Blood and Robots

1 Jun

Our local Red Cross chapter called recently to ask if we’d donate some blood platelets.  Since we had some left over, we said “sure.” To get the platelets, a machine whirls the blood around in a centrifuge, as a tube in one arm sends blood to the machine and one in the other arm receives blood back from the machine (sans some of the platelets, we assume.)  The whole process takes about two hours or so.  As the arms must remain still during the process, reading a book is out; there’s no one to turn the pages. The procedure is, however, tailor-made for watching movies, which our local chapter thoughtfully provides on DVD.  We steered clear of the Adam Sandler section – we wanted a pleasant movie-watching experience, not the Ludvico technique from  A Clockwork Orange. We got hooked up to the machine and with the centrifuge whirling, the nurse started the film we’d chosen to re-watch, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, directed by Robert Wise (the original one, starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.)



We think this 1951 film is one of the better sci-fi films of its era, but thematically, it’s a bit muddled. At the opening, a huge flying saucer touches down in Washington, D.C.  Out steps Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his laser-eyed robot friend, Gort. Klaatu, as we come to learn, is an odd mixture of Jesus of Nazareth and Al Capone.

Here’s the Jesus part. Klaatu is wounded when he reveals a gift for the President that a soldier mistakes for a weapon. Taken to Walter Reed hospital, he doesn’t spend much time on the mend. Klaatu swipes a suit from the hospital cleaners (?) and soon he’s out to explore D.C. on his own. Examining the tag on the purloined suit (which just happens to fit perfectly), he sees it belongs to a man named Carpenter. Later in the picture, Klaatu is killed by the military, who shoot first and ask questions later. It’s Gort to the rescue as Patricia Neal awakens the behemoth with the words Klaatu has given her: “Klaatu barada nikto.” (Memorize these words in case you’re ever on a quiz show, and with a million dollars on the line, they ask what the words are.) Back aboard ship, Gort hooks his humanoid master up to a gizmo, and in short order, raises him from the dead.

Here’s the Al Capone part.  Klaatu has come to give the people of Earth a message.  Sure, he comes in peace, but he’s backin’ up his peaceful words with muscle.  Earthlings have developed atomic weapons and them atomic weapons make Klaatu’s people and those on other worlds a mite nervous. (The fact that Earth people have no interstellar delivery systems for those weapons, and until he showed up, didn’t even know there were other inhabited worlds seems to have escaped Klaatu’s notice.)  He doesn’t give a fig about how Earth governs its own affairs, but if Earthlings start waving those atom bombs around on his world, well, they just might have to reduce Earth to a burned-out cinder. The Luka Brasis of Earth are gonna sleep with the fishes. With that, he and Gort hightail it out of there at warp speed.

As the credits rolled up the screen, the centrifuge ceased its whirling, the platelets were collected, and we gorged ourselves on juice and cookies.

Outlander, Dr. Who, Star Trek, and Brigadoon

28 Apr

We were at a bachelor party some years ago (a rather sedate one) where a chap gave us his observations about the difference between Star Trek and Dr. Who.  Star Trek, he explained was the “American Male Fantasy”, whereas Dr. Who was all about “Labor Relations.” Dr. Who, he observed, mediated quarrels between bellicose aliens, whereas Captain Kirk got all the women.

We wonder if Outlander, now in its second season, functions as Star Trek for women – a not-necessarily-American female fantasy. Even the show’s  theme  song  muses “Say, could that lass be I?” After falling through a stone into 18th century Scotland last season, the main character Claire is unfazed by the era’s lack of modern plumbing. This season, she and her husband Jamie travel to France where they make their entrée into the French court with surprising ease. All the while, Claire runs around in the haute couture of the day. If she has to make that temporal jump to the left, a woman could do worse. And like the proverbial hedgehog, Claire knows one important thing; the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 must not happen.

We know that it’s going to happen, though. The show removes all doubt with the opening sequence of the first episode of the second season.  Claire’s back in the 20th century asking a passing motorist who won the battle of Colloden.  (Hint:  it isn’t the Scots.)  In stories involving time travel, at least two schools  of thought contend. One is the “Watch out – the slightest thing you do in the past will change everything in the future” school.  (Think  Ray Bradbury’s  “A Sound of Thunder”, for example.)  Another is the “No amount of meddling in the past changes the future one bit” school.  (Think Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed.”)   Outlander seems to be in the latter camp. (By the way, we took issue with the fact that Claire’s 20th century husband is upset that she’s been away for two years –  just because she’s spent two years in the past does not mean that two years have passed in the 20th century.  However, that’s how author Diana Gabaldon apparently chose to do it, so we shouldn’t quibble.)

