Skip to main content

Movie Review: 'The Cat in the Hat'

Film critic David Edelstein reviews The Cat in the Hat, starring Mike Myers and Alec Baldwin.


Other segments from the episode on November 21, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 21, 2004: Interview with Stephen King; Commentary on language; Review of the film "Cat in the hat."


DATE November 21, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Stephen King discusses his writing career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

This week, Stephen King won an honorary National Book Award for lifetime
achievement. The author of such best sellers as "Carrie" and "The Shining,"
King was a controversial choice for this national literary prize. Some
writers and critics consider him too commercially successful to be considered
in the same class with the likes of former honorees Philip Roth and Arthur
Miller. But King's many supporters argue that his work transcends its popular
horror genre.

Today we feature two interviews Terry recorded with Stephen King. The first
took place in 1992 after the publication of his novel "Gerald's Game."


`As the book opens, a married couple is in their forest cabin. They're ready
to play their S&M sex game. She's on the bed, her wrists are cuffed to the
bedpost. He's undressing. She realizes she's tired of this game. It seems
stupid, ridiculous and corny. But she can't get her husband to stop, and that
makes her furious. As he forces himself on her, she kicks him where it hurts
most. He collapses, suffers a heart attack, and dies. And she's alone,
cuffed to the bed in the middle of the woods. Now the horror really begins.'

I asked King what made him think about how corny sex games can be.

Mr. STEPHEN KING (Author): Actually, "Gerald's Game" started with the concept
of the woman being chained to the bed. I'd written a book before where a
woman and a small child were stuck in a car that was sort of surrounded, if
you will, by a rabid St. Bernard. That book was called "Cujo." And
essentially what a lot of that book was, was two people in a very small room,
although it did have a shifting perspective so that it went to other
characters. And I thought originally this was the take-off point for the
book. Wouldn't it be interesting to see what would happen if you had one
character in a room?

The question then became what caused this woman to be in this room by herself.
And the answer that I came up with was bondage. She's handcuffed to a bed.
And that forced me to sort of consider what causes people to do this sort of
thing. And so, once I'd set up the situation, I knew what it was going to be,
I went in and read a little bit about it and thought a little bit about it,
and the whole thing struck me as a little bit Victorian. There was something
very Snidely Whiplash about the whole thing, and I tried to get that into the

GROSS: Let's get Stephen King to the kind of gore and terror and suspense
that you create. There's a scene in "Gerald's Game," your new novel, that I'd
like you to read from. This is a scene in which the wife is still handcuffed
to the bedpost, her husband is laying dead on the floor, and a stray, vicious
dog from the area has walked into the house and has started dining on the
woman's dead husband. Would you read it for us?

Mr. KING: I sure will. (Reading) `Gerald's widow's peak was in disarray,
probably as a result of the dog's licking the blood out of it. But his
glasses were still firmly in place. She could see his eyes, half-open and
glazed, glaring up from their puffy sockets at the fading sun ripples on the
ceiling. His face was still a mask of ugly red and purple blotches, as if
even death had not been able to assuage his anger at her sudden,
capricious--"Had he seen it as capricious? Of course he had"--change of mind.

`"Let go of him," she told the dog, but her voice was now meek and sad and
strengthless. The dog barely twitched its ears at the sound of it and didn't
pause at all. It merely went on pulling the thing with the disarrayed widow's
peak and the blotchy complexion. This thing no longer looked like disco
Gerald, not a bit. Now it was only dead Gerald, sliding across the bedroom
floor with the dog's teeth buried in its flabby biceps. A frayed flap of
skin hung over the dog's snout. Jessie tried to tell herself it looked like
wallpaper, but wallpaper did not--at least as far as she knew--come with
moles and a vaccination scar.

`Now she could see Gerald's pink, fleshy belly, marked only by the
small-caliber bullet hole that was his navel. His penis flopped and dangled
in its nest of black pubic hair. His buttocks whispered along the hardwood
boards with ghastly, frictionless ease. Abruptly, the suffocating atmosphere
of her terror was pierced by a shaft of anger so bright it was like a stroke
of heat lightning inside her head. She did more than accept this new emotion.
She welcomed it. Rage might not help her get out of this nightmarish
situation, but she sensed it would serve as an antidote to her growing sense
of shocked unreality.

`"You bastard," she said in a low, trembling voice. `You cowardly, slinking

GROSS: That's Stephen King reading from his novel "Gerald's Game."

Do you think of yourself as having taken the horror novel to a kind of more
physically explicit place than it had ever been before?

