Tag Archives: quotations

Ethical Dilemmas and the Saturday Morning Breakfast Serial: A 1,001 Movies Update

Since the last hectic round of film-watching, I’ve slowed down the pace of my 1,001 movies project a bit.  I crunched the numbers and figured out that I didn’t have to watch a film every single night to meet my goal, as long as I committed to watching multiple movies on weekends and during vacations.  Thank goodness, too, because the whole point of the project is to have fun and learn about film, not stress myself out to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore.  As a friend pointed out, “The title of the book clearly states ‘BEFORE you die.’ Don’t kill yourself watching them.”

Fine.  So I still have some work to do taming my inner overachiever. At least there are no moral or ethical dilemmas inherent in my project.  Alas, the same cannot be said for the subjects of the films I’m watching. This particular crop of films plunges its protagonists head-on into uncomfortable, unjust situations against their will, and records their responses (or lack thereof).

Tono Brtko, the nominal “hero” of The Shop on Main Street, decidedly falls into the category of “lack thereof.”  Paralyzed by fear and doubt, Tono–whose brother-in-law becomes the local fuehrer in their tiny Czech town–doesn’t know what to do in the face of increasing anti-Semitism.  It doesn’t help that said brother-in-law gives the hapless carpenter a job as the overseer of a button shop, run by an elderly Jewish widow.  Confused and frightened, Tono pretends he’s helping the widow, Mrs. Lautman, run the store out of the goodness of his heart.

This isn’t entirely untrue, but Tono doesn’t have the courage to tell Mrs. Lautman why he’s really there, or that her rights are slipping away from her day by day as the Nazi regime inches closer to its final solution. This tense, horrifying film vividly illustrates the worst fears of good people: we’d all like to believe that, in the face of great evil, we would behave nobly and bravely.  But what if we didn’t? What if we retreated into drink and denial, hid our heads in the sand like ostriches? As the film lurched towards its inevitable, unhappy conclusion, I found myself agreeing with Edmund Burke, who wrote that “[w]hen bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”*

By contrast, the heroine of The Official Story challenges her government’s injustice at great personal cost to herself. Alicia Marmet, a history teacher, was unable to have biological children. Her adopted daughter, Gaby, is the light of her life and the treasure of her heart.  However, when Alicia learns that Gaby may very well have been stolen, and not adopted, from her biological mother, she sets out to find the truth…even if it means ultimately losing Gaby. Alicia’s story, which mirrors the all too true tales of children stolen during the Dirty War, broke my heart even as it raised my consciousness, and drove me back to the catalog to learn more about a grave injustice that is only now beginning to be corrected.

While grappling with heavy themes and weighty thoughts, I was also pondering a time-management dilemma.  One of the movies on the list, Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires, turned out to be a 440-minute-long serial; when on earth was I going to be able to make time for that? And then, with a blinding flash of the obvious, I realized: I could watch the film the same way Parisian audiences would’ve watched it in the theaters, one episode at time.

original movie poster

Wikipedia makes a good case for fair use of this image. If you're the copyright holder, let's talk.

With the help of Wikipedia and YouTube I was able to identify and watch each episode.  It took me ten weeks to finish, and I’m happy to report that while I didn’t have popcorn and a big screen, the experience was just as enjoyable while noshing on breakfast cereal, wearing comfy pajamas, and sitting in front of my computer.

The film relates the adventures of Philippe Guèrande, a journalist who’s been reporting on the mysterious Vampires gang.  I was a little disappointed to learn that  Guèrande and his sidekick, Mazamette, were hunting ordinary thieves instead of bloodthirsty undead hoardes, but my disappointment passed with each diabolical robbery, kidnapping, or other crime the villains managed to pull off.  Satanas, the head of the gang, is so resolutely evil that he keeps a cannon in his apartment and fires it at people who cross him (!), while Venomous specializes in poisons, and nearly brings about the death of an entire wedding party with tainted champagne.  It was fun having something to look foward to on Saturday mornings, and I found myself wondering all week just what kind of terror, excitement, and strange costumes would be in the next episode.  It was nice to take a break from more ponderous fare and immerse myself in a world where the good guys lived with their mothers (it’s true!), the bad guys always got punished (eventually), and shooting a cannon at your enemies was always wrong, regardless of the circumstances.

Here’s the list of this round’s movies:

  1. Intolerance
  2. The Official Story
  3. Queen Christina
  4. Way Down East**
  5. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
  6. The Shop on Main Street
  7. Within Our Gates
  8. Earth
  9. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  10. Les Vampires***

This brings my project tally to 230 movies. Hm.  Perhaps it’s time to schedule a nice, long vacation..?

–Leigh Anne

who is also treating herself to some light reading with I Want My MTV

*Burke is commonly given credit for the phrase, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” and if you care about proper quotation attribution as much as I do, you just might enjoy reading this essay on the matter.

