There’s Nothing as Trustworthy as the Ordinary Mind of Ordinary Man.
So readeth a banner on the wall of Lonesome Rhodes. Lonesome himself is on the balcony, raving like a Tom Waits-voiced Tarzan about how the people listen to him, because the people love him, because he is the people and they are Lonesome. He’s playing to an empty house, his own empty penthouse, lonely and cavernous, wrapped in sinister shadows. But his friend Beanie is laying on the applause – loud and often – on a machine that he himself, Lonesome, invented – it applauds him and laughs with him and oohs and ahs at his wise sayings. He starts to sing that he’s ten thousand miles from home, but he breaks off. He’s breaking down.
What is this madness? A face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan in 1957. What a remarkable, odd, oddly contemporary film! It tells the story of Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter picked up in a jail by an eager Sarah Lawrence graduate (and all that that implies) played by Patrica Neal. She records him for a radio show on the voice of the common people, called Face in the Crowd. He’s irreverent and folksy. He becomes a star, a personality, first in Arkansas, and then all over the whole country. In New York his show is sponsored by Vitajex, a placebo that he sells as a libido-enhancer (Big Lebowski-esque dream sequence!); the CEO of Vitajex introduces him to a man running for senator, a tepid, aristocratic person that Rhodes sells as a man of the people. The film’s themes are startlingly relevant today: the intersection of commerce, politics and entertainment; the cynicism of the entertainment industry about the intelligence of their audience “Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got ‘em like this… You know what the public’s like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.” In the beginning of the film, Rhodes is irreverent towards the company that endorses him and suspicious of any commercial enterprises. He appeals on the air for all of his listeners to help a woman whose house has burnt down. By the end he’s on TV, exchanging quips with his senator about the evils of social security, and thinking of his audience, the crowd, the ordinary people, only in terms of the money, votes, or adulation they can give him. He’s seduced by the idea that he could become one of the elite, that he could guide the thinking of the masses. He’s funded by the Koch brothers of the day, to tell people what to buy, and to vote for the guy who will keep them poor, suspicious, and under-educated. He’s an ordinary person, but some people are more ordinary than others. Of course his career crashes, his women leave him, and he’s back where he started, ten thousand miles from home, and he doesn’t know where to go.
I bought a bag of meyer lemons! Look for them in every single recipe I make for the next week or so! They’re so lovely – sweet, tart, a little piney. I was thinking about french lentils, as one does. I love them, but I always seem to cook them the same way. I decided to try something a little different, and give them a kick with meyer lemons and ginger. This soup was so delicious! Comforting with potatoes and lentils, but very lively, with not just a squeeze of lemon, but the juice of two whole lemons!! Oh yes.
Here’s A Face in the Crowd, sung by Andy Griffith (to the tune of Sitting on top of the World, by the Mississippi Sheiks.
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 inch length of ginger, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch lengths
2 bay leaves
1/2 t red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 t fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 t dried)
4 medium-sized potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/3 inch dice
1/2 cup french lentils, picked over
2 cups (packed) chard, washed and chopped quite finely
1/4 cup white wine
zest of 2 meyer lemons (or one regular lemon)
1 t salt
2 T butter
juice of 2 meyer lemons (or one regular lemon)
1 t brown sugar or raw sugar
lots of freshly ground black pepper
Combine the shallot, ginger and garlic in a small processor or blender, and process till very finely chopped. In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot mixture, the bay leaves, the pepper flakes and the rosemary. Stir and cook for a minute or two, until things just start to brown.
Add the potatoes. Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the lentils, and continue to stir and cook for another minute or two. Add the white wine, and use it to help you scrape everything from the bottom of the pan. Add the lemon zest. Cook for another minute or two until the white wine is reduced and syrupy. Add the chard, stir so that it’s coated with spices and flavors.
Add salt and water just to cover by about half an inch. (about 3 pints) Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes and lentils are cooked, about half an hour to 40 minutes. You might need to add water as the lentils cook.
Add the butter, sugar, and lemon juice. In a blender or food processor, puree about 1/3 of the soup. Using a slotted spoon, try to scrape some of the chard that floats to the top, but leave most of the lentils and potatoes whole. Return the pureed soup to the pot, stirring well. Season with lots of black pepper, taste for salt, and serve.