In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

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Phantom Thread

This is a movie of confrontations, of dreamlike moments dissolving into micro nightmares, but it is hardly a conventional battle of the sexes story.

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A fascinating piece of filmmaking that challenges the form in new ways as it recalls themes its director has been interested in his entire career.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert became film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967. He is the only film critic with a star on Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame and was named honorary life member of the Directors' Guild of America. He won the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Screenwriters' Guild, and honorary degrees from the American Film Institute and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Since 1989 he has hosted Ebertfest, a film festival at the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana. From 1975 until 2006 he, Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper co-hosted a weekly movie review program on national TV. He was Lecturer on Film for the University of Chicago extension program from 1970 until 2006, and recorded shot-by-shot commentaries for the DVDs of "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "Floating Weeds" and "Dark City," and has written over 20 books.

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The Spectacular Now


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Computer Chess


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At Any Price


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Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay


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To the Wonder


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From Up on Poppy Hill


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The Host


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Ginger and Rosa


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On the Road


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Phil Spector


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Ballad of Narayama Great Movie


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Don't Stop Believing: Everyman's Journey


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Future Weather


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Bless Me, Ultima


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A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III


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Side Effects


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56 Up


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Stand Up Guys


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The Loneliest Planet


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West of Memphis


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The Trouble with the Truth


Top 10 reasons I want to be cremated

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A fresh supply of Nightmare Food from one of my all-time favorite web sites, Golden Age Comic Book Stories. Beware! You can get lost in this site. And never be found again. Ahhh ....hahahahah

I put together a WebPage featuring "The Premature Burial," by Edgar Allan Poe, with some well-selected art. I was just sitting here thinking I should rip it up and start again with the best of these covers. Nah, the art on that page is drawn from a national contest.

☑ My special pages are linked under the category Pages for Twitter in the right margin of this page. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = ""; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

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For all those years, he was like Elvis in South Africa, this Detroit demolition worker

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• The Oscar-nominated doc "Searching for Sugar Man" tells, like "Hoop Dreams,"a story that is too good to be true, and plays like fiction. The closing revelation that Sixto Rodriguez is still still alive comes with an enormous charge. What must it feel like, to cut two albums that disappear, only to discover that all during those lost years you were a superstar in South Africa? And then to fly there at 70 for concert tours packed with adoring fans?

As the film suggests and subsequent interviews have shown, Sixto Rodriguez has handled this roller coaster life with grace, modesty and singular charm.

Here is my 4-star review of "Searching for Sugar Man. The film had its world premiere at Sundance 2013. Because of its Academy Award nomination, it may be playing at a theater near you. It's available on DVD, and can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video for $3.99.

The segment on "60 Minutes"

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Sundance before it was Sundance

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Organizing files for the launch of our new website, I came upon this. I grow old...I grow old...I shall wear the bottoms of my ski pants rolled.

January 25th, 1981

The 3rd Annual U.S. Film and Video Festival

Roger Ebert

Park City, Utah - Up here in the mountains above the Great Salt Lake, everybody seemed to have a definition earlier this month of what an independent filmmaker was. It was just that nobody seemed to agree.

An "independent" was someone who worked outside the Hollywood studio system, obviously - except that such established actors as David Carradine and Ralph Waite thought of themselves as independents. An "independent feature" was one made on a low budget, obviously - but there was a large space between the $70,000 budget of "The Haunting of M" and the $700,000 budget of "Heartland". An independent film had a unique personal vision, surely - except that films such as "Gal Young Un" were visualizations of classic short stories, and films such as "Impostors" looked like no reality anyone had ever seen before.

Maybe... someone suggested late in the afternoon during one of the long, rambling informal seminars around the fireplace... maybe an independent film is one that tells a story that the filmmaker believes has to be told, no matter what. No matter whether it's "commercial," no matter whether Hollywood will finance it, no matter whether anyone will ever want to pay to see it, it has to be told.

