December 29, 2007

Exiting through the door marked 2007.

The NYT Magazine has its annual "Lives They Lived" issue, with short essays on a wide range of individuals who died in the past year. A blogger gets a farewell essay this year. Steve Gilliard:
Though Gilliard, unlike many bloggers, always used his real name, few readers knew much about him. They didn’t know, for instance, that at age 39 he had open-heart surgery to repair an infected valve. They didn’t know he lived alone in a small apartment in East Harlem. And, although Gilliard often wrote about race and alluded to his own perspective, a lot of readers never realized he was black.... The paradox of Gilliard’s existence is a familiar story on the blogs, where people often adapt avatars that are more like the selves they imagine being. Online, he was vicious and uncompromising. In person, Gilly, as his close friends called him, was reserved and enigmatic.... He lamented that he didn’t know what it was to “wake up naked in a strange bed,” but, he wrote, “at 35, I’ve figured out that this is it, at least for now. Anything I do, any life I make, is going to revolve around words and computers and strange, bright people.” [T]he few dozen mostly white bloggers who came to Harlem for the funeral saw for the first time the stark urban setting of Gilliard’s childhood, while his parents and relatives groped to understand what kind of work he had been doing at that computer and why scores of people had come so far to see him off.
There was Brett Somers, one of "The Match Game" celebrities:
She wasn’t Mae West, 80 trying to act 20, or an embalmed Gabor, but rather, with her Elton John glasses and Toni Tennille hairdo and saucy answers, an average-looking menopausal woman with a healthy regard for sex. In one of the most memorable broadcasts, Somers’s husband, Jack Klugman, was on the panel and seemed to be rushing the host, Gene Rayburn, along, as if to say that he and Somers had something better to do.
There was Mary Crisp:
Crisp testified before a Congressional committee on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1973 without really thinking about it much supporting the E.R.A. had been a Republican Party position for nearly 35 years. (The Democrats had been more split, some worrying that the amendment would wipe out hard-won but ultimately counterproductive laws protecting women from things like working overtime or lifting heavy objects.) But in 1978, Crisp ran head-on into the new insurgent right, which had built its grass-roots strength on issues like opposition to the E.R.A. and abortion. Once it became clear that Reagan was going to be the party nominee, she knew her time was just about up... The Republican Party made Crisp nonexistent at the convention she had helped organize. Her name vanished from the program. She left her Detroit hotel clutching a big pink stuffed elephant inscribed, “Go Mary!” which, alas, she could not fit into the airport taxi.
There was Robert Adler, the guy who invented the object some people hold in their hand more than any other object. Two animals got recognized — a parrot and a chimpanzee — because they almost, maybe, cared about talking to us. And here's a list of the famous people who died in 2007. As usual, it's a diverse group of people thrown together by the happenstance of death occurring around the same time. It excludes those who died too close to the publication date — but Benazir Bhutto made it — and those — it could be you or I — who die in the last few days of the year. We do have 3 days left. The new list starts with January, so, the spiffy look of the list is more important than acknowledging those who slipped into eternity through the closing door of the previous year.
Denny Doherty, 66, Mamas and Papas singer.... Frankie Laine, 93, hit-making crooner.... Anna Nicole Smith, 39, famous for being famous.... Kurt Vonnegut, 84, novelist who caught the imagination of his age..... Don Herbert, 89, "Mr. Wizard" to science buffs.... Tammy Faye Bakker, 65, emotive evangelist.... Michelangelo Antonioni, 94, Italian movie auteur. Ingmar Bergman, 89, master filmmaker.... Luciano Pavarotti, 71, tenor of his generation.... Joey Bishop, 89, last of the Rat Pack.... Norman Mailer, 84, towering writer with matching ego... Evel Knievel, 69, legendary daredevil... Ike Turner, 76, R&B singer and former husband of Tina Turner.
Don't you picture them traveling together into the afterlife? Didn't I see a movie with a diverse group of recently dead persons making the passage? I remember them in black and white, on a small boat, and arguing. Let's check this list:
1. Between Two Worlds (1944)... passengers on a shrouded luxury liner visit with The Examiner, who hears their cases and tickets them for their next destination, depending on who they were and how they died....
Close. It's a boat, but it sounds too large.
2. A Matter Of Life And Death... (1946).... the differences between Brits and Yanks—when the latter arrive in heaven, they stampede straight to the Coke machine....
I'm sure I never saw that, judging from the clip at the link, with David Niven sitting on the escalator to heaven.
3. Black Orpheus (1959)... following the rhythm of Carnival and the belief that the barrier between life and death can be easily, almost playfully circumnavigated, for those with the right attitude and the right paperwork.
This is one of those classics I always felt I should see back in the days when I was fulfilling the obligation of seeing all the classics. But I've never seen it.
4. Defending Your Life (1991)... After dying, mortals go to a big, bland city full of big, bland courtrooms, where their lives are examined to see whether they've conquered fear enough to be ready for the next stage of existence....
This is a pretty good Albert Brooks movie with Meryl Streep that got many viewings chez Althouse in the 1990s. It always irritated me that getting into heaven was an entirely 1990s American idea of self-actualization. "Self-actualization" isn't the right word, though, is it? People stopped saying "self-actualization" more than 15 years ago, I think. It sounds self-indulgent, but nevertheless more challenging than "self-fulfillment," which is what we'd say now. Imagine access to heaven depending on whether you'd fulfilled yourself on earth.
5. Afterlife (1998)... government workers... operate out of a run-down rural facility where the newly dead spend a week among peeling paint and bargain-basement furniture, selecting the memory from life that means the most to them. Then the facility staff recreates those memories on film for the dearly departed, who take nothing but that memory when they move on to whatever comes next.
This is an elegant movie, focusing on what is being left behind and not the arrival in the next world. We see a strange little place of transition.
6. Corpse Bride (2005)... the dead seem to hang out in skeletal or zombie form in a big Burtony goth-tinged paradise full of aggressively animated "inanimate" objects and spontaneous song-and-dance routines.
Not what I'm trying to think of, but it sounds cool.
7. Beetlejuice (1988)... recently dead couple Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis wind up haunting their old house... Davis and Baldwin have to acclimate via a handbook titled Handbook For The Recently Deceased, and because they’re held in place by an apathetic, overworked, hostile bureaucracy full of people whose bodies clearly and comically display the marks of their ugly deaths.
Excellent. I've seen this one many times. But it's not the one I'm trying to remember. Perhaps I'm thinking of an old "Twilight Zone."
8. The Rapture (1991)... Michael Tolkin’s oddball meditation on apocalypticism. After Mimi Rogers, suffering in the desert waiting for the second coming, performs a mercy killing on her daughter, she winds up on a featureless, vaguely otherworldly plain.
I remember Siskel and Ebert raving over this one back then.
9. Carousel (1956)... starts off with Gordon MacRae already dead and reaping his eternal reward, as part of a crew hanging up glittering stars in a space that might represent the sky, but which more resembles the auditorium in a particularly well-funded high school during a “Starlight Express”-themed prom.
That's not it.
10. Flatliners (1990).... the afterlife is a terrific place, full of Elysian fields or giant naked boobs, depending on the proclivities of the people who go there.
Fine-tune your fantasies, people, before it's too late. Make sure it's something you won't find tedious after a billion years.
11. What Dreams May Come (1998)... heaven ... has kindly guides to help newcomers adapt and understand the next phase of their existences, and it even adapts itself to its inhabitants' personal interests and tastes....
This was an early CGI film that was enough to make me never want to see another CGI film. And I only saw the trailer for it.
12. Don't Tempt Me (2001)... Heaven is a deserted, black-and-white version of vintage Paris where everyone speaks French, and a deserving soul like Victoria Abril gets her own private ’30s nightclub where hundreds of illusory patrons hang on every note she sings and beg for more...
In the audience, perhaps, Denny Doherty, Frankie Lane, Ike Turner, and Luciano Pavarotti.


