It is documented that Fyodor Dostoevsky was born this day in 1821, but it can also be argued that the great Russian writer whose work we admire today was really born after his arrest in 1849, when, as he was standing before a firing squad, a note of clemency was delivered commuting his sentence from death to four years at hard labor. I'm parroting Irrational Man, William Barrett's book on existentialism, here, but the point is well taken. To be certain that you are going to die, to find yourself in the moment when it is sure to come and you have no reason to believe anything but that final destination is upon you, and then to be released - there is no way you will ever be the same afterward. So our thanks to the Czar for delivering into our hearts and minds one of the greatest novelists in history. If you suffered through Crime and Punishment in your youth, try reading it again as an adult. If you're still struggling to get your mind around The Brothers Karamazov, you could start with this clip from the 1958 film starring Yul Brenner, and yes, that is the ubiquitous William Shatner, eight years before Captain Kirk, as Alexei.
God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut (born this day in 1922). And thanks for Player Piano, Cat's Cradle, Mr. Rosewater, and the idea of the centipede in Slaughterhouse Five. You know you're doing something right when they burn your books (as was done in Drake, North Dakota, in 1973), though it's hard to understand why anyone would not want others to read Slaughterhouse. Unless it cuts too close to the truth, and the only thing they can think of to justify narrow-mindedness is to say that it is "unwholesome." Really? Because it blends fact and fiction? Because it uses the MF-word once in a line of dialogue? Or because it speaks about the unnecessary Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II? Here's the trailer from the film version. But the book, of course, is a thousand times better.
We all know that Leonardo (born this day in 1974) is the "king of the world." He recently brought life to Gatsby and gave us an unforgettable portrayal of Howard Hughes in The Aviator. But did you know he also worked with Woody Allen? Here's a clip from Celebrity. He's not so lovable here as in Catch Me If You Can or Titanic. In fact, the woman-beating may not be for everyone. Viewer discretion advised. (As I watch this, however, I am reminded of something James Earl Jones once told me during an interview back in the day. "If I play a cop in one film, I want to play a criminal in the next." It's an actor's way, Jones said, of keeping his balance. Perhaps that's why the hero of the sinking-ship saga needed to play something of an antihero in the Allen film one year later.)
Come on, when you think of Calista (who turns 49 today), Brothers and Sisters is not the first thing that comes to mind. She's Ally McBeal, and here's that scene with Lucy Liu that caused a lot of controversy back in the day. Once again, view discretion is advised. If you are offended by sexually suggestive content involving two humans of the same gender, you'd best leave this one alone.
Best known for her roles in the films of Ingmar Bergman, this remarkable Swedish actress turns 78 today. She's in The Seventh Seal, The Passion of Ana, Wild Strawberries, and of course, Persona. Here's a clip from that great film, which also stars Liv Ullmann as the famous actress who has lost her ability to speak until the moment depicted in this scene.