Mr. KING: Yeah. I think that to some degree I did do that. I think probably
I've been surpassed in that area by some of the people who've come after me.
I'm thinking mostly of Clive Barker...

GROSS: Clive Barker. Yeah.

Mr. KING: Yeah. But you realize that when I started reading and experiencing
horror, some of it that I was reading and experiencing came from a very
graphic wellspring, and I'm thinking about the horror comics of the 1950s,
thinks like "Tales from the Crypt" and "The Vault of Horror" that can now be
seen on Home Box Office. And at the same time, I was discovering horror
movies. I usually went by myself in the afternoon to the Highway Theater in
Stratford, Connecticut--which is still there, incidentally--and saw things
like, "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" with Michael Landon or "I Was a Teenage
Frankenstein" or whatever it happened to be. And it was there that I started
to see that it might be possible to combine some of the classic elements with
some of the things that I was seeing in the schlock press and the schlock

GROSS: When you would see movies like this, did they scare you or just amuse

Mr. KING: No, they scared me. You have to remember that we're talking 10 or
11 years old. And even with a picture like "Teenage Monster," where the
flying saucer appeared to be a Kool cigarette filter tip with a sparkler stuck
in it, that it looked real to me because I was at a young and very credulous

And one of the other things that I sensed is, as time went past and I got a
little more discriminating in my ability to detect special effects, if not
necessarily my sense of taste, was that when I wrote it, you never saw the
zipper going up the monster's back, that when the imagination was in charge of
special effects, they were always perfect, as perfect as the book was anyway.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. What did you like about being scared when you were young?

Mr. KING: I liked the total surrender of emotional control. It was very
important to me and, I would almost be willing to say, sort of a lifesaver.
I'd been raised in a family where emotional control was a really important
thing. You weren't supposed to show you were afraid, you weren't supposed to
show that you were in pain or frightened or sad or--happiness was permissible
as long as it didn't go too far because then one might be considered to be
almost insane if one got too happy. So that emotional control was, you know,
sort of a requirement. And for me the terror was what really appealed to
something that I think is probably just inside people, that there isn't any
logical way to explain it. But I loved it and I loved giving up that control.

GROSS: To write the kind of fiction that you do, you really have to think
about how people respond when they're terrified and how they deal with
pain--how they deal with pain and with fear and terror. Do you handle pain
well, and has that ability ever really been tested?

Mr. KING: You know, I don't think anybody knows how they deal with pain.
Everybody's pain is so individual, and so we have no basis for comparison. I
think that pain is really the ocean that's between us, you know? I think it
was John Donne said, `No man is an island.' But, in fact--I'm sorry, John,
but we are. And when you're dying of cancer, you do it alone, and when you
have migraine headaches, which is something that I'm prone to, you do that
alone. But if I have a really terrible headache, what I call one of my head
busters, I wonder how that would stack up against someone else's pain. But I
don't know because there's no way to tell. There's no valid basis for
comparison because we don't feel each other's pain.

The interesting thing to me, more interesting than pain in my life or the
comparative levels of that sort of thing, is that experiences about pain and
experiences of extreme terror, I think, make it possible to see the world that
we live in, the mundane, everyday world, in much greater detail. Small
things, unimportant things stand forth in a way that they don't.

My experience of being under tremendous stress, physical stress or emotional
and mental stress, is that things that otherwise just sort of fall outside
what we think of as the tunnel of perception, our tunnel vision, kind of
spring forward again. And I see them all over again. For me, in "Gerald's
Game," some of the most interesting passages--there's one section where this
woman has to get a glass of water off a shelf, and in another one she realizes
that because she is handcuffed to the bed, the can't quite get the glass to
her lips. And what she does then, for me, was one of the most interesting and
challenging parts of writing the book, not because it's an adventure, but
because it uses very prosaic, everyday things to make suspense. And so it
makes us look at them again and say, `Oh, what is that?' And that's the
experience, it seems to me, of brand-new perception, of childhood, that sort
of reaction of, `Oh, look at that.' And maybe the adult doesn't see that
thing at all.

GROSS: When you started publishing your novels and people started reading
them, and people who you know understood more what went through your mind, the
kind of thoughts that you had, did people start to see you differently?

Mr. KING: I think so. There was a sort of--I won't say pulling away exactly,
but you'd see a kind of question in their eyes, sort of like, `Where are all
the bodies buried, Steve?' or there would be this sort of casual, `By the way,
Steve, what was your childhood like? Were you ever beaten? Did they burn you
with cigarettes or what was it?' And I would say, `Really, I'm just like you
are,' and then they would step away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That would be the worst news.

