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I shouldn’t have seen the movie…

July 23, 2008

I first read Catch-22 back in 1970 or so after the Mike Nichols movie came out—Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Jon Voight—studded with stars of the day and a few fine actors to come, like Martin Sheen or Bob Balaban.  Hell, even Art Garfunkel was in it.  The movie mostly flopped.  It was a hodge podge, critics complained, strange and unworkable.  But I saw it.  In those days, I didn’t read high-minded critics.  I just remember the Mad Magazine take on it—the “usual bunch of idiots” at Mad said that M*A*S*H* was the better anti-war war movie.  I didn’t see M*A*S*H* for many years after that. 

Like a lot of early readers, I didn’t get the book back then.  It was strange, I got lost, I couldn’t figure out what was really happening.  I was in high school and my taste in lit was moving in this sort of direction, but was still just half-baked.  All these years later and with the benefit of having mostly grown up, I see that I was thinking too literally.  My teenage self wanted cold, hard reality, novelistic reality.  Hell, Jess—maybe I was having an early encounter with meta-reality.  Certainly, crazy Pianosa Island and its lunatic inhabitants are representations, not reproductions.  Ain’t no realistic mirror.  Like you said.

So I’m reading Catch-22 again.  And I wish I hadn’t seen the movie first.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still have a soft spot for that film, but coming to the novel, cold, might have been more fun.  Throughout the book, I find myself wondering—when’s that part going to come up?  Oh, I bet this is that scene where Yossarian (Arkin) and Nately (Garfunkel) do this….or how did Heller actually write that crazy scene?  Putting this book on the silver screen, adapting the novel, must’ve been hellish.

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From → Catch 22

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