At no point during the first two acts of “The Naked Gun” is there any hint that viewers will spend the final minutes of the film caught up in the minutiae of a baseball game. But the entire plot of this classic film hangs on hardball.
Every joke, every sight gag, every frame of celluloid in the first 59 minutes 45 seconds is just a brick on the path that leads to one of the most inspired finales, combining sport and comedy, ever put on screen.
I’m on my first-ever cruise because I wanted to see how the entertainment world’s 99 percent, as Bernie Sanders might say, work for a living. The comedians who don’t film HBO specials; the magicians who aren’t David Blaine; the variety acts who don’t just disappear after their fifteen seconds on America’s Got Talent. These entertainers are struggling to compete with everything from YouTube phenoms to Netflix and Spotify. In Vegas and Times Square, small clubs and homegrown acts are getting squeezed out by arenas, superstars, and global brands, like mom-and-pop shops bulldozed by Walmarts.
But maybe smaller acts aren’t dying. Maybe they’ve just gone on vacation, since cruises need entertainers now more than ever. The $38 billion cruise industry has boomed with Boomers, growing from 17.8 million passengers in 2010 to 25.8 million passengers in 2017. The Regal Princess is one of more than four hundred fifty active cruise ships, and each is a floating entertainment district. It typically employs a six-piece party band; a seven-piece house band; a jazz quintet; a DJ; a piano-bar lounge singer; and seventeen singer-dancers who rotate through stage shows, including two created exclusively for Princess by Wicked’s Stephen Schwartz. (Other lines feature partnerships with outfits like Cirque du Soleil, Second City, and Blue Note Records.) Last year, Kaler and his team booked four hundred sixty-eight different headliners, from “a cappella” to “xylophonist.”
Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.
Think for a second about an atom. You’re probably picturing a nucleus of a couple protons and neutrons, two-three electrons orbiting around. The more physics-minded may be envisioning a model where the electrons are really a probability cloud stippled around the nucleus. Either one’s fine. The number of electrons bouncing around varies, as does the size of the nucleus, but the structure remains the same.
Just as the essential structure of the atom is prescribed by nature, so, too, are there only so many ways to lay out a city, it seems, and most of them, weirdly, feel like atoms. Even in cities that sprawl, like Indianapolis or Oklahoma City or Little Rock, you’ve got your downtown nucleus, your gentrifying neighborhoods orbiting close to the center — artist and queer quarters — fading into outer circles of chains and strip malls and body shops constricted by the interstates.
A hundred steps away from the cave, I’d just taken off my respirator and glasses when I heard a tremendous mechanical clamor above my head, the sound of a thousand windup toys all going off at once. Then came an ammonia-laced gust of wind as the bats in the cave poured up and out into the gloaming to begin their nightly foraging. I looked up, just for a second, and caught a juicy dollop of fresh guano directly in my left eye. It was hot, and it burned. I knew right away this was a “wet contact,” potentially as dangerous as a bite.
Futzing around on social media, as one does, I recently stumbled upon a meme that hit close to home. Over a picture-patterned sofa in an autumnal-colored velour with scrolling dark wood trim, it declared, “Everyone’s grandparents had this couch. Everyone’s.” I paused, because my grandmother did, in fact, have this exact type of couch. The site TipHero took the meme further in a list associating this couch style with an “ancient” television very similar to my grandma’s large floor model with turned wood in the frame. The list nailed Grandma’s house in other ways: “Bonzana” on the old TV, lace doilies, tomato pin cushions, hard candies, crossword puzzles, transferware, shag-rug toilet covers, and leftovers in Country Crock tubs.
A film can never fully submerge its viewers in a single character’s subjectivity in the same way a novel can. What we see on screen is what we see, and one of the things we see is the main character. In the film of The Little Stranger, Faraday is played by Domhnall Gleeson, who brings a pinched, gingery dourness to an atmosphere already saturated in gloom. We can only surmise what he thinks of himself, but we’re shown how he appears to other people; the evidence is right before our eyes. In the novel, the opposite is the case, because the doctor’s insecurities prevent him from realizing how he comes across.
"I set out to write a traditional British style comedy of manners," he said. "It's just a very chatty, bubbly, idiotic, or ridiculous conversation which is sort of my stock in trade and I love to work in that mode. Like Evelyn Waugh and Ivy Compton-Burnett, et cetera. But when I was looking away, the book became more serious for me and the tone shifted. Not to spoil it for anybody but by the end of the book we're delving into deeper, heavier territory. So I sat around and thought what kind of a book is this? It's not really a comedy."
And yet the novel is laugh-out-loud funny; a story where high jinks actually ensue. Did he intend to be so entertaining?
"I really do actually and it's something I think maybe I hadn't reconciled myself to. When I was coming up as a reader and then starting to write I had the sense that the idea of amusing people or just simply entertaining them is a frivolity. I'm not really sure where I picked this idea up but it took a period of years for me to get over. And I got over it mostly through reading and just recognizing that my favorite books of fiction are in fact funny. I'm definitely conscious of wanting to entertain my readers but I'm also hoping that they'll have something of a weightier experience, something with a little bit more bite to it."