No Time For A Cuckoo Clock

March 10th, 2011

We're the stars of this movie. Time to shine.

As published in The Daily News, March 11, 2011, and in The Memphis News, March 12-18, 2011

The Third Man


One of my favorite movies is the 1949 classic "The Third Man," written by the incomparable Graham Greene and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and Trevor Howard. Is it my imagination, or was Trevor Howard in every movie made for 20 years that needed a hardnosed Brit? Anyway, the movie is about a divided melting pot of a city and those who would keep it that way in order to hold power. It's about a broken, manipulated system that allows relatively few to profit from the divisions while the hopeful, naïve dreamers seek something better.

On one side is Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles, an exceptional con man who's personally profitable actions have cost children their lives. On the other is Holly Martins, played by Joseph Cotten, Harry's friend who wants to believe in the good and not surrender to the city's cynicism and despair.

Seems like you've seen this movie, doesn't it?

The movie opens behind the voice of a narrator, "Now the city is divided into four zones, you know, each occupied by a power: the American, the British, the Russian and the French. But the centre of the city that's international policed by an international patrol. One member of each of the four powers. Wonderful! What a hope they had!"

This week, Holly and hope won.

By a better than two-to-one margin, those who voted, those who would be counted, voted to end the divisions and to seek solutions equally arrived at, equally effective, and equally applied to all.

They sent a message, doubly loud and clear, to those who would codify separation and impose their will from distant capitals, that unity is the will of this city.

Just like the movie, making hope work is hard work. Progress will be slow and hard earned. Fights will be frequent. In our courts. On our screens and pages. Across desks and dining room tables. In union halls and city halls. But, in the end, we will be better off because our eyes have been opened, our citizens have been engaged, and our legacy as a city, as people, as parents depends on what we do together not apart.

We will be changed by this conflict, and if we fight for the positive, we will be positively changed.

Or, as Harry Lime himself said in encouraging Holly to look at the big picture, "Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

The city in the movie is Vienna on the River Danube, set immediately following World War II. The remake is Memphis on the River Mississippi, set immediately following the special election.
I'm a Memphian, and together we can write a happy ending.


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