The Mirror on the Wall

On another cold Sunday morning and up alone while everyone else sleeps, I made my way through some photos from only a few lives ago.

Damn it. How can it be that so much has changed?

No longer little girls, smiles have been replaced by the brooding of young adulthood (oh could I have stopped time and taken a number amongst the long line of dreamers who’ve gone before– like I’m covering some new ground here).

Where are they now? Locked away in their thoughts; comprehending the slights and arguments that the passing of time slowly uncovered.

I was a hero then; maybe. In my own mind. The delusion made it easier to go on.

Now what? More tears. The passing of time is a mirror which haunts me.

And today it’s speaking back a little louder than usual.

A Farewell to the Ghost of Oxford

My last day in Oxford was spent again walking around campus, alone. I had lunch in the student union and then walked on to field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. I even strolled the perimeter of the campus as a sort of way of “peering into” another world. My last stop was here:

The Lyceum.

The main administration building on the Ole Miss campus. It’s the signature building on this out of the world place in the world. And I took a picture.

Afterward, I met up again with Van for a last goodbye. I snapped a picture of him standing outside of Alumni House and standing next to his Volkswagen Beetle. Thinking that what we had established over the past few days would be the start of a long term friendship, I hardly wondered if and when I’d see him again…

Back north, I sat at my desk and wrote a letter of thanks to Van for his kindness and generosity during my visit to Oxford. Once mailed, I began to anticipate his response.

That anticipation continues to this day because I never heard again from the Ghost of Oxford.

Dust Motes Near Lockers

Just floating through the air.

Sitting here now, I can almost remember thinking that I’d remember the dust motes. Emerging from the bathroom, I’d walked down the hall on the way back to class.

And just across from the entrance to the school library, there were windows which looked out into the courtyard. The Florida sun would burn through the saline air of a beach life, highlighting the particulars of that first few periods of the day moment.

And just like then, I’m alone.

Like gasoline fumes, there was something mirage-like about the dust motes floating within the rays of light.

In school.

On a day which left no other impressions (where did they go? where do they go?), I still have that vision today. How can that be?

With my own children now at the age of me that day, I wonder what seemingly insignificant events interrupt their days. And I wonder too how much they’ll take with them.

So I sit here tonight thinking and writing because I don’t know what else to do.

Dust motes.

A desiccated rose

Turning my head slightly to the side, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. In the car next to me, would she have smiled too?

Funny. The metaphor wasn’t lost.

The autobiography? Hasn’t been finished. You have no idea.

An outstretched hand leads the way. Following the flashlight’s beam and heading down the stairs, it’s time to go back.

Seascape ’82. That’s what the cover says; was what I saw. What a strange secret I’ve kept. All these years, I thought someone was watching. Instead, I’m the lead.

Far away, I kid myself that she’s peeked too. And me? Left rummaging in the basement, looking in a book. It’s usually kept just safely out of reach. Except for tonight.

In between the pages, the wax paper cocoon is a silent tomb. It’s a thirty-something haunting.

I put it there; then.

Now I look in the mirror. Same person, different shell. No longer of the sea, the change in seasons has parched the skin. In my hands tonight though, the rose I hold has dried out too.

Rock Lobsters

We were at a party looking for them. And while most of the time we got skunked, sometimes we’d get lucky. They were the best bait for catching things. But that was a long time ago.

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Maybe under this one. There is a connection somewhere.

I’m just trying to find it. And I keep looking around and inside hoping to find some light in the dark.

Films from a time-period, in (dare I say) a type of style . But why these films?

Kids do funny things to pass the time and our summer free-time was spent looking for crayfish. We called them rock lobsters. We were kids then.

You already knew that, right?

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Hey. Yeah you. See the mug above? The one with the dame. Well that’s Richard Conte, the boss, see? The dame? She’s Jean Wallace. Some catch huh?

Later when I started turning over other things, I came across Conte in a number of noirs. Always seeming to play the heavy mixed-up in some racket, I thought I’d seen him somewhere outside those shadows.

Racking the same brain that fades, it hit me. He was Barzini from The Godfather, a film he appeared in many years after his film noir heyday.

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Here was a clue and perhaps a bridge. A rock turned over.

Another mug. This one of Old Spice shave soap in a medicine cabinet. With a brush nearby. That was poppy’s way. He was a bridge too.

And another clue; more rocks.

So what’s the angle? That no one’s on the level.

Now it’s in another time in another place and in another form.

A frame.

And a good one. Thank you Mr. Kubrick because the mug below is hidden by a mask in this frame. Nothing but a two-bit hood. And Sterling Hayden was a good one too in The Killing.

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But you’d take the mask off the hood and you’d get another peek.

Cuz that’s the mug again. In another scene from The Godfather. This time he’s the tall guy in the middle about to take a slug from Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino to his right.

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Sneaking up.

So you see, it ain’t just chasing dames and broads.

It’s about finding things and getting closer. It was a rock lobster.

Don’t mention it.

