"Decline and Fall: Multiple Copies"

by Noell Claybourne

There comes a time in one's life when one stops looking at the world with "new eyes" and starts seeing it with "old eyes". I certainly passed that point long ago, but it was not until very recently that I began to feel like a virtual stranger in a strange land, to cop a phrase from Mr. Heinlein's famous novel.

Certainly, part of it has to do with the whole New Century/New Millennium/New Age business. Not only was a whole century over and gone with, but a whole thousand year's worth of history and living. The new thousand years would be gotten off to a start scrubbed-clean, with a new look and new thinking, entirely improved. When I look around and see (in America, at least) the thoughtlessly attired, thoughtlessly moving and talking people, I know that was entirely a fantasy. Too bad Mr. Kubrick isn't here to see it for himself.

Then, there is the serious talk of cloning. Didn't seem like that long ago when the people I knew and worked with wouldn't know what that meant at all, or saw it as some far-off science-fiction idea. Now, they are getting ready to do it on a boat, with volunteers, sailing in international waters, so as not to incur the wraith of those nations whose lawgivers seek to prevent a fatal incursion upon any pretty pink unborn babies, no matter how small or unformed they may be.

I recently flew overseas to appear in a movie being made by Steven Spielberg, who is no stranger to fanciful subjects. One of the actors in the film is Tom Cruise, who is some people's idea of the ultimate fantasy itself in the flesh. Both men were, I'm sorry to say, duller than dirt to work with, as were the scenes I were handed to play. But everyone got on splendidly. I managed to confer some life to the dialogue that I spoke, after which the director beamed like a jack-o-lantern and then stole off to some sealed compartment to give interviews on his new movie, based on an idea by Stanley Kubrick himself.

Who would I want to have cloned? Mr. Spielberg, or Mr. Kubrick? I had a chance to meet Mr. Kubrick on several occasions, and found him to be charming and thoughtful. At dinner, he would relate some incident, or even a joke, and the film critic Alexander Walker, sitting apposite I and my wife Anne, would laugh uproariously, an event inevitably accompanied by the dropping of whatever silverware he was holding at the time. "It's not the laughter I minded," Anne said afterwards, "but the racket." She would then reenact her own interpretation of Walker's actions---"yuk, yuk, yuk!" "CLANG!"---while I almost drove the car bearing the two of us off the road. (I gave up, long before, trying to direct chauffeurs on how to drive to the Kubricks, a job not unlike the storming of a castle, and simply began to do so myself.)

Of course, Anne is gone, now (not as a result of my driving ability), and Walker is still around, primarily going to film festivals only to return to rant and rave, at length and in print, about the terrible sexuality being unleashed upon the screen. The Europeans have it in for us, again! (Upon which I am invariably reminded of what the film composer Alex North told me, "Sex, by all means, please, but with taste and some beauty!") No, I don't think I would want Anne to be brought back through the miracle of amniotic science---there was only one Anne, and there always will be only one. I wouldn't mind having Alex North around, again, and I may want to start afresh with I and Anne's son, poor Maxim (who will undoubtedly ring me up after he reads this, but I don't care).

Perhaps we could do with another Churchill or Einstein, or even Audrey Hepburn. (I also rather liked Jayne Mansfield. "Oh, Noell!" she breathed upon our first meeting, and then ran up to me and hugged me. I've never met the woman before, and already we were on a first-name basis.) Or perhaps I just pine stubbornly for what is now past, unable to adjust my vision to this strange new landscape.

(Noell Claybourne is currently working on a new novel, "Desolate Spring", and spends his time between London and the U.S. His account of his marriage to actress Anne Ardmore, "Within These Bonds: A Love Story", was published in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knopf.)