Be Drunk

by Charles Baudelaire

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it — it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking . . . ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

(c. 1869)

The film adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play, which was published after his death, is one of the most challenging for me to recommend. Despite how amazing I find it, it’s not one that I return to on a regular basis — Long Day’s Journey Into Night is one of the most exhausting movies I’ve ever seen. While the film’s length (just under three hours) sounds tiring in itself, for me it is (you’ll never guess!) the intensity of Katharine Hepburn that is magnificently draining. The story is precisely what its title advertises: an intensely long day in life of the Tyrones, a family plagued with alcoholism, drug addiction, illness, and good, old-fashioned self-hatred. As the sun descends, so do the characters and their audience along with them, all of us graciously kicking and screaming.

I do love an ensemble cast that can produce amazing chemistry with any pairing of two actors — I’m sure that relates back to my childhood evenings spent with the cast of the television show Soap. This emotional marathon of a film is another perfect example; aside from my love for Katharine Hepburn, who absolutely floors me as the morphine-addicted matriarch of the family, my other favorite part of the film is the above poem by Charles Baudelaire. Edmund Tyrone (played by the charmingly handsome Dean Stockwell) recites it perfectly to his aging, alcoholic father (Sir Ralph Richardson), who responds gracefully by refreshing both of their drinks. As I struggled a bit beginning this piece, finally it hit me to let M. Baudelaire invite you into such a fascinating home. Rounding out such a home is a member the original 1956 Broadway cast — the great Jason Robards steps back into the role Jamie Tyrone, the older son who shares his father’s gifts of acting and drinking. His intensity is almost as hypnotic as Katharine Hepburn’s, but sorry folks, for me there’s no scene that the Queen can’t help but dominate.


When this film brought Katharine Hepburn her ninth Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, she was certainly in good company. To name a few, the list of nominees in 1963 placed her against Anne Bancroft (for The Miracle Worker) and Bette Davis (for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?). As the rumors go, one Miss Joan Crawford campaigned any which way to make sure Bette Davis (her Baby Jane costar) did not walk away with gold that evening. To rub it in Bette Davis’s face even further, Miss Crawford accepted the award on behalf of 1963’s Oscar winner, Anne Bancroft, who was not present at the ceremony. Now, before I came to know Miss Hepburn in one of her greatest roles, I was sure that if I ran the world, I’d split the award between Bette Davis and Anne Bancroft. But after another introduction to Mary Tyrone, it turns out that dear little Oscar would be divided into three, possibly with his head and shoulders going home with Miss Hepburn.

I’m trying to figure out why I’m coming up with so little to say about a film interlaced with complexity. While I want to include it in this little blog project I’ve begun, the best I can come up with is “Wow, just watch it!” The degree to which this family is able to rattle me feels a bit masochistic on my part; I’ll admit there’s a sliver of pleasure I get while each character’s descent through the fog and into of the night rips me apart. A craving for this type of pleasure can hit me like the strong, silent type, and it is satisfied only by the darkness of film. If you’re familiar with such a collage of emotions, I recommend highly and drunkenly that you spend a rainy evening with James, Mary, Jamie, and Edmund Tyrone. That’s all there is to it — it’s the only way.


Add it to your queue.


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