that series on the councils. You can find the whole playlist linked below (it’s especially useful for getting a grasp on the Catholic-Eastern Orthodox issue, though further reading is necessary before I’d feel safe really wading into that).
1. I’m currently in the process of preparing to move, something I’ve been looking forward to and trying to achieve for several years now. I’ve been rather surprised at how disruptive the process really is, not just in terms of consuming time and energy, but in the way it creates the sense of ‘no point in starting anything right now; can’t settle to anything at the moment because there’s a huge disruption coming’. Yeah, probably just an excuse there; another one of the ‘infinity of excuses for non-action’, as Theodore Roosevelt put it.
These underlying mental impressions that don’t really follow logically, but are an aggregation of the whole tenor of a time period are probably a lot more responsible for human actions – and thus history – than we usually give them credit for.
2. Do you notice how most non or formerly Christian Americans (and even some continuing to claim the title) seem to still have the idea that going to church is a way to demonstrate virtue rather than to acquire it? That someone praying and fasting and attending Mass is presenting himself as a very good, righteous person, rather than trying to become one?
This seems to me to be a consequence of the fact that we were born a semi-Puritan, or formerly-Puritan nation: since, as I understand it, in the Calvinist tradition good deeds and worship and such are seen as signs that one is saved, not means of seeking and preserving salvation.
This is a big topic, of course: once you start to notice the Puritan thread in the American mind, it pops up everywhere.
3. I’ve heard – can’t remember where at the moment – that in the Middle Ages there really were Thieves’ Guilds and Prostitutes’ Guilds, and their members would attend Mass every week. They wouldn’t receive, of course, being unable or unwilling to give up their sinful professions, but they would pray fervently to be preserved until, say, they could make a big score or find some way out of their lives, or at the very least be granted the chance to confess and repent before death. Everyone knew who they were, of course, and everyone expected them to be there.
That’s the sort of thing that comes from a Catholic understanding of salvation and which the Puritan tradition would look upon with shocked disapproval.
4. I went to an 80th anniversary screening of Citizen Kane tonight. My hot take is that it’s a pretty decent little movie, all things considered. Actually for most of the run time I was grinning uncontrollably at the shear quality of filmmaking, acting, and writing on display. There’s a reason this is often called the best film of all time, and though I personally wouldn’t give it the top spot, it’s certainly a respectable choice.
5. Perhaps it’s just the way my mind is going these days, but I think Orson Welles hit on a key weakness of the Capitalist / Classical Liberal system. See, when Leftists go after capitalism or the United States, they tend to point at poverty, or the striated class system. This is actually it’s greatest strength: nothing alleviates poverty or creates more social mobility than capitalism. But the great weakness is that it tends to starve its adherents of the deeper human needs: of family, community, love, spiritual elevation, and so on, commoditizing and stifling these things so that men are left without roots, culture, or identity, knowing “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” (Of course, Leftist variations of liberalism tend to be even worse in this regard, though that doesn’t stop them from sometimes appealing to it, just as their rotten track record on social mobility doesn’t stop them from appealing to that either. I really have to wonder why anyone takes Marxist doctrines seriously anymore, but I digress).
In the movie, Charles Foster Kane has everything: inexhaustible wealth, social prestige, the power to move governments, but he’s a profoundly lonely man, starved of love, but incapable of giving it himself. All he can do is throw spectacular gifts and extravagant gestures at people, but his fundamental selfishness makes it impossible for him to really love or to accept love in return. He has a massive art collection, but he never looks at it or appreciates it. He has a set of principles that supposedly govern his newspaper, but he abandons them whenever it suits him. He’s a very intelligent, commanding, powerful man, a man who has everything the world can give…but he lacks the ‘spiritual’ dimension entirely and thus remains a hollow, frustrated, pitiable figure.
All the prosperity and material advancement of the liberal west, whatever else may be said of it, cannot replace the spiritual needs of man. “Man does not live on bread alone.”
6. David Stewart touches on some of these same ideas here with regards to the ‘Woke’ religion:
1. I try not to talk politics much here. I don’t have the background or knowledge as yet to say anything really worthwhile about it. So don’t ask me for a rundown of how the past twenty years have gone and what we as a nation have to show for it all, though I don’t think anyone would deny that we’re worse off than we were in just about every way. It looks to me like America’s entered a full-on decline, which is accelerating fast, but where that will lead, I haven’t the foggiest.
