23 April 2009

Ahh, the cheese.

For some reason I'm only tonight watching Center Stage for the very first time. Dear God, how have I lived without something quite this bad in my life?

Generally I don't go for the really truly horrible movies. But there's a bit of a scale to these things that it's important to keep in mind. There's the truly bad stuff that just makes you want to gouge your eyes out, of which Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is, to me, the most obvious example. And then there's the kind of horrible that makes you glad you decided not to go into acting, but glad these people didn't so you can sit and point and laugh at them. And Center Stage is the best example of it that I've seen in a while. At least that stars people born in the same decade as me.

And now I feel old. I think I'll go watch An Affair To Remember again.

22 April 2009

A Small Study of Gender in Modern Times

Over the weekend I had brunch with an old family friend. This man and his wife had been my parents' next door neighbors when I was born. I was my parent's first child; this other couple, too, had a child at around the same time I was born, only it was their fourth. Shortly thereafter they moved to the other side of the country and morphed into that ambiguous sort of character of whom your memories are filled entirely by stories relayed and are not at all based in reality, especially when you don't have even a picture to help shape their forms in your mind.

These former neighbors of ours stayed this way in my mind, with vague rumblings of 'Young Tommy's playing football at such a school' and so forth, for years. The most significant piece of news that stayed in my mind was that the mother fought breast cancer for more than ten years. So they remained until I applied to a college in their area, 3,000 miles away, and my mother and I decided to go take a tour of the school and see if I could get an admissions interview. My mother also took the opportunity to arrange dinner with our neighbors, the first time either of us would be seeing them in over ten years. Eventually I decided to attend school there, and my father got to repeat the experience of catching up with two of the most amiable and kind-hearted people you'd ever hope to meet. Their youngest, too, was attending school in a neighboring state, while the oldest had gotten married and would soon be a new father. Before I left Philadelphia, another of their children married and a few more grandchildren were born.

The matriarch of the family passed away last year after more than 15 years of fighting breast cancer. I cried when I heard the news. Rarely have I seen two people who looked more obviously like they were on their first date, even after 30 years of marriage. He unabashedly called her "babe" as if they were still 20 (in comparison, I've never heard my parents refer to each other as anything more endearing than "honey" or "dear," and always with a rather mocking smile and tone of voice, as if they can't believe they're really being that corny). I called him immediately to offer my condolences, which is always a difficult conversation; words in such a situation are empty enough even from the same room, but over the phone it's even worse because of the human race's crushing impulse to always fill the empty space with words, even when just one more word could tip either party over the edge and into the vacuity of tears and devastation. I've been on both sides of conversations like this. I'm still trying to decide which side I like the least.

Eventually I moved back down to the mid-Atlantic area. I've gone to Philadelphia on brief visits a few times, and eventually managed to schedule a brunch date with this man who, along with his wife, were so kind to me, like surrogate parents, when I was alone and 17 and 3,000 miles from everyone and everything I knew. I learned that yet another child was married, that two more grandchildren had been born, and another one on the way, for a total of seven. Seven! I could hardly believe it. He also gave me some interesting tidbits about his golfing. Most of it went over my head, I'll admit, but it being so soon after the Masters, I'd like to think that I retained at least some of it.

On Monday my mother called to ask how brunch had gone. It had been the first time any of my family had seen him since his wife had died. I told her about the seven grandchildren. Her reaction was rather like mine. "Wow! Seven grandchildren! Wow."

My parents, you must understand, have never been the sort to bemoan the fact that they have no grandchildren. I think sometimes that my mother wouldn't mind having a little baby to fuss over, but then it sort of dawns on her that in order to have grandchildren, one of her kids would have to either pregnant or get somebody else pregnant. And then she changes her mind and decides that things are quite fine the way they are. And I think my dad still fancies himself, at least in some corner of his mind, yet somewhere in his mid 30s. The scarcely receded hairline and roughly the same knee pain from two decades ago do nothing to dissuade him from this illusion. Last year on his birthday when I pointed out to him that he was now the same age as my grandmother had been when I was born, he was not grateful to me for the revelation (I got a good laugh, though). In any case, if you asked him, my guess is that he'd say he's too young for grandchildren.

