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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A LIFETIME OF MOVIES

air bellows art museum
In the summer of 1958 or 59 I took a bus to downtown Kansas City to see Highschool Confidential. Jerry Lee Lewis. He sang the song that was the sort of theme song of the movie. The only thing I remembered was that it was in b&w, disappointing, no music much. I'd forgotten all together that it was a story of an undercover cop infiltrating a California high school for dealers of marijuana and heroin. Probably don't remember it because I didn't know what it was then. At age 16 or 17 I was disappointed. Jerry Lee opened and closed the film riding by a highschool on the back of a flatbed truck playing the piano with a band, him singing High School Confidential. That was it for Jerry Lee. Of course, it was crazy as it could be with the 50s reefer madness way of thinking. Or just the 50s way of thinking. That was crazy enough.



I'd rate High School Confidential down there with Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello teenage beach movies. They were boring then like they're boring now. When I was 11 I saw Victor Mature in Demetrius and the Gladiators. One of those movies of the early 50s about Bible times, and somehow Demetrius got to see Jesus or something like that. I sat in the theater seat crying at the end--I suppose Demetrius died and went to heaven. An elderly woman sitting in front of me turned around and told me it got to her too. When I was 33 I saw a minute or two of it by chance, and about barfed where I stood. Strangely, I knew what it was the moment I saw the screen. That disturbed me. Made me want some psychotherapy to help dispose of it. The thought of seeing it now makes my innards squirm. Mainly because it is so bad. Not even funny bad. Just offal.



When I was pre-school, my grandmother Brink would take me with her on a bus to downtown Kansas City to see a movie on her day off. She was the hostess at a restaurant I think was called Macy's Tea Room in downtown KC, in the Muehlbach (sp?) building. The name of the building may be false memory. She took me to see Betty Grable and her million dollar legs in The BigTop. We loved it. That was our fun time together, going to see a movie she wanted to see. Until the Red Shoes. I couldn't see it. I was too young. It was too adult a theme. I wouldn't get it. She was afraid it would corrupt my child mind. In my early 60s I found the Red Shoes in the library. It was a pretty good movie. I'd have loved it at age 5 more than now. The only thing I loved about it was seeing what it was that I wondered about ever since, what it was about that movie. I would have cried at the end just like I know she did.



Possibly it is my grandmother who set into motion my love for movies. She lived close enough to a movie theater I could walk to it, a mile or more, when I was staying with grandma and grandpa. We had a movie theater in a mile or more walking distance from home. Had to walk through a black section and a Mexican section to get to it. It was a chancy thing to do, considering how territorial young boys are and you're walking through their neighborhood and they don't know you; they either went to Catholic school or the black school, and I went to the white school. We didn't know each other. I never had any trouble. It turned out nobody wanted to give me any trouble because I was a white kid. I'd get looked at with a look like a white kid walking through their neighborhood was something you don't see every day.



In the summers during high school I lived with grandparents and worked for grandfather on the golf course, mowing greens, mowing around greens, mowing rough areas on the edges of the fairways. Watering greens, the whole upkeep of greens and fairways. I walked to the movie theater every week to see the new movie of the week. One called Tanganyika gave me a hell of a fright. Outside was dark when the movie was over. It had leopards jumping out of trees and big snakes dropping out of trees. A great long stretch of sidewalk I had to walk had tree limbs overhanging. It was so scary I remember it today. I knew that something was going to get me under every tree. Evidently I prayed without ceasing, because nothing got me. It was in this time I saw The Birds. That was quite a walk back to the house too.



When my grandmother Brink was 80 she came here to stay a week with me. Our entertainment one evening was to drive to Elkin to see Karate Kid. She didn't know if she could sit all the way through it, because of her restless leg syndrome there was no medication for then. She got so involved in the movie, like I did, her legs never bothered her one time. On the way home she told me some things I had absolutely no idea about, basically that my grandmother is a person in the world like me, hobbling along in confusion, doing the best we can with what we've got to do with. She told me about an abortion in Chinatown in KC in early 1920s. She told me why. Suddenly, grandmother came to life for me. Before, she'd always been my grandmother. She became a woman with a life of her own, and I was part of her life. The day she died, a color photograph of the planet Neptune appeared on the front page of nearly every paper in the country.



This weekend when Carpenters were here, they brought a 2disc sort of biographical film of the life of Edvard Munch. He's the Norwegian artist of late 19th century who painted the Scream, the human with no gender distinction standing on a bridge, orange sky, hands to sides of head, mouth a big O. Most amazing to all of us was that the people who made the film found someone who looked exactly like Munch. And they found an someone who looked exactly like August Strindberg, Swedish playwright of the time. All of us appreciate a beautifully made film, and we were in awe of this.



We watched one Friday night, the next one Saturday night, looking forward to it all day with scenes from the first half floating in the mind. Peter Watkins made the film. I must remember to google him. It is now in the top 10 or 20 of my favorite movies. There is a point beyond which I cannot say one is better than another. It's that small number I call among my favorites. There with House of Flying Daggers, Apocalypse Now, Shanghai Triad, 8 1/2, Pasolini's Oedipus, Runaway Train, Seven Samurai and a host of others. I like to watch a good film like I like to stand in front of a painting in a museum that knocks my sox off, like something by Antoni Tapies, Robert Mangold, Andy Warhol, Jean Arp. At this time in my life I can look back and say art is the only thing that has ever been of interest to me.






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