The show is a bit of a mixed bag – it’s a romance, but it’s punctuated by scenes of ultra-violence that would give Sam Peckinpah pause. Production values are high, and the acting is top drawer. We particularly like the scenes with Simon Callow, who plays the Duke of Ham Sandwich or the Duke of Sandringham or something like that.  Also high on our list this season is Andrew Gower, who plays  Bonnie Prince Charlie with dotty fervor.  He can hold forth on how it’s the will of God that he should reign while delivering this heartfelt speech in a bordello.


You’re a dotty one, Bonnie Prince Charlie!

As per usual, we don’t know where we’re going with this.  We started watching Outlander because our spouse was watching it, but we’re not sure if we’ll be able to stay with it – it’s a show that makes one uneasy (we’re wusses, what can we say?) Our adult youngest daughter perhaps said it best: “I can’t watch Outlander for the same reason I couldn’t watch Brigadoon as a kid. It’s a story about being trapped in the past.”

Trumpe l’oeil

15 Mar

We just got an idea for a sci-fi screenplay. Being the layabouts that we are though, we know we’ll never get off our lazy duffs to write it. We’ll pitch it to you and maybe you can do something with it.

It’s a dirty story of a dirty man and his clinging wife doesn’t understa – wait, that one’s been done…

No, actually, this one takes place in the not-too-distant future. A guy is running for President. He’s rich, he says racist things, and he’s a bit of a bully. He actually encourages his supporters to use violence at his rallies. (Remember is a sci-fi dystopian future-type story, so if the scenario we’re describing seems really far-fetched, just remember, this is fiction.) The guy is not as wealthy as he makes himself out to be – he has bankruptcies in his past and the book he’s written is not the best-selling book of all time, despite his assertions that it is. Our character has an overweening ego and always uses superlatives to describe himself.

By now, you’re probably saying, “Wait we know who this guy is – it’s the bad guy from Steven King’s ‘The Dead Zone.'” OK, we’ll admit, there may be similarities between King’s villain and ours, but we’re trying to go in a different direction with our story – it’s sort of a Dead-Zone-meets-Citizen-Kane-meets-Philip K. Dick mashup.


Dead-Zone-meets-Citizen-Kane-meets-Philip K. Dick

In our screenplay, we drop hints that the guy is an alien, with an orange-hued visage to suggest he just might be from some other planet or perhaps another dimension. We’ll also suggest his other-worldliness by the hypnotic effect he has on his followers. No matter how outrageous his statements, his followers praise him for his “straight talk” and for “telling it like it is.” They even raise their arms in a gesture reminiscent of the Hitler salute. OK, we know we’re now straining credibility to its breaking point, but stay with us.

To cut to the chase, the guy keeps winning primary after primary, racking up impressive wins without anyone understanding how he’s doing it. After a rancorous convention, he wins his party’s nomination. In debates with our anti-hero, his opponent makes reasoned arguments, only to see them fall flat. With a combination of bluster, bullying, and low humor, our dystopian candidate wins every debate.

We then cut to Election Night. Things are going well for our anti-protagonist as several states fall into his column. It looks like he’ll soon be slouching toward Washington to be inaugurated. His supporters are ecstatic! It’s then that the CIA (those wonderful folks who brought you MK Ultra) make their move, sticking a hypodermic in the almost-President-Elect’s derriere and spiriting him away in a black limo.

We then see the CIA guys head for a shadowy underground location with scientists in lab coats and armed, burly MPs at every door. Using the latest in Virtual Reality technology, they construct a scenario where our anti-hero sees himself in front of adoring masses who hang on his every word. We see subjective shots where he tells them that a neighboring country has just acquiesced to his demand that they pay for the large wall that has just been completed on his decree. The crowd cheers. The almost -prexy is blissful. The scientists will keep him in this state for at least eight years

Meanwhile back at the ranch, our would-be dictator’s followers undergo a shocking reversal. It’s as if the mind-link connecting them to their hero has somehow been severed. With the polls still open, they head to the polls en masse, and to the surprise of  the pundits, vote against their erstwhile idol! The country is saved! (well, not really saved, as the opponent is not all that great, but much better than our orange-hued alien.)

