My parents got me hooked on film as entertainment. Over the years I learned about my folks based on their enthusiasm for a movie. My dad loved adventure stories and my mom was all about the musicals. Debates about actors/actresses were common in our household when I was growing up. Judgements were made on who was the most beautiful, who danced the best, and who really looked like they meant it when they said, ‘I Love You’ on the big screen.
When my dad danced at parties he pretended to move like Fred Astaire. My mom proclaimed (many times) that Lauren Bacall was a bitch. I found it interesting that she mimicked Ms.Bacall’s screen persona around the house. During my formative years we lived in an apartment block right across a parking lot from a theatre. You could read what was playing on the neon display from our balcony. We were working poor but always had enough for the cheap tickets of that time. I remember the first Sunday that Ontario cinemas were allowed to open. Ironically on that particular Lord’s Day I watched Charlton Heston act like Moses in the epic film, ‘The Ten Commandments’.
A grand movie theatre is like a church. It is an artistic treat to sit in a vintage cinema. Some great drive-in theatres have thrilled me with their cultural ambience. While a setting can provide a sanctuary, I don’t think my joy in the genre is tied to a building or venue. I can get the same feeling of self satisfaction in front of my television. A regular feature on the TVO network was Saturday Night at the Movies with film host extraordinaire Elwy Yost. He would educate us with cool facts about the movie we were about to watch then tell us to turn the lights low and put our feet up. Once the credits were done, I was oblivious to all that was going on in the world. When any movie starts I get the same sense of calming anticipation.
Film, like all art forms, can attract snobs. My mother would never watch a remake of a film just on the principle that you can’t improve upon the original. I follow a cinematic expert on Twitter who refuses to pick a favourite actor/director etc. out of respect for the craft. I admit to favourites, yet I can find great things to say about any bit of celluloid that I watch. My wife and I have volunteered with film societies and festivals in numerous cities. One of the highlights of my life was learning how to prepare and run movies on the old reel to reel projectors only months before most cinemas converted to digital screening technology.
The sound and magic of flickering celluloid will always be part of the poetry of my life. I’ve watched many shows several times and always find something new to relate to. When I first met my wife, I found it necessary that she learn to love me through my film preferences. In this case the way to my heart was via a message on the screen.
Sometimes it is hard to find the appropriate word. I have to take into account the way language evolves over time. Add to that the changing societal norms of acceptable usage, then it takes courage to speak or write what might be on my mind. I believe that freedom of speech requires an appropriate filter if I wish to engage in meaningful conversation. Reading helps me stay on top of current language trends. Writers can suggest uses of words or phrases in ways that sometimes seriously startle me. A challenging author can get to the how of life rather than dwelling on the why. That’s a grander exploration than the dead end annoyance of why someone did or said something controversial.
Cultural appropriation is in the news. Artists are currently frustrated by criticism when they explore features outside of their domain. I wonder how we can get to that place of cultural understanding if we do not pretend or act out roles that are unfamiliar to us. I think that it is part of the learning process to appropriate ways that may be foreign. Perhaps that can be a way to walk a while in the other’s shoes. If we hold too fast to notions of exclusivity we are in danger of discarding the concepts of openness and inclusivity.
I have often felt outside. Luckily, belonging to a dominant culture allows me more freedom to be an outsider than someone who is already on the fringe or part of a minority. I get that being marginalized would make you hold on to what you have with greater passion, especially when your culture is being appropriated. Historically, The Doctrine of Discovery was a document legitimizing theft. It was a rationale for displacement and slavery. No one has a justifiable right to have their cultures appropriated by another. The appropriate English name we have for that is genocide: The ultimate form of appropriation.
Jesse Wente is a respected thinker and film critic. He has published a memoir called Unreconciled. While reading this book, I felt as though he was in the room with me, challenging my perceptions of inclusivity, patriarchy and colonialism with the gentle persuasion of a man honestly examining his own role in the world. In spite of my white skin and ancestry I recognized the truth of his life experience when I could relate it to the truth of my own existence. I could find a commonality even though we are not of the same tribe. I believe we share and value the importance of story telling in our individual lives. I felt closest to his words when I allowed myself to respectfully, in thought, tread where he had tread.
My high school was full of extracurricular opportunities. The many different clubs I joined helped me to understand my identity. Sometimes I found the membership requirements to be inappropriate to my goals, so I quit. I could always try another club. Sometimes my application to join a group was rejected, then I felt crushed. Words can break bones.
My wife and I have been talking about scenarios on a daily basis. We both like to have some grasp of the future so we plot out possible scenes as a playwright might. Shepherding two seniors through end of life stages is no easy task, especially when they have so little intention to be part of the present scene. One will say it is too early for such talk while the other will prefer to listen to audio books. Both of them effectively leaving it to us to write what could happen next. Hard to make any headway when some of the players don’t even want to read the script, let alone help to write it.
Children are often being told not to make a scene. Parents hate to have attention drawn to them in a public place. My first wife had the effective strategy of scooping up our toddlers the second they misbehaved in a store. Into the car they would go for a chilly drive home where they would be confined to their room. Sounds harsh, yet it would always be followed up with a conversation on how the scene was seen by all of the actors involved. Kids are predisposed to act out their frustrations, fears and wants, yet they must learn the consequences and be guided towards solutions.
I used to accompany my artistic father on sketching walks. Rather than take a polaroid shot of a scenic view, he would sit for a bit on a small canvas foldable chair and focus his attention on picturesque details. He would make notes of colours so when he returned to his apartment he could use his pastels or oil paint to best affect. As a result, I fell in love with scenery in general and landscapes in particular. Even when I have been in a confined space I have tried to trick my mind into seeing a vista. I’ve found that even in a small backyard or on an apartment balcony I could visualize elements of a grand canyon just by narrowing my view to marvel at the details of the scene.
Nothing makes my emotions tingle so quickly as a well acted scene in a stage play, television serial or big screen film. When a scene can include the expanse of magnificent scenery, well, that memory forms a bond in my brain that forever informs the scenes of my own life. For example, I can recall the intricately placed scenery from a production of La Boheme my wife and I viewed at the Opera House in Oslo, Norway. This magnificent piece of architecture was a treat for the senses both inside and outside. My favourite film of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, has so many scenic scenes that I am awestruck by the planning it must have taken to make this masterwork of cinemascope.
Moments in time can be scenes from which lifetime memories are built. From birth to death there are opportunities to wonder. The more involved we are, the more vivid the scenery.