Mr. KING: Yeah. Basically, all I'm doing is saying things that other people
are afraid to say. The job's not much different than being a comedy writer.
Basically you say: What is the one thing that nobody wants to talk about,
that everybody will sort of raise their hands in horror? Well, not everybody,
because you never get everybody. But what can I say that will be the literary
equivalent of taking a fork and scraping it across a blackboard, you know, or
making somebody bite in on a lemon? And when I find those things, generally
the reaction from the readers or the people even who see the films is one of
`Thank you for saying that. Thank you for articulating that thought.'

GROSS: Your story "Misery" was about a psychotic fan who tortures her
favorite writer because he's let her down with the plot of the new novel. And
you, in a way, have become a kind of magnet for a few kind of crazy fans. Was
the story of "Misery" based on one particular fear or one particular incident?

Mr. KING: I don't think so. There are a number of things--yes, I've been a
lightning rod for a certain number of crazy people. We keep files on them.
They are constant correspondents and they want to be infinitely, intimately
involved with my life or the lives of my family or whatever, or they believe
that they actually wrote the stories or that you're picking their brains
telepathically or whatever it is, and you begin to realize the power of fans.
And, of course, just interacting with them, there is a kind of fan psychology
that, for the object of that fan adulation, gets to be really, really
uncomfortable sometimes. They want your autograph. They want to tell you how
much they enjoy their stuff. And if you say, `Look, I'd love to sign your
books, but I can't right now, I'm taking my family out to dinner,' or, `I
really have to be over here,' their reaction is, `Go to hell, you son of a
bitch,' you know? Just like that it changes.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. That's pretty frightening.

Mr. KING: So you sense in the people who are the most devoted fans this
really sort of churning need to identify emotionally or psychologically with
the object of, you now, the fan worship. And sometimes this actual
resentment, this feeling of `You have what was really meant for me. in the
best of all possible worlds, I would be you,' and you see this quite often in
the mail. So a lot of times there's adulation and there's this really
uncomfortable undercurrent of resentment at the same time.

BOGAEV: Stephen King, speaking with Terry Gross in 1992. King is this year's
recipient of an honorary National Book Award for lifetime achievement.

After the break, we'll feature another interview Terry recorded with him in
2000. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, we're featuring interviews with writer
Stephen King, who received an honorary National Book Award this week. Terry
Gross spoke with him 2000, not long after the accident which nearly took his
life. In June of 1999, King was walking along the gravel shoulder of Route 5,
a two-lane highway near his home in Maine, when he was struck by a van. His
hip was dislocated, several ribs were broken and his right leg, knee and hip
were shattered. At the time of this interview, King was still recovering from
his injuries, but he had already returned to work and had published a memoir
called "On Writing." Terry asked King to begin with a reading from the last
chapter of this book about his accident.

Mr. KING: (Reading) `Most of the sight lines along the mile of Route 5, which
I walk, are good. But there is one stretch, a short, steep hill, where a
pedestrian walking north can see very little of what might be coming his way.
I was three-quarters of the way up this hill when Bryan Smith, the owner and
operator of the Dodge van, came over the crest. He wasn't on the road. He
was on the shoulder--my shoulder. I had perhaps three-quarters of a second to
register this. It was just time enough to think, "My God, I'm going to be hit
by a school bus." I started to turn to my left.

`There is a break in my memory here. On the other side of it, I'm on the
ground looking at the back of the van, which is now pulled off the road and
tilted to one side. This recollection is very clear and very sharp, more like
a snapshot than a memory. There is dust around the van's tail lights. The
license plate and the back windows are dirty. I register these things with no
thought that I had been in an accident or of anything else. It's a snapshot,
that's all. I'm not thinking. My head has been swabbed clean.

`There's another little break in my memory here, and then I am very carefully
wiping palmfuls of blood out of my eyes with my left hand. When my eyes are
reasonably clear, I look around and see a man sitting on a nearby rock. He
has a cane drawn across his lap. This is Bryan Smith, 42 years of age, the
man who hit me with his van. Smith has got quite the driving record. He has
racked up nearly a dozen vehicle-related offenses.

`Smith wasn't looking at the road on the afternoon our lives came together
because his Rottweiler had jumped from the very rear of his van into the
backseat area, where there was an Igloo cooler with some meat stored inside.
The Rottweiler's name is Bullet. Smith has another Rottweiler at home. That
one is named Pistol. Bullet started to nose at the lid of the cooler. Smith
turned around and tried to push Bullet away. He was still looking at Bullet
and pushing his head away from the cooler when he came over the top of the
knoll, still looking and pushing when he struck me. Smith told friends later
that he thought he'd hit a small deer until he noticed my bloody spectacles
lying on the front seat of his van. They were knocked from my face when I
tried to get out of Smith's way. The frames were bent and twisted, but the
lenses were unbroken. They are the lenses I'm wearing now as I write this.

