Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gerald and Sara Murphy: Muses of the Roaring Twenties

Gerald Murphy, Ginny Carpenter, Cole Porter, and Sarah Murphy
(reflections on EVERYBODY WAS SO YOUNG, a biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy by Amanda Vaill)

Before I knew that Gerald and Sara Murphy ever existed, I wrote the scenario for a musical play about them. It was to be called "Cafe Americain," set in Paris, mid-20s, and the story would include a pair of arch-wits modeled on Noel Coward and Cole Porter, and a monstrously egotistical American adventure-writer modeled on Ernest Hemingway, and a romantic affair. These characters, like wayward children, would all meet at a fictional cabaret called Cafe Americain, and there would be a maternal figure modeled anachronistically on singer Mabel Mercer. (She was indeed in Paris, 1920s, but was a girlish young woman, decades away from the maternal cabaret singer she would become.) Anyway, my play was to be an evocation of a place and a time when the characters' only concerns would be self-expression -- while they searched for something of substance to express. Of course, at 19, I was in that boat, myself, and the project came to nothing.

I'm reminded of this long-abandoned project because it turns out that all the real-life versions of those artists, and more, really did gather at one place, and it was called Villa Americain. The Great War had ended wars forever, the American dollar was strong, Americans and their culture were idolized, the avant - gardists in music and the other arts were having fun and occasionally producing works of lasting value. Their hosts really did fulfill the roles of the grown-ups among the bunch.

I've now read about them in Amanda Vaill's bittersweet biography, EVERYBODY WAS SO YOUNG, the biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy. Checking up on them in Google, I find a consensus that this is the couple everyone means when they talk about making one's life a work of art. The first biography of them, in 1971, was called LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE.

Gerald had been a socializing bon-vivant at boarding school and at Yale, always a couple of percentage points away from failing. He rejected outright the life that was expected of him, to follow into the family business, a fashionable retail outfit called the Mark Cross Company. His later letters suggest that he was also homosexual, but he wouldn't admit this to anyone in clear terms, not even to himself. Despite that, his marriage to childhood friend Sara seems to have been happy on many levels: they adored their three children, they were partners in important decisions, they enjoyed each other, they developed their tastes at a time when "anything went," and they enjoyed what they could do for others with their money.

Gerald took time out to enroll in the army for the Great War, though he saw no combat. He emerged with a stronger sense of himself, and he applied himself (for the first time) when he began to study drafting and architecture. One of his art teachers discouraged any kind of representational art, focused entirely on abstract shape and design.

During the 20s, Murphy made a splash as an American painter (or "Amurrican" as Picasso called him, approvingly). Vaill has interesting things to say about Murphy's paintings, and how they apply his draftsmanship and penchant for abstraction to objects that had personal significance for him: his father's watch, his martini mixing paraphernalia (he reportedly mixed drinks "like a priest saying Mass"), and objects in his library that represented his father's regimented world and disapproval. Here's what Ken Johnson of the Boston Globe wrote in a review of Williams College Museum of Art's ( retrospective of the Murphy's memorabilia and artwork (summer 2007):

Gerald's seven surviving paintings are the heart and soul of the exhibition. "Razor" (1924), a still-life picture of a safety razor and a fountain pen crossed before a box of safety matches, is like a Jazz Age coat of arms, as coolly controlled and explosively lively as a Fred Astaire dance number. "Watch" (1925) is a dazzlingly complicated, 6-by-6-foot enlargement of the inner works of a pocket watch rendered in an exacting, Precisionist style in 14 shades of gray plus two shades of mustard yellow.

Another critic points out that Murphy's works anticipate Pop Art by forty years.

Johnson comments on another painting, in light of what Murphy called his heart's "defects":

In this light, "Wasp and Pear" might be revealing. The pear's generous bottom is easily read as a human behind, a luscious, ambiguously gendered object of sexual desire. Yet the desiring subject is a hideous monster - a reflection, maybe, of Murphy's anxiety over the nature of his own passion.

