He performed one of my favorite movie lines, but it did not apply to him. Peter O’Toole, who died the other day, got to play a dissolute guest on an early television program in the 1982 film “My Favorite Year.” Through the haze, Alan Swann divines that he is about to appear live, a prospect that thoroughly terrifies him. As he is nudged onto the set, he protests: “I’m not an actor – I’m a movie star!”
The line speaks to the inner truth most of us know about ourselves: sometimes we are in over our heads.
O’Toole recently was seen in the 1987 Bertolucci film, “The Last Emperor,” in that wonderful series that New York’s Channel 13 runs all too infrequently on Saturday nights. As an English tutor brought into the Forbidden City, O’Toole proved my point. He was an actor.
Among my other favorites:
In the 1963 film “The Balcony,” Shelley Winters plays a madame whose office assistant, Lee Grant, is lobbying to change positions within the establishment. Winters keeps trying to put her off, and the writer, Genet, plants the madame’s line in our heads before it is actually uttered:
“The world is full of whores; what it really needs is a good bookkeeper.”
How many times have I used that line to advise people to stick with their chosen profession?
Then there is the Clint Eastwood film, “The Unforgiven.” (I love Clint, even though he now speaks to empty chairs.)
The movie has many good lines, including when the young man kills somebody for the first time and starts babbling.
Will Munny (Clint): It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvet): Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
That’s pretty much the point of the movie. I love it when Clint calls somebody “kid.”
Then there’s the scene we all know is coming, when Clint doubles back to town to avenge the killing of his pal, Ned, played by Morgan Freeman.
Inside the bar, Clint asks: “Who’s the fellow owns this shithole?”
The poor dope named Skinny admits he does, and Clint commences to do what Clint does. I often revive that line when fate takes me to some miserable football stadium or over-priced restaurant where I emphatically do not want to be. Don’t we all have our inner Clint?
At the end, Clint rides off into the rainy night, his voice cutting through the empty street:
“You better bury Ned right!... Better not cut up, nor otherwise harm no whores... or I'll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches.” (I think he also mentions their children, even their dogs, but it’s just an echo by then.)
I know there’s a whole universe of favorite-movie-lines out there. What’s yours?
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023