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A Frame of Mind

One of the first films I remember watching was West Side Story. A musical at age 7! How dreadful. I don't remember much of how I felt, but we were sitting in my parents room with the shades pulled down in the middle of the afternoon. The sun always shines through a gap in between the two of the shades and makes a vertical line of light on the peachy pink carpet. That vertical slant is still there if I pull down the shades to watch a movie in the middle of the day. I remember sitting on the carpet and playing with the vertical line of sunlight while watching the movie. Now every time I hear the music I remember sitting in the room in the middle of the day and I know that I must have liked watching it. I guess it didn't mean that much to me then because I didn't know how interested in film I'd become. I try to remember how I felt watching Maria's face in a softly lit close up like a regular Hollywood movie star. All goose bumpy and teary eyed in the middle of the carpet trying hard not to let my parents see the tears. I was a little boy and didn't think Dad would like me if I went mushy over a musical. But I suppose from West Side Story there has been a progression of understanding films, and also that its nice to cry.

I don't remember going to the theatre much before age 13, but then again I don't remember much of anything before age 13. One of the most vivid theatre memories, though, was going to see E.T. It was for Evan and Neil Cappizzano's birthday party. Two twins who liked to pick on me. It was a party where all the kids were invited and I was one of them. There's one memory of Neil I'll always have and every time I think about I wonder why I went to any of his parties. I was standing by my locker among the row of middle school blue colored lockers before class in fifth grade. It's not that I ever did anything to Neil, or that he hated me, he was just a creep. Neil came walking down the hall and smiled at me from the doorway of a classroom two doors away. Great, I'm in fifth grade, I'm tired, I hate Mrs. Fox, the teacher who periodically reaches into her desk, takes out a bottle of aspirin and empties half of it into her mouth washing the pills down with a diet Coke or Tab, and here comes Neil Cappizzanno down the hallway with a big creepy grin on. All of a sudden, POW, and I'm doubled over against the lockers listening to him laugh as I stare at his sneakers. So I don't know why I would ever have wanted to go to one of his birthday parties, but his parents were taking us to E.T. and that didn't sound so bad. I think it was the movie theatre in Hawthorn that has about 15 million screens now. Back then it was smaller, maybe only four. At the front of the theatre there hung an enormous velvet curtain over the screen. In front of the screen was a big wooden stage with steps leading down into the isles. That is strange, I thought. The walls looked palatially high and there were rows and rows of seats. His parents chose an isle in the middle of the theatre and I was lagging and had to sit on the end. Sitting in that theatre with the theatre lights down low like they are in theatres before the show starts, staring at the huge screen I suddenly got very nervous sitting on the end. I thought that E.T. was going to come down off the screen, down the steps, and walk around in the isles during the movie. So I quickly got up before the lights went down and wiggled my way into the middle of the row and made everybody move down a seat just so if E.T. did come down off the screen it wouldn't be me he'd try and take with him. E.T. never came down off the screen.

It's not very often that a star does come down off the screen, but when it happens, its fantastic. I've never been a big fan of fandom, except when it comes to Jonny Depp. He's top notch. I don't think it was 21 Jump Street that did it. No, not that. I'm not a big fan of TV stars. They're too little when you watch them to really care about them. I think it was Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton and Jonny Depp are a brilliant pair. But I think it was that movie that did it. Junior year in high school, Jock Montgomery, one of my English teachers, got a letter from MGM saying that they would like a representative from the school paper to come to a screening of Benny and Joon. I was not on the school paper, but Jock liked me and he knew that I liked film. He asked me and Liza if we wanted to go. Liza was on the school paper. A day of missing school to go to Manhattan to watch a movie for free. We went. What I was most excited for was getting to meet the cast afterward. Mary Stuart-Masterson was pretty, Aidan Quinn I had seen in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and was excited to see him because I had really enjoyed his performance, and Jeremiah Chechik had directed National Lampoon's Vacation so I thought it would be nice to shake his hand. And then there was Jonny. Jonny Depp. I couldn't believe I would be meeting Jonny Depp. The boy from Florida who raced cross country to join a rock band and became a star. I sat through the movie and liked it. But the whole time all I could think about was how I was going to ask Jonny out for a cup of coffee. I was 17. So, Jonny, what do you say we cut out of this drag of an interview session and live it up? Hi, Jonny, want to fly with me to Barbados? I know a really good bar there and the bartender sometimes gives me free drinks. So Liza and I sat and watched the movie and then the lights came up. There was a little break and I went out to the bathroom. I peed right next to Jeremiah, only I didn't know it then. I hope I didn't splash because if he remembers I'll never get a job in the movies. Aidan and Mary were in the lobby talking and then they called us all back into the little theatre. I still hadn't seen Jonny. We sit down and a midnight silence whips through the theatre. Then, as if God had willed it, the front left door open and a black boot steps into the theatre. I stare, listening to the voice coming through the door as he talked to somebody in the lobby. Jonny Depp walked into the theatre. If I hadn't just gone to the bathroom I probably would have peed my pants. He took a seat on the right of the panel next to Aidan. Just like every other interview with him, he had cup of coffee and two packs of cigarettes, one stacked on top of the other. He was wearing a black baseball cap with long stringy hair falling near his shoulders. A t-shirt, hooded zipper down black sweat shirt, and jeans and he sat there and answered questions when he was asked. Afterward we got to meet and talk to the movie people individually. I had a lot of trouble talking to Jonny. He's pretty tall and I was only 17. I never told him about the bartender I knew in Barbados.

