An Ark

Here is Jason’s post on the same event. We have coordinated the launching of our respective posts, realizing that we both wanted to write about the same thing (and they would have gone up early this morning if Blogger hadn’t chose today to crash and burn). I haven’t read his yet, he hasn’t read mine. I can’t wait.

Believing in magic means you have to take responsibility for it. Belief in magic does not connote a passive stance, but an active one. This has been a lifelong lesson for me, and something I need to keep learning. Magic is always there. The potential to “break through” into that other realm where things click, and shimmer, and glow with connection, is always there. Always. Yes, even in line at the DMV. Believe me, there are times I cannot access it. There are times I forget that the potential is even there. But when I remember, there’s always a moment when I hover on the brink. Accepting it becomes a choice. I can say: “Hmm, let’s run after that magic, because I can FEEL its presence here”, or I can blow it off, thinking, “Bah, no time right now.” My experience with the Irish Apple employee is a perfect example. I could feel that something was on the other side of our dynamic so I decided to take the risk.

When I talk about magic I am not talking about Hogwarts. I am talking about the moment when the barriers between people, often strangers, fall away. When you are in a pure state of listening and talking, moment to moment, and everything feels easy. I could talk about what these moments AREN’T, but it is a good challenge to describe what something IS, in and of itself, rather than just saying, “This is NOT LIKE THAT.” However, a brief example will suffice. Often, especially in first conversations where people are concerned with making a first impression, the conversation will be a jostling for position (even if it’s friendly). People can get positional, they make declarations (which say, in essence, “This is who I am“), and while all of this is often just a reaction to social awkwardness or feeling shy, there is also an element that seems to be about resisting domination by the others. Declaring your individuality over the group. But by affecting that stance immediately with other people, then that means intimacy is not possible. You yourself have killed it. (And then you go home and complain how boring everyone is and how shallow. Well, if you insisted on chasing after the potential of magic, and not making it all about yourself, you might have found the hidden depths you think you want.)

But enough of this negative talk. I have been trying, ever since Saturday, to find a way to put into words the conversation I had at the end of the night at the party, a conversation involving Odie, Jason, Steven Santos, Steven Boone, and Kurt Osenlund. It seems to have something to do with magic, and without fear of exaggeration I can say that something rather extraordinary happened amongst all of us. Perhaps when I list it out, in its parts, it won’t sound so, but that is often the risk you take when you try to write about Magic. The essence of it lies between the words. Here, though, the words were a big part of it.

There are times when language is used to impart information only. It is practical, useful. Then there are times when you need words to try to hash something out as it is happening. An uncertain language, grasping for certainty. Then there is the deeper language – the heart/soul language – that comes from an honest and true place (it is unmistakable, in any tongue), and it is, in its very nature, intimate, and it requires intimacy in the space between. Language like that cannot exist in a vacuum. It requires participation from the listeners. People talk about the “space” created at special events, a “safe space”, or a “healing space”, and I think a lot of that comes from the energy that occurs when jostling-for-position suddenly ceases to be an issue, when everything you hear is right, and everything you say is right, when what another person says is nothing but illuminating and fascinating, and every word leads you on some journey of discovery. I talk with my well-known friends on this level all the time, but it is rare indeed to find it at a party with people you only know a little bit.

We have Steven Boone to thank for all of us reaching that next level, although I would say that part of what was going on is that nobody resisted his call. There was no one in that group who tried to laugh it off, or joke us out of intimacy, or cut anyone else down for their contribution. We all know those types of people. We meet them all the time. Sometimes we ARE those people. They cannot sit IN a moment, they become restless and must push that moment aside and move to the next.

All of us, since then, have exchanged emails about how incredible that particular conversation was, and how it left a real mark on us, reverberating for days. In a way, our conversation had a similar energy to children playing in a playground. You don’t need to know someone’s entire backstory to be intimate with that person. Playing is the most intimate thing you can do, and conversation, when it’s good, is like playing.

I have met Steven Boone a couple of times, and have always loved his writing. He is currently blowing everyone’s socks off with an ongoing series over at Capital New York about his experience with homelessness (not to be missed), but he’s a smart, passionate film critic as well. I’ve been reading him for years.

I wasn’t sure if he would show up at the party, and I saw him walk into the living room and was excited. We both write for Capital now, so we stood there for a while, talking about my Tribeca pieces, and his homeless pieces. I asked him how that project had come about, and we talked about the history of it. We were awkwardly complimenting each other on each others’ writing, and there was such a kindness behind everything I didn’t mind my own awkwardness. I was happy to see him.