`Smith sees I'm awake and tells me help is on the way. He speaks calmly, even
cheerily. His look, as he sits on his rock with his cane drawn across his
lap, is one of pleasant commiseration. "Ain't the two of us just had the
shittiest luck?" it says. He and Bullet left the campground where they were
staying, he later tells an investigator, because he wanted some of those
"Marses bars" they have up to the store. When I hear this little detail some
weeks later, it occurs to me that I have nearly been killed by a character out
of one of my own novels. It's almost funny.'

GROSS: That's Stephen King reading from his new memoir, "On Writing."

Did Smith say anything else to you as you were laying there, drifting in and
out of consciousness, after he hit you?

Mr. KING: He said, `I've never had so much as a parking ticket in my life,
and here it is my bad luck to hit the best-selling writer in the world.' And
I think he said, `I loved all your movies.'

GROSS: Did he really say that?

Mr. KING: Yeah.

GROSS: So he's lying to you as you're lying there nearly dying?

Mr. KING: Well, he said he had never had so much as a parking ticket, and God
knows he had a lot of traffic offenses. We don't want to speak ill of the
dead if we can help it, because he did die last month, on my birthday as a
matter of fact, which was a little bit eerie.


Mr. KING: Yeah.


Mr. KING: He and I share the same middle name as well. We're both Edwins.
We were. Now I'm--well, never mind.

GROSS: You know, in that reading, you say that it made you think that he was
like a character in your fiction. Were there other things that made you think
of him that way?

Mr. KING: Well, God knows that I've lived in rural Maine for a lot of years.
It's where I grew up, and it's where my wife and I live now, in a town of
about 900 people. And we don't want to say that Bryan Smith is or was a type,
because I don't necessarily believe that there are types, but he had a certain
back-country quality with the Rottweiler dogs and the old van. And it's
really tough, Terry, to talk about Bryan Smith without making him sound like a
sort of Faulknerian stereotype, and so maybe I'd just as soon steer clear of
the whole issue. He was like a character in a Stephen King book, but only
because he seemed like a real Maine type to me.

BOGAEV: Stephen King speaking with Terry Gross in 2000. We'll hear more of
their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm Barbara Bogaev. This


BOGAEV: Coming up, horror novelist Stephen King tells us what scared him when
he was little. Also, Geoff Nunberg considers the differences between British
and American English. And David Edelstein reviews "The Cat in the Hat."

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Let's get back to Terry's interview with horror novelist Stephen King,
recorded in 2000, shortly after the accident that nearly took his life, and
also the publication of his memoir, "On Writing." King received an honorary
National Book Award this week for lifetime achievement. His novels include
"Carrie," "The Shining," "Cujo," "Misery," "The Dead Zone," "Salem's Lot" and
his latest, "The Dark Tower 5."

GROSS: In an interview in Salon magazine before the accident, you said, `As a
kid, my mother used to say, when we were scared, "Whatever you're afraid of,
say it three times fast and it will never happen," and that's what I've done
in my fiction. Basically, I've said out loud the things that really terrify
me, and I've turned them into fictions and they've made a very nice living for
me, and it seems to have worked.' Did you ever feel that this time the horror
stories jinxed you, that something that you feared and had written about was
coming true?

Mr. KING: No, it never even crossed my mind. It's strange because off and on
in my career as a writer, I have certainly written about car crashes and about
characters who've been hurt or injured in car crashes. There's a little boy
who's killed by a truck in "Pet Sematary," and in a book that's done in
manuscript but hasn't been polished yet and readied for publication called
"From a Buick 8," one of the main characters' father is killed in an accident
very similar to the one that almost killed me. But I only use those things in
my stories because cars and traffic accidents are a part of our lives.
They're something that, unfortunately, most of us relate to, probably at a
rate of three or four times as much--that is to say, three or four times as
many people either have been in a car accident themselves or know somebody who
has, as have been injured with gunshots. So it's a part of the American
experience and, as such, of course, I've written about it. But I never felt
that I'd jinxed myself, no.

GROSS: When you were on FRESH AIR a few years ago and you were talking about
the things that scared you most as a kid, you mentioned something that you
also describe in your new book, "On Writing." You talked about how, when you
were a kid, you had strep throat and after that you had a terrible ear
infection, and in treating it, the doctor had to, with a needle, puncture your
eardrum on three separate occasions to let the infection drain, and it was the
worst agony you'd ever experienced. And, of course, the doctor, before doing
the procedure, kept saying that it wasn't going to hurt. You've had to go
through excruciating pain as an adult now as a result of the accident, and the
procedures and therapies that you've had to do as well. How is dealing with
the pain of the accident, the surgeries, the procedures--dealing with that
pain as an adult compared to dealing with it as a child?

