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Anthony Marais

by Susan Henderson on January 2, 2008

This week, someone decided to interview me, and it ended up being a conversation between a movie lover and a movie hater, so enjoy, and feel free to jump into the conversation. Please welcome Anthony Marais, my interviewer.

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AM: …Now, is it true that you’ve seen so few movies?

SH: I’ve seen fewer movies than anyone I know. I consider going to the movie theatre kind of like going to the dentist. It’s something you’re obligated to do now and then. I definitely go to the dentist more often than I go to the movies.

AM: Have you seen Marathon Man? This may change your view of dentists. Okay, what’s the first movie you’ve ever seen? For my part, it must be one by Walt Disney: Pinocchio, Snow White and Jungle Book have melded in my earliest cinema memories. My father told me he started taking me to the movies when I around three. I also have early memories of the Hal Roach films with Laurel and Hardy and The Little Rascals, as well as I love Lucy back when I had to go to sleep at 7:00 PM. I have a clear memory of seeing Woody Allen’s Sleeper at the age of seven in Lake Arrowhead, CA. I can remember the scenes with the “orgasmatron” and not knowing exactly what it meant. Today I know what it means…I think.

SH: The first movie I ever saw was The Little Red Tent. I remember most of the movie was white, and then there was a tent in the movie, and it was red. There might have also been wind or the sound of wind.

AM: A film I don’t know. How frustrating! If you’re into wind – and I’m totally into wind – check out the films of Federico Fellini and Val Lewton. Such pleasure!

SH: The first Disney movie I saw was also the first movie I liked. I don’t know the name of it but it had Uncle Remus and zippetydooda in it, and I think if I watched it today, there would be things that really bothered me about it. There were cartoony bits that went along with stories I’d read. The stories were better. But what I liked about the movie were Uncle Remus’ hands, especially near the nail where the brown changed to pink. I also liked the gray bits in his hair and how his veins would swell up a little when he sang.

AM: The movie is called Song of the South (1946) and it is one of my all-time favorites. I have it in my video collection. This is, indeed, opening a can of worms, however, because I stand by this film as a piece of humanistic art. I believe the criticism it has received in recent years is unwarranted – and I do care about these issues – and in my opinion it’s a scandal that Disney has pulled it from the shelves. Unfortunately, it would take a lot of space to fully explain why I hold this view, but suffice it to say, I’m glad Uncle Remus is a part of my life, and like little Johnny (played by Bobby Driscoll) I’d also run across a field of peril to keep from losing that jolly old man.

SH: The next movie I remember seeing was, oh hell, I forgot the name of that one, too. It had Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in it, and Jon Voight was like this prostitute cowboy and there was dancing and a bus ride and a great soundtrack and a bittersweet ending. I liked it, though I don’t remember the plot.

AM: Midnight Cowboy (1969). I don’t know how you did it, but the movies you’ve seen appear to be all good. The theme song by Harry Nilsson is fun.

SH: It’s because a movie needs to be suggested to me about 20 times before I’ll go. And even then, I have to be dragged to it. I Googled The Little Red Tent, by the way. There’s no such movie. But there is The Red Tent with Sean Connery, and that’s the one. Obviously the Russian-big blimp thing-espionage theme did not leave an impression on me. I usually fuzz out before the movie even gets going.

AM: This is interesting, because as a novelist (and mother) you obviously do not lack patience and attention to detail.

SH: I have a question for you, and it’s more about comparing gray matter, maybe. But even the movies I’ve seen, and even the ones I’d say were my all-time favorites, see they just don’t stick with me. I tend to notice a detail or a mood or an emotion, but I think I am mostly NOT watching the movie. I go somewhere else.

So my question is, What is your experience like when you watch a movie? How do you make yourself pay attention to it? And how does the movie stick in your memory years later?