Then, a couple hours later, the 6 of us I mentioned earlier found ourselves in a circle, chatting. We started with 5, and then Kurt joined us – as the conversation was heating up. He asked for an update, so he could get up to speed, someone filled him in, and he joined in wholeheartedly. There was lots of small talk first. Of course these are interesting funny people, so small talk with them is not, “Nice weather we’ve been having.” Somehow Odie and I started talking about Straitjacket (the William Castle movie with Joan Crawford), and we basically re-capped the entire movie, complete with pantomimes on my part (of her lighting the match off the record player). We talked about the Muppet Movie. We somehow started talking about Stallone (Boone had done a great piece on The Expendables for Capital), and his first screenplay for Rocky (not the shooting script, but what Stallone wrote before he even sold it) and how brilliant it is. And I will just say this, and I’ll get off it quickly: I was the only woman in the group, and I am used to men talking over me, if I am outnumbered. It’s a common thing when men get together, it just happens, and I’m happy to fight my way in to get heard, but it was nice in this conversation to not have to fight.

And it could have gone on in small talk for another hour. The hour was growing late, and the party was winding down. We were engaged with one another. But then Steven Boone said, presenting it to the group, in his soft gentle voice, “I want to know, from all of you, what movie …” he put his hand over his heart. “is your heart.”

Odie said, “You mean like a desert island movie? Because in that case, Coming to America.”

Everyone started laughing (Odie is awesome), and Steven said, “No, no, not desert island … but yeah, Coming to America, of course … but I mean, if you had to pick a movie that you think IS your … your heart … what would it be?”

As one, we all plummeted off the cliff into deep contemplation. Nobody piped up immediately. Everyone thought deep and hard. It was like we were on a suspension bridge, high above an abyss.

“What would yours be?” I asked Steven, a bit of a copout on my part, and he said, “Well, I’m not sure. I would love to hear what people say.”

In a flash, we all got very organized. It happened unconsciously. We were standing in a circle, and, without even setting it up formally, we started going around the circle, first one, then the other. We went in order. One person would say their movie, and then a conversation would erupt about that movie, and then we all would subside again, and, together, look at the next person in the circle, signalling, “Your turn.” Steven had kind of become our moderator. Always with that gentleness and support, he kept us on track. I thought about it later: This is the conversation that he wanted to be having, and so he was requesting of us that we do, too. One resistant person would have tipped the balance, one jokester making sarcastic remarks or making fun of someone else’s choice, or demanding that said person DEFEND their choice, would have ruined the fragile suspension bridge we were on. Our conversation had a polite and somewhat formal structure, and yet that very formality allowed everyone to go deep.

It seemed forbidden to question someone else’s choice. Not that I would anyway, I don’t care if you say Encino Man is your “heart”: I would find that fascinating and illuminating and would want to hear you talk more about it. But one dismissive person would have been like a canker sore, or a blister … something annoying and grating, and keeping us from what we were after: connection with each other’s dreams, longings, loves.

Because here’s the deal: sometimes our most important experiences are tied up in movies. Movies are not “just entertainment” to us. They have often handed important things to us, lessons, chunks of ourselves, or understanding. Movies have often put into words an unnamed grief or a sorrow. Movies have said to some of us in dark moments, “Hey. You’re not alone.” Steven was requesting (without really saying it) that we talk on that level. Yes, it’s fun to go the Desert Island route, too, but most of us said during the talk that our Desert Island movie would probably not be the same thing as the movie we were talking about in THIS conversation. Movies can rip you apart, movies can show you a truth that is so blinding you have to squint. Movies like that may not be comforting if you had to watch them for all eternity on that damn desert island. You might want a little laughter, or a little naked boobies, to break up the monotonous days in THAT scenario.

Steven looked across the circle at Odie, prompting him silently to go first. There’s something so accessible about how Steven listens: and it is listening that creates the “safe space”. Odie said, “You know, I would have to say Sirk’s Imitation of Life.” A rustle of response went through the circle, but nobody spoke. Odie said, “There’s something about that movie that just rocks me, it has to do with my grandmother [corrected!], and how I think about my grandmother, and if I had to pick a movie that spoke to me the most it would be that one.”

