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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Gibson's Miracle

Visiting Hotel Spencer, Paris, requires certain duties of the guests, especially if they hail from either Australia or the US. If from Down Under, their bill is paid in the form of wine courier services. I have a lot of wine. That's a good thing. It's all in Australia, a 23-hour flight from here. That's a bad thing. So, while bringing wine to France might be a bit of coals-to-Newcastle, that's the price Aussie visitors pay.

If visiting from the US, folks can anticipate stashing a different form of payment in their carry-on. It's less consistent, but it usually arrives, pre-flight, in a box from Amazon. Our current crop of Yank visitors received several such parcels, Amazon-aplenty, and then made of themselves a couple mighty fine packhorses.

One of their deliveries got slipped into the DVD player last night. When the Flame-Haired Angel heard that Anne Bancroft had died, she mourned in the modern way. She zoomed her browser over to Amazon and ordered a film. Having not seen Bancroft's Oscar-winning turn in The Miracle Worker, she made sure that's what ended up in our friends' luggage. I didn't even know she'd ordered it, but was delighted. Not that I have any real history with the film, but it's the only thing by one of my favorite writers that has persisted even a little in the fickle, ephemeral memory of pop culture.

The writer is William Gibson. No, not that William Gibson, but the playwright and screenwriter who enjoyed fame in the 50s and 60s. So much fame, in fact, that he would feature in the trailers/previews for the movies he wrote. His brand was that good. Today, his is almost entirely forgotten. When he is remembered at all, it's usually for The Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller's teacher. He wrote the original for the stage, then polished his own diamond for the screenplay.

Sure, I read the play in high school, like everyone else. I think that's when I saw the film, too, but it didn't really stick with me. The play wouldn't have, either, except for my sense of personal ownership where Gibson's concerned. Not that the play has anything to do with it. I cleave to Gibson because he wrote one of the most toweringly beautiful works of prose of the 20th century. Perhaps in history. Sadly, that book, A Mass For The Dead, is now even more forgotten than the rest of his career. It makes its home only in used book stores.

So, while it's stretching it to call my association with The Miracle Worker even tangential, I was still keenly anticipating being reintroduced. I barely remembered having seen the film, so it would all be new. It is Gibson, so I would be able to listen to him speaking through Anne Bancroft and, of all people, Patty Duke, who plays Helen Keller.

I was expecting the film to be a competent but staid, old dialog-driven set-piece: essentially the kind of charming but static vintage film that Flame-Haired Angel loves. (So, I enjoy watching them with her.) Yet, while it had all of the conventions you'd expect from a 1962 film adapted from the stage, it's really quite a butt-kicker. Bancroft is fantastic, but it's Duke who leaves your jaw needing a broom and dustpan. I mean, WTF? Patty Duke???

There are a couple of scenes that are just terrifying to watch because they're so powerfully done. The psychological struggle -- which often turned physical -- between student and teacher is just so violent. Only the Southern patriarch, Helen's father, chafes with a bit of caricature to impede the verisimilitude of the picture, but I even enjoyed him for comic relief.

One fascinating thing is how early in the narrative of Keller's life the film concludes. It's pretty clear that the audience is expected to know the rest of her remarkable story. I couldn't help but think how many contemporary viewers would, by contrast, be left wondering what happened next. Too bad, that.

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