Perhaps Murphy realized more or less unconsciously that he was approaching a fateful juncture: to continue painting would be to reveal more openly the truth of his secret urges and shame. (He considered "Wasp and Pear" his best work, by the way.) Yet to cover up the truth - by means, say, of an emptied-out formalism - would constitute a kind of creative suicide. Perhaps it was better, all things considered, to just stop painting.
But there were two more clear reasons to stop painting in 1929. Young son Patrick fell ill with TB, and lingered for years before it killed him. In the meantime, his healthy older brother Baoth contracted measles at boarding school, and the treatment led to an infection that became meningitis, and he died suddenly, all in a matter of days. "Lightning striking twice,"said Gerald in forlorn retreat from the life he and Sara had known. Beginning with these deaths, he finally went into the family business, the Mark Cross store in Boston, which he had avoided so long.

The story becomes more and more sad, tainted by the Depression, the rise of Fascism, and the repeated personal betrayals by ungrateful artists who had accepted Gerald and Sara's hospitality, patronage, and huge personal loans. Foremost among these are the obnoxious F. Scott Fitzgerald and back-stabbing Ernest Hemingway. Tender is the Night and A Moveable Feast make clear and unflattering portraits of the Murphys.

The one person I was most interested in before beginning to read this was Cole Porter. I was surprised to discover that Gerald and Sara Murphy appeared prominently as supporting characters in the Porter bio-pic DE-LOVELY that I saw a couple of years ago. Here, I learned about Porter's one orchestral score, WITHIN THE QUOTA, a ballet about immigrants in the US, for which Gerald Murphy conceived and executed a backdrop consisting of a fanciful mock-newspaper ("UNKNOWN MILLIONAIRE BUYS ATLANTIC OCEAN" reads the headline).

In the 1950s, New York became the center of the avant-garde, and they watched "from the sidelines," writes Amanda Vaill. Gerald became anti-communist, though this lost him the company of old friends -- Dorothy Parker took anti-communist to be "anti-Dottie," Murphy said. Gerald died of cancer; Sara began to show signs of alzheimer's in the mid-60s, and lived until 1975.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Second Thoughts on SWEENEY, Seconded

So, I'm posting about SWEENEY TODD for the third time in five days. Why not? I've waited twenty-eight years for the movie.

I've seen the movie three times, now, and I've checked web sites that compile reviews from published critics as well as from casual movie fans. So far, the only people who seem to have disliked it are the ones who've been sitting with me. The third time, I went alone, and the audience behind me laughed and audibly gasped at the surprising twists - very gratifying.

Speaking to a friend who asked me today how I liked it, I had to admit to a harsh ambivalence: the movie is everything I ever dreamed it would be, and yet I cannot recommend it to anyone I care about.

This week's WEEKLY STANDARD includes a review of SWEENEY TODD that touches on the revulsion one feels watching the movie, which I experienced as shame at myself for enjoying it. Critic John Podhoretz begins his reflection with reference to Brooks Atkinson's comment in 1940 about PAL JOEY, a musical now recognized as a masterpiece: Despite the merits of the music (Richard Rodgers), lyrics (Lorenz Hart), and performance (Gene Kelly as Joey), Atkinson asked rhetorically, "Can anything sweet come from a foul well?" Podhoretz says, "this remarkable movie [SWEENEY TODD] isn't merely a foul well, but an open sewer."

Yet Podhoretz calls himself a "devotee" of Sondheim's show, having seen it five times and claiming that he can sing the show from start to finish by memory (something I've done on long trips for many years now) and he is "lost in admiration" for this movie, a "brilliant truncation of Sondheim's sweeping three-hour tragedy into a brisk and intimate two-hour musical thriller." Still he, too, uses caution recommending it. He says that people "will be justified in walking out and demanding a refund at the box office."

He offers this bit of justification for the "Vital Gore" (as he cleverly calls it -- two weeks after the magazine's obituary for that crank Gore Vidal):
Burton's decision to be brutal and graphic was a necessary one. If he had held back, Sweeney Todd [and Mrs. Lovett] might come across as lovable. . . and the whole project would have descended into camp.
Podhoretz is one of the critics who praise Helena Bonham Carter. Even the raves have been snarky about her. I appreciate her performance more each time I see it. I'm put off by the doll-like immobility of her face in this film, but that seems to have been a purposeful choice, to strike a fashionable stance called "Goth" in contemporary culture. But her eyes tell a wide range of stories -- notably, when she whispers in Todd's ear, "Silver's good enough for me . . . Mr. T.," and when she's justifying her repulsive plan: "Such a nice plump frame wot's-his-name has . . . had? . . . has!" One critic observed that she's not so much Sweeney's lover as his manager -- and that helped to put her performance in perspective for me. Near the end, as events spin out of her control, her eyes tell that story, too: narrowing with defensive hatred when she orders Toby to "throw the old woman out!" and widening with involuntary panic when the Beadle startles her, and welling with tears when she realizes that the boy Toby knows too much to live.