My mind, of course, had been racing, ever since Steven Boone asked his question. There were times when one of us would be speaking and I would look around the circle and I would feel two things going on in everyone at the same moment: they were listening, totally listening, but also they were thinking of what THEY wanted to say. It’s not that we wanted to pick the right movie that would get the approval of the group, it is that we really wanted to narrow it down to the best choice, the truest choice, for ourselves. So I found myself listening to Odie, and very moved about what he said about his grandmother, and although he didn’t go into details, I found myself thinking about Imitation of Life and imagining the impact it had on the man standing beside me. It made me feel close to him, even though there is so much I do not know. But at the same time, I was flipping through my entire history of movie-going. What do I say?? One of my childhood favorites? One of my eternal favorites? Like To Have and Have Not or Only Angels Have Wings? But … are those movies the REAL answer to Steven Boone’s question? I actually grappled with this in the 20 seconds I had to think about it. It seemed incredibly important to me that I pick the right movie, that I really grapple with Boone’s question on the level that he was asking it. So, no. Only Angels Have Wings is one of my favorite movies, but I can’t say that it IS my heart. Neither is Running On Empty, although I could make a case for that one, a pretty deep case, actually, and for about 15 seconds it was my first choice. But then, in a flash, I knew exactly what my choice was, and I was shocked that I hadn’t thought of it immediately.

So when Steven looked at me, his eyes saying, “Sheila?” I said (and I felt shy, not sure why, but perhaps because when you are in such a conversation you are revealing something about yourself), “Opening Night. Cassavetes.”

That is really the only answer I could have given. I have barely written about that movie. This is the closest I have come, and there’s no text in that post. How do you write about what IS your heart? I even found myself getting a little bit emotional as I said the words “Opening Night” because the effect that that movie has on me lies in a realm far beyond language. I do know this: I’ve only seen it once all by myself, and I was so destroyed that I found myself lying in bed at 3 in the morning literally wringing my hands. I hadn’t known people actually wrung their hands outside of books. I learned my lesson that night: Only see this movie in the safety of a group or with a good friend. I stay far the hell away from Opening Night.

And that is why it is my heart? Perhaps this warrants further examination.

I didn’t say anything more but at my words something very emotional broke over Steven Boone’s face. I don’t think I had read anything he had written on Cassavetes, so I wasn’t sure what was happening, except that something had happened. He said, impulsively, “Okay, I have to give you a hug now” and he crossed the circle and took me in his arms, hugging me so tight. Steven let me go and I said to him, “That movie cracks me open like a fucking walnut, Steven.”

The two of us went off on a Cassavetes tangent, with some interjections from the others. Steven mentioned Love Streams, and he said it in almost a swoon. He just said the title. “I know,” I responded. “Love Streams.”

Odie said at one point in here, “You know, as much as I love Imitation of Life, I can’t imagine ever just sitting down to casually watch it. It always just destroys me. No way do I want that thing on my desert island.”

We were laughing, and I said, about “my” movie, “I am unable to watch it by myself. I’ve tried and I can’t make it through. It’s too close, too much.”

“I think what it is is that we identify so closely …” said Odie.

“We recognize ourselves …” I said.

“Yes. Yes. It’s recognition.”

Steven B. said, “There’s just something about the vision of what love is in Love Streams … it’s so powerful, and in Opening Night …” He glanced at me.

I said, “Well, there’s that whole theme of having a whole other self walking along next to you … a self you can’t shake, someone there to remind you of everything you’ve lost and given up on … it’s just unbearable …”

Steven said (and I mention this because I want to mention everything – all of it adds up to Magic) – “You know, you look a little bit like her.”

Jen had said that to me before, when I showed her Opening Night, and although I wish I could get my hair to do what Gena Rowlands’ hair does … I will take the compliment. I know it’s not true, but I will take the compliment anyway. When Steven complimented me, I heard Jason start laughing (in a really kind way) because I obviously was so touched and flattered (it showed all over my face, I’m sure.)

Can you say “safe space”, where I get to be a little bit vain and flattered in a really girlie way surrounded by men without the scoffing response of someone who can’t bear vulnerability?

Boone said, “Well, you don’t look as crazy as her.” Laughter. I said, “Seriously, give me time.” Also, have you seen these photos?

Then Steven looked at Steven S., and Steven had his answer ready. “Raging Bull.”

Again, another murmur of response in the group. We were working together to create this thing called a conversation.

Steven said, “It has this vision of masculinity – I guess I feel like I could be that – that that is in me …”

Odie said, “I think most men have that. We know we have that potential, we know we have that violence in us, and we have to work against it.”

All of the men in the group nodded, together in their shared understanding of that dynamic. (It was extraordinary for me to witness as the only person in that group who has a hoo-hah.)

It was around this point that Kurt (someone who was completely new to me, I had a couple of really nice conversations with him earlier) joined our group. He said, “What are you guys talking about?”

Steven Boone, again in that open gentle way he has, said, “We’re talking about what movies are our heart.” He said it in a way that had such gentle authority, you knew what he meant. Kurt looked around the group and said, “What did everyone else say?”

