Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I am that I am

Brad Pitt, apparently mistaken for a paparazzo, was manhandled by a security guard at the Los Angeles premier of David Fincher's new movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which Pitt plays the title role. Jimmy Carter's Secretary of the Treasury, W. Michael Blumenthal, challenged some years ago to show identification to get his credit card accepted in a San Francisco restaurant, pointed to his signature on the dollar bill, while Telly Savalas later brushed off an admiring fan on a New York to Athens flight who turned out to be King Constantine of Greece. Fortunately Constantine, who has a black belt in karate, was more restrained than Pitt's security guard.

Benjamin Button, based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the story of a man who ages backwards, born as a wrinkled man of 70 and growing younger through the years until he departs this life as an infant. Fitzgerald's tale is haunting and poignant; a work on a similar theme is Andrew Sean Greer's best-selling 2004 novel, Confessions of Max Tivoli.

The trailer for Pitt's film, which also stars Cate Blanchett, is set to the equally haunting, poignant Aquarium theme from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens. The theme is sung by Libera, a boys' choir from South London that also performed background music for Terry Gilliam's 1995 film, Twelve Monkeys, in which Pitt also starred. The Aquarium theme was used as background in Terence Malick's uneven 1978 film, Days of Heaven, with Richard Gere and Sam Shepard.

As George Bernard Shaw remarked, "Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children." I'm sure eminent scholar Jacques Barzun, who was already older than I am now, when I was in high school, is surprised to find himself still alive at 100 (101 as of this Sunday), though I'm glad he stayed alive long enough to write his masterful survey of cultural history, From Dawn to Decadence, which he began at 84 and which I have yet to read. Of course Fitzgerald's and Greer's stories are really about the difficulty of matching age with physical and emotional development and discovering a fitting partner of one's affections at any stage of life. (Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour played characters facing a similar dilemma in the 1980 film, Somewhere in Time.) Though there seems to have been nothing between them but friendship, the woman who gladdened the daily life of Louis XIV more than any other was his granddaughter-in-law, Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, 47 years his junior. Dignified but playful, she charmed the elderly King and all his court from the time she arrived there as a girl of 12, and her death at 27 probably hastened Louis' own death 3 years later.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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