Saturday, May 28, 2011


The coffin chase, from Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities

It has been my long-cherished desire to write something of beauty.  Something that held such volume in its space that it would be impossible to duplicate with any other combination of words.  Even beyond words, a beautiful story or even phrase that would set the heart free, or bind it in chains to the emotion that was inside.  This is my long cherished desire.

In the movie Broadcast News, we meet Aaron Altman in the first five minutes.  He is a 14-year-old valedictorian (and classroom know-it-all) from South Boston making his graduation speech while condescending all who are listening.  Afterward, he is seen being beaten by a group of jocks who take turns knocking him to the ground.  This is what follows on paper (the screenplay):
               Go ahead, Stephen -- take your
               last licks.

                  (points at his face)

               But this will heal -- what I'm
               going to say to you will scar you
               forever.  Ready?  Here it is.

        [He dodges as they come after him.  
        They catch him by the hair
        and hurl him to the ground.  
        As he gets up he hurls his
        devastating verbal blow]

               You'll never make more than
               nineteen thousand dollars a year.
               Ha ha ha.

       [They twist his arm and grip him,
        his face scraped on the concrete]

               Okay, take this:  You'll never
               leave South Boston and I'm going
               to see the whole damn world.  You'll
               never know the pleasure of writing
               a graceful sentence or having an
               original thought.  Think about it.

To this day, the Aaron Altman curse catapults me to the first time I saw the movie, nearly tearful in the opening scene, touched by the way the three main characters are introduced to us as children.  Written by James L. Brooks, it is a movie screenplay that is a thing of beauty...a quotable, fast mind-bending exercise in relationships that are woven in and out of words that depict the hearts of the players perfectly.


In 1849, Charles Dickens published his 45 chapter novel, Tale of Two Cities in a periodical in London called "All The Year 'Round" .  The first paragraph of the now classic novel is one most can identify in its first sentence: 
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
This is only the beginning of Dickens' desperate and haunting story of the evil men are capable of during hard times; and the goodness in our hearts that springs forth so unexpectedly.  For once, the French Revolution is given a face: the faces of people who become so touchable and real and full of life, we could be living next door to them.  Today a less-remembered quote from the story has been rolling around in my head... simply because it depicts loneliness and death as a coffin chasing someone running from it.  It has given my grief words tonight...again.

The words on page are only there for a moment.  To those of us who absorb them into our skin, and eventually into our hearts, they become libraries of life, hope and beauty.  

I remember words that are valuable.

Good writing should be appreciated, and can never be underestimated.

1 comment:

  1. One of your "labels" is appropriate for this article: perfection.