Monday, June 23, 2008

An Emotionless Wonder

In the interest of watching as many tearjerkers as emotionally possible ("Mellodrama," June 9) Winifred and I watched Grave of the Fireflies. We tried to watch The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but couldn't find it, but I found this and The History Boys, which seemed to at least cover a few bases (teens, drama, angst) but to my surprise we chose the 1998 Japanese animated happiness killer that Charlotte "warned" us against.
Allow me to digress: Charlotte told me to see this movie years ago, against the protest of her now-husband. (See "now?" That's how long ago it was!) She warned us repeatedly that we should plan wholeseome uplifting activities to follow (I've found that my father owns Blades of Glory) that may or may not lift my temporary grief. Actually, it's not that bad. It's that Winifred isn't affected.
Her defense is fair: "I thought I had another 90 minutes to go," she says. Our DVD said 159 minute run time and when we hit the pinnacle of the sadness (mind that I was fighting tears from the first ten minutes, and I've now seen the first 40 minutes twice) it wasn't even an hour and twenty minutes into the film. So Winifred had braced herself for more devastation than had already occurred, and after a montage...the credits rolled. And the end, she called her daughters and chatted gaily and just moved on.
Maybe I'm not being fair. Winifred found several heart-wrenching notes that were written when Emily and Charlotte were little. They include

Can you avery gave me a bark? I'm the only little girl for a littele time.
(the back: 23 Oct 85 Can you ever give me a break? I'm only a little girl for a little time. [Emily])

and this one, which forced Winifred to call Charlotte as soon as it was read, or, "I just would not sleep tonight."

Mom- I still want a blond corn-silk kid. Love, [Charlotte]
(dated Oct 1986)

Huh. Still.
Oh, Part 2? I would have presented it tonight, but in light of Winifred's heartlessness, a positive post seems, I don't know... inappropriate.

[Update: It's been about two hours and I haven't thought about the devastation for at least fifteen minutes. Maybe I can see Dancer in the Dark and live to tell about it. By the way, have I made it obvious or mentioned it? I cry through animal movies, too.]