That was accepted as a provisional definition, during last week's 3rd Annual U.S. Film and Video Festival, which was born in Salt Lake City and moved this year to the ski resort of Park City, not far from Robert Redford's Sundance complex. This was the first film festival devoted solely to independent American features, and everybody here knew what an independent film was not: It was not a multimillion-dollar production, it probably had no major stars in it, it was not intended to flatter the lowest common denominator in its audiences.

Independent features have been around for a long time, but they probably never have been as numerous, as visible and as good as they are right now. They had their birth between the late 1930s and the early 1960s in the avant-garde films of such pioneers as Maya Daren, Kenneth Anger, Shirley Clark ("The Connection"), Jonas Mekas, and the young John Cassavetes who made "Shadows". They have become more common in the last 5 or 10 years for a couple of reasons: idealistically, because film is the language of the new generation, and realistically, because the country is crawling with would-be filmmakers, the universities are turning them out by the hundreds, and there is little opportunity for them to work in overcrowded Hollywood.

Most of the people who graduate from college with degrees in cinema probably never make an independent film. Many of the people who do direct their own features may never have studied film. You don't get to be a filmmaker by earning a degree. You make it happen for yourself, and in Park City, the countless stories of how independent films were financed and made began to add up into a litany of doing the impossible.

I was on the jury for the festival, which meant that during the week I judged eleven recent American independent features, some of them for the second and a few for the third time. I also saw several independent films that were outside of the competition. What I came away with, after the week, was a genuine sense of challenge and exhilaration. I'd just finished plowing through the commercial Hollywood movies of 1980¬ - the dreariest year in recent history for big movies. I'd survived the routine of the year-end "Best 10" lists, with all of their re¬minders of how few good films there had been all year long.

But now, in the darkness of a cozy little three-screen theater in Park City's only shopping center, I was remembering how much fun the movies could be, and how easily they could open me up to new experiences and insights. There hadn't been a week since the Cannes film Festival of... no, not 1980, but 1979... when I'd seen so many interesting movies. Here are some memories:

The first prize in the festival was shared by two features. Richard Pearce's "Heartland" and Victor Nunez's "Gal Young Un". I'd heard of the Nunez film before; it won an award at the 1979 Chicago International Film Festival, but I'd missed seeing it there, and also at Cannes and Toronto in 1980, I finally caught up with it in Utah, and was enchanted. It's a pointed human lesson based on a short story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, about a rich spinster in the Florida of the Prohibition era, who is wooed and won by a sharpster who's after her money and her labor. He immediately sets up an illegal still on her property, puts her to work running it, delivers the moonshine in a snappy roadster and brings about his own downfall by mortally offending the woman's pride. The film is told with a droll sense of humor and a real empathy for the feelings of its heroine, who has a grave and sometimes funny dignity.

"Heartland" is one of the most ambitious independent features ever made. Produced by a group named Wilderness Women Productions in Missoula, Montana, it's the story of a widow and her daughter who leave Kansas City and take the long rail journey West to where the woman will sign on as the cook and housekeeper for a widowed rancher. This sounds like it's a setup for a romantic melodrama, but it's not: "Heartland" is uncompromising in its portrait of frontier life. It is brutally realistic, and when the man and woman finally do get married and form a partnership, it is not a happy ending as much as a pact against nature. And yet the film is filled with a wonderful life, mostly because of the performance of Conchata Ferrell as the woman. (Rip Torn plays the rancher, a man of great silences.)

There were two documentaries among the eleven entries, and they were both given Special Jury Prizes. One was familiar to me: "The War at Home", the documentary about the anti-Vietnam War protest movement in Madison, Wisconsin, which was compiled from the news film archives of Madison TV stations. It has played here commercially at the Sandburg, and I've written about it before.

The other was new: Jon Else's remarkable "The Day Before Trinity", which tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer's project to develop an atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico. One of the reasons this movie was so powerful was that I thought knew the story already. I'd read about it, seen newsreels... It was part of history.