Even my friends who disliked the movie have singled out young Edward Sanders for his performance as actor and boy soprano in the role of Toby. When the movie seems to have hardened into pure gore and heartlessness, he softens it. He's the one truly human being in the whole movie.

Another critic pointed out a line added for the movie that makes a stronger connection between Sweeney Todd and his nemesis Judge Turpin. There's always been that line about their "fellow spirit" and their "fellow tastes in women," but screenwriter - producer John Logan adds an offhanded comment for the judge moments after we've seen him sentence a little boy to hang:
JUDGE TURPIN: Was he guilty?
BEADLE BAMFORD: If he wasn't, he certainly had done something to justify the punishment.
JUDGE TURPIN: As which man has not?
That is, of course, the same thought that Sweeney sings in "Epiphany": "We all deserve to die."

There's more to say about musical technique. Intrigued by a blog posting ("The Obtuse Melodies of Sweeney Todd" at a blog called "The Playlist"), I read Johnny Depp's comment that Sondheim's melodies are "obtuse." The blog posted my comment about the melodies, as follows:

I wonder if Depp (quoted in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY) was thinking of some other word when he said "obtuse?" That word usually connotes stupidity of the stubborn sort ("ob-" meaning, "in the way of," like an obstruction). "Obtuse" angles are wide and fat, and yet Depp seems to be commenting on the "acute" intervals in the music: literally "sharp"-edged.

I've tried to pick some of the melodies and accompaniment out on the piano, and discover that, playing the melody to one, I'm also playing the accompaniment to the other. Sondheim, a puzzle-lover and a trained composer, likes to cross-reference bits of songs this way.

For instance:

- the main theme played so loudly in the opening credits is hundreds of years old, going to the words "Dies Irae, Dies Illae" ("Day of wrath, day of mourning") of the ancient Catholic requiem.

- The same pattern of notes, played rapidly and softly (in musical terms, an "ostinato" because it's stubborn or "obstinate!") then altered a bit, show up often in the score (associated with the phrase, "There's a hole in the world like a great black pit," and with Mrs. Lovett's song "Wait").

- While that same pattern plays in the low strings during the opening title, we hear some wind instruments play a counter melody above -- and that becomes the second phrase that Sweeney sings in the movie: "Life has been kind to you," and appears all the way through the movie. The melody that fits over those becomes, "There was a barber and his wife. . ."

- and the notes for the words "There was a barber and his wife" also begin each phrase of Sweeney's lovely melody where the movie is most gross, a song called "Johanna," when he sings, "And are you beautiful and pale . . . Johanna?" though the melody turns in another direction.

So maybe Depp meant "angular?" "Obscure" (in the sense of dark)? "Ostinato?" Maybe "abstruse" -- pushed to the limit, difficult to comprehend? All of these: but not obtuse!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

SWEENEY: Second Opinions

So far, I and my friends are the only ones who've expressed anything negative about Tim Burton's film of Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD. I'd be happy to change my mind; after all, I've been looking forward to this movie since 1979. Maybe my outlook was influenced by my friend's reaction to the gore, coupled with the fact that I had excited my seventh grade students about seeing this show. How could I respond if a parent were to ask me angrily, "What made you think that slasher film was appropriate for my child?" For the stage show, that was never problematic.

Here's some writing I've found relating to my qualms, including some comments by Stephen Sondheim himself.

