Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Moviegoer (Reprise)

Here in Berlin I'm house-sitting for the Pirate during part of his extended visit back "home". In browsing his bookshelf in detail, I found Querelle, which set off an entire cascade of nostalgia. I remember seeing that film as I first went off on my own (to live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina) at the tender age of 17. It was a hot-bed of resistance to the racist conservatism of the state that, election-after-election, returned the racist rabid anti-communist Jesse Holmes to the U.S. Senate. Chapel Hill was filled with punks, communists, queers and activists of all colors. Never much of a joiner, but rather an enthusiastic and energetic participant, I bounced eclectically between campaigns and crusades, whose breadth and diversity helped me define the kind-and-gentle anarchy that came to characterize my socio-political outlook. I spent as much of the rest of my time in the U.S. that I could in such enclaves: Ithaca, New York, West Los Angeles, Berkeley/Oakland, avoiding the vast American mid-section like a plague.

But let me get back to waxing nostalgic about film. Chapel Hill had an art film theater, called the Carolina Theater, that I haunted that first summer when I knew next to no one there. Coming from a shit town in northern Pennsylvania with a single-screen theater whose most memorable fare was the Bad News Bears, I was, quite simply, enchanted. The Carolina seems, sadly, to have closed in 2005; this report indicates it's been replaced by that bastion of mediocre homogeneity, The Gap store. It's been nearly 30 years now, and the movies I remember from then, according to IMDB, are scattered through the period of a year, such that I couldn't have seen them in just one summer. But memory is like that, it distills and intensifies, such that in my mind, in the summer of 1983, I saw Fassbinder's Querelle, Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay in The Dresser.

Walking into The Carolina for an afternoon matinee anytime I damn well pleased was the purest expression of my new-found adult-hood, hundreds of miles away from my overbearing mother. It was freedom personified. To this day, leaving a theater and walking into the light of day with a foreign film still playing in my head, gives me a feeling nearly as delicious as that beautiful Carolina summer when I was so fresh and young and there was everything to discover.

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