Thought I’d take a break from standup this week and talk instead about film, another interest of mine. It was my intended major in an aborted attempt to attain a Bachelor’s Degree. I was going to be a Cinematographer. Just one problem: as a Freshman in 1993, I went at the worst possible time; film was dying, about (but not yet) to be replaced by digital. If I’d gone a few years earlier, I would’ve gained a proper education in film and then adapted to digital. A few years later, I would’ve learned digital from the start.

I once had an assignment to complete a five-minute short on 8mm film. I took the commuter train an hour into the Boston suburbs to buy eight rolls of film from the nearest possible source, shot every planned scene over three days (hoping, but not knowing, if the footage would turn out as I wanted), brought the film back to where I bought it so it could be developed, returned again four days later to pick it up, then spent nearly twelve hours in an editing room, physically cutting and taping the film together.

All that for a five-minute, black and white, silent film. Ten-year-olds today can shoot far more complex movies using their phones in a fraction of the time. For free.

Well, I still love movies, and today I want to talk about a scene from The Godfather, one of my favorites. Early on, crooner and actor (and obvious analogue for Frank Sinatra) Johnny Fontaine appeals to his godfather for help. His godfather being Vito Corleone, a powerful Mob boss. Fontaine knows his singing career is on its last legs and he’s standing on the edge of obscurity. However, a script came his way and he discovered a role that would be perfect for him, one that would revitalize his career. Unfortunately, the head of the studio hates him and would never give him the part. Fontaine explains all this to Corleone before burying his face in his hands and, on the verge of tears, says, “Oh Godfather, I just don’t know what to do…”

Angry, Corleone grabs him, slaps him. “You can act like a man! What’s the matter with you?!” He’s embarrassed for his godson. The world of the Mafia is a macho one indeed and someone from that world could even say that Fontaine “was acting like a little bitch.” Toxic masculinity aside, there is something to be said for men and women alike to face adversity with heads held high, even when- or especially when – the obstacles are unsurmountable. Dignity has value.

Lucky for Fontaine, that even when humiliating himself, he still had a powerful patron willing to help. A patron with a trusted advisor who would try to make a deal with that studio head. When those talks failed, the patron had an enforcer, a huge brute of a man, decapitate the studio head’s favorite racehorse and slip the head under the man’s bed covers as he slept. Now, I’m a heavy sleeper, but to do all that and the guy doesn’t notice until he wakes up the next morning? That’s fucking ninja shit.

So, Fontaine gets what he wants at the price of his dignity and the question is, was it worth it? I suppose only Fontaine can really answer that. Hmm, maybe there is a connection here to standup after all. In standup, as in life in general, no one gets everything they want. It’s up to us to decide how we handle that. Accept and move on, or hang onto every slight, real or perceived, and seek petty retribution?

Mel Gibson as William Wallace famously said, “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” In that spirit, a club owner might not book you, but they can’t take your dignity. Dignity is only something you can throw away.