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Kipling, Belted and Flayed: GUNGA DIN [1939]

Kipling, Belted and Flayed: GUNGA DIN [1939]

Nov 9, 2015

[Originally published by Mind of LeVine on November 8, 2015.] So I’ll meet ’im later on At the place where ’e is gone— Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.    ’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals Givin’ drink to poor damned souls, An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!          Yes, Din! Din! Din!    You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!       Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,          By the livin’ Gawd that made you,    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din! Thus reads both the closing monologue of the 1939 RKO Pictures adventure film Gunga Din and the final stanza of the 1892 Rudyard Kipling poem from whence it comes. And so stands the extent to which the two works of art have anything in common. (Check out all five stanzas of the original Kipling poem here, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation.) Kipling’s rhyming narrative plays out as the nostalgia of a retired British soldier; as an old man’s yarn of glory days spent “A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen” in “Injia’s sunny clime.” But the glory of which he speaks is not his own. For “[t]he finest man [he] knew/Was [his] regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.” The Bhishti are a Sunni Muslim tribe of Northern India/Pakistan/Nepal whose traditional role in the regional caste system is that of water-bearers. And they were used as such (read: as slaves) by the occupying army of the British Raj (1858-1947). [1] In Kipling’s poem, the water-bearer Gunga Din is shot dead in the brave act of saving his wounded master (the narrator) amidst a great battle. Said master/narrator is then left to live on with the curious feeling of having been his heathen slave’s moral inferior. Not the inferior (or equal) of all the heathen slaves, mind you. Just of the one who saved his ass; a very special man who was clearly an anomaly. It’s all very Noble Savage and Talented Tenth-ish, and thus hard to take as a 21st century liberal. But it’s also spectacular manipulation of the English language. The poetry itself is gorgeous. (And, yes, content and language are mutually exclusive, just as are artist and art.) The George Stevens film, on...

Profane Angel, Boss Bitch: The Madcap Badassery of Tragic Carole Lombard

Profane Angel, Boss Bitch: The Madcap Badassery of Tragic Carole Lombard

Aug 25, 2015

[Originally published by Mind of LeVine on August 10, 2015.] It all began with baseball. In early 1921, film director Allan Dwan was casting A Perfect Crime when he noticed “a cute-looking little tomboy … out there knocking the hell out of the other kids, playing better baseball than they were. And [he] needed someone of her type for [the] picture.” [1]   Her name was Jane Peters. She was 12 years old. And little baller Jane grew up to become 5 feet 2 inches of pure Tinseltown bulldozer. She became “The Hoosier Tornado,” “The Profane Angel” and “Hollywood’s hostess.” She became the screwball screen siren who sharked the studio system, loved paying taxes and died in a great ball of fire: Carole Lombard. Carole Lombard would’ve relished the term “Boss Bitch,” having embodied it well ahead of her time and loved her a damn swear. She gave no fucks long before that was a thing. And she was tough as nails, as evidenced by her superlative handling of a serious car crash in 1925, recounted 13 years later in Life magazine: The impact shattered the windshield and a sliver of glass flew into Carole’s face, slitting it open from the corner of her nose to her cheekbone. … Stitched together by a surgeon who refrained from using an anesthetic less Carole relax her face muscles, the cut left an angry red scar. … For a promising movie actress it looked like a calamity. … Instead of ruining her career, the automobile accident was actually what started it. A director friend one day suggested that she get a job at the Sennett Studio where, since a quorum of the cast was always in bathing attire, facial defects made small difference. Carole Lombard took his advice and landed a job immediately. [2] No anesthetic?! I, too, was in a serious car wreck at age 17. Know how I handled it? I refused to drive for a decade. And I wasn’t even injured! When Life ran the above-quoted “A Loud Cheer for the Screwball Girl” in 1938, Lombard was at the crest of her then-unprecedented financial and artistic power. But she was neither refined nor snobified by...

Musing #45: The Limey Election, as Told by Yanks (and 1.5 Canucks)

Musing #45: The Limey Election, as Told by Yanks (and 1.5 Canucks)

May 30, 2015

UKIP?! Gesundheit!!! (That was both sneeze joke and Nazi allusion.) If you follow this column, you know that its author is an unabashed Anglophile. And you are less than shocked that we’re talkin’ Britannia again. Fair warning: There may be some references below — perhaps, even the one above — that don’t register with most Americans. (#SorryNotSorry #GoogleThatShit) THUS…In case you hadn’t heard, the British Isles have been livin’ quite the newsy 2015! “British Isles” is an admittedly touchy collective term. Don’t hate me Ireland!!! For I love you. And now, an unchronological recap of the big “British Islander” stories since January, Stacy-style: The Royal Stink-Eye acquired a baby sister (whose clothes I shall soon covet…#KinderwhoreForever), and the United Kingdom acquired a “blood princess” — the ghastly term obsessively insisted-upon by the Royal Creep-Fest himself (Prince Andrew), in reference to his own daughters of York. Prince George does not abide. The Royal Creep-Fest — along with Alan “Reversal of Fortune” Dershowitz, of all randos — got named and then stricken from the record in the Palm Beach County, Florida federal shit-show surrounding Jewish-American Über-Creep Jeffrey Epstein and alleged underage “sex slaves.” Not actual Dershowitz. After a decade of indefatigable civil litigation, The Guardian triumphantly published the ominous Prince Charles “black spider” memos to government ministers…and said memos were revealed to be criminally boring. Upon reflection, that makes perfect sense and should have surprised no one. HRH proved himself to be at once highly intelligent and painfully dull. (Duh!) “Cumbie” got repeatedly “batched” by Redmayne at award shows, despite having been in the better film. I watched THE IMITATION GAME [2014] three times in 48 hours, balling my brains out every time! Moreover, I love that Downtown Tom was cast as [SPOILER ALERT!] Next-Generation Downtown Tom. Can men please dress like this again soon?! Speaking of Alan Turing and the LGBTQ community…Ireland did arguably the coolest thing she has ever done. If you don’t get that reference: (1) shame on you; (2) read a damn newspaper and some Oscar Wilde; and (3) go watch THE IMITATION GAME! ERIN GO BRAGH! And, speaking of the people speaking (#YES!)…Following the late-2014 failure of the most recent Scottish...

