All Birthdays Are Local

I wrote about my wayward youth this week, an unfortunate combination of a deadline and a mostly dead imagination. It’s a concept salad of a column, with not much there there, although I can’t beat myself up about it. Sometimes the tank is empty.

The history lesson popped into my brain the other night, a random memory of a conversation—or probably several conversations—a buddy and I had probably 40 years ago. We were adrift in early adulthood, as happens, and so we went to a lot of movies.

I’ve probably watched more films with him than anyone else in my life, including my family, with maybe the exception of my wife. We were both interested in the form as well as the substance, and we had the Sombrero Playhouse.

The Sombrero Playhouse (Phoenix), back in the day.

The Sombrero Playhouse (Phoenix), back in the day.

The Sombrero was a repertory movie theater, something I miss almost as much as drive-ins. Several times a week, they’d show a double feature from the vaults, so my friend and I had a ringside seat to cinematic history. We’d sometimes go a couple of times a week, seeing classics and others the way they were meant to be seen. Silent films, Marx Brothers marathons, Bogart weeks, musicals, mysteries, racy European films, rarities, and recent stuff, too. It was an education, and it gave us a perspective I think neither of us has ever lost.

At some point, we got into a discussion about what we liked and what we didn’t, and how to differentiate. We ended up with five categories, and as it turned out I ended up incorporating this ad hoc system for a lot of favorite things. In short:

  1. So Bad It’s Good: Yeah. We all have them.
  2. Guilty Pleasures: Ditto. They might not be great, but we love to watch (I’ve seen both of Nic Cage’s National Treasure movies several times. Guilty as charged).
  3. Just Bad: Yep. You know it when you see it.
  4. Just Good: Your Casablancas and your Godfathers. You like them. Everybody likes them.

And, finally, there were the movies that were immune to conventional or critical wisdom. There are a couple of films I cherish that are objectively not very good, and I don’t care. I love them, I watch them, I carry their images and dialogue with me as I lurch through life. Good and bad are irrelevant. We love what we love.

Sometimes they overlap, and Local Hero is a good example.

It was released in 1983, a pretty busy year for me, so I have no idea when I first saw Bill Forsyth’s follow-up to Gregory’s Girl, a big hit for the young Scottish director. His is an interesting career, truncated (it seems) by a commitment to not just some artistic vision, but a deliberate sensibility. As with a couple of Brit filmmakers I learned to love at the Sombrero, Powell and Pressburger, Forsyth seemed drawn to the mystical (and maybe slightly magical) auras of ordinary people. Or, cutting to the chase, his films make you smile.

Me, anyway. And Local Hero is not only a film I love regardless of anyone else’s opinion, it also is universally loved. And it loves the universe. Really, a lot of love here.

I’m showing it tonight at church, trying to take advantage of summer Wednesdays with a free sanctuary (no choir practice), and I’ll enjoy sharing it with my friends. With a cast of mostly unknown Scottish actors, filmed almost entirely in Scotland, with a few scenes set in Houston, Local Hero describes a done deal, the purchase of a small village on the west coast by an oil company, to build a refinery. It’s an ideal location, and the villagers are mostly tired of a hard life and perfectly willing to take the money and enjoy.

There are twists, though, at this particular intersection of commerce and culture. Take an American corporate robot and drop him off in small-town Scotland, toss in the Northern Lights and lilting accents, and minds might change. Minds do all sorts of things.

There’s nothing guilty about the pleasure I get from all of this, seeing and also sharing, and I didn’t even realize when I set this up that it would be on my birthday.

I turned 59 today, no surprises. I saw it coming.

I called it my penultimate year the other day, although that’s not so applicable these days. Lots of people in my life have turned 60 recently, and nobody seems all that concerned. Me neither.

It’s cliché to say that I’m just grateful to be alive, but you betcha anyway. What use are birthdays if not to remind us of those who’ve passed before, and usually before their time. I can list a dozen things I worry about, but breathing and moving won’t be there. I feel healthy, I exercise, I try to eat well, I sleep just fine. So birthdays, *snort*. Keep ‘em coming.

But I’ll take advantage of this irrelevant calendar watching to write here this year, just in case anyone wants to know what creeping senescence feels like. So far, it feels fine. You can always check back.

And I’m watching a movie tonight. It’s my birthday, and at the moment I can’t think of a better idea. Call me guilty.

Chuck SigarsComment