Six Degrees of Stupid (and Other Literary Oscar Notes)

1. Watching the Oscars on TV with Caryn last night, I felt a strange reverberation as the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay were listed. Slumdog Millionaire, it turned out, was based on a novel called Q & A by an author named Vikas Swarup, and something told me I had mentioned this novel years ago when reviewing the New York Times Book Review.

Indeed I had, very briefly, way back in 2005: “I’ll start with the good parts: a truly interesting article about Edmund Wilson; notices of Naphtalene, an epic novel of Baghdad by Alia Mamdouh, and Q & A, a picaresque yarn by Vikas Swarup that begins with an Indian game show called ‘Who Will Win A Billion?’.”

Most of this old post is taken up by a rant about a bad essay by Rachel Donadio, which also brings back memories, and even though I intended to follow up by checking out the novel by Vikas Swarup, I never did. I am looking forward to seeing Slumdog Millionaire, though, and that’s certainly a better title than Q & A, which can still be found here.

2. I was rooting for Mickey Rourke to win Best Actor, since he was in at least three movies I liked a lot: the chilling Angel Heart, the lovely Barfly and, best of all, one of my favorite comedies of all time, Barry Levinson’s Diner. Diner was a popular movie in its time, but I fear it’s dropped from visibility. Caryn hasn’t seen it, and reacted with some skepticism when I told her it was not only one of the best Mickey Rourke movies but also the best Kevin Bacon movie, the best Steve Guttenberg movie (well, yeah), the best Daniel Stern movie, the best Ellen Barkin movie and (even though he only had a minor role) the best Paul Reiser movie ever made.

This reminded me of a run-in I had with a young movie buff at a Manhattan poker club several months ago. It’s customary for poker players to chatter it up during the dull moments when the dealers wash cards or count chips, and sometimes the chatterers get carried away. This raw post-adolescent prided himself on his ability to play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, and in between each hand he invited other players to name a movie star so he could connect that movie star to Kevin Bacon. “Al Pacino”, one of our tablemates would say.

The young man would think a moment: “Okay. Al Pacino was in The Godfather Part II with Robert DeNiro. DeNiro was in Sleepers with Kevin Bacon.”

I was annoyed by this guy, first because I just wanted him to shut up, and also because I was struck by his literal understanding of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. To make the game interesting over long periods of time, I thought, one might want to stretch beyond Kevin Bacon and attempt to connect any two actors together. If the title is taken literally, the game gets old very fast. Still, I was taken aback when some jokester named Macaulay Culkin and the young expert stalled for several moments.

Finally I piped up. “Diner. Macaulay Culkin was in Home Alone with Daniel Stern, and Daniel Stern was in Diner.”

He looked at me like I was a clueless old loser who didn’t get the game. “Nahh, man,” he said. “It’s about Kevin Bacon. You have to name movies Kevin Bacon was in.”

Kevin Bacon was in Diner,” I sputtered. Not a single person at the table knew what I was talking about.

I don’t know why Diner seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, if indeed it has, or maybe this was just one warped group of poker players. But if you haven’t seen this gentle comedy about a gang of young men in Baltimore during the early 1960s, I hope you’ll check it out. It really is a wonderful film.

3. Finally, it was nice that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button won a couple of minor awards, and it was nice that these award-winners had a chance to thank everybody they’d apparently ever worked with in their acceptance speeches.

But, couldn’t somebody have maybe thanked F. Scott Fitzgerald? I guess that’s too much to ask.

13 Responses

  1. Diner is a brilliant movie
    Diner is a brilliant movie and it has fallen off the face of the earth for some reason, at least where dedicated movie viewers are concerned. and it’s strange. it’s certainly one of the best Rourke performances. but for my money i prefer him in Barfly. Matt Dillon did a better Hank Bukowski in Factotum, but Mickey’s performance in Barfly was more heart and soul….and it’s another great movie that is being forgotten, never even mentioned in most articles on Rourke’s comeback.

  2. I was sort-of routing for
    I was sort-of routing for Mickey Rourke last night (had too much love for “milk” to go full-Rourke), and not a little because of Diner. As Barry Levinson’s most tender love letter to Bal’mor – Diner rocks. The screenplay – dialogue is “death” (“You never ask me what’s on the flip side.” “No, because I don’t give a shit.”). I heart Diner. But, I’m still glad Sean Penn won – ‘cuz more people need to see “Milk” (and more people need to see “Diner” so maybe your post will help in that regard!).

  3. I think of Harvey Milk when
    I think of Harvey Milk when my dog takes a dump (sometimes when she takes a leak too) on someone’s lawn. But Harvey Milk was brave, and Penn, as usual, deserves whatever award he got.

    Mickey Rourke was good in Masked and Anonymous– good as Chinaski too. Hank Bukowski–and Bono–pal Sean Penn was orignally cast as the Barfly Bukowski but somebody (Rourke?) didn’t want Dennis Hopper–Hopper’s cool if you ask me– directing it.

    Have they begun work on the Iggy and the Stooges film yet?

  4. John and Kat, I’m glad I’m
    John and Kat, I’m glad I’m not the only one who remembers Diner.

    My favorite line from the movie, solemnly spoken by Steve Guttenberg: “The wedding is off”.

  5. Angel Heart and Barfly are
    Angel Heart and Barfly are both great movies. I haven’t seen Diner, but I’m sure you must have noticed how similar that picture is to the iconic “diner” shot of Rivers, Amram, Kerouac, Ginsberg. You should post that pic, too, so we can compare them.

  6. Is it possible Diner was too
    Is it possible Diner was too regional? I saw Diner in the theatre and only remember this guy trying to train his fince in sports? Or jazz?
    Was there in Diner a lengthy discussion about last night’s episode of Bonanza? Maybe the discussion of last night’s Oscars inspired this memory.

  7. “Diner” was absolutely
    “Diner” was absolutely excellent but I think Rourke’s best role (prior to “The Wrestler”) might be in “Rumblefish.”

  8. Mickey can be quite a
    Mickey can be quite a frigtening presence on the screen. He obliterates the surrounding landscape and reduces the whole environment to emptiness with himself as the ‘aliented presence’ at the centre of it.That’s almost the opposite effect of Paul Newmans presence on the screen.
    No matter which film Mickey Rourke’s in, he always appears to be making Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’- the beautifully doomed presence at the centre of the drama who gives resonance to all the other characters.

  9. So no one thinks Harley
    So no one thinks Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man is Rourke’s best movie? I would like to take this opportunity to thank F Scott Fitzgerald for not writing any other stories like Benjamin Button, which didn’t work for me as a story, and while I have not seen the movie, looks insufferable.

    I put in a vote for Rumblefish as well, though Diner is good. My dad made me watch that at a certain point. (Paul Reiser’s best movie? I’ll bet that was a tough call)

  10. I not only remember Diner, I
    I not only remember Diner, I saw it when it first came out and re-watched it about a month ago.

    “the best Daniel Stern movie” — Only if you don’t count Breaking Away.

  11. Hey man, I caught diner very
    Hey man, I caught diner very late one night on a national t.v. station out here in south africa. I was immediately captivated by that movie, and coincedentaly i really loved mickey rourkes performance in it, that performance is still the reason i have such a soft spot for the man. You are not alone in diner-loving terms friend.

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