So, again with the formal organization we all had unconsciously assumed, we went around the group again to say our choices so far. At one point I looked at Jason: he would be the last in the group so he had a lot of time to sweat it out. His face was CONSUMED with thought. I started laughing and said, “Jason, don’t think about it too much! You already know what it is!”

He was laughing, too, and said, “My mind is RACING right now.”

“I know. I can actually FEEL your brain activity across the circle.” Then I turned to Steven Boone who was next. “Steven?”

He thought about it. He said, “I asked the question not knowing what my own answer would be. I have found listening to all of you to be very …. nourishing.” I wanted to cry suddenly.

I said to him, “Love Streams, maybe?”

He said, thinking, “Yeah, that is definitely at the top of my list. But I was thinking too about …” and my God, it’s my bad, but I didn’t hear the title, and I didn’t want to break the flow, so I didn’t ask him to repeat it. It was a Japanese animated film, maybe Princess Mononoke? Maybe one of the other participants will remember. (Answer provided below with clip: My Neighbor Totoro.) Boone said, “And there’s that one scene where they’re walking in the rain, and ….” He stopped, hand over his heart. It had cut him to his core.

We all turned to Kurt. Kurt is moving to New York this summer with his partner, and is a new friend of Keith and Dan’s, so he was coming to this party pretty much cold. But he said “Yes” to what was going on in this group. And once he joined us, it was like he had always been there.

He said, “I think I have to say Angels in America …” I loved it because we had already managed to have an in-depth conversation earlier in the party about that HBO movie and how much it had affected him. He said, “I saw it when I was first coming out and … ” He then stopped, like he didn’t know how to continue. These things affect us in a way beyond language. We all were nodding at him. Yup. We got it, brother, we know.

There is a nervewracking aspect to this, and I’ll tell you why. Film critics are so much fun. They all have opinions (myself included), and strong likes and dislikes. Of course. They’re film critics. You don’t want a NEUTRAL film critic. You have to be able to know what you think and why you think it, and also how to put it into words. And part of the fun of that whole world is to state your opinion, hear someone else shoot it down, or validate it, and then you take it from there. It’s one giant debate club. But this was not that kind of space. However, you still have the sense-memories of that old vibe, where you say you like such-and-such a movie, and someone will laugh at you (in a friendly way perhaps, but still), or look at you gobsmacked and say, “You LIKED that?” and you then need to build your case. Believe me, I love building a case for G.I. Jane or Blue Crush, or other movies people dismiss. But in a conversation like the one we were having, you wouldn’t want to have to defend your choice, because it was too personal for that. You didn’t want to be JUDGED for your choice. That was one of the things Odie said to me in the emails we exchanged the next day, that it was great to express who you were without any “fear of repercussions” (especially, I am assuming, for men. At least that was what Odie was implying: Men able to talk like this to one another – straight and gay – without having to “man up”, or defend, jostle.)

Then we all turned to Jason and started encouraging him, because he looked so bogged down with THOUGHT. (I would have been doing the same thing if I hadn’t gone second!) “Come on, man, let it out!” “You can do it!” “Don’t think so much! Say the first thing on your mind!”

Jason then seemed to gather up his forces and he said, “Okay, well, I have to say that for me it is the episode of The Muppet Show when Harry Belafonte was the host, and I’ll tell you why …”

Odie sort of rocked back and forth on his heels and said, “Yeah, I look forward to hearing you defend this.” It was so funny. He was gearing up for Jason’s explanation.

I know that Jason is a big fan of The Muppets, and when I had my surgery last fall, he suggested that The Muppet Show would be perfect to watch as I recuperated. I come from a long line of Muppets fans, so it was so fun to hear him go OFF on this particular episode and what it meant to him, and how it changed him, and how, when he was 18 years old, and it was his birthday, he had made his girlfriend go see Harry Belafonte, because Jason just HAD to see him. It was important to him. And you know, looking at Jason’s enthusiastic face, and hearing his specific memories of that episode (all of these people have memories like steel-traps: you have to, you can’t write about movies if you don’t), I felt myself getting caught up in it.

I had the same sensation listening to everyone talk about their choices. I was no longer in myself. My energy was across the space of that circle with them.

When we finished going around the circle, Steven said, “Thank you guys … No, really” and we all said, “No, no, thank you for starting that …”

Then Kurt said, “What are some of the THEMES that always get you guys if they show up in a movie?” We all started to think and then Kurt said, “For me, it’s anything having to do with fathers and sons.”

All the men in the group had a visceral affirmative response to this, all of them saying at the same time, “Oh yes,” “Hell yes” “Totally.”

