Way To The 20th Century

Picasso At The Lapin Agile by Steve Martin

In the movie From Hell, starring Johnny Depp, there is a line by Jack The Ripper (played by Ian Holm). It goes something like this: Someday people will know that I am the one that brought the 20th century. Even though I love the movie,the story it is based on — with the idear that the murders committed by Jack The Ripper directly involved the British monarchy — is even better. Hence, it is an underrated film where a brilliant story and writing gets lost. Nomatter. The line regarding who brought us the 20th century has stuck with me ever since. It is one of those lines I will simply never get out of my head. Which is kinda strange. For one, I hate the 20th century. Secondly, what’s the big deal? The passage from the 19th to 20th just can’t be the passage to end all historic passages? I mean, come on. The 20th century is a time where thousands of years of human evolution combined to result in nothing more than destruction, hate and ugliness comparable only to a space-time anomaly where an ice cream maker is suddenly transported from the comfort of the first world to the malcontent of the 3rd world, let’s say right in the middle of the Amazon or the Sahara, just as he was about to provide an over-priced banana split to the richest child New York City greed could ever produce. And as history witnesses this phenomenon the audience gasps and screams: Aw, fuck the kid, what about the poor ice cream?

“A bar in Paris, 1904. One year later, Albert Einstein published the special theory of relativity. Three years later, Pablo Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” -Mise en scené from Picasso at the Lapin Agile, by Steve Martin

Ok. That’s one way to worst-see things. Another is provided by Steve Martin. Of the people I grew up watching on the boob-tube, Steve Martin I remember well. I used to love watching him on SNL in the 70s. His film “The Jerk” is one of the greatest comedies ever made and for weeks after I first saw it (at a drive-in) I went around saying: I was born a poor black child. Many years later, when I first saw “Roxanne“, I thought to myself, how talented can one person be? Well, that’s the thing about talent. When you got it, you got it. King Tut aside. So spring forward to a visit to one of my favourite bookstores in the world. Whenever I was visiting San Francisco I would spend hours in the basement of this store combing through the play section. When this book fell into my hands I had no idear that Steve Martin wrote plays. The clerk laughed at my ignorance and put another book by Marin in my hands. At that moment I started to hate Martin. Without even reading a line of one of his friggin’ books, I hated him. It just ain’t fair that nature put so much talent into one man and leave the rest of us to wallow in worst. Oh well.

So I bought both Picasso at the Lapin Agile and other plays and Shopgirl. I read them in hours. Never before did I embark on reading something and before my mind processed the first words I knew it was going to be good. This stuff comes out of the talent of Steve Martin. And even though it makes no sense that I should make the comparison to From Hell, a story written by someone who is probably the antithesis of a über-talented American comedian, both writers tapped into the question: who gave us the 20th century?

Einstein: “I never thought the twentieth century would be handed to me so casually…” -Steve Martin from his play. 

Rant on.