2. That day twenty years ago marked the end of the heady, hopeful interval of the 1990s following the end of the Cold War: the time where, for many people at least, it seemed we’d reached the happy ending of history, a golden age born of the triumph of the Baby Boomers. It was always an illusion, of course; merely the penumbra of a sin, between the commission and the consequence, when it looks like you’ve gotten away with it after all.
I’m speaking generally. The consequences were already being felt on an individual level, but hadn’t yet penetrated enough into the public conscience to cause the sense of unease and disaffection that they do now. At least, that’s my impression of the era.
In any case, that time came to an end on September 11, 2001.
3. Hard to believe it’s been that long. I remember it quite well. I was in sixth or seventh grade at the time. We were kept in at recess for no reason whatsoever, then at the end of the day there was an announcement: “We in this country sometimes forget how much more fortunate we are than some other people….” That’s how it began. Which, in retrospect, is a kind of disgusting way to break the news that thousands of your fellow citizens have been murdered: rather like beginning the news that a family member was killed in a drive-by with a comment on racial injustice. Bit of a herald of things to come.
As I recall, rumors were beginning among the students even before the announcement. Then I remember going home and turning on the news and seeing a big hole in the side of the building. At first I thought ‘oh, that’s not too bad.’ Then I found out that was footage from earlier in the day. It was a process of realizing what actually had happened: big holes in the building. One building’s partially collapsed. One’s collapsed entirely, the other damaged. Both are completely destroyed. It was odd to my twelve-year-old brain to realize that a great landmark like that was actually gone for good.
4. I also remember footage of people dancing and cheering in the streets in…I think the Palestinian parts of Israel it might have been? Somewhere in that area. I never forgot that over the next few years as ‘tolerance’ and ‘oh, how sad it was that Middle Easterners are being profiled’ replaced outrage and patriotic zeal. I remember how quickly that happened, by the way, and how little there was to go on. I may have missed something, of course, but I only ever heard of a few minor incidents of that sort of thing actually happening. Though it was common enough in TV shows.
5. I was a pretty enthusiastic supporter of the subsequent wars, of Bush, and so on for a long time. I wanted something to be done. I wanted America to reassert its dominance in the world, and I was then still fully onboard with the American creed. Quite a bit has changed since then, and I’m not entirely sure how.
Looking back, I’m still not completely against the wars, at least in principle. But then, I’m not against imperialism. But modern America is not cut out to be an empire. To be an Empire, you have to truly believe in your right to rule. That was true when Americans saw themselves as the shining city on the hill, the beacon of freedom to the world. Conquering large swathes of Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, and so on were, therefore, a way of spreading freedom to more people.
We don’t believe in that anymore, at least the majority of the population doesn’t. We’ve been raised on tales of Vietnam and the movements of the 1960s and 70s, conditioned to regard imperialism as an insult, something that bad people and bad countries do out of greed and arrogance. So we had the ridiculous spectacle of America trying to do an empire’s job while insisting that it wasn’t an empire: that we weren’t ruling Iraq and Afghanistan, we were liberating them, and that they would be eager to accept democracy and so forth once it was offered to them, because who doesn’t want to be free?
I rather think that if we had acted as an empire, if we’d put down in these places and simply said “we’re in charge now, deal with it,” and claimed them as territories, that may have gone off better. A fait accompli is generally accepted better than a patronizingly half-hearted ‘we’re just going to rearrange the furniture a bit and make things better for you and then we’ll let you alone’. Because for most people, stability is far more important than the specifics of law or government. A settled and enforced rule as the new status quo is easier to accept, whoever the rulers are, than an indefinite and hazy promise of improvement.
But all that’s academic, and I may be completely wrong. I haven’t studied the situations either Iraq or Afghanistan, so I don’t know.
