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I wrote earlier about Orson Welles unfinished last film, The Other Side of the Wind, and attempts to finish it by others since his death.

Orson Welles has been gone for more than 30 years and his last feature film (F for Fake) was released 15 years before that. It has been a long time since we had a new Welles film.

I have had mixed feelings about this “new” film release since it was hot in bits and pieces over the years whenever Welles had some money to proceed. Now, it has been completed by others.

Orson probably would have loved streaming services like Netflix producing films – especially with their generally hands-off approach.

The Other Side of the Wind debuted at the Venice Film Festival in advance of its November 2nd release. Bruno Ghetti of Brazil’s Fohla de S.Paulo wrote, “It’s a film with clearly a beginning, a middle and end. And given the complication of production, surprisingly it does not appear to have been completed by someone other than the one who started the assembly four decades ago. The Other Side of the Wind may even be a mess, but it’s a pretty consistent mess. And fascinating in its madness.”

The film was shot by Welles between 1970 and 1976. The making of the film is the subject of at least one book and a documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (Netflix). The film went into a kind of editing limbo at one point because of the Iranian Revolution! (Some of its financing had come from the Shah’s brother-in-law.)

“The Other Side of the Wind” is also a film-within-the-film. That faux film is an artsy “New Hollywood” kind of movie that was in vogue while Welles was shooting which he seems to dismiss..

As the trailer shows in bits, the film has a documentary style shooting, quick cutting, and switches back and forth between color and black and white (probably as much for financial reasons as artistic ones.). I suspect the styles also vary based on when Welles was shooting and under what conditions. And we can’t ignore the impact of those who have completed the film without his involvement.

There are plenty of film references and appearances by other directors. The film’s star is John Huston and Welles’ good friend Peter Bogdanovich plays a filmmaker. Other filmmakers include Norman Foster, Claude Chabrol and Dennis Hopper. Those three directors span a lot of world cinema history.

Will I watch the film? Of course.  Welles told Huston when they were shooting: “It’s a film about a bastard director. It’s about us, John. It’s a film about us.”  (Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind)

We use the term “blockbuster” to describe a movie, book, or other product that has commercial success. Back in the 1940s, it described a big bomb dropped from a plane that was capable of destroying a whole block of streets. Somewhere in between the big commercial success and a bomb is the company known as Blockbuster Video.

Blockbuster was an American provider of home movie and video game rental services through video rental shops. They eventually moved, less successfully, to DVD-by-mail, streaming, video on demand, and cinema theater. Does that remind you of another company? Netflix?

Blockbuster was internationally known throughout the 1990s and at its 2004 peak, the company employed 84,300 people worldwide and had 9,094 stores (4500 in the US).

The last three American stores were in Bend, Oregon and two in Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. The Alaska stores closed earlier this year, so the Oregon store got a lot of media attention as the “end of an era.”

The store still looks much like the ones from 20 years ago – all yellow inside, employees in blue shirts and an old computer system. But it still stocks old and new titles. The store still has licensing agreements and leases, and as of now has no plans on closing.

The Alaskan stores kind of made sense. I imagine folks watching movies during those long winter nights and not having cheap Internet. In 2013, there were 13 stores in Alaska.

My own local Blockbuster was in a strip mall. We had two other mom-and-pop video stores locally but they fell to Blockbuster. I have semi-fond memories of walking the aisles with my sons looking for a film that was appropriate and discouraging them from renting film again. “Let’s get something new. Or classic.”

Redbox and other video-on-demand services arrived and I guess people decided they didn’t want to leave their couch to get a movie. In the way that Amazon got people buying books from their couch and killed off many bookstores, Netflix did the same for movies.

I like browsing in person. I find books walking the aisles of a bookstore or library that I would never think to click or search for online. And even with AI, Amazon doesn’t usually find things I am interested in or great accidental discoveries.

Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010. I didn’t know that the remaining 1,700 stores were bought by Dish Network in 2011.

I hope browsing in stores remains. I accept that the movie store is gone, but I encourage people to walk around their bookstore, hardware store and all small, local stores. Make discoveries.

Most of us associate eating popcorn with watching movies. Some people even make popcorn at home when they are watching a movie. The two things were not always connected.

I suspect that sales of refreshments in theaters is down from the numbers in the past due to prices and maybe health concerns. Anyone who has made popcorn at home knows that popcorn is pretty cheap. Popcorn in a theater is very expensive. Of course, the same is true for candy and drinks. But some theaters also offer nachos, gourmet coffee, hot dogs, sandwiches and there are even eat-in theaters with servers bringing you a full meal while you lounge in a reclining chair just like at home.

