Me and Norma Shearer

The Roxie is running a Norma Shearer retrospective all week, and since I haven't seen many of her movies, I went to tonight’s opening double feature. 

Private Lives (1931) is an adaptation of Noel Coward’s witty stage farce about a divorced couple falling in love and hate a second time. Ms Ex (Shearer) and Mr Ex (Robert Montgomery) are both honeymooning with their new spouses ... at the same hotel ... and in adjoining rooms (which seems unlikely).

Amusing shenanigans ensue, of course. They smooch, then argue, smooch again, argue again, and it's screwball sinful pre-code stuff, so thumbs up from me. Also, you want to buy popcorn when you're at the Roxie. They have the best popcorn in town.

The second feature was The Divorcee (1930), and it was not so funny. Shearer plays a devoted but rather boring wife, whose boring husband confesses to a brief affair. “I was plastered,” he says. “It didn’t mean anything,” at which point the boos and hisses from the audience nearly drowned out the soundtrack. (San Francisco does not approve of your pretty infidelity!)

Norma mulls it over, and wonders, if his affair meant nothing, will it mean nothing if I have an affair, too? She decides to find out (San Francisco approves of this). For about fifteen minutes, as issues of sex-defined morality are pondered, the movie is quite compelling, but everything that happens before and after is hopelessly dated, and also overacted and melodramatic.

♦ ♦ ♦

After the movies, chomping a cheeseburger deluxe at the Sincere Cafe, I read what the Examiner’s film critic, Barbara Shulgasser, had written about what I’d just seen.

Usually I envy film critics their free passes and private screenings, but avoid their commentary, because (at least in this town) a movie critic can’t simply say whether a show is worth seeing. Nope, they're required by the Critics Union to list every plot element, tell a comedy's best jokes, and reveal all the should-be surprises in the plot. So I sometimes quickly skim a review to help decide whether a new movie is worth $5, but never really read a review in advance. After seeing the movie, maybe I’ll read the review.

Under the headline "Shearer heaven at the Roxie," Shulgasser writes about this week's Shearer shows, but it's cockeyed. She has the star and co-star of The Divorcee right, but all the plot details she recites are just plain wrong. Whatever movie she's writing about is not the movie I saw half an hour earlier.

Is her review based on mistaken recollections from watching this movie long ago? Probably. She's a solid critic, maybe the best in the city, and after writing about thousands of movies, I suppose it would be easy to misfile an index card and get the facts wrong. Maybe she's accidentally described the plot of some other Shearer movie from this week’s festival.

The article says Shearer spent most of her career playing modern, liberated women, who are usually punished for their non-conformity by the end of the movie. That’s a fair summary of The Divorcee — and that’s what made the movie such a let-down for me. I wanted the protagonist to be modern and liberated and not punished for it.

♦ ♦ ♦

Checked my messages from a phone booth at the corner, and there were two calls from Mom. First, she invited me to visit on the last weekend of this month, and then she called back, offering to buy my air fare. Her church’s 75th anniversary celebration is coming up, and Mom doesn’t want me to miss it.

Sigh and yawn. She’d mentioned this big event during her visit last month — several times, and several times I’d replied that I might visit Seattle some time, but the church’s birthday bash didn’t interest me.

Nothing against the church or the people who attend, because hey, they're good people, and I have some happy memories there (mostly un-sanctioned by the pastor, in the basement or boiler room). I'm just not a churchgoing man.

I called back and told Mom “no thanks," or rather, I told her answering machine. Ten bucks says she calls tomorrow to ask again.

♦ ♦ ♦

Walking the few blocks from BART to my rez hotel, there were roller-skaters everywhere — hundreds of them, wheeling by in wave after wave down Powell Street. Seeing so many skaters is unusual, even by Frisco standards, and it made me laugh. I wanted to ask what it was all about, but they were moving too fast to be asked.

Anyway, the answer is obvious: They were roller-skating by the hundreds because they could, and because it’s fun.

♦ ♦ ♦

I know you were worried, but my throat is no better, no worse. Muscles I never use are kinda achy. Had to go to work today, though, and share whatever this bug might be, because there’s no sick leave and I’m on a budget. And then I had to go to the movies, because I'm an ass.

From Pathetic Life #4
Friday, September 9, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


Pathetic Life 

← PREVIOUS          NEXT →



← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. Big media, fudging the facts even on a movie review

  2. I'm surprised you didn't call the Examiner or maybe you did?

    1. Nah, I didn't complain. She was a good writer who made a harmless mistake. I wasn't going to get her in trouble.

      By the by, I googled Barbara Shulgasser, and she also wrote the Robert Altman film Prêt-à-Porter.

  3. Captain HampocketsJuly 5, 2021 at 12:46 PM

    >By the by, I googled Barbara Shulgasser, and she also wrote the Robert Altman film Prêt-à-Porter.

    Huh. I remember enjoying that. No "Short Cuts" or "The Player," but a good movie from that era of his catalog.

    1. Never saw it, myself. Behind-the-scenes of fashion? Sorry, no.

    2. Captain HampocketsJuly 6, 2021 at 3:37 PM

      I hear you, re Pret A Porter. And it's been more than two decades since I saw it - in fact, I oly saw it once, in the theater on release. But it's Altman. The idea of Gosford Park makes my anus pucker, but it was a damn fine movie.

    3. I love Altman, but I've seen only perhaps half his movies. Gosford Park was fabulous, of course, but Prêt-à-Porter ... Ah, I should see it. I'm probably too closed-minded — for years I refused to see gangster movies, because who fuckin' cares about the lives and drama of mobsters and killers, but then I saw The Godfather...


🚨🚨 Click here if you have problems posting a comment. 🚨🚨