Z The Movie That Changed My Life

Z The Movie That Changed My Life - TELLING STORES The...

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Unformatted text preview: TELLING STORES The Movies M OVlE POSTER srsLM PROMOS l Louis Erdrich, Z: The Movie That Changed My Life. Raised in North Dakota, the daughter ofa Chippewa mother and a German father, Louise Erdrich has won many awards for her novels and short story collections. These include Love Medicine 0984), The Beef Queen (I986), Tracks (I988), The Bingo Palagg 0994), Tales oFBurning Love (I996), The Antelope Wife 0998), and The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003). The Blue [ay’s Dance, a collection of essays, was published in I995. Her essay on the film Z was written for a collection of essays, The Movie That Changed My Life, edited by David Rosenberg (i993). Spring 2008 semester Louise Erdrich .23.: THE MQVEE THAT CHANQEQ MY LEFE Next to writing full—time, the best job I ever had combined two passions—pop— ' corn and narrative. At fourteen, I was hired as a concessioncr at the Gilles Theater in Wahpcton, North Dakota. Behind a counter of black marbleizcd glass, I sold : Dots, Red Hot Tamales, Jujubes, Orange Crush, and, of course, hot buttered _ popcorn. My little stand was surrounded by art deco mirrors, and my post, next to the machine itself, was bathed in an aura of salt and butter. All of my sopho— more year, I exuded a light nutty fragrance that turned, on my coats and dresses, to the stale odor of mouse nests. The best thing about that job was that, once I i had wiped the counters, dismantled the machines, washed the stainless steel parts, totaled up the take, and refilled the syrup cannistcrs and wiped off the soft drink machine, I could watch the show, free. I saw everything that came to Wahpcton in l969—-watchcd every movie seven times, in fact, since each one played a full week. I saw Zeffirelli’s Romeo and fulier, and did not weep. I sighed over Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes, and ground my teeth at the irony of the ending shot. But the one that really got to me was Costa—Gavras’s Z Nobody in Wahpcton walked into the Gilles knowing that the film was about the assassination in Greece of a leftist peace leader by a secret right—wing organization and the subsequent investigation that ended in a bloody coup. The ad in the paper said only “Love Thriller” and listed Yves Montand and Irene Papas as the stars. Erdrich, Z: The Movie That Changed MyLife “Dear Diary,” I wrotc the morning after I’d seen Z for the first time. “The hypocrites are exposed. Hf: is alive! Just saw the best movie of my life. Must remember to dye my bra and underwear to match my checrlcading outfit.” I forgot to rinse out the extra color, so during the week that Z was playing, l had purple breasts. The school color of my schizophrenic adolescence. My parents strictly opposed my career as a wrestling cheerleader, on the grounds that it would change me into someone they wouldn’t recognize. Now, they were right, though of course I never let anyone know my secret. I had changed in other ways, too. Until I was fourteen, my dad and I would go hunting on weekends or skating in the winter. Now I practiced screaming S—U—C—C—E—S—S and K—l~L—L for hours, and then, of course, had to run to work during the matinee. Not that I was utterly socialized. Over my chocrleading out— fit I wore Dad’s army jacket, and on my ankle, a bracelet made of twisted blasting— wire given to me by a guitar—playing Teen Corps volunteer, Kurt, who hailed from The Valley of the Jolly Green Giant, a real town in eastern Minnesota. No, I was not yet completely subsumed into small—town femalchood. I knew there was more to life than the stag leap, or the flying T, but it wasn’t until I saw Z that I learned language for what that “more” was. Aftcr the third viewing, phrases began to whirl in my head. “The forces of greed and hatred cannot tolerate us”; “There are not enough hospitals, not enough doctors, yet one half of the budget goes to the military”; “Peace at all costs”; and, of course, the final words, “He is alive!” But there was more to it than the language. It was the first real movie I had ever seen—one with a cynical, unromantic, deflating ending. At the fourth viewing of the movie, I had a terrible argument with Vincent, ‘ the Gilles’s pale, sad ticket taker, who was also responsible for changing the wooden letters on the marquee. At the beginning of the week, he had been pleased. He had looked forward to this title for a month. Just one letter. It was he who thought of the ad copy, “Love Thriller.” By the middle of the run, he was unhappy, for he sided with the generals, just as he sided with our boss. Vincent always wore a suit and stood erect. He was officious, a tiger with gatccrashcrs and tough with those who had misplaced their stubs while going to the bathroom. I, on the other hand, wavcd people in free when l was left in charge, and regarded our boss with absolute and burning