Mike Ballburn said...

Oscar Peterson died Dec 23.

Titushard said...

This is definitely on of your most interesting and thought provoking posts.


Ron said...

You could cue up a bunch of posts such that, God forbid!, you die, you have it in a will that they are to be posted for a certain time after you've moved on...just for the art of it!

KCFleming said...

In Heaven, Everything Is Fine.
In Heaven, Everything Is Fine.
In Heaven, Everything Is Fine.
You've Got Your Good Things,

And I've Got Mine.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Pogo. That's a great example of minimalist lyrics. Perfect.

Anonymous said...

``2. A Matter Of Life And Death... (1946).... the differences between Brits and Yanks—when the latter arrive in heaven, they stampede straight to the Coke machine....''

I'm sure I never saw that, judging from the clip at the link, with David Niven sitting on the escalator to heaven.

Well, you should! It's a delightful, eccentric fantasy created by a pair of gentlemen (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) who are as cultured as they are creative (you *have* see The Red Shoes, haven't you?).

Robert Holmgren said...

Can someone tell me where Mary Crisp is buried? Matt Bai suggests it would be a good thing to piss on her grave.

john said...

I second Mrbuddwing. Ann, you should try to see that David Niven movie. I saw it on TCM a year or two ago, by accident, for which I consider myself very lucky.

The movie has not been advertised since, but you can buy the DVD online:

ricpic said...

Speaking of exiting through the door, the best play on death, make that, play about death, that I've ever seen is Bruce Jay Friedman's Steambath. Almost completely forgotten now, but ranks right up there with Waiting For Godot, albeit funnier. The steambath, is, of course, death's antechamber, and every character taking a schvitz puts off going through the door to death as long as possible. That's the whole play. It's enough.
Steambath can be accessed online.

blake said...

I remember Steambath with it's dorsal nudity of Valerie Perrine. (On TV!)

What about Tales from the Cyrpt and The Vault of Horror? People are trapped inside a crypt and tell the stories of their deaths?

Your dissing of What Dreams May Come sight unseen prompted a blog entry from me.

My favorite afterlife, though, is probably "Afterlife", an obscure computer game which takes the SimCity concept and applies it to Heaven and Hell. In this game, what happens to a person after he dies depends on what he believes, and it's your job to create an afterlife that suits people.

Funny game. A little tedious with the micromanagement, but great voice acting.

Trooper York said...

Movie I love that other people can't stand: Town without Pity, 1961 in which Kirk Douglas as a defense attorney helping a bunch of GI rapists in Germany after WWII. And two of the rapists are the sergeant in Gomer Pyle and a very, very young Robert Blake in his first brush with the law. But the best part of the movie is the searing title song by Gene Pitney. Just put some Bryllcreme in your pompedore, roll up a pack of camels in your t-shirt sleeve and wander into a bar singing that song. Oh yeah baby, that's entertainment.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Blake, I'm going to do a separate post on your post.

As for the video game Afterlife, I bought that for one of my sons. Really liked the idea... even though it was about playing God.

blake said...

I talk about the Afterlife game here. (I wrote it here in the comments but I didn't want to clutter up the space with something that esoteric.)

Instead, here's a counter to Pogo's simple lyrics song:

There'll be lots of drinking in Heaven
Smoking and eating and sex
What you didn't do
In this life bad for you
Will be totally cool in the next

In Heaven there'll be beer for breakfast
At lunch it's tequila and wine
The soup served with dinner
Is made with paint thinner
And the morning hereafter feels fine

Ann Althouse said...

It's hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, could be this much fun.

Oh, heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.

(Talking Heads)

Anonymous said...

I've never understood the whole "Steve G. thing"...

If Rush Limbaugh is a "big, fat idiot", then Steve G. was a 'big, fat idiot' who was too fucking stupid to drop the fork before his fat ass exploded.

How dumb do you have to be to "eat yourself to death" before age 40?

KLDAVIS said...

I don't know what movie you're thinking of, but I think it was parodied in the episode of the Simpsons called "Homer Simpsons in: Kidney Trouble", where Homer joins the "Ship of Lost Souls" a.k.a. the Honeybunch.