Mr. KING: Well, as an adult, I always felt a lot more as though I were a
participant in what was happening to me. For instance, the therapy; and
anybody who's been in a bone-crunching accident knows that it's a very, very
difficult procedure to go through. When I woke up, I was in something that's
called an External Fixator, which is a halo that goes over the leg and it
immobilizes the bone, it also immobilizes the joints, so that from June 19th,
I think, until probably, oh, toward the end of July, I never bent my knee.
And in the old days, the '20s and '30s, when people recovered from this sort
of accident, their leg was more or less frozen in place, so it became an
organic crutch. And nowadays, at least we have therapeutic techniques to
restore mobility to the leg, but it's very, very painful.

And I can remember--yeah, in the "On Writing" book I talk about having my ears
lanced to let out--to drain moisture and pus that was behind the eardrum. But
as a child, when you're faced with a procedure like that, you're in a uniquely
powerless situation because you don't understand what's going on and you're
powerless to stop it. In any case, you were mentioning I had to go back three
times, and the first time, when I was told, `Don't worry. This won't hurt,' I
believed it. The second time, I almost believed it. And the third time, I
knew that it wasn't true, but I was still powerless to stop it. And to me,
that's the ingredient of a nightmare, even down to the fact that the doctor
never called me Stephen. He called me Robert. He would say, `Now, Robert,
lie down. This won't hurt.' And in my panicky child's way, I'm thinking, `Of
course, it will hurt! Of course, it will hurt! You're even lying about what
my name is!'

But when you get to be an adult, although it still hurts, the pain is still
there, I felt as though I were something of a participant in my own therapy,
so that the first step was to get the knee to flex enough so that the leg
would come down and the heel would touch the floor, and the pain of just that
was excruciating, and I just filled the house with my howls. I can't imagine
how my poor wife ever stood it, but the physical therapist, Ann, just would
laugh and say, `You can do a little bit more, Steve.' And I'd think, `No, I
can't. I can't do any more, Ann. Stop it. Let me stop.' And she wouldn't,
and then come the weights on the leg and all the rest of it. But at least you
know what's going on and you understand what the stakes are. And when it came
to having my ear lanced, children just don't understand.

GROSS: You know, in "Misery," the main character's a writer who's seriously
injured and the woman taking care of him, his number-one fan, is really
torturing him and not giving him therapy. Did the nurses and therapists who
you worked with make zillions of "Misery" jokes?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KING: You know, they'd all read "Misery" and they worked for an outfit
called the Bangor Area Visiting Nurses. These are nurses who go into the
home and give home care. And I think one of them told me toward the end of
the period where I needed full-time nursing that they had all read it and they
had all been called into the office by their superior and told in no uncertain
terms, `Don't make any "Misery" jokes.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And did they restrain themselves?

Mr. KING: They did. They were great.

GROSS: As you point out in your new book "On Writing," one of the plots that
has interested you in several of your books is: If there is a God, why do
such terrible things happen? And that's one of the themes in "The Stand,"
"Desperation," "The Green Mile." Is that the kind of thing you were wondering
about yourself after the accident? And I'm wondering if you believe in God,
if you did before the accident, if you did after the accident?

Mr. KING: Oh, I've always believed in God. I also think that's the sort of
thing that either comes as part of the equipment, the capacity to believe, or
at some point in your life, when you're in a position where you actually need
help from a power greater than yourself, you simply make an agreement: `I
will believe in God because it will make my life easier and richer to believe
than not to believe.' So I choose to believe.

Then, of course, you're left with these questions: Why did this happen to me?
You know, there's a story that I told a couple of times about Job, you know,
the sorrows of Job. Job loses his wife, he loses his children, he's covered
with diseases, his land is taken away from him--all these sorrows--and finally
Job goes down to the coast of the ocean and faces the waves and says, `God,
all these terrible things have happened to me, all these things, and I still
love you. But I want to know why. Why did these things have to happen to me?
Why did they have to happen to Job, your good and faithful servant?' And this
cyclone comes down and it comes across the waves and it stops in front of him
and it says, `Job, I guess you just piss me off.' And that's one way of
looking at how God treats us.

