The Observer has been a movie buff for dang near four decades now, which means we know the secret and guilty heartbreak that all lovers of film know: We wish that we could somehow erase the experience of having seen our favorite movies off the blackboard of our noggin in order to feel the pure joy of seeing them again for the first time. If you're a cinema nerd like The Observer, you likely know exactly what Your Old Pal is talking about. We'd give just about anything to be able to see "The Big Lebowski" or "Pulp Fiction," "Rear Window" or "Memento," "Citizen Kane" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark" for the first time again, delighting anew at the twists and turns, not knowing where the road is taking us until we find our self, once again, in the sunlit glade at the end, awestruck at the power of light and shadow. It's a thrilling minute when you find one of your favorite things for the first time — one of those things that becomes, in its own little way, part of your soul.
The process for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Moviegoer Mind is not forthcoming that The Observer knows of, and so — short of us getting an amnesia-inducing head injury — we'll just have to soldier on, sifting 16 tons of "Transformers" and "Superman vs. Batman" horse puckey for every movie house diamond. Since becoming a father to Junior going on 17 years ago, however, we have found a good alternative: watching our favorite movies with the kid for the first time; knowing our excitement and joy again through his excitement and joy. It's a lovely thing. Junior is finally getting mature and thoughtful enough that we can start showing him some of the darker gems hung with reverence and care in the gallery of our heart: "Taxi Driver," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Silence of the Lambs," "The Shining," "Oldboy" ... the list goes on.
Last week, it was Hitchcock's darkest and most disturbing film: "Vertigo."
Yes, we said darkest and most disturbing, and we're not forgetting about all the folks getting their peepers pecked out in "The Birds" or the screeching violins and mommy issues of "Psycho." For sheer, horrifying glimpses into the soul and the horrible lengths we'll go to recapture the past, even at the expense of those we claim to love, it doesn't get any better than Jimmy Stewart going mano y phantasma with the restless ghost of Carlotta Valdez and, later, his own teetering devils.
Even though we've seen it 30 times or more now, that flick never fails to leave Yours Truly feeling unsettled in ways that can't quite be expressed in words, our noodle thoroughly baked by all the making, unmaking and remaking, all the disguise and mystery, all the ways poor, dependable and infinitely more interesting Midge gets screwed over in favor of Miss Bright 'n' Shiny, all the ways poor Scottie's trust in everything, even reality, has been twisted into a gatdamn Gordian pretzel by the time the final bell literally tolls.
Some folks say it's the best film ever made by a human being. We're sticking with "Citizen Kane" until they pitch us down the gravehole, but we see the point. Thinking about it, even now, just gave us a little shiver of goosebumps, along with a flyby from the flittering mental butterfly of a question that Hitchcock must have asked himself first: When it comes down to it, what do any of us know for sure? The answer, "Vertigo" says, is not a damn thing.
We watched "Vertigo" with Junior down at the Riverdale 10 at the Arkansas Times' monthly movie series. Such joy to glance at him in the half-light there, seeing his face as the story came together, the truth coming in slow as the tide, to be debated later with The Old Man over milkshakes at the Sonic across the way. Ye gods, can there be any greater feeling? And behind it, as always, even now: the bittersweet happiness of knowing what we always know in those Big Fatherly Moments — that it will likely be Junior sitting someday where his Old Man sat, stealing glances as another boy or girl comes to understanding there in the flickering light, puzzlement spinning into wonder at ol' Alfred's most confounding jewel.