6. For me, the past twenty years, especially the past few, have brought considerable disillusionment. I don’t believe in the American creed anymore, for one thing: the notion of ‘the last best hope of mankind’, the ‘shining city on the hill’ and the rest of it. I view it in much the same way that I see classical mythology: beautiful as a story, but false and dangerous to believe in. But that doesn’t mean I’m no longer invested in my nation. I feel towards it much the same way that, say, a Catholic Jacobite in 18th England or a Christian in Japan might feel: precisely insomuch that I want it to survive, thrive, and be great, I see that it needs conversion.
7. A rather grim and downbeat retrospective, I’m afraid. Here’s an Mst3k short to lighten things up:
1. I missed seeing Coco when it came out in theaters, since I was by the disillusioned by Pixar’s deteriorating quality. Last week, upon seeing it recommended, I pulled it up and gave it a watch.
My goodness, that is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Certainly one of the best recent films. Not to mention one of the most Traditionalist / Reactionary films of recent years, being all about family tradition, family piety, recovering lost heritage, subordinating personal desires to obligations, and so on.
It’s also the first movie in a long time to legitimately make me cry. Not just tear up, but full on weeping.
I’m going to hold off on doing a full essay for the time being, because I want to see it again first, but I heartily recommend it.
2. Most of the related thoughts springing from the film and other things that have been on my mind lately are frankly too big to get into in a Flotsam. I want to organize them better and work them out first.
3. One thing that occurred to me while watching, however, was this. Everyone seems to love the Day of the Dead: it’s become the Mardi Gras of Mexico (e.g. the event that people think of when they think of the place and that always seems to brought up). Nothing wrong with this, except that I notice there’s always a particular emphasis on the pagan elements of the holiday, to the exclusion of the Christian ones.
This is what I call the ‘isn’t it interesting?’ approach: “Oh, the Mexicans have a tradition of such and such, and the Japanese say this, and the Irish have a story that yada yada, and isn’t that interesting?”
But there is one culture and one tradition that is never given this treatment, that always, without fail, is regarded as illegitimate, imposed, and generally not worth bothering about (even when it’s an integral part of a culture, it tends to be ignored in favor of folklore and pagan stories). Of course, it’s Christianity and the Church. Funny that, isn’t it?
4. This isn’t a criticism of Coco itself, or of Grim Fandango or any of the other works that have used the folklore around the Day of the Dead to good effect (Fandango, I would argue, is probably the closest to a Christian view of things of the one’s I’ve seen, since there the world of the dead is explicitly a transitory state that the good get to cross through almost instantly and the bad have to work and earn their way across, thus being more explicitly akin to Purgatory). It’s a criticism of the cultural attitudes that relegate the Faith to the sidelines and gleefully tries to sever us from our heritage, then regards us as defective when we try to preserve it.
5. One thing I am trying to develop (it’ll help when I get my own place, I’m hoping) is what I call the ‘shopkeeper mentality’. Again, Coco reminded me of this and helped it click in my mind: the mentality of “we have a family enterprise that is keeping us fed and gives us a place in the community. You’re part of this family, so you are going to help in it. Get up, do your chores, say your prayers, help in the shop, don’t complain if you don’t want the slipper.”
Thomas Sowell touched on this as well, describing how successful ethnic groups – e.g. Jews, East Asians, etc. – would practice this sort of behavior: start a commercial enterprise that the family would run, everyone pitch in and work their fingers to the bone to make it a success. Kids do their chores in the morning, then go to school (and they’d better get good grades), then come home and help with the shop.
That’s the kind of attitude I want to have: that this is a trade that gives me and my family a place in the community and supports us, and so it’s expected that we work at it like our lives depend upon it, because they do.
Basically, I don’t want to be a starving artist sacrificing all to his muse, I want to be a shoe shop that happens to make books.
1. I am continually amazed, not just at how stupid, incompetent, and immoral our current societal elites really are, but also at the fact that so many of us continue to take them seriously. “Dr. Fauci says so-and-so.” Okay, and why do you care what that careerist moron says, exactly?
To say “I heard it on the news” is as much to say “I have the word of ignorant liars who hate me.”