I can also say, `God, why did this have to happen to me when, if I get another
step back, you know, the guy misses me entirely?' Then God says to me, in the
voice that I hear in my head, which probably comes from the boys in the
basement as much as from God, the muses that I have, these guys say, `On the
other hand, Steve, if you'd taken another step forward, you would have been
killed. You didn't have any permanent nerve damage. You got a numb place on
your leg, but your foot works and your leg works.' So there are all these
things. And then these voices can go on and say, `Steve, why don't you get
serious. Six million Jews were killed in the '30s and '40s as a part of
Hitler's little ethnic cleansing program and a million more Bosnian Serbs were
killed in their program of ethnic cleansing in the mid-'90s. So what are you
complaining about? You've got a little busted hip. Why don't you just, you
know, pick yourself up and dust yourself off and get over it and don't be
worrying about things you can't understand.'

So again, I think that you make an agreement and you say to yourself, `OK,
there's a God. Why? Because I choose to believe there's a God. Believing
makes my life better than not believing. Why did this happen to me? It
happened to me for some good purpose. What is that good purpose? I don't
know, but I choose to believe it's good because to believe it's bad would bum
out my whole day.'

GROSS: I had read that you were going to buy the van that struck you and
smash it. Did that actually happen?

Mr. KING: It never did happen. The van has been cubed. When I was in the
hospital, mostly unconscious, my wife got a lawyer who's just a friend of the
family--my son and his son went to school together, so we know him really
well--and she got in touch with him and said, `Buy it so that somebody else
doesn't buy it and decide to break it up and sell it on eBay, on the
Internet.' And so he did, and for about six months, I did have these sort of
fantasies of smashing the van up. But my wife--I don't always listen to her
the first time, but sooner or later, she usually gets through, and what she
says makes more sense than what I had planned. And her thought was that the
best thing to do would be to very quietly remove it from this plane of
existence, which is what we did.

GROSS: Oh, and you can't say how.

Mr. KING: Sure I can. It went through a car crusher. It's a little cube

GROSS: Ohh. Oh, so rather than you attacking it yourself--I got it. Oh,

Mr. KING: Yeah.

GROSS: And did you keep the cube?

Mr. KING: No, I didn't. I don't really know what happened to the cube. But
my idea about the van had always been to sort of smash it up the way that--in
the carnies of my youth, sometimes somebody would put a car up on the back of
a flatbed truck and charge a quarter for three smacks with a sledgehammer, and
I felt we could do that for charity. And it still at times seems to me like a
good idea, but I have sort of a carnival mind and my wife is a little bit more

BOGAEV: Stephen King, recorded in 2000. This week, he received a lifetime
achievement award from The National Book Foundation. Here's King singing
"Stand By Me," the song used in his film adaptation of the same name. Warren
Zevon was at the piano.

(Soundbite of "Stand By Me")

Mr. KING: This is where it all begins. (Singing) When the night has come and
the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see. I won't cry. I
won't cry. No, I won't shed a tear, just as long as you stand by me. And
darlin', darlin' stand...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) me.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) Stand...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING (Singing) me.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) Just as long as you stand by me.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) Now listen...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) ...if the sky we look upon should crumble and fall, and
the mountains should tumble to the sea, I won't cry, I won't cry.

Backup Singers: (Singing) I won't cry.

Mr. KING: (Singing) I won't shed a tear.

Backup Singers: (Singing) No, I won't.

Mr. KING: (Singing) Just as long as you stand by me. And darlin', darlin'

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) me.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me. Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) Stand by me.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) Just as long as you stand by me.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me. Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) You know, sweetheart, the Lord has given you two good,
strong legs and two big strong feet, so what I want you to do, my sweet thing,
is to get up off that sofa. I mean, get up off your ass. Get on your feet.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) Get up on them big, strong legs...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stand by me. Stand by me.

Mr. KING: (Singing) to your big, strong man because...

BOGAEV: Coming up, Geoff Nunberg on the English language and our complicated
relations with Britain. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: Differences between American and British English

British defenders of Tony Blair's policies in Iraq have been stressing the
special relationship between the US and Britain based on common ties of
language. But as our linguist Geoff Nunberg points out, those family ties,
like all family ties, are complicated.

