Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Sunday

To all our non-USA type friends, you may perhaps be aware that Sunday will be Super Bowl Day over here in the Stytes.

It’s a big day when major teams play American football, wherein some 22 beefy athletes bang away at each other with a ball that is a prolate spheroid, occasionally partially deflated.  :-)

It will be the West versus the East this year, the teams of Seattle against New England.  Fortunes will be wagered on this event.

I post this just to inform you that I have some inside info; I can’t lose!  I was born in Seattle and live in New England.  Go team!

After that, Berowne will quietly return to his usual limited intellectual pursuits.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Berowne's 255

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "C" is for "cinema")
No quiz this week.  Instead, here’s another episode of the ongoing series: Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures.

From time to time I’ve written about my work as a film-maker, an occupation that like many others had its ups and downs – with maybe a tad more of the latter than of the former.

Well, one day I got big news.  A film I had made for Warner Brothers on Scandinavia opened in (muted trumpets are heard in the background) New York’s Radio City Music Hall!

As you probably know the Music Hall is a huge auditorium that’s part of Rockefeller Center in New York City.  Its nickname is the Showplace of the Nation, and for years it edged out the Statue of Liberty as the leading tourist attraction in the city.

Its awesome interior has been declared a city landmark.  What a cinema, 6,200 folks in the audience each time the film ran through the projector, and it ran through the projector four times a day.

I had wanted very much to avoid making a film that looked like the boring “travelogues” of yesteryear where a narrator would drone on about an old cathedral that was built in the eighth century, or perhaps it was the eighteenth - or maybe it was the twenty-eighth – but it wouldn’t matter since the audience had dozed off anyway.

I tried to have at least one sequence of humor in the movie to liven things up so when I was in Stockholm I had looked about for items that might be good for a slight chuckle or two.  For example, I wrote a small bit about how to folks of Swedish persuasion “cigarettes” were “cigaretters.”    

So in the script I’d start off with a few of these bits - nothing depraved, just little chuckle-makers - all leading up to a nice big (hopefully) laugh sequence.

All very well, but then I ran into the same problem that faces all writers who like to think they can write humor: how can one know in advance what will be funny?  With no audience, no one around, all you have is your gut instinct.

And then there I was, seated in the sea of folks at Radio City Music Hall, sort of amazed that I was watching my very own movie there, but wondering, when the film got to the place of the potential Big Laugh what would be the reaction?  Would there be cold silence?  Would anyone actually come up with a guffaw?

Well, I soon found out.

The movie got to the modest start of the humor sequence – the bit based on the word “cigaretters” – and I was astonished by what happened.  The 6,200 souls in the audience didn’t chuckle, they let go with a powerful roar of laughter that nearly knocked me off my perch.

The start was supposed to be just chortle-worthy, a small appetizer not the entrée, but their response was not only loud it went on for some time, completely drowning out the narrator so that the other chuckle items weren’t even heard.

I felt like standing up and shouting “Wait!  That wasn’t it yet!” but that was hardly practical.  That one laugh only gradually subsided and my carefully planned humor sequence proceeded quietly to go down the drain.

Oh well, I got a film into Radio City; I had to be content with that.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

254 Quiz Answer

The Dreyfus Affair began in France in1894 with the treason conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was sentenced for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris.  Though he was innocent, Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil's Island in French Guiana.  Ultimately, activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "B" is for "banish")

This week’s quiz has to do with a famous historical event you should be familiar with.  Name the event.

“The man’s a traitor.  Naturally, you types of the mollycoddle world would just say he was unrefined and would have given him a slap on the wrist.”

“No, I’d agree with you that a traitor should be punished severely.  It’s just that in this case there are some serious doubts that the man is guilty.”

“Get real; stop being frivolous.  For many months this case has been investigated to within an inch of its life.  It has been discussed and debated endlessly throughout the land.”

“Yes, and there’s a growing movement of people everywhere, here and overseas, who are positive that the guy has been railroaded.”

“What you characters have done is turn this into a political football.  You have the finest investigative experts of the Army as well as our entire legal system in agreement.  It’s an open-and-shut case; the man is guilty.”

