And as an actor, a damn good one, too.
In watching his portrayal of the unbelievably, pathologically truth-challenged Mark Whitacre in Steven Soderbergh's latest film "The Informant", it was hard for me not to connect this performance and this character with the role he played ten years ago in "The Talented Mr. Ripley", another story of a perverse fabulist whose every blithe utterance suborns reality to his own purpose.
For me, Damon, for all of his success, is one of the most under-appreciated actors of his generation. Since acting itself is a form of lying, or "behaving truthfully in imaginary circumstances", it is a mark of his craft that he has a unique ability to get under the skin of characters like Thomas Ripley and Mark Whitacre and show the humanity within the turning wheels of their elaborate artifice.
Although the tone of "The Informant" is quite different than "Ripley", with Soderbergh turning his liar's tale into a black comedy and Anthony Minghella giving his a more Hitchcockian treatment, with Damon's solid skills in common, they are companion pieces in the great American theme of reinvention through fabrication.
I was talking to a screenwriter the other day about the idea of false equivalency; how we are programmed to think in the dichotomy of "on the one hand, on the other hand" or, put more simply, "there are two sides to every story."
I guess we are also programmed to see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear, as it wasn't long afterwards that I was reading David Mazzucchelli's new graphic novel "Asterios Polyp", and found this simple illustration that seemed to jump out at me, as I felt that the book was reading my mind, and expressed in simple line drawings and word balloons this idea more clearly and eloquently than I could.
But in your experience, how often would you say this "system" isn't mistaken for reality, or for a way of getting at or describing the "truth"?
We see it all the time in journalism, where a fact is given equal weight as an opinion, and placed in false opposition to each other. Our post-modern world is one of intensely competing narratives, and everyone is a storyteller, trying to wrangle the chaos of life to fit into their own narrative.
It is hard to see the sphere instead of the line, but it is worth the effort sometimes.
Fifty-some years ago, Art Linkletter, the radio and television host from Moose Jaw, Canada, made a career out of paying attention to the brilliant comic malaprops of children.
Our autistic son Diego is also a poet of the comical non-sequitour, in the famous Linkletter tradition. Like a great rapper or a cut-and-paste author like William Burroughs, he has a wonderful memory for sound bites and bits and pieces of pop culture that he picks up from dvd's or billboards or overheard conversation.
As his vocabulary expands and his reciprocal language grows (yeah!), he is the funniest guy we know, although his biological clock could still use a bit of fine tuning!
These are just a few of the things he said to us yesterday morning.
5:18 a.m. - "I want to go to Fresno."
5:36 a.m. - "Can you draw Candyland, please?"
7:41 a.m. - "Can I have a glass like a Christmas Tree? I want big, strong stripes on my water."
8:18 a.m. - "This one's from the special, secret part, Mom."
11:30 a.m. - "I want Super Up, Papi"
12:30 p.m. - "Hey, what about a heart-shaped bottle of shaving cream?"
Believe it or not, Art Linkletter is still with us today, at 97 years old.
It is hard not to imagine that his longevity could somehow be attributable to those many years of having his heart filled with the laughter and wisdom that came from the "special, secret part" of all those children.
Even though Paramount Pictures started life in 1912 as Famous Players and made many famous movies over the last century, the 1941 animated gem "Mr. Bug Goes to Town" from Dave Fleischer was not very successful when first released, and in my opinion has been sorely overlooked and under appreciated ever since.
With songs by such luminaries as Hoagy Carmichael and the great Frank Loesser, and charming character design and animation, this tale of a garden of small insects uprooted by the construction of a modern skyscraper is a distant precursor of contemporary classics like A Bug's Life and even Up.
The story is a love triangle involving the screw-up grasshopper Hoppity, who gets in hot water when he convinces the group to move to a new site and is accidentally responsible for a fire which almost burns down their insect village; his love interest Honey, the ingenue bee; and the mayor and money bags of this micro-society, C. Bagley Beetle, who also wants to marry Honey and will stop at nothing to get rid of his romantic rival.
Known variously as Mr. Bug Goes to Town and Hoppity Goes to Town, it was out of release as a mainstream title for some time, and only last year surfaced as a dvd put out under the title of "Bugville".
There is an amazing night club sequence with electric colors and jazzed up drawing techniques that feel very modern.
And you'll leave humming tunes like "We're the Couple in the Castle," "Katy Did, Katy Didn't" and "I'll Dance at Your Wedding (Honey Dear)," music and lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser.
I read this quote from the Turkish-Saudi arms dealer and former "richest man in the world" Adnan Khashoggi in a recent New York Times profile, and it suddenly struck me as the perfect motto for these troubled times.
As Anthony Minghella once wrote in the screenplay for "The Talented Mr. Ripley": "You never meet anyone who thinks that they're a bad person. What ever they do, whatever harm they cause, it all makes sense within their own head."
Khashoggi has lived his life at the center of a lot of controversial events and transactions and for a long time was able to profit handsomely from almost all of them, most famously as a player in the sale of Isreali arms to Iran that became part of what was known as the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980's.
According to the article, his business m.o. seemed to be to spend as much money as possible on his lifestyle and personal accoutrements (at one time it is said that his nut was $250,000 a day) in order to create a climate conducive to the enormously lucrative business of selling weapons systems around the globe.
I read a pulp paperback once years ago that was a thinly veiled fictional account of a Khashoggi-like character spreading "baksheesh", or the bribes that lubricate the wheels of the corrupt system.
In his way, the aging Khashoggi, who started his career in the '60's, feels like a trailblazer today, lighting the way for the Madoff's and others who symbolize our current kleptocracy and casino-like economy.
Or as Walter Matthau once put it: "Poker exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great."
I found this striking vintage digest of science fiction stories at the flea market recently.
Naturally, I was curious to find out more about the cover artist, only credited by his last name "Kley".
Heinrich Kley was born in the 1860's and reportedly died in Munich near the end of World War 2. He was a master of line illustration, and supposedly his published work in Germany was brought to the attention of Walt Disney and was an inspiration for some of the animation of the "Dance of the Hours" sequence in "Fantasia".
I loved learning this fun fact from a website which has a short biographical sketch of Kley:
Heinrich Kley was first introduced to the American audience by the then new Coronet Magazine in three consecutive issues in 1937. A few of his satirical line drawings were reproduced. In its introduction to Kley, Coronet said that he had "died in a mad house a few years back." In 1937 Kley still had eight years to live, and he had never been in a mental institution.
I wonder what he would have thought about his art being used posthumously to illustrate the work of American science fiction writers in the small pulp digest format that graced the newsstands of our postwar metropolis? He might have ended up in that madhouse, after all!!