hatred, for he was a pid— dling authority, a man who enjoyed setting meaningless tasks. I hated being made to rcwash the butter dispenser. Vincent liked being scolded for not tearing the tickets exactly in half. Ours was an argument of more than foreign ideologies. Vincent insisted that the boss was a fair man who made lots of money. I maintained that we were exploited. Vincent said the film was lies, while I insisted it was based on fact. Neither of us checked for the truth in the library. Neither of us know the first thing about modern Grcccc, yet I began comparing the generals to our boss. Their pompous cgotism, the way they bumblcd and puffcd when they were accused of duplicity, their self—righteous hatred of “longghaircd hippics and dope addicts of indcfinitc sex.” my: STORIES levies 3‘ “,0,le POSTER ,5 FILM. P,RQM9$__E, , , _ When I talked behind the boss’s back, Vincent was worse than horrified; he was incensed. “Put what’s—his—name in a uniform and he’d be the head of the security police,” I told Vincent, who looked like he wantedto pound my head. But I knew what I knew. I had my reasons. Afraid that‘I' might eat him out of Junior Mints, the boss kept a running tab of how many boxes of each type of candy reposed in the bright glass caSe. Every day, I had to count the boxes and officially request more to fill the spaces. I couldn’t be off by so much as a nickel at closing. One night, made hold by Z, I opened each candy box and ate one Jujube, one Jordan Almond, one Black Crow, and so on, out of each box, just to accom— plish something subversive. When I bragged, Vincent cruelly pointed out that I had just cheated all my proletarian customers. I allowed that he was right, and stuck to popcorn after that, eating handfuls directly out of the machine. I had to count the boxes, and the buckets, too, and empty out the ones unsold and fold them flat again and mark them. There was an awful lot of paperwork involved in being a concessioner. As I watched Z again and again, the generals took on aspects of other author— ities. I memorized the beginning, where the military officers, in a secret meeting, speak of the left as “political mildew” and deplored “the dry rot of subversive ideologies.” It sounded just like the morning farm report on our local radio, with all the dire warnings of cow brucellosis and exhortations to mobilize against the invasion of wild oats. I knew nothing about metaphor, nothing, in fact, of com— munism or what a dictatorship was, but the language grabbed me and would not let go. Without consciously intending it, I had taken sides. Then, halfway into Christmas vacation, Vincent told on me. The boss took me down into his neat little office in the basement and confronted me with the denouncement that I had eaten one piece of candy from every box in the glass case. I denied it. “Vincent does it all the time,” I lied with a clear conscience. So there we were, a nest of informers and counterinformers, each waiting to betray the other over a Red Hot Tamale. It was sad. I accused Vincent of snitch— ing; he accused me of the same. We no longer had any pretense of solidarity. He didn’t help me when I had a line of customers, and I didn't give him free pop. Before watching Z again the other night, I took a straw poll of people I knew to have been conscientious in 1969, asking them what they remembered about the movie. It was almost unanimous. People running, darkness, a little blue truck, and Irene Papas. Michael and I sat down and put the rented tape of Z into the video recorder. Between us we shared a bowl of air—popped corn. No salt. No but— ter anymore. Back in 1969, Michael had purchased the soundtrack to the movie and reviewed it for his school newspaper. It had obviously had an effect on both of us, and yet we recalled no more about it than the viewers in our poll. My mem— ories were more intense because of the argument that almost got me fired from Louise Erdrich, Z: The Movie That Changed MyLife my first indoor job, but all was very blurred except for Irene Papas. As the credits rolled I looked forward to seeing the star. Moment after moment went by, and she did not appear. The leftist organizer went to the airport to pick up the peace leader, and somehow I expected Irene to get off the plane and stun everyone with her tragic, moral gaze. Of course, Yves was the big star, the peace leader. ‘We watched. I waited for Irene, and then, when it became clear she was only a prop for Yves, I began to watch for any woman with a speaking role. The first one who appeared spoke into a phone. The second woman was a maid, the third a secretary, then a stewardess, then, finally, briefly, Irene, looking grim, and then a woman in a pink suit handing out leaflets. Finally, a woman appeared in a demonstration, only to get kicked in the rear end. Not only that, the man who kicked her was gay, and much was made of his seduction of a pinball—playing boy, his evil fey grin, his monstrosity. To the Costa—Gavras of 1969, at least, the lone gay