Today’s post is full of mixed metaphors and mad memes about life, death, a love letter to the movies, a sad farewell to one of its most passionate critics, and a hello and cheers to the New Year’s celebration happening on the Season 6 premiere of “Mad Men” tomorrow night.
As most of my friends and family know, I’m mad about the movies. I have been ever since I was a small child, first going on dates with my parents, watching afternoon matinees with my sister Roz and escaping family gatherings at the Grams (my maternal great grandmother and grandmother’s downtown apartment) with my cousins to watch a film together at the Rialto or Venetian theaters, and Saturday nights growing up watching “Creature Features,” science fiction and horror films on television with Mom and my siblings (see story at the end of this post).
For years as an adult, I tuned into “At the Movies” to watch Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert spar over new film releases, each passionate movie fans and opinionated critics. I didn’t always agree with their reviews, yet I always respected their knowledge and love of cinema. Years later after Siskel’s death, I continued to read Ebert’s reviews and watched the latest incarnation of his show. The chemistry between critics was never as compelling as it was with Siskel, but Ebert’s picks and pans always influenced me. In addition to his film criticism, I read his essays and musings about life. We shared much more than the love of movies. Here are Roger’s thoughts about dying in his essay, “I Do Not Fear Death.”
Wisconsin Film Festival
On Thursday, April 11, I go on vacation again. I don’t actually leave Madison, yet I take a sabbatical from my day-to-day life and spend afternoons and evenings in movie theaters with filmgoer friends at the Wisconsin Film Festival. This year, I stood in line at Union South on the opening day of ticket sales so I could be assured that I got my top picks. As often happens there were some vexations that occurred, yet I practiced conversing in the queue with fellow movie lovers which is part of the festival experience. I got most of my picks and here are highlights of some of the films I will see in the coming week:
Michael Apted’s compelling documentary which began as a BBC television show which chronicled the lives of a group of individuals beginning at the age of seven who he follows-up with every seven years. They are now 56 years old.
I Am Divine
A documentary about the life of Harris Glen Milstead, a heavy-set kid from Baltimore, who would later be known and adored as the drag artist, Divine.
A tribute to radio interviewer, Bob Fass, who hosted a late night public radio show on New York’s WBAI beginning in 1963.
Tiger Tale in Blue
A narrative story about a young working-class marriage and what happens to the couple when romance gives way to routine,
Shepard and Dark
Playwright and author Sam Shepard and his friend Johnny Dark share 35 years of writing letters to each other and in 2010 met to plan the publication of their correspondence. They revisit their shared and separate paths, both the good times and bad.
Growing up in the 1950s and 60s primed me to become a fan of “Mad Men.” Some of my past career path intersected with advertising agencies and the creative types depicted in the show. I’m also a huge fan of “The Sopranos,” as I continue to watch repeated cycles of the show, mad memes so to speak. Many of the writers, directors and production staff began with the latter including the showrunner, Matthew Weiner.
The show has everything I like about dramatic television. Snapshots of our social history and culture, the internal and emotional life of the characters, stunning art direction and attention to detail from the music, to the costumes, and to the back story research. Like Roger Ebert, Matthew Weiner, his actors and production staff love the stories they are telling. It comes through in their craft.
Please Don’t Kill the Television
Lastly I confess, though often socially unacceptable and culturally sophomoric, I love television. Television helped introduce me to the movies, to Roger Ebert and “Mad Men,” helps me fall asleep when my mind is too awake, sometimes a friend on a Saturday night, and always a window to the world.
Following is a story that captures my early love affair with television and the movies.
Rom Com Love Bomb
First, let me confess, I’m an unabashed film buff. I have been my whole life ever since my parents took me to see my first movie, Walt Disney’s, “Bambi.” I have vague memories of going on dates with my parents too. As their firstborn child, when they couldn’t find or afford a babysitter, I went to the movies with them. Sometimes the films were frightening to the preschool me. I remember being terrified of red, flesh-eating ants and quicksand after I saw a film set in Ceylon entitled, “Elephant Walk.” It starred the young and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and a herd of elephants; I was mesmerized and forever hooked on the movies.
Fast forward to the late 1950s and early sixties, Saturday night was movie night with Mom and my sister in front of the television. With Pyrex bowls filled with real buttered popcorn in our laps, and the lights turned off, we’d watch “Creature Features,” scary science fiction movies of the time, like “It Came from Outer Space,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and the original, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” This was my mom’s preferred genre, except she was too scared to watch them alone. She’d let us stay up late with her so she wouldn’t get scared. If we’d begin to fall asleep, she’d wake us up until the movie was over and then she’d send us upstairs to our bedroom; frightened and tired girls, scared of our own shadows and creaking footsteps on the stairs.
As I got older, I watched more adult-themed films, sometimes on my own or with my mother and sisters. We graduated to the dramas of the sixties, like “The Days of Wine and Roses’ and “Splendor in the Grass.” I remember at the age of 16 going to the theatre with mom to see “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” By that time I had become an avid reader of plays; my favorite playwrights were Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Samuel Beckett. Now, I had to explain the movie’s themes to her. Soon I was attending film societies and festivals in college and discovered art house and foreign films, and the work of director’s like Truffaut, Bergmann, Antonioni and Fellini.
Now that my taste in films grew more sophisticated, I began keeping a secret, about a certain guilty pleasure. I was hooked on romantic comedies. It was as if I was learning everything about love and romance from the most unrealistic and unreliable source possible, and, I believed everything I watched and every word I heard, no matter how cheesy the dialogue was delivered. A familiar pattern emerged. I’d identify with the characters, their trials and tribulations, and as the story unfolded and hearts would break; I’d mop up tears with Kleenex until the happy ending and the lovers were reunited. It didn’t even matter when I came out as a lesbian, I could still relate to the “girl falls in love with boy, boy leaves girl, and boy and girl get back together” conventional narrative.
Since my last long-term, committed relationship ended, I now watch summer’s romantic comedies with a detached and renewed sensibility. I’ve worked hard over the years to develop healthy and realistic beliefs and expectations about love and relationships, yet it doesn’t take long for me to suspend my disbelief and embrace themes of soul-mates, that there’s a perfect match for everyone, and that love can last a lifetime with the right person. Yes, I reach for the Kleenex again, sniffle and mop, then realize, I’ve become a victim of the rom-com love bomb and leave the theater hopeful that she’s still out there. I just need to find her and fall in love, again.