**Available on YouTube, but, for some reason, not linking properly.  Hm.

***All ten episodes are available on YouTube.  Wikipedia helpfully lists the chapters by French and English title in the correct viewing order.


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Why I Read “Depressing” Literature: A Defense

As a new intern at the library, I must say I LOVE this environment—we’re always talking about books! But as the days wear on, I have slowly realized something: very few of my co-workers share my odd taste in books. The reason? I mostly read books where the subject matter is best described as “dismal.”

It’s not that I read the kind of books where everybody dies and every imaginable catastrophe happens. I’m just drawn toward books that express a profound sadness that is present in the mundane aspects of our daily lives. These are the kinds of books that leave me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, make me feel restless and questioning. And it’s exactly this effect that makes them worth reading—they make me question everything I usually take for granted. They are also some of the greatest books ever written.

If you’re thinking, “Hmm, this girl sounds crazy, but maybe I should give one of these depressing books a try,” these are the books to read.

Museum of InnocenceThe Museum of Innocence, Orham Pamuk. Pamuk’s novel is an incredible look at the possibilities of intense passion in a modern society. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “passion” can be traced back to the Latin word for “suffering,” and this novel easily demonstrates why:

…for most people, life is not a joy to be celebrated with a full heart, but a miserable charade to be endured with a false smile, a narrow path of lies, punishment and repression (275).

Passages like these make me wonder: is it better to live a normal, average life that’s nominally happy or to have an intense passion that could possibly end tragically? Is it perhaps possible to have both a grand passion and a normal life?

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe. This novel is a standard on high school things fall apartreading lists, and standardly hated by high school students. I, however, was not one of the haters when I read it as a high school sophomore. Set in a Nigerian village, Things Fall Apart follows Okonkwo, a tribal leader, as he struggles to cope with a once-familiar environment that is drastically changing thanks to British colonialism. The tragedy of this book lies in the tension inherent in retaining traditional identities in the face of both modernization and the cultural assimilation of the younger generation.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov’s masterpiece has an incredibly unusual protagonist: Humbert Humbert, a scholar who becomes both infatuated and sexually obsessed with his landlady’s twelve-year-old daughter. Humbert kidnaps Lolita, but it is the child who initiates their first sexual contact. This book contains some of the finest prose ever written, and examines questions of sexuality and perversion. The most tragic aspect of the book is the examination of the battering of a young girl’s psyche and her attempts to live a normal life after childhood trauma.

None of these books are typical beach reading, although I confess I’m just strange enough to have read Lolita on my family’s last vacation to the Outer Banks. However, if you want extremely well-crafted literature that makes you think about, well, the gloomier aspects of life, these are perfect. Honestly, these books are so well-written, you will be stopping people around you—even random passers-by—to read parts out loud. I recommend carrying a notebook with you while you read the library’s copies, because you will want to write down parts that particularly strike you…

“If a violin string can ache, then I was that string.” Lolita (127)



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Old school librarians didn’t need Google.

My predecessors, who worked here in the days before the internet,  were avid collectors of clippings and filers of facts. Anything that they thought would be useful was either copied down or pasted onto an index card and filed away for the ages – or in this case, until I got my hands on it.  

Somehow (it’s a long story) I ended up keeping the “death” section of our old quotation files. Here are a few examples, for your amusement.  

This is the oldest card in my collection, from January 1, 1922.

One of the newest cards, from February 22, 1965. It's typewritten, too! We still keep a few typewriters in the library, just in case.

You might note that the 1965 card refers to the “Mounted Poetry Collection.” Yes, our librarians typed or copied oft-requested poems and mounted them on sheets of cardboard that were lovingly crammed into filing cabinets. I used the collection myself, back in the day – I started working here in 1999 (when the internet was not so useful), so we still dug into the quotation and poetry files fairly often.  

A nice handwriting sample from 1931. Note the double underline under the author's last name - that's the way librarians roll.

Another handwriting sample, date unknown, but probably from the 30s or 40s. We still have hymnals by this author, but not this particular book. Alas.

They’re still legible, because these long-retired librarians were taught to write in Library Hand. I’m so glad that I’m allowed to type nearly everything, as good old Melvil Dewey would find my handwriting deeply offensive.  

Lousy poem, but a nice card. And it mentions Pittsburgh!

This last card is a wonderful combination of handwriting and clipping, plus it features a special “NEW YORK TIMES” stamp. And if you really really want to read more of that lousy poetry, my excellent coworker Don suggests checking out The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll – though I can tell you by looking at the circulation statistics that it’s not very popular. Oh, well. 

There you have it, a little more library history preserved for the ages.  

– Amy, who keeps writing about things other than Film & Audio


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