(Written Oct 14, 2009 8:41pm)
6:30pm on Wednesday night. I realize I may be straying in this journal, straying from what it is supposed to be – simply updates on my recovery – but I am also using it as an extension of my consciousness. There is no other way to explain this, but things are harder now since the surgery, keeping everything tucked inside my head. My thoughts look good to me on a computer screen, though. Much easier to decipher. Crammed in my head it’s still too much. And unless you have also gone through brain surgery you might just take my word for it. Too many dark corners I have created in my head where things slip away.
In the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore—the wisest character, mind you—uses a “pensieve” where he extracts thoughts from his head with his wand, places them in a bowl, and lets the thoughts sort themselves out while he watches from the outside. This feels the same.
I thought about watching an epic movie perhaps, to pass the time. My finger glanced over the linen DVD jacket of the special edition of “Lawrence of Arabia” we own. This was the first epic I ever saw, in Venezuela in the 1970s in the form of a Betamax tape my father brought home from one of his frequent trips to the United States. My mother cooed about how special it was all going to be, how wonderful. We watched it all night and I did love it. I was nine. It was as magical as my mother said it would be. I didn’t understand the plot, but I thought Peter O’Toole was good. Most notably, I recognized Alec Guinness as a younger man, the same man from Star Wars I had seen about fifty times that summer on another pirated and grainy Betamax tape.
“That’s ALEC GUINNESS!” I shouted at the TV.
“Yes,” my mother replied.
I was confused. He had been in another movie already. I didn’t know actors were allowed in more than one movie. One part for your life and you were done.
“People can do lots of movies, playing different parts,” she said. “The best actors do it over and over again.”
I was nine, and the thought had never had occurred to me until then.
I began to think. Even if you weren’t an actor, this meant you could play yourself one way and have everyone believe you, then you could turn around and play it another way to a different group, and they would believe you too. I made a mental note to work on this idea, because it seemed to have a lot of possibilities.
A decade or more later, I was an oboe student at Juilliard and “Lawrence of Arabia” had a grand re-release in the theaters. In New York, it was shown at the big Ziegfeld Theater on 54th street and it was an event ticket to get in. Sold out shows, lines around the block, that kind of thing. I went with a close friend from high school (also an oboist at Juilliard), a friend of his, and my girlfriend. The four of us squeezed into some tight seats and the movie began. I was so excited I was going to feel the magic once again. The first time the main theme blasted out of the speakers in surround sound we all took our eyes off the screen and looked at one another. Epic! There it was! However, I was older now and it bugged me that I still didn’t understand the plot or how it fit in with the rest of history.
I did leave the theater thinking it was great, but I also went INTO it thinking it HAD to be great. My mother still gushed about the movie all the time. She was going to buy us the laser disc version so we could watch it on holidays. All the papers talked about the significance of the re-release, and it felt like everyone in New York was cramming in to see it. Case closed.
After the show was over and the four of us walked out, my girlfriend said to me, “There weren’t any women in that movie.”
I hadn’t noticed. So I had that to mull over.
When DVD players came out another decade or more after that, I was divorced, rebuilding a new life from the ground up. I started dating MJ. I got a copy of the special edition DVD of “Lawrence of Arabia” for Christmas. I made an evening for us to watch it together. This was before home surround sound or flat screen TVs were affordable, and the movie seemed to consist mostly of a bright, sandy strip across the middle of my TV while the top and bottom of the screen was totally black.
At one point MJ said, “They keep shouting, ‘Or-ence! Or-ence!’ all the time.”
They were, actually, and it was kind of funny. We both laughed together every time it happened from then on. We held hands. It was great. I think the picture on my TV was also off and I could hardly tell the characters apart. Then the movie dragged on and got boring. We watched it to the end. I waited anywhere for an amazing cinematic feeling to wash over me again, but it wasn’t there.
I’m not ready to see it again quite yet (now another decade hence), but based on these experiences I am reminded about how much we pre-judge what we are determined to like, how we invest ourselves in feeling a certain way because someone else tells us it is going to be so. I was TOLD how great the movie was before I had ever seen it. Or maybe for me it was my first conscious thoughts of deceiving people with “acting” on purpose—playing different roles in different movies—not spontaneously but with premeditation and spotless artistry, completely legitimate and acceptable. Or maybe I was enamored with the movie simply because I liked to see my mother in love with Peter O’Toole, the way she swooned over his blue eyes standing out against the sand, bluer than the sky above him. One never really knows why these things get planted so deeply within you.
Peter O’Toole went on to star in a number of movies after that, of course, but every time I saw him on screen I still thought of him as Lawrence. Recently, he starred in one more movie and MJ and I watched this small film called “Venus” together. We loved every minute of it, both of us seeing the power of this old man’s nuances, unadorned and vulnerable. He played an aging actor looking for mischief on borrowed time. You could finally see the sadness in his blue eyes, the true sadness that is at the heart of so much that means anything. There was truth and beauty in his performance that was so real to us, something that trumped anything grandiose he tried to conjure in a dashing white outfit in the middle of the desert.