“The movies are your mistress.”

Slept like a fat baby, flipped the calendar from November to December, and dripped a little prune juice into the roach’s jar. Then I sat my flabby self down at the typewriter, started editing the last week of November, and five hours later the zine was ready. I’ll photocopy it next week, when I go back to work.

Reading through the November issue again, boy, it sure sucks. This issue’s gonna suck too. If you sent three bucks for a sample copy and you’re starting with this entry, let me say this before you figure it out yourself: 

This guy lives alone, has maybe one friend, keeps a diary, but does nothing worth reading about. It’s as boring as it sounds, maybe more so.

As we begin a new month, I’m midway through a week’s vacation from a company I despise. The vacation is right here, though. Can’t afford to leave town, and I’m a homebody anyway, so I’ve been to fifteen movies so far this week — alone, of course. Today I went to four more.

I’ve seen the original Love Affair (1939), with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, and the remake, An Affair to Remember (1957), with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and both were very pleasant romantic froth. Of course, I had to see the new remake, again called Love Affair, with Annette Bening and Warren Beatty. I like him and she’s a babe, but I left after twenty minutes. 

The earlier versions, even when the plot got hokey, had class, but this version has been declassified. Twenty minutes is a quick walkout decision, but when a movie is rotten, there's a sinking feeling in my gut, and that feeling is never wrong. Whenever I’ve ignored it and stayed to the end, I’ve always regretted it, so I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door.

This was a discount double feature, and before Love Affair I’d already sat through the first movie, which gave me that same sinking feeling. I couldn’t leave, though, because I wanted to see the second feature.

What was the first film? Something so tedious I can’t even remember the title, and I’ve already thrown out today's newspaper, so I don’t know what it was — an unfunny romantic comedy with Marisa Tomei. She's usually likable, but in this one she’s playing a character so stupid that no matter how many times Robert Downey Jr lies to her, she keeps believing him. Gimme a Pepto Bismol.

That's why I go to old movies more often than new movies. Those two cinematic stinkbombs will play for a few weeks, and then a few months on cable and VHS, and then they’ll be gone and forgotten forever.

When an old movie plays in a theater, it’s because it’s remembered, and if it’s remembered it’s probably worth seeing, unlike Love Affair and Title Already Forgotten.

Case in point: Tonight’s double feature at the Castro.

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) is a moody, effective story about a loopy woman, her henpecked husband, and their crazy plot to kidnap a little girl. The kidnappers are obvious dolts, so there’s not much doubt that they’re going to be caught, but will the kid survive? It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it’s clever, it’s a story you haven’t seen before, and it’s exponentially better than either of the movies from earlier today.

Don’t Look Now (1973) is about an upper-class couple trying to get on with their lives after their daughter’s drowning death. It’s mostly set in Venice, though, a city where you take boats to get across town, so the water is always there to remind them of the tragedy. The movie is immensely sad from the start, and soon becomes terrifying, too. It’s an E-ticket ride, though the conclusion — which scared me enormously — feels like a cop-out, when I think about it. 

Neither of these movies was a perfect ‘10’, but they were made by people who were trying to make something special, and who inarguably succeeded. These films are twenty and thirty years old, but people will still be watching them in another twenty or thirty years — they're that good. People will also be watching the original Love Affair and An Affair to Remember, but the present remake with Beatty and Bening must never be spoken of again.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

“The movies are your mistress,” Margaret yelled at me, in one of her recent letters. She’s my ex-girlfriend, and yeah, she can yell by mail. It’s her talent.

She meant it as an insult, but it's true, if a mistress is where a man turns to get what he can’t find at home — emotions (even if they’re fake) or conversation (even if it’s scripted).

We’ve already agreed (see page 1) that my life is pathetic, but going to the movies is an affordable escape from all that. The cinema is were I finally feel connected to humanity, even though, of course, the connection is with artificial characters reciting a script, and with anonymous people sitting in the shadows. For as long as it takes to watch a movie, it doesn’t matter that everyone else in the theater is probably an asshole. We’re sharing the same visceral, manipulated experience, and we’re all in this together.

But wait, there's more. A movie's sound and musical score are usually far superior to the background noise of ordinary life. Characters in good movies have fictional lives that are more interesting than the factual life I’m stuck with. In most movies, something happens, unlike an ordinary day in my life and maybe yours.

The silver screen is the only place you’re allowed and encouraged to stare at a pretty woman’s face. I love staring at a pretty woman’s face, but on the sidewalk and subway or anywhere else it’s considered rude.

It’s an inexpensive way to travel — today I visited New York City, Rome, London, and Venice. Where tomorrow’s double feature might take me is as yet unknown, but it’ll be beautiful, and I won’t even need a passport.

So yeah, Maggie, the movies are my mistress. For a few lousy bucks, I get emotions, companionship, story time, and travel, all without risk of heartbreak or infectious disease.

From Pathetic Life #7
Thursday, December 1, 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.

Addendum, 2021: Courtesy of a few clicks at IMDB.com, I was able to ascertain that Only You was the movie I couldn't remember six hours later.

Pathetic Life   

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