But Else located new footage taken at Los Alamos, and he also located a dozen or so veterans of the bomb project and lis¬tened to their memories. The resulting film is overwhelming, and saddening. We realize that the Bomb, that awful engine of destruction, was created by scientists in a wonderful intellectual summer camp, where all the research was subsidized and there was a heady wartime sense of adventure. Some of the memories are chilling: As scientists bet on how big the first explosion will be, Enrico Fermi takes side bets that Arizona will be vaporized. Through it all comes the story of Oppenheimer, a genius doomed by McCarthyism but also by his own curious loss of mission after Los Alamos.

The festival's second prize went to a film that already is something of a commercial hit in Los Angeles and New York: John Sayles' "The Return of the Secaucus Seven", a funny melodrama about a group of friends who were young political activists in the late 1960s and hold a reunion 10 years after the end of that idealistic decade. The movie's structure is predict¬able, and it's a little confused in the opening scenes, but it does open out into a remarkable story of how we are changed by our times, how we are imprisoned by our memories, and how our destinies are sometimes almost visible in our beginnings.

Those were the prizewinners. There were other films that I also admired, among them Anna Thomas' "The Haunting of M", a superbly atmo¬spheric Scottish ghost story; Ralph Waite's 'On the Nickel", starring Waite (the father on TV's "The Waltons") as a skid row alcoholic and drifter; Mark Rappoport's "Imposters", another witty and mannered exercise in style and social observation by the director of "Scenic Route"; Fred Keller's "Tuck Everlasting", a charming whimsy based on Natalie Babbit's novel about a girl who meets a family that can live forever; Andrew Davis' "Stoney Island", which was shot here in Chicago and tells the story of a white kid who gets involved in a black blues band, and Rick King's "Off the Wall", the most old-fashioned of the films in that it sets itself in the countercul¬ture of six or seven years ago and shows the sometimes comic, sometimes satirical American odyssey of a dropout and outlaw.

There were many other films at Park City shown out of the official competition but reflecting the spirit of independent filmmaking. David Carradine's "Americana" was about a Vietnam vet who tries to repair a merry-go-round on the outskirts of a Kansas town. Diane Orr's "The Plan" was a fascinating documentary about a Mormon mother of five children under the age of 6 and how she tries to cope. Connie Field's "The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter", was a sparkling documentary about women forced into the job market by World War II.

And the list continued with larger-budget Hollywood studio pictures that also qualified, in one way or another, as independent in spirit. My favorite was Jonathan Demme's "Melvin and Howard", which begins with the story of how a gas-station owner named Melvin Dummar allegedly was named in a Howard Hughes will and continues with Dummar's own astonishing private search for the American dream. "Melvin and Howard" is scheduled for a Feb. 13 Chicago opening.

All of these films descended in a cascade at Park City. It was possible to see four good and challenging films in a day, after a year in which many months did not contain that many. It also was possible to reflect that many of these films may never find large audiences, because they exist outside the traditional distribution system, that cozy arrangement between the studios and the big exhibition chains. I imagine that a few of the Park City favorites will play commercially in Chicago: "Secaucus Seven" is a hit in L.A. and probably will surface here in an art house, and "Heartland", correctly handled and promoted, could develop large and ferociously loyal audiences - it's that kind of movie.

Many of the other independent features at Park City and wherever else they're found, will find their audiences not in commercial theaters but in film festivals, on campuses, in revival theaters, in new repertory at places such as the Film Center and Facets, and, eventually, on public television or on cable networks (Home Box Office and CBS Cable were both represented at the festival).

It's too bad that many of them seem closed out of the ordinary patterns of movie distribution, especially when so much genuine garbage is in the theaters. But audiences who seek them out will be rewarded. And maybe moviegoers who don't care about independent films and their makers are like music lovers who don't understand jazz. Remember what Louis Armstrong said about them? "There are somf indee folks that... if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."

There were two film festivals there in 1981. The 3rd Park City Film and Video Festival was held in January. Redford admired the first three, however nascent, took over sponsorship, and renamed it after his ski resort. "I am an independent," he said in his openin speech. At the time he was a superstar, and people scoffed. As events proved, Sundance reinvented the world of indie film, and Redford became the single most influential person in the independant world. If the First Generation was symbolized by Cassavetes, Redford was the poster oboy for the secong.

