A Familiar, Flickering Journey
Dr. Andy reflects on the movies, and on one particular actor, as a way of considering what it means to live a life of reflection, company, and joy.
I missed going to church on Christmas Eve last year, and I have missed most Super Bowls since moving away from Washington DC in 1989, but I can’t ever remember missing a showing of The Academy Awards.
I grew up in a family that celebrated film. My dad laughed so hard the first time he saw the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz that he chipped a tooth on the theatre seat in front of him. My parents watched Lawrence of Arabia, all three hours and 48 minutes, on their wedding day. My dad showed Citizen Kane at my 3rd Grade birthday party, leading a discussion of the film after the first reel (yes, reel). I got a job in a movie theater not long after my 16th birthday, and was rewarded with a minimum wage of $3.75 an hour and retired movie posters, such as that of The Bounty, a 1984 sea adventure film that starred Anthony Hopkins and three other eventual Oscar-winners. My father was a movie critic all through the 1970s and 1980s (I donated his press kits to Shields Library Special Collections at UC Davis), and my brother Oliver has been a film critic since the 1990s (Check out some of his recent reviews on Rotten Tomatoes).
During the commercials at last night’s Oscar party, my ninth grader Truman had his turn, asking us tricky questions about Oscar winners from the past. With my encyclopedic knowledge of trivial pop culture facts, I often knew the answers, but somehow could not remember the names of the actors. For Maggie Smith I could only come up with “Maggie.” For Joe Pesci I could only come up with “that guy from Goodfellas.” We make many jokes about the fading memories of our parents (though my dad’s memory never faded before he died), but how soon will I need to get my own memory evaluation? Whenever I try to recall the name of one of my wife Kate’s favorite actors, Owen Wilson, I inevitably come up instead with Wilfred Own, the British World War I poet who reminds us repeatedly that our lives are as ephemeral as the memory of an actor’s name, or a line of poetry:
Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!
Speaking of mixing acting with poetry, Sir Anthony Hopkins recently appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and he was mixing in lines of Shakespeare with his answers to questions, perhaps the way that a preacher can’t help but cite scripture when chatting with friends at a local coffee shop, or the way that my dad would quote plays or movies while teaching me how to play chess or basketball. Our foundational learning and artistic experiences keep us company and inform our thoughts for the rest of our lives.
As my friends have grown tired of hearing, Kate and I saw Anthony Hopkins perform the title role in my favorite Shakespeare play, King Lear, in London in 1987. That semester abroad I also saw Sir Anthony and Dame Judy Dench in Antony and Cleopatra years before either one of them had been “promoted” to their aristocratic titles. As mad Lear, Hopkins wore the sort of fingerless gloves that he had seen some worn by some of the homeless who could be seen frequenting the east London neighborhoods around the Barbican Theatre where we saw him perform.
It’s amazing to think that Hopkins won his first acting Oscar (“Hello, Clarice.”) just a few years after we saw him do Lear, and his likely last Oscar last night for The Father, about a man who can remember his favorite tunes, but otherwise loses his bearings and risks losing his flat. Everything will be lost, eventually, but the magic of movies lets us visit faraway times and places while we are here, follow the careers of talented actors and directors while we are here, and revisit the film gems of our earlier lives, reliving personal and cinematic memories whenever we have a dark room, welcome company, and two or more hours to spare for the familiar, flickering journey.
I will be hosting an asynchronous Pub Quiz for my much-appreciated patrons this evening. Would you like me to send you a copy? In addition to topics raised above, tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on the history of difference, food insecurity, lactic acid, goblins, big pianos, naturalists, mask policies, wonders of the world, trumpets, ferrets, bluffs, beat joints, notable universities, pets, pompous stewards, summer meals, propaganda, Chicago triumphs, hosts, best-selling books, cow’s milk, the Department of Agriculture, triangles, places partially named after trees, Canada, inherent goodness, dead fathers, intermissions, cowboys, flexible blades, actors named Chadwick, bells, rap stars, US States, famous cups, Vermont, biodiversity, and Shakespeare.
Thanks to my regular super-supporters. People who choose one of the higher tiers on Patreon make it possible for me to keep sharing these newsletters, and to make pub quizzes for you during our many months apart. Any bets on when we will get to re-converge? Thanks especially to The Original Vincibles, Quizimodo, The Outside Agitators, and Bono’s Pro Bono Oboe Bonoboes. Oboes actually come up on the quiz tonight, so that’s fun. I hope you get to enjoy it, and I hope all of us get to go see a film in a movie theatre, such as The Varsity, here in Davis, California, before long. The Varsity is opening on April 30th, and I hope your favorite independent movie house gives you a place to sample some magic again sometime soon.
P.S. Here are three pub quiz questions from last week’s quiz:
Family Mysteries. What is a “pibling”?
Science. What chemical element has the symbol K (Neo-Latin kalium), an atomic number of 19, and an atomic mass 39.098?
Books and Authors. The title of Stieg Larsson’s most famous novel features a tattoo of what sort of creature?