Walking to Hollywood: Podcasts for Noir Heads

Walking alone off the beaten path, I get to travel to Hollywood. In spirit at least. Along the way, I’ve found it beneficial to take with me a collection of go-to podcasts. Time and attention, the commodities most of us have too little of, can be impediments to the podcasting world. But because walking is a pretty regular retreat for me, I’ve found a way to circumvent these two thieves.

Here’s a look at one film noir podcast that helps me get there:

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Out of the Past: produced by academic colleagues Richard Edwards and Shannon Clute, this podcast is the standard bearer of, in their words, the “canon of film noir” podcasts.

The series debuted in 2005 and ran until 2011. There were a few random episodes after 2011, but for all intents and purposes, the series ended with Episode 53: Out of the Past Act II.

Clute and Edwards cover most of the films from the noir Golden Age, in addition to discussing many “neo-noirs.” Each episode runs approximately 30-45 minutes in length and they don’t rely on the over-production audio gags too often heard in many podcasts today. These are two colleagues who know and respect their material and never speak down to their audience.

Listening to this podcast became my baptism into the world of film noir. I had always been interested in the films of this, dare I say “genre,” but the hosts helped me come to terms with what I found so intriguing about these classics. Their podcast takes a somewhat scholarly approach to the material without in any way coming off as pedantic. The episodes are easy to listen to and very approachable for all fans of these groundbreaking films.

As a side note for the many podcasters out there, both men were able to parlay the success of their efforts into new career directions. Richard Edwards is currently the Executive Director of iLearn Research at Ball State University and Shannon Clute is Director, Business Development & Strategy at Turner Classic Movies. So keep following your passions.

Here are links to some of my favorite episodes:

  1. Episode 1: Out of the Past
  2. Episode 2: Double Indemnity
  3. Episode 19: The Killing
  4. Episode 30: The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Man Who Wasn’t There
  5. Episode 39: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

 

Behind Green Lights: Looking for Carol Landis

She appeared in more than fifty films, was married four times, and toured extensively during World War Two bringing to the troops who pinned her up along the way a bit of American pulchritude rarely matched before or after. And Carol Landis did all of this before she turned 30.

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She’d have to because she would be dead at the age of 29, taking her own life, heartbroken over her unrequited love for Rex Harrison.

If I could drive alone along a winding road somewhere near Topanga, could I find her? And if I did, what would I say? Could I help her find it if I didn’t even know what I was in search of? What was struck within me when I bumbled upon her in “Behind Green Lights.” I don’t remember much about the film. But I do remember her. Strangely (or not), I was unaware of her story. Yet she was the one I had discovered. And then it dawned on me; perhaps she had found me.

That’s one of the things that happens whenever I go back and watch a film from that era. These lives are introduced to me and I look into them. Who were they? Who was she? What did they do off screen? With the lights off and no cameras around. I have trouble shaking these thoughts off. Maybe that’s what was intended.

There’s always been an attraction for me to the underbelly of celebrity, i.e., the noir of Hollywood. And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking about it. Again. Does all of this get a little too close to my own underbelly? What dark side of my own private Hollywood do stories and thoughts such as these touch?

I once saw the cover of Circus by Alistar MacLean. It stayed with me. Of all the seconds of moments I’ve had over fifty plus years, what is it about something so seemingly indistinct about one cover of one book? Like “Behind Green Lights,” I don’t remember MacLean’s story, but I do remember the cover. And like Carol Landis, those memories troubled me. There seemed to be something sinister going on.

My guess is that we aren’t supposed to see those things too clearly nor too often because they are not the stuff of dreams. They are instead, shadows.

A final random thought goes something like this: David Lynch‘s film Mulholland Drive had a devastatingly powerful impact on me. In a film about the dark side of Hollywood, I’m left to wonder how much of an inspiration for his film was a real life Carol Landis.

I’ve got to look behind more green lights.

Why Noir, Part 2

Black film?

“No, film noir,” I was told. Not being much of a Francophile, I had to take their word for it.

But to me, it’s been more like gris.

And like so much of my own life (our lives?), I know now why.

“It’s grown-man’s music,” said Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones in an interview I’d heard awhile back. At the time, I was much younger and didn’t quite get his take on the blues. And neither could I make the connection between his words and my future journey into the cinematic gris.

That too I know now why.

A visual and audio punctuation mark answer to the question posed in the title might look and sound like this:

And it would make the point better than these words could ever do.

Dust Motes Near the Lockers

Just floating through the air.

Sitting here now, I can almost remember thinking that I’d remember the dust motes. Emerging from the bathroom, I’d walked down the hall on the way back to class.

And just across from the entrance to the school library, there were windows which looked out into the courtyard. The Florida sun would burn through the saline air of a beach life, highlighting the particulars of that first few periods of the day moment.

And just like then, I’m alone.

Like gasoline fumes, there was something mirage-like about the dust motes floating within the rays of light.

In high school.

On a day which left no other impressions (where did they go? where do they go?), I still have that vision today. How can that be?

With my own children now at the age of me that day, I wonder what seemingly insignificant events interrupt their days. And I wonder too how much they’ll take with them.

So I sit here tonight thinking and writing because I don’t know what else to do.

Dust motes.