They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
Much like the alcoholics portrayed in this must-see film from Blake Edwards from 1962, I had promised myself I would not do this again. And yet here I am, searching for the hidden bottle in the greenhouse; looking for the rye stashed in the chandelier.
Why do those lost in the bottle not just dig themselves out? I've never understood it. As one who has all the diagnosed traits of one of those who cannot help themselves, no matter what the addiction, I've managed to quit several very, very bad habits cold turkey. I miss all of those habits like an amputee misses a leg just below the knee, but (just like that amputee) I am not getting the desired item(s) back, so it's just time to move on. I do still like to have a drink or two before dinner, but the animal I call "drinking" these days would certainly not be invited to a party given by what the animal I used to call drinking would throw. As the noted philosopher Jimmy Buffett once said, "When hangovers become terminal illnesses, you realize you're too old to drink like you used to." I am paraphrasing but not misrepresenting.
I watched The Lost Weekend again the other day. They play it all the time on the classic movie channel. I disliked it just about the same amount as when I wrote a review of it here over four years ago. If you don't think time passes faster as you get older, just wait until you go back and read a writeup you wrote several years ago and say, "Holy Fuck! That date must be wrong! I know that couldn't have been more than two years -- three max!" But timestamps do not lie, unlike your aging brain. Anyway, I am even more convinced after a second viewing that if you want to see a marvelous treatment of the alcoholic life, you should stay away from the candy apple called "The Lost Weekend" and bite into the bitter meaty offering of Blake Edwards called "The Days of Wine and Roses."
Blake Edwards has been primarily known for light comedies. Think of the Pink Panther movies. Or think of 10 or Breakfast at Tiffany's or Victor/Victoria. This little foray into the depths of alcoholic hell, compared to most of his work, is like taking a sidestep from Sesame Street and landing in a bad part of Brazil. And yet, as far as I'm concerned, this is so far superior to his other work that the Oscar he didn't get for this should have been kept in a separate room from the others that he actually did receive. He adapted it from a Playhouse 90 story by J. P. Miller. That version aired in 1958 and starred Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie. I'd like to tell how good that version was, but even I can only remember so much. I think this was around the time I was watching my first Twilight Zone episode (the one about the hitch-hiker who keeps showing up on the roadside as the girl travels from East to West – remember that one?). I had been left alone in a hotel room in Atlanta, GA, while my parents attended some party. The TV in the hotel room was small and brown. The traffic seven floors below was more vigorous than any traffic I'd ever encountered prior. I was small and white, and I've never been quite the same since. That was my first encounter with Mr. Serling's marvelous show. I'm cannot actually be sure I ever saw that Playhouse 90 show or any other Playhouse 90 show, even thought I feel quite certain that I did.
I know what you're saying. "What was Playhouse 90 uncle dannye?" Well, since this comprehensive database is not currently telling you, I will summarize it for you. In the years from 1956 to 1961, CBS experimented with 90-minute dramas produced on videotape. During that time, they produced such award-sweeping (and genuinely superb) stuff like Requiem for a Heavyweight (done, as I'm sure you already know, by Rod Serling, the same guy who was scaring the ever-loving shit out me in that hotel room in Atlanta that evening), Judgment at Nuremberg and The Miracle Worker. Eventually, the costs of production (top shelf actors, high dollar writers and directors, the costs of a brand new format -- videotape) led to the demise of what might have been TV's brightest moment.
So Blake Edwards took one of these Playhouse 90 shows from the small screen to the big, using Jack Lemmon as the leading man and Lee Remick as the leading lady. Lee plays a girl who doesn't drink. (Yet.) Jack plays a guy who drinks. (A lot.) The basic story line is that the tables turn and Jack Klugman plays the AA savior who convinces Jack's character to quit, only to find that Lee's character is so deep into it now that she drags him back in. As with most great stories, it doesn't have to be complicated to be divinely tragic.
One of the things that makes this treatment of the drinking problem refreshing in this day of psychobabble is the pure joy the characters get from getting drunk. You can taste the fun they are having. When Lemmon's character quietly says, "Magic time!" before his first shot in a crowded bar, you can feel in your bones how sincere that statement is. Those two words are worth two pages of drivel dialogue of bottle-praising by Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. Maybe the fact that Jack liked to have one too many on several days of his own personal life made it easier for him to relate. Ray Milland might have been a drunk IRL as well, but he sure didn't know how to play one on the screen.
Anyway, I have lived this life and I can tell you first hand that this movie glosses over the best as well as worst parts of what goes on between two lovers in this struggle. Anything more truthful would likely be unwatchable. When his wife tells him that there were "detours" (affairs), but that they meant nothing and that she was drunk at the time so they really didn't matter, I could both hear as well as fully remember the way the accumulation of little ginger snap assaults on what hold a man's constitution together can finally collapse a structure which is already fault-line brittle.
As for the song, the music was written by Henry Mancini and the lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It, too, is gorgeous. And, unlike the folks who really deserved it, the song did win an Oscar as "best original song."
The movie's title was taken from an 8-line poem from 1896 by a British poet named Ernest Dowson. The poem is "Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam" (which translates, from the Latin, loosely as "The shortness of life prevents us from entertaining far-off hopes"). The poet was obviously lamenting the brevity of life. He died at the age of 33, so I guess he knew what he was talking about. Any guess as to the cause of death? Yeah, alcoholism.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.