Memories in the Dark

anniehall

Click to view the clip from Annie Hall

I love movies, but I seem to see fewer and fewer every year. It’s not by choice–given my druthers, I would go to the theater once a week and see as many new releases as possible. I’m fairly certain that Netflix and OnDemand are the second and third greatest inventions since intermittent windshield wipers, but here lately I’m not taking advantage of them either.

One of the many side effects of children, including sleep deprivation, partial insanity, and extreme mood swings (for us not the kids), includes a dramatic decrease in disposable income and free time. There was a time, oh so many years ago, where my wife and I watched the Oscars and actually had a vested interest in who won and lost. When the kids were really little, we could afford a sitter and when they got in that weird age (too old for a sitter and too young to stay home alone), we would go to movies at different times or, occasionally, during the day. There was a time, too, when they went to bed at a decent hour (or maybe my idea of a decent hour changes the older I get?).

As we watched the Golden Globes last night, a show my wife now declares she likes better than the Oscars, we realized just how far out of the mainstream popular culture we are sliding. This feeling is similar to how we feel when we watch the Grammys, except we can still understand what they are saying on movie award shows (except for that Jodi Foster speech?) and we actually care about movies. When I watch the Grammys, I just want people to put more clothes on, stop screaming so much, and tie their shoes (I’m talking to you Justin Bieber–and lift more weights if you are going to wear sleeveless shirts).  (I’m officially turning in an old man–And get off my lawn you damn kids!)

Regardless, we were happy for Daniel Day Lewis. Simply put, the man can do no wrong. His performance in My Left Foot more than makes up for his acting in Last of the Mohicans, a movie my wife stops watching after he puts his shirt on. There probably should just be a separate category for him.

Award shows are always odd things. Back when we really watched movies (we even hosted an Oscar party once), we did get emotionally involved. In 2002, for instance, we argued whether the Pianist was better than Chicago? Did Lewis bring his A-game to Gangs of New York? Should Polanski be barred from winning? Is Almodovar ever really going to get his due or are American critics out of their depth with foreign films? Should animated films be a separate category or can one be the best film of the year? These were the half-drunken debates taking place in our living room, debates by poorly costumed friends enjoying the Super Bowl of movies.

They weren’t the debates we often associate with “film” critics. We didn’t wonder about angles and gaze. No one at the party compared every movie to Kirisawa or spent the evening pontificating about Woody Allen. We didn’t focus on craft and the technique; instead, the conversations centered around an actor’s ability to bring some measure of humanity to the role and whether the story was worth the effort (and the $8.50).

Equally important, and I realize this more and more as I get older, what made the party so much fun was the collective knowledge in the room. While we didn’t get bogged down in minutiae, we were in a constant state of comparison. Performances by the actors were richer, conversations more complete: Talking about Gangs of New York sent us to Unbearable Lightness of Being; talking about Chicago allowed us to discuss West Side Story, which in a weird way took us back to Gangs of New York; Lord of the Rings’ sweeping, epic turn allowed us to talk about westerns and Star Wars; Paul Newman in Road to Perdition leads to Cool Hand Luke–you get the idea.

My wife, to her credit, insisted on watching the Golden Globes despite my disinterest. I sat on the couch half-watching, playing Words with Friends with my nephew, wondering why Tina Fey was picking on Taylor Swift and how in the world Mel Gibson could have saved Jodi Foster when he can barely save himself. He looks about half-crazy these days. When they hit the “big awards” for best actor, film, etc., I realized how much I missed movies. Daniel Day Lewis–I don’t have to see Lincoln to know he nailed it, but my greatest memory of Ben Afleck is from Dazed and Confused. I’m still having a hard time seeing him without a paddle in his hand chasing incoming high school freshmen.

And I realize that I need to get back into the theater and see more movies. A couple of months ago, my wife, younger son, and I sat down and watched Super 8, J.J. Abrams’ homage to summer blockbusters and b-sci fi movies of the past. I realized after the movie that each of us took a little something different from the movie. For me, I couldn’t help but remember late night movies on channel 13 out of Houston. What did you watch at 2:00 in the morning when you couldn’t sleep?

I know I’m romanticizing a bit, but I also realize that movies are part of the timeline of who we are as a family and we have to get back into the theater or we risk losing that connection. At least that’s what I plan on telling myself when I drop $8.50 this weekend when I go see my next movie.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to Memories in the Dark

  1. John Wegner says:

    The glory of technology is that I can watch “Road House” anytime I want. Thanks for the comment. I’ll have to look up the movie you mention. Looks like Friday night is set now.

  2. 2:00 in the morning? I remember a B- or C- grade thing called “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”. I just looked it up. Apparently it’s on DailyMotion.com.

    I had to get stuck watching it three times, before I could make it through the whole thing. It was a kind of “it’s 2:00 in the morning and oh my God, there’s that horrible movie… AGAIN?” Now that I have Netflix, I have innumerable pieces of dreck to choose from – how did I ever live, with only three networks?

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