Category Archives: Classic Crowe

The Insider

The Insider, easily one of the best films of the 1990s, tells the story of a 60 Minutes interview with tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand that blew the lid off the industry’s secret to success – nicotine addiction. This stylish film directed by Michael Mann stars Al Pacino, Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer, and picked up 7 Oscar nods, including Best Picture.

Before Wigand’s court testimony and 60 Minutes interview, most people knew smoking was a tough habit to kick, but after, it was public knowledge that the tobacco industry banked on the addictiveness of nicotine, that indispensable ingredient that made all the difference in determining whether smokers would come back for more, even if they knew that smoking was killing them.

That this was common knowledge more than 20 years ago is kind of appalling, when you consider how passive the FDA has been about the rise of nicotine addiction in minors since the introduction of new “nicotine delivery devices” in the form of vapes.

Vapes aren’t required to be labeled for their nicotine content, and the accuracy of their labeling leaves a lot to be desired – nearly half of sampled flavored vapes that claimed to have 0 mg/L of nicotine actually did contain a small dose of nicotine per puff. Although nicotine addictiveness varies with dosing, the correlation is non-linear (an inverted U-shaped curve), meaning even small doses have the potential to get kids hooked on the drug.

Nicotine is now known to be more addictive than heroin, but is still not regulated by the FDA.

This poem, based on the 49th Psalm, is about a standoff backstage at 60 Minutes over whether the footage from Wigand’s interview should be cut to avoid litigation from the tobacco industry over the violation of Wigand’s confidentiality agreement.

Tell your audience to hear him out in full,
tell them we’ll broadcast his entire statement.
Everyone needs to hear this, piped to their homes,
this story touches the rich and poor alike.
You’ve known me how long? I know what I’m doing,
and this is where I stake my reputation.
When I ask someone to tell the world the truth,
I put my tradecraft and my clout behind him.
Why should I balk at these cowardly warnings,
with the public interest hanging by a thread?
These executives trust in vague corporate worth
and boast of their six-figure salary checks –
but what do they have to show for their careers,
except a soulless ransom for their bare skins?
To redeem such cheaply sold lives at this price,
it’s too much – one comes to an end forever.
Do these lawyers expect to live forever?
Will this well-paid lackey see where she’s headed?
For she sees that the wisest among us die,
no less than the rich fool and the unschooled lout,
and the dead can take none of their wealth with them.
Their graves will be their homes when all is settled,
to moulder there alone for generations,
no matter how much influence they have now.
No man rests in splendor for eternity.
We are born to die, as surely as the flies.
These excuses they offer areshallow lies,
and to make amends after – more empty words.
They are paving the way to irrelevance –
cheap monied interests have shown them the way down –
and those who refuse to back down will not fail.
These corporate tools will fritter away our name,
and make us bed down with the merchants of death.
But I will stake my career on this story,
and on the weight of Wigand’s testimony.
These broadcast executives in fancy suits,
they don’t intimidate an old hand like me.
For when this program goes to air, lives will change,
but those fools will leave no mark on history.
They spend their whole lives on self-serving projects,
and thank me only when I make them richers.
But they will join their ancestors in the grave –
without a thought for their own posterity.
We do not have the luxury to live so.
Our days are numbered – only our work lives on.

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Filed under Acting, Classic Crowe, Directing, Dream Ensemble, Poetry, Roll Credits, The Insider

Freckles 💛 Jack Thompson

Freckles’ first fan reference was admittedly for a sock puppet. And she’s an unabashed fan of the buckets of blood scenes in Gladiator.

But her most immediate and soulful connection with any film we’ve ever watched together was in response to a ‘fourth wall’ monologue given by the Australian film giant Jack Thompson in Russell Crowe’s early film, The Sum of Us

She wasn’t watching the film until he turned to the camera and gave his character’s last lines, but suddenly she stopped and looked and just soaked that speech in, riveted to the screen.

Then she turned and looked at me as if to say, “did you see that?? did he really say that?? where has this actor been all my life??”

I’ve never seen her smile with her eyes like that one time. Just wanted to share.

