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 entrĂ©e, 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.) 


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