At least, I used to think so. After I hung up with my mom, I called my father to relay the message about golfing. Something about drivers and Cobra, but it all sounds to me a bit more like your average Congress meeting these days than a golfing demonstration. In any case, after the golfing conversation was over, my dad naturally asked after Tom the man himself. I told him about the growing numbers of the family.

"Seven grandkids. Wow," he said (can you tell they've been married for over 30 years?) And then after a pensive moment he said, "You know, he's the same age as me."

I countered by pointing out that Tom's oldest child is ten years older than I am. Obviously he'd gotten started a lot earlier than my dad did.

21 April 2009

Taking Comfort in the Familiar

I know it's cliched, I know it's the epitome of corny, I know it's so melodramatic that it serves as the basis for two more movies, and who knows how many references within movies (even I don't dare try to calculate that one), but I simply love 'An Affair To Remember.' I love the elegance of Deborah Kerr, who sits and stands so straight--her grandmother used to make her lie on the floor for hours to ensure good posture--yet always seems so comfortable; and of Cary Grant, who manages to look elegant even when he's doing somersaults and cartwheels (if you haven't seen 'Holiday' and 'Monkey Business,' rent them immediately, if only for the acrobatics). The two of them have such excellent chemistry in this film, easily playing off of each other's quick and easy conversation without missing a beat. And I have a soft spot for the back story, too. The writer and director, Leo McCarey, had originally made the film 'Love Affair' with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, one of the few silent film stars to successfully transition into talkies; and while the script is nearly identical to 'Remember,' and the actors performed well, they can barely capture the ghost of the charm of Grant and Kerr.

Here's a link to a YouTube video with some of my favorite moments from 'An Affair To Remember.' Try to ignore the music, since it just doesn't seem to fit, but don't blink lest you miss a moment of the gloriously understated interactions of these two splendid actors.

03 April 2009

Ahh, life.

It's amazing how quickly life gets away from you. You set yourself a sack of goals - "This week I will finish reading that book I started two months ago," "I will finally go browsing at Blue Mercury (but not buy anything," "I will call that friend of mine I haven't seen since Christmas," "I will watch that Netflix movie that's been sitting around for a month." All these things you say, and you honestly do intend to follow through with them. But life gets away from you. The daily musts of the world - work, bill paying, groceries, eating those strawberries in the fridge before they go bad - take up so much energy that you forget to complete the goals you set for yourself, whether they be obligations or indulgences. It's sad, but true.

I find lately that trying to fit in these things is almost as energy-consuming as getting up in time to catch the bus for work, but generally they seem to have rewards that are just as fulfilling as earning a steady paycheck (which I, along with so many others this past year, have come to see as a privilege rather than a right, or a chore.) I force myself to actually take the full hour I'm allotted for lunch (or maybe closer to 45 minutes of it) and not just eat, but read at my desk from that book I should have finished by now. I save Blue Mercury field trips for Fridays as to make them extra special--and yes, I'll admit, I did make purchases - but I waited until I ran out of moisturizer so that I bought things I actually needed. I make sure that my roommate and I do watch one of the Netflix movies I've rented (why, oh why didn't Thandie Newton get an Oscar nod for her portrayal of Condie Rice in 'W.'? It's a shame, I tell you, a damn shame ... though perhaps, upon reviewing her performance in 'The Truth About Charlie' in which she simply butchered the role originally played to perfection by Audrey Hepburn, it's only fair.) And after that's done, before I get ready for my nightly routine, I actually do pull my phone out and call that friend of mine from Christmas.

These things aren't easy to remember; it takes effort and energy to do so, and to follow through on them: It takes so much energy, in fact, that my laundry basket is overflowing, and the strawberries in the fridge have actually started to turn on me, and the dog's hair is beginning to clump together in the corners of my bedroom (though the hallway is clean of them - took care of that last weekend.) But the way I see it, I doubt that I'll sit on my deathbed wishing that I'd done laundry more in my 20's, or cleaned up more dog hair in my life. Watching movies that mock George Bush, however, will probably still make me smile.