Writing in the Washington Post (12/21/2007), columnist Peter Marks writes, "By excising choral numbers and highlighting the sorrow inside the sordidness of Sondheim's wit-strewn score, Burton invites us into a more intimate communion with horrible yet hummable aspects of human nature." While I worry that the gleefulness in gallows humor is missing, Marks notes the same thing as a strength:
"Helena Bonham Carter [makes] Mrs. Lovett — Sweeney's cannibalistic comrade-in-harms — a woman less comical than, but just as poignant as, the Broadway character Angela Lansbury created 28 years ago." As for the sadness and goreyness, which to me seemed unredeemed by "joy in the telling" (as a religious man, that's important to me), Marks observes that, in "the slightly distorted consistency and color of what oozes out of everyone's necks . . . we are not in the domain here of chainsaw massacres, but art."

Sondheim himself responds directly to my concern about the way that a film musical cannot generate the same rapport between audience and singer as a stage musical can do. He is interviewed on the subject of his movie by David Benedict in an article in the London Observer ("The Singalong-a-Slasher," Sunday December 23, 2007). Sondheim says:

'On stage, generally speaking, the story is stopped or held back by songs, because that's the convention. Audiences enjoy the song and the singer, that's the point. Static action - if that's not an oxymoron - is accepted. It's what writer Burt Shevelove used to call "savouring the moment". That's a very tricky business on film. It's fine if the songs are presentational, as in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers-style movie where you watch them for the fun of it, but not with storytelling songs. When the song is part of the action and working as dialogue, even two minutes is way too long.' The interviewer continues: "He's considerably cheered, however, to learn of a test screening in California after which college-age audiences besieged Logan with positive comments along the lines of: 'I forgot they were singing.' [Sondheim exclaims], 'That's exactly what I wanted!'"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Missing Applause for SWEENEY TODD

(reflections on the film SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET by Tim Burton, script by John Logan, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. For the record: I saw the original Broadway cast on the day after they wrapped up the recording, 1979; the original London cast, Drury Lane Theatre, 1980; a wonderful small-scale production on a basement stage by Atlanta's Theatre Gael, 2000; the Kennedy Center's "Sondheim Celebration" production, 2002; and a passable production at a local college, around 2004.)

I've always recommended SWEENEY TODD to my students without a qualm. The tale of bloody revenge was redeemed by the excellence -- and fun -- in its telling. Now I've seen the movie, and I have a qualm.

Ecstatic reviews led me to hope that this film would do for composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim what the film of WEST SIDE STORY did for his friend Leonard Bernstein. People would crowd the theatres to see Johnny Depp and come away elated as I've always felt after seeing SWEENEY TODD on stage. At last, the world would understand what I (and a few hundred thousand other people) have treasured for decades.

But, while the stage version ends with a gruesomely funny chorus, warm applause, deep breaths and smiles, the film ends with a very grim, very gorey, very sad final image. Where I saw it in a packed theatre, the audience just shrugged and silently emptied the seats. If the movie is going to be your introduction to SWEENEY TODD, please, don't see it. Wait for the next stage version to come to town.

What's missing? The movie's creative team preserved as much of the original material as any Sondheim fan could hope, and the performers inhabit their roles with conviction, and they hit all the right notes. The roiling dark skies over 1840s London match Sondheim's ominous music with a breathtaking macabre beauty. It's a pleasure to see the stage picture realized, at least, at first. All the jokes are intact, though only scattered chuckles greeted moments that have caused uproarious laughter when I've seen it in theatres.

Here's the main difference, and it's nobody's fault: musicals, even this one, are built to generate goodwill between audience and performers, and that can't happen when the actors aren't there.

For example, on stage, when an actress playing "Mrs. Lovett" sings "The Worst Pies in London," it's a virtuosic and comic turn. She kneads dough, pounds it and rolls it, swats bugs, attends to her customer, all the while singing rhythms and tongue-twisting lyrics that reflect her scatter-brained character. She has high notes, low notes, laugh lines, and, during her final long note, there's a flurry of activity to wrap up one complete pie on the last downbeat. For her efforts, and for the live orchestra that keeps up with her, the audience always breaks into warm applause.

When Helena Bonham-Carter does the same thing, it's all finely timed and flawlessly sung -- but she's doing it for a camera, not for us. It's more cinematography than choreography. The song was pre-recorded; the bugs appear on cue thanks to editing; her hands could be stunt doubles for all we know! Imagine seeing a juggler, not live, but an animated cartoon, and you'll understand what's lacking.

