Sunday was my brother’s birthday. He and we don’t celebrate it in the traditional way anymore, because he’s gone beyond, to the place of forever young.
I’ve written about him some on this blog, including here (as a person violently opposed to “Good Morning Starshine”), here (as a land-locked pirate), here (as a master of language), here (as a sage farmer), and here (a story that is a sort of bent kaleidoscope, presenting his views on matters ranging from white people to television sets, Elvis Presley to Rush Limbaugh, shotguns to two-headed catfish).
Last year for his birthday I posted here one of his favorite pieces of music, the first movement from Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. This year I thought I’d post something from one of his favorite films, Withnail And I. But this has proved something of a struggle, because the cretins at YouTube are in the midst of one of their periodic spasms of content blockage. Such nonsense. I mean, what, really, is the use of that place, if not as a vast repository of stuff for people like me to browse through and steal?
Maybe it’s Good that my brother did not live into the era of YouTube. For presented with these sorts of frustrations, he was known to resort to his .12 gauge. Many computer screens, if he had lived, might have been blasted across the land. My brother once hurled a television-set into a rice bog because people on it were lying to him. Jeebus knows what he might have done with a machine occupied by ditherers like these clowns at YouTube, who can’t decide from one week to the next what of theirs it is permissible to Rob, and what it is not.
Withnail And I is a film that never would have been made if George Harrison had not decided to go into the picture business. For the project was not at all Normal, at least not in 1986. But Harrison very much liked writer/director Bruce Robinson’s largely autobiographical account of two unemployed actors becalmed between roles in late 1969. With nothing going on, career-wise, they fill their days with alcohol, drugs, forced drama, delusions, paranoia, sloth, and dilettante poverty. They bounce from London to the country and back to London again, and are hopelessly not at home wherever they go.
Produced on Harrison’s money, with Robinson given his creative head, the film became a cult hit, and it is easy to see why: Withnail And I is the best Hunter S. Thompson ever put on film . . . although Thompson had nothing to do with it.
Robinson’s next film, How To Get Ahead In Advertising, concerned a young ad executive, under stress, who proceeds to grow a second head on his shoulder. It was even less Normal than Withnail, and when it failed to repeat Withnail‘s success—and with his enabler Harrison having exited the picture business—Robinson was forced to put a cork into the wellspring of his creativity, condemned to labor forever after on such mainstream fare as Jennifer Eight and Fat Man And Little Boy. So it goes.
It is said that 2011 will bring the release of Robinson’s film of Thompson’s The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp. We shall see. Over the years we have been promised about twenty times more Thompson projects than have ever actually reached the screen.
Doesn’t matter. As I said, with Withnail Robinson already put on screen vintage Thompson. The film even contains, from the mouth of Danny The Drug Dealer, an epitaph for “the sixties” that is as fine and precise as anything Thompson ever penned:
If you are hanging on to a rising balloon, you’re presented with a difficult decision: let go before it’s too late? Or hang on and keep getting higher? Posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?
They’re sellin’ hippie wigs in Woolworth’s, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over. And as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black.
The term “I feel unusual” entered from Withnail the shared lexicon of my brother and myself, and remained there for many years. It is uttered by Withnail after he has been awake for 72 hours, fueled only by various narcotics, the odd hit of lighter fluid, and some odious grease slathered onto his body to protect him from the cold, and after he has failed utterly to cope with a sink filled with dishes that have accumulated since Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church.
I wished to embed the full scene here, but the yahoos of YouTube decided about two weeks ago to decline to allow it to be viewed anymore by anyone in the US. Filthy buggers. So we’ll go with the lighter-fluid section only, instead.