But back to popcorn. The blog at MoviePass offered some movie popcorn history. Fifty or more years ago, your movie ticket got you two movies plus some short films, so taking a break between the shows to use the bathroom and buy some snacks made a lot of sense.

Movie theaters, often called palaces or cinemas back in even earlier days, were elegant places and going to the movie theater was similar to going to a theater for a play. People dressed differently, acted differently and expected a classy experience. Popcorn didn’t fit in. Popcorn was for baseball games and prizefights and was a street food.

Popcorn smell would permeate a theater, makes noise when we eat it and made a mess on the beautiful rugs and seats of that time. Many theaters once banned popcorn and most snacks.

In 1885, Charles Cretor created the first steam-powered popcorn maker that allowed popcorn to be mass-produced. Street vendors roamed the streets with their carts. So when did popcorn come into theaters?

It might have been around 1927. That is when sound hit the movies. You didn’t have to be able to read to understand a film. Theaters became a popular affordable night out. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, you would think movie ticket sales would have taken a dive, but movies were more popular than ever. It was a cheap escape. Popcorn was cheap and people would sneak it into theaters. Vendors would sell to moviegoers as they entered the cinemas. Theaters told patrons to leave their popcorn outside.

But popcorn was too popular. Lacking ventilation in the theaters to make popcorn like the street vendors, the first theaters to give in allowed street vendors into the lobby or in front of the theater for a fee. But by the mid-1930s, theaters realized popcorn sales could be profitable, and they figured out how to make their own product in-house.

By 1945, over half of all popcorn consumed in America was at a movie theater.

When you buy a movie ticket, at least half of that money goes to the film’s distributor, so concession sales are really important to theater survival. Today, movie theaters make an estimated 46 percent of their overall profit from concession sales.

When I went to a movie theater in Germany in 1970 to see M*A*S*H, they sold wine, beer and sausages etc. in the lobby. I was amazed. It took a few decades for America to catch up. I don’t recall them having popcorn though.

bildungsroman shirt

Wear your coming of age proudly

The word bildungsroman showed up in an article I was reading.  It is a German word that you are only likely to encounter in a literature class. It describes a novel of formation, education, or culture. In English, we are more likely to call a novel or film like this a “coming-of-age” story.

Generally, these are stories of youth, but reading it now much later in my life got me wondering about when coming-to-age ends. In some ways even with six decades passed, I still feel like one of those protagonists.

The typical young protagonist is a sensitive, perhaps a bit naïve, person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions. They believe that these experiences will result in the answers. Supposedly, this happens in your twenties, but I don’t know if I have finished this journey yet. I suspect I am not alone in having this unfinished feeling.

Young adult novels certainly deal with this, but so do literary novels whose authors would not want the YA label stamped on their book’s spine. These are good novels to teach. They often focus on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and character change is very important.

Scanning my bookshelves I see lots of books that fall into this category, from The Telemachy in Homer’s Odyssey from back in 8th century BC, to the Harry Potter series. I would include that early novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding,  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Lord of the Flies by Aldous Huxley and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

When I taught middle school and high school, teaching The Outsiders, Romeo and Juliet, The Pigman, To Kill a Mockingbird and other bildungsroman works just seemed like the right places to spend time with my students.

In our western society, legal conventions have made certain points in late adolescence or early adulthood (most commonly 18-21) when a person is “officially” given certain rights and responsibilities of an adult. But driving a car, voting, getting married, signing contracts and buying alcohol are not the big themes of bildungsroman novels. Society and religion have even created ceremonies to confirm the coming of age.

I’ve passed all of those milestones, but I still feel like I haven’t arrived.

Charles Dickens wrote in David Copperfield, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” We are all the protagonists of our own lives. But hero…  I’m not so sure.

Since I am still coming of age, I am a sucker for films and television live in that world of transition.  If I was teaching a course on Bildungsroman Cinema, I might include Bambi, American Graffiti,  The Breakfast Club, Stand by Me,  The Motorcycle Diaries, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Boyhood, and Moonlight. I could include many other “teen” films of lesser quality.

On television, series like The Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks, Malcolm in the Middle, and The Goldbergs are all ones that deal with coming of age. They are also all family sitcoms. Coming-of-age has a lot to do with family. And it can be funny as well as tragic. It’s good materials for books and media because it has all that plus relationships, sex and love. On the visual side, it means physical changes that you can actually see, while the internal growth is often hidden and slow to catch up with physical growth.

I have read plenty of things that contend that adolescence is being prolonged and therefore adulthood and coming-of-age is being delayed. The new Generation Z cohort is supposedly an example of this. I have also read about the Boomerang Generation. This is a very Western and middle class phenomenon and the term is applied to young adults who choose to share a home with their parents after previously living on their own. They boomeranging back to their parents’ residence.

