“What can you say about a twenty-five-year old girl who died?” This is the beginning of the book Love Story by Erich Segal, which I read for a class in college, and it’s probably the only thing about the book that I actually remember. Except that of course it tells you how the story’s going to end right at the beginning. Which is sometimes a good way to tell a story. Like say in the case of Slaughterhouse-Five where Kurt Vonnegut tells you a number of times that the scene of a guy getting shot for stealing a teapot after the bombing of Dresden is going to be the climax of the book and then of course when it finally happens it is completely anticlimactic. And that’s the point. The thing is, the story I’m trying to tell here is one I’ve been trying to tell for many years, but I never really knew the ending of it until just today, as a matter of fact, and its unexpected disappointment is maybe the best way to begin.
Sometime around seven this evening, my husband came into our living room to find me squinting at a frozen scene of a movie on our laptop. Hey, how’s it going? he said. Oh, fine, I answered, my face just inches away from the screen. And really I’d been staring at the screen for a long time. But the problem was, it wasn’t fine. There were lots of things to see in that particular scene, but not at all what I was looking for.
Now, if you know me, you probably know about my green leather jacket, which, as I like to tell it, was once an extra in a Woody Allen film. The story is that my friend Rachel (actress, trapeze artist, vaudeville performer) was an extra in the film “Celebrity” and she borrowed my jacket because she needed to look cool or maybe even artsy, since the scene she was going to be in was taking place in a screening room. It was a scene of people watching a movie and she was going to be in the audience. And so was my jacket.
The movie “Celebrity” came out in 1998, but the filming took place, I don’t know, sometime before that. Though I have had this jacket since 1994. I bought it on a sunny spring day from some bin at the Antique Boutique on Broadway. I had just broken up with my boyfriend (again) and I felt that this jacket represented my freedom somehow. Keep in mind that I was 24 years old. So this jacket has been with me forever, it feels like, and once it was even mailed back to me when I left it at my friend’s father’s house in Bronxville. It has seen the world. And presumably Woody Allen.
But for all these years, I never actually saw the movie. Why? