I’m reading The Moviegoer (an excellent book btw), so later, when I found myself enjoying what turned out to be a fairly mediocre movie, I thought about Walker Percy’s lonely moviegoer, who only seems to be at home when he’s at the movies. Well, I thought, the magic still works for me. By “the magic,” I mean: sitting in the dark with strangers, digging into a large bag of recently-popped corn, while staring at a illuminated screen inside the borders of which, in another world remarkably like our own, people several times our size torture and sometimes even love each other. The movie contains a remarkable performance (DeNiro, The Comedian), which makes it well worth seeing, even if it is, of itself, not a terrific film. I believe I’d still think it was worth seeing, if I’d watched it at home sitting on the edge of the bed, but I can’t — entirely — be sure. Because what Percy’s moviegoer is getting at is that he’s “in” the movie, and I suspect that only happens in a theater.
The first major DeNiro flick I can recall seeing, Taxi Driver, I watched in 1976, at our beloved St. George Theatre, a 2672-seat movie palace I eventually went broke trying to run. We showed the DeNiro classic in the eighth week of our theater tenancy, a week after Don’t Open the Window (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie), a 1974 Spanish-Italian sci-fi/horror flick, the kind of fare we were generally forced, by circumstances, to offer our audiences.
It was a big deal that we got Taxi Driver at all: generally speaking, important movies that were anywhere near first–run were out of our reach as a second– or third–run “buck fifty” house. I actually sat down in the middle of the auditorium, just beyond the overhang of the balcony, and watched it from beginning to end. This was something of a luxury, just watching the movie, since I was supposed to be scooping popcorn, selling tickets or writing checks to vendors. The light of the film spilling out on the golden statues left and right of the proscenium framed New York’s garbage-strewn streets and the paranoid delusions of a lone-wolf cab driver, softening my own personal blues about how to pay the carting service and the rent and just get to the end of the week. When it was over, I got up and went back to work. I knew that I’d seen a great movie, because, after real life hove back into view, washing away the dream state the movie had created, those characters were still with me.
But if it had been a lousy flick, as the moviegoer in Walker Percy’s novel, seems to be implying, I’d still have been “in” the movie, and happy, at least for the hour or so it lasted.
I’m afraid I only gave you part of what The Moviegoer had to say about the experience of being “in” the movies. Here’s the last part of the quote:
“...Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.”
Unlike The Moviegoer, I’ve had and continue to have both my Central Park/Parthenon moments, and the movies — both good and bad and everything in between--shared in the dark, with strangers.
1) How did I end up channeling Taxi Driver, which is celebrating the forty-first anniversary of its release even as I write this (Feb 8, 1976)?
2) Here are some bad movies I remember with fondness:
• Mommie Dearest (I love Faye Dunaway)
•Easy Rider (iconic film of my twenties, terrible the second time around)
•Gable and Lombard (we ran this doggie to an empty house one afternoon)
•Horrors of the Black Museum (at the Oakley Drive-In. Was it the popcorn?)
•Three Coins in a Fountain
I shouldn’t count three coins — I was only six! At that point popcorn was the only thing I had any taste for. . . .