Musing #44: Growing Up Beside Scientology (#Clearwater)

Musing #44: Growing Up Beside Scientology (#Clearwater)

Apr 24, 2015

Let’s be clear. I’ve naught of any import to add to the ever-escalating public Scientology discussion. I’m not here to chasten the Church. That’s been done, repeatedly and brilliantly. (#TampaBayTimes #LawrenceWright #TonyOrtega) But participating passionately, as I do, in this particular public palaver (from my perch in New York City), I’ve discovered something that is — to this Tampa Bay expat, anyway — peculiar: It turns out that New Yorkers don’t understand Scientology to be the daily reality — dare I say it, normality? — of all those who live, work and play in Clearwater, Florida. Somehow, this fact eluded me until the morning after Alex Gibney’s GOING CLEAR documentary aired on HBO, when it was being discussed at work — despite my having been a Scientolo-fascinated New Yorker-via-TB since 1997. (Not that I’d given the matter any previous thought. And not that Joe Schmo America typically has any reason to contemplate Clearwater.) I must’ve subconsciously assumed it was something people just knew.  Apparently, it is not. I’m now disabused of the notion. And, given my new-found “state of clear” on the point, I’d like to tell y’all a bit about life beside Scientology — tongue firmly in cheek, but “with malice toward none.” Being from Florida in the 21st century is like being an assman’s kid ever. Y’gotta have a sense of humor about that shit. (Procto-pun intended.) And now…a lesson in Floridian socio-geography, Stacy-style. This is the largely-ridiculous State of Florida: You might’ve heard of her daily since the (still-mortifying) Bush/Gore Electoral Debacle of 2000. This is the so-called Tampa Bay area: As in, reportorial domain of the Tampa Bay Times (one of this country’s finest newspapers). Arguably, one might equate Tampa-St. Pete — yes, always “Pete” — with Minneapolis-St. Paul or Dallas-Ft. Worth. It’s a giant megalopolis comprised of two urban-ish county seats engulfed in unequivocal suburbia. Tampa is Hillsborough County; St. Pete is Pinellas. This is Pinellas County: The daily lives of all Pinellans are inextricably entwined, regardless of municipal jurisdictions (of which there are many). Analogy as to how that plays out, for New Yorkers: Pretend — for but one, painful moment — that NYC is Pinellas County, Florida. If Manhattan...

Musing #43: The Prince George Method (A Coping Strategy)

Musing #43: The Prince George Method (A Coping Strategy)

Mar 27, 2015

What you’re about to read, however ridiculous, is 100% true. I am, if nothing else, an escapist. I shamelessly prefer the worlds of cinema, literature, music and history to that of living, breathing humans any day of the week and thrice on Sunday. Not saying that’s a good thing, just saying it’s an actual thing about me. Movies, books, songs and true stories don’t “flake” — a nasty, insidious term that really means “fail to give a flying fuck” — and they don’t hurt feelings. Unrelentingly dependable, they always enjoy your esteemed company. They don’t give a shit what you look like. You needn’t even bathe to hang out with them. And the more of them with which you’re familiar, the larger the pool of human beings to whom you can relate in the hideous realm of real life. When else fails, there’s always STAR WARS to discuss, wheresoever one may roam. Today, we’ll be roaming transatlantically…to the site of EPISODE 7‘s recent film shoot. And by “film,” I do mean “film.” For it was, triumphantly, shot on “old-school” 35mm…complete with Guru Carrie Fisher! I have, for months, intended to share the silliness that follows this verbose introduction. The right time for said silliness is clearly now, given yesterday’s fascinating reburial of King Richard III. That’s right, we’re talkin’ British monarchy! If you’ve read the Musing about my literary gurus (#17), you know that “Princess Leia” is (in her writerly capacity) the lone American among the four invoked. The other three — Charles Dickens, Christopher Hitchens and Dame Agatha Christie — all hail from Britannia. I’m a hardcore, unabashed, lifelong Anglophile. I devote far more time than any non-diplomat American should to pondering the UK, even proudly writing as occasional “NYC Correspondent” for British satire magazine THE INCONSEQUENTIAL.* Moreover, I harbor an until-now-secret dream of one day becoming United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James. I’m dead serious, absurd though the notion may be. Far more absurd, of course, is the entire notion of primogeniture (great word, though it be). This is the point at which I address crotchety Americans who begrudge their countrymen an insatiable interest in the English royal goings-on. Coveting Kate’s clothes isn’t tantamount to sanctioning political primogeniture, assholes! Arguably, it’s far less controversial for us to dig the Windsors than...

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