This post, and recent others, are interim, idling points while in the middle of larger, more ambitious work. It was made a few days after the death of Roger Ebert, a man who was an old-fashioned newspaperman, a movie enthusiast, and a man whose struggle against a fierce illness demonstrated a strength that I would never claim without entering such struggle first. I place a remembrance by an acquaintance whose work he championed in a footnote rather than the main text1, because the eloquence is not mine, and because public mourning for a public figure so often seems intended as a focus of attention for the mourner, rather than the mourned. Included is a song, which, appropriately or not, connotes passage, but one well used in a movie that gave me temporary but great relief. This invocation of beautiful escape, so rare, and so often hoped for from the movies, perhaps makes it suitable for a fellow moviegoer.
Near the very end of The Pope of Greenwich Village:
CHARLIE puts out his best suit, his best shirt, and his dressiest shoes. He gets an expensive manicure, a shave, and a shoeshine. His face is never at ease, shows no joy, but is always solemn, no longer even fearful, but simply analyzing every point of the moment that will come next. He is dressed to the nines as he walks along the neighbourhood streets, but there’s no ease to the walk, absolutely no swagger, maybe even a little stiffness, as he moves closer and close to the gentleman’s club. He stops, takes an inhale from the cigarette like it’s oxygen and he’s about to dive deep into the ocean, then enters the establishment, a place whose streetfront glass is blocked by green felt, and marked with a simple small cursive: “Members Only”.
NUNZI and PETE sit at a table with some espressos, NUNZI has just finished lighting a cigar. PAULIE stands nearby, waiting any orders. They are the only ones in the front of the club.
This is a private club, pal.
Well, I’d like to see Eddie Grant.
NUNZI looks to PETE, who gives a nod of assent. NUNZI puts down the cigar, gets up, and pats CHARLIE’s front down. With a rough move, he shifts CHARLIE to the side, so he can pat down his back. CHARLIE gives a contemptuous smirk.
He’s in the back room.
CHARLIE takes an inhale from his cigarette, then slowly, and very deliberately, blows smoke directly in NUNZI’s face. PAULIE looks at this with a nervousness like they’re in the Vatican and CHARLIE just spat on a cross. CHARLIE makes his way to the back room, giving PETE a hard stare along the way.
The back room is an unassuming, shabby place. An unrepaired hole in the wall is off to the side, and the door squeaks. The only importance in the room is BEDBUG EDDIE, who begins speaking almost the moment CHARLIE enters.
You’re Charlie Moran? You’re one of the scumbags that robbed my money.
CHARLIE gives a non-commital small shake of his hands.
You were brought up around here, no?
Charlie moves into the room, and goes to sit down. We see more of this unimpressive throne room: a photo to the right of the door commemorating an important handshake between two men, a Last Supper above it, and a black and white pin-up to its left. Below the pin-up are some stacked cardboard boxes of glassware that probably fell off some truck.
Same thing. You know you owe the neighborhood some respect?
CHARLIE is now sitting at the non-descript wood table, across from EDDIE, CHARLIE’s hand on the table. EDDIE might want to kill CHARLIE, but his voice remains controlled, never changing in volume, staying at a level closer to mild exasperation, rather than murderous rage.
People steal from Eddie Grant it makes for a total breakdown. No one knows right or wrong. Before you know it, you got moulinyans2 moving in. What the hell brings you in here?
A tape I took off a dead cop…that’ll hang you by your balls.
EDDIE gives a silent laugh out of the side of his mouth.
You walked in here to threaten me.
You’re fucking right I walked in here to threaten you.
EDDIE now gives a quick, full, raspy laugh.
Last time somebody talked close to me like that was from the Village, too.
NUNZI and PETE, still at the table, are looking at what’s going on in the back room with nervousness. PAULIE looks on too, less with nervousness and more determined hatred.
I parcel-posted the scumbag home.
He didn’t have the tape that could put you away for twenty.
EDDIE’s voice now drops lower in volume.
Okay. Let me give you some advice. You’re behaving like a mamalucco3, capise? You walk in here, you don’t show the club no respect. You’re acting like a real scumbag. You’re half-irish, so —
EDDIE cracks his knuckles, as if it’s CHARLIE’s very spine he’s breaking, and what’s said next is a pleasurable, loud exhale.
