Sunday, August 15, 2010


Library research can be well=planned, it can also be a scavenger hunt. Having never been a very good student, not really, not ever, walking into the stacks and fill me with overwhelming dread. I have a laundry list of items to enquire about, but it's really a crap-shoot. And when they come up dry, and I have time ahead of me, and nothing to read, the feeling of failure looms large and just want to get outside, anywhere, away from the air conditioning, the guy typing way too loud on his laptop, and the people who tell me it doesn't matter I am from out of town, I cannot view an archive video without an appointment, even though the viewing room is entirely empty.

What has been thrilling about the Performing Arts Library are the Special Collections, many of which are catalogued on cards. Physical cards, in a card catalogue. Goodness, I was taught how to use one of those when I was in first grade, they are like the literary equivalent of an abacus. And listed therein are references to ... I never know what! Could be a thin manilla folder of loose, undated articles on Langston Hughes, or a single, brief, sticky tape-mounted article from Variety Magazine, or a large folder of crumbling performance posters carefully preserved in thick plastic sheathes.

Sitting, nearly defeated and only around 2.30 in the afternoon (place closed at 5, I had a date at 6) I found two microfilm references that intrigued me. One was the actual prompt script for Welles's Macbeth which was extremely interesting. It is a liberal, almost radical reworking of Shakespeare's text, attributing certain keys lines to different players, and collapsing the entirety of the action - it was almost cinematic to read.

Let me share one example: Macbeth returns home, greets Lady M. and tells her the King is coming. Almost at that moment, Duncan arrives! Malcolm gives the news of the death of Cumberland, Duncan praises Malcolm and names him heir - and then Lady M. says to Macbeth:

The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step
On which you must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in your way it lies.

The entourage departs, leaving the Macbeths, and they finish the original scene (abbreviated) the one where concludes "leave all the rest to me." A lot of story and action in a compacted space.

That, and Hecate comes off like a major badass.

The other was a microfilm not of any theatrical business, but a pamphlet called When Roosevelt Is Dictator - And How! (A Fascist Prophesy) - a response to "Red" (Sinclair) Lewis's novel It Can't Happen Here. What on earth was this? In order to find out I needed to get to the Main Library on 42nd Street (you know, the one with the lions) and see if it was even there.

This I did. And for my pains I have a photocopy of this ten page document I intend to read on the plane ride home. A good deal of my research into this period in Cleveland involves understanding a mindset for a time and place I have never been. We have a flattened out depiction of the Depression, created by decades of documentaries, or more often than that Hollywood version (like say, Annie or more recently Kit Kittredge - I have a daughter) that plays out the same story of what things were like, but honestly, those movies make things look not so bad ... because they're movies. They certainly do not get into the details of the arguments from all sides, only two - New Deal good, New Deal bad. FDR good, FDR bad.

It Can't Happen Here was an obvious comment on Mussolini's rise to power, and to a certain extent Hitler's, and how that could happen anywhere. Therefore, it is a pro-FDR book/play, because we all know FDR was Hitler's chief rival and would eventually defeat him. And that it is a highly simplistic way to look at things, and based on events which had not yet happened.

I have read rumblings of those who believed Lewis's work could be an unintended metaphor for FDR's grab for total Executive power ... and now I have a document which is going to lay out one man's entirely thesis for this belief.

And for my purposes, that was worth the trip.

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