Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Whole of Our Hearts

I'm getting to be a regular on the northern neck lately.

Today's road trip deposited me at my parents' house so I could help my father rearrange the furniture, which probably sounds odd, but isn't.

Growing up he regularly rearranged our bedrooms and the living room on a semi-annual basis and we just assumed all Dads did that, although I've since learned they don't.

The sweetest moment came when we arranged his and my mother's chairs on separate walls, hers near the glass door to the big porch and his closer to the stereo and TV. "Now how am I going to be able to hold your mother's hand?" he asked me.

Helluva romantic, that's all I can say.

Leaving there, I drove to Irvington to interview an artist who's lucky enough to have a light-filled studio in her house overlooking her sprawling garden and Carter's Creek.

She took me to the window and showed me the bend in the creek where people used to take their boats to get to services at Christchurch nearby.

Can't say I've ever known anyone who boated to church.

On the way back to civilization, I stopped at Parr's Drive-in in Tappahannock, where a statue of French Fry man holding a bouquet of flowers stands out front next to a phone booth (whether it's usable, I have no idea), eschewing fries for a hot fudge sundae, and ate it while chatting with a man named Robert who'd just gotten off work and was having a fish sandwich with tartar sauce on both sides of the bun (they asked and he specified).

I was in no rush to get back because I didn't really have any plans, not that I wasn't going out, but I had no time constraints. Or so I thought.

Once home, I saw an e-mail letting me know that it was pre-festival screening night for the James River film fest where they were showing surrealistic silent short films.

Best part was, it was at Black Iris Gallery, three blocks from home, so it was practically effortless to pull myself together and saunter over there.

James River Film Society grand poobah Mike Jones got things rolling by teasing the upcoming screenings and talking about how post post-modern it was to have actual printed program booklets (in addition to the online listings) and how we were going to see tonight's shorts like our grandparents did, listening to the clatter of a 16 mm projector.

Heaven knows, my grandparents were probably holding hands while they watched movies like these.

He talked about how the French surrealist crowd used to gather as a group and go to a theater, watch 15 minutes of a film, get up and go to another film en masse to watch 20 minutes of something else and do this all evening to ensure they had a disjointed surrealistic experience.

Or maybe just early signs of French ADD.

The surrealistic smorgasbord ranged from an early D.W. Griffith film with prehistoric special effects (a hawk awkwardly stole a baby) to "Dream of a Rarebit Fiend," a cautionary tale of what happens when you eat too much cheese covered bread and wine and try to sleep afterwards.

It did contain some magnificent footage of Greenwich Village circa 1906 beneath film of the glutton flying through the skyline in his bed.

In between films while the new reel was put on, Mike would talk film history to us, sometimes to hilarious results given the age range of the audience.

"The 'Great Train Robbery' was the 'Jaws' of its time," he said in all seriousness before realizing that 90% of the room hadn't been born when "Jaws" came out. "You could call it the 'Avatar' of its time," he said to knowing nods.

Know your audience, Mr. Jones.

He showed a 1913 gangster film prototype called, "The Musketeers of Pig Alley" with a very young and beautiful Lillian Gish playing the Little Lady who is in love with a musician who must go off and make money.

Charlie Chaplin's "Easy Street" had the audience feeling his pain, moaning "oooh!" and "ouch" when bad things happened to heads, which was almost constantly.

Our finale was Buster Keaton's 1923 "The Balloonatic," a back woods romance that began on a summer day at an amusement park, as so many romances do.

After trying the fun house and a hot air balloon, Buster retreats to the woods to canoe, fish and battle bears and there he meets a pretty girl who fishes better than him, cooks out far better than he does (although he lights a fire in his canoe, not the best idea) and even swims better.

The funniest part for me wasn't onscreen, it was a guy in the back row who chortled, "Oh, ho, ho!" at every calamity Buster faced. It was a distinctive laugh.

In once scene, Buster comes upon a squirrel and takes out his shotgun to kill it, causing several girls in the room to worry loudly about the squirrel's future. No one was ready to see a squirrel die, although I heard no complaints when Buster accidentally shot a bear.

As Mike had warned us, by this point in the film industry, audiences were already expecting happy endings, so this short finished with Buster and the girl flying through the air in his canoe but attached to a hot air balloon so when they went over the waterfall, they didn't crash.

Surrealistic or not, I'm pretty sure they were holding hands.

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