I remember reading about the “Peter Pan syndrome” which was a pop-psychology concept of an adult who is socially immature. It is not a condition you’ll find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a specific mental disorder.

In Aldous Huxley’s 1962 novel Island, a character refers to men who are “Peter Pans” as “boys who can’t read, won’t learn, don’t get on with anyone, and finally turn to the more violent forms of delinquency.” He uses Adolf Hitler as an archetype of this phenomenon.

Do some people never come of age? How old were you the last time someone told to “grow up” in some way or another?

Huxley’s Peter Pans are a problem, but what about people who are quite mature and adult but still are in search of answers to life’s questions and the experiences that might result in the answers? What’s the name for that syndrome?

lydia

Lydia consults the Handbook for the Recently Deceased in the film Beetlejuice

“I must go in. The fog is rising.” – last words of Emily Dickinson

I have a fascination with death. One reason may be that I was an English major. Poet Billy Collins has said that majoring in English is like majoring in death. Yes, it does seem to be a favorite theme in literature. But how can you not be somewhat fascinated with Death? It’s a much bigger and more important topic than birth.

One of my interests has been in the last words of people. Not everyone, famous or not, has a chance to say something just before they die, and not everyone has the wit to say something clever enough to be memorable.

Lots of people have a similar interest in dying words. The author John Green made that part of a character in his novel Looking for Alaska, and Green dropped them throughout the book and geeked out over a big book  of Last Words of Notable People that was published in 2012.

As I said, not everyone gets a chance at this last bit of fame. George Orwell’s last written words were, “At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves.” He died at age 46.

Nostradamus said, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here” and correctly predicted his death.

I love Herman Melville. I was very surprised to learn that he died saying, “God bless Captain Vere!” Vere is a character in his then-unpublished novel Billy Budd, which was found on his desk after he died. One last act of self-promotion.

I stumbled upon The Oxford Book of Death in a bookstore, which sounds like a real downer that you should only assign as reading to some English majors in an honors seminar.

I paged through it and read things that caught my eye. It’s not all melancholy. The authors range from long-dead Plato to living (at least at the time) poets, playwrights and authors.

Some people are funny, sarcastic or witty right to the end.

Drummer Buddy Rich died after having surgery, but when he was being prepped, a nurse asked him, “Is there anything you can’t take?” and Buddy replied, “Yeah, country music.”

Sir Winston Churchill’s last words were, “I’m bored with it all.”

Actor, tough guy, drinker and smoker Humphrey Bogart ended with “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.”

George Appel, executed by electric chair in 1928, said before the pulled the switch, “Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.” I bet that wasn’t an ad-lib.

Poets are not always poetic at the end. “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record,” said the heavy drinking Dylan Thomas before he died of pneumonia.  And “Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight, ” were the closing lines from Lord Byron. Not even a rhyming couplet.

Johnny Ace, a 1950s rhythm and blues singer, was playing Russian roulette with his revolver on a backstage at a concert on Christmas Day 1954. He said “It’s okay! Gun’s not loaded… see?” and when he pulled the trigger with the gun pointed at his face, there was a bullet, and it killed him instantly.

Socialite Lady Nancy Astor, was very ill and awoke on her deathbed to see her family all around her. She said, “Am I dying, or is this my birthday?”

Sir Walter Raleigh, English writer, soldier, politician, courtier, spy, and explorer said to his executioner just before the axe came down on his neck, “Strike, man, strike!”

The very practical inventor Thomas A. Edison went out with the hopeful line “It’s very beautiful over there.”

Edison’s closing line is the kind of thought you want to believe is what we see as we cross over from this life – that is, if you believe there is a place to cross over to. We haven’t had any reliable reports from the other side.

That’s why I like the movie Beetlejuice. In its darkly comic way, we get to follow a couple who have just died and are definitely not ready to move on. One of the things they get on the other side is a copy of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased. I actually found that they sell it on Amazon.com but you may be disappointed to find this reproduction of the movie prop book is a blank book. Perhaps, it is intended for you to take notes after death. Perhaps, the information only appears to the recently dead. I use it to catalog last words and good quotes about death. I figure those will come in handy in the afterlife.

But in Tim Burton’s excellent 1988 film (with Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder) there is actual advice. There are important things for the recently deceased to know, such as that living people generally ignore the strange and unusual. The rules for ghost and the dead aren’t fixed and vary from manifestation to manifestation. Deaths are personal. Ghosts vary based on how a person lived and died. The book suggests that in case of an emergency, draw a door and knock three times. It also lets you know how to do a séance and how to haunt the living.

