Sunday, July 12, 2009

Johnny Staccato and Herzog quotes

John Cassavetes is one of my great heroes. Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence are two of the most destroyingly beautiful films ever made. Plus, he was notoriously difficult (supposedly punching out Stanley Kramer over creative differences on A Child is Waiting) in that he always strove to stay true to his vision of what artistry was all about. And he was a damn fine actor as well, paying for the movies he made by taking whatever gun for hire acting gigs he could get.

Johnny Staccato was one of those jobs, which paid for Shadows and was made around the same time. It only lasted for one season, possibly because it was too violent for 1959, but from the one episode included on the brilliant but canceled crime dramas DVD, it's so frickin' awesome I can't even begin. It's got to be one of the first mixed genre TV shows ever (a proto 'dramedy' if you will allow the use of such an obnoxious word), with a killer jazz soundtrack. In interviews published in Cassavetes on Cassavetes, he claimed to've wrangled with the writers quite a bit, and that it isn't entirely the show he wanted it to be. Still, I've just now gone and scoured the 'net and found a full set of the entire season from one of the auction websites because that one episode was just that good. Cass smirks his way through the whole thing with greatly silly lines, and Waldo the armchair philosopher/jazz club owner is goofily profound and also hilarious.

So, good stuff. Also some quotes from Bellow's Herzog before I return it. Bellow uses an interesting literary device by switching from third person narration to first person as Moses Herzog composes letters in his head to friends, colleagues, and dead philosophers, and the switches occur constantly for varying lengths, sometimes going back and forth in the same paragraph (the shift is acknowledged through the use of italics). It's a very effective move, giving us an apparent objective view of Herzog and then putting us in his cluttered mind. The book explores notions of sanity as we watch Herzog try to work through the tail end of a nervous breakdown over his ex-wife having left him suddenly to live with one of his formerly closest friends. 'Course Herzog is a respected professor whose written about the romantics and was in the process of writing a book about Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind. Great, deep book.

Anyway, some quotes:

So, thought Herzog, acknowledging that his imagination of the universe was elementary, the novae bursting and the worlds coming into being, the invisible magnetic spokes by means of which bodies kept one another in orbit. Astronomers made it all sound as though the gases were shaken up inside a flask. Then after many billions of years, light-years, this childlike but far from innocent creature, a straw hat on his head, and a heart in his breast, part pure, part wicked, would try to form his own shaky picture of this magnificent web.

Seeking to sustain their own version of existence under the crushing weight of mass. What Marx described as that "material weight". Turning this thing, "my personal life," into a circus, into gladiatoral combat. Or tamer forms of entertainment.

Herr Nietzsche...You make us want to live with the void. Not lie ourselves into good-naturedness, trust, ordinary middling human considerations, but to question as has never been questioned before, relentlessly, with iron determination, into evil, through evil, past evil, accepting no abject comfort. The most absolute, the most piercing questions. Rejecting mankind as it is, that ordinary, practical, thieving, stinking, unilluminated, sodden rabble

That last quote was part of the last twenty-five pages or so of the book. Most of which is in the the form of these mental letter compositions that go on and on about the state of man and society and really seem to capture to some extent the earnest existentialism particular to the early 1960's, and it's in this as well as the theme of getting out of the city and back to a natural surrounding to air out the mind, which are probably why Herzog got love from a wide audience in 1964 and became his first real commercial success.

And a line of Cassavetes' dialogue from Johnny Staccato (which I think he fought to have called just simply Staccato, which would've been a pretty killer name for a TV show):

"I know I got slugged and I got robbed. Now you're making noises as if I did the slugging and the robbing."

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