Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Movie Moments, 1: The Movie Watcher

I stayed up till 2:30 last night reading Defining Moments in Movies (2007, ed. Chris Fujiwara): 800-pages of short, illustrated entries about the history of film, "from the Lumière brothers in 1895 through the arrival of sound, to... the French New Wave, and contemporary Asian cinema...."

Different film critics write snippets not just about on-screen moments, but defining real-life events, e.g., James Dean's death, Oscar speeches, technical innovations (the Steadicam), and so forth.

I woke up this morning thinking, What are my life's defining movie moments?

Here goes.

Woody Allen Watches Casablanca (1942), in Play it Again, Sam (1972)

Play it Again, Sam opens with a b&w nighttime scene of a man in a trenchcoat saying good-bye to a woman on a foggy airport runway. The camera cuts to reveal that we are watching a man watching the film in a movie theater: it's the romantic loser and film critic, Allan Felix (Woody Allen), sitting alone, mouth open, lost again in his dreams of romantic heroism.

I was eleven when I saw this movie with my mother at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. She leaned over and explained that this scene was from Casablanca, a famous old movie. I remember my moment of confusion at this film within a film. The way the whole modern movie dialogued with the old one enthralled me.

I already loved old movies, which my family watched whenever they were on TV. Shortly after seeing Play it Again, I started to go by myself to the UW Film Society, which held showings in university classrooms (often in B-12 Commerce, a basement auditorium where business classes met in the day) on weekend evenings for a dollar.
The film guys set a projector up right in the back row, and you could hear the film whirring. Sometimes it broke or a bulb burned out, and you had to wait while someone fixed it.
The Film Society posted their b&w fliers on kiosks, and they often gave away extras at the showing. I covered my walls with them.

Casablanca was a popular offering, either on its own or as part of one of several series the society ran: Films of Humphrey Bogart; Great Film of the Forties, Classic Romances, and I saw it several times.

At the time, I thought I related to Bogart and Bergman, but looking back, I was really relating to the Woody Allen character, whose restless wife leaves him saying, "You are one of life's watchers."
He introduced into my life the character of the movie watcher, who isn't a passive viewer but who deeply engages, intellectually and emotionally, with the movies.

8 comments:

Rudyinparis said...

Oh my, I could (and probably will) comment at great length here!

Ever since I was a kid, I've been crazy for the classic movies. I have such strong memories of my grandmother being at our house on Sundays for lunch, and then of my watching the back to back showing of old movies on the tv. I'd sit on the floor and rest my arms on our footstool. I especially, perhaps exclusively, enjoyed the ones with high glamour--anything with costumes designed by Edith Head was a winner, and I learned to look for her name in the opening credits. Some of my earliest movie memories: "Les Girls", with Gene Kelly. Do you know this one? It's Roshomon, with dancing. It always loomed large in my memory, and a matter of fact I rented it just about 6 months ago. "Mogambo" stands out, too, and how I loved Ava Gardner, she was so beautiful. "Funny face" with Audrey Hepburn--any movie with a transformation... now we call them makeovers, don't we?... and I would be enthralled. And of them all, yes, Casablanca has a special place... The most beautiful black and white... so crystal clear... in high school, I worked in a video store, and I played Casablanca over and over and over. Seriously--it's what I always put on. It didn't offend anyone and I loved it so. Oh, what's her name, Rick's scorned paramour from the opening of the film? She says, desperately, "Where were you last night?" He says, "That was so long ago, I don't remember." She says, "What are you doing tonight?" He says "I never plan that far ahead." Oh, I wanted to be Rick, really, and to be that cool. (You know, the actress who played the refugee girl recently died, I read her obit just the other day.)

fresca said...

Yvonne!
And do you remember that the young man who works in the cafe who Rick tells to take Yvonne home is named Sascha?!? He's a relative of your husband, no doubt. MY brother used to quote his hopeless line:
"Because Yvonne, I love you."
Of course Yvonne only has eyes for Mr. Cool.
I too desperately wanted to be that cool...
And speaking of Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and makeovers, how bout "Sabrina"? In that case the makeover is alomst bigger on his part, as he lets go of being the business-obsessed man to finally admit to himself he WANTS TO GO TO PARIS! (I think he has an interfilmic homing device that calls him there, where he was once happy with Ilsa...)
Soooo much to say, I could write about movies all day. Thanks for commenting!

ddip said...

Speaking of mothers and movies, I remember our mother telling me the entire plot of "Rear Window" in exquisite detail when I was about 10 or 11. As an adult, it's still one of my all-time favorites, but I have to admit that it doesn't live up to that long ago maternal retelling....

fresca said...

Our mother was a pro at retelling movies--or discussing them afterwards, in great depth. I miss that... hence this series! Movies are one of the arts that you can talk about far, far longer than they themselves take to watch. And sometimes it's better to hear about them to watch them.

ddip said...

Yes, and do you remember her re-telling of "The Ghost and Mrs Muir"? I was enthralled to that story, too, but I've read that the movie itself is so dumb as to be almost un-watchable. I myself have yet to see it, although I know from a recent NY Times review that is is available on DVD....

fresca said...

I loved the Ghost too, but I fear it was a girlish love that wouldn't survive adulthood, so I will just let my golden memories suffice!

momo said...

One of my defining movie moments involving Woody Allen is from Hannah and her Sisters, when the main character has an epiphany while watching the Marx brothers in Horsefeathers.

fresca said...

I'm with you, Momo--that is also one of the moments of my movie life. I could do a whole series just on Woody Allen movies.
Hmmm--or on characters in movies who watch movies? I'm trying to think of some others.