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My coverage of the first Sundance Film Festival, held in *July* 1981

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July 5th, 1981

The 1st Annual Sundance Festival

By Roger Ebert

Robert Redford's experiment: a struggle for independents

Sundance, Utah--Up here above Provo, in the resort he has carved out of a little mountain meadow, Robert Redford is conducting an experiment that Hollywood regards with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. He has selected 10 low-budget films that are in the middle-to-late stages of preparation and invited their directors to spend the summer at Sundance working on their scripts in the company of established directors, writers and editors.

On the surface, this seems like an admirable and uncomplicated idea, a cinematic summer camp at which you bring home a screenplay instead of a woodcarving and an Indian belt. But the movie industry is not so sure. Rumors float around that Redford is starting his own studio, that his dream is to be a major producer of independent features, that just as Francis Ford Coppola wants his own major Hollywood studio, so does Redford want his own mini-¬studio here on the mountain he is developing.

The truth is apparently somewhere in be¬tween. Redford says he has no desire to produce personally any of the movies that are under construction at Sundance. But he might hope that eventually the Sundance Institute, a non¬profit foundation headquartered here, will be¬come a clearinghouse for independent film¬makers working outside the studio system. There are countless summer writers' workshops nestled away in the wilds of Vermont and Iowa - why not a workshop for filmmakers?

There is one difference: The filmmakers at Sundance did not pay to attend. After their projects were selected from more than 100 entries, they were invited to settle down in residence here at the expense of Redford's institute and several foundation grants. The facilities are spartan. The filmmakers are guests in several condo-cabins squirreled away in the hills above Sundance. Meals are served buffet¬-style in the small lodge building, and movies are scrutinized in a garage that has been converted into a screening room. There are videotape facilities at Sundance, and some of the film¬makers are conducting trial runs of their mate¬rial by taping some of their scenes.

None of the footage shot at Sundance will turn up in the finished films. It's all preparation, rehearsal and deep thought up here, reflecting Redford's personal belief that independent fea¬tures will not make greater inroads at the American box office until they are (hold your breath) of higher quality.

This is probably true. Most independent American films are made on very low budgets (from a rock bottom of $20,000 for "The Whole Shootin' Match", through a middle range, of $75,000 for "Return of the Secaucus Seven", up to a high of $1.2 million for "Heartland"). Most of them lack well-known actors, although very occasionally a famous actor will lend himself to a project. Most of them have limitations on locations, special effects, costumes, period de¬tails and scenery - because film is the most expensive art form except for grand opera.

But most of all, Redford believes, most of them could benefit from more intensive pre¬production work - things like script revision, close analysis of the story, and an occasional pointed question about the worth of it all. Because independent filmmakers are often the only people who believe in their projects (or even care about them), they are sometimes inclined to treat a film as a crusade rather than as a work in progress.

This first summer at Sundance is highly tentative. Redford and his associates say they are uncertain about exactly what they hope for from the experiment. "We started this with no rigid expectations," Redford said over lunch in his small office at Sundance. "They say I'm starting my own studio, I'm challenging the studios... Actually, I have no idea what this will turn out to be. I know that it's getting increasingly hard to get a movie well distributed in this country unless it has the potential to make millions of dollars. I think these projects here have a lot of promise, and I guess the idea is that they'll turn out better if the filmmakers have the opportunity to work on them with some experienced professionals."

Independent filmmakers got a boost here in Utah three years ago with the founding of the U.S. Film and Video Festival, which is held every January in another ski resort, Park City, and specializes in independently produced fea¬tures. Now maybe Sundance will help generate independent films to be shown at Park City.

The problem, however, is not getting a new low-budget movie shown in Park City. The problem is getting it shown anywhere else. Two weeks ago, as part of his summer-long institute, Redford held a weekend conference of most of the major exhibitors and distributors of "specialized" films - a category that includes independent U.S. features, foreign films, "art films," cult films, revivals and almost anything else that isn't a big-budget, first-run standard Hollywood production.