Odie said, “I don’t know what it is, but that’s such a powerful relationship – I don’t know any man that isn’t deeply affected by movies that deal with that relationship – I mean, I have sisters and I know there was some powerful stuff going down between them and my mother, but I don’t know if it’s the same thing with mothers and daughters … I just know any father-son plot …”

Kurt said, “It just kills me.”

Odie: “Yup.”

The funniest thing was at this moment another guy came and joined our group, briefly, and we gave him a brief rundown about what we had been talking about, the movies that are our heart, and he said, automatically, with no hesitation, “Big Fish.”

It was such a beautiful and perfect dovetail with the father-son conversation, one of the most powerful representations of it (that last scene!) and we all remarked upon that.

Jason said, “For me, any moment that has to do with pure triumph …”

More nods of assent, and Jason said, “Like there’s a moment in Tin Cup of all things, that actually brought me to tears the first time I saw it.”

Odie said, “Yeah, those moments …”

I said, “There’s a moment like that in The Rookie -”

Odie leapt on it. “Yes! The Rookie! That one scene where he’s told he’s going to the Major Leagues …”

And after all of that … it was time to say goodbye. I had a drive ahead of me, and it was 11 o’clock at night. We all said our goodbyes, not really acknowledging yet the Magic we had all tapped into, and the fact that we had somehow, silently, decided to tap into it. But I felt that bond, so much so that I had to email all the participants the next day to continue the conversation. And the correspondence continues. I made 5 new friends that night. And whatever happens in the future, if I only see them once a year at Keith and Dan’s annual May-Ham party, I will always consider them friends for life because of the Magic circle we all collectively created.

It’s even more perfect because it just as easily might not have happened. That’s the perilous thing with magic.

Nicholas Mosley’s masterful novel Hopeful Monsters is all about the coincidental and the supposedly random, and how so often those two things are one and the same. In it, he writes at one point:

I thought – oh strange and terrible world, you should not be destroyed! There are people whom you can love and who love you – Just let us know, every now and then, what might be an ark.

Reflecting back on those 5 guys and that circle of talk, I think:

I know an ark when I see one.

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34 Responses to An Ark

  1. I read Jason’s post just before Sheila’s, and as I started hers I already had a lump in my throat. Now the tears are flowing freely; partly out of sadness for missing out on these wonderful moments (the color of jealousy in my world is blue), but mostly from the flood of emotions stirred up by the memories of so many movies, with so many moments that stirred my soul.

    Thank you both for giving me this. Maybe someday I’ll be able to share “my movie” with others. That’d be magical, wouldn’t it?


  2. roo says:

    I know what my heart is. But it’s…beating somewhere else right now.

    I just wanted to say on behalf of “Tin Cup,” that it is actually…
    it’s kind of a beautiful film.
    It’s Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
    In a real way. With the earnest silliness that’s so much a part of those characters.

    And, honestly? I think Kevin Costner has gotten generally a bad rap as an actor.
    He’s ordinary. In a beautiful way.

    And if you want to talk father-son and tearing up, well,
    I just cannot watch the last moments of “Field of Dreams” without crying.

    I’m not a baseball fan, generally.
    But Kevin Costner makes me love baseball.

  3. sheila says:

    Roo – Yes, there is much to love in Tin Cup – have you seen The Company Men yet? Costner has a great role in it, he does a terrific job. Here’s my review – I talk about him a little bit there.

    And yes: I’ve seen Field of Dreams many many times, and never does that last moment not get to me.

    Talk about Magic.

  4. roo says:

    I haven’t seen it yet– honestly, I’ve had a hard time getting past my Ben Affleck prejudice, although everyone’s been talking about his rise from the ashes.

    He was very well cast in “Chasing Amy”– the comic-book dork who grows up to be attractive, but, while seemingly sensitive, still socially retarded, and a bit of a douche.

    That sounds harsh.

    He was a goatee-sporting, white-baseball-cap-wearing college boy from Boston, roughly contemporary with others of that ilk I had the misfortune to date, back in the day.

    The real Ben Affleck might bear no real resemblance to that.

    Anyway, enough about the B-fleck– thanks for a well-written review. Company Men is now on my list.

  5. sheila says:

    I don’t know, I’ve always liked him – my review sort of captures why. Especially when he doesn’t try to play against type.

    But: Costner as a working-class joe with a Boston accent? He’s great! Never woulda thunk it.

  6. sheila says:

    Donald – yes, it was a truly wonderful moment. You hope a party will provide a moment like that!

