The Golden Age

I am unimaginably homesick today.  I know this because I desperately want Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  The kind that comes in the blue box, with the envelope of cheese-like powder, and the old-school elbow macaroni.   It looks something like this:

This is remarkable, because I haven’t eaten Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in probably a decade.  One day I looked at the neon orange cheese-like powder and said, “This can’t be right” and walked away from the KMC.    

Cheese-like powder. 0_o

KMC was a staple of my childhood.  It was cheap, effective, and about one of the only things I’d eat.  I still remember the salty tang of the sauce made from the cheese-like powder.  I have fond memories of that cheese-like powder.  (And yes, I find this as disturbing as you probably do). 

The thing is, I don’t really want the KMC.  I want the comfort of a nostalgic past, one that is swathed in a blanket of peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese and blissfully free of discord and struggle. 

KMC is my golden age. 

While—again—this is likely disturbing, I’d like to think that all of you know what I mean.  We have memories, objects, places that anchor us to what we think of as the best parts of ourselves, the best parts of our past. 

This leads me to talk about two things: stuff and movies.  These are two of my favourite topics.  I could jaw about stuff and movies all day long.  Be glad that I don’t. 

But on the topic of stuff, why do we have it?  Why do we keep it?  Why do we fight like hell to be the one who has Grandma’s old, broken-down faux-crocodile handbag? 

This may be too simplistic, but in my mind, we keep stuff—especially other people’s stuff—because the stuff is something we can wrap our hands around, something we can feel, something we can say, “Yes, this is you.” 

I am, of course, talking specifically about dead people’s stuff.  I am thinking specifically about my mom’s stuff. 

It hit me the other day that next week will be the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death.  It does not weigh heavily on me, per se, but it is remarkable how present it is in my mind.  Perhaps it’s because I’m quickly approaching the age that she was when she died.  Perhaps it’s because it happens to coincide with Thanksgiving this year, and I am very far from a home of four-day holidays, pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce, and Black Friday.  Perhaps it’s simply because I miss her and wish she were here to help me figure out where I’m going and whether I’m making the right choices.   It’s hard being a responsible grown-up sometimes.

Sometimes, you feel like you’re in uncharted territory and you’re trying to hold it together in such a way that everyone assumes you know what you’re doing. 

Actually, let me revise that. 

I think most of us go through each day feeling like we’re in uncharted territory.  I think we careen and bump along from one side to the next and just pray that we get through the day without seriously screwing up the relationships and the things we value most. 

When we feel like that–when we’re breathing a bit more quickly than normal, feeling uncomfortable, and far outside of what we know–I think most of us yearn for our own KMC golden ages.  Looking back at the known past is easy; facing the uncertain future is hard.

Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, explores this very issue.  Of course, it is gorgeously shot, has a great soundtrack and relatable characters, and patented “Woody Allen patter”.  It’s so much more than that, though.  He explores this idea of “golden ages” and comes to the conclusion that the only true golden age is the present.  The right now.  This moment. 

I like that idea.  As uncertain as we feel some days, as much as we mourn the things (the people) lost, as fondly as we remember the past (including cheese-like powder and blue boxes of macaroni), the reality is we also create joy in *this* moment, in *this* now.  Our feet may be anchored in the collective experiences of our past, but if we’re lucky, our arms are spread wide and open, ready for the unknown adventure that is our future.

What a thrilling thing.

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“Here’s Looking at You, Kid.”

The New Zealand International Film Festival starts tonight.  It is two weeks of worth of love, lust, violence, laughter, redemption, and personal growth in over 20 languages.  I can’t wait.  Neither can T.  This is my second festival, and his 10th or so.

We have a ritual (if twice can be enough to establish a ritual) for picking films.  It starts with T perusing the glossy magazine-style festival brochure and marking a “T” next to the films that interest him.  Then I get my turn and I mark a “J” next to mine.  Then the negotiating starts.  Inevitably, we each pick more movies than we can possibly see or pay for and we have to whittle down the list.  We try to find common ground and see as many films as we can together, but there are some that he won’t see and neither will I.  But for the most part, our gentle negotiation goes something like this:

T: “How about this one.”

Me:  “Um, no.  I’ll take a pass of the Crimean War documentary.”

T:  (He tsks)  “Movies aren’t always about fun!  They inform.  Enrich.  Invigorate the mind and the senses!”

Me:  “Somehow, the Crimean War conjures up none of those scenarios for me.”

T:  “Look who’s talking!  You can sniff out a Rom-Com at fifty paces in any language!”

Me:  “So?  I like funny movies where people end up happy together.  What’s wrong with that?”

And on it goes.  Eventually, he agrees to two more Rom-Coms and I agree to a documentary about cricket.

This year, I’m seeing 15 films for the festival (though I did just try to sneak in a Chinese martial arts film that is supposed to be *AMAZING*).  Some of those will stick with me and I’ll continue to turn over their meaning and their stories in my mind for months to come.  Others I will forget almost immediately.  That’s the way it goes with movies.  But I suppose that applies to just about everything in life, whether it be a book, a song, or sometimes, even the people we pass in the street.

When I think back to last year, three of the eighteen films I saw continue to stick with me.  They were each extraordinary in their own ways.  If you haven’t seen these, I commend you to.

 

1.     Exit Through the Giftshop:  Ostensibly, this is a movie about a documentary maker trying to make a movie about Banksy, the elusive street artist.  What it is in fact, we’ll never know.  Is it an elaborate hoax?  Is the hapless documentary maker (who’s made to look a fool in this) in on the joke?  Is it a meta-narrative on the fleeting value of ‘art’ and the idea that cost often has nothing to do with intrinsic value?  Who knows.  But what I do know is that it was a thoroughly engaging film full of humanity and hysterically dry humor.  As an added bonus, it’s a great primer on what street art is, why it exists, and what it looks like.

2.     In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today?:  I love stop-motion animation.  It reminds me of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas specials from when I was a kid.  This Czech Republic film is a trillion times better, both in terms of the animation and the story.  The premise of the film is an enclave of old toys living their days in an attic.  Every day Buttercup, a pretty blond doll, bakes a cake for a teddy bear, a marionette knight, and a silly-putty man, who roll a special birthday die for the daily honor. Yet, danger lurks in the far reaches of the attic when Buttercup gets lost and is captured by an evil dictator (an old marble bust).  Her friends battle the odds to save her and their way of life.  The film deals with serious political issues, including authoritarian regimes, revolution, and the bonds of friendship and family.  What I love about animation is that it so thoroughly suspends disbelief into the realm of whimsy and fantasy, that these difficult and bleak topics can be grappled with in a manageable way.  This was billed as a children’s movie, and it was, but it was so much more than that.

http://www.flicks.co.nz/trailer/in-the-attic-who-has-a-birthday-today/2223/

3.     The Killer Inside Me: A fabulous American film with Casey Affleck giving an amazing performance as a sociopathic killer.  The film was sleek, elegant, and a great throw-back to the film noir of the 40s.  There weren’t any huge plot twists—you knew what was coming after the initial “reveal”—and that was fine.  The movie depended on riveting performances, and boy, did it deliver.  If you liked Dial M for Murder or Vertigo or Rear Window, this is the movie for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to peruse the 2011 program again.  Just to make sure I haven’t missed out on anything!