From Melville to Hamill

By Ryan Knighton | October 1, 2001

It has been observed that a Harley Davidson chopper ceases to be a means of transportation when it hangs from a theme restaurant or bar rafter. This is not a power particular to, say, Arnold’s bulging and stogie-chewing brand name. Any old wall or rafter translates the chopper fine on its own. In essence, the Harley then announces its character in the theatre of a culture’s mythology instead of its tenacious ability to move a passenger from point A to B. Moby Dick, I suspect, makes a similar case for the whale. I’ve never read the novel and remain embarrassed to admit it, but I did sit through Corvette Summer at least half a dozen times before my teens. If you don’t remember this ungodly made-for-TV odyssey, it starred Mark Hamill of Luke Skywalker fame just shortly after his X-Wing fighter celebrity sputtered and crashed somewhere just shy of the Universal Studio gates. If memory serves me correct (well, if it doesn’t it’ll serve me however I want it to), Hamill played an aspiring and gifted teenage grease-monkey. An Einstein of shop class, together with the minimal assistance of some buddies Hamill built a super-fantastic Corvette of indescribable aesthetic failure. This thing had pipes and intakes and chrome and all sorts of shit popping in and out of the body. It looked like a car had crashed into a novelty body shop and come out the other side. It was the Platonic Corvette—the Corvette from which all other permutations could be derived. The dramatic arc of this story begins when the car—let’s call it Moby Dick—is stolen from Hamill the first night he takes it out on the road. The journey to find this stolen beast then takes Hamill across the country to Las Vegas where, after a series of rumoured sightings and phantom glimpses, he finally finds Moby Dick in a Vegas showroom, slightly altered and painted a clean, shining white, but unmistakably the overdone labour of an aspiring and gifted teenage grease-monkey. You can imagine, I’m sure, the rest of this tale which involves crooked Vegas businessmen and the righteous wrangling of Moby Dick by his true owner. I can’t quite remember now, but I’d bet my last Vegas dollar the car is destroyed in the fight for ownership, only after a few good car chases of course. I’m only so sure about this because a car ceases to be a car when it is put inside a recurrent narrative, and the point was to make this car beyond carness for Hamill. The myth of it precipitates a low-fi lighting out to see the country, to go west, young man. So he can’t find the car in the end, because it was never to be there in place of the story. I’ve explained this movie to a number of my bookwormy friends, some of which have read Moby Dick, but not one of them recalls this flick or its tale.


  • Ryan Knighton

    Ryan Knighton lives in Vancouver, teaches at a college in North Vancouver, and peers at the world with a strange but distinctive focus. He just signed a whopping book contract based on a series of pieces that appeared on this site, and his publisher made us erase them.

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