I have a theory about movies and relationships

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 6, 2015 8:21 PM

Last night after we watched the first episode of American Crime, which we liked a great deal, we did our usual channel surfing. We used to watch the local news after prime time TV was over but we stopped doing that about a year and a half ago. The market is a small one and the local news is always kind of ridiculous. Even in Los Angeles, much of the local news was borderline laughable. The only difference is that LA is one of the top markets in the country so the on-air talent was a bit more, well, talented. Here in Tucson, a decidedly small market, the on-air talent is a bit more breathless in their pronouncement of the ridiculous. The only person we only halfway like is the chief meteorologist on the ABC affiliate, inartfully named KGUN.

One of my first go-to channels for late-night surfing is USA, because Kevin likes to always catch an episode or two of Law & Order: SVU. Last night USA was running a movie we weren’t interested in. The next go-to is Turner Classic Movies. During the month of February, they do 28 days of Oscar running films that won Academy Awards for one thing or another. We saw everything from All the President’s Men to Out of Africa to All About Eve. It’s March now so all the good movies have already played. That must be why they were running Airport. Coincidentally the film was released on March 5, forty-five years ago. I saw it originally when I was eight, watching through the small gap between the front seat of my parent’s car. We were at the drive-in.

The next time I saw it was on my honeymoon, with husband #1. We were in Monterey, at a beautiful inn on Cannery Row. He was asleep, I was channel surfing and ended up watching a movie about a bomb blowing a hole in the side of an airplane. It should tell you something about my first marriage. I use it as a bit of a metaphor. 

I have a theory about movies and relationships. It goes something like this. I believe, based on absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever, that the first movie a couple sees together as a couple sets the stage for their relationship. The first movie husband #1 and I saw together was Escape from Alcatraz. I hadn’t developed my theory yet; I was still too infatuated to even think that it might be an omen. I mean, a movie about a guy living in the most notorious prison in the country for years and then finally escaping? If that isn’t a metaphor for a bad marriage, I’m not sure what is.

The only truly serious boyfriend I had between husband #1 and favorite husband #2 was with a guy named David. I liked him a lot. I wanted him to the one, but he liked me far more than I liked him. We were together for about five months. The first movie I saw with him was Frankenstein, a movie about a guy cobbled together with parts from other guys. Symbolic, don’t you think?

Kevin and I saw Pulp Fiction as our first movie. I had developed my theory by then, but didn’t share it. It was much too early to do so as it was just our second date. We laugh about it now. It’s such a profane movie. A series of vignettes where the word mother f#$%er gets thrown around a lot. Sort of like our lives.

Justin and Joanne saw Despicable Me as their first movie. Considering he just broke up with her, I suspect she thinks it was prophetic. Justin probably does too, since I know he feels very badly about the whole situation. He feels despicable.

Roy and Bobbi saw Ordinary People as their first movie. She laughs and tells me that it’s perfect. I think it might be the exception. If it was titled Extraordinary People I might think differently.

Movies so often mirror real life, in ways that we really don’t completely comprehend. But when you think about it, and you look at basic plot structure, it makes sense. Movies are us, and we are them, with our relationships defined by a 70 foot screen and dolby surround. That’s definitely the sound of living it out loud.

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live out loud

Busy busy busy and there’s not bee in sight

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 8, 2014 9:34 PM

When I was in college, I took a number of literature classes. As an English major, even with a concentration in creative writing, this was required. I didn’t have a problem with it because I love to read, and many of the assigned texts I hadn’t had the occasion to open. For instance, until I was in college I had never read Shakespeare. Now I can scarcely get enough of the Bard. At some point, I also read The Canterbury Tales, or at least some of the tales since no one knows for sure if they were ever actually finished, and because they were composed as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they journeyed to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. There are over 20 stories, all written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century during the Hundred Years’ War waged by England for control of the French throne. The war was between 1337 and 1453, not quite a hundred years but that’s picking nits. It was still a long damn time.

I’ll be perfectly honest. While I absorbed Shakespeare, I didn’t take to Chaucer. I didn’t mind it; I just didn’t love it. Maybe it’s because as an English major, I was expected to love Shakespeare because of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and my personal favorite Much Ado About Nothing. I have grown to love Shakespeare even more thanks to Kenneth Branagh. Chaucer hasn’t been as lucky in having a film auteur turn his tales into cinematic treasures.

One of the anxiety dreams I have when I’m extremely stressed takes place at Ham-Smith, formally known as Hamilton-Smith Hall, at the University of New Hampshire where I received my degree. Ham-Smith is the English building. It even looks like a place book worms would hang out. Next to the library, it just looked scholarly even for a school that was founded in 1866. Gray stone exterior with small, arched windows, marbled columns in front. Wide cement steps leading up to two main doors. I spent hours and hours and hours in that building.