I wouldn't have been at that theatre if it hadn't been that Jock was the advisor of the paper. But even before Jock there was Liza because without Liza, Jock wouldn't have known about my interest in film, and maybe I wouldn't have either. I owe a lot to Liza. I don't think if I never knew her I wouldn't have found inside me a direction toward film, but I guess I'd call her a catalyst (I hope she doesn't mind me calling her that, it's not like being punched in the stomach). One of the first films we watched together, with my mom and little sister too, was Cinema Paradiso. How fitting for this theme. Almost too sappy and I don't particularly like love letters, especially when I'm writing about myself. Cinema Paradiso is about a magical movie theatre, sort of. It's a magical film and that's what's important. Right now she's actually a theatre major, but I'm glad she didn't decide to change her mind until she got into college. I would go over to her house or she would come over or we would go to a theatre and watch a film and then go eat and then go to a playground and have fun and talk about the film always having to talk a little too loud at night when the swings were not synchronized. I still can't figure out what it is that she did, but she opened my eyes to something I had always loved but taken for granted. I guess it was like being 13 all over again. I've never formally thanked her, and I don't think she would even know what I was thanking her for, but one day I mean to and I don't think it will be something I'll ever forget to do.

The summer of 1995, after two years of conscientiously watching films, I was living in the East Village with Alan, a close friend and another film fan. We read in the Voice that Steve Buscemi would be hosting a screening of two of his films. That's exciting. We went. The theatre was an old warehouse, only not as big and grand as old warehouses should be. This was a tiny little warehouse in the middle of the stinky hot city summer. There were about 15 rows of bridge chairs, a screen that's used to show home slides on, and a bar. We got there a few minutes before the show and saw Steve Buscemi sitting a the bar hunched over in a blue t-shirt and his hair pulled back in a greasy pony tail. Nobody in the world can curse like Steve Buscemi. He didn't curse that day. One film was In the Soup, and another was one he directed, a short. Afterward he spoke for a while about the making of his films. Some really stupid people asked him what it was like working with Quentin Tarantino and all they wanted to know about was Quentin Tarantino and didn't ask Steve Buscemi anything about himself and I thought that was rude. After having a beer that was good and cold in the hot stinky warehouse, me and Alan left and we told Steve we liked his films and his presentation. He said thanks in his Steve Buscemi voice and then we went home. The next summer, I guess the one past, I was at work one day answering phones. Usually its only people's friends calling and every now and then it's somebody like James Schamus from Goodmachine or else it was Tony or Alex who were editing Kiss Me Guido. Tony had just finished shooting a few weeks before. The office was quiet during lunch and was reading waiting for the phone to ring. I was happy because it was hot outside and the office was air-conditioned. Then the phone rang and I picked it up. "Production." By now I was saying it just like they taught me. On the other end a really nasally voice said, "Yeah, this is Steve Buscemi. Is Kim there?"

It's funny for me to think where I ended up that summer, answering the phone for somebody who just a year before I had been extremely happy to meet. I hate the saying life is like a movie, because really its not. Things happen and circumstances put us in places unforseeable and perhaps Mystery Train is an example of this (an example which stars Steve Buscemi). I'm reading a book right now titled, Suspects, by Dave Thomson. It's a collection of biographies of characters from the film noire era. In the opening he writes something like, "Is this a novel, or a non-fiction book about movies? My answer must be both . . . but it is fiction in which the material (the life) is the world created in a genre of movies." Well, for me, these biographies are extremely real because they represent the continuous lives of characters that have been forever preserved on film, they are a documentary continuation from the bits of lives much earlier created and lives that have been somewhat stagnant until the writing of this book. Furthermore, these characters represent moments and memories of mine and many other peoples lives and for becoming part of a memory they subsequently become a part of reality.

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