GEOFF NUNBERG reporting:

As British demonstrators were organizing for yesterday's anti-Bush protests,
the right-wing Daily Mail warned that if they damaged the relationship with
America, they would damage Britain as well. `This is our closest and most
reliable ally,' the paper said, `tied to us by a shared commitment of freedom,
by a common language and a common history, not to mention immensely important
trade links.' The references to a common language are de rigueur whenever
Britons are defending the `special relationship,' a phrase that they use a lot
more than we do. But historically speaking, it was the special relationship
that created the common language rather than the other way around. It wasn't
inevitable that the two nations would think of themselves as speaking the same

People often distinguish separate languages with varieties that are no more
distinct than British and American are, like Dutch and Afrikaans or Norwegian
and Danish. In fact, in the decades following the American Revolution, people
like Adams and Jefferson argued that Americans should break off their
linguistic ties with England, just as they'd thrown off its political yoke.
Not that we were about to switch to speaking Greek or German, but over the
course of time, `American would become a language distinct from the rest of
the world,' as Noah Webster put it. And just to make the point symbolically,
Webster went about changing American spellings so that Americans and
Englishmen would wind up writing `honor' in different ways.

It wasn't till 50 or 60 years later that the English and Americans grudgingly
accepted that they would maintain their linguistic union like a couple that
goes through a trial separation and then decides to stick it out. That
realization no doubt reflected the pole of a common literary and political
heritage, but it also owed a lot to the neurotic dependencies that can bind
families more closely than mere history does. If England and America didn't
think of themselves as speaking the same language, after all, the English
couldn't accuse us of mangling it and we couldn't have the satisfaction of
knowing how much our cheeky linguistic high jinks annoyed those stiff grownups
back in the parlor.

The British have always had a high time portraying Americans as backwoods
buffoons who spout a mixture of slang, malaprops and bloated pomposities. For
them, America was the source of all linguistic corruption and something like
the way we think of California today. In 1869, the English critic G.F.
Graham accused Americans of taking reckless liberties with the language.
`Words like "slick," "spry" and "boss" are not English words,' he said, `and
we may pretty confidently expect that they will never become English.'

True, the British have always overdrawn their depictions of American speech.
Dickens parodied it so broadly in his American notes that Emerson felt obliged
to complain that `no such conversations ever occur in this country in real
life.' But if no American actually talks like those caricatures, George Bush
comes pretty close. British critics of Bush and his policies may make a point
of saying that their beef is with the president and not the country, but it's
certainly convenient that Bush fits the negative stereotype of Americans so
neatly. For their purposes, he's a self-made straw man.

The London Sunday Times, which has been supportive of Bush, recently asked
2,000 Britons which characteristics they most associate with the US president.
The largest proportion said he was a danger to world peace, but that response
was closely followed by the adjectives `stupid' and `incoherent.' And in the
Times of London last week, the conservative columnist Matthew Parris observed,
not entirely approvingly, that these days any English comic can get a laugh
with a joke that depicts Bush as `a loud, bumptious, ignorant, crass,
narrow-minded, conspiring, lethal zealot.' As Parris notes, `The trouble with
Bush jokes is that they're really about Americans.' Of course, a lot of
people on this side of the pond think of Bush as kind of America joke, too.
That's the price we Americans pay for the special relationship. We all have a
little intrajected Englishman sitting on our shoulders clucking his tongue at
our ignorance and faulty grammar. And it can be embarrassing to see the
flesh-and-blood embodiment of those deficiencies sharing a platform with Tony

But nowadays, Americans seem to be making less fun of Bush's linguistic
derelictions, whichever side they're on. Before the September 11th attacks
and the Iraq war, the president's supporters could make light of his gaffes as
harmless foibles. Now even that concession seems to undercut their efforts to
drape a Churchillian mantle over the man and his language. An article in
National Review goes so far as to describe him as `speaking with Churchillian
clarity.' I doubt whether even the Daily Mail would have ventured that
description for a British audience.

Bush's language has become a less important issue for his American critics,
too. Not that they don't still regard him as an ignorant, pseudo-bumpkin who
embarrasses the country, but now they're concerned that he's making America
look bad in much more dangerous ways. Nowadays, their anger doesn't have to
do with the fact that Bush doesn't talk like Tony Blair or, for that matter,
that Tony Blair does.

BOGAEV: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University's Center for the
Study of Language and Information and the author of "The Way We Talk Now."

Coming up, "The Cat in the Hat" falls flat. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New movie "The Cat in the Hat"

Theodor Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, collaborated on the 1953 children's
movie "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T" then largely ignored Hollywood. Since
his death in 1991, however, two big-budget, live-action adaptations of his
most famous works have featured top comedians in heavy makeup: first, Jim
Carrey as the Grinch; now Mike Myers as the Cat in the Hat. Film critic David
Edelstein is aghast that his five-year-old loved the new movie.


You see some scary stuff when you go to the movies. But for the kind of thing
that Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" saw--when they gave him a nausea drug and
pried his eyes open with wires and screened atrocity footage--you have to get
in line for the new "Cat in the Hat" picture with Mike Myers. I think it's
one of the most repulsive children's movies ever made; a sloppy and vulgar
burlesque of one of the great writers of the 20th century.

