E.T. Rewatch

Last night I was hanging out with my cuz, searching for a movie to watch amidst the labyrinth of on-demand menus, and he mentioned he’d never seen E.T.  And I was all, “You’ve never seen E.T.!?” and so we immediately ended our search and purchased it for the very reasonable price of $1.99.

I was probably 7 or so the last time I saw the full movie, and it was fascinatingly familiar yet new.  I remembered most of it in surprising detail, but my experience of it was through entirely different eyes – kind of like going back to your old elementary school as an adult.  To pick an obvious example, I remembered Eliot’s high-school-age brother and his friends as being “big kids,” unknowable giants to my 7-year-old eyes.   As a kid, I was completely terrified by Eliot’s first meeting with E.T. in the backyard, when they both get scared of each other and run off.  I also think I completely missed the whole divorce theme that looms over the whole story – or at least I didn’t remember it at all until re-watching.

Mostly, though, I was just amazed at the storytelling – so emotionally powerful, effective – and economical!  Not one minute of the movie is wasted: Spielberg spends a few minutes setting up that E.T.’s stranded and establishing the characters in Elliot’s family, and then goes straight to their first encounter, and while he’s building their friendship makes sure he also plants the seeds for the confrontation with the scary guys from the government.  As soon as he’s established that E.T. and Elliot have a psychic link and that E.T. wants to phone home, the bad guys show up and E.T. gets *really* sick *really* fast and we jump straight to the satisfying climax. 

They just don’t make movies that tight anymore.  I feel like if E.T. were made today, it would be three and a half hours long, would start with several scenes presenting a detailed picture of life on E.T.’s homeworld, and would also include a romantic subplot for Elliot. Plus at least three epilogues of E.T. and his buddies in space and Elliot and his family having dinner and God-knows-what-else.

In any case, this one holds up, to say the least. If you haven’t seen it since you were a wee lass or lad, it’s definitely worth seeing again – it’s a different but equally wonderful experience.

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Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is More than Fun

For Christmas, my fab sister gave me Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. (Okay, she gave it to Hassan, but she knew I’d read it too.)  Bechdel is the author/artist behind the successful and hilarious comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, and Fun Home is her autobiography in graphic form. 

The main thrust of the story focuses on her relationship with her father, an English teacher who is obsessed with the historic restoration of their gothic revival home.  His hobby makes the family’s home a bit like a museum – both in its archaic beauty and its stifling atmosphere.  Dad seems more interested in restoring the shingles to their former glory than he is in showing any affection for his kids.  In college, Alison comes out to her parents.  She prepares herself for rejection but gets something possibly even more overwhelming: she learns her father has had affairs with men, including her former babysitter.  A few months later, as she’s still processing this new understanding of her family history, her father dies in what may have been suicide.

It mean some like these are spoilers, but all of this is clear within the first few pages.  Alison unfolds the narrative of her family not-quite-chronologically, going back and forth in time, creating a picture that grows more complex and fascinating with each new detail.  At some point, I think I may haveto re-read the book just to get a better understanding of how she structured it. 

Bechdel is an exceptional master at using the combination of words and pictures, for maximum, astoundingly efficient effect, as in the image below.  She tells her story with honesty and skill, and along the way draws on everything from the Icarus-Daedalus myth to Stonewall and James Joyce.  And on the final page she manages to bring her non-linear narratives together in a way that added yet another layer of complexity to her story and was also deeply moving.  Go forth and read it – you won’t be disappointed!

Listen to Tio Gilberto at Podcastle

I’m excited to announce that the podcast of my story, “Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts,” is up at Podcastle.  It’s interesting – and a bit odd – hearing someone else read a story I wrote, especially this one, which I’ve read aloud a couple of times.  I like the casual tone Brian Lieberman reads the story with, which is a great match for the narrator’s voice.

I wrote this story at Clarion South, and was partly inspired by a story by Lee Battersby, one of our Clarion instructors.  His story, “Through Soft Air,” was a ghost story about a man haunted by the ghosts of his fellow soldiers who died at war – a haunting that his children and grandchildren can’t understand, coming from a generation for whom the war is only history, not memory. 

It got me thinking about the way that an entire generation can be haunted by ghosts – of a war, a holocaust, an epidemic. There’s a wide gap between the generation haunted by those ghosts and the generations that follow, who just haven’t lived through that same overwhelming loss.  As a gay dude who came of age in the 1990s, I’d felt that type of gap with my older gay friends and mentors, whose lives  had been so deeply shaped by the early years of the AIDS epidemic.  Thinking about that generation gap was the seed for this story.

Have a listen!