AM: Wow, what a question! I am, indeed, fascinated by the amount of information our brains can store. Firstly, I ask myself, How many movies have I really seen? 1,000? 5,000? 10,000? If I watch on average a film a day that would add up to – well, let’s see – 15,000 movies over the past 41 years. Add to this the books I’ve read, the lyrics I’ve listened to, and the paintings I’ve seen and we’ve got a lot of info – and this is, pedagogically speaking, the abstract data that our brains shy away from. The basics (which are absorbed more easily and retained more deeply) like speech, smell, music and real-life experience, push the limits of what lies in our three-pound-tofu-globs beyond conception.

I don’t know about you, but I imagine a vast library in my head filled with a labyrinth of shelves; and a mental librarian who scurries about looking for info as it is needed in conversation or writing. Organization is important, and hence the dates after every film I mention. It may cost money, but I’m an advocate of collecting books, movies and music. I’ve found that when I buy a DVD and put it on my shelf, it stays in my active memory banks. I also develop a different relation to the movie, as I tend to watch them many times over. But, for any cinephiles out there, please don’t get me wrong: the cinema is the place for watching movies! I have around 750 movies in my humble collection, and these are most often the ones I refer to in conversation.

SH: I am absolutely staggered by those numbers! Do you watch movies alone or with company? Do you feel bigger or smaller after a movie? Do you know what I mean? Does life seem blasé afterward or fuller or what? I just can’t imagine ever watching a movie a day.

AM: Last night I saw for the first time Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) starring Gregory Peck. It was a good day. Well, come to think of it, if the movie is good, I feel smaller… and better. You see, I’d rather be a small fish in a big sea. I’m inspired when I encounter a world richer than mine, and I love hearing dialogue more clever and lucid than my own. I wholeheartedly believe that life is made fuller through art. It is the tonic of life.

SH: As for my brain, maybe I need to have shelves installed. My head is more like a body of water. There’s flotsam and jetsam bobbing around. There are a few hot pools, and there are places where you can touch the ground and then suddenly it drops off and it’s cold. I remember moods and emotions and little, vivid details of fabrics or bits of conversations that are attached to them. I think my writing is often an attempt to organize and fill in blanks to what otherwise feels like chaos.

AM: Sounds to me like Jungian psychology. Have you seen Solaris (1972) by Andrey Tarkovsky? Or read the book by Stanislaw Lem? Their brains look like yours! I also feel the need to fill in blanks, make sense of the chaos and, you know, clean up the mess. Thus far, no success on my end…

SH: Even when I read a good book, I’m rarely focused on the big plot but in the little moments and gestures and just being inside that writer’s heart and mind for a while and seeing the world as they do. Reading is an act of intimacy. It’s very much like falling in love or having amazing sex. It has to be a great book, though; I’m very picky. But when I read Dylan Thomas or Tim O’Brien or Nicole Krauss, I am breathless, sentence by sentence.

AM: “Love,” “Sex,” “Breathless,” “Intimacy” – What beautiful words to describe the act of reading! I think by now you know how much I love movies, but, ah, reading, there’s nothing like it. I would add the word “distillation” to this list, because, for me, there is an intensity to literature akin to having distilled life into a potent elixir. Indeed, these intimate details of which you speak create indescribable emotions, as if there is nothing more wondrous than being human. The English writer Charles Lamb (1775-1833) wrote: “I love to lose myself in other men’s minds. If I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me.” I’m charmed by this idea. Reading is like thinking with the mind of someone more intelligent than us – that feels good, and awakens gratitude.

SH: That’s so gorgeous what you wrote there, it would be stupid not to end on that note. But for kicks, let’s maybe end with our top 10 favorite films? You first.

Anthony’s Top 10 Movies:

1. Spartacus (1960)

The alchemical mixing point of romantic Hollywood grandeur and the advent of psychological modernism, the biggest and smallest film ever made.

2. In Cold Blood (1967)

The best character development ever achieved on film, the most disturbing murder sequence ever filmed, and a fascinating fusion of stylized dialogue, poetic cinematography and gritty realism.

