© 2016 by James Clark
There are many breathtaking turns in the film, Youth (2015). The one which I can’t forget transpires during the protagonist’s conducting one of his musical compositions in a concert by request of Queen Elizabeth. A beautiful young soprano is singing and body and soul, wrapped up in a scarlet gown, are somehow so right. The conductor regards her excellence and there flashes before him a moment we saw sometime before, his wife’s corpse propped upon the window of her hospital room as he was heedlessly regaling her with their superior depths and heroic sacrifices as compared with the actions of young people in general and their daughter in particular. The lovely mouth of the both sexy and angelic professional singer becomes briefly superimposed (by means of the quick cut) upon the loyal retainer’s grotesque maw.
Its palpable harshness and incisiveness are all the more stunning in view of the film’s wanton discharge of the composer/ conductor’s paltry range of perception in all the actions which preceded that shock, actions taking place at an exclusive Swiss spa. Paolo Sorrentino, the body and soul bringing to us this puzzling treasure had, in his previous coup, The Great Beauty (2013), dished out (among other virtues) a pleasing reprise of Federico Fellini’s spotlighting Italian-Miracle oligarchs at self-indulgent play. Especially impressive in that venerable motif was the unfailing well-rounded inclusion of self-injury and confrontation of an elusive verve amidst expensive and pretentious diversions. This time, however, we are notably in the domain of clockwork mechanisms, ticking along without serious need to question the exercise. Verve’s elusiveness is indeed salient in the presumably bracing mountain air being breathed by the guests. But unlike the films based in Italy, a Vichy-like denial of outrage has come to stay.
The state of affairs of showing virtually nothing but a giant landslide of failure to thrive threatens to consign dizzying numbers of viewers to pretty Alpine gorges where the lost stay lost forever. As if its basic composition does not suffice to send market-ruling escapists astray, the deployment of three senior stars of international cinema induces even more chaos and brings to the investigation a very bad feeling in the pit of one’s stomach. Even more disturbing here than predictable fawning over movie bonbons, is this vehicle’s driving many less sanguine viewers into angry dismissiveness of the prospect that, though on the road and in remarkably hostile territory, the patented crafting of small but remarkably potent mercies amidst spectacular road kill can not only obtain but ready itself for a surprising rejuvenation, perhaps a long winning streak!
A succinct recounting of this very odd and very wise saga can put us on notice of tackling such a vastly risk-taking and off-putting venture. Terminally bemused composer/conductor, Fred Ballinger, a British habitué of a deluxe Swiss health resort, has turned his back upon music and, though being in the hands of curative experts, insists he’s “done with work and with life.” His American friend, Mick Boyle, similarly a steady customer of the restorative secrets of the mountain enterprise, is also on hand, ignoring the ironies rampant there, even though he is a renowned filmmaker doing pre-production for his next hit. Not only is their abundant conversation consistently trite, inducing incredulity that these “artists” could ever have been taken seriously. (Mick’s idea of preparing a script being surrounding himself with several sophomoric twits and tasking them with striking a tone that will become so widely beloved that the film will stand as his “testament.”) But the overall mutual attitude of their many nineteenth century farce encounters oozes (notwithstanding dashes of cynical verbiage) an assurance that they occupy Olympian heights which the hoi polloi will never see. Fred is played by still debonair eighty-two-year-old Michael Caine, mooting for us the discrepancy between his at least slightly promising body language and the drivel coming out of his mouth. Mick is played by seventy-eight year-old Harvey Keitel, a crumpled windbag lacking Fred’s occasional British prep-school eschewal of rampant moral insistence. Fred’s daughter, on hand in the capacity of his secretary, is dumped by her husband, Mick’s son; Mick is dumped by the leading lady of his pensées, Brenda (played by seventy-eight-year-old, Jane Fonda, her still-good cheek bones indicating they always served as weapons to accompany her truck-driver vocabulary), and commits suicide. Fred then decides to give Queen Elizabeth a break (which we see him frequently refuse in the course of the narrative), in the form of conducting one of his works for her husband’s birthday.
