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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Euthanize Your Idols Part II

A century ago, I heard a story on the long-running radio program (remember radio?), "This American Life." It was a simple story of a man undergoing a two-week fast--not because of political reasons, but to shift himself into a higher consciousness. Or something. It has been well over 100 years since I heard the story and despite the memory upgrade, the details of the story are lost on me.

"Fasting," then--in the early years of the new millennium--meant a removal of food from oneself. It was believed that to fast was to become pure either in ideology or in body, and is not unlike vein tenders, but without the technology and scientific approval. Anyway, the man doing the fasting was named David Rakoff, and at one point--this I vividly recall--he is sitting at a desk, contemplating a banana, and discussing the presence of the banana with the host of 'This American Life,' who happens to be Ira Glass, current narrator of so many of our lives. Then, Glass was a simple radio host; now, he speaks to all of us, letting us know what our minds are thinking and what our eyes are seeing.

These were the days when an interior monologue was boring. Now, thanks to Ira Glass, all of us have self-contained, fully-produced interior monologues, and our lives have certainly been made all the richer.

Rakoff contemplates the banana, compares it to Chekhov's famed gun on the mantle. "If there is a banana on your desk in the first act," he says, "you must eat it by the third act." Then he mentions a little-remembered Woody Allen movie from the late 20th century called "Manhattan."

"All this fasting reminds me of the woman in that movie who says, 'I've finally had an orgasm but my analyst tells me it was the wrong kind.' I just feel like how come all the other kids are getting enlightened and I'm not."

Sitting in the window of Allen's Parisian home with the wafting breeze pressing against my back, this is how I feel. I have asked the question I came here to ask, of course, but there's a history behind that question stretching back to my proto-youth, when I was having my first 20th birthday and hearing about the scandal. Allen's last film with Mia Farrow was to be released soon, and tabloids--newspapers filled with exclamation points, if you recall--were stuffed with stories about Woody Allen. It was the most people had paid attention to him, and they were not discussing his films but his sex life and his relationships. And all I could think, then, was that someone in charge of marketing the film had a terrible lapse in judgement in how to promote the film.

My question lingers a bit, like the floating television with the former Fatty Arbuckle silent film suddenly removed from its screen. Allen, sitting neatly on the tan couch with his hands on either side, touching but not gripping the couch cushions, and his breathing facilitator slightly slumped out of his nose, stares me down. Gently. It is a gentle stare.

"The, you know, the interesting thing is that I've, tsch, I've been answering that question for decades and no answer. Like, it's. No answer I give is what, tsch, is what keeps the question from coming up again." Allen leans forward and takes a glass of off-planet filtered water from the table before him. Sips. As he drinks, his assistant comes in and speaks.

"You have a five o'clock meeting at four o'clock, Mr. Konigsberg," he says.

Allen raises a hand. "It's okay. We can--we can reschedule to three o'clock."

I can't help but think this is code for something--some mysterious communication between a loyal employee and employer. It is currently 12:20. The assistant disappears again, leaving me alone with my thought of Allen.

"But the question is there because you haven't done much to satisfy the answer."

"Wh-what is the answer?"

Good question.

Some time ago, there was a man named Bill Cosby. Obscure, yes, but you may recall his hectic sweaters and desperate expressions. Once he stood atop the world like Ozymandias or Donald Trump the Fifth, a man of infinite benevolence pointing the world toward a kinder, smarter place. His death in 2025, however, went unnoticed except by the most quiet of news journals. His death was a footnote rather than a period at the end of a sentence.

"The answer, Mr. Allen, is that I don't know what to think. But I keep thinking of Fatty Arbuckle and I keep thinking of Bill Cosby. And then there is you."

Wind again. It occurs to me that if someone opens up another window, the wind will shift direction and push against my chest, and I may let the wind carry me out of the window.

"I've said all I, you-you know. It's. I have said everything."

"You've said your work is not autobiographical."

"True. Yes. No. It isn't autobiographical."

"But you once cast your lovers in your films. Louise Lasser. Diane Keaton. Mia Farrow. And a lot of your films have bits of echoes from your life. 'Stardust Memories' is quite literally about how you transitioned from light funny comedies to more serious films."

"I'm not --tsch, not an intellectual. I'm not, tsch, you know, I-I-I just make movies. If you see connections it, tsch, it's like in Dickens when Scrooge sees Marley's ghost. He says--and I'm paraphrasing by delivering the direct quote, 'You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.  There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are'. Whoever I am, I'm not the person on the screen."

"Did you just echo, literally, my 'bit' comment? You're suggesting your experiences and your views of life don't inform who you are as an artist."

"Craft. It's a craft, not an art."

Another vein tender falls from his flesh. He plucks it from his neck and inserts another one.

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