Friday, January 8, 2010

Walled City

In the late thirties and the 1940s, we lived in what seemed a great walled city that kept the young locked in by the complexities of a great depression and the anxieties of our parents facing a great war. Yet there were gates to and from that city -- but the gates led not outside, but within. They were called movie houses and were adorned with fanciful names.

Their aisles led to screens and their screens led to an England of long ago, or to the Sudan, or to the high seas. They led to Michael Powell's other worlds. They led to the past and they led to the future. They led to music and song when things went well, and then to war when they did not. They led to nightmare alleys and mean streets.

The women of our time were Davis and Hepburn glistening from bright screens in dark houses. They were Fay Bainter at the Fair and Aline MacMahon leaving a wide trail. They were Gail Russell, Helen Walker, Gloria Grahame, Jan Sterling and Audrey Totter.

And long ago and far away, nitrate nightingales sang when we first met Ella Raines -- a Woolrich girl slipping out of a Hopper painting -- trying to save her boss from execution. (Like Dorothy, perhaps, she realized that she was not in Kansas anymore.) Phantom women. Phantom images all. More mystic in their urban worlds than ever some gowned creature in a Bronte west wing.

Herewith some random thoughts on that flickering past. Remember when the lights went on and we had to leave the theatre? From Rick’s Café Americain to Lexington Avenue? Laszlo's on Lex.

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