Fortunately for our digestive systems there are the natural assets of an unnatural country; and some non-deities. In fact, even much more prominently than the impressive setting of Last Year at Marienbad (1961), the spa and its outdoors break all the rules. They do so, however, on condition that those uncrowned monarchs hold the lion’s share of the cinematic tuning. Like a couple of well-heeled former fraternity boy heels, they often ponder how far they ever went with a hottie of record, one Gilda Black, many wasted years ago. And we behold their nothing but ordinary groping for the sublime first from close range, where their ingratiating facial miming talents get a workout; and then, when the camera pulls back from their ramble, with the inclusion of the natural sublimity of the mountain meadow path with soaring peaks and blue summery skies, which we thank our lucky stars for not coming equipped with words. Though the Juggernaut of their raging wrongness predominates, its extremities of self-assertion form a giant illuminated Detour sign around their unsightly and widely drifting crash site. One of the marvels of real screenplay work here has to do with Fred’s aggrieved daughter, Lena, sitting in on one of the several petitions of the Queen’s social convenor to move the Prince’s favorite songwriter back to Britain for a few hours at least. He had, when pressed on those other moments of playing hard to get, always referred to a “personal reason” for the stonewalling. Now he finds it apt to enlist jejune melodrama to squelch the forces of Buckingham Palace. Fred’s first step toward a supposedly devastating climax is to declare that only the soprano he had in mind in writing the piece was to handle it. After suckering the minion in this way to aim for rounding up the special lady (all the ladies in Freddy’s life apparently being of earth-shattering importance), the cat tells the mouse that she—his wife—is dead. And then he proceeds into the realm of operatic bombast where large gestures need not make any sense. “She is the only one who will ever have performed it, as long as I live.” This puerile stupidity brings a tear to the eyes of Lena, who had been on a resentful, self-pitying warpath against Daddy since her marital clash (her Sloane-girl veneer giving way to cockney). The supposed bounder had cited to a moralistically frenzied Micky the new girl’s being “great in bed” as the reason for the death of love. Fred having been at the tribunal, he pollutes the countryside on a walk conveying to his daughter the horrid truth (which she, after threatening throwing a tantrum has forced him to reveal—only to reprove him for his terrible negativity). Soon after, Lena maintains to Fred an inaccuracy inasmuch as she is indubitably also great in bed. He tells her, “Of course you are, you’re my daughter!” The sharp twist here (about the woman who sends out a happy sob about Daddy the stud being so worshipful to Mommy and going on to tell her, right stuff style, “Lena, stop crying…” and the same woman who tells a mountain climber wanting to introduce her to the joys of his métier, “All I feel is fear”) pertains to the hightailing ex in fact being seen along this dramatic sightline to be hating her guts for being such a wuss.
Marcello, the protagonist in The Great Beauty, absorbs a moment of vision by way of a saintly old woman and her doting flock of epiphantic flamingos. He rises to that occasion from out of an extensively prepared course of action strongly redolent of a reservoir of heartfelt (though often at the same time cynical) striving for integrity the likes of which have so far eluded him and all of world history. (In this sense of tackling catastrophic, subversive oblivion Sorrentino engages a more harsh, more combative and more widely distributed investigation than Terrence Malick’s somewhat similar cares couched in rather academic, confessional, ivory tower ardor.) A scene where Fred, with a lot of time on his hands and no time for painstaking discernment, goes into fantastical overdrive in seeing himself conducting a herd of cows and their cowbells along lines of Prince Philip’s favorite high-brow song, conspicuously and deliberately fails to thrill due to the buyer’s not having paid the price. Going back to Fred’s little farewell tour, for once really facing the music, we have—despite superficial resemblances to The Great Beauty—a most contrasting brush with that integrity beyond delusions of painless power, an integrity bringing on board a nightmare of finding one’s kind. (Let’s pause for a few seconds to contemplate, as we begin to deal with the film’s daunting and thrilling sense of youth, youthfulness, how this mountainous affair has been welcomed by TIFF, supposedly an arbiter of film excellence. “Fred (Michael Caine), a retired composer and conductor, has been coming to the resort for decades, and has the air of an Englishman at peace with himself. His bosom buddy, Mick (Harvey Keitel), an American filmmaker, is at the spa to finish his new screenplay, along with a group of brash young collaborators who bat ideas and dialogue back and forth ceaselessly. As the days pass the two reflect with humour and wisdom on both past and present, on the ways and wiles of the world.” Then they round it off, for a North Toronto clientele tightly packed with Freds and Micks, with a quote from Variety—a sort of Papal encomium—“Sorrentino’s most tender film yet… an emotionally rich contemplation of life’s wisdom gained, lost and remembered.”)