3. Annie Hall (1977)

A true auteur film: by a true auteur, bristling with ideas and brimming with wisdom, leaving one emotionally pummeled and deeply in love with life.

4. La Dolce Vita (1960)

Simply the Holy Grail of cinema, possessing the key to that paradoxical beauty for which all modernists strive, while never losing hold of its nostalgia and romance.

5. Psycho (1960)

The most gripping movie ever made; and perhaps the most audacious title ever chosen. Yet the film lives up to its name. It’s the apex of dark humor, a dazzling example of acting in a perfectly structured story.

6. The Ten Commandments (1955)

A miracle: a 3 hour 39 minute film that doesn’t leave you bored for a minute. This is the great elephant that all too many critics neglect as they seek out the “underground” and “influential.” This film has done more for archaeology than 150 years of scientific research. It is the triumph of art over science. Watch the obelisk fall into place and realize that we have invented time machines!

7. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

The most “Hollywood” Hollywood film ever made; and perhaps the best example of a movie possessing more than meets the eye. It’s a film that grows, because it is so rich in insight and piercing in its observations. Don’t be fooled by the light touch with which it was made.

8. Rosemary’s Baby (1967)

The most pessimistic movie ever made – and it’s a comedy! Hence it qualifies as the most philosophical movie ever made. Hannah Arendt coined the phrase: “The banality of evil.” Roman Polanski filmed it.

9. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Arguably the “American Dream” is just that: a dream. And yet all too few of us remember to thank the ones who dreamt it up. Do yourself a favor, watch this film, believe in life, cry and get married.

10. I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

The closest Hollywood ever got to creating poetry on film. This is also the most anthropological movie ever made – an enchantingly dark film, where culture does not serve as a backdrop, but as the star. Don’t be deceived by the title. Val Lewton smuggled something inscrutable onto the lots of RKO, and the world is the better for it.

11. The Jungle Book (1967)

When Baloo the bear crashes onto the scene, dressed in nothing but a grass skirt and a coconut strung over his mouth, slamming the temple door in Bagheera’s face and boisterously joining in on King Louis’s tune – well, for my part, there are few joys to compare with this. Walt died six months before this film premiered, and I’d like to think his team transformed their tears into a loving work of art.

AM: Did I just pass my limit?

Susan’s Top 10 Movies:

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Try watching it all the way through and not having sex. Especially during the whole sequence with the guy on horseback and the fight over the comb. Our kids’ kung fu teacher is in the film and did all the fight choreography, so I like it for that, too.

2. Hero

You think I have a thing for fighting but I actually just love the colors and the movement in this movie. I like it with subtitles because hearing the Mandarin is half the experience of it for me.

3. Withnail and I

My husband grew up outside of London and I like this movie because it goes so well with the stories he tells of his childhood.

4. Finding Neverland

I cried like a baby watching this movie. It was my period, but maybe I would have cried anyway.

5. Princess Bride

Hmmm. Maybe I do have a thing for sword fighting. This is a sexy little fairy tale, and there’s a comedic fight scene on a cliff that is funny and gets you in the mood all at once.

SH: Sorry, I can’t make it all the way to ten, though these ones weren’t bad: The Red Balloon, Waiting for Guffman, Boyz in the Hood, Duck Soup, Fiddler on the Roof, and Doctor Zhivago (God that guy was beautiful). Still, I can’t help feeling antsy when I watch a film, like I could be getting something done, I guess.

*

Bio:




Anthony Marais studied anthropology at U.C. Berkeley, focusing on the prehistory of Polynesia; and then at Simon Fraser University in Canada where he holds a Master’s Degree in archaeology and wrote a thesis on fortifications in Tonga. He is the author of The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Californians, The Cure, Plateau, and most recently, Delusionism.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

lance_reynald January 2, 2008 at 2:19 am

as a rule, I’m with you Susan. I can’t stand movies… I find them to be like a hostage situation…
and honestly… the last time I was in a theatre I was so distracted by the fact the popcorn was so horrible that I barely made it through the credits….