In my anxiety dream, I show up for class but I haven’t been there all semester. I have trouble finding the room, and then when I do, I realize that I haven’t done any of the reading, I don’t know any of the material, and there is a test and I don’t have a pencil and then I wake up.

Luckily I don’t have this dream very often and it’s not because I’m not stressed. I am, just like every other functioning adult in the country. It’s because I’m generally not anxious. My stress comes from the usual suspects. Too much to do and not enough time to get it done; generally things I can control. Anxiety comes from things I can’t control. Like when I get paid, or the building of a house.

I’ve been swamped lately. For about the last two or three months I have had a ton going on, almost too much if there is truly such a thing. As someone who’s self-employed it’s nearly impossible to turn down work since I never know when it will come my way again. I have many regular clients that I’ve worked with for years and some new ones as well. There is always time. I find it; I manufacture it if I need to.

I was thinking today as I was ping-ponging between clients and jobs that I’m flat out. Busy as a bee. Which got me to thinking because this is the warped way my brain sashays from one thought to another: Where did such a statement originate?

Which led me to The Canterbury Tales.

It seems that the first person to use the phrase “busy as a bee” (which means very busy and dedicated) or at least close enough to count, was none other than Mr. Chaucer in the Squire’s Tale:

Ey! Goddes mercy!” sayd our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees

Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.

And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel.

You can also see why I never really took to Chaucer. It bee-eth a tad too hardeth to, you knoweth, read. Eth. 

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live out loud

TV or not TV

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 14, 2012 11:56 PM

One of my guilty pleasures in life is television. I love the telly, the idiot box, the TV. I especially love reruns of shows that I’ve seen a dozen times; ditto movies. Nothing thrills me more than finding an X-Files marathon on SyFy, or a West Wing or Inside the Actor’s Studio marathon on Bravo, a Law & Order: SVU marathon on USA or a Gilmore Girls marathon on ABC Family. I love good television, familiar television, fun television and especially bad television.

I’m not sure where this pleasure came from. Perhaps it is rooted in my childhood when I would rush inside from playing to watch Dark Shadows or Lost in Space. Or even earlier, when we’d watch cartoons on Saturday nights. Or earlier still, when I’d watch The Wizard of Oz on the couch with dad. I never liked that movie, but for some reason, we watched it. Elmira Gulch scared the crap out of me, even more so than the witch (I didn’t know until I was much older that the same actress, Margaret Hamilton, played both parts). Or watching the perennial showing of the Ten Commandments on Easter with my grandmother though I always lost interest after Moses found out he wasn’t a prince of Egypt. I guess, even then, I wasn’t very religious. I just liked all the class warfare and strife, even though I never did much care for Charlton Heston. In fact, I can’t remember a single movie I ever saw him in that I liked. There was the equally religious Ben-Hur, and then the disaster flicks of the 70s. Take Earthquake. Dog! Or that horrendous Airport movie. Was it ’75? I can still remember cringing when he croaked “climb, baby, climb” as his girlfriend, a moronic flight attendant, was flying a 747 over the mountains in Utah. Double dog!

Back to television.

When I was in college, I had an old black and white television that I placed on the top of my dorm room closet. I could climb up into my loft, sit back against the wall and watch any of the two channels I got via rabbit ears. One was the public television station, which coincidentally was broadcast from Durham where the University of New Hampshire was located. That station came in fairly well, clean and crisp. In those days, the channel didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day, at least I don’t think they did. But they often broadcast movies. I remember watching Julia, seeing Reds for the first time, and many old, black and white movies – a plus, since it was the color my television most liked. I watched Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge on a rainy Saturday, perched up on my loft wrapped in a blanket. I think part of me liked the escape.

Part of me still does.

When I was single, I would often have a television on in the house even though I wasn’t watching it. The voices kept me company. I do the same in my office sometimes. The television is behind me so I can’t actually watch it but if I’m having a lonely day, which happens sometimes when you work alone, and especially when I’m having one of those days where nothing is coming easily, quickly or good-ly. It makes me feel like I’m part of society. It’s also another way to escape when I need to.

This morning, I was in my office before 7, yawning already, never a good sign. I turned on the television while my computers got themselves ready for the day. FX was running a movie I’ve seen before. It’s not very good but it was good company. Frequency, with Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. I love Dennis Quaid, I always have. He has a disarming smile, more of a mischievous grin, and he’s almost always good, though rarely great. Maybe that’s why I like him. I’m also partial to more rugged guys and Quaid is most definitely a rugged guy. He’s good even in bad movies, like The Day After Tomorrow, a horrid film about an important subject that was just trivialized. But he was good, even with wooden dialogue. He was great in the remake of The Parent Trap which remains one of my favorite guilty kid movies. He was just charming, plus he had a vineyard in the film, and you know me and wine.

I turned today’s film off fairly early. I didn’t need to see it again. And I was busy and trying desperately to get some good copy done. I didn’t need any distractions; I didn’t need to escape. I needed to concentrate.