–I MAKE CONSIDERATIONS.
PAULIE nows looks on with nervousness. EDDIE’s pupils are dark and cold, like olives on a bed of ice.
I give you this for the tapes.
EDDIE makes the classic vaffanculo gesture, the fingers brushing against the underside of the chin.
I promised myself I’d wipe my ass with this hand…
EDDIE reaches out to grasp CHARLIE’s hand on the table. The emphatic part is said in a whisper.
…and nobody, nobody but the pope, could walk out of here with his hand.
We see through the door NUNZI get up from the table, but PETE blocks him with his arm from going any further.
CHARLIE struggles a little, but EDDIE has his hand tight in his grasp. CHARLIE leans close to say the next part.
Mister…I am the pope. This might be your church, but right now, I’m the pope of Greenwich Village.
CHARLIE uses his free hand to give the clasping fist of EDDIE an emphatic tap.
Because I got a tape, alright?
EDDIE lets CHARLIE’s hand go, but EDDIE’s eyes are dark, cold, and wild: he’s already picked out a place where this young man’s body will never be found. CHARLIE returns the stare, then gives a smirk.
I like you, you have balls. I don’t get too mad at that.
PAULIE comes to the door.
Despite what EDDIE has said, his eyes remain in the same state: CHARLIE will probably never be seen alive again. CHARLIE gives a cold, unceasing look in return.
PAULIE enters, and puts down the espresso cups. EDDIE stares, CHARLIE stares back. The lethal energy between the two men could kill off every fly in the room.
CHARLIE briefly breaks his stare to look down at the espresso cups being put down on the table, and EDDIE gives a happy grin: of course he’s tougher than this prick.
Three sugars, Eddie?
CHARLIE returns to his old stare, however, unweakened. EDDIE is back to his mad, murderous state; his eyes are both cold and bulging out. PAULIE puts the sugar in EDDIE’s espresso.
I already put your sugar in, Charlie.
It’s now EDDIE who breaks the stare and looks off at PAULIE, and CHARLIE gives this break a cool acknowledgement: you sure you’re tougher than me?
EDDIE stirs his espresso, without looking down. He takes a grip of his espresso. CHARLIE turns to look at PAULIE, trying to read what’s going on in his strange friend: why does PAULIE stay fixed on the mafia chieftain, as if he’s waiting for something to happen? PAULIE realizes what he’s doing, and abruptly looks off into the distance. CHARLIE returns to the staring contest, but EDDIE has already taken this prolonged break as a victory. He lifts the cup to his mouth, eyes always locked on CHARLIE, drinks the espresso as if it’s CHARLIE’s blood, all in one gulp, then gives a pleasured HMMMM – before falling out of his chair in a sudden, violent movement, crashing against the floor.
What sticks out for me is that he was one of my earliest discoverers and defenders. Decades ago, when I came out with my film Aguirre, the Wrath of God, he put it on his list of the best ten of all time. And people started to listen…he was like an icebreaker for my films, and he always had the feeling that my films were something which made his life right, that he was working [for] in this field. I think we have lost someone who…with him, an epoch ends. The epoch was intelligent, deep discourse about cinema. And all this, in the last two decades has been lost…gradually, it has shifted over into celebrity news. Roger was much larger than life, in a way, and I don’t see the successor, but there’s a big cultural trend, and that’s beyond you and Roger and me, and that is a shift, cultural shift within audiences, and the reflection in that is that almost all print media have gotten rid of their film reviewers, and today they all write about celebrity news. So, it’s bigger than just the passing of Roger Ebert. An epoch, in a way, ends with him.
He sometimes would call me the good soldier of cinema, and I have to give it back to him. I would say to him, Roger, you are the real good soldier of cinema. You are holding out in an outpost that has been given up by all the others. You are the one who is afflicted now, you are the wounded soldier. He was the wounded soldier, he was afflicted, he was silenced – and just wouldn’t give up, and just plow on, and that gave me a lot of courage, to plow on.
“This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks, from The Darjeeling Limited soundtrack:
2 A slur for african-americans; absent a better source, I guide those to the urban dictionary’s etymology, where there is division on whether or not it comes from the italian, melanzana, for eggplant.
(All images and excerpts copyright MGM / UA)