Once at a family gathering several relatives tried their best to convince me that Orson Welles had directed “The Third Man.”
I knew it wasn’t true but couldn’t for the life of me remember the actual director’s name. In case you’re wondering it was Carol Reed. But this was in the days of yore before smart phones, so none of us bothered to look it up.
But this is actually a pretty common misconception about “The Third Man.” I have found a similar phenomenon connected to “Charade” and “Gaslight.” Except both of those films are misattributed to Hitchcock. An understandable mistake since they’re both very Hitchcockian.
That’s not why “The Third Man” is often misattributed to Welles. That film bears scant resemblance to his works. Yes, it’s Film Noir, and some of Welles best films belong to that historic mood. It’s not style that causes the confusion. It’s because Welles occupies an overwhelming amount of cultural space connected to “The Third Man.”
He’s barely in the movie, though.
The incomparable Joseph Cotten carries the film. Welles just pops in for the most memorable moments. It’s similar to Anthony Hopkins’ modest screen time in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Peter Bogdanovich has pointed out Welles’ character, the nefarious Harry Lime, is one of the great “Star Parts” in film history. A Star Part is a character that consumes the attention of everyone in a play or film yet the character actually does very little over the course of the narrative.
This is why the independent film “A Boy Called Sailboat” is such a wonderful little gem.
On the surface there isn’t much to write home about. It’s funny, but many films are funny. It’s touching, but again many movies are, too. The performances are good and the direction competent. It has a quirky “Nacho Libre” vibe, and not just because of its Hispanic setting.
What makes “A Boy Called Sailboat” special is that it utilizes a similar magic to the Star Part but never actually gives us its star.
One might be forgiven for thinking that was how they utilized Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons. He’s easily the most recognizable name attached to “A Boy Called Sailboat,” but he’s barely in the film. The few scenes he features in highlight the subtle gravitas of his unique attributes. But no, the actual star part is something else entirely.
The story is about a humble Hispanic family. So humble that their house leans on a very large support beam, one that occasionally has to be replaced. But they have a beautiful little boy who learns how to play the ukulele.
His name is Sailboat (Julian Atocani Sanchez). He brings joy into their lives, then eventually the whole world.
Without revealing too much Sailboat writes the greatest song ever. When people hear it they are overwhelmed by its beauty. Of course we never get to hear the song because there is no such thing as the greatest song. And yet it’s this very song that we all long to hear.
One of the greatest moments of C.S. Lewis’ profound writing career can be found in a sermon: The Weight of Glory.
“Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it [the desire for heaven] with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them.”
The echo of a tune we have not heard…
Sailboat’s song remains unheard, and yet it echoes within all of us. An impossible chorus that if it were possible could literally bring the world to its knees. A salve for every broken heart mediated through the drums of our ears.
Romantic ideas like these often make conservatives run screaming to their blogs in a vain attempt to fix an irrational world with reason. Every rock star strung out on crack nursing multiple STDs thinks they’re a gift from the gods. Every wannabe Robert Plant or Freddie Mercury believes they can change the world with a song.
Just because stupid people believe something is true doesn’t make it a lie.
A song will change the world some day, once and forever. A trumpet sound that will literally raise the dead. The magic of “A Boy Called Sailboat” is that it has the guts to admit that song doesn’t exist yet.
The echo is within us all but the tune remains unheard.