Likes, Twenty-Five Years Ago

Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty
Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty, in Children of Paradise

A group of us friends used to get together most weekends to cook (well, Mel cooked, we sous-chef’ed if he let us) and share things we liked. One time when it was my turn, I chose Marcel Carné’s “Children of Paradise”/”Les Enfants du Paradis*” with the luminous Arletty (Garance) and Jean-Louis Barrault (Baptiste). Part of the magic was thinking about it being made on the streets of Paris – and Nice — during the Occupation. I had somehow rented an incredibly bulky and heavy large screen projection TV – how Jack and I got it into the house, what video store had the rare tape, I have no idea —  but our little group sat spellbound for 3 hours in the flickering light of the crackly print, those achingly beautiful actors, and 19th century Parisian theater.

At least in that case, the pleasure seemed to be in direct proportion to the difficulty, what it took to actually be able to see that movie on a big screen in our living room. Amazon Prime it wasn’t. It felt like a miracle.

Of course most of the evenings were easier, just putting a CD in the player or passing out some Xeroxed poems. Listen, one of us would say. Just listen! And, being good friends, we would. What pleasure to introduce my smart, curious friends to something I’d privately cherished. And equally to be introduced to what was theirs. Each of us had our special enthusiasms, the artist or movie or writer or musician whose name we’d written in a private, special book we could now open for people who might not come away equally smitten, but, for a few hours after a good meal, would give – give – their full and, I believe, loving attention.

Why, I wonder now, did that act seem so intimate, an offering of a part of oneself, and its receiving a gift?

Of course (another of course), there’s nothing to stop this from happening now. Just because I can rack up Likes about world disasters, human cruelty, cute animals, idiot politicians, beautiful photos, the small and large successes of friends, in the course of a desultory Saturday afternoon, doesn’t mean there can’t be that other thing. Much of what’s been shared online by people I care about, or am learning to know about, has enriched me, and I wouldn’t give it up. But a piece of myself, a piece of you? I don’t know.

And even as I write this, I fear I have slid into a false dichotomy, a cliché perhaps as easy as that online click, a sentimental and unnecessary nostalgia.

But heck – If you didn’t already know of it, I have now shared “Children of Paradise” with you – one of the greatest movies ever made!

*Re Children of Paradise: Roger Ebert’s 2002 piece is a good introduction, though James Agee’s contemporaneous review has the excitement of discovery, and Agee’s vivid human presence – there was a person who shared his enthusiasms, and his disdain. Best film critic ever, invented modern film criticism. Agee on Film – Another “like.” Oh boy.

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