Cliff Robertson, Neil Armstrong & The Queen Of DenmarkMonday, June 04, 2007
Many know exactly where they were and what they were doing the day that US President, John F. Kennedy was assasinated in Dallas. I know, too but I also know the coordinates for another important moment in our history. On July 20, 1969 at 10:17:42 (actually 9:17:42 as Mexico City did not have daylight saving time) when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, I shut off our TV in our Mexico City apartment and told my wife Rosemary we were going to the movies.
When I photographed actor Cliff Robertson in Whistler, BC sometime in the late 80s I told him about my experience in seeing him play Charly in the 1969 Ralph Nelson film by of same name. I had read in 1964, Daniel Keyes's 1960 novel Flowers for Algernon (extended to novel form from his earlier novella) from which Charly's screen play was based on. Charly, the story of a retarded man who is chemically made intelligent but regresses back to his earlier state, while being lovingly cared for by Claire Bloom was a film I was not going to miss back in 1969. I had been married to Rosemary for a year but I still remembered one of my first girlfriends (1964) Judy Brown who to me looked like Claire Bloom. I simply saw all Claire Bloom films and still do. Besides I was a sucker for this sort of film as I then enjoyed Terence Stamp (who wakes from a coma after 30 years) in The Mind of Mr Soames. In this film Terence Stamp starts as a fully grown baby who very quickly learns to be an adult.
Because of the moon landing, Cine Polanco, where Rosemary and I saw Charly, was virtually empty. It made the tragic movie all that more poignant for us. I remember leaving the empty movie house completely drained with no memory of the event of the day that was unique to the human race. From that day on we could unequivocally think, "We (from the vantage point of the moon) are from there (pointing at the blue circle looming over the moon's horizon)!
There was one aspect of the film that would come to haunt me and almost offend me years later when around 1976 while watching TV in Vancouver I saw a commercial seeking money to research dyslexia. I was a dyslexic and I had never known. The Charly posters and the title of the film had that r reversed. It now almost offends me as much as Toys Я Us.
In 1970 we institutionalized my grandmdmother Lolita who progressively took baths and got ready for bed earlier and earlier during the day. One day she came back from seeing her son Tony (my Uncle Tony) in Egypt and she did not recognize who we were. This was my introduction to Alzheimer's. Since then I have known several close friends who have had to face this disease in their family.
On a purly objective look at Alzheimer's (ignoring the suffering of those who must live with family members who increasingly become violent) I find it an almost reversely symmetrical fading out of our existence that parallels our gradual fading into memory from birth. I remember being 6 but not before.
When Rebecca was 5 and we took her to Washington DC to the American Hosta Society National Convention she played the a game of naming (in rapid succession) hostas connected to women with a woman who sported a convention tag on a DC Rapid Transit car. She fired off, Hosta 'Marilyn', Janet, Mildred Seaver, June and on. I was dazzled but I kept telling Rosemary, "If we were to die today, Rebecca would not rmember us at all."
I have been noting with interest (Why did I not note this with my two daughters?) how Rebecca's memory seems to work. She has an excellent memory but the names of plants she knew well three years ago I must now reinforce as she has forgotten. Her mental process seems to mimic that terrible computer process by which sometimes when you write emails or in Word, and when you go back to correct mistakes, the insertion of the correction removes (gobbles up) the letters after it. A similar situation would be the running of a locomotive on a few set of tracks in which the forward path would be laid with tracks from ground covered that far.
Yesterday I went to Rebecca's and we mixed alfalfa meal with magnesium sulphate (epson salts) and watered her roses (Rosa 'Mary Magdalene', Tuscany Superb, Mrs. Oakley Fisher, The Fairy and Popcorn ). We removed all the dead wood and leaves that had black spot. It was then that I was startled by a request.
"Papi, I really want Königin von Dänemark." Now Queen of Denmark is a brand new rose (an 1826 Alba) in my garden and it has yet to bloom. Twice in the last few weeks Rebecca has asked me to show her the rose bush as I had yet to find a spot for it. And when I did Rebecca did not know where it was. This rose has sparked her not quite fading interest in roses. I will have to buy her one.
Charly, Mr. Soames, Rebecca: It is fascinating to watch the building up of memory so close at hand.
Addendum: Cliff Robertson's overall green/cyan cast is due to the colour negative's deterioration from the mid 80s. If I were to remove the green/cyan cast from the picture, Robertson's face would warm up beyond reality. This is an example of a photograph that can only be "improved" with extensive Photoshop restoration which is presently beyond my scope of expertise.