Most of the independent exhibitors and dis¬tributors accepted Redford's invitation, and it was astonishing, seeing them all together in the same place, to realize how few of them there were. The big studios and the big movies dominate play dates on most of the nation's movie screens, and there are only a handful of houses in most cities that will even consider booking a "specialized" film. Some 45 theater owners, bookers and distributors sat in the bright sunlight in the meadow at Sundance and agreed, almost without discussion, that:

-There are only seven or eight cities in North America in which a "specialized film" can get a decent booking and have any chance of a good run. They are New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco and, surprisingly, Seattle, which is the best city in the country to open a movie that's out of the ordinary.

-College campuses used to supply large audi¬ences for foreign, art and underground movies, but these days the kids go for action blockbust¬ers like "The Empire Strikes Back", just like everybody else.

-Big chains are completely uninterested in booking offbeat films. Like supermarkets, they're concerned only with the turnstile. Chains with four- or six-screen multiplex the¬aters don't even consider booking one of the screens with specialized films.

-Unless it's a rare breakthrough like "La Cage Aux Folies", foreign films are up against a wall at the American box office. There are only about 100 theaters in America that will book a serious, subtitled film, even if it's by Ingmar Bergman or Federico Fellini.

-There is still a market for specialized films among local and campus film societies, but the backbone of that market, rental of movies in 16-mm. prints, is being under-minded by the widespread and illegal practice of videotaping movies and then showing them on video cas¬settes instead of renting them again. (Almost every campus in the country rips off films that way, it was agreed; even, though they're break¬ing the law.)

-Exhibitors talked about the "strong want¬-to-see" factor that fuels blockbuster hits like "Superman II", contrasting it with the curious "desire not to see" that handicaps specialized films. The average moviegoer is under 25. Ten or fifteen years ago, young moviegoers were more enthusiastic about offbeat, anti-establishment independent and foreign films. Now they are much more conformist. More sophisticated big-¬city teen-agers who once attended films by Jean-Luc Godard have now regressed to the level of "Friday the 13th, Part II". Today's young filmgoers have a herd instinct and are reluctant to take a chance. In a sense, they "wear" movies like they wear clothes, attend¬ing a movie that their fashion-sense suggests will look good on them.

The outlook, everyone agreed, was gloomy. Various alternatives looked just as, gloomy. Public television stations like New York's WNET have attracted large audiences for prime-time telecasts of quite esoteric indepen¬dent films, but TV exposure, an exhibitor complained, removes the aura of a "special event" that a movie must have for a theatrical booking.

The brightest ray of hope at Sundance came from Seattle, where there are 13 theaters successfully showing specialized films. (By contrast. Chicago has only two first-run houses, the Biograph and the Sandburg, two showcase operations in Facets and the Film Center, occasional specialized bookings at the Three Penny, and several reper¬tory theaters.) Seattle used to be a lousy town to open an art film - everyone agreed - and the secret to its success was creative exhibition. Audiences were lovingly nurtured, leafleted, mailing-listed and cajoled. Lacking effective coming-attractions trailers, some exhibitors sim¬ply got up with a microphone and told their audiences what was coming next week, and what they thought about it.

No firm conclusions were reached at Sun¬dance. Various visionary schemes were suggest¬ed to establish a national support network for independent features - but without a steady supply of good movies in the pipeline, it would have trouble supporting itself. Success stories were recited about the few breakthrough films like "Secaucus Seven", "A Woman Under the Influence", "Penitentiary", "Gal Young Un" and a handful of foreign hits. Everyone agreed that if there were more good films, there would be larger audiences. But statements like that tend¬ed to lead into winsome silences.

