Mar 25, 2010

You don't notice it really. You're just living along. It's in the background, like crickets. But once in a while you hear that brownish color of angst, with the red arm band. Whenever I hear that, I go right back up to Lowe's 86th Street, off Lex, to one Saturday afternoon in 1960. I was 12. "Mein Kamph" was playing. That was my introduction, my overture. My mother had mixed feeling about whether I should see it. 'Alright,' she said finally, 'but it's going to be very sad. You have to expect that'.

Years later she told me a Jewish lover had persuaded her to let me see it. In fact, that I should see it. No matter my age. He'd been in the war. He'd seen the camps first hand. He'd known people who had perished.

So off I went, up in the reekin' rocket to 86th Street and boyo paradiso. Maybe Nicky was there that day, after his Saturday morning lesson with Arlie Furman.

Miss. Furman was our violin teacher and an interesting character then in Manhattan music circles. She played Town Hall in 1964, although she had to halt the performance briefly due to dizziness. The truth is, her nerves were shot because she could barely survive the screech of middle earth students. She could inhale half a cigarette in one drag; it was the only way to bear such a racket and incompetence. She spoke in a deep-G voice, coughed like a consumptive, had a horrific temper, but equal humor, and could decimate a child with a wave of her head. She was one of those violinists whose head became disembodied when she played, rolling and snapping and marching along. In the 30s, she met Fritz Kreisler in Berlin, and if I'm not mistaken studied with him briefly. She had a photo of the two of them on her piano. She could tell stories of the 1930s in Europe.

Or perhaps that day we'd just come from one of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's concerts and afterwards a snack in the Russian Tea Room. Was it Peter and the Wolf, perhaps? It was around that time. Which is to say that my sense of evil was completely abstract, expressed and only made real by the sound of those ominous French horns announcing the wolf's slinking arrival.

Or maybe that day we'd been playing football at the bottom of dog hill on 79th Street and 5th, next to the Met. And maybe it was the day Henry got me down and let drool bubble on his lips and threatened to drool in my face if I didn't say, "I am a mother fucker". "It's just words," he said when he let me up. "Don't you see that. It's just words." Henry was the wise man and the wise ass in our group.

Whatever the particular segue the best of any weekend was going to 86th Street, our Mississippi River full of Indian Joes. Eighty-sixth was not as naughty, or decadent, as 42nd, but sometimes it seemed like it. The Lowes was dark and plush, thick with the scent of popcorn floating in butter, the sound of fizz and in 1959 the particular eroticism of Curse of the Undead, about a vampire gunslinger and the beautiful brunette who became his victim and then accomplice.

Even counting "Mondo Cane", which opened a couple of years later and didn't have nearly the perversion we hoped for, Mein Kamph was much different. That we immediately set aside. I did. It was a window by itself, with a view that was instantly authentic and hypnotic. And after all, the war had ended just 15 years earlier. Plus the black and white film, itself, the storm gray tone running through every scene. The music. And the rhythmic yelling of Hitler himself. I drowned in it. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. Even at that age the evil was so apparent, so obvious. I never forgot those scenes of the brown shirts, in their hunting lodges, their sentimentality towards dogs and children, and then killing each other, and finally killing Jews.

And then you saw the bundles of hair and jewelery and the showers where they gassed the people and how people climbed over each to get to the top of the room for the very last wisp of air, and the bulldozers pushing bodies around, all entwined, arms and legs moving like people half asleep. As powerful as Night was, or Diary of Anne Frank, or Sophie's Choice. Or "Schindler's List", for that matter. Or any number of other descriptions, it was that one film that forever imprinted the lure and horror of the Third Reich.

Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote at the time, "No wonder this film, with its reminders of the way in which the German people fell for the bombastic build-up of Hitler and his Brown Shirt party in the dark depression years, with its pictures of wartime excesses and unbelievable persecution of the Jews, snapped open the eyes of contemporary Germans and left them glassy and aghast when it was shown to them last year."

These days those scenes have much less currency. They've become neutered by imitation and repetition. And all the while the real memorists are receding. Other than those akin to Elie Wiesel how many people are left who were there, who could tell you first hand. And the context is gone. There's no proper translation. Unless you can hear through it....


Sean Hannity's dog died this morning. It was a terrible thing he told a caller. At 6 a.m. Sean found the dog bleeding from the mouth. It was the end of a long illness. He realized he would have to put the dog down but maybe it could wait until the weekend or even next week. "Then I realized," he said. "I couldn't be that selfish." The caller was sympathetic. You don't realize how much you'll miss them until they're gone, she said. She had a Brooklyn accent. Sean said he'd been getting calls all day, people saying how sorry they were. The kindness of people in a real crisis is unbelievable isn't it? Of course one of those calls was from Mark Levin who has written a couple of books about dogs and will weep on a dime, even with that distinctive yellow venom running out the side of his mouth. Sean can turn on his own dime and when he finished with the caller from Brooklyn he went right back to his script — he always reminds me of one of leaders of the mob in the Oxbow Incident. And always the subtext is, "we gotta band together and get rid of this nigger."

1 comment:

michael cook said...

Arlie studied with George Enesco, I know that much. Great description of her.
Here is Enesco playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, one of greatest pieces of music I know.