Saturday, November 28, 2009

Breaking with tradition

In the past six years, I've developed a little Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving tradition that was broken this year.

As a special start to what in some years was a four-day weekend, and some years (like this year) was not, I'd go see a movie after work on Wednesday afternoon. Since I was usually getting dismissed early -- as early as 11:30 at my last job, more like 2 o'clock at this one -- it meant I could see a movie and still have plenty of time to get whatever I needed for the next day organized.

I guess saying it was "broken" this year is somewhat misleading, considering that during that six-year period, I failed to do it twice -- 2005 (reason unknown) and 2007 (leaving that night to fly to Chicago). But every other year I came through: The Station Agent in 2003, Sideways in 2004, The Queen in 2006 and Religulous last year.

I was looking forward to it this year, with Precious as a possible target. But soon after I got in to work on Wednesday, I could tell it wasn't shaping up to be the kind of easy day I'd penciled in. In fact, I didn't even slow down all day, juggling ridiculously timed requests when I wasn't doing short work-related errands around town. I left at the normal time, 3:30, and never even got to figure out if there was a conveniently timed showing of Precious or any other movie.

I figured we'd at least watch a movie at home that night, since my wife and I had both stocked up at the library with the maximum three titles apiece, in addition to the couple other movies we each had sitting around from Netflix and Blockbuster. (Yes, our household has one account of each. Silly, I know.) But my wife wanted to starting clearing stuff off the DVR as early preparation for her three weeks out of the country at Christmastime -- I'll be in Australia, where she grew up, for a week less than that, as she both leaves before me and returns after me. So I acquiesced. I have to admit, it would have been hard for me to summon any sympathy for my movie cause -- I'd seen at least one movie a day for about week running.

But I did hope to outlast her that night and start something after she went to sleep, and I had the perfect candidate in mind: David Lynch's Eraserhead, which I'd never seen, which was one of my three library pickups. I knew my wife had already seen it, so I could watch it solo. And this kind of movie demands to be seen late at night anyway.

But she showed surprising stamina for a person who had slept fitfully the night before -- in fact, according to her, had not fully gotten to sleep until close to 5 a.m. When it was 10:30 and she said she still had another hour-long program in her, I feared I'd see no pre-Thanksgiving movie, either in the theater or at home.

I guess my own stamina was reasonably impressive as well, for a guy who started working at 7 a.m. that day. I did outlast her starting at about 11:30, which was enough to watch the first 30 minutes of Eraserhead. It was a bit of a gamble, as I didn't see any way I was supposed to get through a 100-minute movie starting this late at night. And true enough, as my eyes began closing despite the wild images that were penetrating them, I soon realized I'd either need to call it a night, or try a "nap." I love those "naps" we try to take at 12:15 a.m., somehow sure that we'll be able to close our eyes for just 20 minutes, and then be rejuvenated for two more hours of nighttime activities. But I did really hope to succeed this time out -- I was convinced that Eraserhead couldn't be nearly this eerie with my Thanksgiving morning coffee. The enthrallingly disturbing imagery and sound design just couldn't spook me as much in the bright morning light, could it?

But that's what happened -- I watched the rest of the movie before my wife awoke the following morning. And was still chilled as hell by it. So, another tradition broken: having to watch a creepy movie at night, because I didn't trust it to have the physiological impact I desired in the cold light of morning. Apparently, this shouldn't be a worry. I'm sure it helped that the shades were still drawn in the living room, and there was nothing else going on in the house to distract me or provide a semblance of daytime normalcy.

While we're add it, I guess I broke with another tradition as well: distrusting David Lynch. Ever since I saw Mulholland Drive, which most people liked, I have felt frustrated with the way Lynch doesn't feel obligated to providing catharsis or accountable to making sense. And even though I've seen Inland Empire since then, and inexplicably liked it a lot more even though it is arguably less accessible, I've still held that skeptical view toward Lynch. (I've also seen The Elephant Man since seeing Mulholland Drive, but that's a pretty straightforward movie.)

Eraserhead reminded me that you don't have to make perfect sense, or much sense at all, as long as the way you're not making sense is this visceral and gratifying. And I won't soon forget any of the images of this movie, each twisted and nightmarish metaphors -- the weird alien baby, the clumps of dirt and grass around Henry's apartment, the radiator lady with the jowly cheeks, the weird alien embryos that look like brains with tails, the pencil factory, the attempt to eat a chicken dinner with the in-laws. It's all etched in there, a disturbingly wonderful new part of my brain.

And then I went to slow-cook a bunch of yams for Thanksgiving dinner.

Sometimes, a tweaked tradition is an unexpected blessing.

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