now and then a film comes along that I last longer than ten minutes on…
I don’t even like them enough to have a top ten list… but, I’ll try… this might be a testament to how much I detest the past-time… but let’s give it a shot anyway…

mysterious skin (the book was better),
Into the Wild (book was better, cinematography was neat, soundtrack BRILLIANT!),
Cabaret (costuming, makeup and provocative as hell),
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (a lifestyle),
Shortbus (a modern study of adult relationships in the city, and I adore Justin Bond),
once (the one film that breaks my heart, crushes it actually),
To Catch a Thief (when I grow up, I want to live within this movie; every last thing),
Savage Nights (face it, none of you saw it. You won’t. But, I loved it)
C.R.A.Z.Y.( french- canadian and brilliant)
Bladerunner (befoer they put that unicorn crap in it.)

I can’t believe I actually found ten films and something to actually say about them…
just for fun…. I watched The Wall… in a Paris hotel with subtitles, years ago… I thought the subtitles improved the film…

well, I’d say my work here is done and I should be off the hook for movies for at least another four years. You really can’t convert me on this one… books are just so much better.

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Kimberly January 2, 2008 at 9:39 am

What a wonderful discussion on one of my favorite subjects! I completely agree on the beauty of getting lost in a superior mind. What bliss!

How funny is it that it took me three times in reading your list, Susan, to realize that you wrote “Hidden DRAGON” and not “Hidden DUMPLING”??? Not that I don’t love love love ‘DUMPLING’, but I was trying like hell to figure out how it was conjugally inspirational. 🙂

A top ten list would be far too difficult, as I saw no less than 5 movies this past weekend that all changed my life in so many different ways. My desert-island list is ever-morphing…

However, if you (read: LitPark crowd) haven’t seen them, you owe it to yourselves to check out:
The Savages
Persepolis
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sweeney Todd (save Helena B-C – woefully miscast)
Dear Wendy (on DVD)

Oh, and Wondertwins?? I forgive you.

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aimeepalooza January 2, 2008 at 10:55 am

I’m no good at watching movies either. I fall asleep, right away. Or I get antsy and start to pace. I am with a huge movie fan too. If he had his choice of Friday nights it would be a movie. But I am a horrible movie date and he usually finds me in the lobby walking around or if we rent, asleep. It took me 4 tries to get through 300 without falling asleep and that is a fighting/ high stress movie.
Okay my top movies….drawing a blank but I’ll try.
1. ET was the first movie I saw and I saw it at the drive in
2. Pan’s Labrynth (I cannot spell for shit sorry!)
3. Little Miss Sunshine
4.Sabrina (the old version) I was in 7th grade and it was playing on TV. I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn. Before seeing the movie I did not know who she was.
5. Good fellas. I wanted to be in the mob because of this movie. And that Ray guy was pretty hot back in the day.
I am sure there’s more and that some of them are actually good movies
maybe I’ll come back as they pop into my head.

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Ric January 2, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Okay, I can’t resist.

Doctor Zhivago – Russia is so beautiful and I’m a sucker for love stories.
Zefferelli’s Romeo & Juliet – perfect casting, made me read Shakespeare as a teenager
It’s a Mad, Mad World – because everyone needs to laugh out loud
It’s a Wonderful Life – because it is something we can all aspire to
2001 – Space Odassy – (spelling sucks) – Kubrick was the greatest and it gives hope to the future
Manhattan – Woody Allen – I had this thing about Mariel Hemingway until I found out she is at least a head taller than me…..
Citizen Kane – greatest ever made
The Graduate – seduction, ever popular with 16 year old males
The Weatherman – it is okay to be the what you are….

okay – didn’t get to ten – but my favorite movie of all time is
wait for it….

Valley of the Dolls –
which I got on dvd for Christmas and have watched twice already
can’t even tell you why I like this campy, overacted, formulaic sixties movie, but I do.

Great interview, Susan – and a great topic.