“When you’ve got the Army investigating itself you’ve got a problem right there.”

“Well, what about the leading legal scholars who agree with that verdict?”

“Legal scholars who never had a chance to examine the evidence because the Army trial consisted of ‘closed sessions’?”

“Look.  We might as well stay amicable.  There’s no point in arguing about this man’s guilt or innocence because it’s of no importance.”

“What!?  You’re going to banish a highly respected army officer away for life, off to a hell-hole thousands of miles from here, and you say the fact that he may be innocent is not important!”

“I knew you wouldn’t understand.  Don’t you see?  This case is no longer about an insignificant captain of artillery.  It’s about subversive political elements that would challenge the integrity not just of our Army but of our very nation.”

“We cannot have integrity without justice.”

“Oh, we’ll have justice, don’t worry about that.  When we have the traitor locked up for life in that hell-hole you mention, that will be justice.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

253 Quiz Answer

They tell us that Marco Polo returned home in 1295, which would make the 13th century the correct answer.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "A" is for "arrival")

Here’s a modest story of a guy who’s just returned from a long trip.  The myth has it that he brought some little explosive packages with him.

“Manny, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you again.”
“And am I glad to see you! You’ve been gone so long I thought you went somewhere and fell in. What took so long?”
“Well, the roads were in awful shape. And of course I stayed there quite a while; I wanted to see everything I could.”
“Meanwhile, back here, like the good agent I am, I’ve been working my tail off for you, lining up interviewers, book publishers – the whole nine yards. Everyone's been awaiting your arrival.”
“Wonderful. I have a lot to tell. Most people seem to have some funny ideas about that country. I can straighten them out.”
“Terrific. What’s the most important thing you learned, the thing you’d emphasize in an interview?”
“Well, most people in our land think of that place as ‘way around on the other side of the world, a backward land of poverty and ignorance where there are many citizens who don’t even speak Italian.  I was surprised to learn that in lots of things they’re genuinely very advanced. They have this ancient culture, yet technically they’re a century or so ahead of us.”
“I see. That’s great. But you know, maybe that’s not the point you should start out with. Our folks don’t usually want to hear that there are other places better than ours. What have you got in that package?”
“Oh, something I brought back with me; I thought everyone would find this of interest.”
“It isn’t – uh – you know, sex toys, or anything like that? The Vatican really comes down hard on that stuff.”
“No, no. These are called firecrackers, a good example of something they invented.”
“I’ll bet they’re delicious.”
“No, you don’t eat them. They believe they fend off evil spirits so they use them at births, deaths and birthdays, as well as during the New Year celebration.”
“Use them? How?”
“Well, you set fire to them and they explode.”
“They – explode, you said?”

“Right. They’ve got what they call gunpowder in them and off they go with a big bang. When you’ve got a lot of them going off, the racket is tremendous.”
“And that’s it? They just make a racket?”
“Yes, but that racket is part of the celebration.”
“H’mm.  You’ve really got me thinking. Suppose we were to put a lot of that stuff, what you call gunpowder, not just in little packages, but in huge packages. I bet you could blow up a building.”
“Well, actually, I was sort of hoping this would be used just for peaceful purposes.”
“Sure, sure. But there’s not much money in just making a racket. Don't let yourself be distracted.  Think of the potential! We should be able to use this gunpowder in rockets, cannons, guns – it will mean a whole new era in warfare. You’ve done a great thing!”
“I guess so. Though I was thinking more of peace…”
So here’s the quiz question: in what century would the above conversation have taken place?
(The answer will be posted Saturday)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

252 Quiz Answer

Rashomon ,is a famous Japanese drama film directed by Akira Kurosawa.  The film is known for a plot device which involves various characters providing alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident.

(Also for Three Word Wedesday and ABC Wednesday: "Z" is for "zany")

 I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a famous motion picture of a few decades ago.  A Japanese movie, it has come to be regarded as one of the masterpieces of film history.   What is its name?

“Sit down, Sarge.  Take a load off.  You deserve a rest.”

