No Jazz Singer tonight. Instead, I took my daughter to see Lady Bird.
And, the affection for Sacramento inherent in Gerwig's direction throughout, plus more explicitly regarding the titular character's (Saoirse Ronan) affection for the city, despite her claims to the contrary, stood out. Sister Sarah Joan's (Lois Smith) pronouncement that is today's blog title had me thinking on a couple things:
1) on an obvious level, because that line was about the city, I was thinking about Pasadena, where I grew up. About places I used to go, the mall that no longer exists, movies theaters that have been turned into (I think this is what they are now) a bank, a church (which seems like blasphemy), and a school supply store. Another one was turned from a giant single-screen theater into a multiplex, and is now a gym of some sort. The theater where I worked for a while in my 20s is now a jewelry store.
And, it's not all about movie theaters. Three used bookstores I used to frequent—at one of them I bought far, far too many books in the 90s—are gone. Where there used to be an arcade I would bike to with friends, there is now a tabletop game store I actually go to more often than I ever went to that arcade (as much as I loved it); I was there just this past Saturday to get in an extra round of Dungeons & Dragons for the week. There's no rope swing hanging from a haggard old tree in the front yard of the house where I grew up anymore. The auditorium where I attended church every Saturday is just an auditorium for concerts now (it was that, then, too, but I'm pretty sure no one preaches about Jesus there anymore). Where the private school I attended from kindergarten through 12th grade was has for many years now been a collection of apartment buildings. There is still a cumquat tree in the same spot where we used to snag some while walking across town on a Friday evening. The Jack in the Box is still on the same corner by the City College. The comic book store I frequented in my 20s is still where it was, but it never existed when I was a kid, and I never go there now.
Buildings are torn down. New ones take their place. There's an Arclight—that's a more high class movie theater chain with a bar in the lobby, for those of you who don't live around LA—in the open air mall that replaced that awesome enclosed one we used to have, for example. The theater's a nice addition to the city, but I liked the old mall better. At one point, it had two bookstores. At one point it had an actual toy store. At one point, it had an antiques store that also sold old (and new) comic books. I got my ear pierced at a cart in that mall. Not long before that mall was demolished, actually. I bought a lot of Lone Wolf books in that mall, before a teacher at my religious school drew my mother's attention to those books and the supposedly demonic aspects of them. (I've told that story before.)
When I was young, Old Town Pasadena was a place no one went. It was run down. In the mid 80s—I forget the exact timing but the first movie I saw at the newly opened United Artists Theater (where I would work nearly a decade later) was Heartbreak Ridge and that came out in 1986—the city cleaned the place up. It had two bookstores, one for new books, one for used. It had two multiplex movie theaters. It had a comic book store. It had two used music stores. And a lot of restaurants and shops. Since the 90s, it lost one movie theater, it lost both music stores, it lost the comic book store, and got even more gentrified. I don't really go there anymore.
But, Old Town has ties to so many movies for me. I worked at one theater there, and frequented both for years. Which brings me around to...
2) No matter how much I pick apart movies, no matter how much my impulse sometimes is to point out the flaws, I love movies. I watch them whenever I can. I obsess about seeing as many of the Oscar (and other awards)-nominated films as I can every year, but I also see the big blockbusters, the dumb comedies, the occasional romantic comedy even. And, I see most any horror film that sees wide release. I love bad movies almost as much as I love good movies. Sometimes, I might love a bad movie more. I spent my teens and a good portion of my 20s writing prose—
and for the record, I wouldn't mind getting back to that if I could consistently find the time (and this blog, while somewhat consistent, is not the same consistent that worked for me when I was trying my hand at novels; my first completed novel was written in sessions that lasted from midnight to 2am or 6 pages, whichever came first. I got better, and faster, at writing as I kept at it, but each novel has a particular writing time. The second completed one was written afternoons, after I got off work, for example. I liked writing prose. Some of the early stuff is god awful in execution, but there are some good ideas in there. If I had the time, I might rewrite those rather than abandon them altogether. Later works were better. Some of them, I actually still like. Hell, just today, I was thinking about how to fix my novel Clubhouse Blues to make it more palatable for a wider audience, and I still toy with the idea of editing some of my old stuff and formatting them as ebooks to sell online
—but even as a teenager, people knew me as the movie guy. At the prom, they pronounced me the next Stephen Spielberg. At the time, I think I would have rather they called me the next Stephen King. But, right out of high school, I headed to college hoping to get into the film program. I already loved movies. I had already toyed with writing screenplays. I've written a few more recently that I really like, actually. And, if I had the time, the money, and a bit more knowledge about how to really get it done... I still dream about making movies. I dream about writing novels. And, often, when I'm watching a movie, I think about what I would do, or I envy what some filmmaker managed, what some actor did, what some screenwriter got up there on the big screen, and it makes me, at the same time, both sad and hopeful. Sad because it wasn't me. Hopeful, because I love movies. And, when movies do things that I wish I had come up with, or do things that I never imagined—oh, how glorious is that? And, when movies suck so bad that it hurts, how wonderful is that, too?
I have often said that I could write a biography built around the movies I saw at any given time in my life—something like Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, but, you know, without the soccer, and with movies instead—and recently, I realized that writing that biography is not a fantasy anymore. I write it every day in this blog. Especially recently, looking back deliberately at movies that I watched a lot when I was young. Looking back, finding these building blocks, imagining what these films put into my head way back when—that is my biography. It's my Fever Pitch.
Only, I call it The Groundhog Day Project.