Billiken, Potential Energy & Kanfer's BrandoSunday, January 04, 2009
This is publisher Faber & Faber's short biography of writer Stefan Kanfer:
Stefan Kanfer’s books include The Eighth Sin, A Summer World, The Last Empire, Serious Business, Groucho, Ball of Fire and Stardust Lost. He was a writer and editor at Time for more than twenty years and was their first bylined film critic, a post he held from 1967 until 1972. A Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and recipient of numerous writing awards, Kanfer is currently in the Distinguished Writer Program at Southampton College, Long Island University. He divides his time between New York and Cape Cod.
There are numerous reviews of Kanfer's latest book, a biography of Marlon Brando called Somebody - The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando.
I will probably buy it as I have been very close to Stefan Kanfer even though I have never met him nor communicated with him.
It was around 1964 that I discovered Time Magazine. I was young and not cynical. I had yet to hear, "Life Magazine for the people who cannot read - Time Magazine for the people who cannot read." I did not yet know on how newspapers and magazines could bend the truth. I had been a little boy around 8 when I had some doubts about the existence of Santa Claus. When I saw a picture of St Nicholas Bishop of Myra in the Argentine children's magazine Billiken saying he was Santa Claus my doubts about his existence were erased. If Billiken said he existed he must exist.
While in Argentina in the middle 60s I made it a point to read Time every week. Every once in a while I would not be able to find it. This usually happened when some Argentine general did not like what Time had said about the military government. It was around 1965 that I remember sitting in a park bench of the Buenos Aires zoo that I read a wonderful film review. It was credited to a Stefan Kanfer. I soon found myself being able to identify the man's style in the first sentence of any paragraph of any essay Kanfer wrote. It was with Kanfer that I first discovered that there was such a thing as literary style. Through the years I have discovered the inimitable Jerome Charyn in English and José Saramago in Spanish translated from the Portuguese. I love reading Maureen Dowd in the NY Times as she shares a stylistic flair with Charyn. While reading the review of Kanfer's new book on Marlon Brando in today's NY Times I spotted this:
On the night "A Streetcar Named Desire" opened on Broadway, Tennessee Williams sent his young leading man a rapturous telegram: "From the greasy Polack you will someday arrive at the gloomy Dane for you have something that makes the theater a world of great possibilities."
Looking back at that statement, Brando's line in On The Waterfront as Terry the washed up boxer:
You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley
has a special resonance as Brando's path towards Shakespeare never went past his role as Marc Anthony.
All that brings me to the theme of today's latish blog (a difference of opinion with my web server, Net Nation made them pull the plug for almost a day) which is all about the strange and wonderful topic of potential energy. A block of wood sitting without movement on a table has the potential of moving should a rapid wind suddenly come on the scene. Or it could be something as simple as tilting the table and then the block would be freed of some of the friction and gravity and perhaps slide downward a bit. Or magic could suddenly remove the table and gravitational pull would make the block fall. There is even energy stored in the block of wood in the form of the heat it could provide if we were to throw it into a small fire.
Kinetic energy is physics’ way of defining the potential of everything that surrounds us and even ourselves. I think of potential energy when I think of my mother receiving a scholarship to study in the medical school of Johns Hopkins and not being able to take advantage because even though she had been born in Manila under American occupation she was deemed an alien Asian and barred from entering the US as a student. I think of my own potential as an engineer had I figured out the difference between capacitance and inductance before failing electricity.
Somehow because of not being able to go to Johns Hopkins my mother went to Argentina and married my father and I am here writing this.
I almost despair at the fact that my Rebecca was offered a full scholarship to attend a very good dance school but her parents turned it down. They don't want Rebecca to be a ballerina or a dancer. What potential is in this little 11 year old girl? Will I be around to see it realized?
I don't know except to note that potential energy, potential human energy, keeps our dreams alive and our will to live.