Thursday, July 14, 2011

M is for Movies

M is for Movies.

I grew up watching them.

My parents loved movies.

But more importantly? They loved film, cinema, the real deal.

I was taken to important films from the time I was young.

Oh, we went to the blockbusters, the kid flicks, the fun things.

But also? Serious films. The ones that meant something, opened you up, pulled you apart, turned you inside out, put you back together differently.

You don't think a film can change you?

Then you've been watching the wrong movies.

When I was eight years old, on the 4th of July?

Instead of fireworks (which still frightened me a bit at that age anyway) my parents took me to the movies.

Zeferelli's Romeo and Juliet.

It was rated "M" for Mature audiences (in 1968 there was no R yet, no PG-13).

I still remember the beauty and lyricism of Shakespeare's words. And Romeo's naked butt.

My parents loved classic films. I watched hundreds of old black and white movies on the TV, was no stranger to Bogey and Bacall; Katherine Hepburn my idol. 

My mother loved musicals. And I loved Barbra Streisand passionately. Hello Dolly and Funny Girl, of course, but also The Owl and the Pussycat where Barbra plays a sometime hooker who drops the F-bomb (the first time a female star ever uttered that word in a Hollywood picture).

(At the time, I had no idea why I loved her so much. But looking back I can clearly see she is the only star who looks anything remotely like me, Jewish and significantly shnozzed and all.)

My parents took me to foreign films. With subtitles. And we watched them fervently on public television.

I remember being very tired in the mornings for a whole month of the 11th grade because Cinema 13 was hosting a Japanese film festival nightly at 11 PM.

This was in the days of broadcast TV.

There was no cable. There were no VCRs.

If you wanted to watch something? You had to show up. You had a date with your TV for when it was being broadcast.

And we really wanted to watch Kurosawa, Ozu and Teshigahara. I was the only 15 year-old I knew whose favorite film was Woman in the Dunes.

(Until it was eclipsed by Bergman's Persona the next year.)

We loved Woody Allen. He was ours. (The uber-New York Jew.)

We loved Robert Altman (no explanation necessary).

We loved the actress Ruth Gordon and quoted lines from Where's Poppa? and Harold and Maude as part of our private family patois.

Films informed my whole life.

I studied film in college, became a film and video maker, made my living in a branch of the business.

Studying film was delicious. I got to watch so many wonderful films, as well as learning how to make them.

There were times I would become a bit... obsessed with certain films.

Watching them over and over, finding truths in their flashing frames. A string that would vibrate in my soul every time a moment played out, an image seared into my brain, imprinted, that my eyes wanted to see.

Over and over.

Like these films, among many others...

Hiroshima Mon Amour (Possibly my favorite film of all time. About memory. And love. And everything else.)

Dr. Strangelove  (First seen as a child on New Year's Eve, with the end-of-the-world mushroom cloud explosions perfectly timed with the stroke of midnight)

Diva (If you have never seen this film? I don't know how to describe it, nor to adequately convey how consumed I was by it when I first saw it, and then watched it again and again and again. Yes, obsession was the operative word here. Yes. I have not viewed it again in years, don't know if it holds up, am almost afraid to find out.)

The Lion in Winter  (This moment... Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine says to her jewelry: "I would hang you from my nipples but it would shock the children." Perfection.)

Stealing Beauty (Whatever you think of Liv Tyler, this is Bertolucci and a luminous film. Do not let your teenage virgin daughter watch if you want her to stay that way.)

Burden of Dreams (A film-making friend of mine was obsessed with this film & pulled me into her obsession, making me watch with her, over and over. It's a documentary made by the filmmaker Les Blank, who was in turn obsessed with the obsessive nature of Werner Herzog while making Fitzcarraldo, a film about a man obsessed with a  boat. Sensing a theme here? At one point Herzog says, "I shouldn't make films anymore, I should be in a lunatic asylum.")

Blade Runner  (I know you're thinking: Wait. What? That's a big blockbuster film, a genre film from a commercial director, not a personally meaningful work from an "Auteur." Where did that come from?

Well, a great film is a great film. And I have always loved Science Fiction. And this film? Was something else. Something new. Ever since you laid eyeballs upon it, you cannot picture the future without either referencing or refuting this film's vision of it, so completely did it create that world.

It is in our psyches. Permanently. And I wouldn't have it any other way.)

When I was a young girl, my parents business, an Art Gallery, was located on the main street of our suburban town, right next door to the movie theater. On the other side of the theater, physically part of the same building, nestled into a little chunk of its side, was a delicatessen and candy store.

I went to work with my parents on Saturdays, as did the Deli owner's daughter, Diana, a girl my age. We were friends.

And because her parents were friendly with the movie theater's owner? We got to see the Saturday matinee movie every Saturday. For free. Even the popcorn was free, if we brought our own paper bags to put it in.

My parents didn't have much money back then so the free part was wonderful for them. And it took me out of their hair for two hours or so. Win.

And I? Was in movie-loving heaven.

The matinees were movies for children. Occasionally classics like The Sound of Music or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but often pure kid fodder like Island of the Lost or With Six You Get Eggroll. We didn't care.

This was of the time before multiplexes, before theaters resembled nothing more than rectangular boxes with another glowing rectangle up front for you to fix your eyes upon.

This theater was old, it had nooks and crannies. A vaulted ceiling, cherubs. Deep red, velvety wallpaper softening the walls.

And a loge, where we sat, week after week, my friend Diana and I. Sucking on rock candy from her parents store, slipping fistfuls of popcorn from brown paper bags, grown greasy, into our hungry mouths.

We were there to be transported. Even drek like Destroy All Monsters called forth the magic. It didn't matter, for we were learning to see.

To see in the dark.

And now, what is it my autistic son Jacob loves more than anything else in the world?


He loves movies.

He is learning about the world though them; he is learning to see.

To see in the dark.

This post has been inspired by and linked up to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday writing meme. And isn't "M" is such a lovely letter? Shaped like a mountain, it is.

I'm also linking this post up to Maxabella's I'm grateful for...  because I am grateful that my life has been enriched by the existence of wonderful movies, and most especially for the parents who taught me to love film.

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