A Kind of Obsolete Vernacular

In a previous post I quoted from and copied a link to Eli Cash Intro (from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums) on the YouTube. I regret tremendously not placing it in the body of the text, so that we could all revel in the triumph of this character (and lend credence to everything I proclaim henceforth).

I think about Eli on a weekly if not daily basis, and am inclined to reflect further. At the outset it should be noted, as I am fond of saying, that I drank the Kool-Aid on this Wes Anderson guy a long time ago. Ergo, let’s begin by examining the text from the reading of Cash’s second novel, Old Custer:

The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sagethicket. “Vamanos, amigos,” he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintscraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight.[1]

The paragraph gathers its own inexorable inertia. First and foremost, credit is due to the ostensibly made-up though incontrovertibly authentic-sounding Western jargon (rust-beetles, flintscraw, saddlecock, friscalating). This is the kind of precision and detail redolent throughout the Anderson oeuvre, and if reveling in verbal artifice is wrong then lock me up.

Secondly, consider briefly the title, and the (logical?) conclusion that Custer lived into twilight years. Might the speaker in the paragraph be this elderly general? It seems a safe presumption that the person talking would be the title character, and that he has somehow survived the so-called American Indian Wars and based on his (presumably fluid) use of Spanish, migrated southwards. Not only does it seem he made it through Little Bighorn, but also through the travails of this new adventure and is riding off into the sunset.

The reading is immediately endowed with liberal arts verité by the receptive audience and the dimly-lit, stately woodworked room. If you’re an English major at the fictional () Brooks College [2], what could be better than a hotshot literary celebrity as your (assistant) professor?

Also delightful is his subsequent drug-addled outburst on the Peter Bradley Show, a spot-on Charlie Rose Show parody (the original which Wes Anderson once guest hosted and whose own interviews with Charlie Rose are fascinating, particularly when Rose throws out chestnuts like, “Is directing hard?”).

First consider Eli’s delightful response to Bradley’s baiting question, “Now, your previous novel, Wildcat. Not a success. Why?” He comes right back with, “Wildcat was written in a kind of…obsolete vernacular,” before departing on his psychedelic onomatopoeia. I particularly enjoy the way Owen Wilson seems to discovering the words as he says them.

Why is Eli Cash so damn likable (1:38)? He pulls it off despite the fact that he has numerous shortcomings (vanity[3], untrustworthiness, drug addiction, Pharaohic pronunciation ignorance.)

This clip almost perfectly exemplifies what I find so irrepressibly delightful about his character:

The moment of Eli Cash’s outreached hand responding to the derision of Gene Hackman’s Royal with a warm (mindless?) salutation is just fan-fucking-tastic. Would that we could all meet negative hectoring with this kind of unbridled positivity.

  1. [1]Script courtesy of the (crazy?) francophone Owen Wilson fansite Only Owen. Can it really be this easy to get a copy of the actual Royal Tenenbaums shooting script?
  2. [2]Am I the only one who thinks here of Hunter College?
  3. [3]I’m thinking here about the photo of himself holding two snakes on the cover of The Sunday Magazine Section, when we find out he’s been sending his clippings to Etheline Tenenbaum for years, as well as his grades from college. Something about that is particularly haunting for me.

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