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troutbum70 January 2, 2008 at 1:47 pm

I love stories, however they are told, around a campfire, the written word and movies. I am a huge fan of movies all movies. I like The Princess Bride too. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon made me want to cross swords with a fem fatale then have sex.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark

My all time favorite. Pure adventure. I have no idea how many times I have watched this movie.

2. Lawrence of Arabia

Beautiful film.

3. The Thin Man

Pure fun and murder

4. Jaws

what you don’t see is more frightning than what you do see. And the music.

5. The Searchers

John Wayne and John Ford at their best. Love, loss and hatred are never portrayed better.

6. Seven Samuri

I was hooked with the thunder of horses at the begining. The few against the many, I am all about the little guy saying enough is enough, I will not stand for this anymore, pass me a pitchfork baby.

7. The Big Lebowski

The F word Three times a minuete. How can it get any better.

8. Lost in Translation

subtle beauty

9. Star Wars

I was seven, it was incredible.

10. Citizen Kane

Everything you could ask for and more.

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Aurelio January 2, 2008 at 1:56 pm

I’ve become an NetFlix junkie, so this interview was fun for me. I watch movies almost every day. I don’t enjoy the theater experience because I don’t care to hear what other people think about what they are seeing, and don’t usually laugh at what they laugh at; audiences and I annoy each other.

And NetFlix has lots of the oldies, which are more interesting than just about any of the new stuff.

Susan, I’m shocked you’ve seen so few. Tsk, tsk, tsk… You had better remedy this before I get out there.

I can’t do a top ten list, because there are far too many great films, but here are ten light comedies that never cease to make me grin (these are in no particular order:

Soap Dish
Tootsie
Singing In the Rain (superb on so many levels)
The Parent Trap (the original, not the yuckie new one)
The Philadelphia Story
Holiday
All of Me
Born Yesterday
A Fish Called Wanda
Heaven Can Wait

If I’m ever in a funk, I put one of these on and all is well with my world.

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Aurelio January 2, 2008 at 2:02 pm

If you haven’t seen it, you should give Sweet Charity a look. It’s not great and too long, but it has GREAT moments and Fosse-ness everywhere.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass January 2, 2008 at 2:31 pm

I am another lover of stories. Yes, I love how words combine to make glorious flavors, but I love the whole meal, from appetizers to the port wine finish.

Films of my favorite books seldom satisfy me, though. Films are like fast-food, while books are gourmet feasts.

Nevertheless, I love stories. We have Friday night pizza and movies in front of our Big Screen TV. I look forward to the discussions that often follow. I have rather eclectic taste.

My favorite films are (not in particular order):

Enchanted April
Crash
Ladyhawke
Gone With the Wind (also among my favorite books)
Dr. Zhavigo (My mother used to play and sing “Somewhere My Love”)
Moulin Rouge
Blade Runner (yes, the original)
Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Sound of Music
The Princess Bride

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aimeepalooza January 2, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Okay, I did watch and really enjoy Georgia Rule too. I never thought I’d like a Lindsay Lohan movie but I did. And you know what? Aaron hater of all films girly liked it too. We actually sat rather disturbed at the end of the movie and just looked at each other kind of pissed. And I swear if Lindsay gets her crap together and picks good films….she’ll be a real actress. She did a great job.
I feel like I just admitted to liking easy cheese.
which I do like
now running off to bury my head in shame!

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aimeepalooza January 2, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Oh, and I liked a Beautiful Mind. My Brother has mental illness and this movie showed it like it is. okay off to my can of easy cheese now.

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Kimberly January 2, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Why am I not surprised we have so many of the same faves? ‘Born Yesterday’ is the only one on your list I’m not familiar with and I’m NetFlixing it right now! (HUGE Judy Holliday fan! Who can forget her brilliant performance in ‘Adam’s Rib’?)

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Kimberly January 2, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Aimee!!! You made me snort out loud at work with your Easy Cheese comment! HA! (snort!)

