Tuesday, July 03, 2018

i'm not an actor; i'm a movie star

I have been stuffing fistfuls of pâté down my nostalgia gullet the past few weeks while I recover from a stomach disorder.

Movies are a favorite personal pastime. I brought over 300 with me on the trip soutn, and I have accumulated more during the past ten years here. But, they were not apparently sufficient for my home theater.

So, through the graces of Amazon and DHL, I now possess a score more. All purchased during the past two weeks. (And, I should add, all delivered far more efficiently that my Telmex modem. Telmex could learn a lot from Amazon's customer service.)

My purchases have been a mixed bag. Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi has proven conclusively that Disney is capable of sucking the life out of any film franchise -- even when it is doing nothing more creative than slapping together a remake of the most popular first three films in the series. It was painful to watch. Especially, since it now a purchased edition to my collection.

But, there have been true hits. From Russia with Love. Chicago. The Stuntman.

Tonight, though, was my favorite of the lot: My Favorite Year. If not my favorite movie, it is certainly one of my favorite comedies.

The film is set in 1954 -- the narrator's "favorite year." He is the junior writer for one of television's golden age comedy-variety shows -- Comedy Cavalcade -- starring Stan "King" Kaiser. The narrator's favorite movie star -- Alan Swann -- is the show's guest star that week.

If you hear echoes of Sid Caesar, Your Show of Shows, and Errol Flynn, it is no accident. Good nostalgia pieces are always derivative.

What makes the movie a success is turning what could easily be two-dimensional characters into real people with real problems and talents. And you care. There are at least three scenes the direction of Richard Benjamin catches right on the edge of emotion -- without indulging in bathos or sentimentality. Well, maybe a little sentimentality.

The narrator's hero worship of the dashing hero Swann gets a full shellacking. When Swann is faced with some relatively small inconveniences, he melts. And melts in just the same manner as many of us would.

When Swann confesses he is afraid and he is not the hero he portrays in movies, the writer responds: 

To me you were! Whoever you were in those movies, those silly heroes meant a lot to me! What does it matter if it was an illusion? It worked! So don't tell me this is you life-size. I can't use you life-size. I need Alan Swanns as big as I can get them!
And let me tell you something: you couldn't have convinced me the way you did unless somewhere in you you had that courage! Nobody's that good an actor! You are that silly hero!
I think of that line whenever I hear someone rattle on about how their favorite politician will make all the difference in their lives if he is elected. And it is always a setup for failure. I was just thinking today about how much expectation some Mexicans are placing on their new president's shoulders. No man can bear that burden.

Nor can Swann. Being an American movie, he gains redemption by becoming a true hero. Putting himself second.

"The way you see him here. Like this. This is the way I like to remember him. I think if you would ask Alan Swann what was the single most gratifying moment in his life, he might have said this one right here."

And you would have to have a heart of stone to not feel a catch in the throat accompanied by a recognition that indeed we all have the potential to be heroes. Especially, if we are flawed.

I also relearned a cultural lesson. I had turned on the Spanish sub-titles to assist my son in watching the movie. But fully understanding the words did him no good in understanding what is a quintessential American movie. A realization that makes all the time I spend on my Spanish lessons  seem just a tad ironic.

This trip down the nostalgia cul-de-sac got me thinking about the type of things I brought with me to Mexico. When I sold my house in Salem, I left 98% of the possessions that had accreted in the 60 years of my life either at the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or the dump. Now, there is symbolism writ large.

What I brought with me fit perfectly into my Ford Escape. And it was an odd lot.

My coffee mugs are perfect examples. I tossed a full cupboard of them. What I brought was one each from my nephew Ryan, my friends Ken and Patti, my friend and co-worker Beth, and the inimitable Linda. Each one is important not for the ceramic, but for the memory.

For years, only I used them. Now that new people are using them, they are no longer quite as pristine as their memory might suggest. They are stained. Chipped. Cracked.

And that is the way they should be. I long ago decided I would no longer keep anything that needed museum care. If it could not be put to use by anyone at anytime, it had no place in my house.

That is the utility of nostalgia. We are not its slave. It is our servant -- to be trotted out when we want to think of those who cared enough to share their lives with us.

I guess, that, in itself, would make it my favorite year. 

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