Sunday night, you know where to find me. I’ll be on the couch, in constant contact with my Oscar mates. Yes, another year, and what makes this year different is I saw more movies for this year's award ceremony than before. I usually catch up with them after the Oscars, but what I did differently was I went to the theater.
Going to the theater is a concept many have abandoned because we can stream most movies at home. We’ve become content watching movies on our computers, tablets, and tv home screens. And especially young people like my grandson, who prefer his phone.⸺ “Yikes.” Watching on a 6” X 3 ½ “ screen should only be a last resort for the airport!
Anyone who has never experienced being in an older theater to watch a movie might not understand the magic you feel in being there. You don't need to be an elitist to appreciate the elegance of a grand old movie theater, like the Palace Theater in Stamford, Connecticut, where I grew up. The sheer elegance of theaters like the Palace often displayed plush velvet draperies, murals along the walls, and painted frescos on the ceiling. Cinema houses at one time projected an image of royalty, and getting admission for a mere dollar was priceless.
Moviemakers envisioned the big screen as the only place for watching a film. It enhances everything about the experience and makes it everlasting. People went to the theater to escape. For a few hours, we owned our seats, living carefree as we deserved. Ten dimes bought us elegance, mystery, suspense, beauty, and sometimes love. And when our oily fingers wipe the salt off our lips as the curtains open, it's time.—-Then the magic began, and our world got bigger.
If I had to present an argument for where and how we are affected by the experience of sitting in a cinema, this would be it. Watching the Oscar-nominated film Winged Migration at the Cape Cinema in Dennis, Massachusetts, makes a case for this. This smaller and understated theater by itself is an artistic masterpiece. Its history alone makes you want to lie back in your seat, look up, and observe.
The Oscars also take me back from meeting someone who jumped off that large celluloid screen when I found them across a crowded room.
It wasn’t at a Palacios theater or on a movie set but at a small Christmas party hosted by a coworker. A few employees, her parents, and a few of their friends were invited—a small holiday gathering at a modest townhouse in Centerville on Cape Cod in 1998. I entered and immediately recognized him. There he was. He may have blended in with any group of senior men in their 80s, but I knew who he was. How could anyone who saw him in the movie, The Best Years of Our Lives not notice him? Harold Russell, who I did not see on the big screen since I was born nine years after the movie came out. Aside from his prosthetic hands, his immense presence and smile gave it away.
Harold Russell, a World War II veteran who lost his hands during military service, went on to a life full of accomplishments. If ever there was an example of anyone making the sweetest lemonade out of a handful of sour lemons was Harold. And of the many things he did, was win two. Oscars.
As we sat there all night, he told me everything about his life from before the war to the present. It was impressive, all of it, the good and the bad. I hung on to every word. Every story was more exciting or funnier than the last.
The one story I will share is as everyone was leaving the Pavilion after the 1947 Oscar ceremony, Harold had just won two awards. One was for his role as Homer Parrish, a returning veteran now home and reunited with his girlfriend, who he was to marry. The other was an honorary award for his inspirational work with veterans. As all the movie stars were exiting, Jimmy Stewart, a veteran, yelled, “Hey Harold, Where can I get a few explosives?”
After listening to him for several hours, I found someone who could have picked a different path in a life filled with regret and envy, but instead, he chose gratitude and unconditional love.
So in wrapping this up for award night, I can only report out of all the movies I saw, the following artistic performances truly moved me:
Brendan Frasier made me feel like I was quietly sitting in his apartment. I wanted to reach out but could not because he was too ashamed to be seen and too sad to stand up for himself. He was so convincing without being over the top. And Adrien Morot, who did his makeup, should win the Oscar too. ⸺Go Brendan and Adrien!
Also, if I could write a screenplay and dialog like Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, I would be so blessed. She knows the right words. She can read everyone’s mind and make it sound so powerful but honest that we feel part of the conversation. ⸺Go Sarah!
With twenty-four hours till the Oscars, good luck to all the contestants. There are no losers since getting as far as each did was quite an accomplishment. So in advance to the winners, “Congratulations. And to those that didn’t win, remember his words”,
“It is not what you have lost but what you have left that counts.”— Harold Russell
A special acknowledgment to my our dear friend John Clobridge.who is always in our thoughts on Oscar night. And also my friend Donny Stalkneckt for first recognizing and sharing the artists that help design the 6,400-square-foot mural for the auditorium’s ceiling overhead.
The Cape Cinema, Dennis Ma click on the pic
My photos of Harold Russell and I at the Christmas Party 1998
The Palace Theater Stamford, Ct
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