Something else is missing that happens when we applaud for a live cast musical. We tell the performers how they've pleased us, and they acknowledge us by waiting for the applause to fade. So, at the end of every scene, there's this moment when the story and characters are suspended and we all tell each other: this is a play, you're doing this for us, we're grateful. Then we resume the story.

Without the rapport that applause generates in live productions of SWEENEY TODD, its highpoints fall flat. Twenty-eight years after seeing the original cast, I remember chills when Len Cariou as "Sweeney" turned to my section of the audience and pointed his razor at us: "Who sir? You sir? No one's in the chair, c'mon, c'mon!" We laughed because we were startled, and Len Cariou as "Sweeney" seemed to enjoy the effect he was having, while he prowled up and down levels of the stage and exerted his voice to its highest pitch. In the movie, this same moment is performed as a kind of fantasy sequence, and Johnny Depp's voice and expressions and body language are appropriate, and the staging is very good, but his invitation to us is deflected to third persons, men on screen. The medium blunts the impact, kills the laughs, and fails to connect us to the character.

Most disappointing of all in the movie is SWEENEY's most lauded musical number. On stage, it's the end of Act One, and the two main characters mug for the audience in a blackly comic song, "A Little Priest." They perform for us like music hall singers of old, and the song even includes a straight-up vaudeville comedy routine with puns and a rhyming contest. At that point in the show, the audience and the actors are sharing laughter, and it's all in fun. An amazing thing happens: we become complicit with the main characters, being in on their joke, eager as Sweeney for revenge. Every house I've been in has applauded wildly at the end as the couple strike their iconic pose -- knife and rolling pin raised. In the movie, their pose is just an odd image at the end of a mildly amusing song.

More intimate songs, such as "My Friends" and "Wait" fare better. One song actually lands in the movie with even more impact than it does on stage, thanks to a wise casting choice. The song "No One's Going to Harm You" was a relief from all the blood and thunder of the original, a lullabye from "Toby," the childlike adult simpleton, to Mrs. Lovett. In the movie, the character Toby is a tousled boy soprano, and Mrs. Lovett is touched and amused. As he sings more earnestly about how he will protect her, we watch Helena Bonham-Carter's growing awareness that the boy knows too much.

Isolated moments are wonderful; the music is rich and layered as ever; the plot clicks into place like the blood-lubricated gears in the opening credits. Yet, if this movie had been my introduction to SWEENEY TODD, I would never have loved the show. Sondheim has always written his music and lyrics for live audiences, and his work seems out of place on film.

( It so happens that I've seen High Definition live broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera productions in this very movie theatre, and, tellingly, much of the audience does applaud, and the producers cannily draw us into the performance via backstage shots and interviews at intermission. The effect is very close to that of being in a live production.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rumi at 800: Muslim Poet for us all

(ruminations on the poet Rumi, in translation by Coleman Barks, set to music by Christopher Theofanidas, and as discussed on the Radio Program SPEAKING OF FAITH by Fatemeh Keshavarz, professor of Persian & Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis)

Across the eight centuries since his birth, and across the oceans separating his homeland Afghanistan from us, the personal voice of the poet Rumi came through a chorus and three soloists with full orchestra, in dozens of colors and textures during a memorable concert a couple years ago, at the premiere of "the Music of our Final Meeting" by Christopher Theofinidas. What I heard was tenderness, playfulness, generosity, sensuality, and a saintly focus on eternity. Theofinidas's music responded in kind, with clarity and inventive variety.

After hearing that concert, I bought selected poems of Rumi, in their popular translation from Persian by Coleman Barks, the book that had inspired the composer. Reading it, I bogged down, not least because I'm put off by Barks's choice of re-grouping Rumi's two- and four-line fragments into longer poems with made-up titles. While I often liked what I read under such titles as "At the Tavern," I wondered if this contemporary of mine was putting a spin on Rumi. I lost trust in the translator.

Yesterday, hearing the discussion of Rumi by professor Fatemeh Keshavarz, I heard some confirmation of my suspicion. She was unflaggingly upbeat in praising Barks and others for their work, while also observing that Barks has systematically downplayed the worshipful nature of the poetry. I was struck by the fact that Keshavarz never once mentioned the relationship that Barks emphasizes above all themes in Rumi's work, a friendship (teacher - mentor?) with a travelling mystic named Shams.