OK, that’s the gist of the thing. Some of it might need punching up and you can change the ending if it’s too cliche. Again, this is so far-fetched as to be laughable – American voters certainly aren’t as naive as we suggest, but suspension of disbelief is at the heart of the movie-going experience.

Waiting for “Waiting for Godot”

13 Feb

“I’ve never heard of that book”, said the puzzled book store employee when we asked whether the store had any copies of Waiting for Godot. Things weren’t looking good for Godot.


Several years ago we saw the film Vanya on 42nd Street in which a group of well-known actors rehearsed Chekov’s Uncle Vanya at a run-down theater in New York without ever intending to stage a full-blown production of the play. That gave us an idea. What if we rehearsed Waiting for Godot with our friends? Since we see our friends infrequently, the idea languished on the back burner for the better part of a year. Then in December, we got together with our friends Louie, Sam, and Fred for beer and pizza. At the end of the evening we pitched our idea, which earned us some quizzical looks from our buds. We thought that was the end of it, until Louie contacted the gang via e-mail and suggested that we all give the idea a try. Sam and Fred only vaguely remembered the conversation, but said they were up for it. We met at Louie’s on a chilly night in January.

We had only one copy of the text, which we gave to Sam.  We, Louie, and Fred hooked up laptops and read from a copy of the play we found online.  We were the only one in the quartet who had seen the play (albeit on DVD.) The casting was done on the spur of the moment. Sam said that he’d be Vladimir, one of the two tramps who wait for Godot, so the part was his. Louie volunteered for the part of Estragon, the other tramp.  That left Pozzo and Lucky (and the little boy who comes in at the end of both acts.)  We knew that Fred would make the perfect Pozzo, so we chose Lucky. As for the little boy, we’d just wing it.

We tore into the material.  About 15 minutes into the reading, Sam looked pointedly at us and said “Harry, what’s this play about?” (Sam is a lawyer by trade, and used to dealing in things that can be known.) We told him quite honestly that we didn’t know. We once heard of a movie goer who, having seen Ken Russell’s Lisztomania gushed , “I didn’t understand it, but I loved every minute of it!” 1 That’s how we feel about Waiting for Godot – we enjoy the play, but we find ourselves unable (and unwilling) to pin it down.

The reading continued until just after 9pm, when the looming work day on the morrow forced an early stopping point. We hadn’t even reached the end of Act I. Everyone agreed that the play was intriguing and we made vague plans to meet again to continue the reading.  That gave us time to score three more dog-eared copies of the text. Several weeks passed without a firm plan to meet again.  Sam took the initiative, e-mailing “So when are we going to meet again?  I want to know what happens to Vladimir.” Beckett had apparently awakened some dormant creative impulses in our band of grumpy old men.  We’re shooting for February 19th.

Waiting for Godot has been described as “a play in which nothing happens, twice” (and this was written by Vivian Mercier, a fan of the play.)  We hope Mercier is wrong – we’re hoping that this nothing happens more than twice.

  1. Not having seen Lisztomania, we can’t say whether this enthusiastic view was warranted. However, the director is Ken Russell, so we kind of doubt it.

High Plains Drifter and the race for the Republican presidential nomination

18 Jan

This article contains spoilers, but given that the picture in question was released over 40 years ago, we figure that if you like this sort of thing, you’ve already seen it.

We’re fans of some pretty bad movies.  We love Arnold Schwarznegger’s Commando as well as some bad Clint Eastwood movies (The Gauntlet, for example.) While channel-flipping last week,  we found High Plains Drifter, which we had never seen.  We don’t recall which film critic coined the term “adult fairy tales” to describe pictures of this type, but it fits this movie to a T.  The moral universe of the movie is unrelentingly ugly. ( The picture was made in the early 70s when anti-heroes were starting to be a thing -Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange had been released two years earlier in 1971.) One of the first things Clint’s character (who’s never given a name) does when he arrives in the Western town where the film is set is to rape a woman because, well, he’s Clint and he can.  He also establishes his street cred as a gunslinger.

We then see violent flashbacks of three bad men as they brutally bullwhip the town’s former sheriff to death. This sequence goes on waaaay too long.  The townsfolk watch this horrible spectacle and do nothing to stop it (and as we later learn,  they’re complicit in this murder.)  The scene makes no sense: if these guys want to bump off the sheriff, why don’t they simply shoot him?  Well, that would be direct and to the point, whereas the writers (and Clint, who also directed) apparently want to make this scene as nasty as possible.  What the hell, they succeed.