Meanwhile, up in the hills in their cabins, Sundance's filmmakers-in-residence were work¬ing on their scripts. They were consulting every day with experienced professionals such as director Sidney Pollack ("They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"), screenwriter Waldo Salt ("Midnight Cowboy"), cinematographer Caleb Des¬chanel ("The Black Stallion") and actress Amy Robinson ("Mean Streets"). Would 10 really fine independent films come from their labors? Maybe. Maybe five. At least it is a noble experimentt ¶

I was there before the Beginning, in January 1981, for the third annual Park City Film and Video Festval. I wrote Sundance before it was Sundance .

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Outguess Ebert? I may have them all right

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This year's Outguess Ebert contest seems a little like shooting fish in a barrel. For the first time in many a year, maybe ever, I think I've guessed every one correctly.A few years ago, I came across an article about the newly identified psychological concept of Elevation. Scientists claim it is as real as love or fear. It describes a state in which we feel unreasonable joy; you know, like when you sit quiet and still and tingles run up and down your back, and you think things can never get any better.

I tried applying it to that year's Oscar nominees. Did it work any better than any other approach? You need Elevating nominees. An example of Elevation would be when the bone morphs into a space station in "2001." Did I feel Elevation in making any of my Guesses this year. That doesn't mean it was a bad year at the movies. Harvey Weinstein, accepting his achievement award from the Producers' Guild, said he thought 2012 was the best in 90 years. Maybe he felt Elevation when he gazed upon the Weinstein Company's box office figures.

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A boy, his dog, and a puddle

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I believe it was the writer W. G. Sebald who said: "Men and animals regard one another across a gulf of mutual incomprehension." No animal seems to comprehend us better than the dog. For that matter, I comprehend them more than any other. Like the Nicolas Cage character in Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant," I have no idea what an iguana is thinking. Does an iguana?

Growing up on the books by Albert Payson Terhune, I developed an early love for dogs. It didn't bother me that one bit me on the cheek at Mrs. Meadrow's Play School. It was my fault. I'd tried to ride her like a horse.

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A boy, a dog, and a puddle

I invite you to view this video. I will have some comments later.

The video was sent to me by my old pal Mike Jones, head of the Illinois State Lottery. It's viral, with more than 5 million hits. It is very short and simple. I view it again.

I believe it was the writer W. G. Sebald who said: "Men and animals regard one another across a gulf of mutual incomprehension." No animal seems to comprehend us better than the dog. For that matter, I comprehend them more than any other. Like the Nicolas Cage character in Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant," I have no idea what an iguana is thinking. Does an iguana?

Growing up on the books by Albert Payson Terhune, I developed an early love for dogs. It didn't bother me that one bit me on the cheek at Mrs. Meadrow's Play School. It was my fault. I'd tried to ride her like a horse.

Now look again at that video.

The dog perhaps weighs more than the boy. At this point it has more life wisdom. It's pretending to be led. The boy considers the puddle, stoops, an and carefully puts down the leash. As they first approach the puddle, the dog lists slightly to starboard, suggesting the puddle be avoided. When the boy puts down the leash, the dog takes a small step forward, suggesting they continue down the lane. The boy makes his decision. The dog turns, observes, accepts, and chooses body language that says, "Don't look at me. I didn't want him to do that.

glances down at the leash, back at the puddle, perhaps guesses what will happen next, and remains in place as if the leash were fastened to the earth. It is completely accepting, and waits with content.

If a raccoon approached the boy, the dog would snap into attack mode, hairs bristing, fangs bared, saliva dripping. It would growl and bark and run at the raccoon. I believe that the dog would be fully prepared to die for that boy. But the dog is no fool. It doesn't go wading in the puddle.

The boy gets the good of the puddle. He picks up the leash again, and boy and dog resume their journey.

John McPhee wrote that the early dogs, godless, observed that Man controlled food, shelter and fire, and cast their lot with these hairless animals. Now they had a god. Observing that men liked to pet them, dogs encouraged them to touch. Most dogs are willingly obedient. They even bite someone on command, but if their owner commands a dog to bite himself, they grow anxious and lose their posture, looking away uneasily. Something is wrong in the fundament of the universe. The god has failed.

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