The two media moguls would have, in the course of their expressive endeavors, lit sparks on the order of that flash of telling finitude onstage with the radiant soprano. Youth very much gets into our face about the absorbing question of close very likely not counting. Its myriad shots of the health factory operating like a Swiss watch (ironically a Swiss measure of trans-Swiss finite activity), where humans approach replicating an assembly line, serve to sharpen our attention to the sound of a different drummer. Getting a bead on those “extras” intent upon that “sound,” that tonality, which rivals the realm of Fred and Mick, constitutes the real work involved in doing justice to this anything but soft and easy film.
We’ll approach this puzzlingly remote gift by way of a transitional figure, another media guy, movie actor Jimmy Tree, who, like Mick, has a lot of dough to spare and uses some of it to hive to the platform of spotless winners. (Peter Ustinov, a long-term resident of that rich little haven, referred to Toronto as New York run by the Swiss. Now that the numbers and cash-flow have bulked up since Peter’s day, the amusing dig [about a range self-satisfiedly refusing to pay the price] is even more germane.) Fred, on that first contretemps with the man from Elizabeth, officiously delivers an edict that the latter not smoke. “You can’t smoke here” [on the broad, lovely lawn with lawn chairs and tables] is the music man’s opening remark. Like King Edward deigning to expose to the great unwashed a bit of the mystery of long-term aristocracy, Fred solemnly intones, “I will not conduct my “Simple Song #3.” On routing that commoner, he’s saluted by Jimmy for mooting the paradox of love and preserving their turf for creative geniuses regally exulting in impressive exile. Jimmy, it seems, though a youngish well-paid American dutifully and seemingly happily working on his part in an impending movie, also knows something about a broken heart. Having some years ago played the part of a robot (his costume completely concealing him), a turn that has gone so viral that the world remembers him for that alone, he sustains the mood of a brave, melancholy victim, doomed to be underestimated. Later he will more explicitly review his common cause with Fred. “We are alike in having slipped one time to levity.” In some ways he reminds us of Jimmy Demy, known only for a soulful coo-coo clock confection of a wall-to-wall-sung attention-grabber. But, in contrast to precious, resentful, derivative and quite inert Mr. Tree, that other Jimmy was a daring and often uniquely sensitive explorer of the elusiveness of real life on a sputtering planet. During an evening on the lawn with Fred, Lena and Mick, who join him in beholding entertainment not up to their supposedly high standards, Jimmy is interrupted by a hotel staff person announcing that Miss Universe would like to meet him. The gossip column readers assembled there were well aware of her being in their midst by way of one of the prizes attaching to her winning. A second unsurprising step is her excitedly telling the art house regular that his Mr. Q was something of a quantum leap for her. She is neither made up nor dressed up; but her wearing shades at night is another sign that surely she’s very easy to figure out (and thereby a different species from those marvels of complexity sizing her up). Her enthusiasm is direct and gracious. She tells Jimmy along that whimsical trajectory that his demonstrating how a movie can reach people has created an ambition for her to pursue a film career. “I don’t want to rely on my beauty,” she insists ingenuously, no doubt sending the others into silent laughter. Jimmy—not so much a ladies’ man (whereas Demy himself discovered and fostered another “Miss Universe,” Catherine Deneuve)—has no eye or heart for her ever becoming a valuable ally. Instead he wonders if her preparation for a film career has been confined to watching reality TV shows. She replies, “I appreciate irony but I know it can be poisonous when coming from out of frustration.” Tree, not prepared for such a critique of being too weak to master his frustration and resentment, mutters, “I am frustrated…” She leaves things this way. “I’m happy I took part in the Miss Universe Pageant. Are you happy you played Mr. Q?” On the exit of this first extra coming to light, Fred opines, in his Oxford don register, “She’s not at all stupid.” But the whole point of the film is that she and others like her are easily ignorable by such beacons of validity as we see in poisonous action.
Just before Brenda’s arrival and her heavy discharge of poison, Frank and Mick are lolling in an otherwise empty pool of liquid vim and along comes Miss Universe, nude without shades and a force of nature in the making. She regards them for a brief moment, enters the pool and strides languidly to a submerged platform or vantage point of serrated wooden forms. As she stretches out arrestingly she conjures the allure and quiet majesty of Botticelli’s Venus. The former ladies’ men are transfixed. Mick, always quick to say something fatuous, declares that she’s “God.” Fred settles for, “She looks so different!” Their not getting very far with a chance to learn something very useful coincides somewhat with Jimmy’s telling Fred that the big regret of his life was coming late to the work of that German Romantic-Era jack of all trades, Novalis, a slogan of which that has enchanted him runs, “I’m going to my Father’s house.” In both cases, the discoverers ride out the disturbance and end back at square one.