  7. I just wanted to say on behalf of “Tin Cup,” that it is actually… it’s kind of a beautiful film.

    The moment that got me the first time I watched it — and that will probably get me again — is when he finally hits the shot over the water and safely onto the green. It’s not that he hits the shot, understand. It’s not the actual athletic triumph. It’s that after he does it, he turns his head and looks to the gallery where Rene Russo’s character is positioned, and with his club in the air, gives her this simple smile of pure, utter joy. It’s a smile that wouldn’t mean as much if he were still in contention for the tournament. His smile isn’t about winning. It’s about being in that moment — frankly, what Sheila writes about above — and embracing it. I’ve got goose bumps just thinking about it.

  8. sheila says:

    Speaking of Tin Cup – and pure triumph – and The Rookie connection – there’s a moment in The Rookie when Rachel Griffiths comes to see her husband play in his first game in the Major Leagues. He’s been away for long hard months, they have 3 kids, she’s put up with a lot – and so has he. He misses his family. But you know, he’s 500 years old and he’s been asked to play in the Majors. He can’t turn it down.

    Griffiths and the three ankle-biters emerge into the baseball park, overwhelmed by its size – and Quaid is warming up near the dugout and sees his family come in – they’re on a walkway that’s above him. They can’t get to each other, of course – this is the Majors. But he runs over to the wall, and reaches up for his wife – and she reaches down to him – and no words pass between them – but there’s a look on his face that I swear touches me as I write this now – and she is staring down at him – and it’s not just pride that is on her face. It’s – awe. I think someone at Salon (I’ll have to check – I have the review somewhere) described it perfectly – that in that moment, something happens on his face that is completely about HIS moment, but also needing her to see it, share in it.

    It’s one of the most powerful (hyperbole alarms may go off, but I stand by it) moment of husband-wife shared-triumph that I have ever seen captured on film. It’s almost primal.

  9. sheila says:

    Found it – I knew it was Stephanie Zacharek’s review, just needed to double-check. This is the last paragraph of her review of The Rookie, and I remember reading it and thinking, “GOD. YES. That is exactly what the hell is going on in that moment.”

    “When his wife (played with perfunctory can-do spunkiness by Rachel Griffiths) shows up at his first Major League game and reaches down from the stands to greet him, he stretches up eagerly to reach her. He’s been away for three months, toiling in the minors, and the look on his face is a mixture of relief and joy at seeing her. But more significantly, he shows sudden amazement at how far he’s come — as if it hadn’t occurred to him until precisely that moment he saw her face. If you want to see how an actor plays a married man, it’s Quaid in that moment. Any serviceable actor can look at a woman and show devotion and loyalty. It takes a terrific one to show a sense of surprise at who he has become.”

  10. roo says:

    First- I want to be clear that I think I’m being unfair to Ben Affleck. He’s been smeared with the wide brush of my Boston exes. And of course, they wouldn’t have been exes if there weren’t an attraction in the first place…

    Second- Jason, I know that moment you’re writing about. Lovely.

    Third- Sheila, your rookie comment reminded me– years ago, didn’t you write about the wife in “Field of Dreams”? That moment of pure support, that moment that shows what people hope to find (and so rarely get) in marriage?

    It’s weird how much I love baseball movies.

  11. sheila says:

    Roo – so weird, I was just thinking about that wife-in-Field of Dreams piece yesterday – and thinking I’d like to resurrect it and re-work it. I know the father-son is the heart of the whole thing, its reason for being – but I maintain that the wife is one of the keys to that magical movie working – I think I made a pretty strong case! Thanks for the push – I’ll find the post and put it up next week some time. It’s been a long time since I’ve even read it!

  12. sheila says:

    I love baseball movies, too. I love the whole sports-formula in general. Even if the sport in question is calculus (Stand and Deliver) or debate club (The Great Debaters) – I love that formula, it just works so so well for me.

  13. Bob says:

    Sheila – That was a powerful story. Is there another word for “synchronicity” that more closely defines this experience?
    My father has alzheimers and I live with him and help to care for him. Almost every day we watch “The African Queen” and “Sahara”. We don’t speak much, but the movies he chooses speak for us in deeper ways. It is magic to say the least.

  14. Desirae says:

    I can’t say for sure if it’s my heart or not, but the first movie (and maybe only) I ever watched that felt like it knew me was Rocky. It gave me a funny ache in my chest. And the scene where we first meet Adrian, with her and Rocky in the petshop, hit way too close to home. It made me nervous.

    I think I would have a hard time watching that movie socially.

  15. sheila says:

    Desirae – that’s an interesting point – a hard time watching the movie socially. I totally know what you mean.

    That pet shop scene is perfect.

