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Irving Genre, According to Garp
I’ve tried to watch The World According to Garp for several days now, I’m going to finish the DVD today or give up and just mail the damn thing back. Meantime I’ve been scribbling about it: my scrapbook, as follows, is a mess, like Francis Bacon’s studio: if only something really good would come out of it. But right now I have to gad after another perception: Irving needs his own genre: it’s not romance, it’s not fantasy, it’s not porn; it’s Irving. That is, don’t be misled by the excellence of the cast: it’s clear from the first scene that you can’t trust the author: he tries to set up the audience, then hopes you’ll sit still while he hits below the belt.
It’s hard, ’cause I really love his Cider House Rules, both novel and movie.
A word about genre: if you walk into the room and the TV shows Darth Vader, maybe with a light sword, or John Wayne with a six shooter, or Johnny Depp as a pirate …
… You instantly know, this is science fantasy, this is a western … This is not a romance, this is not that Caribbean franchise … this is not realism. The signals are clear, you can suck up, or scoff and leave the room. You do not think this is Eugene O’Neill, this is a Salem witch trial, this is the Plymouth communnity just off the Mayflower.
Take the opening of Garp. A baby is tossed happily in the air. Glenn Close catches the baby, ascends to a New England coastline house, big enough to shoot Downton Abbey in. Glenn Close, wow, can’t take your eyes off of her. Who’s in the great seaside house? Good God, couldn’t be better, it’s Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Big as life, twice as great. It’s Garp she’s tossing. Tandy and Cronyn are her parents. There’s some dialogue about Garp’s origins: Close, that is, Jenny Fields, has raped a priapic brain damaged WWII gunner: she wanted a baby, he had the sperm, and the erection: she climbed aboard, here’s the baby.
See? She’s meeting her parents for the first time, she shares nothing in common with them, certainly not morality, not culture, they never taught her their taboos. Amazing.
They faint dead away, but she’s learned nothing, continues to kick the culture in the crotch.
Jenny still tells this story through out, in one preposterous scene after another. Hey, guys, I’m a Communist, an independent, an atheist; I don’t fit in; but you won’t tar and feather me, because this is liberal New England.
What I should have thought was, Look out, it’s John Irving, it’s a trick, don’t believe any part of it. The screen looks like realistic drama, but it ain’t; it’s Beckett, Genet, Ionesco … Women will cut their tongues out, and their instigator will say they can do what they want. It won’t look like Moscow, but it certainly won’t look like Newport or Boston either.
Oi, I’m at the point where Roberta drives up to Jenny’s institution in his MG TC, Garp’s in a head bandange so he has to write notes, like the self-mutilated feminist perverts, his wife is in a neck brace, she was blowing her boyfriend when her husband rear-ended them, biting the cock off, I presume, and I burst out laughing. It’s so absurd, I was thinking of the scene in Guillaume Apollinaire’s Debauched Hospidar where the Polish nurse fucks the open wounds of the dying Russian soldiers. Now that’s a great work of art where the genre is clear from the first sentence.
I scribbled this in my movie scrapbook: now, ready to reconcile with it, finish watching the DVD, started several days ago but not yet scaled, I move this to its own post, to resynthesize, almost from scratch.
Perhaps the movie’s basic failing is that it did not inspire me to walk out on it.
2015 12 02 It seemed everyone was reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp around 1978: everyone but me. I tried it, and was instantly ticked off, turned off, distanced. Fortunately for me and my subsequent admiring relationship to the author, I forgot all about it: so by the time 1985 rolled around and Cider House Rules was published my hackles had smoothed. I love the novel, I love the movie: therefore, no matter what earlier offenses he committed, he was a good one, for ever and ever.
Garp the movie came out. I liked Robin Williams but had no trouble avoiding a viewing of the film. Till now. Now I’m paused a minute or two into it, interrupting my viewing to share a perception: Pauline Kael (not my favorite film writer) mentioned the book’s self-congratulation. Yes, Pauline, despite you’re being a moron, that’s exactly right. It’s self-congratulatory.
