I love this picture that Lucy painted with water colors, tree bark, and an old green sweater for the Spanish Moss. It’s in our book, NOTHING FANCY ABOUT KATHRYN & CHARLIE about the friendship between Kathryn Tucker Windham and Charlie Lucas.
Sometimes, it felt like a movie driving with the girls to rural Alabama libraries to do workshops with the kids where they made trees out yarn, buttons, and popsicle sticks.
And today I’m thinking about movies.
I don’t know why.
I remember the one and only film class I took at the University of Tennessee, and I believe it was a called “History of Film.” There weren’t many film classes to take back then and this may have been the only offering, but I was so excited to be in a class where we watched and discussed films. It’s annoying that I can’t remember the professor at all, but it was a large class, and I supposed we wrote papers and he lectured, but I can’t remember him other than he was a nice enough guy who showed us movies. It was exciting to be taking a class in film – I never knew you could do that when I first started college. I thought college meant you meant you had to to slog through Econ 101 and Astronomy and Communications and psychology and take journalism classes in order to write for the Daily Beacon.
But after studying as an exchange student in Manchester, England at Manchester University, I came back determined to take only the classes I wanted to study. And I found one of the few film classes offered. I certainly remember three that were on the syllabus.
The first film on the syllabus was “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.” It was old and crackled on the large projector he played it in the classroom and it was full of melodrama and loud orchestral music to underscore the drama of pick-axes and prisoners.
I didn’t fall in love with it, and I felt shallow for not feeling more moved.
In the film class, it brought back memories of Catholic school where we also watched films in a classroom, but they were “meaningful” movies with themes of faith and doing the right thing. They were “Insight films” about “Modern Man’s Search for Meaning, Freedom, Love…Insight” and always in religion class. There was this big eye with lots of spirals as the film trailer opened, and we watched those on an old projector too. The nuns usually got one of the boys to thread the projector. Some of the kids slept during the film, but I knew not to sleep because Sister Matilda or her ilk would kick your chair to wake you up. I just found one with Martin Sheen and Eve Plumb that I vaguely remember watching about a priest’s crisis of faith. (Look at skinny little Martin Sheen.)
I can’t remember many of the other films on the syllabus except for Ray Milland in “The Lost Weekend.” I remember this movie because my mother told me that her mother would not let her watch it her at as a girl because “Ray Milland got the DT’s.” I asked what the “DT’s” were and she said, “Delirium Tremors.”
The main thing I remember about that film was Ray Milland stashing bottles all over the place and having no control over his drinking. It seemed so foreign to me.
Why not just stop?
But I didn’t know any better then.
The film made a huge impression on me, and I walked out of the classroom feeling like I’d learned something – that something had shifted inside as I gained this new understanding. It actually makes me want to stop everything right now and just watch it again as it’s been so many years.
The only other movie I remember watching was “Gentleman’s Agreement,” which was the first time I saw Gregory Peck in anything other than “To Kill a Mockingbird.” This was the first film I ever recalled seeing that dealt so subtly and not-so-subtly with racism. It made me so uncomfortable and I found myself walking around and thinking of the film for days. That’s another film I’d like to re-watch, since it’s been thirty years. I remember being sickened and woken up by this film.
I loved it when movies did that.
I don’t even know how I got off on these movies. It’s Sunday afternoon in Birmingham. We’ve gained an hour but it will be dark soon, and I hate the darkness falling so early in the day, which I supposed made me think of the “Lost Weekend,” which brought back memories of that one and only film class.
This weekend feels a little like the lost weekend of college applications, SAT subject tests, and trying to think of what to cook for dinner – could yellow squash and onions go with black beans? I remember the weekends when watching “60 Minutes” felt like I’d accomplished something. I think my concentration and focus is shot because of this election. I never wanted anything to be over as much as I want this over, so maybe that’s why I’m thinking of movies.
One of the most memorable moments I can recall in film was watching “Amacord” in New York. It was my first trip to New York and the movie begins and ends with dandelion balls floating in the air, and when I walked out of the film, stunned by the experience of Fellini’s Italian childhood on the big screen, dandelion balls were blowing past me on that New York street. The movie had followed me out of the theatre. I was with my best friend, Craig, who had insisted I see “Amacord.” Then we bought wine and bread to eat in Battery Park before taking the Stanton Ferry back to his place where I was staying to explore the idea of moving to New York from Knoxville after college.
But that’s another story.
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