Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Of November 22, on November 23rd

A MEMORY OF November 22, which I should have posted yesterday: About four years after the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, while I was attending grade school at Allison Elementary, we had a substitute teacher who brought up the subject of "Where where you the day the President was shot?"

As Fate would have it, this woman happened to be the same home room teacher I'd in second grade at North Norwood Elementary on the day of the assassination, and it was from her -- en route to the school's lunch room -- that I first heard about it. As I recall, the shooting was known but the fact of the President's death was not learned until after lunch, at which time the students were dismissed to go home and be with their families. I had not yet spoken to this teacher (whose name I've since forgotten) to remind her of our previous acquaintence, so I was eager to raise my hand and tell her what I remembered of that day, part of which we had spent together.

About halfway through my story, when she realized I was including her in my recollection, her expression became very strange, as if she was trying to place me. When I finished telling my story, she said with awed surprise, "I remember you!" Then she paused before adding... "Are you still drawing monsters?"

And the whole classroom broke into laughter because, yeah, I still was.

SPEAKING OF MONSTERS, I'm still awaiting my KONG stuff from Warner Home Video, so I chose not to pre-empt the pleasure of receiving the discs by watching the TCM broadcasts last night. Instead, I found myself drawn to watching a movie on IFC that I actually love a good deal more: Krzysztof Kieslowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE, a wondrous and tragic masterpiece that deserves DVD release more than any other film I can think of. Watching the movie again for the first time in close to a decade, I was struck by how the scene in which Véronique (the wonderful Irène Jacob) begins to intuitively grieve the passing of the Polish double she has never met, and how evocative this scene is now of the fact of Kieslowski's own premature death. When I discovered Kieslowski's work, it was like discovering a brother; he captured on film something of the way I view my own world, which no one before him had done in quite the same way. Each of his films reawakened in me a long-dormant hope that was more of a constant in the 1970s, when any movie I went to see harbored the possibility that it might change my life. So when Kieslowski suddenly died in 1996, it was like losing someone of close and mysterious kinship, and much of my hope for a renaissance of the cinema also died with him. I have yet to see the work of any new director who I think might conceivably replace him, which would be impossible anyway; better to say, no new director has come along since to offer me anything like an equal measure of hope. So I still grieve for Kieslowski. I can only imagine how his actors must feel, carrying on in their careers without him.

There are times when I feel I need, for the well-being of my soul, to spend some time with the healing works of a Kieslowski or De Sica or Parajanov or Rohmer, but my job being what it is, what I have to watch is... something else. And so it was that I had to follow last night's viewing of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE with Ishiro Honda's MATANGO, aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE -- a movie I've always enjoyed and respect to some degree, but hardly the ideal chaser for a Kieslowski film. I ask myself if I didn't hurt the experience by subjecting it to such comparison. Fortunately, I have to watch the movie again with its audio commentary on, so I'll have a second chance to approach the film when I'm in a more receptive mood for it.

TODAY IS THE 118th anniversary of Boris Karloff's birth (Billy Pratt's, anyway) but I'd like to extend more active birthday greetings to some still-vital people I doubt read this blog: the inimitable Michael Gough (who turns 88 today, proving that railing at people in Herman Cohen productions is good for your health); WILD WILD PLANET star and former president of the English Language Dubbers Association, Tony Russel (80); TOMB OF LIGEIA screenwriter Robert Towne (71); and, with pleasing symmetry, Boris' daughter Sara Karloff is celebrating her 67th today. (I once spoke to Sara on the telephone and she seemed to me a very nice lady.) Also worth mentioning is that ONE STEP BEYOND host-director John Newland (a fellow Cincinnatian) would have been 88 today, and CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN director Rafael Balédon would have been 86.

OVERNIGHT, CINCINNATI HAD its first snowfall of the year. I hate snow. It doesn't help that I'm dieting -- never a good idea on Thanksgiving week, anyway -- and taking diet pills that seem to be making me just a litt-tle bit cranky.

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