At the latter stages of Jimmy’s self-styled blue-chip actor exertions by a master always in demand (even though the film may be seldom seen) he prances around the property, simulating Hitler, only to flip-flop from infusing his role with hate to becoming an avatar of “desire.” After that, his presence becomes increasingly feminine. He’s in the audience at the command performance of Fred’s maintaining the hegemony of reliable brands. His teary demeanor marks him as one of that army of faithful, predominant at the center of world history.
Soccer legend, Diego Maradona, is depicted as having one of the most compromised bodies in the locale—massively overweight, dependent on frequent applications of oxygen; and, thereby, like Mr. Q, a lumbering monstrosity. Jimmy dotes on him: “Of course, everyone knows you’re left handed” [and thus displaying“irregular” motions] he gushes. But the former is the only one in sight with a big Karl Marx tattoo on his back and a seriously ugly farmer’s feed supply cap. He signs autographs for fans through the gated barrier; he watches a tiny tots testimonial game while reclining on his back on the balcony of his suite; and, one day, he enters a deserted tennis court and sustains a ball by repeatedly kicking it skywards, before tiring out and gasping hunched over. (Another sportsman having a way with graceful and powerful motion is the mountain climber on the staff as a teacher who begins to induce Lena to stop being what she has been. She at least comes to a point of seeing that her ex and she herself are touched by “the taste of freedom.” Perhaps the most surprising student of freedom is the Muslim woman guest of that zone of big spenders who, on entering an elevator with Fred wears a chic face mask; and then we see that she has removed it, giving him a tiny smile.)
Amidst the prison-simulating toeing and froing of large numbers of consumers of others’ ideas of health, so preoccupied with their deficits and benefactors as to seldom notice the tonic potential of the surroundings, there is a couple of well-preserved fifty-something’s having determined that being together in complete silence might do the trick. Such a sensual catalyzing of the Dante Inferno-like getting into a groove that does not groove should, I would think, be worthy of some applause for daring to stand out in such a way as to raise consideration that they might be on to something, Fred and Mick regard them as nothing but a joke and place bets on the prospect of their ending such utter nonsense. We see the silent man closing a transaction with a dour prostitute; and then we, along with the bettors and others in the dining room, see the silent lady slap the silent man in the middle of his soup course. In an escalation of the two arts stars revealing themselves to be incapable of responding to organic nature (incapable, thereby, of sensate solitude and silence), they come across that pair rutting noisily in the woods, their cries eliciting a shrill response from a wild bird. Fred pays off Mick as they watch the proceedings as if they were adolescents on track for a life of unskilled labor. And, you know, it’s just about now that we have to surmise that they have indeed gone on to a pattern of essentially low-wattage, unskilled work (light classics and noisy derivative melodrama—one of Mick’s precious helpmates affecting a Trotsky look, in pointed contrast to Maradona’s passionate, if goofy, informing of that Marx tattoo), within precincts of sailing which are as far over their head as those resonant cloud formations they never see.
Fred’ regular masseuse is a girl about twenty and far older than that, where it matters. The braces on her teeth are the only inflexible features to behold. Her large hands try to bring some fluidity to his dry, inert hands, arms, shoulders and back. As she works, her face in the prescribed darkened room does not appear to be directing a formulaic service. After a run-in with Lena he’s morose and the girl tells him, “I’ll do a different massage…You’re stressed… No, to be precise you’re emotional…” At that point he acknowledges her hard to pinpoint acumen. “Don’t you like to talk?” “I never have anything to say,” is her response, followed by, “You don’t need words to understand,” a phrase which he and his confreres would routinely and smoothly abuse. Later we see her in her room, dancing to the music of Lena’s replacement, pop star, Paloma Fay. (Lena had dreamed up [or perhaps recollected in dream] a nightmare of a video by what Mick refers to as “…the most insignificant woman in the world…” The jist of the preposterously overwrought production was her defacing the Swiss countryside during a joy ride running others off the road. One of the lines of the lyrics is “I’m tryin’ to be what I am…”) The masseuse moves to Paloma’s rhythm section which detours past the rest. There is nothing professional or club inspired about her moves; but like the silent two she has entered upon an extemporaneous form of understanding.