man was a vicious goon, immoral and perverted. Once Yves was killed, Irene was called in to mourn, on cue. Her main con— tribution to the rest of the movie was to stare inscrutably, to weep uncontrollably, and to smell her deceased husband’s after—shave. How had I gotten the movie so wrong? By the end, I knew I hadn’t gotten it so wrong after all. In spite of all that is lacking from the perspective of twenty years, Zis still a good political film. It still holds evil to the light and makes hypocrisy transparent. The witnesses who come forward to expose the assassination are bravely credible, and their loss at the end is terrible and stunning. Z remains a moral tale, a story ofjustice done and vengeance sought. It deals with stupidity and avarice, with hidden motives and the impact that one human being can have on others’ lives. I still got a thrill when the last line was spoken, telling us that Z, in the language of the ancient Greeks, means “He is alive.” I remember feeling that the first time I saw the movie, and now I recalled one other thing. The second evening the movie showed, I watched Vincent, who hadn’t even waited for the end, unhook the red velvet rope from its silver post. Our argument was just starting in earneSt. Normally, after everyone was gone and the outside lights were doused, he spent an hour, maybe two if a Disney had played, cleaning up after the crowd. He took his time. After eleven o’clock, the place was his. He had the keys and the boss was gone. Those nights, Vincent walked down each aisle with a bag, a mop, and a bucket filled with the same pink soapy solution I used on the butter machine. He went after the spilled Coke, the mashed chocolate, the )ujubes pressed flat. He scraped the gum off the chairs before it hardened. And there were things people left, things so inconsequential that the movie goers rarely bothered to claim them—handkerchiefs, lipsticks, buttons, pens, and small change. One of the things I knew Vincent liked best about his job was that he always got to keep what he found. )RIES MOVIE PQSTER FILM PROMO! 5 There was nothing to find that night, however, not a chewed pencil or a hai pin. No one had come. We’d have only a few stragglers the next few nights, then, the boss canceled the film. Vincent and I locked the theater and stood for a moment beneath the dark marquee, arguing. Dumb as it was, it was the first time I’d disagreed with anyone over anything but hurt feelings and boyfriends. Itiwas intoxicating. It seemed like we were the only people in the town. There have been many revolutions, but never one that so thoroughly changed the way women are perceived and depicted as the movement of the last twenty years. In Costa—Gravras’s Missing, Betrayed, and Music Box, strong women ’ are the protagonists, the jugglers of complicated moral dilemmas. These are not women who dye their underwear to lead cheers, and neither am I anymore, 1" metaphorically I mean, but it is hard to escape from expectations. The impulse never stops. Watching Z in an empty North Dakota theater was one of those small, incremental experiences that fed into personal doubt, the necessary seed of W any change or growth. The country in Z seemed terribly foreign, exotic, a large “ and threatened place—deceptive, dangerous, passionate. As it turned out, it was my first view of the world. Movie gallery. The five movie images that follow, 9 and their accompanying comments from a hand Ful of people who enjoy them, give a sense ofthe passion that the movies inspire ——and ofthe power that cinematic stories wield. Can you think of a movie that changed your life? mxmumnmimumx mam, swag... M «a 4.... W m, nu. mm. M m cm me n". a... Ami. Mum a... pm Km mm mm. taut-sun, Manama m» hm nammw,mw.«m inn-MW“Mum“null-n9:—munlthwumunI-yklplemolmmv-‘M m: 14M: NAB calm: ran may: wan Au:- DIFFUHBN‘I' m ITAND mun-n. Fox, X-Men 2, 2003. (Photofest) N 5'? The C O M M E N T “i read comics as a child, although never to the ext Doran [my son] does. My mother thought it was a V of time that could have b better spent on more intr tual pursuits, but i thoug they were fun. My favorit were the X-Men. Teenagt superheroes in a speciai s for ‘gified’ youth, the X-i were ‘mutants,’ a subgror humanity hated and fears the rest ofthe human rac That school and those hit very real to me, and the 5 they told in the comic he were a iumping-off point for myriad stories in my head. i realize now that reading those Comics and we those fantasies captured and supported my preadolescent feelings that there was something different me, long before i knew the ‘something’ was that i was a lesbian, not a mutant superhero.” —— Dale Rosenbt “How the X—Men Changed My Life," Advocatelcom, May ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course COMP 01111 taught by Professor Peters during the Spring '08 term at Rowan.

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Z The Movie That Changed My Life - TELLING STORES The...

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