Monday, October 2, 2017

Paying Our Respects

Carytown is in the eye of the beholder.

Now you take someone like me, for instance, someone who's lived in Richmond for 30 years.  Generally speaking, I avoid that stretch of Cary Street because of the hordes of suburbanites and tourists who make a habit of endlessly traipsing up and down both sides of the street.

Except, that is, when there's a reading or I need a book because Chop Suey Books rocks. Except when I need a card and head directly to Mongrel because no store in Richmond compares with their selection of offbeat cards for all occasions. And except for the Byrd Theater because everyone needs a vintage movie palace.

But beyond that, not so much.

But you take someone like author Zach Powers and he sees Carytown as everything that doesn't exist in the far-flung Fairfax suburb he calls home. Tonight he told the crowd that he'd been thrilled to see the shops, restaurants and vibrancy of the area when he pulled up for the reading he was about to give.

And here I was thinking it was just another Monday night park-once-party-twice kind of Richmond evening.

I arrived at Chop Suey early enough to thumb through a new biography of Anne Bancroft to find the section about the making of "The Graduate," which I'd seen just last week.

There were some fascinating tidbits there. Now I know that the scene where Mrs. Robinson takes a drag on her cigarette just before Benjamin kisses her and then exhales mightily afterward came from an old Mike Nichols/Elaine May comedy routine.

Lindsay Chudzik led off reading from one of her short stories about a guy who rehabs houses to resemble TV houses like the ones on "Full House" or "Golden Girls" and the woman who was trying to beat him at his game.

Best line: "It didn't matter if the experience was authentic, as long as people thought it was." If that isn't a succinct summation of the world we live in, I don't know what is.

She then introduced her friend Zach who, after rhapsodizing about finally stopping in Richmond after years of driving past it as well as the allure of Carytown ("I miss this so much"), admitted that he wrote weird stories.

To prove it, he read several of them from his recent book, "Gravity Changes," including two about being in love with inanimate objects: the moon and a light bulb. The latter produced wonderful imagery - "Dry leaves rasped against her ass" - and a tragic ending when the light bulb he married fell down the steps and he was left holding just a shard of her.

As if that weren't enough to convince us of his weirdness, he threw in "Neil Armstrong, Folk Hero" about a 3-year old Neil planting apple seeds on the moon. Because of course he was a huge Neil Armstrong fan.

Once the reading ended, I had almost half an hour until the movie started, so my plan was to go to Mongrel and leisurely shop for some cards I needed. That plan was scuttled when I walked out of the book store and saw a line snaking down Cary Street from the Byrd's box office to Mongrel.

Knowing that the box office wasn't even open for 15 minutes, I thought it wise to join the line. Ten minutes later, it extended to the end of the block and the box office still wasn't open.

The funny part of all this is, I'd had no idea that the movie I was going to see was that big a deal. Or even a small deal. I figured it out based on the growing crowd size and the number of people taking selfies in front of the marquee.

The reason for my ignorance is simple: Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro" was my first anime film. Ever. And if you want the whole truth, I didn't know it was anime until I got in line and saw the poster.

And the hilarious part of that poster is that it was in Italian. And since raffling off the movie poster is always part of these repertory nights at the Byrd, that means some lucky person named Juan Lopez won an Italian poster of a Japanese movie being shown on Miyazaki Monday.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Once I finally scored a ticket and made it inside, I began running into arty 30-something friends. Given that the film was made in 1988, I'm guessing it was part of their youth.

Inside the theater, manager Todd updated us on the progress of the new seats as I sat in one of the old ones complete with torn, ratty fabric and a spring jabbing me in the leg.

Hallelujah, installation begins tomorrow. That said, I'll believe it when I sit in it.

As for the film, I'm not kidding, I think I was part of the 1% who'd never seen "My Neighbor Totoro" because when he announced that he was showing it in Japanese with subtitles, applause broke out. Apparently true Miyazaki fans want nothing to do with the dubbed version Disney did in 2006.

As an anime virgin, I didn't expect to enjoy the film nearly as much as I did.

From the impressionistic background of the Japanese countryside to the sweet depiction of older and younger sisters to a father who takes everything in stride - that their new house is haunted, that the youngest daughter has seen a magical forest creature, that children let out to play on their own will eventually return - I was completely sucked in by the story.

Any Dad who tells his daughters that laughter keeps the bogeyman away is a very good parent and any parent who asks their child's imaginary woodland creature to watch over her is a great one.

Just as impressive were the ecological undertones about man and nature co-existing peacefully and the very Japanese-ness of the story: the family bathes communally, the children show respect for all adults and devotion to family underpins everything. Nobody whines.

Best of all, the nearly sold out crowd watched the movie in polite silence, allowing those of us first-timers to hear every word of the perfectly charming story without disruption.

Got my anime cherry popped tonight. And to think that it happened on Cary Street...

No comments:

Post a Comment