In the last few days of our time before California I went to every single one of Suzanne’s classes, sitting towards the back to watch her speak about the films of Stanley Kubrick as they corresponded to the work of literature from which they were adapted. “Eyes Wide Shut, from the lesser-known Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler, is one of the more hotly-debated of Kubrick’s film. Genre takes a dive in this, and from beginning to end it would seem most of the typical things to cling to—deeply honed-in studies of character and madness, use of music and maniacal language, to name a few—in Kubrick have been abandoned for something a bit more true to the original narrative; a pulled-back exploration of the times as they are, as opposed to the desperate close-ups of The Shining or Full Metal Jacket, we have a more spread out study of two individuals as they echo back and forth inside their marriage, searching for happiness.” When she spoke I couldn’t help but be lost and remember the days we’d spent studying together in Madison where we met—her working on a dissertation and me receiving my undergrad in Creative Writing/Italian (largely due to an obsession with the films of Fellini)—and as we’d walk out of those classes and I accepted the fact that academia might be forever in the past for us I’d breathe deep and know we’d done our part for the world of intellectuals; that we’d stayed true to course as our idols had. She’d often pull me out of it, saying “Jim, we’re going to be fine. Don’t go away like that, you scare me when you do.” And I’d kiss her, and time would stop for as long as it needed to.
“And the dreams, your wife right? You were dreaming of your wife for quite awhile there, right?”
“A seemingly unholy amount, yes, you could say that. My wife was constantly in my unconscious, just hanging there, Suzanne was. I enjoyed it after the first few weeks of hell, the images were just so vivid. I’d be holding her in that dream and I’d wake up entirely depressed for the day realizing that there was no way of knowing which world was the real.”
“Your meaning, precisely?”
“What I mean is, I’ve had countless dreams that seemed prescient of what came soon thereafter. Sure, I can’t pinpoint an exact occasion when I saw somebody in a dream that existed there before what I consider reality—daily life—but all the same that sense of prescience, of foresight has been a part of my dreaming life for many years now. And lately, dreaming of my dead wife, of Suzanne, of the woman who was pulled from my arms in that horrific wreck, I guess the emotional side would just like to hold onto the thought that the world of dreams might hold more weight than the world of daily life. That felt very crazy to say, did it sound as crazy as it felt?” I was getting anxious.
“It didn’t, no, and I think I understand. Through your unconscious need to hold onto your wife you created dreams out of the memories still floating around very presently in the fore of your mind; when those dreams began to feel good—after the first few weeks, you said—your mind began to convince itself that your dreams were a more ideal place to gauge perspective, to effectively exist, I suppose. It isn’t crazy, it’s quite realistic, quite survivalist I should think. Seems entirely normal to me.”
Was attempting to find an end to his hand, which wasn’t the sort of thing typically done, but thus did we find him staring at the very fleeting fibers of skin at the tips of his fingers wondering just exactly where it ended and where the rest of it might begin, whatever that was. Just sort of thinking, that way, thinking about the hand and the night and the soft-focused individuals behind the hand while attempting to sort of myopically adjust himself to the hand’s perspective and dimensions without in fact falling off his chair and looking like quite the dunce.
As stated, this sort of thing was not done, and while he was aware of this he was also far more aware of this, the fact that something as obvious as the body’s end had never really crossed his mind. And what does or could this mean. He isn’t quite sure. These are simply the sorts of things one asks oneself and attempts to accomplish while the immediate surrounding world is something lackluster and basically banal. The group, the individuals, whatever, they are nothing much though well-meaning and although he’s comforted by their presence he’s quite certain that were he to turn on Helmut Watcha performing the more intricate Bach finger-exercise-type-pieces he’d be just as content to sit here listening to the burbling communication of that work while examining his fingertips’ ends as he is now listening to a room full of (granted) well-meaning individuals discuss just what television series has them ready to rekindle their hope in the limitlessness of human achievement.
This sort of discussion did not in fact bore him and it wasn’t as if he was judging them (the room) so much as he was quite uninterested in anything the outside world could possibly offer him before he figured out just what it might mean that he was never exactly educated as to the nature of his own body’s end, and the beginning of say other bodies, other forms on the earth, and that sort of thing. A small, indeed un-seeable, stretch of fabric or perhaps paper literally traipses over his right-middle-finger’s tip and though he doesn’t notice it the sensation of the approximate weight of this microscopic fiber is enough to convince him that there is some difference between the end of his left hand and the end of his right, though this will not be the question put to him shortly after he realizes this disparity.
The question put to him, as seems to inevitably be the case, is one regarding his take on the new onslaught of commercial entertainment and its potential relationship to the higher-educational system of the American Middle-West. You see, and will see, that his position at a University in the Northern portion of Wisconsin made him ideal for this sort of quasi-intellectual discussion about what such-and-such might say about a society’s fears or desires, or whether such-and-such would effectively, once and for fuck-all, dumb down the American public to the intellectual nubs we’ve been becoming since the birth of Henry Ford.