2. If I were to take a stab at guessing why this habit of thinking that someone being featured on TV must be reliable, I would say it’s mostly an application of the ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ principle. We naturally tend to accept an explanation simply because it is an explanation, or a description simply because it is a description in lieu of simply admitting ignorance. If we are going to think of a thing at all, we have to think of it from a certain perspective and with certain names and forms attached to the mass of sensory data we receive to give it some kind of structure. But most people aren’t in a position to know what is going on at the national level, or lack the education, time, or interest to hunt down such information as they could find in order to discern the necessary forms. So any explanation whatever is accepted simply because it provides a structure to the unstructured, and we would much rather have that than be in the dark.
The fact is, though, that for most of us in most cases the answer to ‘what’s going on in the world?’ is “I don’t know.” This is one reason why subsidiarity is so important: baring extreme or very specific circumstances, local concerns are really all the matter or have an capacity to affect the people of a given town or community, so of course they should have as much authority to manage them as possible.
3. Okay, enough gloomy thoughts of current events. I’ve actually found myself growing a good deal more sanguine about world events lately, simply because the people in charge at the moment are so stupid, so desperate, and their ideas so contrary to reality that a crash seems to me inevitable. The only question is how violent it’ll be when it comes.
Wait, that was supposed to be the not-gloomy entry, wasn’t it? Oops.
4. From a co-worker: “If Stackoverflow crashes, half the world would lose their jobs.”
(Really have to be in IT to get it)
5. Interesting fact: I’m reading Herodotus’s History at the moment (short version: all cultures are different and most people are horrible). At one point he recounts how the king of Egypt wished to know the extent of ‘Libya’ (what the H-Man called Africa), so he sent out a crew of Phoenician sailors to circumnavigate it. And, as a matter of fact, they did it! It took them three years, stopping at planting time wherever they were, growing food, and then resuming after the harvest. Herodotus mentions a report, which he himself does not believe, that during their voyage they saw the sun on their right hand side, traveling South-Southwest. As a matter of fact, this little detail more or less proves the story true, since traveling into the Southern Hemisphere, the sun would appear on the right hand side going Southwest or West: something that sailors of Herodotus’s time and place would not have considered or made up as part of their story. So, men circumnavigated Africa in the time of Ancient Greece. Cool!
6. Another Herodotus anecdote: King Cambyses, son of Cyrus the Great, was, according to H, an absolute psychopath. At one point he asked one of his chief servants what the people were saying about him. The man diplomatically said “O king, they admire you in all things, except that they consider you are a little too free with the drink.” At which point Cambyses became furious and said, “Oh, they say I’m mad with drink, do they? That I’m a lunatic? I’ll show them!” So he picked up a bow and arrow and shot the servant’s son (who happened to be standing a little ways off) through the heart and proudly declared “Could a madman have made that shot?”
Needless to say, this wasn’t quite as convincing an illustration of his sanity as he probably expected it to be.
7. And I’ll take the liberty of parasiting off of David Stewart again:
Apparently, the star of the latest Marvel film – Shang Chi and the Ten Rings (yeah, I forgot about that movie too) – claimed that this is something he “didn’t have growing up,” namely an aspirational Asian or Asian American hero.
Hell, not even going that far:
And all that isn’t even touching on Anime, video games, most of the Japanese film industry, or the innumerable superhero and fantasy film’s / franchises. Like you may have heard of this obscure little franchise:
That’s really one of the more obnoxious things about these ‘representational’ films and such: the fact that they’re always trying to ignore or hide the people who have come before. Because everyone today is trying to be Sydney Poitier slapping the racist rich jerk in In the Heat of the Night, because that’s all they know how to value in a film: being ‘socially important’ (neglecting the fact that it was also, you know, a good movie). So they have to keep trying to reset the clock and hide the work of those who came before to give themselves the chance to pretend to be pioneers.
2. When Uncle Walt adapted Alice in Wonderland, he and his writers ended up giving it a bit more of a plot than the book had. Not much, but a little. And if you notice, the plot they gave it was pretty much lifted directly from The Wizard of Oz: an imaginative girl living what seems to be a dull life wishes for something different and is whisked away to a world of magic and strangeness where she incurs the enmity of an authoritative female antagonist and soon comes to wish for nothing more than to return home. In the end she wakes up to find it was all a dream, leaving her with new appreciation for the mundane world she wanted to leave.
