A Woman, a Part
A Woman, a Part mixes passion and ambivalence to create a work whose ambiguities seem earned, and lived in
Sometimes I think so. Sometimes, not so much. If the blog I wrote a few weeks ago had started that way, I would have been spared a lot of grief. It better expresses what I was unsuccessfully trying to say.
The actual headline was "Women are better than men." And that called down upon my head 408 comments, at least 80 percent hostile, and many surprisingly angry and insulting. This blog has traditionally been known for the civil tone of its comments, and now I was informed, for example, that I was a "feminist bitch."
The first time I saw him, he was striding toward me out of the burning Georgia sun, as helicopters landed behind him. His face was tanned a deep brown. He was wearing a combat helmet, an ammo belt, carrying a rifle, had a canteen on his hip, stood six feet four inches. He stuck out his hand and said, "John Wayne." That was not necessary.
Wayne died on June 11, 1979. Stomach cancer. "The Big C," he called it. He had lived for quite a while on one lung, and then the Big C came back. He was near death and he knew it when he walked out on stage at the 1979 Academy Awards to present Best Picture to "The Deer Hunter," a film he wouldn't have made. He looked frail, but he planted himself there and sounded like John Wayne.
John Wayne. When I was a kid, we said it as one word: Johnwayne. Like Marilynmonroe. His name was shorthand for heroism. All of his movies could have been titled "Walking Tall." Yet he wasn't a cruel and violent action hero. He was almost always a man doing his duty. Sometimes he was other than that, and he could be gentle, as in "The Quiet Man," or vulnerable, as in "The Shootist," or lonely and obsessed, as in "The Searchers," or tender with a baby, as in "3 Godfathers."
The video on this page was an undercover project, I learn, at Ebertfest 2012. Most of my Far-Flung Correspondents and Demanders were there in person, and those who couldn't be contributed their voices via audio files. The idea originated with Kevin B. Lee, who did the audiotaping and editing. It was the inspiration of Michael Mirasol to use the foreign languages of those who spoke one.
Women are nicer than men. There are exceptions. Most people of both sexes are probably fairly nice, given the nature of their upbringing and opportunities. But in terms of their lifelong natures, women are kinder, more empathetic, more generous. And the sooner more of them take positions of power, the better our chances as a species.
I want to tell you about a woman named Betty Brandenburg. You've not heard of her, but her passing must not go unremarked. I've written many times about the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She made it run. She dealt with the most impossible man in Colorado. She was a young widow who raised two children on her own. I met her the first year I went to Boulder, in 1969, and saw her the last time a few years ago at one of the annual Wednesday night dinners our little group held at the Red Lion Inn.
In those years we lived close to the ground. My earliest memory is lying flat on my stomach on our front sidewalk, my nose inches from a procession of ants. When you are short and a child, the earth is close and the world of adults towers above. You'd like to climb to the top shelf where you think the Oreos might be, but a more reliable entertainment is to use a sheet to make a cave out of a side table. I listened to the Lone Ranger while hiding under my bed, where I felt safe.
In a back row of the Virginia Theater in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, you will see a raised platform just the right size to hold a reclining chair. This is my throne at Ebertfest. Because of havoc wrought by surgery to my back and right shoulder, I cannot sit comfortably in an ordinary chair. Here I recline at the side of my bride, looking upon the packed houses.
I am faced once again with the task of voting in Sight & Sound magazine's famous poll to determine the greatest films of all time. Apart from my annual year's best lists, this is the only list I vote in. It is a challenge. After voting in 1972, 1982 and 1992, I came up with these ten titles in 2002:
Not long ago I read an article about a new skyscraper charmingly named The Shard that will be the tallest structure in Europe. I posted it on my Facebook page, adding something like: "Great! Just what the London skyline needs!" A reader quickly commented that I was showing my age.
The emails have been arriving with depressing regularity. Often the subject line is only the name of a friend. With dread I know what the message will contain: That person has died. In recent weeks there have been seven such losses. Three came in a 10-day period, and I fell into sadness.