Wednesday, August 13, 2014

O Captain My Captain


When I found out about Robin Williams I cried pretty much right away. I cried like a big baby. My wife helped me calm down some. I had tears in my eyes for a good 24 hours. If you bring it up around me and get me talking about it, I might cry some more. I fell asleep that night with The Fisher King on. I went on Amazon and ordered a bunch of his films I did not already have on Blu-ray. I’m on a waiting list, mind you, because every one of them was sold out already. 

It took me decades to figure out that I was completely addicted to watching films. Once we moved into our home and I started to feel cemented in place for the first time in my life, I just embraced my love of films like never before. It's not a cheap habit to have. But as habits go, well, it is far from the worst. I don't buy lottery tickets. I smoked just two cigars all summer. A bottle of vodka has been sitting above my fridge for years now. And the closest I've come to drugs is taking a few too many pills after a painful tooth problem. 

I buy and watch films. 

I don't profess to having the most sophisticated taste in film. I love to love films, and I hate to hate them. I want to enjoy myself. Even the shittiest film is alright. As much as I like artsy films, I like Godzilla films too. I love it all. 

I'm not buried and lost in films either. Anyone who knows me knows how important my family is. There is no substituting film for reality. No substitute for hiking up a mountain. No substitute to spending time with my wife and kids, or running through a thunderstorm with close friends. Films, though, are a distant second for me. And once I realized how much I loved films, I dove in head first. Films are like a drug for me. Like a second source of air I tap, to breath into vestigial gills awakened by this grand art form of our time. 

Films made me who I am. I wanted to be funny like Bill Murray in Meatballs after seeing that film as a kid. I lost myself in Star Wars for most of my childhood and became an artist. I was with a childhood friend out in the Hamptons after seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark. We dug a huge hole and kept jumping over it all day, all the while talking about getting a video camera and somehow making a film. Eventually my friend Jesse would make a film. One of my favorites. 

As time went on, I'd see films I loved and buy items that were used in the films and put them around my house. The globe from several Wes Anderson films. The pliers from Speed. The sunglasses George Clooney wears in The American. The book on religion Robin Williams shows to Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King. Yup. I tracked all that crap down. Back in college, I even dragged my girlfriend all over Philly looking for the toggle coat from Dead Poets Society—the coat the kids wear in the film. Maybe I've taken it too far sometimes—nervous LOL. 

I've rebought VHS films on laserdisc, then DVD only to rebuy them again on Blu-ray. I can see the film grain now on my 60-inch TV, so hopefully I'm done buying films in many formats. Criterion has me hooked good, though. And, new films keep getting made. 

I know there are other people out there like me, or there wouldn’t be a Blu-ray market. There wouldn’t be a DVD market, and there wouldn’t have been a laserdisc or VHS market before that. I'm the reason most films have a commentary when you buy a copy of them. You may shake your head at people like us when you see us in the store, but we’re the reason wide, flat screen TVs are now accessible and affordable for you. We showed our support. We tested the waters.

I enjoy sitting in my basement after dinner and watching a film, pretty much every night. I like keeping a film on when I fall asleep. Soon, in September and October, I'll start watching almost all horror films until Halloween is over. This is a habit I adopted from my lifelong friend, Mike, another partner in crime for his love of films. I rarely watch TV any more. I watch Netflix. 

At Barnes & Noble not too long ago, I grabbed Naked Lunch on Criterion Blu-ray and got to talking with the sales associate there about David Cronenberg. We became fast friends as we discussed our similar drug of choice—films. 

My oldest son is now slowly collecting Criterion films I have not seen, and I could not be happier.  

I've tried my hand at making films, too—by writing screenplays. I don't have the temperament to wrangle so many people to all do what I want to make a film. I'm too easily frazzled to make anything beyond a short, very simple film. I write instead. It's easier. I don't need to bother anyone except my wife. 

I'm just going to cruise through films, and hopefully leave a wake through them till the day I die.  

When I learned Robin Williams was gone—to suicide no less—I just broke down and cried. I'm more than familiar with getting emotional from films. They make me cry all the time. I also lost my best friend from childhood to suicide because of addiction and depression. He was a filmmaker who made one feature film. He even told me he met Robin Williams once. 

It's all connected, you see. 

We’re all connected. 

All of us. 

Like the lattice of coincidences Miller talks about in Repo Man. Or how Steve Martin’s character in Grand Canyon says, "all of life's mysteries are answered in films."  

Alex in A Clockwork Orange says, “It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.”

Real life is too nuanced and detailed for film to ever compete. In Cinema Paradiso Alfredo says to Toto, "Life isn't like in the movies. Life... is much harder."

It's all true to some extent. For me, beyond the obvious escapist entertainment nature of many films, the best and most subtle ones give me back watered-down moments from real life that cannot be relived—like in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories when he's just enjoying a fleeting moment watching his love sit and read a magazine. I love that.  

Films feed me joy, pleasure, action, adventure, sadness, loss, triumphs, and countless more experiences. They feed my love of storytelling, my love of music, my love of photography, and above all, my love of people.  

Robin Williams was a manic individual on the talk show circuit. I always suspected his act was a massive mask. As I'd watch Robin Williams over the years, he always seemed like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, when he'd lost himself in the repetitive days and was just reciting lines, ready to explode. Then I'd see Robin Williams in various films, like The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, and Dead Poets Society. He'd give these amazingly nuanced performances, even more subtle then actors who were far more controlled then him in real life. I'd wonder, continually impressed beyond belief, how the manic, nervous, off-screen Williams could do that on screen.

Well, now we all know how he was able to pull it off. He was never the funny man. He was always the sensitive, dramatic, complex individual. The jokes were a defense mechanism. 

People may ask how can you cry for someone you never met. A stranger. Well, if I can cry again and again watching films, I can sure as shit cry for the tragic loss of someone I loved watching so much, performing his heart out in many of those films. Someone who moved me to tears in a performance certainly warrants emotion from me for his real life loss. 

And I did meet him. I met him in his films. 

God bless Robin Williams.