Paul Sheldon had a bottle of Dom Pérignon on ice, and to open it he waited to write “fine” under the typescript of the new novel. Disciplined waiting to finish work to start drinking aside, Paul Sheldon was just like us. But we didn’t know this then.
I didn’t know that I was eighteen and did (as little as possible) my homework; but neither did the adults, who did not have cell phones, social platforms, daily interactions with crackpots, reputations constantly at risk.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition: nobody knew that, three decades later, the world would be divided into Paul Sheldon, who believes he can do with the work of his wits what he believes, and Annie Wilkes, who breaks his legs. because he, his favorite novelist, wants to dare to kill his heroine of literary fiction.
Misery must not die was a perfect storm of talents of those who never come to mind when we have to list the best, and then when they die we mourn them. Stephen King’s novel was written by William Goldman, the Marathon Runner, All the President’s Men, and above all Butch Cassidy. The film was directed by Rob Reiner, who from Stand by me to Code of Honor, through Harry, meet Sally, was always very careful not to get noticed while making the history of cinema. Annie Wilkes played her an over forty-year-old with three minds and no fame: today, between a chat about body positivity and the other, the possessed who kidnaps the writer would make a 25-year-old busty woman with millions of hearts play her on Instagram, not to an unknown Kathy Bates.
And then there was James Caan. James Caan never occurred to us. He didn’t come to mind when we made the good lists, hardly even occurred to us when we discussed the Godfather. Al Pacino oh well, it was Al Pacino, but if we had to say about the intelligent Corleone we were talking about Vito, and if we had to say about the stupid Corleone we would say about Fredo. Sonny never. Hardly ever. Then we return to that «almost», now I would not want to neglect Paul Sheldon.
The movie was from Annie. Paul had to stay in bed. First sick, then a prisoner. The film was the hysteria crescendo of a type of character we see every day today, and thirty-two years ago it was terrifying. It told James Caan that, before the release, they had shown the film to Stephen King. Goldman had cleaned the story of much of the violence in the book, but bedridden James Caan was still the most helpless victim she had ever seen. When she is about to kill him, King’s voice can be heard in the darkness of the screening room, involved like an ordinary spectator: be careful, he has a gun.
It took one we could forget, to remind us to empathize. We needed one of whom we had thought twenty years earlier: ah, this is the beautiful but stupid Corleone. (All of Don Vito’s children are idiots, as it should be. No man who has any form of power, be it money or fame or the underworld, has children who are not idiots. Michael is hysterical, Santino is stupid, Fredo is both. hysterical be stupid, Connie is stupid, hysterical, and also female).
Sonny’s foolishness, so foolish that he falls into the trap set up by his foolish brother-in-law, is my favorite quarrel in discussions about the Godfather (arguing about the Godfather is a highly recreational activity). Little fans can’t bear to call a protagonist of their favorite film an idiot, not knowing that stupidity is an indispensable narrative mechanism: if Sonny wasn’t an idiot, the film would not exist.
Thursday on Twitter was a contest to remember that Caan was not Italian American, but it was proof that there was an identity tolerance between Jews and Italians, interpretations could be exchanged. I fear Occam suggests another explanation: fifty years ago, identitarianism was less prescriptive than it is today; today the project of a biopic of Joan Rivers is running aground because, for God’s sake, the actress chosen to play her was not Jewish. Yes, at the time there was Jack Nicholson who said he rejected The Godfather because it was right the role should go to an Italian, but it was his idea, not a rule that woe to break it, and in any case Nicholson’s renunciation comes out. from the debate between cultural identities and enters the field of failed castings to fantasize about. (What would Gone with the Wind be with Bette Davis? Or The Graduate with Robert Redford?)
I was looking at James Caan’s social crocodiles, the same as all the others – hey, I have a photo with the dead – but different from many others – to have a photo with the dead is Barbra Streisand, not Vongola75 – and I thought that yes, social media are co-responsible of the everyday crying someone we might not remember in our favorite charts; but there is a temporal inevitability that goes beyond the evil invention of the little hearts’ platforms.
Popular culture as we understand it is an invention of the 1960s, which incidentally are also the years that invented youth. It’s the decade that convinced us that being 20 was cool, and the decade that convinced us that movies and songs are very important. The first generation of popular culture posters, the ones who were twenty then, are now eighty, and they die quite frequently.
James Caan was just over thirty when he played Santino Corleone. And yes, okay, the history of cinema, the giants we will never have again, the objective importance of certain works. But, most of all, we are passionate about youth and the naivety of details such as the one told by Jennifer Tilly: Caan who, on the set of the Godfather, hides chillies in the middle of the food, because Coppola always steals it from his plate and so passes it to him. the desire. Every funeral speaks to us of us, we are the mourners but also the corpse. We don’t cry Santino and we don’t even cry Caan: we cry, as every time this pop rite of death is repeated, the via Gluck in which we no longer even know if we have ever really lived.
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