Thursday, July 29, 2010

An answer to "The Moviegoer"

In case you can't make out the cover lines on this first edition copy of Walker Percy's acclaimed novel (ranked 60th on Time magazine's list of the "100 Best Books" of the 20th Century), here they are verbatim: "Why is the hero of this novel a moviegoer? Why does an intelligent, successful young New Orleans businessman go to the movies avidly, fiercely -- even to silly movies. The answer..."

Why, Binx Bollinger, why do you go to the movies? You mean you don't know by now? And you too, Holden Caufield, haven't you figured out where the ducks go in winter?

Exasperation pours from my brow when I see really dumb questions answered with unreadable and unnecessary books. Dr. Percy spends 200-odd pages swimming through the kelp forests of Kierkegardian thought, dragging poor befuddled Binx from one defunct neighborhood picture show to the next, from Gentilly to Carrollton to Lakeview every damned night of the week. "What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."

Sorry, Binx. The answer is even simpler than that, so simple that I'm almost embarrassed  to break it to you. We go to the movies because they're fun and entertaining. Okay, you missed the big picture, so to speak, but I will grant that you were often brilliant, Binx, on the peculiar pleasures of movie-going in New Orleans. 

I've been meaning to post on this facet of life in our beloved town for several weeks now, occasioned by two memorable evenings in the dark -- with Simon and Lucien and an immense tub of popcorn at the Prytania for Toy Story 3, the best of the franchise so far, and with the galpal to see the dark and absorbing Girl Who Played with Fire at the hip new Theaters at Canal Place. We bagged on the overpriced arm rest fare and irritating wait staff. Instead, we smuggled in a couple of York peppermint patties, a Snickers bar, a box of Raisinettes, and a liter of Perrier. All this was purchased at Matassa's on the way over for $5.40.

We left feeling wise and frugal having chiseled the concession stand by means of those cheaply-acquired goodies out of Sally's handbag. We were also feeling a little hungry. And this leads to a great point about the movie-going experience here: There's always somewhere to go after the show. Tonight, a Sunday, we decided on Yuki, the tiny Japanese barroom and small-plate eat spot on Frenchmen Street. The place was popping  when we arrived and the sidewalk outside was thick with night people, locals mostly. We ate fried chicken thighs and some kind of marvelous octopus thing bathed in a velvety wasabi-flavored sauce, while glancing now and then at an old samurai-meets-geisha movie projected on the wall without benefit of sound or subtitles. "Wow," I said, "I bet there's not another place like this for 900 miles around. Okay, maybe 500 miles around." Tell me if I'm wrong here.
Like everything else, movie going in New Orleans is a social event. In bigger cities and in foreign cities, you can luxuriate in anonymity. I like that, a lot. But I also enjoy the local groove of running into people you know and sometimes haven’t seen for years. Sure enough, at Canal Place, we met some very talkative friends who were deep into Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and could bring us up to speed on the characters and their histories. It was welcome information. But I was glad to get off the elevator before they said too much because the next installment – and denouement, unfortunately – promises to be a doozey.      

I confess my first brush with the series came just a few weeks ago, on a road trip into the Heart of Darkness of north Louisiana with my movie-making buddy David. He bought a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at a Wal-Mart in West Monroe and was instantly hooked, which might explain his admirable composure through our many perilous adventures. Larssen’s rapists, murderers and sex traffickers set such a high standard of evil that the toothless, hollow-chested throwbacks we met along Redneck Blvd. must have seemed to David more pitiable than dangerous. And that’s all I’m going to say about what happened up there, unless I put it in a novel someday.

Places to fish Monroe Louisiana


  1. Hi Art,
    I'm in the middle of the 2nd Larssen book - I thought I'd finish it in Spain, but the British rags are just too entertaining and the perfect pool-side read. Are you reading the books? They are page-turners. The movie is playing near us, but we rarely venture to the theater these days. Most Brooklyn movie houses have their own unwelcome theater in the audience.* I read that Daniel Craig has signed to play the Blomkvist role in the Hollywood version, but no word on who will play Salander.
    I like the blog!

  2. Several readers have asked me what really happened in North Louisiana. For many reasons, my lips are sealed on this subject -- with duct tape. You'll have to wait for the book. And that will be a long, long time at this rate. The best I can do is some snappy cover lines a la "The Moviegoer." Here goes: "Why? Why would a successful New Orleans businessman venture into a methamphetamine-ravaged trailer camp, by a lake, near the paper mill in West Monroe, La.? The answer is..." Incidentally, Redneck Blvd. is a real place, not some ephemeral once-in-a-blue-moon locale like Brigadoon or Shangri-la. That picture is real.

  3. I love your mind, Arturo....its a refreshing
    in this "toothless, slumpchested" wilderness.

    Your photographing buddie in
    The the "BOmbed Out Territories,"
    --where one must fore go the three syllabled (vowel, diphthong, or syllabic consonant) word
    in favor of more easily construed, well
    VER NACK yoo-lahr

  4. Thanks Lady from the Bombed-Out Zone,
    You're such a funny duck. Can't wait to get you in this blog. Let's have some fresh adventures soon!
    Calliope Street

  5. Love the description of folks outside of the Frenchman street eatery....made me miss the scene! My NOLA-living daughter said the "improvements" at Canal Place theater may be less than great....

  6. Your daughter is so right, Amanda. The new "Theaters at Canal Place" (sounds like the title to a gated subdivision, doesn't it?)are way over the top. The whole experience is like sitting in someone's cushy "media room" just off the "great room" in one of those places. The mid-century leather club chairs are so huge you can't "schnuggle" with your date. Most annoying of all are the service staff, who crouch around like little Igors in a Frankenstein movie lest they spoil your view of the screen. Which they do anyway!

    You have to go next time you're in town. But I'm guessing Atlanta has a few boutique movie houses like this by now, wouldn't you think?
    Thanks for the call last time!
    Yours faithfully,
    Calliope Street

  7. Belated note to Kate in Brooklyn:
    Just read Erica's post about the Court Street theater on "F'ed in Park Slope." No wonder they have security guards prowling the aisles. I imagine this was like going to the Coliseum in late antiquity. You've just shown me the end of civilization as we knew it, thanks!

  8. You really are getting the hang of this Arturo. Interesting and fun!

    A couple of liner notes. I've listened to "Tattoo" and "Hornet's Nest" on DVD as I amble from place to place. After I finished "Hornet's Nest" I listened to it AGAIN. It's like sitting through "Camille" twice just to watch Garbo, which I did back in college. A master story-teller is Mr. Larsson.

    And I note with pleasure your clip from "Modern Times" above. Saw it again last week in a re-created drive in movie at our Franklin Trek (week-long car club event). It's been a while, and while I remembered some of the good stuff I'd totally forgotten the song he sings at the end when he's forced on stage by the restauranteur. It's total double-talk. And in faux-French. If ever one doubts that Chaplin was a genius, this turn puts the argument to rest.

    Sounds like Walker Percy is a pass :) Have fun at the movies!

  9. Hi ArturoNY,
    Thanks for the great comments on genius (Charlie) and near genius (Lars). On that subject, I've been trying to live link to "The Art of Einstein" on my blogroll (see right hand page). Nothing works. Do you have a new url? Could you send by other usual channels? We need a few certified Mad Men here on Calliope Street!