Moby-Monday: Alec Baldwin on Moby-Dick

Last week, Tom Beer of Newsday quizzed actor Alec Baldwin on his love for Moby-Dick…and then the paper stowed the interview behind a paywall, more’s the pity. Here’s a (hopefully) fair-use excerpt:

Q: What does Moby-Dick have to say to us today?
A: We still live in a world where men are led by other men. And those men, the followers, have trouble distinguishing the membrane between the leader’s passion and his neurosis. You’re onboard that ship and you know that Ahab’s your man and you want to go get this whale, and then you find out the hard way that maybe it wasn’t the best idea. Well, isn’t that [Enron’s] Jeffrey Skilling? Wasn’t it a white whale he was after?

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — Remind you of anyone?

French designer Jean-Marie Massaud has proposed a helium "manned cloud"—a floating 20-room hotel—that bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain white sperm whale.

Cruising for days at 100 miles per hour “permits man to explore the world without a trace,” Massaud’s website states: “to experience spectacular and exotic places without being intrusive or exploitative.” So, pretty much what Ahab was going for—except for that last bit.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — Considerable Horizon

“It’s irresistible to make the analogy between the relentless hunt for whale oil in Melville’s day and for petroleum in ours,” scholar Andrew Delbanco recently told the New York Times. Moby-Dick is “a story about self-destruction visited upon the destroyer—and the apocalyptic vision at the end seems eerily pertinent to today.”

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — So much for monomania

Comic strip artist Zach Weiner has done it again. In a 10-panel Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip, Weiner imagines Ahab getting an unwelcome answer to his standard greeting, “Hast seen the white whale?”

“Yes! Killed him!” replies a jolly fellow captain—turning a timeless, dramatic quest for vengeance into more of a shaggy-dog story.

In an earlier strip, Weiner spares the whale, but allows a de-armed captain (possibly that of the Samuel Enderby) to offer Ahab a little perspective. “Oh, it ate your leg,” he says calmly. “That’s pretty bad. Of course, it ate my arm.”

“Well, a leg’s pretty bad,” Ahab responds. “Actually, a leg’s worse.”

“Not really,” the first captain says. But hey, he adds—if you feel some crazy need to avenge the loss of your leg, “Go for it!”

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — A few minor adjustments

My friend, I give you perhaps the world’s first movie tie-in: a 1925 edition of Moby-Dick illustrated with stills from the John Barrymore silent-movie version, The Sea Beast. Slight problem—the film takes dazzling liberties with Herman Melville’s novel, giving young Ahab an evil half-brother, Derek, who pushes him into the jaws of the white whale that shears off his leg. Ahab also gets a love interest, Esther, but after said shearing, Derek convinces Ahab that she could never truly love a one-legged man. (One photo bears the caption, “Sensitive of his crippled condition, Ahab interprets her love as pity and self-sacrifice.”) Ahab ends things with Esther, sets off in search of the whale he blames for ruining his life … and kills it.

“In story, the screen version of Moby-Dick exceeds the book,” writes S.R. Buchman in an “Appreciation” that precedes Melville’s Derek- and Esther-free text. “The discrepancy between the two must not be considered as a profanely wanton alteration. The episode of the book has not been misused; it has been enlarged and clarified.” And Melville’s ending provides an “unreasonably cruel fate” for Ahab, Buchman complains. “In all justice, Ahab had suffered enough to be granted expiation and its rewards, but Melville killed him.” What a blunder! “It is a relief and satisfaction that the picture version allows Ahab to live,” Buchman concludes. I can think of at least one whale who might take issue with that.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — Studious Digesting of Beer

Dutch brewer Ramses Bier makes a wheat beer named after Moby Dick. According to a handy Babelfish translation, it’s “a zest Munich” style beer with “notige an aftertaste.” Proost!

Closer to home, Bluegrass Brewing Company of Louisville, Kentucky recently concocted a “white” (actually reddish-gold) porter called Melby Dick, named after Herman Melville’s novel and a brewing-company marketing staffer. One reviewer deemed it “terrific,” but unfortunately the brew was made only in a limited edition.

So if you’re in the mood for a frosty whale-related beverage (and there’s no flip on hand), consider Cisco Brewers’ Whale’s Tale Pale Ale or North Coast Brewery’s tasty Scrimshaw pilsener. Then all you’ll need will be an abominable tumbler etched with measuring lines, to be sure you’re getting the full Cape Horn portion.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — Pamphlet appreciates one kabillion percent

An eight-page pamphlet that sold for one (British) penny in the 1820s is for sale on eBay at $999.99. Its subject: the 1820 wreck of the whaleship Essex, upon which Moby-Dick is partly based.

Author Herman Melville read the horrific story of castaways and cannibalism in a memoir by Essex first mate Owen Chase, who was rescued after three months spent floating in a whaleboat in the Pacific Ocean. This booklet comes at the story from a different angle: that of the three crewmen who chose to stay behind on desolate Henderson Island and were later rescued.

If this pamphlet isn’t expensive enough for you, there’s another copy online priced at $1,950.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — Ric Burns’s whaling doc on PBS

First-time readers of Moby-Dick, beware: Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, a documentary that premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on PBS, just cold gives away the book’s ending without so much as a spoiler alert.

But if you already know the ending—or have an urgent need to know it—this film by director Ric Burns is well worth your time. Using archival footage and recreated scenes as well as shots of crew lists, scrimshaw, and other artifacts, Burns interweaves a short course in the history of the U.S. whale fishery with the story of Herman Melville’s Pequod and that of the real-life Essex, the whaleship upon whose 1820 journey Moby-Dick is partly based.

An impressive array of historians and Melvillians appears in the film, including Nathaniel Philbrick, whose book In the Heart of the Sea is the definitive history of the Essex; Melville biographer Andrew Delbanco; and Eric Jay Dolan, author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America.

Making a brief appearance as Melville (or possibly Ishmael) is Robert Sean Leonard (House’s Dr. James Wilson). He was great and all, but when I think young-Melville, I think Zach Galifianakis. You?

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — The Ocean in a City Street

The latest work of Seattle plein air painter Christopher Martin Hoff was inspired by Moby-Dick, the artist tells blogger Joey Veltkamp.

While reading the favorite novel of an absent friend, “I quickly recognized the influences of the book on my daily ‘urban meditations,'” says Hoff, whose paintings contain no human figures. “The ruined skeletons of structures caught in limbo by the financial crisis became characters from the book: graffiti and street signs became ‘Belshazzar’s writing on the wall’ (literally); telephone poles became mastheads; and wires, whale lines.”

We love the artwork from the show (above is Hoff’s The Lee Shore), but we’ve got to wonder: where’s the painting of Starbucks? Doesn’t Seattle have any of those?

Hoff’s Moby-Dick paintings are part of a show at the Linda Hodges Gallery that opens May 6.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.