  16. Steven Boone says:

    Hey sweetie,

    This is the most loving and soulful piece of court stenography I have ever read. :-)

    The anime I mentioned was My Neighbor Totoro. The reason it is my heart is how alive it is to each moment. Also, even though we get the sense that Totoro’s been around the block, he’s still impressed by the simplest things, like the sound raindrops make when landing on a umbrella in the silence of the woods:

    The mystery “other guy” who briefly joined our conversation was none other than web prankster/critic John Lichman . It’s kind of a triumph that we got such a snarky guy to open up about Big Fish. Now that I think about it, he might have been putting us on, haha. Either way, all good.

    As for connection/magic, Sheila, you had me at A Bug’s Life/UP . And, just to embarrass you further, you do wrinkle your nose and smile with your eyes in a very Rowlandsy way.

  17. Odienator says:

    I was working as a movie usher (one of the 8 million things I did to pay for undergrad) when Field of Dreams came out. After the shows I covered, I’d see this phenomenon: Men would exit the theater, their eyes as big as saucers and as red as Satan, accompanied by women with a clueless expression on their faces. The female faces seemed to say “what the fuck just happened here?!” Since then, I’ve always thought women didn’t GET Field of Dreams, kind of like the way men never got Beaches. How wonderful it is to hear Sheila and others here debunk this notion. Those men at my theater were just dating apathetic women!

    Imitation of Life, as I’d written over at Boone’s blog, Big Media Vandalism, is a cinematic tie to my grandmother. I have few memories of her, but the biggest one I do have, and how it binds her and my mother to this movie, is what I spoke of at the party. Oddly enough, of all the pieces I wrote for the four years of “Black History Mumf,” it’s the piece I avoid re-reading. Though I am far from Macho Man, its naked, emotional devastation embarrasses me. It shouldn’t, but it does. It’s just too close.

    Jason’s piece over at his blog is wonderful, as was his answer. Everyone’s answers were memorable and touching. As you mentioned, we all felt safe. I felt abstracted from my critical sense. For example, I really disliked Big Fish, but I was far more invested in John’s response and our reaction to it; my thought on the movie’s quality was completely irrelevant.

    Thank you for writing this. You’ve captured more than just what was said–you did great steno on the emotional vibe in the room. And I’d know. I’m the son of a stenographer!

  18. Odienator says:

    Oh, one other thing. Last night, I hung out with Wagstaff, one of our old HND colleagues, and we spent an enormous amount of time on Joan Crawford’s violent act toward a vinyl record in Strait Jacket. Every time he lit a cigarette, I made the noise that record makes when Joan attacks it.

  19. And I’d know. I’m the son of a stenographer!

    Something tells me Odie hasn’t had too many opportunities to voice that line before. Glad Sheila gave him the chance.

    As for Lichman: His response was so immediate, I have no doubt that it was sincere. (Frankly, um, at that point I’m not sure he was capable of being insincere.) Of course, maybe I just identify with his response. Big Fish slays me in several different ways.

  20. sheila says:

    Steven – // Now that I think about it, he might have been putting us on, haha. //

    hahahaha You think so?? I was totally fooled then!!

    Thanks for the nice words ie: the Pixar piece and my “Rowlandsy” qualities. It’s made my day.

    And thanks for providing the link to “your” movie – I was wracking my brains trying to remember it, and should have emailed you directly.

    It’s funny, when you play court stenographer (without taking notes during said conversation) – what sticks with you and what passes you by.

  21. sheila says:

    Odie – Yes, guys must watch out for them apathetic women!!!!

    You know, Arthur Miller tells similar stories of the first opening of Death of a Salesman – when the curtain came down at the end, there was no applause. Zero. And throughout the audience (it was in Philadelphia, if I recall correctly) middle-aged men sat in their seats, weeping into their hands, broken, as their wives hovered over them. Concerned, yes, loving, perhaps, but it didn’t rock them the way it rocked their men.

    Field of Dreams, though, does rock me. I grew up in a baseball-loving family, and my father is the most precious man in the world to me – and playing catch with him in the backyard before dinner is one of my most favorite memories.

    The movie strikes a chord (still – to me, it holds up) that makes it somewhat eternal. It will not date itself. It will stand the test of time.

    And listen: thanks for clarifying it was your grandmother, not your mother – this is the problem (and blessing) of not taking notes WHILE someone is talking. I was listening – but also consumed with what I would say – it was all part of being present. Going to read your piece on your grandmother right now, I can’t wait.

    Oh, and Straitjacket – hahahahahahahahaha Sound-effect of match off record player: “reeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!”

