on 10 June 2008
This astounding novella pounces on your attention from the first lines. It used a language of alienated introspection, with a self deluded failure of a man, bitter about everything and harbouring a particular grudge against his father.
As Tommy Wilheim's story unfolds, we begin to see the parts of him that put him in this position. He is a proud dreamer of a man, too fond of good intentions to get much done. The book follows his defeats and defiances, seeing him fall helpless from one mess to another. Its ending is a poignant comment on the man's state of mind, and had a lasting effect on me when I first read it. 12 years later I read it again, and even though I knew what was coming I felt the same thing.
An astounding book, please check it out.
Seize the Day the Fielder Cook directed film based upon Saul Bellow’s mid-period novella, is a fraught vehicle, a roller-coaster ride of human emotions, with Tommy Wilhelm( Robin Williams) at the mercy of his father Dr Adler, who despises his lack of success, shortage of money, need for love, his helplessness; and his ex wife who is bleeding him dry, preventing him from seeing his kids. He is mostly at the mercy of a friend,conman, Dr Tampkin (Jerry Stiller), a junk dealer, who gives him therapy to deal with the stresses life throws at him, but also fraudulently enlists him to invest in profitless commodities..He tells him to “seize the day”.He’s disappointed his girlfriend ,lost his sanity. Williams gives a powerhouse of a performance, sweaty, frenzied, manic, angry, where his comic timing fuels the lability of his emotional intensity, with his face switching from despair to hilarity in a moment and his body in perpetual motion.He screams,he shouts,he cries as if on a rack. A Robin Williams film for people who don't really like Robin Williams, this edgy adaptation of Saul Bellow's novel sees the star for once submerging his overpowering comic persona inside the demands of the role - and the result is certainly the least mannered, arguably the most effective performance of his screen career to date.
This is made-for-TV feature which uses a broad brush stroke treatment set in the success-driven 50s, where failure was not an option and heartlessness is everywhere. His father a successful doctor is disappointed his son didn’t follow in his footsteps.Back in New York,the power
group are crusty old Jewish men who play cards and hang out at the steam baths,where there are evocative scenes. People seem to live out of hotels.The director has a literal,one-note,telling-of –the-story approach,all of it unravelling in a downward spiral without let, until the scene at the end in a funeral parlour where his emotions pour out for a complete stranger. Uncompromising. Watch for the revelation of Williams' s straight acting or if you love the book so much you want to see the filmed version ( Bellow's 1st novel filmed).Look out for Bellow as 'man in hall'.
on 1 February 2002
One of the best short works of fiction ever, this stands alongside the Beckett trilogy as the great novel of failure - yes, what a decade the 50's were. Brevity is everything where a writer such as Bellow is concerned and other, more expansive books such as Augie March suffer from excessive passions. Read this and you will not be disappointed: wise, tidy and above all with a descriptive dexterity that is a match for anyone (including Dickens), Seize the Day has its hands on the gold. Note the last paragraph of this and compare with the first paragraph The Information. For anyone without perfection.
"Seize the day, put no trust in the morrow" is what Horace wrote at the end of his first book of Odes a couple of thousand years ago. And ever since, youth has been urged to make hay while the sun shines since the bird of time is on the wing--to toss in a couple more homilies. But what Saul Bellow has in mind here is entirely ironic since his sad protagonist, Tommy Wilhelm Adler has never seized the day at all, much to his unfeeling father's disgust.
This then is a tale of failure (one of Bellow's recurring themes) and the shame and self-loathing that failure may bring; and yet there is a sense, or at least a hint--not of redemption of course--but of acceptance and understanding at the end of this short existential novel by the Nobel Prize winner.
The way that Bellow's drowning, existential man experiences the funeral as this novel ends is the way we should all experience a funeral, that is, with the certain knowledge that the man lying dead in the coffin is, or will be, us.
And we should cry copious tears and a great shudder should seize us and we should sob as before God with the full realization that our day too will come, and sooner than we think--which is what big, blond-haired, handsome Jewish "Wilkie" Adler does. And in that realization we know that he has seen the truth and we along with him. An existential truth of course.
