A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, November 22, 2010

JFK Without Tears

Forty-seven years ago today, I was walking into Harvard Yard on my way to Widener to work on some paper or other when two undergraduates ran past me and I heard one of them ask, "Is he dead?" An unsettling question to begin with, and I'm convinced that my mind went immediately to President Kennedy, although that may be only a memory tainted by hindsight.

At the entrance to the library, a guard was listening to a transistor radio, and I found out what had happened. But, being the dutiful graduate student that I thought I was, I kept going. At the entrance to the stacks I met two history grad students I knew, who were already talking about the assassination's implications in dry, clinical terms. I remember saying to them, feeling faintly disgusted at the intellectualization of the event, "Just write November 22, 1963, on a note card and file it."

But I couldn't concentrate on what I was supposed to be researching, and I turned and walked back to my dorm room where my roommate and I spent the weekend listening to the radio. (Believe it or not, nobody had a TV in their dorm rooms in those days.)

All of this came back to me only because I was listening to NPR on my way to the grocery store and some announcer was playing a snippet of the funeral march movement of Beethoven's "Eroica" and commenting on the anniversary. Then it was back to news about the North Korean nukes and the TSA patdowns.

I won't say it only feels like yesterday, but it hasn't been so long ago since November 22 was an occasion for memorials of one sort or another. Now it's just another day to mark off the calendar on the way to Thanksgiving and Christmas. And maybe that's the way it ought to be. But those of us who "remember where we were when" can recall November 22, 1963, as vividly as most people now remember September 11, 2001. Those beautiful autumn days when human life and death seemed so out of phase with the weather.

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