I'm re-reading Barks, more carefully, and finding much to enjoy. I particularly liked an image of one's shadow, which follows behind, but sometimes rushes ahead -- as a metaphor for language. Yes, words lag behind the reality, and sometimes words get ahead and shape our perceptions.

Religiously speaking, I'd say Rumi's whole theology / philosophy comports well with my favorite letter of St. Paul, that to the Philippians: "I press on towards the goal of the upward call of perfection in Jesus Christ." Again and again, Rumi is telling us that we will ALWAYS feel incomplete, and that's GOOD -- if you think you've arrived, you're dead. Our dissatisfactions are good for us: we are separated from God, and dissatisfaction is a sign of our longing for completeness in God.

Other desires are good, too, stopping-points on the way to completeness in God. One poem includes the lines, "If anyone asks how did Jesus raise the dead / Kiss me on the lips and say, "like this."

Keshavarz explains that Muslims don't have the Christian concept of original sin. Rather, we are separated from God because we "forget." Thus the first words of the Koran are about "remembering."

Finally, the conversation turned to that monkey in Hindu iconography, the one that represents our restless minds, endlessly grasping at branches and vines. (see earlier blog entry, "Gyrovagueness.") Rumi evidently writes of this a lot, and advises centeredness on a goal to counteract the enervating effect of that "onrush" of concerns.

He also breaks down compartments in our lives, always juxtaposing opposites.

I know good when I see it: Rumi is good. I shall seek an alternative translation, perhaps via this Keshavarz.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Those Who Stood at Nanking

(reflection to interview heard on Bob Edwards's radio program today.)

Like the producer of the documentary NANKING, I must admit that it's news to me that twenty-two westerners working in China, men and women, chose not to escape the Japanese onslaught in 1937. Their home governments sent ships to rescue them, and the Chinese officials of Nanking escaped, but the Westerners stood together to create a "safety zone."

I visited the website and reprint these bits of information:

Ted Leonsis, Vice-Chairman of AOL, read Iris Chang’s book THE RAPE OF NANKING . Leonsis was shocked that he knew nothing about an event that had been such a terrible injustice and he felt that telling its story would have real meaning for today’s world. ...[He was] moved by the courage of the handful of Westerners who stayed behind in Nanking at the beginning of World War II to create a Safety Zone, protecting over two hundred thousand Chinese from rampaging Japanese troops. Their story shows that the actions of ordinary individuals in extraordinary circumstances can make a difference.

The events now known as ‘the rape of Nanking’ lasted approximately six weeks. The city was looted and burned, and marauding Japanese soldiers unleashed a staggering wave of violence on Nanking’s population. According to the summary judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East – also known as the Tokyo Trials, “estimates indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was over 200,000. Approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred in the city during the first month of the occupation.”

Prior to the fall of the city, many Chinese fled the approaching troops and all foreign citizens were ordered to evacuate. A group of 22 European and American expatriates, however, refused to leave. Despite devastating air strikes and the threat of an oncoming army, these Westerners – including John Rabe, a Nazi businessman; Bob Wilson, an American surgeon; and Minni Vautrin, the American headmistress of a missionary college – remained behind in order to set up a Safety Zone to protect civilians. Some two hundred thousand refugees crowded into the Zone, which spanned two square miles. During the brutal occupation, Safety Zone committee members vehemently protested the army’s actions to the Japanese authorities, but the carnage continued. Every day John Rabe, Minnie Vautrin, and the others fought to keep the Safety Zone’s boundaries intact and the refugees safe. (from Nanking the Film, official web site
According to Leonsis in the interview, the headmistress of a girls' college slapped a Japanese officer and stood alone against the marauding soldiers each night to protect several thousand girls on her campus. A German businessman, member of the Nazi party, personally intervened to prevent rape. An American doctor wrote to his wife how the situation could not get worse -- there were so few people left for the Japanese to kill -- and that he could not leave China for comforts of home, because he would always carry with him the regret that he didn't do what he could to help the helpless, and that would make him less of a husband, less of a father.