Feb. 20, 2007
Poems: "Essential" and "Employed" by Beverly Rollwagen, from She Just Wants. © Nodin Press. Reprinted with permission.
She just wants to keep her essential
sorrow. Everyone wants her to
be happy all the time, but she doesn't
want that for them. There is value in
the thread of sadness in each person.
The sobbing child on an airplane, the
unhappy woman waiting by the phone,
a man staring out the window past his
wife. A violin plays through all of them,
one long note held at the beginning and
She just wants to be employed
for eight hours a day. She is not
interested in a career; she wants a job
with a paycheck and free parking. She
does not want to carry a briefcase filled
with important papers to read after
dinner; she does not want to return
phone calls. When she gets home, she
wants to kick off her shoes and waltz
around her kitchen singing, "I am a piece
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the late filmmaker Robert Altman, (books by this author) born in Kansas City, Missouri (1925). His father was a successful insurance salesman and a compulsive gambler. Altman said, "I learned a lot about losing from [my father]. That losing is an identity; that you can be a good loser and a bad winner; that none of it gambling, money, winning, or losing has any real value."
Altman served during World War II as a bomber pilot, flying about 50 bombing missions. When he came home from the war, he had no idea what he wanted to do. He started making movies because, he later said, "I failed at everything else. I think I was originally attracted by the glamour and the adulation." He wrote a screenplay for a movie called The Bodyguard, which was a moderate success, and he hoped to make a living as a screenwriter. But he couldn't find any more work.
So instead of working on feature films for Hollywood, he began to work on industrial films for various corporations in Kansas City. Because of his modest budgets for these films, he had to serve simultaneously as the set decorator, cameraman, producer, writer, director, and film editor, giving him a greater variety of experience than most aspiring filmmakers at film schools would ever receive.
Altman eventually decided that he had to make a movie of his own. The result was The Delinquents (1956), which finally got Altman a job in Hollywood.
It was Alfred Hitchcock who noticed Altman's work early on and hired him to direct episodes of the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Altman went on to write and direct numerous TV shows, including Bonanza, but he began to experiment with a new way of portraying dialog in movies. He thought it was unrealistic to have only one actor speaking at a time, since in real life groups of people are constantly interrupting each other and talking over each other. So he developed a style in which he would put a microphone and a camera on each of the actors in a scene, and he encouraged them to improvise dialogue and to interrupt each other and talk over each other and to have simultaneous conversations.
Altman finally got his first chance to try out his new style when he chose to direct a movie about a group of military surgeons in the Korean War. The script had been passed over by 14 other directors. It was written as a comedy, but Altman chose to film the surgery scenes like a documentary, with the actors talking over each other and being interrupted by announcements on a loud speaker. And he chose to use lots of fake blood. The studio almost didn't release the movie because the executives thought the mixture of violence and comedy was morbid and the profanity was too strong. But when it came out at the height of the Vietnam War, M*A*S*H (1970) became the highest-grossing movie of the year.
Altman went on to make a series of movies that are now considered classics, including McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), about a brothel in the Old West; and Nashville (1975), about the country music industry. But Altman's career went into a decline in the 1980s. He had a hard time getting funding for his films, and he even went back to working in television. But he made a comeback in 1992 with his movie The Player, about a Hollywood executive who begins to receive death threats from a screenwriter whose phone call he forgot to return.
The film critic Pauline Kael once said of Altman, "You leave his movies knowing that life is everything at once. [His] art, like Fred Astaire's, is the great American art of making the impossible look easy."
It was on this day in 1950 that the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas embarked on his first reading tour of the United States. Thomas (books by this author) had never finished college himself, and was terrified of academics. So he got terribly drunk at all the faculty parties, shouting obscenities and coming on to all the women. His behavior shocked the professors, but it only made him seem more exciting to the students.
And though Thomas always drank himself under the table, when the time would come for Thomas to give his reading, he would always go out on stage and stun the audience with his performance. He had a deep, sonorous voice, and audiences would hang on his every word. He didn't just read his own poetry. He recited a huge number of poems by other poets, and only finished the show with one or two poems of his own.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®