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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | Bleak House 2-12 »

February 12, 2006


Bill Crider

I have to confess that I think Straight Man is funnier.


I thought Straight Man was funnier too...I went to college in Lewiston, Maine, which is, like Empire Falls, a struggling former mill town, and both the written and the filmed versions of the story struck me to the core.


I can see where you two are coming from. To me, Straight Man seemed awfully rote ("please, haven't we heard these jokes about academics before?").

Bill Crider

Having taught in colleges and universites for, well, a long time, I still can't hear those jokes about academics too often.


Empire Falls is a classic example of what happens when one reports on a culture without truly understanding it. Remember that Maine never really recovered from the Depression until the late '80s and that the Depression is the context in which to see Skowheagan (Empire Falls) and similar communities.

Oh - as to the "flood" that ends the book/movie, there really WAS such a flood, the April 1st Flood of 1988 when a record snowpack melted in a warm spring rain and half the state was underwater but no one died that day, even if the Augusta railroad bridge acted as a net for mobile home parts...

Anyway, Maine of the 1980s consisted of a three class social structure. There was the top class who had owned the mills (Whiting), the middle class who had been respectable (Roby),and the "white trash" that had been below that. What was happening is that the first two groups were sinking with the middle class becoming the equal of the "white trash" "ner-do-wells."

The police officer involved in the fistfight and his son the football player/criminal are examples of the "white trash" rising over the established middle class.

Painting the church is more than symbolic - not everyone would have been permitted to do that - only those of certain family backgrounds would be invited. This is the significance of Miles and the principal and the art teacher having gone to school together -- there were the "good students" and then the deliquents.

What you see in Miles is the traditional "good family" Mainer of that period -- the *we* don't grow pot, *we* don't get in fistfights, the *we* are the proper people who do proper things.

As one whose Maine roots predate the Revolution, this is a difficult movie to watch and difficult book to read -- more should have been done with how Freeport changed into BeanPort in the 1980s and how MBNA changed Rockland in the 1990s.

The only analogy I can give would be that of what happened to the Native Americans. And that is really what Russo was observing although not quite realizing it.

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