What can you say not say about Mark Harris? By George McWhirter

Mark Harris: a man who wanted to be a dolphin

Mark Harris: a man who wanted to be a dolphin

The man was a bustling book, a living almanac, a talking trove of film lore, who loved uncovering vendettas: Hollywood liberal directors’, who had it in for John Wayne, directors who made Wayne into a hidden assassin in “The Man who Killed Liberty Valance.”  Mark turned my head upside down on how I saw that ultra conservative cowboy star. Only Mark Harris, the poet, story teller and maven of the movies could draw a link between John Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” Julio Cortázar’s story, “Blow-Up” and Antonioni’s film of the same name. Mark had an eye for subtle assassinations on screen, but fast action and multiple murders, on stage, were also a fascination. While he was doing subtitles in my translation workshop, he was also translating a French play, where the Italian nobility got slaughtered, one at least for every one of the multiple scenes. The thing was as multi-act, multi-charactered as Mark’s mind. I swear the sly mayhem and machinations in that piece of  Italian aristocratic skulduggery spurred his learning Italian and embarking on his passionate travels with Carola through Italy to see if any traces of all that blood remained.

Poet, critic, enthusiast, he was a pest for the best he could get out of everyone. He punned on the run, didn’t he? I believe he must have whispered one special pun to himself all the time, skipped and silly-chuckled along to it, his love song of paronomasia, Carola  is my female corollary, my perfect corollary of love is Carola. His way was pebbled with puns and he was carried over it by his enthusiasm to a place, let’s call it Ballyfitzharris, Oh there was Irish in him Baylieux, he used to tell me, Bailey. Ballyfitzharris was where so many things came together. If Ballyfitzharris were on a railway system in Ireland, it would be Junction; like Clones in Co. Monaghan used to be; if Ballyfitzharris were an airport, it would be a hub.

Think of Harris the Hub.

And a man who wanted to be a dolphin.

How he must have loved the Brazilian movie Ele o boto, about the dolphin-man, who always wore a hat. Mark, too, had his Tilley, and underneath his floppy hat loomed that MGM lion of a man, as my wife, Angela, describes him, but to me when he let down that hair of his out of its pony tail, he was the Roi Soleil du Ciné. However, he didn’t just open his mouth like the lion and roar, or stare solemnly like Louis XIV— what mobility Mark had in his face, in those cheeks and eyebrows, under that floppy hat, under that flood of hair, when he raised both hands in an exasperated epiphany at some hilarious or heartbreaking incongruity, some perforation he had seen through in the perfect scheme of things and he would not let go of until we understood how it turned everything we knew about that phenomena upside down, like the image inside a camera.

His enthusiasms were peppered with epiphanies. He pursued them the way ancient Spaniards pursued rabbits in the Iberian deserts. It was like he hung the ideas in his mind up by their hind legs, let them wriggle, skinned and cured them, cooked them, and served them with his saucy way of saying what they were. He was a sayer and a seer, driven by what he saw and what he had to say, regardless. That is a favourite Irish word for bravery—to say and do what you think, regardless, and regarding what Mark thought and did, he was just that—brave.

He was the picture of a man possessed. Possessed of the prime mover for all academics and artists: curiosity. He was the acute angler, the contrarian, so stand-out from the crowd physically and every other way. We will keep looking for his face as the crowd flows past us. We will listen for his next juicy fact about film, wait to feel him hooking us into kinship with something of interest to us alone, which he happens to share and will make sure others do so too. He was a friend to everybody’s mind. He lives there for us in the place where he was never at a loss, the old reel to reel, the dance into pure images and memory, which we will enter, too, in the end.

God bless you, Mark, for going ahead and showing the way through the aperture to that place that is nothing less than legend.

For Mark Harris Memorial
March 10, 2013, Mountain View Cemetery