The three who killed the sheriff are expected to return and they’re mad at the populace, so the townsfolk hire Clint to protect them (sorta like the Seven Samurai, but in this case, there’s only one.) Clint balks, so they sweeten the deal;  in return for his protection, he can have anything he wants.  Big mistake – there’s a whole lot of things that Clint wants.  After a while, the folks get pretty sick of Clint’s demands and plot to shoot him while he sleeps.  In a scene straight out of a Warner Brother’s cartoon, he’s waiting for them on the balcony and tosses a bundle of  dynamite into the room.  Ka-boom!  That’s all, folks!

Unfazed by the attempt on his life, Clint has the townsfolk paint all the buildings in the town red as he renames the town “Hell”.   That’s where we quit watching the picture – unlike The Gauntlet, which to us is a good bad movie, this was a bad bad movie.  Besides, we pretty much knew how the thing was going to play out. There’d be a lotta mayhem, the bad guys’d be killed off, the townsfolk’d get their comeuppance and Clint would vamoose. (Based on what we read on IMDB, we were pretty close.)


Clint paints the town red

The picture is deliberately unclear about Clint’s relationship it to murdered sheriff – is he the ghost of the sheriff, the sheriff’s brother or what?  One thing is clear, the picture is apocalyptic, with an entire town in chaos, in turmoil, being destroyed by a malevolent interloper.

We then turned to the news and saw that Donald Trump was still doing quite well in his bid for the Republican nomination.

Star Wars: The Force Rehashes

30 Dec

Note: Not wishing to ruin anyone’s fun, we have not revealed any major plot twists in this post, but we have spilled the beans on some minor plot points.

The latest Star Wars offering is on track to make a gazillion dollars on top of the gazillion dollars it’s already raked in. We’ve always found the
series entertaining but we were never die-hard fans. (We skipped the two that precede the current flick.) Not using superlatives to describe Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems akin to being lukewarm about Mom and apple pie, but we must confess that we found the film diverting but not exceptional.

SW:TFA (or SW:WTF if your prefer) has the added rush of including Han Solo, General Leia (not just a princess anymore), Luke Skywalker, and of course, Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2D2. In this go-round, R2D2’s been in a funk since Master Luke went away and (like Timothy Leary’s opposite) refuses to turn on. (We think that he’s really in a snit because a smaller, cuter robot named BB-8 has stolen his thunder.)


We think you might be jealous,  R2.

How do you top what has gone before?  Well, you apparently do that by rehashing the first film with a young woman named Rey in lieu of Master Luke. No Darth Vader? No problem – invent a new bad guy named Kylo Ren or Rilo Kiley or something like that and give him a light sword that goes up to 11.

The bad guys in the first Star Wars film had a nasty weapon called the Death Star. In the new one, the bad guys have a nasty weapon that’s kinda sorta like the Death Star only different, a sort of non-Death-Star Death Star.

Of course, there are some new characters too, the aforementioned Rey, and a Stormtrooper-turned-good-guy named FN-2187 (one can imagine the writers being at an impasse over what to call the character, and one exclaiming “Call him effin’ 2187 for all I care!”) who is later called Finn.

This picture’s got all the stuff that you expect from the series – the Millennium Falcon flying sideways through narrow chasms, lots of whoosh noises, s**t that blows up, the whole nine yards. However, it struck us that the series has become an endless cycle, like the same Wacky Races cartoon run over and over again. The Rebels are oppressed, they defeat the Empire and celebrate their victory. The Empire strikes back, the rebels defeat the Empire and celebrate their victory, in an endless cycle of samsara. We asked our son-in-law whether George Lucas had any involvement in SW:TFA, to which he replied “Not even a little bit.” We can understand why – after all this back and forth, a profound ennui has set in.


The Rabbit Joke

24 Dec

‘Tis the season to be jolly.  In spite of that, we decided we’d post this joke.  It’s not our joke – the comedian Pete Barbutti told it on the Carson show years ago.  It happens to be our friend Eddie’s favorite joke and he appears in the accompanying video.  We’ve been sitting on this video for over a year – we weren’t sure whether we should visit this joke on the world.  Then we realized that we haven’t posted anything in awhile, so we thought we’d post it at long last.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you.



Blast from the Past – est

15 Nov

Today we found ourselves wondering if est, popular in the 70s and 80s, was still a thing. Turns out that it is, although now it’s called the Forum or something like that. est was the brainchild of Jack Rosenberg, who changed his name to Werner Erhard and began teaching seminars in human potential.

