I have a horrible memory for the plots of novels and films. I forget all of it soon enough and only recall the emotions and thoughts a particular work inspired in me. Or other completely irrelevant things, like how I wrote a high school paper on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. With some works, I eventually remember most of the plot if I get a lot of exposure to it, but the details and sub-plots can remain a haze. This allows me to re-read books or re-watch films and still have no idea what will happen. Sometimes I may only remember that the main character dies or gets married, but how it came about I will have forgotten. What do I remember then?
I remember that the first movie I went to see at a cinema was Lion King. The cinema was located a short, leafy, tree-lined walk from our house. The movie left so powerful an impression on me that when it ended, I asked my mother if I could run home ahead of them. I wanted to be alone with my emotions. In this, I have not changed at all, but the world has. In my teens, we still had a cinema where you could walk out of the theatre into the darkness of the night and enjoy a walk home through quiet side-streets. Now, cinemas have been moved to shopping centres. It is extremely jarring to walk out of the cinema and into the shopping centre, especially when you are miles away from the mood of the mall. I don’t go to cinemas any more, unless it is to watch something casual more or less socially. Good films I watch alone. Then I can become as immersed as I naturally would want to be and not return to the real world until I’m ready.
My other most memorable film experience is Le Notti di Cabiria. It is directed by Fellini, features the same actress who plays in the more famous La Strada and was released in 1957. I love the joy of living, the life force that I sense in all these Italian film characters. Il Cielo Cade (2000) was the first Italian movie I saw. It was on TV and I was browsing and bored. That same Italian spiritedness glued me to the screen, fascinated me so much I simply had to try more Italian films. I have by now completely forgotten what Il Cielo Cade was all about – it’s been 10 years – but I plan on re-watching it soon to see if the thing that fascinated me first is still there now that I’ve seen more of Italian cinema. While this movie might have sparked my interest in Italian films, Le Notti di Cabiria ended up being my most complete, perfect film experience.
It drew me in to the point all the world disappeared. At one point, I felt myself fusing with Cabiria, experiencing the same emotions she did. This culminated in us crying identically. I didn’t mean to copy her crying, but when she was fooled yet again, I kicked the bed and cried as bitterly. And when she was walking away, with that Mona Lisa smile on her tear-stained face, I got that smile and felt what she felt. That sort of communion is the ideal art experience for me, I seek it in books too, but it is rare to find. I don’t seek a sop story, of course, but to merge, be totally drawn in. In whichever form. Tearless is as good.
Several movies besides have managed to draw me in, but with Cabiria, it was so-far the most intense experience.
On a different level – more mental and less emotional perhaps – I would also single out Heavenly Creatures, a 1994 film by Peter Jackson. It was where I first saw my own dreams of perfect friendship reflected. I had dreamt of something like this ever since I was old enough, but there were no girls, let alone guys, with whom to have a friendship like that. You had to be alike and equally intense. No one was ever as mad as myself, so my friendships were respectable. Of course, the madness went overboard in the film, they grew too attached and it led to murder, but it need not. And I, I was lucky after all and got to experience that perfect friendship, though many years later.
Hmm, why do I feel like there is the same thread running through these two paragraphs – my dream or need to totally blend with people or with whatever it is I do and experience. My inability – almost – to avoid it.