In memory of John Neville: “Munchausen vs. the Aliens”

/ Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 / No Comments »

John Neville, who played Romeo to Claire Bloom’s Juliet, Hamlet to Judi Dench’s Ophelia and Othello to Richard Burton’s Iago (and vice versa), but who may be best known in the United States as the title character in the exuberantly loopy film “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and a recurring one in the television series “The X-Files,” died in Toronto on Saturday. He was 86.

From The New York Times obituary

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen may not be the best film ever made, but it’s hands-down my favorite movie. That was true even in the 1990s, when John Neville began appearing on The X-Files. I remember my first delighted exclamation on spotting him in the tailored suit of a Man in Black: “That’s Baron Munchausen!”

I wrote the following poem as a way of reconciling Neville’s best-known roles in my own head. It appeared in the late, lamented Talebones and in my collections Defacing the Moon and The Journey to Kailash. Now I offer it in tribute to a great, and under-celebrated, entertainer, along with the collage I created to illustrate it.

Munchausen vs. the Aliens

Urban legends encounter urbane liar,
tractor-beam him
right off his five-winged pegasus;
five oval grey heads
roll at saber-flicks,
before they clamp the Baron down,
pierce him in place,
spread him open.
His cavities issue
oily polygonal beasts
too wily to be
imprisoned in specimen jars.

His vivisection completed,
he thanks greys with grace,
folds them with their saucer
into imaginary space,
sealed forever inside
a tale he spins
beside the hearth-light.

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