Youth confronts us with many self-styled experts on the matter of creative power, none of whom facing up to the rigors of the tiger they have by the tail. It also brings to light a clutch of game amateurs who don’t know what they’re in for. It does, however, include, in its own, well-advised way, no less than three figures—all dead, all virtually forgotten and all (until now) unrecognized to be about an exceptional sense of creative power—who thrilled to sustained engagement of the meaning of youth. The chief protagonist seems to fail to elicit any of them because, as he tells Jimmy, he took his marching orders from Igor Stravinsky, when the latter preached that “intellectuals have no taste”—thereby assuming it to be fine to short-change reflection (being so much more than calculation). “I was constant in not being an intellectual” [which came to mean not being reflectively constant but instead adrift as a facile musical decorator or engineer. The 82-year-old completing (not without frisson) his duties to Prince Philip (about whose wife he could smugly, regular-guy-style, pronounce, “She has never been delighted by anything in her life.”) could no more turn the page to get really rolling than the slugs dolefully distributed around the spa like the inmates of Dante’s Inferno. But Fred’s explicit self-diminishment under the spell of a formidable tactician/ aesthete (far more reflective than he) while being situated in a neutralized territory which is not really neutral recalls the film, Army of Shadows, and the boundlessly enigmatic filmmaker making it happen, Jean-Pierre Melville. In that light, the miasma, ineptitude and ego of all the big shots and the mountainously unreliable novices recall the pointless mess made by Gerbier the civil engineer (a steadfast non-reader of intellectual/ reflective literature). Fred’s intractable detestation for pop songs would recall Gerbier’s tight-ass refusal to lighten up with the dance songs of Glen Miller. His loyal, efficient and long-suffering wife would mirror Mathilde, the woman who had to die. The earlier protagonist’s trip to London to bask in the presence of icon General Charles De Gaulle coincides with the close encounter with British royalty, not to mention what Lena drags her father over the coals for, namely, being ravenous for linking to “important people.” His complaint to Mick, about the hell of domestic life—“…such hard work and so little to show…”—divulges a constant deficit of noticing the very small and very important traces.
Fred does the recital in the throes of unusual seriousness due to Mick’s death. His infrastructurally being handcuffed to a stiff like Gerbier helps provide the sense of strong probability that renewed dead weight is just around the corner. (He admits to Mick at the austere heights of a ski chalet, “I’ve never liked life well enough.”) In becoming linked to the hugely underestimated and virtually lost from anyone’s view, Melville, those modest strivings for youthful powers occurring in Youth impress upon those mounting a true resistance against a bankrupt conventionality that the way is remarkably hard. (A very young girl, there with her parent[s], no doubt, comes up to Jimmy and cites something [perhaps only too impressive to her] from one of his more obscure roles: “…the whole world doesn’t feel up to it…”) In thus erecting such a parallel scenario, Sorrentino indirectly deploys his own evocative endeavors as a directly palpable complementary factor within a complex bid for viable “understanding.” The crowning irony of the quiet saga (cantering along the same thematic pathway as the unquiet saga of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015—up next) is its featuring a feted classical musician (Tarantino sneaks in pop icon, Janis Joplin) so miserably failing to rise to the intrinsically musical, polyphonic nature of cogency. (By way of telegraphing his own fervid involvement in this blizzard of impasse, Tarantino twice, by way of voice-over, spotlights hitherto unseen twists of hateful extremity.) Fred’s playing noisily with a crinkly candy or pill wrapper in the latter moments of that first importunate interview starting the narrative functions as an exorcism or a suicide consideration or some kind of pick-me-up. (Gerbier and his gang of freedom fighters frequenting that second option.) Fred’s composition, “Black Prism,” praised by Tree, would be as awkwardly one-sided and definitive as his “Simple Songs,” life being neither simple nor black.
