Mumford and the art of listening

Below I refer to John Sayles but maybe the movie Mumford is more like Lasse Hallstrom amused and charmed by a Norman Rockwell America. Whatever it is, and despite a few anachronisms, I still find this movie appealing. It has so many actors in it I’ve always liked. Part of its appeal may be that we don’t often see ensemble pieces like this anymore.

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The combustible Ava Gardner – review

Ava Gardner: ‘Love is Nothing’ (2006)
by Lee Server

Book cover for Ava Gardner: "Love is Nothing"I recently finished reading Ava Gardner: “Love Is Nothing” by Lee Server and it’s nothing if not entertaining. Somewhere, he makes mention of her living life “like a rocket.”

It’s an apt description but I think I’d say she lived like she drove cars – fast, carefree and just a little bit out of control (and with more than a few crashes).

It really is an extraordinary life and, if the end has a bit of sadness to it, it should be seen in context. Her highs were very high and the lows – well, very low. It strikes me as a life characterized by extremes.

I found the biography very good and, as one reviewer mentioned (I can’t remember who it was), while Server details the good and the bad he does appear to have an affection for his subject. But then, really, who didn’t? One thing the biography makes fairly clear is how easily most people found Ava to like, even to love.

And yes, the book covers all the marriages and the affairs and, good grief, there were a helluva a lot of them.

As for her film work, one thing that comes across (for me, at least) is how much we missed of some fine acting – for several reasons. In part, a studio that seemed incapable or indifferent to placing her in good roles, and also Ava’s own insecurities and capriciousness. She was better than she knew, better than the studio allowed her to be and so she probably never achieved what she might have on film.

We do, however, have Ava Gardner in some gems, like The Killers and (my favourite) The Night of the Iguana. (Server often mentions the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and, while Gardner is quite fine in the film, as is James Mason, the movie as a movie is a bit of a turkey.)

If I have any objection to the biography I think it is that an explanation for the kind of personality Ava Gardner had may be absent, though I’m not sure anyone could actually explain what went into making Ava Gardner. This is not to say the book omits anything or is remiss in anyway. But she seems to have experienced major swings in mood (many, I would imagine, caused by alcohol – she was, I think, an alcoholic, taking it in like water). She was also plagued by insecurities.

And really, what explains that relationship with Sinatra? Alcohol and combustible personalities … It’s an explanation but I’m not sure that fully accounts for it.

Whatever the reasons, Ava Gardner’s life is utterly fascinating. And perhaps more than just the endless incidents and relationships, it may be its inexplicable quality that makes it most compelling.

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My Wicked, Wicked Ways – review

The Autobiography of Errol Flynn (1959)
by Errol Flynn

I just finished reading, and thoroughly enjoyed, My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn, originally published somewhere around 1959, available now through Cooper Square Press (part of Taylor Trade Publishing group).

Heavens, what a helluva good read. Is anything he says true? Well, maybe. Probably, at least some of it. But that’s not really the point, not for me.

It reads as if it’s the transcript of a recording of a great raconteur, a teller of tall-tales whose favourite tale is his own life. You get the sense of a man who is totally self-absorbed but, somehow, has such a winning personality you love him for it.

I originally picked up the book because I was interested in finding a unique character I might make use of in a story, a model for a supporting player. I had a vague notion that Errol Flynn might have some of the qualities I was looking for.

Well, geez … did I ever get my money’s worth in Flynn. It’s not simply a matter of a long, episodic tale of the picaresque variety, but also one of style. The words, syntax … everything that goes into creating a “voice” in writing, is here.

It’s the breezy voice of a kid who never grew up. In its conclusion, it’s also the voice of a kid who doesn’t quite understand how or why his life has gone the way it has.

For me, the incidents are less important than the personality that comes across (although the incidents are quite remarkable). Together, personality and incidents, it makes for an incredibly entertaining book.

The breezy tone of the adventures carries through for roughly the first two thirds of the book. The fantastic, tall-tale quality is richest as Flynn recounts his early life and his various adventures as he travelled the world, especially Tasmania, Australia and the south seas.

His accounts of his Hollywood life are equally entertaining while also being salacious and gossipy. The raconteur quality comes forth through what the book relates and how Flynn relates it.

Although the book overall is chronological, he bounces back and forth in time. This almost mimicks on the page the way someone tells a story orally as one thought prompts another.

Sometimes the jumps in time and subject are almost non-sequiters. Yet it never seems excessive or sloppy, simply stylisticly casual.

As the book winds down you get the sense Flynn is winding down. It’s almost as if he becomes disinterested. There’s a melancholy quality to the book as he becomes increasingly reflective.

While Flynn’s most winning quality seems to be a boyish charm, as the book progresses the negative side of that charm is immaturity. It’s this that seems to catch up to Flynn in the end.

Finally, the man at the end of the book comes across as one who is close to but not yet quite grasping the meaning of his life (pompous as that may sound). Or, to put it another way, time seems to catch up to Flynn. Age. The image we end up with is of a somewhat faded Hollywood star, alone at his beautiful Jamaican home, not entirely sure what remains of his life or what to do with what remains.

As the Wikipedia entry on Errol Flynn says, “By the mid 1950s, Flynn was something of a self-parody: heavy alcohol abuse left him noticeably bloated in his last years.” He died of heart failure in Vancouver a short time before this book came out.

Knowing something of the final years of Flynn’s life amplifies the melancholy of the book’s conclusion for the reader and makes its final line resonate in a sad way.

However, while this may be how it winds down it is certainly not the tone of the majority of the book. It is flush with a sense of fun and adventure and humour.

Flynn is a character, in the truest sense. He’s marvellous and if I had known him, I don’t think I would have trusted him any further than I could throw him.

(By the way, it sounds as if the writing of My Wicked, Wicked Ways was a great story too, or so the book’s introduction suggests. As another aside, Flynn originally wanted to call the book, In Like Me, as a play on the popular phrase, “In like Flynn,” a line that came about due to one of the episodes in his life.)

Originally posted in 2005 (or earlier).

My Wicked, Wicked Ways: