I have learnt that the sure-fire way of feeling at home in a new place is to go and watch a movie. Bryant Park Summer Film Festival is a yearly event which I discovered was on-going as I landed in the vicinity of New York City. The festival has some great classic films lined up and I would like to think that the choice of the film was apt - the swashbuckling Technicolour 1938 entertainer, The Adventures of Robin Hood. There are a few dramas and film noirs to pick from, but for a first time experience, The Adventures of Robin Hood was just perfect. But then, hindsight, as the cliche goes, is 20-20.
There is just one word to describe the atmosphere - carnival. As the screen lit up at sunset, people stood up and broke into random jumping, dancing and general fooling around. I have watched this film about 3 times already and watching it on the big screen in such an exciting and happy setting made it an extraordinary experience. The cheering at various points in the film bordered on the absurd. Let me advance a few examples; the hero comes on screen for the first time - cheering, the hero and heroine kiss for the first time - loud cheering, Errol Flynn bests the bad guy in a sword fight, more cheering, Flynn wins a archery contest, cheers all round. The funniest part was every time the minor character Richard the Lionheart who is roaming incognito unmasks to reveal himself, there was uproar going up the skies and happiness all around. People were so much fun that it reminds me of what Miss Marple always insisted - human nature is pretty much the same everywhere. All the hilarity around these goings-on almost made me forget - albeit briefly - that I was homesick, sad and forlorn. We are happiest when we are silly.
From here on, we turn to slightly weightier matters. After the film as I was walking back to New York Penn Station to take my train back home, I overheard a conversation (you - like me - will soon learn that it was actually not a conversation) between two passers by which can only be the real life replica of that famous man-in-line scene in the great Woody Allen New York-movie Annie Hall:
Man-in-line: We saw the Fellini film last Tuesday. It is not one of his best. It lacks a cohesive structure. You get the feeling he's not absolutely sure what it is he wants to say. I've always felt he was essentially a technical filmmaker. Granted La Strada was a great film. Great in its use of negative imagery more than anything else.
Alvy Singer: I'm going to have a stroke. He's screaming his opinions in my ear.
Man-in-line: All that Juliet of the Spirits or Satyricon. I found it incredibly indulgent. He really is one of the most indulgent of filmmakers.
Alvy Singer: Key word here is "indulgent."
Man-in-line: It's like Samuel Beckett. I admire the technique, but it doesn't hit me on a gut level.
Alvy Singer: l'd like to hit him on a gut level... He's spitting on my neck when he talks... They're probably on their first date. Probably met by answering an ad in the New York Review of Books. "Thirtyish academic wishes to meet woman... who's interested in Mozart, James Joyce and sodomy."
Man-in-line: ...I never read that. That was Henry James' sequel to Turn of the Screw? It's the influence of television. Marshall McLuhan deals with it in terms of it being a high intensity. Do you understand? A hot medium.
Alvy Singer: What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it. What do you do when you get stuck on a movie line with a guy like this?
Man-in-line: Wait. Why can't I give my opinion? It's a free country!
Alvy Singer: He can. Do you have to give it so loud? Aren't you ashamed to pontificate like that?
What actually happened is this: As I was walking I ended up being at hearing distance from a couple that was walking in front of me. Apparently they too were on their way back from the movie and the guy was talking to the girl - it cannot be called a coversation because the fellow was - to borrow that word from Woody Allen - pontificating to the girl (most obviously his date) on the social, political and cultural significance of Robin Hood. The depression era period during which the movie came out originally and how Robin Hood represented the hero of the masses. Obviously, my curiosity was piqued and I suspected that I have hit some sort of anecdotical gold here and made sure I matched the bloke's stride for stride. He then went on to talk at length about how John Dillinger was in a way a real-life Robin Hood of the depression era, how he used to burn off the mortgages of the people with banks and became a hero in certain sections of the society. It was so long a monologue that I was almost impressed and started taking him seriously. The fellow then went on to lecture on how Robin Hood is relevant not when it was written but for all time, since we are again in a large scale depression and we search for Robin Hoods and so on and so forth. All the while I didn't see or hear the poor girl - his companion - utter a single word edgeways. I would like to think that she was switched off and was just watching him 'dumbstriked'. Based on a survey conducted not very long ago, I can assure you that a guy like this is going to be dumped in the next 5 months - maximum. I was stunned that the fellow was so well equipped to turn a cheerful film into a Kafkaesque experience.
I came back home with the pleasant thought of how well Woody Allen knows his New York City.