Sitting in the library in Chicago. Wasting a morning with cheap coffee and poetry, when a book on shelf R9 catches my attention: The Films of the Seventies.
I pull the book off the shelf and begin to skim. Many of the films I’d seen but their plots I’ve forgotten. For a while, it was nice being reminded of the stories I once knew without having to sit through 90 minutes of each film again. Sorta like reminiscing over a friend or place that was mostly forgotten about. Sorta like seeing a photograph of an old friend or apartment or neighborhood. Reminders as pleasantries without the necessity of travel or communication. That’s the difference with movies, though – unlike people and places, they don’t much change like the people and places in photographs do.
As I skimmed through that book of movies, titles appeared of films my father had admired. Some I’d seen and others I hadn’t. In his last years my father spoke a lot about films. They were something he could easily take pleasure in without leaving the house or changing his clothes.
In the last years of his life, my father had become obsessed with films. Following his death I found cards and notes filled with lists in the tiniest of print of films he’d seen and admired. His favorite characters, heroes and villains. All sorts of lists with all sorts of rankings of films based on different qualities, such as favorite comedies or westerns ranked by favorite villains. Every square millimeter of card or note filled with films he’d seen or wanted to see.
I flipped through that book on seventies films on a quiet and cold Friday morning in Chicago. I remembered how much I’d once enjoyed films too. Many of them were familiar to me.
I thought about all those films and I thought about if my father was still alive.
I imagined him going into excited detail about the facts and his sentiments for The French Connection. Jaws. Rocky. Deliverance.
I could taste his delight in detailing all he knew and felt about all those films. I could feel his delight at speaking about it for hours.
I could smell his satisfaction in stating some obscure detail of a film neglected by the author of the book.
And I could feel my dismay at my knowing about Star Wars and Carrie and A Clockwork Orange – films my father knew and cared little about. Dismay – not at his ignorance. Rather, dismay at knowing he’d never care for or about anything he didn’t already know.
He would not have cared that Dawn of the Dead was not mentioned in the book. And he would not have cared about anything else he didn’t already have an opinion on. He would not care about Friedkin’s Scorcerer since he had no opinion on it. He’d have no interest, though he liked The Exorcist and Roy Scheider in Jaws. He would not care about Claire’s Knee. He would only care about what he already knew and felt: his own thoughts and feelings.
It filled me with dismay since I knew if he was still alive, nothing could be different from the way it was.
I’d come to accept that any discussion, obstensibly about any subject, was ultimately about his own interpretations and reactions. In other words, whether films or anything else, the underlying topic was necessarily him – his feelings, thoughts and reactions to the films- and never the films (or whatever else) themselves.
I was filled with dismay. Knowing as I’d always known, the films themselves- the stories, characters, and cinematography – are far more interesting than the details of any person’s reaction to them. All the facts and details any person’s stored and recited are far less interesting than the art itself.
I imagined my father still alive and having no interest in any of the films in that book that he’d never seen. And why’d he want or need to see them anyway when he had all those lists and enough details about the films he knew he liked to talk himself and anybody else silly about all the reasons why he admired them.
There’s no sense in nostalgia. Though the cheap, shitty beer of our youths may have led to good times, don’t mistake the two. Though the times were good, the beer was still shitty- then, just as much as now.
See, I realize that if my father was alive and discussing that book of seventies films, it would never be the book or the films we were discussing. And not Scorsese. Not Fellini. Not Woody Allen nor Robert Altman.
That morning, when I left the library, I left a book of poetry and that book on seventies movies on the table. I left and walked for 30 minutes in 24 degree weather to get liver and onions at a Jewish cafeteria. As I walked in the cold, I wondered if what I’d just thought and written was okay. Or, should I stop sleeping with ghosts? If I can, is it time to give that ghost its rest?
The next morning, I returned to the library. I returned to the same table. I had the same extra large cup of cheap coffee. The book of poetry I left the day before was gone. But that book on seventies movies was still there on the table, just where I’d left it. I opened it again, wondering what it meant.