I can’t remember the Emperor’s name, but he was regarded as soft, plump, ineffectual, and un-Roman in one telling characteristic: he didn’t like chariot racing. He didn’t try to ban it; that would be folly. He attended the races, but never enjoyed them. Behind his back they called him Pudding. He looked like Charles Laughton. He was Charles Laughton. His principle political adversary was Richard Burton. The poster for the movie just had his face, looking rather befuddled, with pictures of Roman Action surrounding him - races, swordfights, feasting. “PUDDING,” the name of the film, was in a modified Harry Potter script.
I woke, thinking, that was fast. The way it went from Roman chariot races to the emperor to Charles Laughton to the movie poster. Seemed like my brain had cobbled that together in a tumble of connections in half a second before the alarm rang. Where did it come from?
A few days ago I’d read a story about movie actors and unheralded roles, and there was Marlon Brando as Marc Antony; made me think how every era sums up its own particular distillation of masculinity by the way that role is cast. Which made me think of Burton. A day before I’d read a piece about 10 great movies that were never made, and one of them was Laughton’s “I, Claudius,” snippets of which I’ve seen. Before napping the other day I found myself thinking about the Ancient Rome of 60s movies, how it was clean and monumental and bright. All those thoughts were pinging around my head in the background, and the brain made a movie out of the parts. For no reason, except perhaps to expunge them. Dreams flush the cache.
Chris Ware is one of my favorite illustrator-storytellers, but when he can get so sententious when the text starts to opine or philosophize. This is a fine example. Simple idea: life of a penny over 80+ years or so. The penny, eventually, narrates. Unhappiness and loneliness predominate; the artist is the laureate of depression and futility. Then there’s this line:
1. The two ideas are not analogous.
2. Every action in the strip refutes the first idea. The notion that you’re not responsible for your own destiny, for the most part, is a recipe for civilizational stagnation (no point trying; the fates, however you want to define them, have it all written out) and an excuse for personal torpor. No one is suggesting that nations can survive without their neighbors, either; the point is how that relationship is run and how competing interests are managed.
3. The line about the futility of believing in control is preceded by the penny observing this:
Traveling all over the globe, north to south, east to west / Everywhere it’s the same!
Cue lonely woman taking a transatlantic voyage. To Paris. Which is obviously not the same as Pakistan or Ceylon or Kenya, particularly when it comes to belief in individual destiny.
But those are the quotes I see pulled on various websites that praise the piece, as if there’s some virtue to reveling in the illusions of individuality.
The weekly Lum & Abner Organ Mystery: Not a mystery at all. As I've noted, the shows end with the organist vamping off the story with a reference to a tune that may, or may not, be easily recongized. Sometimes he was being sly; sometimes he went for the obvious one. In this case, there was a misunderstanding over a bicycle.
But here’s the SHOCKING STORY THAT MAY SURPRISE YOU, as they say, over and over, on the internet. The name of the song isn’t “A Bicycle Built for Two.” It’s “Daisy Bell.” Possibly apocryphal origin:
When Dacre, an English popular composer, first came to the United States, he brought with him a bicycle, for which he was charged import duty. His friend William Jerome, another songwriter, remarked lightly: "It's lucky you didn't bring a bicycle built for two, otherwise you'd have to pay double duty." Dacre was so taken with the phrase "bicycle built for two" that he soon used it in a song. That song, Daisy Bell, first became successful in a London music hall, in a performance by Katie Lawrence.
The part we know is just part of the song.
Now, the weekly snipping of music cues from "The Couple Next Door," whose creator and writer and actress is out of ICU and headed to rehab: hurrah!
CND Cue #375 Mouse-scurry distraction music ending in the Chord of Domestic Satisfaction. It’s from that suite written by someone who was very keen on Holst; you can hear it in the middle.
CND Cue #376 Worried nervous hurrying around.
CND Cue #377 A new one, used for something officious and mockable.
CND Cue #378
All ending, nothing but ending, almost unable to end itself.
CND Cue #379 Often used to close out the week; little touch of “Three Stooges” in there. You’ll hear Alan Bunce say “I’ll never live this down,” because he had managed to get himself stuck in a suit of armor - a culmination of plot point Peg laid at least two weeks earlier.
CND Cue #380 After weeks of episodes in England, they’re heading to Paris. Cue the canned Can-can cues!
Now and then I play the CBS commercials the network ran in case the local stations didn’t have anything to air, and as I’ve said, I don’t know if this is a combination of a good announcer saddled with horrible copy or a a middling announcer unable to sell middling copy.
Wait for the line that’s either a horrible on-air mistake from which he recovers well, or some really, really bad copy.
Red letter finger.
Updates on the right - Patriotica ads, and a NEW COLUMN at the newspaper. Here. (Scroll down to the Columnists pane; when I did this it hadn't posted yet.) Have a grand weekend!