Friday, June 20, 2008

Failed Empathy, Part 1 of 2

I was justifiably incorrigible at dinner tonight and instead of yelling at 1/3 of the newscast I openly gnashed at every news story that dared cross my path. This week I have refrained from yelling at news stories that were not about John McCain, his irritating wife Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama’s Fist Bump (She doesn’t wear pantyhose! We’re going to high five, soon.*), the mayor’s misspending, and gas prices. This leaves room for public transportation, corralling DC residents to their neighborhoods, retiring bus drivers, and foreclosures. Also shootings, school closings, and the weather.
But if I’m going to be persistent in this negative attitude I’m going to go all out, which includes skipping dessert because I don’t feel like eating things that bring me joy and pouting while clearing the table two activities which are rather difficult to multitask.
This sort of sulking means I went to my room to wallow and missed Winifred’s in-depth conversation about funnel cakes and Emily’s life-long best friend’s week-long dedication to fried sweets. I did, however, hear the King’s booming suggestion as I left the half-loaded dishwasher that we all go to the carnival and visit Emily’s life-long best friend as she serves fried dough! That sounds great, right?! Right?! Isn’t that fun, Captain?! It’s good to know in the face of hard time that your father knows the best pick me up is in people-watching with the aid of crisp golden treats.
The enthusiasm is doubled at my undying love for carnivals, as these open-air festival are an American testament to summer existing as the single most important season. It represents a sense of community while simultaneously trotting out a variety of characters: parents, children, the elderly, teenagers—both the sweet and the sort that are up to no good—large families, young professionals, and the weird people that don’t seem to exist during the rest of the year (except during Christmas rush at the mall). I spend every summer attempting to capture the spirit of the small-town carnival through my lens, so when Winifred promised a carnival, I amassed no less than five and agreed to wear bug repellant, because even at a surly moment I find myself dedicated to My Art. Her promised also said, I personally empathize with your inner angst and would like to relieve your trouble by way of this adventure.
The town we drove to is at least thirty minutes away. I know this because when I was 19, all of my friends lived in this town. They lived down shoddy dirt roads or in nice gated communities and inevitably, as the sun had set, I was on the wrong half-lane road without cellular service, and as I made a tight three-point turn, wondered how much trouble I would be in if I was found hung by a tree like an urban legend over the hood of my mother’s car. I hoped in this event I wouldn’t survive because after Winifred drove an hour to her car, I would be in so much trouble I’d wish away my life. When I wasn’t dreading an early demise I’d find myself wishing my life away as I neared the city limits, which meant I was only...twenty unbearable minutes from home.
I soldiered on, dear reader, as a buoyant Winifred described our good fortune: funnel cakes, old friends, and whirring lights! Long grass to swish through in jeans, I imagined, and mild weather devoid of humidity. Have you had a funnel cake in humidity? It gets lumpy, flat, and moist as soon as it exits the fryer and half the joy you taste is imagined. If you go into the dish without hope it tastes revolting. Providentially luck was ours was great weather.
Our trouble began when Winifred started to exit near a town thirty minutes in the direction from our true destination, and continued near an exit for Baltimore. “Just pretend you are driving to DC,” I insisted, and then, later, “Pretend you are driving to College Park!” As if, perhaps, she would revert to an old standby from visiting Emily in college. Finally, I adopted the mantra, “Drive like you are going to the Metro, but get off at the labeled exit.” The mantra continued for several exits, long after we were on the correct ramp and I was directing Winifred to the stop light, through a traffic circle, and to a byway.
There has been some previous questioning as to my veracity through these steps, and I begin to doubt my memory as we slowed to the elementary school where the community parks. As we passed the school and a large red signboard labeled PARKING I wailed, “There’s no carnival!”
We passed the empty grounds in slow motion and I began to whine, inconsolably. “There’s no carnival, Mom. Mom, where is the carnival. Mom, this is the school, you said there was a carnival!” I begin to wonder if I can cajole her to the 711 near the highway exit for an INCREDIBLE GULP.**
So much for bringing me true happiness, Winifred! The carnival in this town isn’t until July. We’d driven to empty fields, existing without purpose.
“There is a carnival,” Winifred promised, alluding to the widely known truth—as sure as we understand gravity—that somewhere, anywhere a town is hosting its carnival. During the month of June every night is a carnival night somewhere, which means that if one plans appropriately the entire month (and some years, full summers) is carnival night. This would rely on attending some towns more than one night, but in the face of whirligigs, bingo, and fried chicken, this isn’t a problem but an added bonus.
In due time, Winifred located the problem: she had presumed the wrong town. We found the carnival, but not without my share of heartbreaking. (After all of that she needed directions to the next town and I even knew how to get there!) When we arrived, I waited to turn the corner and find that the carnival had packed up and moved out the night before. It hadn’t, but we first passed a sign that mistakenly read “FIREFIGHTER CARNIVAL JUNE 1-2” and in one last dying gasp I bemoaned, “IT CLOSED JUNE SECOND!”
Thereafter I collapsed from emotional exhaustion and missed the whole thing.

*Short story: When we found Emily’s wedding dress after less than an hour in the mall, and only twenty minutes of try-ons, Charlotte turned to us out of the store’s entrance and raised her fists. I stared blankly, because though I was 19, I hadn’t been to enough keg parties to have bumped fists with any broskis, and was still really into high fiving. (I also had fire engine red hair and a handful of straight edge tee shirts. It was trying archaic times.) Charlotte confidently yet demurely inched her fist forward, “Come on,” she said, “High fiving is out.” I was deeply shamed, as everyone’s clenched fist bumped at once—Winfred’s included—as Winifred shouted, “Yeah! High fiving is so lame!”
A minute later Winifred asked what “that” was called and suggested a term I would re-print here, but it is so hilarious that I will save it for my novel. Also, Winifred’s friends are reading (sorry, mature responsible adults!) and it’s a story best for happy hours, workplaces, and my-mom-is-more-awkward-than-your-mom. It also works best in a trilogy.
Walking downtown yesterday my friend and I high fived. Internet, I remain lame three—almost four—years later.