But the interesting point is the one big difference between the two: Dorothy doesn’t only have to deal with the Wicked Witch of the West and the general strangeness of Oz. She also gets to enjoy the friendship and help of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, as well as the protection and guidance of Glinda, and even the avuncular kindness of the wizard.
In contrast, Alice doesn’t get anything of the kind. No one in Wonderland is Alice’s friend. There is precisely one character in the film who is consistently helpful to her, and that’s the doorknob. And all he can do is give her some information. Everyone else is, at best, barely aware of her presence and at worst actively malicious toward her (interestingly enough, the doorknob is the only character in the film that wasn’t in the books).
(Meanwhile in the books, the only character who might count is the White Knight from the second book, who is at least consistently kind and helpful to her, even though he’s pretty hapless himself and she spends most of their time together trying to help him stay on his horse).
For me, this is one of the things that makes the story unique and compelling: that it doesn’t sentimentalize or cheat with Alice’s dreams. They’re weird, chaotic, and ephemeral full of mad people, with all that implies.
3. Again, I haven’t seen the film, but from what I can tell this is one of the things that really bugs me about the Tim Burton version: the Mad Hatter is not Alice’s best friend. The inhabitants of Wonderland are not her childhood playmates happy to have her back. They don’t care about her. This isn’t Narnia or even Oz: this is a world of madness and nonsense.
4. To switch gears (so to speak), I’ve also found myself revisiting Transformers: Beast Wars, at least as far as reading about it and re-watching some clips. Really, as I recall, that was a surprisingly well-written show, where the writers actually thought through the implications and consequences of the events of the story.
For instance, in that incarnation Megatron is played as being a dangerous radical / terrorist with no official standing in the Predicon hierarchy. He had a grand scheme that he’s trying to put into action, but one that is both an extremely long shot and spectacularly dangerous and potentially destructive (to the point where he himself holds off on carrying it through until he gets backed into a corner because it’s that risky).
Now, no one in his right mind would follow someone like that, right? Right. And almost no one in his right mind does. Megatron’s troops are, to a man, either a). intensely stupid, b). looking to betray him for their own ends, c). completely insane, or d). some combination of the above.
He has precisely one competent, rational, and reliable lieutenant – Dinobot – who is later revealed to have joined him for personal reasons…and who almost immediately defects once it seems those reasons no longer apply.
5. This actually achieves a number of things. In the first place, it helps to establish Megatron’s position in this world: for all his arrogance, he isn’t important or high-ranking, he’s a loose cannon following his own agenda. In the second, it allows him to consistently lose his engagements without undermining him as a villain, since however clever and dangerous he is, he has to entrust the execution of his plans to either the idiot, the lunatic, the traitor, or the lunatic-traitor. Finally, it actually makes him a much more imposing villain, since it gives him scope to demonstrate his cunning without pitting him directly against the heroes. So he’ll do things like work the fact that his minions are plotting against him into his own plans, allowing him to turn their treason to his own benefit. Or another episode has Terrorsaur successfully usurp Megatron’s place and throw him in the brig…whereupon Megatron reveals he programmed an override into the cells to let him escape whenever he wants and proceeds to let Terrorsaur lead the Predacons in battle to let them see how incompetent he really is.
The structure of the show also answers the question “why does he keep people around the he knows would betray him the first chance they get?” Because he only has four or five minions and simply can’t afford to lose any of them unless it’s absolutely necessary.
6. Something else I noticed this week: I really like Princess Peach as a character. I mean, she’s just such a delightfully nice character, so pleasant to be around, but also with a bit of an undefinable edge to her (and this isn’t a new thing, either: she was adventuring all the way back in Super Mario Bros. 2 and then again in Super Mario RPG). She’s a perfectly sweet, wonderfully feminine character, but all the while she’s got an underlying pluck and courage that comes out every now and then, all the more amusing for its rareness.
I especially like in the first Paper Mario game where she’ll periodically sneak around Bowser’s castle to try to spy out information that’ll be useful to Mario. That, it seems to me, is exactly what a character like her would do in that situation and gets her involved in a more elegant way than just have her trying to take on Bowser herself (though that can be fun too). I also love how she insists that her closet full of identical pink dresses are ‘all unique and all very fashionable.’
