It’s been a rough week, so let’s do something fun like we sometimes do. I know we’ve all seen Twitter trawls where they do some mildly clever variation on “What’s a movie you like” — for example, what’s a scene that made you cry, or made you laugh, or inspired you, or made you shit nickels.
These things always get a lot of hits, a lot of gifs and emojis and likes. And that’s great, because it’s one of the least toxic uses for social media and anyone can get in on it. And, who knows, you might find someone else out there who loves this extremely fringe thing that you thought was yours alone, and because it’s Twitter you don’t have to talk to them about anything else and find out that one thing was all you and they ever had in common.
But we are long-form here at Roy Edroso Breaks It Down, and can do more than throw out a gif and go “O Captain My Captain” and watch the likes roll in, so I will ask, what is your most memorable film-watching experience that was not just about the movie?
I mean, I’ve been blown away by movies (or repulsed by them) so much that I remember the theater and even who I saw it with, the time of year, the weather, whether I ate afterwards and all that. But that’s not quite it. I mean, what combination of circumstances and film made the event memorable? I’ll start:
This was the fall of 1992. I was living in the East Village, playing in bands, crappy apartment, marginally employed — you know, living the life.
I was going out with this woman who — well, I thought I was in love with her, and I very well may have been. But Jesus, we had some terrible fights. From my current perspective, I can sort of see her side of it. I was insensitive — not mean, really, just so wrapped up in myself that I didn’t pick up the needs of other people very well. (Funny, I was recently thinking about this previous girlfriend of mine and remembering very clearly the look she’d get on her face when I’d go into one of my monologues/rants that I thought were so fascinating, and realizing — for the first time, 30 years later — that it wasn’t a look of admiration.)
Also, this was at approximately the apex of my heroic drinking phase, which didn’t make me any more sensitive. (I recall one New Year’s Eve when this same girlfriend threw a party in her own small-but-nice apartment and she made the mistake of failing to tell me not to invite my drunk friends, so I did, and we broke some glassware and blew out her speakers. I recall offering to pay for the damage but not feeling apologetic about it — I mean it was a party, right? She refused to take the money which, huh, how about that, another sign I didn’t pick up on.)
One Friday night the girlfriend and I got into an argument, the genesis of which escapes me but it may have been about me drinking and if it wasn’t it certainly became about me drinking. I left in a huff and drank some more at home and had a hard time getting to sleep, at least in part because I didn’t take my clothes off before I went to bed. But it was Friday so I figured I could sleep in.
Shortly after dawn my phone rang and kept ringing and would not stop ringing so I had to answer and it was the girlfriend, demanding I meet her immediately to talk about things. Without washing or changing I left and we parleyed in Tompkins Square Park. There weren’t many people there who were not, or had not just been, sleeping on the benches. The morning was damp and miserable, as was I. The meeting was tense. The girlfriend challenged me on my drinking again. As I recall it, I was not forthright in my answer, which shames me now, even though I was incredibly tired and hung over, as I knew full well I did not plan to stop drinking or even slow down until it killed me, or until I became famous or won the lottery. She did not accept this, but neither did she declare our relationship ended. I think she didn’t want to give me the satisfaction.
She marched off toward her apartment; I wandered lonely as a cloud. I remembered there was this new movie I had wanted to see playing at the Angelica. I got a paper at Ray’s (1992, kids) and found there was a late-morning show. I killed a little time wandering the grey streets and then went to the theatre and crumpled into a seat. There were maybe five other people there. (I don’t know what their problem was.)
The movie was Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and it scoured me like a grill brick. The whole sorry self-destructive saga felt like how I felt. I was in sync even with the longueurs, like the absurd shooting-up scene. I understood deep in my poisoned marrow why he was committing all these sins, including the ultimate sin of betting against the Mets, and I forgave him, I forgave him everything, the way I wanted to be forgiven. I could say that when, near the end, Harvey Keitel screamed at Jesus Christ that he tried to be strong but he was weak, he was so fucking weak, I was crying, but it was more like my eyes were running. I stumbled out of that movie and back to my apartment and slept like the dead.
I’d like to tell you there was some kind of epiphany in this. There wasn’t, at least not right away. (Maybe it had a timed-release effect. I find, as I get older, that a lot of things do.) That relationship exploded and so did others and I kept stepping on mines; it took years just to get pointed in the right direction. But I’ll tell you, watching that movie on that day in that condition was a virtual reality experience avant le lettre.
Now, here’s another one: In the 1980s I used to go see cheap late-run double features at the run-down, filthy old St. Mark’s Theatre on First Avenue. One weekend afternoon I went there to re-watch a movie I’d enjoyed on its first run, and had a female friend come with me. She sat on my left, but about fifteen minutes into the movie she got up and went to sit on my right; I assumed she just didn’t like the view. Afterward I asked her why she’d moved, and she told me the man to her left had started jerking off. The movie, by the way, was Popeye.
So: How about you?