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Not much ‘goes without saying’ anymore, but the state of the realm that is Sri Lanka sure does! Just what is the malady that affects the state? Conversations on this topic with a varied assortment of friends, acquaintances and even lesser known individuals, all result in pointing to the lack of moral fibre in society. This, in a nutshell, could be termed ‘corruption’. The word itself covers dishonesty, bribery, sleaze, fraud, vice, distortion, nepotism, depravity, rot, immorality, contamination, and I’m sure there will be other words that will fit as well. The causes for this abysmal condition, I am told, could well have arisen with the mass exodus of citizens following the disaster that was foisted on the country by S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike by means of the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy – a myopic, chauvinistic, racist policy designed to fragment the country for decades to come. Almost the entire Burgher community, a vibrant and ebullient society, left en mass to Australia, England and the USA and with them many of the Sinhala and Tamil intellectuals who saw the writing on the wall. And what did this do to the gene pool, among other important aspects that would affect the country irrevocably? It decimated the diversity of the gene pool and impoverished the quality of the Sri Lankan racial type. So what we have left are the dregs and our community reflects this in no uncertain terms. Much of the quality that existed prior to Bandaranaike’s folly will no longer be found and as we look around the stations of governance – the ministries, the various departments, the local councils, what is encountered is steeped in inefficiency, indolence, indifference and an invitation to immorality.  The degeneration of the racial type is not limited to the quality of ‘character’, but also includes the physical and mental. The DNA strain that the Burghers inherited from their European benefactors made for a different physical type that was virtually wiped out with their exodus and one has only to delve into the writings of the Spittels, the Worthingtons, the Janszes, the Wendts, the Brohiers, the Sansonis, the Ondaatjes, the ColinThomes and others to discover the loss in areas of literature, music, science, law and intellect. Sport was another casualty. The physical type that produced atheletes like Duncan White, swimmers like the de Sarams, the Hamers, the Flamer Calderas, the Ingletons and others has gone the way of the Dodo, never to return. And of the few that thought to stick it out through the language debacle, packed up after the severe repression brought about by the widow of Bandaranaike, who succeeded him following his assassination, ironically, by one belonging to the very sector he was pandering to. Ceylon was in dire straits and the promise of a glittering future, once predicted by Lee Kwan Yu among others, was plunging headlong down the septic pit of no return.

Sheeet maaan, ah did’n  know all dis history – bit before mah time, huh? Ah jus remember somting of dat revolushun tempted by dose Marxist mahfahs. Dat be somting else, huh? You not be here at dat time, you be gettin high an wide in dat sunny city of da angels right, but I remember you telling me bout dat sheet. Da ting dat beats mah ass be da trip dese mah fuhs be still on – opposing da use of English – dey be callin it ‘da sword’, right? See anyone so fucked up an moronic maaan? How dey spec dere chilren to progress in dis global village maaan, wit da medium of communicashun bein English? Dose poor kids, soommm handicap for dem! Dis whole system of educashun maaan, shuure need revampin for dis country to get a move on huh? 

I nod in agreement with Java’s sentiments. For sure, another crucial reason for the state of the realm is obviously tied to the educational system, which, I am told by those in the field, is riddled with more of the same ‘corruption’ that spawns the same inefficiency, indolence, indifference and invitation to immorality found in the decaying woodwork of the system that is our government. Java goes on… 

An you know somting else maaan? Dis sheet aint goin away – fact be it seem to be gettin worse wit all dis racial an religious intolerance by da chauvinists and extreme mah fuhs. Remember dose burnin churches som time back? An see dem priests getting violent in dose demonstrashuns an sheet? Dis be som fucked up can of worms maaan. An whose to blame or be countable?

No easy answer here. I guess we’re all to blame in some way or another. Our own indifference, apathy, inability to oppose what is wrong, support those who demonstrate for justice and speak out without fear are among the reasons that we are not able ‘to make the difference’. And so ‘it goes without saying’ we’re all in it – up to our eyeballs!

I watched Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘Trouble in Paradise’ last evening; a film made in 1932 and considered by one critic to be as “as close to perfection as anything I have ever seen in the movies.”  Lubitsch himself was known as “a director’s director” and was the role model for Billy Wilder amongst other well known directors. I am reproducing a review by ‘Larry41 onEbay’ that does ample justice and also obviates the necessity of my critique. Film aficionados should check the movie out. Here goes…..