“Well, it has been a lot of work.”

“This past month you’ve been working night and day.  But you got him!  Great police work - and more important, you got him to confess.”

“I’ll feel better when they got him locked up for good.  When’s the trial scheduled?”

“Who cares?  The trial will mean nothing.  He admits he committed the murder.  The trial will be just a formality.”

“Captain, you understand – there are other witnesses who want to be heard.”

“Yeah.  A complete waste of time.  We got the guy who did it and he admits he did it, but they’ll be spending hours of trial time listening to some passionate dimwits tell what they saw or think they saw.”

“They might screw up the case – you know, raise doubt and so on.”

“Again, who cares?  We got a confession!  That beats pretty much anything anyone else might say.”

“I hate to admit it, but I’m not quite as sure about this as you are.  It’s a strange case, even kind of zany.”

“Zany?  What kind of talk is that!  Sarge, relax, it’s open and shut, I’m telling you.  Don’t go looking for an electric switch when there isn't any.”

“Have you studied all the aspects of this case?”

“Of course.  You think I don’t do my job?  True, there’s a ton of paperwork but I read through a lot of it.”

“Then you know there are basically three people involved.  The guy we nabbed and two others.”

“But I just told you, I don’t care about those others.  We got the guy who did it.”

“But those two others, each one confesses he did it, the same savage homicide.”


“We’ve got three confessed killers.  Each one tells a very convincing story about how he did the same killing, and each story is different.”

“Incredible.  How could you let this happen?”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.) 



Sunday, December 21, 2014

251 Quiz Answer

Answer: "The Merchant of Venice."  Portia welcomes the prince of Morocco, who has come in an attempt to choose the right casket to marry her. The prince studies the inscriptions on the three caskets and chooses the gold one, which proves to be an incorrect choice.

Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "X" is for "Expert"

(Another little scenelet that I thought might remind you of a famous play.  Which play?)

The Prince:  “They tell me you are the expert on these matters.”

Mr. Holzbein:  “Thank you, sire.  I have been – er – I believe I…  Forgive me if I’m a little nervous; I haven’t worked with royalty before.”

“Let’s put questions of rank aside for the moment.”

“Fine.  How may I be of help?”

“You’ve seen the three receptacles in question?”


“Well, I don’t know what to call them.  They look like jewelry boxes, though larger.”

“Ah, yes.  They call them caskets, sire.”

“Caskets?  Odd use of the term.  It makes you think if you open one you’ll find a small dead animal inside.”

“Ha.  I fervently hope not.  I have examined them carefully, thoughtfully.  You wish to know if they are authentic antiques?”

“No, no.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  I don’t care if they’re antiques or they were made last Thursday.  I want to know what’s in them.”

“I see.”

“It seems I am being subjected to a kind of lottery.  Inside one of these three, er, caskets something is hidden that is very important to me, so I have to select the right one.  What’s inside the other two is of no interest.”

“And they cannot be opened?”

“That’s it.  I thought you might be able to suggest a way of divination – of guessing, in other words – which one I should choose.”

“That is indeed quite a problem.”

“One of them is brilliant, bright and shining and gold in color.  At first glance, it would seem to be the obvious choice, but…”

“Yes, but the obvious choice isn’t always the answer.  By the way, I noticed that one of them was old and kind of dilapidated – dull, worn out.”

“Yes!  Perhaps they’re using some sort of elementary-school psychology to get me to choose that one?  Or maybe to keep me from choosing that one?”

“Sire, it’s obvious that this is very important to you.  I feel I must  confess that I have no expertise in such lotteries so I should bow out.  I would hate to have given incorrect advice.”

“But how am I going to know what to do?”

“Well, there’s this: Berowne publishes the answer each Saturday.” 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Berowne's 250

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "W" is for "Wackier")

No quiz this week; I thought I’d tell you about a strange, misty dream I had recently…

And what happens in the dream?  A ghost shows up.

“But I am not a ghost!”

“Yes, I can see that.  You appear to be definitely alive – corporeal.”

“Wrong.  I made sergeant last year.”

