Monologue #2: Films

Marcello Mastroianni in 8 1/2

So here’s something a little different, an ode to old films, a subject I’ve never had the chance to write about.

The desire to detangle all my cinephilia-related memories must have been instigated the other night whilst watching ‘Mank.’ I’m very susceptible to the suspension of disbelief (let’s call it one of my favorite pastimes) and watching that rather well-made reproduction of a glowing black-and-white pre-WWII film induced a kind of catharsis that lasted for days. Apart from the film itself, all the other (actually) old productions I’ve watched over the years re-entered my cerebrum. Each detail from Mank connecting with a detail from another film, causing a seemingly endless chain of monochrome visual cues that inevitably made the present look very shrill and void.

I remembered that ridiculously grand house in ‘Holiday,‘ all columns, marble and heavy chandeliers, with Katharine Hepburn gliding down the imperial stairs in a floor-length black gown. Sipping champagne from a coupe so small it looked like it might break in Cary Grant’s large hand. I thought about death playing chess with the squire in ‘The Seventh Seal,‘ his white eyebrow-less face glowing like a full moon. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann seemingly melding into one being whilst looking at their mirrored selves in ‘Persona.’ I thought about that thick cigarette perpetually stuck between Jean-Paul Belmondo’s lips in ‘Breathless.‘ Jeanne Moreau walking down the streets of Paris in utter distress to the befitting soundtrack of Miles Davis in ‘Elevator to the Gallows.‘ Maurice Ronet caressing a pistol and announcing the end of his life in ‘The Fire Within. Alain Delon and Monica Vitti kissing through a glass door in ‘L’Eclisse.‘ Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell gliding down the quiet canals of Venice in a boat and rejoicing at the sight of the first snow in ‘Le Notti Bianche.‘ Giulietta Masina smiling even after the deepest deception to the careless music of youth in ‘Nights of Cabiria.’ And when my memories temporarily turned technicolor, I thought about Alain Delon strolling through a Neapolitan market with his jacket over his shoulder in ‘Purple Noon,’ that arrogant, beautiful fool.

But most of all I thought about the phantasmagorical opening sequence of ‘8 1/2,’ with Marcello Mastroianni flying through the cloudy horizon only to be brought back down to reality with the pull of a rope tied to his ankle. Or the almost brutishly dishevelled, but sensuously voluptuous Saraghina and her sand-kicking rumba with the onlooking children just slapping themselves in delight.

I suppose I’m also floating in the black-and-white clouds of my own convictions, with a rope perpetually keeping me near the shores of reality (whatever that is). Either way, I’d like to dedicate this post to Abba Lessing, my college philosophy professor who not only introduced me to the majority of these film in his Philosophy and Film class, but was the first person in my life to ever call me brilliant. I spent most of college altering my existential infrastructure with Abba’s lectures, much like I spent most of high school reading Kurt Vonnegut’s novels (my source of comfort for my unsatisfactory SAT scores, for example, was ‘The Sirens of Titan’).

I would also like to end this Monologue with the Parable of the Organ Grinder’s Monkey from Mank, recounted by the fantastic Charles Dance:

“Now the organ grinder’s monkey is tiny in stature and having been taken from the wild, he’s naturally overwhelmed by the enormous world around him. But every morning a sweet elderly woman dresses him in a fine suit of clothes, she fits him with a red velvet vest adorned with pearl buttons and a handsome red fez with a silk tassel. She slips on brocade shoes that curl at the toe and he’s paired with a fine gild music box on an exquisite gold chain fastened to his neck, and his neck alone. Whenever he ventures into the city to perform he thinks, what a powerful fellow I must be, look how patiently everyone waits just to watch me dance. And wherever I go, he thinks, this music box must follow and with it, this poor downtrodden man. And if I chose not to dance, this sorry street peddler would starve. And every time I do decide to dance, every time, he must play, whether he wishes to or not.”

Thank you for reading the second Monologue.

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