 Ernst Lubitsch used Laszlo Aladar’s play The Honest Finder as a springboard for one of his most delightful early-1930s Paramount confections. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play Gaston and Lily, a pair of Parisian thieves, both disguised as nobility, who decide to rob lovely perfume company executive Mariette Colet (Kay Francis); Gaston gets a job as Mariette’s confidential secretary, while Lily installs herself as the woman’s typist. Love rears its head, forcing Gaston to choose between marriage to Mariette and a fast getaway with Lily. Filled with marvelous throwaway gags and sophisticated innuendo, Trouble in Paradise was described by one critic as “as close to perfection as anything I have ever seen in the movies.”

For over seven decades this film has been unmatched in the realm of sophisticated farce. Films from THE AWFUL TRUTH to THE LADY EVE to SOME LIKE IT HOT are sublime on their more modest social scale and in their basic Americanness. By contrast, TROUBLE IN PARADISE has all the class and Continental elegance one associates with the Paramout of the 1930s. Made before the Production Code clampdown of 1934, this Lubitsch masterpiece shows his talent for sly sexual innuendo at its most witty and polished. The result is pure caviar, only tastier. The story tells of two jewel thieves, Gaston (Marshall) and Lily (Hopkins), who together work at bilking a merry widow, Mariette Colet (Francis), out of a small fortune. They secure jobs as her secretary and maid, but trouble begins in paradise when Gaston starts falling for his lovely prey and when one of her many suitors (Horton), a former victim of Gaston’s, begins to recognize Mme. Colet’s new secretary. The many laughs in this consistently delightful souffle come not only from Raphaelson’s marvelous screenplay but also from Lubitsch’s supple visual wit. On one hand there’s delightful repartee about a former secretary who enjoyed an antique bed a bit too much, and on the other we have the sexy silhouette of Gaston and Mariette cast over a chaise lounge. From the opening shot of an operatic gondolier who turns out to be a garbageman to a police report about theft and tonsils translated for Italian officials, this film is full of unforgettable moments of merriment. The cast, too, is peerless. In one of his earliest Hollywood efforts, Herbert Marshall does the greatest work of his career. Too often maligned for playing stodgy consorts to dynamic star actresses such as Garbo, Davis, and Shearer, Marshall here gets to display his impeccable timing and supple grace. Frequently hilarious, his quiet approach and crushed velvet voice still let him remain suave throughout. Even Cary Grant would be hard pressed to match this portrayal. (He’d be too frantic.) Kay Francis, too, that popular sufferer of countless “women’s films” with her “twoublesome” r’s, gives of her very best. With her sleek, glamorous style and elegantly wry line readings, she is light, sexy, and totally captivating. Her doorway caresses and her finger-snapping seduction of Gaston are priceless. Miriam Hopkins was luckier in that she had many more chances to display her comic flair in film. Today one of the most underrated and unfairly maligned stars of the 1930s, the brittle, feisty Hopkins can rattle off witty banter at a breakneck pace or she can be deliciously languorous and coy. Her enjoyment of her own sexuality is heady even today and the thieving competition between Gaston and Lily, in which escalating crimes turn into escalating passion, remains one of the greatest scenes of foreplay ever caught on film. Ruggles and Horton prove yet again that they are two of the greatest farceurs in Hollywood, and the rest of the cast is equally choice. (One standout is Leonid Kinskey, whose bit as a leftist radical only foregrounds the satiric anarchy of the entire film.) Beautifully handled from start to finish, gleamingly shot and full of Dreier’s incredible Art Deco designs, TROUBLE IN PARADISE is Lubitsch’s greatest film and one of the indisputable highlights of comic cinema Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the master of sophisticated comedy, Trouble in Paradise (1932) is the most accomplished example of the “Lubitsch Touch” for stylish innuendo and sly wit. With a script by Samson Raphaelson and Grover Jones, Lubitsch derives sparkling humor from the lusty (Pre-Code) love triangle among two jewel thieves, Lily and Gaston, and their intended victim, Mme. Colet. From the opening image of a garbage gondola’s gliding through the picturesque Venice canals, Lubitsch makes light of the notion that amorality lies beneath the glossy exteriors of the rich. Elegantly sending up idealized movie romance, Gaston and Lily fall in love as they attempt to rob each other blind over an intimate dinner, sealing a bond between two scoundrels. Such Lubitsch details as a hand’s hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on a doorknob and the shadow of a couple cast on a bed neatly communicate the nature of Gaston’s relationships with Lily and Mme. Colet, complementing the clever dialogue, spiked with nimble come-ons and ripostes, and delivered with aplomb by Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, and Kay Francis. Praised for its smoothly imaginative technique and comic invention, Trouble in Paradise burnished Lubitsch’s reputation as Paramount’s premier purveyor of 1930s Continental class, and it is still considered one of the best adult comedies ever made.

November 2006
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Ephemeral Ruminations by Java Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
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