Saturday, September 02, 2006

Being Dr. Lao

Dr. Lao: My specialty is wisdom. Do you know what wisdom is?
Mike: No sir.
Dr. Lao: Wise answer.
-7 faces of Dr. Lao

Dr. Lao: Mike, the whole world is a circus if you look at it the right way. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand, every time you stop and think, "I'm alive, and being alive is fantastic!" Every time such a thing happens, Mike, you are part of the Circus of Dr. Lao.
-7 faces of Dr. Lao

When I was sixteen years old and still young enough to want to believe in magic, but old enough to publicly deny it, I saw the movie, 7 faces of Dr. Lao. It was a 1964 adaption of a 1935 fantasy novel written by Charles Finney about the effects of a magical circus on a small southwest town. The movie starred Tony Randall and Barbara Eden.

I loved that movie. I wrote about it in the journal I'd started keeping in junior high. It struck a chord in my angst ridden teen mind that was hanging on for dear life to that bucking bronco of puberty I'd just started riding. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were in their dying throes in my life. The movie told me that it would always be okay for me to believe in magic.

In the movie, the seven faces of Dr. Lao are: Dr. Lao, Pan, Apollonius of Tyana (a Greek philosopher and teacher), Merlin, Medusa, the Abominal Snowman, and a goldfish that turns into a sea serpent. The make-up artist for the film won a honorary Academy Award for his work on the film. Tony Randall was pretty impressive playing the characters as well.

The movie is full of great quotes. When asked if he is an acrobat, Dr. Lao replies, "Only philosophically." Merlin, the magician, protests, "Tricks? Gadzooks, Madam, these are not tricks! I do magic. I — I create, I transpose, I transubstantiate, I break up, I recombine — but I never trick!" And Apollonius, the circus fortune teller provides his own disclaimer, "I only read futures, I don't evaluate them."

The most startling dialogue, especially for a movie filmed in 1964 also came from Apollonius when he was doing a reading for an airheaded woman from the town:

Apollonius: Tomorrow will be like today, and the day after tomorrow will be like the day before yesterday. I see your remaining days as a tedious collection of hours full of useless vanities. You will think no new thoughts. You will forget what little you have known. Older you will become, but not wiser. Stiffer, but not more dignified. Childless you are, and childless you will remain. Of that suppleness you once commanded in your youth, of that strange simplicity which once attracted men to you, neither endures, nor shall you recapture them.

Mrs. Cassin: You're a mean, ugly man!

Apollonius: Mirrors are often ugly and mean. When you die, you will be buried and forgotten, and that is all. And for all the good or evil, creation or destruction, your living might have accomplished, you might just as well never have lived at all.

My god -- Mirrors are often ugly and mean. This came from a 1964 movie starring Tony Randall! Years later, when I wrote a short story call "Reunion" I think I inadvertentally patterned the lead character (also a fortune teller) after Apollonius. That's how powerful an affect the movie had on me.

So what is my often elusive point? Whether it is real or not, it is, it is crucial, that you believe in some kind of magic. And above all, never miss an opportunity to run away to join a circus.


Hayden said...

I have never lost my faith in magic and the unknown, but never included religious teachings in that group of accepted mysteries. I wonder why that is?

I suppose there is something in this post (whether there is or not, I'll find it) that points to the illusions/masks/revelations and magic of clowning. Never wanted to join the circus though. Always wanted to BE the circus. Never wanted to just make people laugh. Always wanted to stir the mystery behind the mask, the truth of simplicity that we only permit fools and childrens stories to allude to.

Time said...

Hayden, There you go, sending in the clowns when I have frozen in the spotlight. I love the idea of not just joining a circus but being a circus. I think THE Michael would relate to that better.

Anonymous said...

I actually worked with a woman (yes, she was an adult and you'll understand why that's relevant in a minute) and me and my co-workers were having a discussion on illusionists (i.e. David Copperfield, David Blaine) and someone elaborated on how a particular illusion was pulled off and the woman exclaimed, "Oh, my God - I thought magic was real!"

darlingina said...

Wonders if the Circus would even have me?

K... all caught up on Your posts Tim. You still have the magic blogging touch!
Have a safe Labor Day. :o)

Alex Pendragon said...

Tim, I have to thank you for reminding me of that amazing and wonderful movie! I had forgotten all about it, but now that you have reminded me of it, it's as if I went back and wrote the screen play as a veiled political and social commentary. Perhaps much of what lurks in my mind these days is merely an echo of that movie and all the profound statements it made.

As for magic, something which I have made mention of on numerous occassions in "Dances", well, these days I am surrounded by it, and not simply by the efforts of my wife to weave it. I believe that magic is hidden in plain sight all around us, from the effect one blogger can have on a whole family of readers, to the effect one man can have on an entire culture, such as the effect that Martin L. King, Ghandi, and Cheech and Chong (like one could have any meaning without the other) had upon OUR generation.

Time said...

Miss Bliss, This anecdote teaches us that there is a fine line in believing in magic and being willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

Gina! Glad you are still catching up.

THE Michael, I'm glad there is someone else who has actually seen the movie. I thought you'd appreciate the magic aspect.

Naughti Biscotti said...

I never saw that movie, but I do remember reading "Reunion" by one Tim E. Healy (or was it Time Heals). That was a great story Tim. I also remembered your story about the hearse. I went by Yreka on my way up to Oregon and was searching for that bridge.

I used to believe in magic. I believed in all kinds of things, ESP, telekinesis, astral projection, healing, aliens... okay I still believe in aliens.

Time said...

Thanks Shandi,
Jump Off Joe Creek really does exist. The problem is that if you blink you miss it.

It's a good thing you do still believe in aliens, especially since you live in Bakersfield :)

morningstar said...

does it count if i work in what feels like a circus - there are an awful lot of clowns.....and every once in a while we all manage to pull together and work some of our very own magic.......

not that any of this has anything to do with all of that... but i had to keep up my reputation for almost being on topic..


Time said...

Morningstar, Not all circuses take place under the bigtop. And magic comes in whatever package you choose, including schoolbooks. Thanks for almost being on topic :)

Time said...

Odd you should mention that, however, I would have to say: No. But if you watched I Dream of Jeannie, that's another story.