That’s the other thing about TV. It’s wonderful when you don’t really want to concentrate and just want to veg. It’s not so good when you need to focus. It’s the age-old dilemma, now in HD, wide-screen, plasma, 1080p color and hundreds of channels. To teevee or not teevee.

But I’m not going to deal with it now because Stage Door is on, with Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball. And later, on PBS, is American Masters. I think tonight they’re profiling Johnny Carson. I was never a fan, but Kevin was. We have a big night ahead of us.

Living it out loud. On the couch. With a glass of wine. Feet up. Vegging in front of the tube. 

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A little movie nostalgia

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 27, 2012 9:50 PM


I have very fond memories of going to the drive-in when I was a kid of about eight or nine. On Saturday nights, my mother would pop an enormous amount of popcorn and put it into a big brown grocery bag. She’d pack some type of soda, most likely Pepsi (we were never big Coke drinkers), we’d all pile into the car and off we’d go, three kids in the back seat, the parents in the front. The drive-in was in Hyde Park, not far from where we lived in Staatsburg. We’d arrive, wait in line to pay at the entrance, then dad would pick out the primo spot on the lot, not too far from the concession stand, not too close either. He’d park close to one of the speaker stands, roll down the window (manually; we didn’t have electric windows in those days), and dad would position the speaker so that it hung perfectly over the window. It was heavy and clunky. The sound was always horrible. But it was the perfect family outing.

The Hyde Park drive-in, still operational.

The theatre would show a kid’s movie first. It would start just at sundown, around 8:15 or so. I’m sure we saw countless movies like this but I only remember one. The kid’s movie was probably something stupid like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was never particularly fond of kids’ movies even when I was a kid. They always seemed like they were insulting my intelligence. Some kid’s movies have gotten much better the last few years, especially with Pixar films and even Disney. And Shrek.

We’d eat popcorn and drink soda. After the kids’ flick, my brother, if he was still awake fell quickly to sleep. My little sister was just a baby at the time. Mom would take me to the bathroom, an undoubtedly nasty place. Then we’d get fries at the concession stand.

By the time the first movie was over, my baby sister would be curled up on the seat between mom and dad. Scott would be asleep on the floor in the back, giving me the entire back seat to stretch out. And I did.

The front seat of the car was a bench seat, but it had a split of some sort down the middle, leaving just enough of a crack of space for a nine year old to peer through. The second movie was always for grown-ups. Those are the movies I wanted to see, probably because I wasn’t supposed to. Mom and Dad would get comfortable in the front wth Khris sleeping between them, and I would get comfortable in the back, with my eyes watching through the slit in the seat as I pretended to sleep.

I remember watching Airport like this. I thought it was the most exciting movie I had ever seen, and that Jacqueline Bisset was the most beautiful woman on the planet. I had never been in an airplane, never even been to an airport. I was enthralled. I was going to be a stewardess. Of course, then she tried to get into the bathroom when Van Heflin – who would be a terrorist today – ducked inside with his attaché bomb. He just wanted to take care of his wife… he’d been out of work for so long. They had no more jewelry to pawn and he’d bought life insurance so he pulled the string and blew a hole in the side of the airplane. Poor Jackie. She damn near got sucked out the hole and into the cold atmosphere. Luckily the plane’s very good pilots, among them Dean Martin (who I’ve come to believe was totally sloshed while he was making this movie) were able to return to Lincoln, Nebraska, and land the crippled aircraft in the middle of a raging blizzard because Joe Patroni was able to get a stuck 707 un-stuck. It was very dramatic.

Maybe it was because I was watching it through a slit that couldn’t have been more than an inch wide.

The first drive-in was created by Richard Hollingshead, Jr. who conducted outdoor theatre tests in his driveway in Riverton, New Jersey in 1932 using a screen nailed to trees and a 1928 Kodak projector positioned on the hood of his car. His first real drive-in opened on June 6, 1933 at the Airport Circle in Pennsauken. The first film shown was Wife Beware.  Drive-in movie theatres peaked around 1958 when there were about 4,000 of them. Today there are 371 operating in the United States.

They were hugely popular with families and dating teenagers alike. I have many fond memories of going to the drive-in in high school. It was a great party place, an even better make-out space.

But nothing quite matches that first experience of Airport. I remained enamored of the film for years. It’s funny how things you remember from your childhood are so drastically different when you revisit them as an adult. Airport was on AMC one day and I watched it. It has not aged well, though Jacqueline Bisset nearly getting blown to bits and the plane landing on runway 2-9er remain highly dramatic. I think the only reason I could get through it was because of my fond childhood memory, watching a movie that I wasn’t supposed to watch through a slit in the front seat.

Someday I’ll have to tell you how I used to also watch movies by holding a mirror under my door long after I was supposed to be in bed. 

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live out loud

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