Mordecai Richler(1931-2001)was a Canadian author, screenwriter and essayist. A leading Canadian literary critic called him "the great shining star of his Canadian literary generation," and a pivotal figure in the country's history. Two of his best known works were: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz(1959), and Barney's Version(1997). Richler was far-out on the periphery of my life in 1959, when that first book came out, and when that second book was published he was still there, perhaps even further-out on that immense periphery like a distant galaxy with only the faintest of lights coming into my sensory emporium.
I was 15 in 1959; I had just joined the Baha’i Faith in Burlington Ontario, and my life was kept busy with sport and school, family and friends. If I had even heard of Richler, and his 1959 novel, there was no chance of my reading it in my teens and 20s. In 1997, as I was about to retire after a 50 year student-and-working life, I knew nothing of his novel Barney’s Version.
Richler and I were members of the Silent Generation,a label for the generation of people born from 1925–1945 notably during the Great Depression and World War II, although sometimes the label ‘War-Babies’ was applied to those like myself born during WW2. The label was originally applied to people in North America but has also been applied to those in Western Europe, Australasia and South America.
Richler grew-up in Montreal and moved to London in 1954 while I was living in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe and 13 years younger than Richler. He published seven of his ten novels, as well as considerable quantities of journalism, while living in London. Just before I left Canada for Australia in 1971, as I was teaching primary school in Prince Edward County Ontario, and two years after I’d got married, Richler won the Governor General's Award for his two books: Cocksureand Hunting Tigers Under Glass. I knew nothing of this, occupied as I was at the time with: job and career, marriage and music, mental health issues and my new religion, to say nothing of life's inevitable and endless daily routines.
My recollections regarding my late teens and early 20s, looking back now from nearly the age of 70, is that I occasionally heard about Richler from Canadian journalist Robert Fulford who worked for The Globe and Mail as a sports reporter in the ‘50s. I became a regular read of parts of the Globe and Mail by the early 1960s. Subsequently, Fulford rose to various editorial positions at that newspaper before moving to The Toronto Star as a columnist (1959–1962, 1964–1968). It was here, with that Toronto paper, and possibly on BBC radio, that Richler was occasionally mentioned. Not that I ever took him or his writing seriously.
Last night Richler made another, perhaps it would be his last, appearance in my life with the film Barney’s Version.1 It was an excellent story, with wonderful characters, great acting, and beautifully filmed. This was a fabulous piece of entertainment which enthralled me and, in the end, left a small lump in my throat, and a potential tear in my eye. It certainly left me reflective and introspective, leading me to write this little piece of poetic-prose.
Paul Giamatti played the title role and proved himself, at least to me, to be a thespian of renown. I knew nothing about Giamatti before this film. I couldn’t take my eyes off him even though, by 11 p.m., I’d taken my anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication and their soporific effects had begun to make me slightly euphoric.
The film was based on the above book, the above novel, Barney's Version. The film and the book had the same name. Mordecai Richler was long gone from his earthly abode by the time this film was made. The book and the film follow one, Barney Panofsky, through his life and his three marriages. However, it is the story of wife number three, Miriam, which makes this an unusual story of true love. It was the part of the film I saw last night, and I was clearly moved, identifying with this poor chap and his sins of omission and commission. I won’t give you chapter and verse on the story; you can read about it if you are interested.
Barney, in a capricious spur of the moment sexual fling, destroys the trust with the one true love of his life. Ah, those momentary lapses of judgement that one oh so wishes to be able to take back. His marriage with Miriam ends, as does his life, with Alzheimer's filling-in his last years. Miriam, that 3rd wife, says: "We had a lovely marriage but now it's over." Once what was so beautiful--is now over. It is a sad moment, and the film ends with sadness coating the plot, the images and the reactions of viewers. Barney's Version is, in some ways, the story of everyman who has his moments of greatness and his moments of great wrong. Exists there a man or woman, for that matter, who does not achieve great heights in life as well as great depths. Of course, to each their own as we all travel the path leading ever onward to: heaven, oblivion, or, perhaps, reincarnation. We each have our beliefs. I think Barney went for oblivion. His Jewishness was cultural and not religious. Adam and Eve and the great flood were not part of his literary baggage.
The music of Leonard Cohen at the end of the movie, especially the lyrics of “I’m Your Man”, and Miriam's voice-over in the trailer in some ways sums-up the film perfectly: "Life's real. It's made up of little things: minutes, hours, naps, errands, routine, and that has to be enough." This is a summary for the skeptic, the cynic, the person who has no real belief in an afterlife and who must settle for life's long series of this's-and-that's. In some ways, don't we all.-Ron Price with thanks to Barney’s Version, SBSONE TV, 10 August, 2013, 9:30 to 11:55 p.m.
The ordinarily ordinary, and the humanly human was never enough for me back then in my late teens and 20s; nor is it now with my 70s on the horizon and old-age beckoning…And so it is that: job, marriage, the quotidian, just did not cut it for me back in the 1960s as my search dictated some raison d’etre, some ultima Thule,1 as well as that sacred tree beyond which there is no passing.2
1Thule, in classical European literature and on maps, is a region in the far north. Though often considered to be an island in antiquity, modern interpretations of what was meant by Thule often identify it as Norway, an identification supported by modern calculations. Other interpretations include: Orkney, Shetland, and Scandinavia. In the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Thule was often identified with Iceland or Greenland. The term ultima Thule in medieval geographies denotes any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world".
2 Advance, O people, with snow-white faces and radiant hearts, unto the blest and crimson Spot, wherein the Sadrat'ul-Muntahá is calling: "Verily, there is none other God beside Me, the Omnipotent Protector, the Self-Subsisting!" --Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.198.
The Sadratu'l-Muntaha, translated inter alia as the Sidrah Tree, marks the boundary, and the Lote-Tree of the extremity. See: Qur'an 53:14. This Tree is said to stand at the loftiest point in Paradise, and to mark the place beyond which neither men nor angels can pass. In Bahá'í terminology it refers to the Manifestation of God.-Abdu'l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 175. Go to this link for more on this theme: http://bahai-library.com/compilation_sadrat_muntaha
Ron Price 11/8/'13 to 12/8/'13.
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