Tuesday, July 20, 2004

One of the great advantages of moving out of one’s parents’ house is the ability to go back.

My parents hosted a neighborhood party on Sunday, and I decided to go. It was a fun opportunity to see neighbors that I hadn’t talked to in years. And, I could bring deviled eggs.

The eggs were a bit of a chore, as I’ve been working for awhile to perfect a system of baking the eggs instead of boiling them. I could put them on the racks of the oven (which was set for 325 degrees Fahrenheit), and they’d cook fully, but each had two large brown marks where the egg had rested against the grill. I finally solved the problem by stopping after fifteen minutes, five minutes, and another five minutes to rotate the eggs slightly. After the last rotation, five more minutes in the oven (thirty minutes total) cooked the eggs through. Then it was just a matter of tossing them in cold water and peeling them. Two of the eggs burst in the oven, but one was okay so I ended up with ten deviled eggs. Mixing mayonnaise and sugar with the yolks to taste was all else I needed to do.

Then, after arriving early and helping my parents get ready, I chatted with old neighbors for several hours. It was great. When we moved in twenty-five years ago, most of the families had young children, so I was used to hearing the shouts of kids playing as I grew up. As time went on, they all grew up and the new families were either much older or much younger—new couples who didn’t want children—and the shouts of children faded from the streets. But a few families with children have moved in recently, so I had the pleasant experience of chatting with joking acquaintances while children roamed the property, shouting and squealing to each other.

[The Maltese Falcon]

Afterwards, I stopped by Blockbuster’s and rented The Maltese Falcon, as part of my program to watch Ebert’s Great Movies. I watched it almost immediately after returning home.

The Maltese Falcon was completely different than I’d expected. It’s amazing how much I thought I knew from short clips and sly references.

For one, Sam Spade is incredibly slick. As someone in the film puts it, he has a fast mouth. He’s not necessarily smart, but he can always come up with some explanation or justification or line of questioning on the spot. That’s probably what elevates the character into greatness; he has a unique power.

Morever, Spade—like every other character—has strange, hidden depths to him. I was never quite sure what was going on within each character’s head. Even at the end, characters betray surprises about their motivations.

John Huston did a masterful job with the camera, zooming in or out—sometimes just slightly—to emphasize a plot point or keep the actors in the frame without resorting to a cut. It’s the sort of camerawork that’s often overused in Hong Kong filmmaking, where the camera will rapidly zoom in on a character’s face from a long shot, to heighten tension. In Hong Kong, it was exaggerated; here, it is used with supreme finesse.

Overall, I was as impressed as I hoped I’d be for a Great Film.

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