A River to My People

desert

This week marks the 8Oth anniversary of the original King Kong movie. There have been at least two remakes of the classic tale and numerous spin-offs, including one truly bizarro musical version in which the big ape cuts quite a rug.

I am not an unqualified fan of old films. If I watched a movie at a pivotal time in my life, or if speaks to me in some other way, I can be quite devoted. I first saw King Kong one Saturday afternoon at a friend’s house when I was about ten years old. It scared the hell out of me.I remember not being able to sleep as those scenes of Kong casually munching on members of the expeditionary force played repeatedly through my mind. They can remake a movie like that a hundred times…but it will never hit you the same way it did when you were young and impressionable and slept with a light on in the closet.

I also happened to turn on the television one day in advance of this year’s Academy Awards to discover that one of the movie channels was having an Oscar-fest. They were running The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia back to back on the same afternoon! This was beyond glorious. I don’t know what else I had planned for the day but it was dropped in a nanosecond. Both of these David Lean films can be enjoyed time and time again because they are so rich. The scripts are brilliant. The casting and acting is superb. The cinematography, even cramped onto a television screen, is matchless. There is something so retroactively enjoyable about not having to doubt your eyes when you watch an older film. If they blow up the bridge…they really blow up a bridge. If 500 men are set loose to charge a Turkish encampment, you know that they had to actually scrounge up 500 living, breathing people.(not to mention all those camels and horses).

By contrast, I don’t believe any crowd scene I see in the theatre today. You can outfit a couple of ushers or the guys who do the valet parking next door and build an entire digital army around them. Not the same thing.

There are two key moments in both Lawrence and Bridge that I always keenly anticipate. Those scenes define the films in my mind’s eye. There will be other such countless moments for countless other people. That’s what makes a movie great.

When Alec Guiness, as the ramrod Colonel Nicholson, finally wins his war of wills with the Japanese prison commander and steps unsteadily out in front of his troops, there’s a perfect moment  where one of the soldiers declares, ‘He’s done it!’  I get instant goose pimples. The musical scores swells, the prisoners rush forward and the movie has paid off for me. Everything after that is gravy.

In Lawrence, it is always the moment when Anthony Quinn, in a bravura performance, tells Peter O’Toole that the reason he is trusted by his tribe is because he has become, ‘a river to my people‘. Again, big cheers from the assembled multitude out in the desert night and the film achieves a high point…of which there are really too many to count.

I can go weeks before I find anything I want to watch on television. I have the same expectations of the medium as I now do of air travel. Finding two movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai in one place on the same day is like having a flight attendant walk down the aisle of the aircraft and offer you a bottomless bowl of smoked almonds.

Sad…but, still,  something to truly savour.

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3 Responses to “A River to My People”

  1. ah yes……..the good ol’ days. When movies were real and flying was something to look forward to. I have both those films you mention Dave on DVD. I can’t describe them any better than you did. I love the soundtrack to Lawrence. I can’t stand the DGI (that’s what they call it, right?) in the movies nowadays. I feel like I’m watching one of those games my better half sometimes plays on his Xbox. So contrived and so unbelievable now matter how spectacular it may be. Glad you were able to take an afternoon off and indulge yourself.

  2. Karen Deegan Says:

    Hey Dave – enjoyed your article here! – I watched both, same day and quire a few of the other Oscar related choices as well – I also enjoy Rifleman, especially knowing that Chuck Connors hails from Newfoundland, one of my favourite provinces – truly a great weekly show when it came on, way back when – I used to watch it with my Dad at the time, he really enjoyed the show and I put some episodes on my pvr, for when he came to visit last for bird watching at Peelee – he enjoed to revisit it, almost as much as he enjoys to declare “Gunga Din” – thanks Dave!

  3. I did not see this when you did, but I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my hubby tell us that Lawrence of Arabia was the first film his dad ever took him to see in the theatre, truly a classic!

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