The structure of the novel, like James Joyce's Ulysses, begins and ends in the same day. Through flashbacks from Adler's nagging consciousness, the failures and disappointments of his life are recalled. When he was just a young man he foolishly thought because of his good looks and the assurance of a bogus talent scout that he might become a Hollywood star; and so he spurned college and instead went to the boulevard of broken dreams as it runs toward Santa Monica.
And so began the failure and dissolution of his life. As Bellow tells it, Wilhelm has slipped and fallen into something like a watery abyss. He can't catch his breath. He is drowning. He reaches out to his father, who turns away from him. He reaches out to Dr. Tamkin, the mysterious stranger, the clever fox of a man who swindles him and then disappears into the crowd of the great metropolis. He reaches out to his wife, who will also not extend a helping hand. Meanwhile, the waters about him have grown, and he is lost.
We are all lost, more or less, except those who delude themselves, who have their various schemes and delusions to distract them, is what Bellow seems to be saying. Those of us who have not seized the day, a day that is fleeting and subtle, indefinite and hard to grasp, become so much water-logged driftwood.
With resemblances to Albert Camus' The Stranger and Arthur Miller's Willy Loman, Bellow's Wilhelm is the essence of the anti-hero, literature's dominate strain of the mid-twentieth century. Such men have no firm or deep beliefs. They exist for the day, like butterflies, tossed about by circumstance all the while wondering why, but without any ability to rise above their predicament, a predicament that is so ordinary, so banal, so patently unheroic to be that of Everyman.
And what is the answer? For Bellow and Camus and Miller, the answer is the finality of death. A man lives, goes about craving--"I labor, I spend, I strive, I design, I love, I cling, I uphold, I give way, I envy, I long, I scorn, I die, I hide, I want"--and for what and because of what? Like the tentmaker, Omar Khayyam, we wander willy-nilly without a clue, and then become so much dust in the wind.
For life IS a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying in the end, nothing. All our labors are like those of Sisyphus pushing the stone up the hill only to watch it roll back down again.
We cannot help but feel in reading this novel both a sense of empathy for the man who has failed, but at the same time, we might feel like his father and want to give him a kick and say, "Wilkie, get a grip on yourself. Quit making the same mistakes over and over again."
But we know that for Wilhelm it is already too late. He cannot change his nature anymore than the leopard can change its spots. We sense the great hand of fate upon him, and we shudder. For in some respects--different respects of course--we could be him. And we straighten up our frame, we return to our duties and responsibilities, to our work and the rhythms of our lives secure in the knowledge that we are stronger that Wilhelm, that although the waves may toss us about, we will not sink. At least not yet.
In reading this for the first time now half a century after it was written, I am struck with how different the zeitgeist is today. We have wildly successful heroes and larger-than-life murderous villains, and nowhere is there the existential man.
This short work is a splendid representative of one of my favorite genres, the short, sharply focused American novel from the early or middle 20th century. Other--widely differing--examples are John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra, Nathanael West's Miss Lonely Hearts, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, to name a few.
on 8 July 2011
It would appear Amazon have placed all the book reviews for Seize the Day on this page. So here is a review for the DVD, and I should perhaps mention that I have never read the book by Saul Bellow.
Robin Williams gives a fantastic, manic performance here in one of his few serious roles. He is in almost every scene of the film bursting with energy and in an over-excited state as his problems mount and his rejection increases. Set in the 1950s and for the most part in New York, attention to period detail is good, as is the acting of the supporting cast. However, watching this film left me drained, it was quite depressing to witness a life spiral ever downwards. The ending is abrupt and for me at least, one of the most devastating ever committed to film.
Special mention for Jerry Stiller (father of Ben) playing a sleazy con-artist who almost steals the scenes he shares with Williams. No easy task. The lovely Glenne Headly has a minor part looking wonderful when this was made back in 1986. She still looks good now though, twenty-five years later.