During the 80s, we had a friend who’d gone to the est training and encouraged us to go to an introductory session. What the heck, we did, though we went in with a healthy skepticism. We’d heard stuff about est – that it restricted “bio breaks” for one thing. The other thing we’d heard that turned us off was that est trainers seemed to have a penchant for referring to those in the seminar using a popular (and vulgar) euphemism for the sphincter in the lower body. (this was true, at least at the time, though this did not occur at the session we attended.)

Anyhoo, we went to the session along with a few other friends of our friend. The trainer was a chap named Larry who seemed like a nice guy. He began his talk speaking about how people tend to put others into categories. “He’s a businessman”, he said, pointing at a man in a suit, “she’s a teacher”, he said, pointing at a woman, “he’s an auto mechanic”, he said, pointing at us. He’d hit pay dirt – not with the man, who turned out not to be a businessman, nor with us (we weren’t an auto mechanic, though we dressed like one then.) The woman though, was a teacher. It seemed to us that he gave her a little bit more attention the rest of that evening, apparently because he’d correctly guessed her occupation. (We don’t know if she signed up for the training.)

He went on to talk about how he’d recently sat next to a guy on an airplane who worked for the Department of Defense. Learning his fellow passenger’s occupation, he braced himself, expecting to hear a lot of hawkish views. Larry was surprised when the man told him that he hated war and hated to see wars break out.

This was all pleasant enough – we’d heard someone speak about not judging others by our impressions of them, which was sound advice. We then recall that a couple of est graduates sounded us out to see if we wanted to take the training. We declined – the training was not cheap, and though we’d enjoyed the evening, we weren’t going to plunk down the several hundred dollars needed to sign up – we didn’t make as much money auto mechanics did. The graduates did not press the point, and the evening ended on a positive note.

After he took the training, our friend seemed to like to use the phrase “I got it!” This was not annoying – we even kind of liked it. However, we ourselves never really “got it”. Though we attended at least one other event (at which Werner Erhard himself spoke), the idea of taking the est training seemed alien to our way of thinking, like asking a baseball fan to drop the game and take up cricket instead (or vice versa). In retrospect, we’re wondering if it came down to us not respecting any group who’d agree to have us as members.


Feel Good Filmmaking

18 Oct

Last month we discussed Giles Witherell’s book Bridge of Spies and speculated about the then-forthcoming Steven Spielberg film of the same name.  The film deals with the capture of Soviet spy William Fisher (or Rudolph Abel, as he was known that the time), James Donavan, his defense lawyer, and the subsequent prisoner swap of Abel for U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down and captured by the Russians in 1960.

Is the movie any good? Yes, we think that the film is both engaging and entertaining, with an understated performance by Mark Rylance as Abel, the impassive Soviet operative and a strong performance by Tom Hanks as the film’s central character James Donavan.  We thought the scenes set against the backdrop of the construction of the Berlin wall were particularly effective. We also liked the inclusion of the ‘duck and cover’ films shown in US schools during that era. Not only that, but there’s a  brief Kubrick reference in one of the film’s scenes set in Berlin.

Is the film accurate?  Yes, for the most part it is, though the scenes where Powers is deprived of sleep and doused with buckets of cold water contradicts Powers’ statement that he was not tortured.

It is fun to speculate what the picture might have been had the filmmakers decided to make Reino Hayhanen, Abel’s drunken, incompetent assistant a character in the film.  The picture begins with federal agents tailing Abel on the streets of New York and in its subways, culminating with his arrest in a hotel room.  This is an effective sequence, and for the most part it’s factual.  Left out is the fact that the Feds only became aware of Abel’s activities because Hayhanen feared being called back to Moscow and spilled his guts to U.S. authorities.  We think that the contrast between the stoic, no-nonsense Abel and the undisciplined, boozy Hayhanen would have made for a more interesting narrative than that of James Donavan’s legal efforts, but that would have called for a different approach, with a tip of the hat toward the absurd.  Given the film’s screenwriters, who include Joel and Ethan Coen, we’re wondering why this angle was not explored.

