“A Place Where Happiness
Costs So Little!”
“Our neighborhood theater in Gentilly has permanent lettering on the front of the marquee reading: Where Happiness Costs So Little. The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even in a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty streets in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.”
– Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
Back in September 2016, I re-read Walker Percy’s masterpiece The Moviegoer, a work that I feel will be the best way to introduce the perspective of this blog. As a writer I have a tendency to latch on to any author or idea that is remotely relevant to my current condition. Last year I wrote extensively on my travels in the United Kingdom from the perspective of Thomas Wolfe’s twenty-eight year old college professor, George Weber and this year I will set out to write from the point of view of Walker Percy’s twenty-nine year old stockbroker, Binx Bolling. Essentially I am unintentionally living out some literary version of Joshua Prager’s 100 Years: Wisdom From Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life.
Aside from our similar age, there are quite a few personality traits and existential concerns I can recognize in Binx Bolling. Traits which are bound to pop up from time to time in future entries. Unlike Bolling’s search for authenticity, which in the book lasted only one week, I have nine months to flesh out the nature of my search. However I will make mention that the above quote does quite succinctly outline my relationship to the movies, perhaps not with the same tunnel-vision that Bolling has in the book’s early passages, but nonetheless a similar approach is applied toward associating both incidental and important life events by way of the movies. Another quote comes to mind in to describe the meaning of important movie memories:
“Fourteen years ago, when I was a sophomore, I saw a western at a movie-house on Freret Street, a place frequented by students and known to them as the Armpit. The movie was The Oxbow Incident and it was quite good. It was about this time of year I saw it, for I remember the smell of privet when I came out and the camphor berries popping underfoot. All movies smell of a neighborhood and a season: I saw All Quiet on the Western Front, one of my first, in Arcola, Mississippi in August of 1941, and the noble deeds were done, not merely fittingly but inevitably, in the thick singing darkness of Delta summer and in the fragrance of cottonseed meal.”
The detail of Bolling’s sensory recall regarding his favorite moviegoing memories is something I too share quite closely. I can vividly recall a series of especially powerful solitary moviegoing experiences that took place during my sophomore year in high school. In a time before I owned a car I regularly walked the three-mile distance after school across town to our small art house cinema. 2004 was also the year I took my first film studies class and the year I first immersed myself as active instead of passive movie watcher.
I’ll forever associate the taste of vanilla Italian soda with the moment Natalie Portman introduces Zach Braff to The Shins in Garden State; the stifling heat I felt in the little theater reserved for foreign films while I watched a young Che Guevera discover the magic and mystery of South America in The Motorcycle Diaries; the righteous indignation I that came during the dark rainy evening I spent aimlessly walking my town’s Main Street after witnessing the pointless slaughter demonstrated in Hotel Rwanda; the feel of my finger poking the cigarette burn on the arm rest after Napoleon Dynamite inspired me to run an ill-fated bid for senior class president; the clammy feel of my date’s hand while enduring through The Notebook; and after that relationship fell apart, the warmth and comfort I felt in fantasizing about the mind-erasure procedure of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I could keep going, but you get the gist. In the thirteen years since I discovered serious moviegoing, I have since been able to place most major feelings, sensations, and life events to a particular movie I watched at the same time.
The use of the word “cinemanic” in the title of this blog derives from the Ancient Greek term theia mania or “divine madness,” first introduced in Plato’s Phaedrus. In the classical world, the phenomenon of “love at first sight” was understood within the context of a more general conception of passionate love, as opposed to being consumed by madness.
For the next nine months I will be living and working in Ghent, Belgium with the Centre for Cinema and Media Studies (CIMS) with the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at Universiteit Gent. I intend to use this blog as a place to share my impressions, experiences, and film related pilgrimages that I will experience over the coming academic year. Please feel free to comment on my entries and later I will add a space where you too can share your own favorite moviegoing experiences.
Ph.D. Candidate Texts and Technology
University of Central Florida