Tuesday, February 27, 2007
For years now I have kept in my head a memory of an editorial in Famous Monsters of Filmland in which Forrest J. Ackerman, writing to parents, insists his magazine is not the source of its child-readers' anxieties, that the actual blame for nervous tykes goes, of course, to the real world of the early 1960s, a duck-and-cover nightmare that tops any fright the rubber-masked creepy-crawlers of Horrorwood could ever stir up. I don't know where this editorial appears--if it does at all; still, I have an image of it in my head, the text accompanied by, naturally, a patented grainy FM black-and-white photo of a mushroom cloud, wide as Mr. Sardonicus' grin, dingy as a gravedigger's gloves.
Faithful readers of this site will attest to my penchant for discussing the delicious thrill of cinematic scares, the typical Boomer caress over the pulp surface of memories of Saturday matinees gone by, the--I will admit--self-indulgent gushing over low-budget Gothicism, from Tinglers to Saucer-Men, from Basil Wolverton to Frank Frazetta. And I will also admit this can grow a bit silly--and yet: since starting this paragraph I wandered over to Wikipedia to check up on various of these dark corners--E.C. Comics, Creepy and Eerie magazines--and five minutes in their company was enough to soften my disdain, even to retrieve my fond admiration.
What is going on here? In part, it is simply my heart--"dark and drifting, and unsatisfied" (to misappropriate a Springsteen line)--trying to lay it all out; but in arranging everything there in front of me I linger, and recall, and won't let go, until I have once again written myself into reconciliation with the solitary pleasures of a monster-ridden life.
Which brings me back to Forry Ackerman and the (imagined?) editorial. I was watching Moonlight Mile (2002), in which a young man (Jake Gyllenhaal), his fiancee newly murdered--while he continues to live with his would-have-been-future in-laws (Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman)--must cope with their shared loss--and the secret he keeps: that he had broken off the engagement days before her murder. As Joe wears his early-'70s mourning suit and slips half-consciously into his father-in-law's determination for them still to go into the commercial real estate business together ("and Son" already added to the sign), he does his best to hide away and take care of Ben and his writer wife, Jojo. But his self is forced into uneasy sleep and he struggles to fall in love with a local woman (Ellen Pompeo), whose own fiance is MIA in Vietnam. On the surface it is an indie soaper, but Joe's short-of-breath posture and frozen smile brought me up short: I knew that feeling, the only one required to keep it together, while my own dearly departed, still alive back there in the mid-'60s, as real as Forry Ackerman's mushroom cloud--realer, right there in my house--haunted me more every year, until I began to see myself as a lonely boy about to become a lonely man. Now there's something to be afraid of.
And as I stumbled, peering in the dimness of adolescence in 1971, I think I may have looked a little like Joe, realizing I was surrendering to others' pain and loss--my mother sicker every year, my father finding less and less work, our almost-middle-class life balanced at the edge of what looked to be a long, ugly drop. So watching Moonlight Mile I was able to hear that clock-in-cotton muffled heartbeat under the floorboards, the guilt unwarranted, but the deed still done, the Joycean dead haunting every muscle as I tried to make one simple lifting motion--but man it was heavy, if I may sound like the early '70s.
At the end, as Joe and Jojo look up at the camera, I could hardly look back, at last happy for them (and for me), the car for one and her typewriter for the other at last moving, getting somewhere, going home; and even though broken things persist--the daughter was shot in a "family restaurant" across the street from her father's business, and the window remains boarded up (until at the end Ben plunks a fifty on the counter, 90 cents for the ice-cream cone and the change for a new window)--and the promises of the past can become threats--Ben's office is on one of those Main Streets that commercial real estate developers like him killed in the '80s--you can still turn away every once in a while, and look up and smile. As Jojo tells Joe, "You find your home, and it may not be what you thought--you know; color's off, style's wrong ... but there it is anyway and to hell with you if you can't take a joke." Movies keep wanting us to "learn about loss," as DeNiro's Max Cady intones, his voice gritty as a dustcloud, but Moonlight Mile bestows the blessing of learning how to lose and come out of it alive, in one home or another.
Posted by Paul J. Marasa at 6:01 AM
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