The perception embarrasses me. My own writing is self-congratulatory in the extreme, has been since the mid-nineties. But you should agree that that’s understandable in my case, my work, my writing, my offerings having been without fail sabotaged since the 1940s. I have a right to be pissed, it’s not only understandable but inevitable that I’m pissed, and decorate myself despite the glaring absence of readers.
2915 12 93 I must say: I didn’t last long in yesterday’s attempt at viewing Garp: I bailed, and wrote the above. Today I’m glad to say I tried again. This time I was braced for what was coming, my objections were objected, and I loved it. Glenn Close especially. Maybe I should like Irving after all; not just worship him for Cider House.
Maybe I’m not altogether reconciled to enjoying this movie. It’s starring Robin Williams, stellar comedian, good actor, but: there are things wrong, things missing. Garp shows us the character as an infant, as a boy. Now the film shows someone running on an athletic field track, a male, his legs concealed in sweats. Uh oh. Sure enough it’s Robin. How come in decades we have never seen his legs? In clothes, as Mork, his body is weird: I don’t think we want to see his legs.
As my sight and hearing play tag and catch-up with my aging my habit of watching (and talking about) movies bewilders me. It used to be I’d start a book, maybe finish it; movies, once begun I watched to the end, unless I bailed out immediately. Books were often a chore, movies almost never. Now I struggle with both, am comfortable with neither. Stephen Hunter has been a favorite artist / novelist of mine now for two and a half decades: wading through I, Ripper just ruined an exhausting week. Gag.
Shakespeare portrays a rape followed by the cutting of the victim’s tongue so she can’t testify against the rapists: that’s Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, regarded as Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, and bloodiest. In Garp some girl is raped and they cut her tongue out. I can see how Titus’s ancient world populace could be stumped by such a ploy, but Irving’s audience? You?! or me!!? Even if they cut her hands off too, even were she too traumatized to figure out a way to testify, are we to believe that the society itself would join her in her stupidity? If Stephen Hawking can talk through machines, so could Irving’s Ellen James.
MG Minis, TC
I tentatively identified the sportscar that John Lithgow’s Roberta drives in Garp as an MG TC. I can tell Bird or Billie from a mile away, but when it comes to cars, beyond knowing that a VW bug isn’t a limousine, I don’t know much: except for the MG series, the TC in particular. My sister’s husband, Don, had an MG TF which I could ID from a “mile” or more, but that’s not how I come to make this claim. My undergraduate business predecessor, Brian Ardizone, not only heading the Refreshment Agency ahead of me, but also owned the magazine subscription concession, started a sandwich take-out shop in the dorms, had a worm farm, sold grasshoppers mailorder: and collected, refurbished, and sold MG TCs from his apartment on Morningside Height’s, West 112th Street. Things to check: make sure the headlamps are attached to the funder, not streamlined in; make sure the trunk is the old-old fashioned kind … Now: the leather belt over the hood? That I’m not sure of, maybe Roberta’s MG is ever older yet.
Ardizone’s sandwich shop was a riot: in 1957 guys in Livingston Hall would trek across Broadway at midnight to order a hero at TakeHome, Broadway and 115th: affectionately called the Robber Baron. Brian launched StayHome: instant business boom. But Columbia shut him down almost instantly: called the health gestapo.
Ardizone was supposed to be pre-med, but of course he never studied: couldn’t, too busy. By his junior year, Brian was not just paying his own tuition, but was supporting his family as well: Jews in Brooklyn.
Ardizone should have been the richest man in America by his senior year except that his ambition was matched by his lack of scruples. People paid for magazines they never received. Before too long a certain entrepreneur was in jail.
Nevertheless I’ll never forget how the Ardizone transformed West 112th Street with his MG inventory: MGs on the sidewalk, triple parked … Three times a week when the street sweeper trucks came it was a nightmare.
pk the Ardizone’s Slave
That’s only a slight exaggeration: but: freshman year I proved myself to the sophomore bosses directly in control: the Ardizone and John. So my sophomore year, as a sophomore manager for the Refreshment Agency, I was the one called to do all the extra work. We even colonized the basketball games, selling cold Cokes. Personelle? Three of us: the Ardizone, John, and Paul. I was the backbone employee.
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