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Filed under Classic Crowe, The Sum of Us

Latin 101

Latin 101

Homer. The most famous writer in history, with a legacy spanning millennia. The inspiration, perhaps, for Alexander’s conquest of Persia, ushering in the Hellenistic Golden Age of ancient Greece, though his empire scarcely survived him by a day. He is not often imitated, for it is no small thing to write an epic poem. But I thought I would learn to write in quantitative dactylic hexameter. And a few others have experimented with quantitative verse in the English language, from Sidney and his Countess of Pembroke to Tennyson, to name the more well-known. But they studied Virgil, the Latin incarnation of Homer, and learned very little Greek.

In his analysis of English Renaissance experiments with quantitative meter, Derek Attridge shows that the rules of scansion adopted from the Latin were highly artificial, and the notion that quantitative scansion reflected the duration of a syllable when pronounced was academic dogma and not a reflection of how Latin poetry was read aloud in England or in ancient Rome. Latin vernacular poetry was accentual-syllabic, and Attridge questions whether quantitative meters modeled on ancient Greek verse forms were audible to native speakers. Only in the singing of ancient Greek verse can we be sure quantitative meter was audible, because Greek music was notated in pitch signs alone, with the meter of the lyric giving the duration of the notes. Duration was not prominent in the spoken language of ancient Greece either.

The Lily, the lexicon of the English schoolboy, acquainted him with English pronunciation of Latin and the intricacies of scanning this mispronounced Latin in quantitative verse, and so the Lily was the cornerstone of Renaissance thinking on classical meter. It makes you think twice about selling back your textbooks to examine this paradoxical literary legacy. In the Babylonian scribe’s Lily, “the geographical section begins with a list of fields, followed by cities, regions and countries, buildings, mountains, rivers, canals, dikes and stars.” Attridge devotes an entire book to the subject not because of the literary greatness of quantitative verse in the English language, but because for Renaissance writers, quantitative meter was the first true meter they recognized as such, and its examination was to furnish reflection on poetic form that would help them elevate the vernacular verse-form, accentual-syllabic poetry, to high art. The fascination of quantitative meter for poets of the English Renaissance belonged to a humanist tradition that exalted classical antiquity as an inspiration to both art and science, free of the muddling scholastic traditions of monastic Europe’s legacy from the Dark Ages. And because of the Lily’s inaudible rules of scansion, the Renaissance classicist’s training “led him far away from any conception of metre as a rhythmic succession of sounds, akin to the beat of a ballad-monger or the thumping of a drum, into a world pervaded by a sense of subtle intelligence and high civilization, where words are anatomized and charted with a precision and a certainty unknown in the crude vernacular” (Attridge 2008). “It was an intellectual apprehension, not an aural one;” or as Tennyson said of his hendecasyllabics:

“Hard, hard, hard is it, only not to tumble,
So fantastical is the dainty meter [..]
As some rare little rose, a piece of inmost
Horticultural art, or half coquette-like
Maiden, not to be greeted unbenignly” (1863).

This Alexander poem is in a Greek “elegiac” meter, except that the meter is accentual-syllabic, scanned the usual way. It is a meter of alternating lines that allows free substitution between dactyls and spondees (here, trochees, as it is rare to have a “true spondee” in English pronunciation) in most positions. I have some fan poetry in quantitative meter as well, but I’ll share this example first because the accentual rhythm is more audible, and I like the structure of elegiac meter very well, neither sing-song in regularity nor uncharted free verse.

We were opponents as children. On the gymnasium floor I
wrestled with you as your prince. You were the strongest of us.
Pledging that I would defeat you one day, I became your devout friend.
Myths stoked passions we shared, brilliant ambitions we showed.
Maps of the world teased our inklings of destiny, framed by the unknown,
peopled by fabulous tribes, traveled by heroes and gods.
I would discover the Amazons, conquer the Caucasus, capture
jungles whose rains fed the Nile, build Alexandrias there.
Eagles would feed on the armies destroyed in my name and the sun would
set on the kingdoms that stood, ancient and proud, in my way.
I would take you to the ends of the earth to exalt our potential.
We would face giants as one, carve out a way to the East.
You would bring balance and truth to my counsel, a statesman to conquered
cities, a builder of peace. You would remake what I won.
I would not trust my own mother as I trusted you when the time came.
I would abandon my roots, ruling alone but for you.
In the dark hour my father remarried, hearing my mother’s
grim paranoia insist: I must now father a son,
I felt my heart pull away from her urgent agenda, and gently
spoke of your honesty, love, true admiration. Enough!
No Macedonian family guarded my interests, no princess
rallied a tribe to my side – you were the one with my trust.
Neither would I make alliance by marriage in Babylon, not while
Darius lived. I would wait, follow him into the East,
conquer his empire, conquer the next, until India, Persia,
Egypt, Arabia, Rome, Carthage and Europe joined Greece.
You understood. I could turn to you there in the strangest of worlds, speak
openly, question my birth, solemnly let myself go.
Where am I now in a Babylon guarded by whispering generals,
where is my perfect friend? Now I am truly a king.
Night is a gulf we can travel alone but the weight of the water,
pregnant with dreams, pulls us down. I dream of waking to you.

The following example of fan poetry in quantitative Sapphic stanzas is one of my earlier takes on what the rules of duration in English pronunciation might be, closer to the Greek rules than the Lily but still more orthographic than phonological. I give it to show the nature of inaudible meter, invisible to the untrained eye.

Deep in confidence, lowered voices ringing
with certainty we would eclipse the myths the next day,
we exchanged our promises like two lions,
rich in our sworn fates.

Achilles and Patroclus – transcendent friends,
confidants and warriors, aggressive and loyal,
joined from childhood – rivaled us, drove us to rise,
purposes rampant.

Death in marriage sweetened our bond – a last kiss
sealed our friendship. Tears did not supersede true
confidence in strengthened love and accepted
duty in kingship.

You could stand against your own horde in raging
graphic anguish, hateful of luxuriant
wealth, nostalgia, and the modesty soldiers
prefer to greatness,

You could reject their dogged pleas to go home,
face an army desperate and unflinching,
shame them, show your breast, give no quarter, dare their
mutinous daggers

With a passion equaled by no one, peerless,
feared – but I would keep the men fearful, standing
firm, protecting their unloved king from their blows.
I, too, am fearless.

Struck down fighting India’s fabled monsters,
I knew I heard you in my soul, consoling
and alive amidst the red slaughter, breathing
thunder, a hero.

Worlds have remade their images for you, crowns
and gods greet you with solemn omens, oceans
bind your kingdom and the stars know a place where
you will live, timeless,

Part of human destiny. You look upward,
sky gods dare you – take the horizon, chase Zeus!
You give no ground. You are invincible, bold
conqueror, worshipped

Like a daemon – and yet a friend to me, frank,
tender, and true. I will still be your friend long
after you have forgotten glory, lost where
Elysian asphodel shines too yellow
and poplar forests

Keep the eyes moving up, consumed in fierce light.
I will keep your counsel in darkness, before
dawn gives you your storied entrance, a lightning
bolt on a black horse –

I will see you raise a son. I will keep you
bright as pale September comes, burnished
like a helmet wrought in red gold, your youth with
you in your wild heart.

I alone can tease out your embarrassment,
tickle pride in you, set out to torment you
until you smile. We have a private life, two
made as one, perfect.

You alone know me in the East. Love knows no
stranger story. We are apart too, others
stand so near to you, in a circle, watching.
You can still find me.

Here, when we remember all, crowns are pointless.
I am here for you in the quiet before
night dims and dawn softly collects your cities
under her long skirts.

You were just a prince when, at Phillip’s wedding,
you accused the king of disgrace, a drunkard
become helpless and far from conquering great
Persia as he boasts.

I fought for you, shared your abrupt banishment.
We were brothers, joined by the virtues we sought
to prove we cherished in ourselves, our lights and
eyes, spirit and truth.

We were right – we conquered the Persian Empire.
Achilles and Patroclus, or perhaps their
ghosts come back to feel the sun and the wind once
more, to exhale, free.

Use my strength today, my one friend. Tomorrow
I may be beyond the cosmos, gone to you.
You can remind me now of childhood games, dreams,
future conquests, myths

We will be a part of, the captive distance
worked out reliably inside your mind – speak,
I am fading fast but can hear your voice rise
and fall, advancing

Quickly, knowing time draws down with a vengeance.
I would stand beside your unequalled brightness
for all time if I could live long enough – keep
me close when night falls.

Please, let me stand forever by your side where
you can hear my voice as well – don’t let my death
be a parting. We can complete the story,
history, myth, fate.

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Filed under Classic Crowe, Poetry

Christian Bale

One of my favorite Maxims of Marcus Aurelius is, ‘when anything tempts you to be bitter,’ to say not, ‘this is a misfortune’ but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.’ I don’t like to remember my dreams, because I tend to have nightmares. Even if I dream my dogs are with me, it tends to be in a situation where I am uneasy about their safety. You would think it would be easier to avoid negativity in a daydream, but for me it’s a struggle. I keep looking for ways to have daydreams that don’t entail catastrophizing, but without crisis there’s no opportunity for heroics and impressing everyone, so maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe courage and melancholy go together, where if you tend to choose to take a stand against the odds, you often feel like the whole world is against you.

I started to collect Christian Bale movies last year, but stopped. I really admire his acting, but I found they were too dark for my tastes, I didn’t enjoy watching them. I discovered Christian in either Henry V or Empire of the Sun; not sure which I saw first, but Henry V is one of my all time favorites. Heroism might be overdone for the stage as a general rule, but never has it been more valiantly glorified or brutally undermined as a national enterprise. I rediscovered Christian in The New World, where he gives a quiet but soul-searching performance in one of the most sensitive, believable love stories I have ever seen. But of all his performances, the one I had the most interest in capturing in a poem was Rescue Dawn. It brings out a theme in his career, of going to extremes to encounter Fear in its archetypal form. I never finished the poem I wanted to write about this movie, but touched on some of the things that struck me about it in a shorter poem in hendecasyllabics:

To have survived the sleepless death of hunger,
unaccompanied but not alone inside,
to have endured the weakening conviction
that endurance is a thing to celebrate,
to have answered the night with the lowered voice
of someone who knows his words cannot be heard,
to have consoled a ghost so uselessly fear
filled me in the utterance and would not leave,
to have lived as an enemy to people
I could not have violated, concealing
my hunger from help at every turn, knowing
war as I never imagined it, total,
to have returned to grace and the fellowship
that surrounds a man without being noticed,
is to carry that hunger inside, alone,
anxious to remember unsharable things,
and yet be at ease with grim contingency.

The start of the narrative poem is worth sharing, since I don’t have the stamina to finish it. This is also in hendecasyllabics.

The language of captivity came easily,
for I was not at ease and this appeased the men,
the meek eyes on their guns, the supplicant raised hands,
these gestures of submission were instinctive, clear
and seemingly respected – they took me alive.
To come into their village raised my hopes – I smiled
at seated women, children and the elderly,
convinced that here among them I could count upon
the nature of a civilized society
to govern and soften my lot, as a human.
In truth I smiled to see them well and self-absorbed,
exotic and in their own way beautiful, proud.
The neatly woven integrity of their world
and the confident abundance of artifacts
as intricate, trim and colorful as shop goods,
proving their world was made and not hacked from wild things,
impressed me greatly. They scarcely looked up at me,
and those who paid attention kept their composure.
But I was not so gently minded, I was tied
spread-eagled on the ground and left to shit myself
despite my saying, whispering, as though the shame
conveyed by whispering could say, I had to go.
I raised my voice when I had voided, angrily
demanding their attention – but they were watching,
they had listened, their eyes said they had understood.
What had they understood? The comprehension there
was still obscure, their feelings for me were too strange,
for me, none of their intentions were foreshadowed.
I sank back into neutral rapport with a child
twirling a beetle over my head on a string,
my attitude passive, my nerves jangled by noise
from the desperate clockwork of wings, captivated.

When we left the village I confronted my death.
I did not face my execution grimacing
in anticipation. But the spray of gun shots
should have murdered me, the shock of transformation
from a prisoner to a dead man ripped through me
with wounding certainty and stole my body’s voice
to shout into my brain that I had been destroyed
just the same. I was enraged to have survived it,
yelled. The executioner who failed to kill me
so deliberately and with an understanding
stared back with his black glasses, fired by my ear.
The pain was deafening – I watched him shout until
the sound returned and stood still at attention, stunned.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Classic Crowe, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Poetry, Roll Credits

Maxims of Marcus Aurelius

I’m not an aspiring Stoic, but I like some of the aphorisms from the Meditations Marcus Aurelius put down (they were not for publication, but are now in many editions and on Brainy Quote). I associate Stoics with extremism, but I can take a little Stoicism from a pampered Emperor who doesn’t endorse acceptance of misery from experience. They are simply brave words, to be used under moderate hardship and not abused when the status quo is unacceptable.

