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May 19, 2023

Last Holiday


Henry Cass - 1950
Criterion Collection Channel

It is now approximately five years since I was told I had cancer. At the time, several medical professionals seemed to be in more of a panic, asking if I had medical directives and plans for palliative care. Based on what the x-rays indicated, it was certain that I would not see the end of 2019. Having both Chronic Kidney Disease and cancer in my left kidney put me in the position of choosing the Devil or the Deep Blue Sea in terms of alleged cures, both that would be guarantees of making me weaker. Rather than absolutely reducing my kidney function with removal of the cancerous kidney or going through dialysis, I figured I would let nature take its course. I was referred to a woman whose job was to explain and advise on the various housing options for seniors, who told me to "purge everything", seeing my collection of books and films as so much clutter. In retrospect, I probably dodged the bullet of Covid-19 by staying in my little apartment.

Last Holiday is about a salesman of farming equipment in rural England who is told he has a fatal disease, and at best has a few months to live. George Bird, portrayed by Alec Guinness, cashes out his savings to live in an expensive hotel in a resort town. It is at the hotel that Bird meets with people who see his professional potential, and where he has the romantic entanglements that were previously unknown. George is so certain of impending death that he cannot enjoy the changes in his fortune. The film was remade as a vehicle for Queen Latifah with Georgia Bird responding to her fate by taking off for an expensive European resort along with a new designer wardrobe. The remake eliminates the ironic ending of J.B. Priestly's story in exchange for a more comforting, and essentially pointless, resolution.

Last Holiday is hardly alone in having a story about the choices one makes when told that they have a limited amount of life. I had not seen Henry Cass' film and it was on my mind. Especially in comparison to the remake, George Bird's idea of so-called posh living comes off as exceedingly modest. A rough estimate is that Bird has the equivalent to $45,000, more than enough to get him out of driving distance within Southwest England. Probably the idea of Bird taking off for a more exotic location was besides the point for Priestly as the story is also a critique of class hierarchies in a part of England that appears untouched by World War II. While I have possibly been conservative in my own choices, when it became apparent that my declining health was on a long, flat plain with no discernible ending, I took off for a week in Barcelona to attend what may have been the world's smallest international film festival, March 2019. Now with the various Covid related protocols removed, I feel comfortable enough to plan to attend another film festival abroad this Fall. Sometimes I feel like I am tempting fate. What I am unable to do is rationally explain how or why I have so far lived, and in some ways lived well, beyond my prognosis. Maybe my Buddhist practice. Certainly not my diet which has only been moderately modified to be more kidney friendly. At this point I would rather have an adventure that does not quite work out as planned rather than regrets over not ever leaving my safe space.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 19, 2023 05:57 AM