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Another day, another debacle


The Hospital (1971) (directed by Arthur Hiller, written by Paddy Chayefsky) is set in a huge, prestigious teaching hospital in Manhattan.

Herbert Bock, the chief of Internal Medicine (played by George C. Scott), has reached the end of his rope. His stormy marriage has finally broken down for good, he’s estranged from his kids, and his beloved hospital seems to be falling apart. Callous incompetence surrounds him. He feels helpless and bereft of hope. Bock’s sole comfort is nightly binge drinking. He concludes his only option is suicide.

As Bock prepares to end his life by massively overdosing on potassium, he witnesses a bizarre scene. A recently admitted patient – a medical missionary from Boston working among the Apaches of northern Mexico – is the subject of a shamanistic ritual conducted right in the ward by an Apache medicine man. The medicine man was flown to New York for that very purpose. Bock takes this grotesque episode as yet another sign that his beloved hospital is going to the dogs.

Meanwhile, Bock is introduced to the missionary’s daughter (Ms. Drummond, played by Diana Rigg). She later comes to his office on some pretext, but with the clear intention of seducing him. She has, she tells him, “a thing for brooding middle-aged men”. The action here begins just after she makes her move, which Bock rejects.

This lengthy scene is remarkable because it was shot in one continuous take. There were no cuts, no interpolations. It was as if Scott and Rigg were performing live on the stage. And Scott’s towering performance in what has become known as the “impotence monologue” is now one of the most admired in cinema history.








Earphones recommended. (Original sound quality less than perfect.)


Here is a scene from Act 5, near the end of this performance of William Shakespeare’s Richard the Second at London’s Globe Theatre. The main character is played by the Anglo-American actor-director Mark Rylance.

In this scene Richard is a prisoner facing an uncertain future. He’s just been deposed (“unking’d”) by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, the newly crowned King Henry IV of England. Richard reflects on how his thoughts are disordered and how he can achieve temporary contentment by reminding himself that he’s not the first to be in such trouble. He then convinces himself that true contentment lies only in being content with having nothing, a state we all reach when we’re content with meeting death (“with being nothing”). The music interrupting his reverie at that point reminds him of how he can so easily detect the errors in the music that other men make but can’t do so in the music of his own life.


Richard II (1367-1400) was no run-of-the-mill medieval king. When you consider English monarchs through the ages you’re struck by how many were opportunists, nonentities, philanderers, thugs, place-holders, pious nobodies, money-grubbers, reactionaries, backstabbers, frontstabbers and incompetents. Richard II fits none of those categories. He was said to be highly intelligent and – for a medieval monarch – unusually well read. He also had a slight stammer.

It was once believed Richard was mentally ill. This idea has since been discredited, although most historians now think he suffered from some kind of personality disorder. This may account for his undoing: he knew what political changes he wanted to introduce, but his personality disorder clouded his judgement and led to their failure and his ultimate fate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rAYmmIYCGQ – a scene from much earlier in the play – is also worth viewing. It starts when Richard’s suspicions about his cousin Henry Bolingbroke’s ambitions start to take hold.