I’ll warn you, this is not a prepared essay, this is a brain dump. My apologies if it feels like a first draft; that’s because it is.
This past weekend, the Cleveland Cinematheque showed two of my all-time favorite films, Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 gore masterpiece Possession and the film that made John Frankenheimer a star, 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate. I have never seen either on the big screen. I first saw Possession (which currently sits at #115 on my all-time top 1000) in February of 2009. I gave it four and a half stars, saying “…on some levels [it] is a simple altar to cheese, a response to Kramer vs. Kramer in the same way Harry Bromley Davenport’s (similarly-underrated) XTRO is a response to E. T.: The Extraterrestrial. On every other level, however, Zulawski has created something wondrous–a film that is at times almost physically painful to watch, but is the diametric opposite of the unwatchable film.” I have seen it two or three times since, and I still stand by that. The Manchurian Candidate, on the other hand, I first saw the weekend it was finally released on video after being suppressed for a quarter-century. I want to say that was December of 1986, but don’t quote me. (I remember where I was and who I was with–Kierstin Carlson, my on-again off-again girlfriend my senior year in high school and much of college–but I can’t remember when.) I have since seen it at least a dozen times, and the original review I wrote of it is long lost to the vagaries of time and circumstance, but it sits at #10 on that same list, and is one of the thirty-eight (as of now) movies to which I have ever given five stars.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that these are two movies about which I am deadly passionate, and were I still living in Lakewood, as I was until the end of July 2012, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind not to go see them. The forty-five-minute drive to the Cinematheque two nights in a row was something I’d done numerous times since I first started going there in 2009. (First movie I saw there: Béla Tarr’s The Man from London, for trivia purposes, double-featured with the overrated black metal doco Until the Light Takes Us).
Then I moved to Brunswick. It’s not that far down route 71; going south from Cuyahoga County, where the Cinematheque is, Brunswick is the first town you get to over the Medina County line. I still work in downtown Cleveland; my commute is about as long to work now as my commute to the Cinematheque was when I lived in Lakewood. Getting up to the Cinematheque probably wouldn’t take me much longer than getting to work; lord knows I spent more than one rush hour darting into holes in traffic on Euclid Avenue after work, trying to make it from East 14th St. to University Circle in time to catch a 5:45 showing on a Thursday afternoon.
And yet in other ways, Brunswick is a different world. Here’s a confession: I loathe Cleveland. Nothing personal, Mistake on the Lake; the older I get, the less patience I have with “the big city” in general. Which makes Brunswick even worse, because Brunswick has all the bad points of a big city (it’s a Cleveland bedroom community, natch) AND all the bad points of a small town (current population: just over 20,000). I mean, come on, we even have our own mini-rush hour that I get caught in every. goddamn. morning. My commute is forty-five minutes, and I spend twenty minutes of it on Route 303, the main drag in Brunswick, getting the (Tomtom-measured) 1.6 miles between my road and Rt. 71. This is not doing anything to temper my impatience with big-city life.
I was wandering aimlessly around Jonathan Rosenbaum’s website* a few days ago, reading stuff he’d dredged up recently to add to his site, and I came across a great review from the sixties, which of bloody course I’m not going to be able to find again now so I can give you a direct link, but he was dreaming of a day when one could own, and forgive me if I’m paraphrasing here, “a collection of Chaplin as easily as you can own a collection of Dickens.” “How quaint!”, thinks me. But then, I remember the days when you couldn’t, though not as well as Rosenbaum, who is now in his late sixties. (For those of you who don’t know me IRL, as I write this, I recently turned forty-four.) My wife, born in 1981, does not; by the time she was aware of the world around her, the VHS-Betamax wars were in full swing, and I was watching The Manchurian Candidate with my high school girlfriend. (On VHS, if memory serves.) As a tangent, this was brought home to me earlier today in the way of those “kids born in 1991 don’t remember…” Internet memes when I realized that my daughter, who was born in 1995, is a very big fan of Doom, a videogame released the year before she was born. The year before I was born… I don’t think videogames even existed yet, or if they did, they were text-based, and you had to log onto a very expensive room-sized computer using a timeshare scheme to play them. (Those were the real multiplayer days, you Warcraft kids.)
Isabelle Adjani loses it–in more ways than one–in Possession.
In any case, we now have that choice. I can say that I first saw Possession in 2009 sitting at home watching my computer screen (before you judge, at the time, I had an HD widescreen 23″ monitor and an SD 21″ television). At the time Rosenbaum wrote that review in the sixties, that was flat-out impossible. Hell, when Andrzej Zulawski relocated from what was then Czechoslovakia to Paris and asked Isabelle Adjani if she wanted to play a soon-to-be-divorcée who was anything but gay, you couldn’t do it. Now, we can. And to stick with Jonathan Rosenbaum, I reviewed his excellent book Movie Wars a couple of years ago. One of the few things about the book that hasn’t aged well is that he failed to predict (as did everyone, really) the power of broadband internet, and the rise of filesharing. The Manchurian Candidate, since its re-release, has never been out of print in America, and has become even more popular since the pale, if mildly entertaining, 2004 Jonathan Demme remake. Possession, on the other hand? If you look it up on Amazon right after I post this, you will find ten copies of the VHS or DVD on the first list of fifteen hits. A third of them are imports; all of them are out of print. But you can rent it from any number of online places, and without condoning such acts, you don’t need me to tell you that if you go looking at the usual filesharing suspects, you’re bound to find copies (and if you subscribe to certain private film trackers…).
I own both, natch. My Possession is one of those imports you see on the Amazon page. While I have a different all-region DVD player than the one I mention in the Movie Wars review, when it came time for me to buy another one… you know the drill. (Buying hacked all-region DVD players is probably as much a legal grey area as downloading movies. But that’s another post.) But I’d never seen either on the big screen–and I still haven’t.
Google Maps tells me that the time it would take me to get to the Cinematheque from Brunswick is about the same as it was from Lakewood (though the distance is almost three times as long). And yet it seems longer. That was a contributing factor to my staying home this weekend. So was the choice; I could indeed simply sit down and watch those two movies in my own house, if I wanted to. Yes, I do know that there is most of the time a great deal lost in translation to the small screen (and I imagine this is very much the case with Possession), and most of the time the chance to see a favorite movie on the big screen is something I jump at. This time? No. I regret it–it’s been a couple of days and I already regret it. If I ever get the chance to see either, or both, of these movies on the big screen again, I won’t be letting it go.
*I should warn you before you click this link–if you are at all a film geek, you will get lost for hours reading Rosenbaum.