“Newman!”

August 9, 2009

"Nevertheless!"

"Nevertheless!"

The Baltimore Sun this week published a story about the impact of digital media on the U.S. Postal Service and specifically on handwritten letters. The basis for the story is familiar: Handwritten letters, which were already in decline, have all but disappeared now that modern electronics provide so many other means to send messages. The Sun reporter discussed this development, and the recently-announced contraction of the postal system, with young people and with older people. The result was predictable.

I am almost 67 years old, and I can’t recall writing letters by hand. I used to write a lot of long personal letters — I recently discarded most of them — but I wrote them on a typewriter. Still, I have some nostalgia for the handwritten letter, mostly because I recall when my mother wrote letters to her out-of-state friends and relatives. Mom had won awards for her handwriting when that was still considered an important part of a person’s training, and she wrote those letters in a disciplined and attractive cursive. Correspondence in those days did not have the convenience of immediacy, and I recall the excitement when Andy, the mailman — who used to sing when he made his twice-a-day visits — brought a response from Lexington, South Carolina, or some other exotic port.

cursive2-774480Of course, that form of correspondence is still available to anyone who wants to exercise his handwriting skills and experience the anticipation of awaiting an answer. That wouldn’t be me. Like many people in this century, I communicate with people all day long through the various means now available, and I think I get as much satisfaction out of the quick reply as Mom did out of the long-term one.

HieroglyphicsThe Sun’s story and other reports on this topic include remarks from some authorities who worry that increasing reliance on e-mail, text messages, tweets, and whatever program may appear next, threatens to cause our handwriting skills to atrophy. But our kind have lost other communication skills that became obsolete, and we don’t seem to be any the worse for it. Well, we may be worse, but I doubt that our writing skills had anything to do with that.

The Sun’s story is at this link:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/bal-md.pa.lettersaug07,0,5960461.story?page=1

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TOM HULCE

TOM HULCE

The Times of London, on its web site, presents its candidates for the ten most historically inaccurate movies. The bad news is that all but two were made before 1999, which — if one were to take this seriously — would suggest a fearsome and precipitous trend.

The earlier of the two monstrosities that were made before ’99 was “Amadeus,” the 1984 hatchet job on Antonio Salieri in which Tom Hulce played Mozart. The second was “Braveheart,” which I understand is a significantly inaccurate account of the life of a 13th century Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace. I don’t know anything about Wallace, which is to the point: If I had overlooked the fact that Mel Gibson starred in this film and had gone to see it, I might have accepted the account as roughly correct.

ANNE BANCROFT

ANNE BANCROFT

Why The Times focused its attention mostly on the past decade I am not aware; maybe it reflects the level of confidence the editors have in their audience. Of course, inaccurate historical films have a proud history that extends back to decades before “Amadeus” appeared. Virtually every film based on the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, for example, tries to outdo the original writers — even one of my favorites of that genre, Franco Zefferilli’s “Jesus of Nazareth,” made for television in 1977. Zef famously took pains to place the events of the gospels in their proper historical context, but he couldn’t restrain the tinkering hand. Like all dramatists, he had to portray poor Mary Magdalene, played by Anne Bancroft, as a prostitute — indeed, show her in a scene with one of her clients — even though there is no support for that idea. In Zefferelli’s tale, Barabbas — encouraged by a well-meaning Judas Iscariot — personally invites Jesus to support an armed rebellion against the Roman occupation of Palestine.

VAN HEFLIN

VAN HEFLIN

And as long ago as 1942, the year I was born, Van Heflin starred in the mercifully long-forgotten “Tennessee Johnson,” which purported to be a biography of Andrew Johnson, 17th president of these United States and a particular obsession of mine. The film had a pretty good cast, including Ruth Hussey, Lionel Barrymore, and Noah Beery, but the title itself set the tone for the movie as history: Nobody ever called the man “Tennessee Johnson.” The climactic scene in which Johnson goes to the floor of the Senate to defend himself against charges of impeachment was wholly fabricated. In fact, Johnson’s counsel — recalling how he came to be impeached in the first place — would not hear of him appearing at the trial for fear of what he might say. Sort of the Joe Biden of his day, in that respect.

At any rate, decide for yourself on the The Times’ choices, available at this link:

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article6738785.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1