The DVD itself is completely bare bones. Nothing. No subtitles, no restoration, no extras. Sound is 2.0 Stereo and picture is full frame 4:3, although I beleive this is the correct ratio as it was made for PBS television in the US.
Worth your time, but be prepared to experience a downer.
on 24 March 2016
Tommy Wilhelm will strike lots of chords with lots of people because he's failed to do what so many of us fail to do - see the title. He's also a sucker for con artists - movie "talent scout" Maurice Venice, femme fatale 'Nita Christenberry, and the inimitable "Dr Tamkin", three fake names in a glorious roster of fake names - and a self-pitying drip who loiters around his sybaritic, exasperated, death-haunted, wealthy dad, hoping to chisel out enough dough to pay his hotel bill, quieten his belligerent ex-wife and mother of his sons, and provide girlfriend Olive with some of life's little luxuries. But dad doesn't play ball and therein lies the rub. The book resonates with the sweat and clamour of NY city life and, despite its brevity, feels like a blockbuster by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, such is the power of the evocation of the frustrated and agonising condition of its protagonist's life, one shared by multitudes of the averagely cowardly who bluster through the shrivelled possibilities their lack of initiative foists upon them. And the writing? "Then the smooth door opened and the great dark-red uneven carpet that covered the lobby billowed toward Wilhem's feet." That dark-red uneven carpet reminds me of the "wine-coloured rug" in the Buchanans' West Egg house in The Great Gatsby. Is Bellow in F Scott Fitzgerald's league, then? You betcha.
Amazon has mixed up the reviews for the film and the book. The reviews for the film are full of praise. If I had noticed that the reviews for the book are less favourable, I wouldn't have got it. My mistake: I should have read the reviews instead of looking at the score.
If you are thinking of reading the book, you probably know that it is regarded as a classic and the author won the Nobel prize for literature. I won't say it isn't a good book but I didn't enjoy reading it. The lead character is one of the most unlikeable characters I have encountered in a novel, but he is unlikeable in a dull way, not selfish, devious or dishonest but lazy, complacent, pathetic and stupid. The other characters offer nothing to be admired. Perhaps Bellow was having some fun by setting out to affront his readers by cramming as many annoying features as he could into one short account. Perhaps it is an achievement to show the twisted attitudes of New Yorkers in a past age who lived in hotels even as their money ran out. Whatever the purpose, I didn't find it inspiring to read.
on 28 October 2007
The main character in Saul Bellow's novel is Tommy Wilhelm. He now lives with his father at the Gloriana Hotel in New York. Everything he has ever undertaken has gone wrong. He never managed to complete his studies. He was dragged to Hollywood by an old friend, Maurice Venice, who promised him a career as a film star with Kaskia Films. But then it turned out that Venice was simply a pimp and Wilhelm ended up by working in a restaurant in California. Later he married Margaret, he had two sons Paulie and Tommy and found a job with a company called Rojax Corporation. When he was dismissed his marriage broke up and Wilhelm's father's wrath reached the point when he refused to give his son a single penny.
When Wilhelm meets psychologist Dr Tamkin, he is drawn into speculation in commodities at one of the branches of a good Wall Street house. Wilhelm clings to the hope that his luck is about to turn - he has given the last of his money to Dr Tamkin. Is Tamkin ripping Wilhelm off or is he offering him one last chance to make it out of his mess?
A moving portrait of a man with sensitive feelings, a soft heart, a brooding nature and a tendency to be confused under the many pressures of life.
This is Bellow's paean to failure, the slow slide of a good-hearted though dumb and self-destructive man. He is heading to his doom, and is a sucker the whole way. Reading this is hard, much like the inexorable decline of people in a Balzac novel, but it is a peculiarly American brand of failure with the post-war culture and Hollywood dreams in tow. It is a masterpiece.
Recommended, but keep the valium handy.
on 23 October 2015
I like the films of Robin Williams and was sad when he departed this life. I found Seize the Day to be funny and yet, as so often in Robin Williams films, full of pathos. He plays the downtrodden loser so well and it is his unique facial expressions, so perfectly timed that make his films stand out. As far as I am concerned, he was an outstanding actor.