The real suicide turn, that of Mick, shows an underpinning of the gracious Angst of Michelangelo Antonioni’s films, like, L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse and Red Desert—all of them astonishingly put into play in the span of 5 years! There is a remarkable moment after Brenda’s little tirade of cruel melodrama which Mick cannot accommodate—his appetite for melodrama cutting both ways, that of crude triumph and crude disaster. (On learning of his death during the ride home, Brenda opts for full-bore hysteria, spoiling everyone’s flight.) While in shock, he had imagined all his leading ladies arrayed and emoting like crazy on a verdant hillside, eclipsing the natural presence he would have regarded as good for one glance, a long time ago. The expanses of the hilly island where the girl goes missing in L’Avventura are new world, uncluttered and Monica Vitti’s Claudia remains in the modern era, not straying into the humourless, absolute Romantic era. (Jimmy’s fondness for good-news Novalis—pushing process but really pushing escape—seems to be an awkward fit for someone claiming to have worked with “all the European and American masters.”) The juxtaposition of Jane Fonda and Monica Vitti (both blondes and light-years apart) almost rounds out that phase of exploring the malignancy of mainstream tastes and where it leaves youthful tastes. A last little passage, with Mick already embarked upon his death march, finds him taking up the resident hooker, for a walk, evoking Claudia’s paper-thin boyfriend that last night in the deserted hotel foyer.(The Hateful Eight is a veritable feast of classic genre flashpoints. Tarantino being an American master who would probably not cast the likes of non-violent Jimmy in his work, masterfully sets out old tropes, only to measure the distance between the old satin silver screen and a new and difficult mobility—which, coming from Tarantino, clears the air—every member of the cast being murdered—in awesome ways.)
The Jimmy we see here tends to present himself considerably closer (as compared with the endeavors with Melville and Antonioni) to the Jimmy behind a spate of emotionally rich and cinematically subtle films in the 1960s. Jimmy Tree is still a youth compared with Fred and Mick, Fred tells him, “It’s past my bedtime.” Jimmy observes, “It’s not past mine…” Though the high-impact visual forces and spoiled-rotten media jerks peppering Youth could send us in the direction of Federico Fellini (that king of loopy and moodily lacerating catastrophe), I think you’ll find that Sorrentino is not about dead-ends but rather, quantity of screen-time notwithstanding, long shots. The finale, generating such impressive pathos, delivers, remarkably, a tailspin sendoff firing up an afterburner to accompany the bathetic and self-incriminating subject matter of the Queen’s philistine consort’s favorite music. (“I lose control/ I lose all control/ I respond/ I feel cheer/ I know everything/ I lose my control/ I get edgy/ I die…” On the apron-strings of this startling concoction, who should appear in the audience but Jimmy, as mentioned briefly, now pudgy and well-along in his lady-like, new-found devotion to “desire” as against the Hitler-like resentment and horror. He declares therewith, staging a life-changing scene, “I have to choose [in my film persona and my own persona] between horror and desire. I choose desire. You [Fred and Mick] have shown me this [sound aversion to horror]. Impossible desire! But it doesn’t matter… This is what it means to be alive…” That stirring and yet unsatisfactory “big scene” is immediately followed up by a Buddhist priest—glimpsed several times in the course of this regime (on one occasion being ridiculed by Fred regarding the idea of “levitating”)—levitating in his red robe and looking quite a bit like Hou Hsiao Hsien’s red balloon of childish answer and adult resolve. Along that arc, there was the hip-swinging Miss Universe in Fred’s dream-become nightmare of overmatched desire near the outset, recalling the hip-swinging young beauty in Hou’s Millennium Mambo. Jimmy, a fertile spawner of creatures and situated there amongst the tony audience, brings to mind some baggage of his own, the slightly pregnant man in the Demy film of the same name, a scene of which features a hot-ticket concert by a red-clad chanteuse telling in song how cool were the assembled beautiful people (including the subject) of beautiful and questionably powerful Montparnasse.
This panoramic and dramatically sizzling film is almost upstaged in its cosmic weight by the seemingly inconsequential little habit of Fred’s (briefly sampled by Jimmy) in seeking in the motion and sound of a plastic wrapper a migration away from the self being settled for. Those tiny motions might trace to a volcano of wide-ranging adventure. Fred and Jimmy, hard-core pragmatists, would instinctively short-circuit that portal, perhaps first and foremost inasmuch as it could lead them to an endless and frequently ugly and dangerous negotiation with melodramatic world humanitarianism, formulaic world science and fearful world religion. But the twist they downplay is the same twist being assembled by the peripheral irregulars—knowing they’ll need some help from their friends (and even their enemies)—who could be called youth.