“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. “We can’t make it, sir. It’s spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me.” “I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg,” said the Commander. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!”
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, James Thurber Short Story published March 18 1939 The New Yorker
It’s a fair assumption that while most will have heard of Walter Mitty, in one of the movie guises, most will not have read the original James Thurber short story. Here is a link to a version.
As it turns out, with time on my hands at home, I’ve watched the 2013 video version starring Ben Stiller a couple of times the past few days.
The Stiller version has Walter working for Life Magazine, just as it is about to merge, (as it did in reality). One of their photographers, played by Sean Penn sends an image for the final front cover. The story in the movie revolves around that.
I’d watched the movie at a theater some years back and have to confess I’m not a Stiller fan, so it had little impact on me.
This time however I was taken, not with the story, but with the recurring theme of the best of Life Magazine. From the amazing sweeping scenery, to the interesting (strange) characters that have small but incremental parts. Just like reading Life.
The Director of Photography (DOP), Stuart Dryburgh, has done an amazing job of setting many of the scenes to emulate that story lines of many a great Life Magazine story. Take the drunken helicopter pilot. The kids playing football high in the Himalayas (can you be low in the Himalayas?) A volcano eruption, and miles and miles of ranging Icelandic mountain country.
The second time I watched it with the sound turned down, and fast forwarded the ‘talking bits’,
It’s no secret, to those who’ve followed the my humble Saturday Evening Posts, that magazines like Time, Life, Nat Geo and The Bulletin played a big part of my early photographic training. While still at school I was following the work of David Duncan Douglas, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, Eve Arnold and Dorothea Lange, to mention but a few. I was fortunate that my local small town library had a grand supply of magazines and photo journalism books, and to be honest, I immersed myself.
Places and people I never heard of, nor had any idea about how they fitted in to wider world, filled my head with the joy of the story and the wonder of the photographs.
So much so, that it is fair to say, that if certain events and people had not occurred in my youth (all good, no regrets), then I might well have filled that “Walter Mitty” in me, and as John Muir said, “With a pocketful of biscuits I set off to explore the inventions of God“. Well, with a Nikon F, and a few rolls of Tri-X perhaps 🙂
Life Magazine had a motto, “To see Life; to See the World”, in the movie it becomes, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life”
One of the most interesting photographic moments is when Walter finally catches up with photographer O’Connell as he is photographing a Snow Leopard. “A Ghost Cat“, say O’Connell, then decides not to take the picture, Walter asks why and O’Connell says, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
All very symbolic and adventuresome. That I guess is why I enjoyed the visuals, with the sound turned down, less distractions to the brilliant camera work of the DOP.
Which left me with one unanswered question, Who would go to photograph a ghost cat with a Nikon F3T (titanium) and a 300mm f/2.8 Nikon lens, without a lens hood?
And to paraphrase “The Alchemist“, by Paulo Choelo, “…the thing you really need is the thing you already have, you just need to learn to take a closer look. You don’t need to travel around the world, you had what you wanted all the time.”
Best wishes to all my Fellow-Stay-at-Home-rs. Remain safe and well, and be brave to dream big dreams.
. . . He put his shoulders back and his heels together. “To hell with the handkerchief,” said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.
8 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #76 : The quintessence of Life”
Aren’t raindrops magical! That’s a beautiful image indeed.
An interesting essay too. I’m one of the odd people who knows Walter Mitty in print but not on film. James Thurber is one of my favourite writers – so funny and so touching. And his drawings are sublime.
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Hi Eleanor, he does write great characters, its been said, but I can’t recall the details, that most of the characters were a reflection of his own foibles.
I was going to add that the Stiller character in the movie is indeed the Classic Campbell “Hero’s Journey”.
His drawings, I guess pen and ink, are both simple and full of meaning. Hard to pass up on the non-complicated in life.
Interesting David, I have not much knowledge of Walter Mitty, though I have heard of the story. I think I get the gist of what you are saying, I like the quote from Paulo Choelo, worthy of some meditative reflection. Interesting time for us. We have been reflecting together and growing closer. We have had 2 birthdays via Zoom, church services, and meetings. There is a Zoom boom online for virtual socialising. National Parks have told me we can walk in the parks and exercise while the police are trying to stop us going out. We may have ago today and see where it gets us. Stay well my friend, this cold spell is a prelude to winter.
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Morning Ashley, thanks for stopping by.
An interesting time, I wonder when it is all over (is it ever all over) how much we’ll just fall back into the ways of before, or will a social upheaval in the way we interact occur. The Zoom thing is an example, just a few weeks back, most organised groups would have scorned the idea of fellowshipping from home.
We have the same problem, dept A says, Yes, dept B says NO, we are taking the option B, but I’m still walking in the morning. Although with daylight saving finished, I won’t have the wonderful cloak of darkness for much of the time.
Here is a link you might find interesting on the effect of “Forest Bathing”, we all need some green in our lives.
Chlorophyll is more than just a physical product to be measured and weighed.
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Thanks David very interesting 👍
A fabulous header image, David. A long time since I have read Thurber’s work. I will do so again in coming days.
There seems to be much contradiction in the information we are getting at the moment, can we, can’t we. Constable Plod has one set of directions, the pollies say something else and the medics say one thing but mean another, or so it seems! Stay well, get some images when and where you can!
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Hi David, I guess we all want a little wriggle room.The logic of keeping the rules simple appeals to me. Once they start on quantifying this or that, then it all becomes legal wrangling. I am, for one, and EE as well, happy to abide with the stay home rule.
The appalling story of the lost fishermen off Philip Island is going to waste so many valuable resources that might be deployed elsewhere.
Our bleeding heart media are all on the side of “L” plate driver, but the Stay at Home rule should have been obvious.
As I put up today, Forest Bathing is such a single, isolated activity, it runs no risk of infecting anyone, or stressing anyone. However, the ‘grey’ areas around the rules are not rubber bands no matter how much I would like.
Pity for us birdos as there is the beginning of the winter visitor season just around the corner.
Oh well, hopefully next year
Indeed, stay at home is what it is. My exercise walk takes me past the Woodville Football ground, in the hope that I might see a Little Wattlebird, Musk or Little Lori. No luck so far. And Glen Orden is just too far away. Yes, the L Plater was a long way from home when picked up, unfortunately she will have to wear that, unless she gets a ‘friendly’ magistrate. I can’t begin to understand why the fishermen went out in the weather as it was and, as you say is tying up so many resources.