He doesn’t respond quite so cynically, but it isn’t a stretch from where he winds up to assume he’d just as soon light the bulk of American television sets on fire and masturbate to the flames. Again, he doesn’t, and couldn’t say this out loud, but this sort of question seemed almost too hypothetical to him, as if they’d entirely abandon the notion of ever applying this in daily life beyond regurgitation in more useless party banter and thus were not really existing or applying what they’d learned in life so much as mimicking what they’d seen on so many of the programs they find themselves discussing. Anyway, there’s this question; and perhaps it’s a timeless question (unfortunately) but it also seems, so to speak, timely; and the question is What have you been watching. This inquiry has largely taken over for the centuries-old What do you do, or the more recent What do you do/have you been up to, but amounts to an inquiry about what your occupation is. An interesting shift at the end of the 20th century resulted in this question’s meaning collapsing a bit within itself until it was rebuilt into the now completely recent What occupies you, i.e., what television programs have consumed you to such a degree as to warrant the term “occupy,” what consumes more of your daily efforts than what centuries ago would’ve qualified as a good-day’s-work; what do you find yourself thinking about in the off-hours, etc. All of this and more is rolled up into the inquiry posed to him of what he’s been watching, and how he sees these various programs affecting the moods of the general population while also reflecting said moods and more. His response is an exact recreation of something his interlocutor received in response not seven minutes ago from a patron who’s since entered the bathroom to do whatever, and this bastion of human party conversation doesn’t miss a beat. Quickly she’s taken what he said and turned it into an opportunity to essay about her fears relating to the tendency toward violence in widespread television programs, and whether this indicates the potential threat of war on the horizon. He nods, appropriately, but can’t quite help himself and soon enough has taken to staring at his left hand, palm-outward, attempting to ascertain what could be at the tip of his right-middle-finger to render it so obviously different from this fairly same-seeming left-middle.
Unable, both, to provide answers to his interlocutor about her summation that violence (in media) won’t necessarily cause a desensitization and thus more violence (in life) in life, but that the presence of certain foreign elements being depicted as universally violent seems not a far-cry from the now-despicable theories of Eugenics, or answers to himself about the distinct weight disparity between the tips of the fingers on both of his hands, he decides he’ll soon have to depart this affair for greener pastures, so to speak, an attempt to clear his mind.
So, noting all that, we have Loren looking through the shelves with hung head trying to ignore both the left- and right-middle-fingers browsing for, say, three films to make his night something exciting and human and not so very dry and emotionless as the affectations pervading the recently-departed soiree. It isn’t exactly proper to think of Loren as a buff in any one arena of cinema, in that he developed a sort of general love for the medium and would feel as though he were engaging in something like infidelity were he to come to praise the Italians over the French or early American Sci-fi over the far more-Loren’s-speed ‘80s punk rock Sci-fi masterpieces of Ridley Scott and Alex Cox; but all the same, he’ll find himself constructing evenings tempered to a certain mood based on directors who lived in similar periods or genres that coincide thematically and that sort of thing. For instance, he’ll find himself frequently renting Spaghetti Westerns along with Mob or Mafia films, much in the same way noted director of both Sergio Leone found himself unable to entirely pick one vintage over the other, and thus we have the “Man with No Name” trilogy right alongside “Once Upon a Time in America,” and we as audience-members have a difficult time separating the mood of one, from the other, so to speak. Tonight it seems like Loren’s doomed to find something appealing from the late ‘80s/thru-‘90s and why this is perhaps relates to the time of his birth, perhaps not. It isn’t really significant. What’s significant is that Loren’s able to fundamentally connect films such as “So I Married an Axe Murderer” with the likes of Fellini in one fell swoop because of the aforesaid fondness not for genre, or director, or decade of cinema, but for the magic of the whole feast itself. The Myers film will inevitably make the list tonight, as it has a great deal of late, as will, strangely enough, the made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, and the Clive Barker-penned horror masterpiece Candyman. On the surface, the latter two could not be more disparate from the former—in fact, the latter two are largely completely-fucking-separate in the common thought bubble from one another themselves, though crossing genres into that vague mythology-based-horror thing so glommed upon by writers like Barker and King—however Loren is quickly able to draw connections between each in their playful treatment of the idea of the threat of murder as something to pervade a narrative. With Candyman, the threat is perhaps most-threatening of all three, taking on a force that not only swallows almost every character on screen but inserts itself into the psyche of the film’s heroine, however the presence of youth in Candyman makes it difficult to think of its evil as an entirely sinister and heartless one, and the mythological beginnings of Candyman himself create if not the full presence of, at least the groundwork laid for, sympathy. IT, perhaps obviously, takes a group of children terrorized by one sinister presence in their hometown—perhaps of their hometown is more apt—as they attempt to grow up and leave it only to find themselves ever haunted and pulled back. Scarier at times than the Myers rom-com, even this cannot escape its trappings of childlike wonder at the threat of what lurks in the woods nearest your childhood home, and the connection of romantic involvement to the Myers film—though torn apart by the end of Candyman, it still arguably creates the thrust for much of the second act’s tragedy—here is undeniable. A love threatened yet enriched by the evil presence of one’s past, that by the end can find its footing and take full form to wrap things up neatly in a nice bow. With So I Married an Axe Murderer, Loren supposes, we have the sort of film that simply will not be made anymore. On par with the romantic comedies of Vittorio de Sica, this one attempts to answer that ever-looming question of “how can you ever really know a person?” and does so while crafting some of the more cutesy, sympathetic American characters ever shown to largely disinterested ‘90s audiences. So, you see, the three are largely overlapping in their way, and now only remains this question of the order in which he’ll watch the flicks.
Grant Maierhofer is the author of Marcel (The Heavy Contortionists) and the forthcoming novel Postures.