Tuesday, December 25, 2012
The debt we owe to John Hawkes
I saw John Hawkes a week ago today.
The Golden Globe-nominated star of The Sessions was getting on an elevator with an attractive lady friend as I was leaving my showing of The Hobbit. He was dressed in a smart-looking jacket and scarf, and in all respects looked very Hawkesian.
On Saturday while I was out doing some stocking shopping, I randomly remembered to text my friend who loves Martha Marcy May Marlene to say that I'd seen him. In one of those classic instances of funny timing, it was only moments later in the car that I heard Hawkes on NPR's Weekends. It was a segment they've been doing called "The Movie I Could Watch a Million Times." (And in another instance of funny timing, just now as I'm writing this at home on Sunday night, the Sunday edition of this segment is airing on Weekends.)
I started to laugh when Hawkes announced, with a completely straight face (at least I assume it was straight, since I couldn't see it), that his choice for this series was Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.
It originally struck me as funny because I'd peg someone like Hawkes as coming up with a much more unlikely choice. I'm sure the producers were happy to air such a choice on the weekend before Christmas, but I'm surprised Hawkes was so happy to supply it. Given his one chance to champion a quirky favorite, he chose one of the most beloved and well-known movies of all time.
What made it extra funny is that the segment requires him to walk through the plot of the movie, which might actually be necessary with most choices for this series. Not necessary here. It was unintentionally hilarious to listen to him earnestly detail the plot of It's a Wonderful Life, as if he were talking to aliens who had just walked off their flying saucer. It couldn't have been more absurd if he had been saying "Star Wars is about this young orphan, Luke Skywalker, who is stuck on a desert planet but yearns for adventure that's just beyond his grasp."
But wait, there's more.
Hawkes also talked about the circumstances of his first viewing, something to do with a mentor in the entertainment industry who had taken him aside and shown it to him. Having immediately taken on the movie as his own, he then claimed to have entered a period of his life where he began "introducing it to people left and right."
Wait, are we talking about some little indie that almost didn't get picked up for distribution at Sundance, or are we talking about It's a Frigging Wonderful Life??
I loved the idea that there might be a bunch of people out there who could honestly tell their friends "I wouldn't know about It's a Wonderful Life if it weren't for John Hawkes," but I also loved that there might be a bunch of Hawkes' professional acquaintances laughing at him behind his back. Either way, they'd owe him a debt of sorts -- for opening their eyes to a classic, or for giving them a great private joke among their friends.
I initially envisioned this post as existing merely to poke fun at Mr. Hawkes. But then I thought a bit more about it, and I don't think that's really what I want to say today. Besides, that's not really in the spirit of Christmas, is it?
While on the surface there's something sort of naive/delusional about various aspects of Hawkes' segment, on further inspection, something shines through more strongly. Several things, actually:
A rejection of irony in all its forms.
John Hawkes really loves It's a Wonderful Life. He doesn't care if he's the only person who loves it, or one of tens of millions. It's a movie that spoke to him and has taken up permanent residence in his heart. That's the reason we watch movies, and for Hawkes, that's the reason he appears in them.
So I actually do owe you a debt, John. You reminded me of the most important thing we need to remember this time of year: It's a time to pack away cynicism for a couple weeks, and just enjoy the things you love in all the unironic glory you can muster.
Merry Christmas to all the John Hawkeses out there.