“H’mm.  We seem to be getting a little off-track.  You’re not a ghost, fine.  What exactly are you?”

“I am a muse.  I amuse myself by being a muse.  You get the play on words here?”

“Yes, pretty difficult but I figured it out.  So you’re a muse.  You wouldn’t by any chance be my muse?”

“Not by any chance, no.  This is what I was meant to be.  No chance about it.  What’s bad is that all the other muses get interesting subjects and here I am – with you.”

“H’mm.  And you show up here in my dream for what reason?  To assist me in my creative endeavors?  Isn’t that what you muses do?”

“I can just see you, sitting there at your computer, musing away, wondering as you muse, what do muses do?  Well, I’ll tell you; it’s a pretty dull life, waiting around endlessly to be called.  It’s sort of like living in the Department of Motor Vehicles, in a way.”

“Would you say you’re wackier than the average muse?”

“No, that’s not a word I would employ.  ‘Wittier’ - that would be fairly accurate.” 
“Let’s get around to the reason for your current visit.” 
"Yes.  Today I speak to you as your muse of decades past.”

“The Dickens you say.  Then in some other visit you’ll be my muse of the future?”
“What!?  How did you know that?”

“Actually, it’s a pretty well-known story.”

“I never heard of it.”

“It’s obvious you don’t get out much.  According to the story, you’ll tell me about all the glaringly bad things I did in the past and then later, depressingly, about all the bad things I’ll do in the future.”

“That’s it.  As you see, my job is to encourage you.”

“But it doesn’t seem to be turning out that way.  It would appear that your job is to make sure that I don’t start enjoying life.”

“Well, according to Mother Muse Superior, the leader of our group, enjoying life is bad for creativity.  And if there’s one thing Mother Muse knows, it’s how to keep someone from enjoying life.  I speak from personal experience.”

“Well, you tell Mother Mouse – er – Muse that your visit was successful and you did a great job of encouraging me.  I am now approaching despondency.”

“Wonderful.  I’ll use that in my resume’.” 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

249 Quiz Answer

“Carmen” is the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the wiles of a fiery Gypsy.  It was originally a story by Prosper Merimee and later made into an opera by Georges Bizet.

Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "V" is for "Valiant"

(I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known story.  Which story?)

“I can’t believe this.  Lieutenant Diaz is leaving the service?”

“Yes, Colonel.  He won’t be talked out of it.”

“Incredible.  He has a chance for a distinguished army career.  I know his family; can’t imagine what they’ll make of this.  What's the reason?  Has he become a drunk?"

“No, and he won’t tell me his reason.”

“Well, if the papers haven’t gone in yet there’s still time for you to talk him out of it.”

“As you can imagine, sir, I’ve tried.”

“Try harder.  He’s one of the best young officers we’ve got.  You can't be lethargic about this.  Sit him down and hit him hard with the whole story of patriotism, history, honor, service and all that.”

“Maybe you can talk with him, sir.  You’ve got the voice of authority.”

“No, it’s not appropriate for a colonel to plead with a lieutenant to stay in the army.  You’ve got to do it.”

“I’m not sure what it might take to convince him.”  


“Why, pour it on!  When you, Lieutenant Diaz, wear the uniform and salute our flag, you stand for centuries of tradition; you must always remember the glory days of the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Army of Spain was the most powerful and prestigious in Europe!  It is your chance now to be heroic, to be valiant!"

“Yes, that’s good, but…”

“But what?”

“Well, Colonel, truth is – it all seems to be because of a woman.”

“Ah.  Cherchez la femme, busque a la mujer, to be blunt about it.  I’ve seen this before.  Poor Diaz has fallen for a ritzy, high-society senorita who won’t have anything to do with him because he’s a lowly lieutenant.”

“That’s not quite it, sir.  The girl in question isn’t exactly high society.  In fact, she’s a gypsy, a dancer.”

“A gypsy!  He’s going to leave a splendid military career for a – a gypsy!  That’s incredible.”

“It is indeed, sir.  But as I mentioned, he won’t be talked out of it.”


(The answer will be posted Saturday.)
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