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

“Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise.”

“Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

“Be content to seem what you really are.”

“Here is the rule to remember in the future, when anything tempts you to be bitter: not, ‘This is a misfortune’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’”

“We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

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Filed under Classic Crowe, Gladiator

“Tilth and vineyard, hive and horse and herd”

Today I took an interest in Virgil.This, I think, makes me a more credible Russell Crowe fan, because the line “Strength and honor” was his idea, but he wanted to deliver it in Latin.

I had credited the Greeks with the more authentic use of quantitative meter, epic meter, but now I question my sources. I read somewhere that the Greek epics had their origins in an oral tradition that involved not memorization of every line but facility with the epic meter and familiarity with the plot, a sort of extemporaneous versifying of legends passed down by goat herds. A phenomenon of that sort had been documented in the Balkans with early voice recording technology before the traditional bar room recitations disappeared altogether. But this semester I’ve been reading Attridge on quantitative meter in the English language, and Hollander on classical musicology in poetry, and I’m beginning to think this lost source was mistaken. The Greek vernacular may have had as little use for quantitative meter as the Latin, and the Homeric meter may have been as much Homer’s contribution as heroic couplets are Dryden’s.

Attridge sees the experiments with quantitative meter in the English Renaissance as orthographic conventions, arguing that no one could hear quantitative meters in the schoolboys’ Latin that inspired the use of quantitative verse, because the lost language was profoundly mispronounced. I don’t know if the pronunciation of Latin had improved by the time quantitative meters were revived by Victorian poets, but again the enterprise was only experimental. Since then Chomsky has improved our understanding of linguistics and I’d like to look at his analysis of duration in English and Latin pronunciation next. What I’m looking for now are correspondences between meaning or part of speech and duration. Some of my favorite lines of dactyllic hexameter in English are full of spondees, and I think something in the structure of the language explains their richness and muscularity.

With that hunch already in mind, I thought the meter might come through in unrhymed verse translations. I liked the first few lines of a Theodore C. Williams translation of The Aeneid in blank verse and started searching for a preface to the translation. Instead I found a charming review on Google books:

“I’m a huge fan of propaganda, but I think I may not be a fan of fan fic. I was going into this with the hope that it would be fun, extreme, Latin propaganda, but The Aeneid is really more Trojan War fan fic, IMO. It’s the Phantom Menace to The Iliad’s Empire Strikes Back. It is seriously lame. I think Akira Kurosawa could have made a pretty decent movie of it because he likes to have people frenzy. ..And there are some seriously weird details to this story. For example, Venus is this guy’s mom, but she doesn’t raise him to know not to pull a George Costanza in running away from the Greeks? Dude. It just takes a second to wait for your wife, you loser. I mean, I’m no great fan of Venus to begin with, but that’s just weird. It seems like she would have taken a minute to say, “Don’t trample people running away from your enemies.” Maybe it never occurred to her he’d be so lame.

And then the business with Dido was just annoying. She’s the queen of all the land, has been through hell, wherein her eeeevil brother killed her seemingly pretty awesome husband, and then when Aeneas says to Dido, “btw, it was great sleeping with you, but I have a lot of heads to chop off for no particular reason, so I should prolly get going,” she goes all Kathy Bates in Misery all of a sudden. Except lamer because she’s wailing and self-mutilating instead of taking it out on him. It’s just awkward to watch. Girl needs a sassy gay friend. And none of these people are as cool as they think they are.

And the rest of the book is basically one long chest pound. I guess there’s the part where he goes to Hades, and lo, he knows folk there. I’m kind of bitter about the whole thing because Juno’s so funny and great in The Iliad and such a loser here. Again, Akira Kurosawa probably could have turned it into a pretty decent movie. I don’t really get the frenzying thing, but Kurosawa seemed to have liked it. And, if you like people to run around, chopping limbs off and then whining and blustering for a while, you might really click with this book. ” – Sparrow’s review

Since my interest in quantitative dactyllic hexameter was for the writing of an Alexander epic in the style of the Iliad, I took this as encouragement. Virgil, it seems, wrote fan fiction too.

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Filed under Classic Crowe, Gladiator, Poetry