Saturday, January 5, 2008

Leonard Michaels And Gilda

There's an online reference, from senses of cinema by Noel King, to Leonard Michaels' reaction to seeing the 1946 movie "Gilda" which featured the steamy (at the time) dance routine of Rita Hayworth.
Michaels' essay on watching Gilda has similar moments — he says that seeing the “zipper business” made more of an impression on him than WW II — and is similarly precise about the location of his film-viewing moment. “I saw this movie in the Loew's Theater on Canal Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.” After his libinal viewing experience, he says, “I went down Madison Street, passing under the Manhattan Bridge, then turning left on Market Street, walking toward the East River, until I came to Monroe Street, and turned right.” The person writing-remembering this New York street-walking so meticulously is aged 60 or so, across the continent, on the other coast, in California, but the point is clear, and kind of Hemingway-esque. The hard clarity of street names, recited, might undo the terrible moral lesson the film had conveyed: “The creep touched her. I understood that real life is this way. Nothing would be the same for me again.” I first encountered Leonard Michaels' essay on Gilda in the selection of Best American Essays 1992 edited by Susan Sontag. But when I noticed that it had appeared in the Berkeley-based broadsheet cultural journal, The Threepenny Review, it figured. In the early 1990s, while wandering around bookshops in Berkeley, I picked up some copies of The Threepenny Review (though not the issue with Michaels' essay in it) and have kept up with it on and off ever since. (It's partially available on the Net). The Threepenny Review publishes terrific pieces by people I've always enjoyed reading elsewhere — John Berger, Stephen Greenblatt, Luc Sante, Carol Clover, Carlo Ginzburg — and includes poetry, a film section, essays on photography. Hence, it's always a pleasurable and informative reading experience.

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