The recently deceased consult the Handbook

The recently deceased Adam and Barbara consult the Handbook

This laughing about death is healthy. It doesn’t make me feel very good about the whole process to know that the short story writer O. Henry (who loved surprise endings) said at his end ‘Turn up the lights. I don’t want to go home in the dark.”  I don’t want to go over in the dark either. I hoping for that warm, inviting light and the smell of baking bread that I keep hearing about.

time-travel

We need time travel.

I have read in several places that before H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine no one had considered time travel. Unless you’re talking just about literature, I find that hard to believe. Does that mean that no one thought about the “what if” of being able to go back and undo or redo something? No one considered the advantage of being able to shoot ahead in time to see what was to become in order to prepare for it or prevent it?

It’s common today for literature and film to use time travel for all the reasons that any of us consider its possibilities. We want to see history. Nostalgia. We want to change history. We want to see the future. Perhaps, the future will give us hope. It may make us fearful and we will want to change the future. Time is a mystery.

If Wells invented time travel in 1895, he preceded Albert Einstein’s work by a few years. I’d love it if someone found evidence that Einstein read The Time Machine. Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity allows for time travel, though not in a very satisfying way.

Space and time are really aspects of the same thing—space-time. There’s a speed limit of 300,000 kilometers per second (or 186,000 miles per second) for anything that travels through space-time, and light always travels the speed limit through empty space.

If  you could move through space-time and your speed relative to other objects is close to the speed of light, then time goes slower for you than for the people you left behind. Not exactly what most of us think of when you say “time travel.” You won’t notice this effect until you return to those people who were not traveling with you.

This kind of time travel was part of the movie Interstellar. Suppose you were able to travel at the speed of light. They put you on this spacecraft when you are 15 years old and you leave your life on Earth. You travel for five years and at age 20 you come back to Earth. Those kids you left in high school are now 65 years old. You missed the prom and a whole lot more from the past 50 years.

Did you time travel to the future? You seem closer to being Rip Van Winkle than a spaceman. In Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle” he does the same thing. No time machine or speed needed. He drinks some strange liquor owned by the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew and it knocks him out for about 20 years. He returns home and his now-grown daughter takes him in. Oddly, he seems little changed by the experience.

It happens that way to Woody Allen’s character in Sleeper and to the astronaut in Planet of the Apes.

He resumes his usual idleness, and his strange tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers.

traces the invention of the notion of time travel to H.G. Wells’s 1895 masterpiece The Time Machine. Although Wells — like Gleick, like any reputable physicist — knew that time travel was a scientific impossibility, he created an aesthetic of thought which never previously existed and which has since shaped the modern consciousness. Gleick argues that the art this aesthetic produced — an entire canon of time travel literature and film — not only permeated popular culture but even influenced some of the greatest

Time travel helps us cope with a varity of anxieties. Science historian James Gleick explores wrote Time Travel: A History which is part history and part Einstein thought experiment mixing physics, literature and philosophy.

Isn’t it strange that H.G. Wells, who was so interested in history, only had his time machine travel to the future? Did he give thought to the looping paradoxes of traveling back and changing the past so that you didn’t exist in the future and therefore couldn’t have traveled back and changed things?

Do you ever have the feeling that you’re stuck in a time loop? I’ve written before about my love for the film Groundhog Day. First you feel bad for Bill Murray’s character and he lopps through the same day over and over. But eventually he gets things to work “correctly” and is able to move on.

If all that is too frivolous, then move on to Stephen Hawking. He once, quite unscientifically, hosted a party for time travelers. No one showed up. Where are those people from the future? maybe they are here but are being very careful not to change anything and so are being very, very covert.

John Archibald Wheeler popularized the term “black hole” and coined “wormhole” and gave new hope to time travel literature and Dr. Who.

The wonderful podcast, To the Best of Our Knowledge, has done a bunch of stories on time travel. In one segment, they talked with someone who dreamed about creating a time machine as a child. His intent was to go back and save someone he lost. That child became a theoretical physicist and has spent a lot of his career studying time.

Currently, my time travel is limited to memory, photo albums and video excursions into the past. Nothing in the future so far. I was more in favor of time traveling as described in stories like Time and Again that didn’t require any machines.

When I first read about Einstein’s theories, I was disappointed. I imagined that my 19 year old self might travel back to when I was 9 years old and so have no memory of my present that had become the “future.” I would be trapped in a loop of growing up to 19, getting in the time machine, going back to age 9 and doing it over and over for eternity. I wouldn’t even remember that I had ever done it before. Or maybe I do remember some things. That would explain déjà vu.

Maybe we haven’t met any time travelers because we are all time travelers. We were sent back from some disastrous future and are reliving history over and over again in the hope that we can somehow change things and negate that disastrous future. The hope of time travel.

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