Secret Pop

Dec 31, 2005

A lady actually yelled, "Aaaaaaah!"

Kevin Tavolaro and I went to see Munich tonight. An 11:05 show at a holiday-bedecked and festive The Grove. So holiday-filled was it that every parking level said "FULL" when I approached the garage. I parked with the valet, and then, while I was waiting for Kevin, I bought enough stuff to entitle me to free parking. So that worked out.

We had a drink at The Whisper Lounge before going to the movie. When we were leaving, two fellows who had sat down near us seemed disappointed we were leaving. I told them we had a movie to catch. They asked which one. I guess people always do that. And I have never been caught having to confess to going to some embarrassing or scandalous movie. I've never had to say, "It's a porno. You wouldn't know it." Thankfully. I told them we were going to see Munich, and they perked right up. One of them -- the one who gave us candies from Maggiano's that we did not eat -- assured us we would enjoy it. "It's about my country, you know. Israel." I thanked him and told him we were looking forward to it.

Then out in the walk, we ran into my friend Michael Blieden. I told him we were on our way to see Munich. He was just coming from having seen Syriana, talking on the phone with his wife (and also my friend) Erin, and he said he felt so politically fired up he wanted to go right in and see Munich. What a little journey we had. Everyone with their little Munich puzzle piece. It felt almost scripted. If a camera crew had been following us, we would have had a perfect little commercial. Ending in us buying too much popcorn.

The film had its share of quintessentially Spielbergian moments. Predictable foreshadowing. Reaction-provoking deception. The crucial moment when Spielberg proves to us that all of us in the world -- no matter our differences -- can agree on one thing: Al Green. A lady even said, "Aaaaaah!" at one point when nothing of any import happened. I guess she's never been to a Spielberg movie before. Seasoned veterans like Kevin and me know better. There were some bits of typical unnecessary narrative. I suppose that's why Spielberg is so appealing to the masses. He makes it easy for them. And maybe that's what good filmmaking is. I don't know. I spent too much time watching and studying German impressionist cinema. I prefer being made to work for it. And I don't mind leaving a theater with a question mark floating above my head. I especially loved such things when I could retire to some cozy place with a smart compatriot and take the whole thing apart with words and questions and cajoling. I do love a good parlor discussion.

The theater was filled with people who apparently have to bring an interpreter along in order to be able to follow what's happening. "You're going to meet my father." "He's what? What's happening?" "He's taking him to meet his father. Louis is. It's Louis's father. They're going to see Louis's father." "Oh." Or they just need to talk things through. Leaning over to their seatmate to say things like, "Oh. See?" or "That's that one guy." I was dismayed to see a Muslim lady with a baby carriage in the row in front of us. We both, I'm ashamed to admit, suspected it had a bomb in it. But I was even more dismayed to learn that it had a fussy infant in it. Who takes an infant to a movie that starts at 11:05 P.M. and has lots of gunfire and explosions in it? Who? Furthermore, who shows up to a new release at The Grove and walks into the theater ten minutes after the show is scheduled to begin and expects to be able to find six seats together and a decent distance from the screen. There were a couple of guys who ended up sitting on the steps next to us. That's something I can't really imagine doing. Not for $12.50 a ticket.

There was a healthy amount of upsetting and stomach-turning portrayal of the grotesque gruesomeness of violent death. And the haphazard way it's dealt out in politically-charged scenarios. Transforming a father, a husband, a brother, into a lump of meat, bullet-riddled and messy. Beginning to smell. And yet you can just ignore it. You've got a job to do. I think the movie pretty heavy-handedly made that point -- that both sides of the terrorist equation think they are crusading in a just war, fighting for the thing that matters most to them, whatever the cost, even if victory won't be seen for generations to come. I got that. And of course that's true. And of course rational and reasonable people know this. Don't they? How can killing people ever be the answer? I tell my mom I don't believe in or support the death penalty, and she never hears what I'm saying. I could stack up all of the factual arguments, but what is this -- Michael Moore's blog? I'm writing about a movie, aren't I?

In the very early scenes, when death first makes its appearance, the Hatikvah was playing. The Zionist anthem. The song that the resistance fighters would sing in movies about the Warsaw uprising when they were being lined up for the firing squad. The last track on side B of this record my dad has. I believe the record is called Spirit of a People. I used to listen to it in his study when I was reading the dictionary in preparation for the National Spelling Bee, and I would think about all that I had read about the Holocaust. I used to listen to that song and to Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (the second-to-last track on side B), and I would look out the window in Guam, and sometimes I would cry. And I think I loved it. I think I loved being able to mourn for these strangers. I studied the Holocaust passionately when I was a young girl. I saw the mini-series of Gerald Green's novel Holocaust when we lived in the Philippines, and it toggled a switch in me. I was fascinated and horrified by it. Especially when I realized that my grandmother had emigrated from Russia at the turn of the century and that it was very likely that some of my relatives had died in the camps or in the countryside. And I was filled with the same empathy that made me wish I had been a slave on the Underground Railroad. Seriously. I always empathized with the persecuted. And a part of me wished I could have suffered with them. Died with them. I don't really know why. This was long before I became an angst-ridden adolescent. This was not about wanting attention or feeling alone in the world. I never told anyone I felt that way. I just read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies and documentaries and simultaneously found a chord that resonated between me and my father. My father, a Jew who had spent a few years of his Depression-era boyhood in a Hebrew orphanage in Germantown, Pennsylvania, when his mother was unable to care for him and his brother. He did not do a lot of Jewish things in my lifetime. He became a Christian the year before I was born. I have never been to a seder. We have never lit a menorah. I don't know what people really do for Purim. But my dad still treasured that heritage, as did I, and he would talk to me about his memories of his early life, and I would never want him to stop, even when I noticed the hour getting late. I never wanted to get caught looking at the clock lest he worry for my sleep and shuttle me off to bed. Maybe we only demonstrably celebrated it by going to delicatessens and eating chopped liver and cabbage rolls and hot pastrami and kugel. But it was something we could have together, and in many ways it was just for him and me. At least the lengthy talking part. My mom learned to make gefilte fish and matzo balls and latkes, and my sisters also know to occasionally buy him halvah or pickled herring. And we all buy him whatever documentary or film is out, which may seem morose, but I suppose it's a way we measure and cherish being alive. And it's part of the remembering that is necessary and good. And today, it makes it all the more poignant when my mom says a guy looks like "a typical Jewish."

Driving home, I passed the quiet, lonely display of Christmas decorations around the signage of The Farmer's Market. I wished I had my Lomo, but I knew I wouldn't stop to photograph it. Not at this hour. Not with my throat beginning to show the telltale signs of the cold I just know will set in as soon as my New Year's Eve merrymaking has run its course. It's cold out, and I wasn't wearing enough tonight. The same held true when I caught a glimpse of a lonely Ronald McDonald, sitting in the dim half-light of a closed McDonald's restaurant by my house. He's the kind that sits on a bench seat with his arm around the space that someone will fill for a photo opportunity or perhaps to fend off the loneliness of the season or a disappointing birthday party. But he was sitting there all alone. His arm around an emptiness. Waiting. I thought I would like to set up a camera on a tripod and take a time-lapse series of photographs of that Ronald throughout the course of a day. But I can assure you I won't do it. It's one of many things that I will never do.

Another thing I will apparently never do is get to sleep at a decent hour. Tell my mom I took my vitamins.

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