  22. sheila says:

    Oh Boone, that clip!! Haven’t seen it and MUST now. Thanks for that,

  23. Jennchez says:

    That was a beautiful post. It really made me think. I know this may sound silly but a movie I saw to completion once that really touches me, and can’t watch again is Mrs. Doubtfire. That a man would go to that length to be with his children touches me on a level that on a personal note a never had with my father and never will because he is gone. A few months ago my husband and daughter watched it together snuggled on the couch and they loved it. By the Grace of God there is NOTHING my husband would not do for our girl, or myself. So life can come beautifully full circle.

  24. sheila says:

    Jennchez – wow, that is very touching. Sometimes it is the most unlikely movies that hand us a part of ourselves, or a dream, or a hope.

    Someday I’ll write about my response to The Legend of Bagger Vance – a movie which (unfortunately) doesn’t hold up (in my opinion). But the first time I saw it it was a perfect dovetail with something I was going thru at the time, and it blew me to pieces. I had been in something of a denial about what was happening and what I was sad about – and that movie shone a bright light on that hidden corner in my psyche and shouted at me, “HERE. LOOK AT THIS.”

    Good Lord, it was powerful. Once I watched the movie again, and I wasn’t in that particular state of mind, it didn’t really work for me, but I will never forget the growing sense of unease and identification the first time I saw it. It actually really helped me out. Before the movie, I was one way – after the movie, I was another. It helped me get aware, get present to what was going on in my life.

  25. I just finally read this to the end and gaaahh, I love it. I’m really looking forward to reading more of your stuff, Sheila. It’s great how both you and Jason were able to grab a moment and spin it into such a deeply felt article (and I wasn’t even there for the whole convo!). As I said to Jason, I was thrilled to meet you and to be featured in your piece.

  26. sheila says:

    Kurt – so nice to meet you too. Best of luck with your move, and hope to see you again!

  27. Steven Boone says:

    Sheila, I’m just retroactively covering the bases by saying Lichman could have been punking us. I doubt it, though. He would have said something a lot crazier and more elaborate, all deadpan. :) I do remember not liking Big Fish but being touched by the father/son moments. As Odie said, the important thing was what it meant to him.

    Oh, and don’t sweat it: This is about as good as it gets, in terms of “writing” about what makes Opening Night so great:

  28. sheila says:

    hahaha I didn’t know Lichman – I think that was the first time I met him, although he might have been at one of Keith/Dan’s Oscar parties. Not sure.

    For me, it was really that last shot in Big Fish (or I remember it as the last shot – it’s been years since I saw it) of the son carrying the father that kinda killed me.

    And you know, I look thru all those shots of Rowlands, all the crazy on that beautiful face, and I’m still blown away. I love the moment in the movie where she sort of stares at herself in the dressing room mirror for a long time – and perhaps because we expect it of women, I thought she would start to cry (first time I saw it) – or have a self-pitying breakdown at her reflection – Instead, she sort of scrunches up her face in disgust, and does this classic Rowlands hand-wave gesture at herself, like: “Get … the FUCK … outta here with your sad lonely self. You make me SICK.”

    The change in expression comes out of a clear blue sky – and is still startling when I see it now!!

  29. lichman says:

    i was extremely sincere.

    big fish’s final shot is, to me, simply heartbreaking and uplifting. if i was damned to a desert island, it would probably be the one thing that would keep me thinking of the ones i lost and could never find again.

    the three bottles of wine and countless beers didn’t hurt either.

  30. sheila says:

    Lichman – thanks for clarifying. :)

    I love that last shot too.

  31. This essay is powerful and has evoked in me a lot of thoughts/feelings … I’m planning on using it as a writing prompt tomorrow with my students. Thanks to everyone who participated and shared in this (and especially Sheila and Jason for writing about it)

    My choice would be John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus and a flawed attempt at thinking about why it moves me so. I have written about this film a lot and it always seems to be just outside my reach, as if it is still working its way through my psyche and doing so transforming what I see as me.

  32. “The Yearling.” Gregory Peck telling a kid to kill his pet. The mother actually doing it. Nothing at the end of the story makes up for that, which is as it should be. Same with the book, which I read in study hall, in the back of an algebra class, and learned how to sob silently.

    Then again, what cracks you open as a kid isn’t going to do it later on (although I’d still give that movie a miss today, I think). I have to think more about this…

    • sheila says:

      Jincy – I’m so glad you came to this post to add your own choice. I remember so well the first time I read that book – I think it was assigned in 8th grade. I should see the film again, it’s been years.

      If you think of anything else, let me know.

      Running On Empty is definitely another contender for me. And Double Life of Veronique!

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