Fragments Of NowWednesday, September 09, 2009
I had a Vancouver theatrical actress and director in my studio. Before we began shooting they were looking at some of the framed pictures on my studio wall. I told them, “If you are going to be interested in any of them it’s going to have to be that one on the left.” "Who is she?” they asked, even after they were able to read the name, Liv Ullmann. I decided to be gentle and I did not pursue the issue, “She is an actress from Norway who collaborated with that famous Swedish director.” They did not ask me who the Swedish director was. I stopped right there.
Since I can remember my mother and my father spoke of movies and movie actors. The names remained in my memory because they often repeated their names or told me about them. One in particular stands out because it is a funny name. My mother might say of someone who was funny, “She reminds me of Zasu Pitts.”
Tonight Rosemary and I watched Archie Mayo’s 1946 film Angel on my Shoulder with Paul Muni, Claude Rains and the very sweet-faced Anne Baxter. It was difficult to see this film without remembering my mother telling me how she liked all the films of Claude Rains. Rains could play villains (indeed in Angel on my Shoulder he plays the fallen angel himself) and saints with equal aplomb. I do believe I have seen most of his performances. As I watched Paul Muni and noticed his expressions, his eyes, his eyebrows I could see where Humphrey Bogart might have gotten his inspiration. Muni’s gangster accent was as good if not better than Brando’s. Yet most of these actors and their names are largely forgotten. Still in my memory are my mother's favourites, Herbert Marshall, Ronald Colman, James Mason, Leslie Howard and especially Joseph Cotten. Can anybody who has ever seen Four Fingers ever forget those tense seconds (they seemed like hours) when Mason was trying to open that safe and not be caught?
For me memory is a carpet that is unrolling towards the future as it rolls up from the past. As an example in 1951 when I stared at photographs of dead American Civil War soldiers taken by Timothy O’Sullivan part of the shock of their immediacy may have been that the war was less than 90 years before. In school Waterloo and Napoleon weren’t ancient history. My teachers spoke of Maimonides, Empedocles, Sacco and Vanzetti, Thebes, Pindar, Edmundo Amicis, Clara Petacci and, General Burnside. Brother Hubert, CSC told us what a bitch Xantippe had been and how Socrates had volunteered to fight the Persians, even though he was an old man, so as to get away from her. It was in 1959 that Brother Dunstan, CSC told us of a fabulous English playwright called Harold Pinter. I still know who the man is and I have seen many of his plays.
My carpet from that past has receded and I have forgotten a few names. But I still manage to remember Ingmar Bergman while being aware of the films of Quentin Tarantino. I know and love the looks and acting skills of Scarlett Johansson without forgetting Monica Vitti, Romy Schneider and Claudia Cardinale.
My only conclusion is that we live in an age of carpet-roll remnants so our memories are now just fragments of now.