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Nathalie January 2, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Susan, I was thinking that if you liked Crouching Tigers and Hidden Dragons you might also like The House of Flying Daggers, which is so hautingly beautiful.
Nice challenge this 10 favourite movies list, I doubt I would fit all my tastes into such a tiny number, especially if I were to add all the French and Italian movies I like to your English speaking ones.
I’ll tell you which is number one in my heart, though: les Enfants du Paradis by Marcel Carné. But it was written by my favourite French poet, Jacques Prévert…

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Kimberly January 2, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Les Enfants!!! I can’t get enough of that film!!! Especially when you think about the history of the shoot. Magnificent! Have you seen Gabrielle Salvatores’ ‘Io Non ho Paura’? Friggin’ GORGEOUS!

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Kimberly January 2, 2008 at 4:53 pm

mmmmm… Ladyhawke! How sexy was Rutger Hauer in that movie???

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SusanHenderson January 2, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Got very busy with a number of things today and will catch up tomorrow. Will also be in touch with Zett, Daisuke, James, and Robin – meant to today, but it’s not going to happen. Mr. H is off at open-mic. We were all meant to go, but Green-Hand wasn’t feeling well, so instead we had a fire and read Roald Dahl’s Mathilda and found out what happens when you put a whole apple in the fireplace.

I sent Green-Hand to bed early, but later, when I checked on him, found he was still awake and starting another novel. I’m going to type it in because he’s a cool little writer:

DARK SIDED

Prologue
The world of “Dark Side” is cut, by a black hole. THE black hole. It was also a gateway into hell. Also the dungeon dementions. As a liegion of creaturs finds its way into “dark sid.” It also finds a city by the name of Arndaken.

Men or, Women or even human is not a approprete word or name for the creaters.

Black War
Chapter 1: The Take
“Fire!” 3 men pulled a lever realesing a 1,000 ton stone sphere high into a misty, smokey black sky. As it slowly tumbled down ‘warriors scatered. Looking into the ditch, the creater saw it’s cause It turned it’s beak like head. It slowly, very slowly starched to march toward the catupalts.

The clanging of swords and claw, ax and hammer, could be heard over the apotan moutians. In less than a hour, the great mortal city of arnadaken (art-da-kan) was now and probably the one city the dungeon demention controlled.

(that’s as far as he got. now he’s sleeping… I love his spelling. I’ll be sad when he doesn’t make all these mistakes. Or maybe he’ll never lose that thing about him – Mr. H didn’t. I’ll be around tomorrow. Thanks for all the comments today and Monday!)

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Heather_Fowler January 3, 2008 at 12:19 am

Very sexy!

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terrybain January 3, 2008 at 12:46 am

This is a test to see if I can get a smartlink in the comment section of the blog. And for those of you (perhaps all) who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about those little blue boxes you may or may not see next to the titles of books these days. Those are smartlinks. And here I’m going to link a movie I hated but was mentioned here as a favorite. Just for fun.

Spartacus

The link is to the internet movie database, and I think I should get a bluebox/smartlink. If I do, cool. It will make my heart go pitter pat. If not… well, moving right along.

And blessings. On a Wednesday.

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terrybain January 3, 2008 at 12:48 am

Rats. I think I killed my smartlink with all the extra formatting I put into it. One more try, okay?

Spartacus

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terrybain January 3, 2008 at 12:51 am
Nathalie January 3, 2008 at 5:25 am

The book is even better….

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Nathalie January 3, 2008 at 5:29 am

The strangest thing is when yesterday I commented with links to the movies, I DID see the little blue boxes you mentionned (and thought they were strange) but today they are all gone. The links seem to be still working though….

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Nathalie January 3, 2008 at 5:32 am

And what would an easy cheese be? Or a difficult one, or even marginally awkward one, for that matter? The mind boggles. Although I can think of a few self conscious ones – iI think it was the smell, they could not quite cope with – maybe the poor things are over compensating for a poor self image?

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Kimberly January 3, 2008 at 9:05 am

worked the 2nd time… and for the record – how cool!!!

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