>memories of my development (ye maties!)

>For whatever reason I am selfishly prone to consider my past and reflect on events, people, and things – like films – that have been a part of creating this person I call me. And I realize that lately, maybe from the beginning, my blogging tends towards the personal. So feel free, because you are, to take your precious time elsewhere. Anyway . . .

I suppose I could have titled this post “I want a sailboat real bad.”

Rather consistently and with great joy I spent a portion of my childhood entranced on Sunday evenings by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and then Walt Disney’s long-running television program. Some you you may be old enough to remember the following television schedules on NBC:

September 24, 1961 – September 7, 1969: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

September 14, 1969 – August 31, 1975: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
September 7, 1975 – September 11, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
September 18, 1977 – October 23, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
October 30, 1977 – September 2, 1979: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

So where am I going with this, you ask?
At some point during those years I saw Disney’s Treasure Island (1950). Recently I watched it again with my daughter. Although the film is dated and rather straightforward, it brought back memories and reminded me of some images that must have seared themselves into my brain. Treasure Island is a classic story for all ages, but for young boys especially (at least for me) it is a sort of touchstone.

In particular I remember such scenes as the one where young Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll) sneaks back aboard the ship, which the pirates have captured, and reclaims it for the good guys. In that scene Jim has to fight a drunk pirate, Israel Hands (Geoffrey Keen), who is slowly chasing Jim around the ship. Jim climbs the rigging, followed by the Hands. Soon Hands has Jim cornered. Jim pulls out his little pistol . . .

Hands throws his knife at Jim and pegs him in the arm. Jim reacts by shooting Hands who then falls to his death.

As a young boy I often had fantasies about being in dire straits and having to take serious actions in order to survive, even using a gun (sometimes wishing it involved a gun!). I think this is a typical boy’s fantasy (but I’m not offering any excuses). And to be stabbed in the arm by a thrown knife, now that’s really cool. especially if that knife goes through your arm and sticks into a ship’s mast. How much more adventurous and dangerous can you get and still live to tell the tale! If only I had had that kind of life; I know then I wouldn’t be working in a cube farm at some software company, that’s for sure. Avast!

Sadly, Bobby Driscoll’s life did not end well. From IMDB:

Charming as a child actor, he made his mark in films like Song of the South (1946) and Treasure Island (1950). Unfortunately, as he got older and acting offers became fewer, he got involved with hard drugs, which ultimately ruined his health and reduced him to poverty. Years of drug abuse severely weakened his heart, and he died of a heart attack alone in a vacant building in New York. Driscoll’s body was discovered in an abandoned Greenwich Village tenement by two children playing there on March 30, 1968. When found dead, his identity was unknown and he was buried as a “John Doe” in pauper’s grave. A year later, fingerprints finally revealed his identity.

I find that very tragic. I wish someone had come along side him and helped him. But, then again, maybe someone did. Drug addiction is a beast.

As a boy I could certainly identify with Jim Hawkins in many ways. And I certainly envied him going on his great adventure to find pirate gold. But the real impression the film made on me, and on most I’m sure, was in the character of Long John Silver played brilliantly by Robert Newton. When one thinks of how a pirate should talk (aaarrrggghh!) one is thinking, in fact, of Robert Newton’s John Silver. He created the modern concept what we would call the “classic pirate” archetype. He is the reason behind the reasons why we have Talk Like a Pirate Day and videos that teach us to talk like a pirate.

And who could ever forget that face!

But L.J. Silver was more than that for me. As a boy I new he was a bad guy. But I also knew that he liked Jim as though Jim was the son Silver never had. That was confusing for me. Here was a bad guy that I could legitimately like, not because evil is fascinating, but because he was both bad and good. The idea of moral ambiguity was planted in my soul by Robert Louis Stevenson by way of Robert Newton.

The concept that one could hope for the best for one’s enemies also played itself out in the film. When Silver is trying to escape at the end of the film, Jim helps him. And then Jim and Dr. Livesey (Denis O’Dea) watch as Silver sails away. Dr. Livesey says he almost hopes Silver “makes it.” Silver even waves back – no hard feelings for him either.

And there he is, L.J. Silver sailing away, saving himself from the arm of the law, and here am I wishing he gets away. As a young boy what was I to think? I can tell you it got my head to thinking and wondering, and wishing I could be both good Jim Hawkins and a pirate of the seven seas.

switching gears slightly . . .


So, the other night I finished reading to my daughter a wonderful book called Swallows and Amazons. Lily loved it, but I have to say I became not a little obsessed with the book. I couldn’t wait to read her the next chapter each night. I would find myself thinking about the book during the day. In short the story is about some kids who, while on Summer vacation near a lake, sail a little sailboat, Swallow, to a little island and camp there for a few days. They meet a couple of other kids who have a boat called Amazon. The kids then have some great adventures and forge life-long friendships. It’s a book I recommend for adults as much for kids.

Apparently there was a film version in 1974, but it sounds like it wasn’t too good.

Anyway, like I said at the beginning, I suppose I could have titled this post “I want a sailboat real bad.”

>I “love” that dog wherever he is

>“For some reason I’ve just remembered how I lost the script of Rublyov (when I had no rough draft). I left it in a taxi at the corner of Gorky Street (opposite the National). The taxi drove off. I was so miserable I went and got drunk. An hour later I came out of the National and went towards the All-Union Theatre Society. Two hours after that, as I came down again to the corner where I had lost the manuscript, a taxi stopped (breaking the law) and the driver handed me my manuscript through the window. It was miraculous.”

6 April 1973

I’m looking over at a copy of Tarkovsky’s diaries (Martyrology), or what’s left of it. Years ago I purchased a used hardbound version of the book. Reading it was a kind of revelation for me. Although Tarkovsky complains mostly throughout the book, something I related to being a frustrated artist myself, I found the book to be a delight. Like any collection of journal entries the book is frustratingly incomplete regarding the kinds of information one might want to know, like insight into the directing or editing processes of specific films, etc. But one gets something better. [If one wants to know the process of making a work of art then one needs to make a work of art, and then do it again, and then again. The knowledge comes with doing because making art is like a spiritual practice in that sense.] What Tarkovsky gave us in his diaries is a view into his humanity. He was a remarkable man, but just a man like me. That kind of perspective is infinitely more valuable than “what were you thinking when you made that shot?”

father and son

So the book. Well (and this was a few years ago), I had not read the book in quite a while so I decided to pull it off the shelf, dust it off, and put it on the coffee table to remind myself to pick it up when I came home from class. I was gone for only about a hour, came back and the book was not on the coffee table any longer. Hhhmmmm. Then I saw it. Across the room was the book, but now missing its cover. Remember, it was a hardbound book. After I began to investigate and put 2 and 2 together, I realized that the dog, a Labrador of course, had ripped off the cover and completely consumed it – later to end up in the yard (I’ll save you the description). Boy was I mad. And yet, how fitting. In a small way I was subjected to a “Tarkovsky moment” that is, a moment where all is not lost, but the path one is on has just taken a turn for the worse and one has to look inside to find the deeper value of the moment.
Now the book, coverless and a little tattered, lies on the bookshelf, the dog really belonged to some friends after all and is now somewhere I don’t know, and I’m thinking of pulling that book off the shelf and putting it on the coffee table to remind myself to pick it up again. And this time we have a Pug, so it’ll be alright. Then again, that little dog does get a sneaky gleam in his eye from time to time.