Let me put this charge in context. When Theodor Geisel began writing his
books for children more than half a century ago, they served as a wild
corrective to the "Dick and Jane" school of moral hygiene. In a universe of
parents always trying to rein in kids--often for the kids' own good, not to
mention the good of furniture and upholstery--"The Cat in the Hat" gave
permission for the most noisy and frenzied sort of destruction; destruction
that even horrified the kids who had internalized some of their parents'

But there's more than just liberating anarchism in the books of Dr. Seuss;
there's also high elegance. The cat might be a force of disorder, but he's
disorder in a top hat and bow tie and white gloves. He's the most radiantly
serene of tricksters. The miracle of Dr. Seuss is in that balance between
chaos and formality; it's that all that pandemonium arrives in meticulous
stanzas of almost perfect anapestic tetrameter.

What Mike Myers and director Bo Welch and a battery of screenwriters have done
is turn "The Cat in the Hat" into Austin Powers with fur balls. It's a
low-camp universe in which a vaguely 1950s conformity is undermined by
scatological humor, belch and fart gags and sniggery illusions to castration
and to four-letter words. The music is grating and the colors garishly ugly;
pea-soup green and egg-yolk yellow mixed with pink and lilac.

Director Welch is a production designer who did amazing work with Tim Burton
on "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands," but he doesn't move the camera,
and he keeps all the action in the center of the frame where it congeals. We
spend the first 15 minutes praying for the arrival of Myers to bring this
corpse to life, then the next hour praying for an anvil to fall on his head.

Myers doesn't have the lean silhouette of Dr. Seuss' Cat. Physically, he's
closer to Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion, and his voice is Lahr's with a dash of
"Coffee Talk" Long Island. What he sounds like is Jo Anne Worley from
"Laugh-In." In this scene--which, believe it or not, is one of the funniest
in the movie--he's harangued by a computer-generated goldfish while the two
kids, Sally and Conrad--played by Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin--look on
in understandable horror.

(Soundbite of "The Cat in the Hat")

Mr. SEAN HAYES: (As The Fish) Stop this right now!

Mr. MIKE MYERS: (As The Cat) Huh?

SPENCER BRESLIN: (As Conrad) Who said that?

Mr. HAYES: Me. Remember, the fish? Came home in a baggy, loved me for two
weeks and then nothing!

DAKOTA FANNING: (As Sally) The fish is talking.

Mr. MYERS: Well, sure he can talk, but is he saying anything? No, not
really. No.

Mr. HAYES: Hey, stop! Can it! This cat should not be here. He should not
be about. He should not be here when your mother is out.

Mr. MYERS: Come on, kids. You going to listen to him? He drinks where he

EDELSTEIN: You can hear how Sean Hayes, as the voice of the goldfish, rushes
through the verse as if he thinks it's beneath him and how Myers has to build
the scene to a joke about peeing. As a fan of "South Park" and, yes, "Austin
Powers," I love gross-out humor as much as the next 12-year-old boy at heart.
But it's not only alien to Dr. Seuss, it's third-rate Myers.

The star works like mad to bring "The Cat in the Hat" to life. He prances
around these inert frames; he even throws in a "Saturday Night Live"-style
mock commercial that ends with his tail being whacked off. But it's wrong,
and Myers must have sensed on some level that it's wrong because that extra
measure of elation in his best work is missing.

The movie comes with an icky life lesson. The Cat is trying to loosen up
Sally and harness the creative energy of Conrad, who has run afoul with his
single mom's suitor, a conniving sharpie played by Alec Baldwin. He's the
bad, repressive surrogate dad, and the Cat is the good, liberating one. But
it's hard to concentrate on the struggle when both dads are so revolting.

What were the heirs of Dr. Seuss thinking when they took the money for this
desecration? And what comes next, "Horton Hears a Poo"?

BOGAEV: David Edelstein reviews films for FRESH AIR and the online magazine


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Has Tucker Carlson created the most racist show in the history of cable news?

The NY Times did an exhaustive survey of the Fox News hosts' broadcasts. Reporter Nicholas Confessore says Carlson's show is based on ideas that were once "caged in a dark corner of American life."


British 'Office' co-creator Stephen Merchant isn't afraid to fuse comedy with tragedy

Merchant co-created the British Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais. His new show, The Outlaws, is about people court-ordered to do community service for low-level crimes. He spoke with producer Sam Briger about what inspired the new series, his best writing advice, and how being very tall (6'7") has informed his personality.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue