"When Generation Wuss creates something they have so many outlets to display it that it often goes out into the world unfettered, unedited, posted everywhere, and because of this freedom a lot of the content displayed is rushed and kind of shitty and that’s OK—it’s just the nature of the world now—but when Millennials are criticized for this content they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labeled a hater, a contrarian, a troll. And then you have to look at the generation that raised them, that coddled them in praise—gold medals for everyone, four stars for just showing up—and tried to shield them from the dark side of life, and in turn created a generation that appears to be super confident and positive about things but when the least bit of darkness enters into their realm they become paralyzed and unable to process it."
Book Report: Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper
While still in his teens in 1934, Patrick Leigh Fermor, high school drop-out, unemployable gadabout decided to walk from Amsterdam to Constantinople, and bathed in an ancient Europe that was crumbling, literally before his eyes. The trip was set down on paper 40 years later in A Time of Gifts and Between the Water and the Woods, for my money the greatest travel books ever written, if for nothing else how they recorded the intellectual journey of a young man falling in love with the idea that everything around us is the seed of things that happened far back in the mists of time, and there is no calling more fascinating than tracing back those branches.
PLF grew up to become probably as close to the model for Indiana Jones as any human ever did: a classicist, linguist, adventurer, war hero, perpetrator of an untold number of crazed love affairs. A humanist in arms; passionately apolitical and conscious of how the manias of modern politics are likely to trample on all that is noble and uplifting in society.
Put simply, any young man who reads about Patrick Leigh Fermor and doesn’t want to be him is not to be trusted.
Artemis Cooper has written a beautiful and touching biography of our hero. Having known him towards the end of his 90 plus year life, her sympathy for him radiates through the book, but an fearless historian, she lets him get away with nothing and his many, many faults are diligently cataloged. Which is frankly how I like my heroes, full of faults. Perfection is for statues, and not very good statues at that. Believing your heroes are perfect is for political zealots, simpletons and publicists.
Most pleasing was it to hear about the epic procrastinations Paddy would undergo, handing in magazine assignments years late; books could take a decade and require him to look himself away in monasteries to finish. The internet didn’t invent procrastination apparently.
The final chapters brought me to constant tears I must say. Not that anything terribly tragic happened - he died peacefully and comfortably in his 90’s, but the specter of someone so brimming with life and intellect slowing down was horrible to take in. Devastating when he finally leaves us at the end.
And I didn’t know enough about Artemis Cooper before this, but she is apparently the wife of Anthony Beevor and the daughter of John Julius Norwich as well as the author of some fascinating looking books in her own right. I will investigate further.
Very lovely book. To be read after reading Time for Gifts.
Criterion Caravan: #25 La Bete Humaine (1938) Dir: Jean Renoir
So we come in our journey through the Criterion catalog to 1938. Good ol’ France is still churning out thrillers, not daring to believe the darkness that is going to fall over it just two years down the line. With 20/20 hindsight, one is tempted to say that accounts for the tense, almost hysterical attitude in Bete Humaine, but that is probably reading too much.
The production history on the wikipedia page for this film begins, “Jean Gabin wanted to star in a film about locomotives ” Frankly, that’s good enough for me. Anytime Jean Gabin wants to make a train film, count me in. And frankly the first and last scenes of this film, which are just long minutes showing Gabin driving a train as it races down a track, communicating in signs with his fireman over the screech of the engine, are the best things about the film, and the best fast moving train footage I’ve ever seen. Take your breath away they really do.
Unfortunately, I can’t say as much for the plot of this film. Renoir as always creates some incredibly taught scenes in which every shot tells you a novel’s worth of stories. But the characters in this are just a little too off-putting to take seriously, or to know how to read during the film. It tells of a triangle consisting of Gabin’s character, a good-natured engineer who now and then just has to do terrible things, a flirtatious young woman who eggs her lovers on to do terrible things, and her frumpy station master husband who is driven to terrible things by his need to control. Lots of metaphors for the railway system! So if railway system metaphors aren’t your cup of tea, stand clear.
And in the midst of the tension between these fairly off-putting characters, it’s a bit of a weird muddle through it, everyone constantly on edge about to pop for reasons you can’t quite buy.
Jean Gabin also looks much puffier than he did in Pepe Le Moko, just a year before. Super-stardom is agreeing with him apparently, but while he remains a formidable screen presence, one misses that easy charm.
An interesting film. Plenty to look at but ultimately lesser than Renoir’s Grand Illusion. Come for the train driving scenes though. Those you will not forget.