Celluloid Heroes by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Best Picture

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“Everybody’s a dreamer, everybody’s a star,” sang the Kinks in their 1972 song “Celluloid Heroes.” So true. I nominate this song to be the permanent theme song of the Academy Awards show.

First movie: Sayonara. As far as I remember, this was my first movie in a theatre, although I probably saw others on television before that. My aunt Adele took me to see it at Radio City Music Hall. It was released in December 1957, so it must have been some time that winter, meaning I was six-and-a-half years old. This movie was totally inappropriate for a small child. Aunt Adele didn’t have any children of her own, and I guess it never occurred to her to think about whether the subject matter was age-appropriate. It was about an interracial (and therefore forbidden) love affair/marriage between an American GI and a Japanese woman during the Korean War. Think Madame Butterfly updated. Complete with suicides. Why the woman was Japanese and not Korean I don’t know, but that’s Hollywood. Anyway, my strongest memories are of the Rockettes doing their fabulous dance routine before the movie, and of the man sitting in front of me turning around and telling me to stop kicking his seat.

Best Picture Ever: I have to give this to Casablanca, winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1943, even though a close second in my heart would be every film starring Audrey Hepburn. This movie has everything — history, politics, a café full of people singing the Marseillaise in defiance of the Nazis (most of whom were played by Jewish refugee actors), and the powerful love story between Rick and Ilsa culminating in the indelible parting line “we’ll always have Paris.” This is a movie I can see over and over and never get tired of it.

Best Picture of 2018. I have seen almost all the nominated movies this year, most in the week between Christmas and New Year’s because I had access to the screeners sent out by the movie studios. My vote goes without question to Lady Bird. This movie is a charming and pitch-perfect portrait of a girl in her senior year of high school. Her conflicts with her mother, her best friend, various boys, and the college application process are so true that I think every woman over the age of 17 can see bits of herself in it. The fact that it is set in Sacramento, and was actually filmed here, of course makes me love it even more. I think it would still be a profound movie even if it took place somewhere else, but I must admit that seeing all the familiar landmarks on the screen was exhilerating. I was watching it at the Tower Theater (next door to where the original Tower Records was born), and when they showed the distinctive facade of that theater, everyone in the packed house absolutely screamed, cheered, and carried on. And in the scene of the mother driving around the Sacramento airport after dropping her daughter off, I was in that car driving that same route so many times with tears in my eyes.

I also feel a connection with Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed the movie, because she is just a year older than my daughter Sabrina, and although they went to different schools, I suspect that over the years their paths crossed somewhere, possibly playing rec soccer in elementary school on opposing teams. If I ever get to meet Greta, I will ask her if she played soccer as a kid, but pretty much every kid in Sacramento does at some point, so I’d be surprised if she didn’t. I hope Lady Bird wins Best Picture on Sunday, and I hope even more fervently that Greta wins Best Director. She is only the fifth woman ever nominated, and would be the second woman to win. #itstime

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Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    I laughed through your description of your first movie, Sayonara, and your clueless aunt. And I’m completely with you on Best Picture Ever. I first saw Casablanca at the Brattle Theater my first year of college, and wondered why no one had ever thought to inform me of it (or The Maltese Falcon, or The Big Sleep, or any other classic movie they showed there) in the first 18 years of my life.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I loved this story too, for each of its great elements. Your Aunt Adele sounds like an absolutely Auntie Mame type. And who could disagree with your Best Picture Ever choice? And I must admit that any reservations I had about Lady Bird — which I liked when I saw it, but didn’t love — fell away when I saw how perfectly it connected with you — presumably both as a daughter and a mother.

  3. I enjoyed your ‘reviews’ tremendously. I liked the way you organized this, responding in such a fruitful manner to each prompt. One of my strongest recollections involves sitting in the luxurious, 1950s decor of my local theater, waiting for the show to begin. But Radio City, wow! What a great place for first impressions! Cinema at a time when people actually dressed up to fly commercially, and attending the cinema had its own ritual.

    I would second your vote for Casablanca, certainly an iconic tale told extremely well. I studied the scripts for weeks in a film class and came to the conclusion that great films are [almost] always well-written!

    I haven’t seen Lady Bird, but I do suggest that you might enjoy reviewing films. You have a warm but accurate critical eye! Thanks!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, very funny that your aunt took you to such an inappropriate film for a youngster. Oh well, you survived.

    I agree that Casablanca is one for the ages. We watched it again recently and it holds up very well. And it is written by the twin brothers Epstein, great uncles to Theo, who brought World Series acclaim to both the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs (Theo’s father teaches creative writing and poetry at BU).

    I liked Lady Bird very much, though am not betting on it to win Best Picture, but I can certainly understand that it is your hometown favorite. How much fun that everyone in the theater cheered when they recognized the locations! A hometown charmer that hit all the true notes.

    • Suzy says:

      A hometown charmer indeed. Everyone in Sacramento has been buzzing about Greta and Lady Bird for months. The Oscar party at Saint Francis High School this Sunday will be legendary.

  5. Risa Nye says:

    Really fun post, Suzy! This made me remember when I went on my first (chaperoned) date when I was in elementary school. The boy and I were taken to see “Our Man in Havana,” which we didn’t understand at all. I also loved Ladybird, and enjoyed reading about the local angle. Many here in Oakland felt the same way about the references to our town in Black Panther!

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