This is something we almost never get these days: a thoroughly and emphatically feminine character who is positively portrayed and allowed to remain so throughout.
I somehow keep thinking about The Transformers: The Movie lately. In particular, I found myself rewatching the attached clip more than once, mostly for the sheer joy of Welles’s performance.
But today it occurred to me that it isn’t just a scene of Orson Welles turning Frank Welker into Leonard Nimoy for marketing purposes (though goodness knows that’s interesting enough when you put it that way). It’s also an interpretive illustration of what dealing with Amazon or Google or Apple or one of the other tech companies is like: a monolithic, all powerful entity offering you what seems like a sweet deal…except that “your bargaining posture is highly dubious” and the alternative to acceptance is to “proceed on your way to oblivion.”
And in any case, the evil, world-devouring monster doesn’t actually have your best interests at heart and is almost certainly going to betray you once it gets what it wants anyway.
And come to think of it, Unicron kind of looks like an abstract version of the Apple logo (okay, that’s a stretch).
I just learned that certain services are ramping up their theatrical showings of classic films. Most people already know about Fathom Events, but they seem to be showing even more lately. Their upcoming schedule includes Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Star Trek IV, the Voyage Home (the whales one that is widely considered one of the best), Coraline, and Stripes. Then September includes Labyrinth, Citizen Kane(!) and The Transformers: the Movie (so, book-ending Orson Welles’s film career, I guess), followed by Spirited Away.
In particular, I had never heard of Flashback Cinema, but apparently this is the focus of their business model. Currently, they’re screening The Iron Giant at select theaters on August 11th. After that it’s the 1989 Batman on August 15 and 18, then Back to the Future on the 22nd and 25th. Then in September, it’s the special editions of The Lord of the Rings films one after another.
Remember, just because films today are mostly junk made by mentally ill psychopaths who hate you doesn’t mean you have to lack for quality cinematic storytelling. There are decades and decades worth of classic films to explore, and thankfully it seems some people are offering the chance to enjoy them on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen.
Most of the time, for such is the nature of the beast, they’re pretty prosaic affairs, often obscure, coming and going with little fanfare.
But sometimes it happens that a prominent performer gets to end his film career on a high note, ending his final performance with a line that feels like a fitting capstone to his career: a send off worthy of the actor who delivers it. Here are presented a few notable examples:
1. Pedro Armendariz in From Russia With Love
“I have had a particularly fascinating life, would you like to hear about it?…You would?!”
The great character actor Pedro Armendariz only lived to be 51 years old, but he has well over a hundred credits on IMDb. He was a regular with John Ford, as well as one of Mexico’s most prestigious performers, and a frequent collaborator with John Wayne.
Alas, it was the latter that resulted in his death. He was one of the many actors in The Conqueror who ended up contracting cancer from the radioactive set (the location in Utah where the film was shot had previously been used as a nuclear test site. Not only did the film shoot at the site, but truckloads of contaminated sand was shipped back to Hollywood for studio shooting).
Armendariz’s final role turned out to be the second James Bond film, From Russia With Love, where he plays Bond’s Turkish contact, Kerim Bey, a former circus strongman turned businessman with a small army of sons (all roughly the same age). Bey is still one of the most memorable of Bond’s many allies, largely thanks to Armendariz’s effortlessly masterful performance.
Near the climax of the film, aboard the Orient Express, Kerim and Bond capture an enemy agent and Kerim volunteers to stand watch over him. The scene ends with him sitting down with the above line, promising to spend the rest of the voyage detailing his ‘particularly fascinating life’. Unfortunately, both men are subsequently eliminated by Robert Shaw’s Red Grant.
In any case, Mr. Armendariz certainly had a ‘particularly fascinating life’.
2. Sir Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
“May this new century be yours, son, as the old one was mine.”
Sir Sean Connery, of course, needs no introduction as one of the premier actors of his generation. His final live action performance (he also did some voice work before his death, including reprising the role of James Bond one last time in the video game adaptation of From Russia with Love) was in the unfortunately pretty poor The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Despite the film’s poor script, the actors are mostly first-rate, and Sir Sean gives a suitably strong final performance in a role with more than a touch of an autobiographical tone as H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain, now grown old and weary, his adventuring days long behind him. In the end, Quatermain is mortally wounded in battle with Professor Moriarty and dies giving the above blessing to Tom Sawyer, who has become a surrogate son to him.
