Friday, January 4, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 01/03/19: What I Miss, *My Name is Joe*, Indiana Defeats Illinois

1. From time to time, friends ask me if there's anything I miss living in Kellogg after living thirty-five years in Eugene and three years in Maryland.

Three things pop immediately to mind. The first needs no elaboration: I miss my friends in Eugene and family in Maryland and New York.

Second of all, I miss worship in the Episcopal Church and I miss my involvement at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Eugene. With so much going on around the time Mom was ill and died and with our move to Kellogg from Maryland, I never made it to the one Episcopal Church in the Silver Valley, in Wallace, and not long after our move to Kellogg, the Spokane Diocese closed this church. Now, if I am going to re-enter the Episcopal world, it will have to be in Coeur d'Alene -- or, I suppose, Spokane.

The third thing I miss? Living where there's a movie theater. Not only has the Silver Valley lost its Episcopal Church, several years ago it lost its last movie theater, the Rena. The site of the Rena is now a Dave Smith auto repair shop.

More specifically, I miss going to theaters that screen independent movies. I miss the Bijou and the Broadway Metro and David Minor in Eugene. I wish I'd gone to more movies at the Old Greenbelt Theater, but the times I went to the West End Cinema and the E Street Cinema in Washington, DC and my visits to the American Film Institute in Silver Spring were highlights of our time living in Greenbelt. I reminisce often about these theaters and the movies I saw at them.

I reminisce even more about the Broadway Metro in Eugene.

The Broadway Metro opened in downtown Eugene in May of 2013. It featured four microtheaters. It its early days, it showed matinees every day. I loved these matinees -- in fact, I'm not sure I ever saw an evening screening at the Metro.

I loved popping in this theater anywhere between 12 and 3, plopping down a five dollar bill, and watching movies I knew little or nothing about with a handful of other people, usually strangers.  I watched Oscar nominated short films, Josh Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, Twenty Feet From Stardom, The East, Stories We Tell, Hannah Arendt, and others, including a movie that was very much on my mind today, The Angel's Share.

For the past couple of days, I've been reviewing's list of the top 100 British movies. It's here. This list includes two movies directed by Ken Loach, the director of The Angel's Share. It also includes several movies directed by Mike Leigh. Many of Ken Loach's and Mike Leigh's movies are renowned for telling stories about working class or underclass characters in England and Scotland.

Ken Loach's The Angel's Share, for example, tells the story of a delinquent young man from Glasgow, Robbie, trapped in an underworld of unemployment, feuds, and violence, who has a special ability to taste the subtleties of whiskey. Will this talent help deliver him from his life of violence and crime and feuds or is the life of fighting and crime he's always known inescapable? Will his history, the figures of his past, ever leave him alone, even as he wants to change? Is Robbie trapped? (By the way, "the angel's share" is the share, or the portion, of a whiskey's volume that is lost to evaporation during aging in oak barrels.)

Leigh and Loach make exactly the kind of movie I often want to see. They explore, without pity, social, historical, and economic forces at work in the lives of working class or underclass people, tragic forces that mercilessly impinge on their lives, resulting in personal failures and, sometimes, death.

2. So today, I watched my second Ken Loach movie, My Name is Joe. If, after you read this title, you said to yourself, "and I'm an alcoholic", then you immediately understand the movie's title. Joe Kavangh is in his late thirties. He's lived all his life in a working class area of Glasgow and has been sober for ten months. He decided to sober up after he perpetrated a terrible assault.

Sobriety has revived Joe and we see almost immediately that his better self is emerging. I don't want to give much away, but I will say that Joe's history of associations with criminals, his abuse of alcohol, and his past episodes of losing his temper and lashing out is in conflict with his earnest desire to reform, to be kind and loving and of service to others.

In My Name is Joe, Joe's history erodes his self-confidence. He studies the AA Big Book earnestly, attends meetings, helps others, but he is haunted by insecurity and his sense of inferiority, especially when he steps outside the boundaries of the social class he's familiar with and falls in love with Sarah, a public health nurse, a woman who has the means to own a car and to be buying her own residence. Joe is on the dole.  As long as Joe and Sarah are enjoying each other in the present moment, taking walks, eating together, getting to know each other, talking about music, making love, things are light and fun between them. Joe is inexperienced and naive and before long, inevitably, Joe's past comes rushing into his present, and he's caught between his old life of crime and his new life of reform. Will his relationship with Sarah survive it?

Now, my growing up in a modest working class home did not involve crime, syndicates, or gangs. So, a past like that will never rush into and complicate my present.

At every step of the way, however, as I have earned college degrees, worked as a college level English instructor, made friendships, fallen in love, been married, and taken up photography, I've been nagged by insecurity and feelings of inferiority like Joe's, in my academic life and my life of friendships and relationships. Was I "gettin' above my raisin'"? Am I out of my element? (These feelings do not rise up at the Inland Lounge. I'm in a place of comfort and familiarity there.)

When I was younger and these feelings of insecurity surfaced, I got defensive, sometimes combative. I could be loud, sometimes full of bravado.  Now I withdraw. I try to sort things out. I try to be genuine. I try not to get agitated and, when under the stress of insecurity, try to speak quietly. But, however I respond, those long existing feelings never go away.

I've directly (or indirectly) talked about this with friends from Kellogg and a recurring insight has come up in conversation.

"When I left Kellogg, I thought everywhere was like Kellogg, but soon I learned that wasn't true. Everywhere isn't like Kellogg and I had to adjust."

In his late thirties, Joe Kavangh is living where he came from and is trying to be a new man in the same old place.

It's grueling. Maybe impossible.

3. I keep telling myself, no, there's not a movie theater in Kellogg, but I have a theater in the TV room with access to countless movies, whether through subscription, renting them, or having them come floating in the mail as shiny little discs.

My little theater, however, is a solitary place. Even though, with two exceptions, I went to movie theaters in Eugene and Washington, D.C. and cities in Maryland alone, I enjoyed being in a room where others were experiencing what I was and I especially enjoyed that audiences in these theaters who were watching movies outside the mainstream of US cinema were quiet, attentive, and often enthralled by what we were watching.

I don't spend all my viewing time watching independent movies.

There's also college basketball -- and tonight I had fun watching parts of Indiana's 73-65 win over Illinois. The game made me miss the Deke's cousin, Sally, an Indiana alum and fervent fan of Hoosier basketball. I miss seeing Sally and I think a lot about her deceased husband, Ted, whom I knew for a very short time, but for whom I had a lot of affection and respect.


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