**Exactly what it sounds like: The Hulk merchandised over a BIG GULP. Except that’s the only size that is GREEN against a sea of red plastic cups. INCREDIBLE GULP, GET IT? I am a fool for your marketing, Marvel. Ultimately I was denied the Incredible Gulp.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Winifred and I kicked off the summer Saturday by watching our first melodrama of the season. Every summer in the Quimby home includes a marathon of black and white dramatic talkies. In 2003 we plowed through nearly every Hepburn movie we could as a dedication to Katharine Hepburn's pants-filled legacy, a filmfest I consider a tremendous victory because most of her movies were filled with laughs (and bonus feminism) instead of tears (Philadelphia Story and Woman of the Year were the focus).
Unfortunately the crux of a melodrama is that it will break your heart, toy with your emotions, crush your soul, and force you to question all that you truly know about humanity. Fortunately Winifred allows comedies (classic, of course) to soothe my fragile emotional state.

We started with Leave Her to Heaven, 1945 technicolor classic that is part of my personal collection. (It's beneficial to alphabetize your VHS and DVD collections! Who knew?) Delightfully over-the-top, Leave Her to Heaven is based on a novel of the same name by Ben Ames Williams. The trailer:

During the movie I tried to compile a short list of films for us to watch as the summer continues. We usually go to Charlotte, who holds a Masters in film criticism, but the truth is that we never get to the movies, and then we hurt her feelings, and we don't like letting her down. (Moreover, the films on the list have been reccomended by Charlotte before.) It was several years before we watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and if only we'd rented when she told us to we wouldn't have waited years for our lives to change forever.

In Alphabetical Order:

All That Heaven Allows (allegedly part of the inspiration for another family favorite, Far From Heaven)
Back Street (1961)
Rules of the Game (1939)
Touch of Evil
Wings of Desire

We're watching Back Street again, though it will most certainly kill me. IMDB alludes to three versions of the Fannie Hurst tragedy, which seems unfathomable that the ultimate heartbreaking film could be re-made and re-made. With that much dedication over the centuries you'd think someone would have stepped up in the 90s and made another. I'd work on getting it financed but I feel too conflicted. First, if a Fannie Hurst movie is going to be made into a movie for wide release in our modern world, I'd nominate Imitation of Life first. (It's marginally less emotionally devastating.) Second, I feel conflicted over Back Street. Our heroine is a feminist icon yet she sacrifices her personal life for her career--not a message I'm willing to promote--and then suffers again and again at the hands of the man who loves her--but is unable to shrug his wife (a character who demeans the image of women everywhere) and her prize for her undying love is some other dude's kids! Oh, GAWD, WHERE ARE THE TISSUES, I CAN'T HANDLE THIS.

My retribution for the intense pain I've agreed to again withstand is forcing--if I can--Winifred to watch Rules of the Game. It's not really a melodrama, instead it's a strong, passionate film exploring social class, war, impending doom, government...a movie that leaves me empty yet full of dispair. It's probably an unhealthy obsession, yet on par with Winifred's love for all-things-Fannie Hurst which seems, ya know, fair:

Didya see that trailer? Mystery! Intrigue! That comes pretty close to the sensationalism of a melodrama, no? Post-script: a big part of a melodrama are indiscretions and adulterous affairs built on True Love, which just happens to be a major plot point of Rules of the Game. (I WIN.)

We could watch melodramas intermittenly through the year, too, but it's not nearly as much fun. (When I had the flu Winifred and I watched Martian Child and under the influence of medication it was as emotionally destructive as a melodrama, so we can win with that, right?)

As for Touch of Evil, any film the Coen brothers call "disturbing" sounds like a great idea to me. Wouldya look at that typeface? It screams drama! Plus the trailer includes explosions with its mystery, intrigue, and hysterical screaming. I think it's a tease to show an introdcutory film class the opening of the film and not the rest of the film, but I'll willingly do the same to you:

I know that's a lot of videos I've forced you to watch but it's still June and I think we can do it. There are other movies too, and we've promised Charlotte to wait for her. (But I can't find those few movies right now.)