Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Movie Review: The Bicycle Thief

I just saw an old movie last night called The Bicycle Thief. It is an old foreign film, made in Italy in 1948. The story is about a guy who gets his bike stolen. Not the topic of a drama, you ask? Not so. It was a powerfully riveting and heart-wrenching film.

The story revolves around a man who is trying to support his family in Italy after WWII. He finally gets a job, but the job requires a bicycle. He and his wife sell the family bed sheets in order to buy their bicycle back from the pawnshop. Unfortunately, on the very first day of work, the bicycle is stolen by a group of thugs. The rest of the film takes place the next day as the man and his young son try desperately to find the bicycle.

The film is a work of "Italian Neorealism." From what I understand, no professional actors are employed. The main character, it seems, was actually a factory worker.

I believe everyone should see the film. After you see it, please come back and read the rest of the post...

I'll wait right here....


Seen it? Good. Now, what struck me most, I think, was the ending. The man, who has lost all hope, is tempted to steal a bicycle himself. And he does. He is chased down, caught, and humilitated in front of his son.

The movie is successful in making us resent intensely the person who originally stole the bicycle. We see the devastation that this one action caused in the lives of this poor family. But then, the film suddenly turns our judgment on its head. The father, who we feel great sympathy for, is then placed in the position of the thief. We want his theft to be successful. So, on the one hand, we are made to resent a thief intensly and then, just as quickly, we are made to completely sympathize with a thief. In this, it is a tale about our cautionary tale of our moral judgments, and how quick we are to point fingers without understanding.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The tale of my book manuscript

Many of you know that I am currently trying to get a book published. It has been a long, humbling experience, to say the least. I dreamed up the idea for my book way back in 2001. I was trying to figure out the effect that one of my professors had on me. His name was Jack Newell. That man, along with Claudia Wright back at old Cottonwood High, were the two biggest teaching influences in my life. Jack taught a class in education that used philosophy, religion, literature, and psychology. He introduced me to Emerson and Earl Shorris. But more than that, though, the dude was a story teller and gave us glimpses into his life -- a life that integrated action and scholarship. I found myself gravitating to him and wanting to be like him. I wanted to adopt his (sometime unorthodox) views. I wanted not only to integrate action with scholarship, I wanted to eat lunch where he ate lunch, for crying out loud. I'm not sure the influence was completely for the best. The interesting thing is this: I never chose to want to be like this guy. I just starting imitating. This influence made me want to understand the processes by which we are influenced in this way. How, in short, are we influenced by other human lives?

The idea eventually morphed into my special field examination product, then to my dissertation, and then to a book manuscript. Along the way, I've noticed, and been informed of by others, every problem with the text, major and minor. I've had to make the case that somebody other than me would actually be interested in the book enough to (gasp) pay money for it. I spent hours trying to craft the proposal and the manuscript to be both literarily sophisticated, scholarly sound, and commercially viable. But I, more than anyone else, know that beneath the makeup of the finished product there are a few warts here and there. I've not been surprised, then, to receive various polite letters saying that the manuscript was not a good fit for publishing house X.

Finally, though, it appears that the book may actually get off the ground. I received some very positive feedback from a respectable academic press. The book was called "a pleasure to read," "clear and often elegant," "fascinating and ever-timely," and an achievement that "demonstrates good control of the sources in supple and straightforward fashion." So, I'm not really sure how to feel. On the one hand, I feel excited that this little piece of me, my little child, will finally see the light of day. On the other hand, I'm worried that when people actually read it, they will see just a little brat covered with warts -- a kid only a mother could love. Darn that Jack.