Whatever else might be said of the film, Sir Sean’s final line is surely a suitable farewell from one of the master actors of his time as he gives his final bow on the screen.
3. Raul Julia in Street Fighter
“You still refuse to accept my God-hood? Keep your own God! In fact, this might be a good time to pray to Him! For I beheld Satan as he fell from Heaven! LIKE LIGHTNING!!”
I spoke about Mr. Julia’s final performance at length in my Street Fighterreview, so there’s not much more to add, except to note how fitting his final proclamation is for a great actor ending his career in a blaze of hamtastic glory.
4. Spencer Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
“Well, Tillie, when the hell are we gonna get some dinner?”
Spencer Tracy was one of those golden age actors whose talent goes without saying. He exuded warmth, intelligence, and fatherly command on screen, and he was equally capable of being wildly funny in an easy-going, eye-of-the-storm kind of way.
His last film, done while he was terminally ill, was Stanley Kramer’s race-based dramedy Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, where Tracy stars alongside frequently leading lady (and off-screen romantic partner) Katherine Hepburn as two racially tolerant parents who are nevertheless a little blindsided upon learning that their daughter is engaged to Sydney Poitier.
I haven’t seen the film recently enough to comment on its quality, but with such a director and three such performers (not to mention the great Cecil Kellaway as their priest), I think it’s safe to say it can’t be too bad. But in any case, Tracy’s final line, closing out a long speech giving his full support to the young people, is remarkably fitting for a man who so excelled as the American paterfamilias.
5. Orson Welles in The Transformers: The Movie
“Destiny…You cannot destroy…my destiny!”
What a remarkable figure was Orson Welles. He was an absolute master at radio, film, and stage, as both an actor and a director. He created what is widely regarded as one of the best American films ever made as a passion project before he was thirty, and ever after found his career endlessly hampered by studio interference, so that despite giving some of the best performances of the American movie screen, he never was able to make what he might have of his vast artistic talent.
For his final role, he, in his own words “played a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys”. Whatever he thought of the role of Unicron, the planet-sized, planet-eating dark god of the Transformer universe (and whatever else could be said of the film), he certainly gave a performance worthy of the name of Orson Welles, speaking with all the command that an all-powerful evil being can be expected to posses. Every line that comes out of Unicron feels impactful, like a god speaking, yet with a touch of careless humor that makes him feel all the more commanding (“Your bargaining posture is highly dubious”).
In the end, Unicron is destroyed by the power of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, and as he’s torn apart from the inside out, he delivers that final, defiant line. In a way, it rather feels like Welles himself casting his final gauntlet at the Hollywood that hounded and tore at him all his life: at the end of the day, no matter what, they still couldn’t take away what he had achieved.
6. John Wayne in The Shootist
“Mister, this is my birthday. Gimme the best in the house.”
In his swanswong, The Shootist, John Wayne (who had recently been through treatment for cancer and would soon be claimed by the disease) plays John Bernard Brooks, an aging gunfighter dying of prostrate cancer. Rather than suffer a long, lingering death pestered by glory seekers who will not let his rest in peace, he decides to go out in a final blaze of glory by challenging three of his enemies to a final fight in a saloon. As he sits down at the bar, he gives the above order and enjoys one final drink before the fight begins.
For perhaps the greatest movie star of all time, a man whose name is practically synonymous with the western, there surely can be no more fitting line than to go into a saloon and order the best in the house. Nothing less than the best for the Duke.
7. James Stewart in An American Tail: Fivel Goes West
“Just remember, Fivel; one man’s sunset is another man’s dawn. I don’t know what’s out there, beyond those hills. But if you ride yonder – head up, eyes steady, heart open – I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been looking for.”
You know, there’s something rather tragic about the fact that what may be the single finest American film actor of all time ended his career playing ‘Wylie Burp’ in the sequel to An American Tale. But regardless, the final scene where he looks out at the sunset and gives the above speech to little Fivel is a remarkably fitting curtain call for the legendary Jimmy Stewart.