James Brown

I feel good (I knew that I would)

One question that occurred to us after we saw the picture is why this story and why now? After all, the events depicted in the film occurred over 50 years ago.  The US is a very different country now and the cold war Soviet Union no longer exists. Steven Spielberg is somewhat of a present day Frank Capra; most, if not all of Spielberg’s films (even Shindler’s List, which deals with the Jewish Holocaust) tend to end on an upbeat note. The picture has an undercurrent of feel-good Americanism, depicting how even a Soviet agent is allowed his day in court with a lawyer to defend him. Could it be that Spielberg in own quiet way is reminding us in this era of Citizens United and unlimited political money that we should hold fast to the principles that undergird our legal system? It is tempting to think so. On the other hand, the film’s screenwriters are Matt Charman, and the aforementioned Coen brothers, the latter two of whom are not known for optimistic endings. Maybe we’re reading more into the timing of the film’s release (a year out from the next presidential electon) than is necessary.  Even without the feel-good factor, the story makes for a pretty good yarn. We’re not usally fans of Spielberg’s work (we think he’s too much of a feel-good director), but what the heck, we liked Bridge of Spies.

Cold War High Jinks

3 Sep

When we were kids, we checked out a book called “Spies and Spying” from our local library. Written for a young readers, it nevertheless contained real life tales of espionage. Our favorite was about Rudolph Abel (now known by his real name, William Fisher), an undercover Soviet agent living in New York, and the inept spy that Moscow sent to assist him, Reino Hayhanen.

The end of Fisher’s time in New York began when one of the men (probably Hayhanen) inadvertently passed into circulation a hollow nickel concealing a small sheet of film containing microdots. The specious specie came into the possession of two school teachers, who passed it in a handful of change to their news boy. The young man thereupon dropped the coins, splitting open the faux nickel and revealing its contents. This and the fact that Hayhanen spilled his guts to U.S.authorities ultimately led to Fisher’s arrest. (After receiving a message calling him back to Moscow for a ‘rest’ and a ‘promotion’, Hayhanen rightly panicked.) Fisher was later returned to Russia in a prisoner swap that included U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

Two years ago we had another of our get-rich-quick schemes. We would write a screenplay. We didn’t know of a single movie that dealt with the Fisher / Hayhanen story, so we’d get in ahead of everyone else. It couldn’t miss:

“Fade in. A bridge seen from above with figures at either end. The scene is partially obscured by fog. Cut to a tracking shot of two men seen from behind at the right of the frame. At the left of the frame, we see in the distance three men approaching in the opposite direction. The camera pans around, and we see the faces of the two men.

Cut  to five years earlier …”

Needless to say, we never followed through, and now we’ve been beaten to the punch by Steven Speilberg; next month, Dreamworks will release “Bridge of Spies”. We’re disappointed – instead of our hackneyed handling of the story, the world will instead see Spielbeg’s hackeneyed handling of the story.

Nothing in the film’s promotional materials indicates the film’s sources, but we speculate that it’s based at least in part on Giles Whittell’s book “Bridge Of Spies.” Without having yet seen the film, we worry that it’ll contain a lot of hokey jingoism (The tagline on the official web site is “In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stand for.”) We won’t provide a link to the site, ’cause Spielberg isn’t one of our favorite directors – we’re probably the only ones who think that “E.T.” was overrated.

From the looks of things, the focus of the film is going to be on James Donovan, the American lawyer who negotiated the swap of William Fisher for Francis Gary Powers and Frederic Pryor, an academic captured by the East German Stasi. To us though, the story of the odd pairing of the adept Fisher with the incompetent Hayhanen seems the more interesting one. The accounts we read years ago about Abel/Fisher depicted him as a superspy, though Whittell’s book suggests that this reputation is undeserved. Fisher certainly kept a low profile, and was capable at photography and at creating microdots, but Whittell points out that he provided Moscow with little valuable intelligence during his stint in the US. Whittell goes as far as suggesting that Fisher essentially “went native”, going through the motions of espionage while his main pursuits were art and painting. Still, he was competent, in contrast to Hayhanen, who spoke English with a thick accent, showed little interest in learning the techniques of spycraft, spent money intended for other purposes on himself,  engaged in loud drunken rows with his wife, and generally called lots of attention to himself.  To us, this seems the stuff of a Harold Pinter play.

We’ll know soon enough if the Spielberg production is a worthy one. As long as they don’t overplay the patriotic angle and lay off the cliches, we figure it’ll be an OK movie. The trailer for the film displays the words “Inspired by True Events”, which is usually code for “We’re gonna play fast and loose with the facts, then tell you it’s the true story.”

William Fisher

Why’d ya spy on us, Willie?