Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ten People I Know

There's this viral meme infecting the blogs these days having something to do with naming ten favorite characters in the movies. So many have admitted that they have dozens of favorites and that the list changes from day to day and that a little bending of the rules is required that I don't feel bad about changing it around a little bit for myself as well.

I have dozens if not a couple of hundred favorite characters in the movies. Maybe more. Seriously. Think about how many movies where you see a character with only a line or two but they're so good you say in reference to them forever after, "I love that guy!" or "I love that lady!" Happens to me all the time. Or favorites from childhood like the Cowardly Lion played by Bert Lahr. I love the Cowardly Lion played by Bert Lahr ("Unusual weather we're having, ain't it?"). But, for favorites, true favorites, characters that really connect with me on a deeper level, well... that's a whole different ballgame.

Favorite characters for me are the ones that resemble someone in my life or remind me of some time in my life. And not just a passing resemblance but a feeling of "dear Lord that's me, or him, or her, or that time!" Where without even knowing me, the filmmakers and actors somehow pinned down an exact moment or time or relationship and got it dead on accurate. It happens in literature and music as well. Many people have a book they read again and again because it mirrors so closely something they have experienced or has a character that is all too familiar. And probably everyone has heard a song with a lyric that seems written for them. Having said that I am a bit trepidatious about revealing this list lest it feel too exhibitionist but what use is a blog for personal expression if one cannot express oneself personally. It's my view that most of us are covering up for something lacking in our lives and I'm no different. Think whatever you will about Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, but the tagline (one of several) of that movie is like a mantra to me: You may be through with the past but the past ain't through with you. With that in mind, here's the list:

Oma, Fat City. Not only do I think Susan Tyrrell, who played Oma, should have walked away (walked, as in no competition) with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, I think she should get a Presidential Medal of Freedom for the role. And if you think she or Stacy Keach, also fantastic as fellow drunkard Tully, overplayed their roles well then sorry, I guess you haven't known many alcoholics. I have. They're a part of my life, from my own family to working at a liquor store in a poor neighborhood (probably the saddest job I ever had) right up to today. My wife and I have a friend right now who is a raging alcoholic but also, and more importantly, there's my sister, and no one can steal the crown from my sister. She's been screwed up on drugs and alcohol for as long as I can remember, in jail and out, even married to a drug dealer in the eighties until the F.B.I. closed in and they both made deals to nab the higher-ups. After that they divorced. My sister, almost fifty, lives at home with my parents, sober now but no longer able to make her own way in this world. If you're curious what that looks like, watch Fat City and watch a brilliant portrayal of alcoholism by Susan Tyrrell.

Woody Allen in Husbands and Wives, Manhattan and Deconstructing Harry at various times and various moments of my life. I look nothing like him and certainly don't have groups of friends anywhere near as pretentious or self-important but I swear when I watch those movies it's like that son of a bitch followed me around.

George Bailey, It's a Wonderful Life, played by James Stewart, near the end when he's suicidal because everything, fucking everything, is closing in on him at once. Let me tell you, sometimes you really do feel like giving up. Fortunately I have a guardian angel just like George did and it's my wife.

Marion Crane, Psycho, played by Janet Leigh. Boy, how many times have I felt like taking off with a bagful of money? Too many to count. I feel for Marion and the unfair end she comes to after doing something not out of malice but desperation. She comes to her senses (fortunately I've yet to leave mine) just a little too late.

Madame de, The Earrings of Madame de..., played by Danielle Darrieux. She finally found love and look what it got her. I want her to find love and be happy. God I feel for her.

Laura, Brief Encounter, played by Celia Johnson. She is so like her. So very much like her I can't think of anyone else when I see her. And she's wonderful, both the character and the real person so close to me.

Cooper "Gooper" Pollitt, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, played by Jack Carson. A minor character sure, but there's someone I always think about with him and I have great sympathy for just how badly he misses it. How he just doesn't get it. He just doesn't understand that playing by all the rules and having a tidy life doesn't mean acceptance or even love will come your way. Come to think of it, I know a few people like that. And yet sometimes I envy them even while I know they often envy the stragglers.

Kay Adams, The Godfather I, II and III. Even though I can confidently say my first wife and her friends and family were not gangsters I cannot watch The Godfather and see Kay Adams and not feel an absolute closeness to her and what she's going through. I was never, ever, connected to the world my first wife lived in and she never made any attempt to connect me to it. Not that I wanted to. Like Kay, I made several futile attempts to get her out of it but never could. Oddly enough, the most derided of all Godfather films, the third one, provides the most dead on line for me in my situation with my first wife. When Michael says to Kay, "You hate me, don't you?" she responds, "I don't hate you, I dread you." Wow! That is it! Spot on!

Everyone seems to have a cheat on these lists and here's mine: Dodsworth, all three leads played by Walter Huston, Mary Astor and Ruth Chatterton. They're all wonderful and I feel for all three, even Ruth Chatterton, desperately trying to cling to youth by bedding younger men.

Howard Beale, Network, played by Peter Finch. I have no connection to this character whatsoever. None. But this line - "I just ran out of bullshit" - that he uses to explain his dramatic change on the air in how he addresses the world... well, I just wish it were that easy sometimes. To just run out of bullshit and bombard the world with brutal honesty. But then you get fired from your job and your kids go hungry and your friends desert you and someone eventually finds a way to kill you, not as dramatically as Howard, but in a slow creeping way. They say "Bullshit makes the world go round" and they're probably right. If I let my higher ups in on my true feelings I'd be cleaning out my desk within the hour and I know it. So I keep feeding them bullshit and my kids keep eating. My wife and I run out of bullshit from time to time but usually realize it's sometime more cruel to tell someone the truth than feed them a lie. You might be ready to be blunt but that doesn't mean someone else is and they've got to get there on their own, same as you. Still, wouldn't it be nice?

I hope no one reading this thinks less of me for the mild exhibitionism in this post but that is how a character truly does become an all-time favorite of mine, a character I can think about at different peaks and valleys of life for inspiration, guidance or even as a warning. It's just one of the reasons the movies mean so much to me, because in so many ways, they are and always will be, a part of me.


Now comes the matter of tagging. Well, I don't know who is left at this point. I thank Flickhead and Brian for tagging me for this meme and extend the tag to anyone who has not yet been tagged. And even if they have already been tagged, I still want to tag Arbogast, Neil, Marilyn, Sheila and Ryan. Also anyone who is linked on my sidebar and has not been tagged yet I tag YOU! Seriously. Look on the blogroll. If you're there and have not been tagged yet consider this official. I just don't want to type out all those links right now. Thanks.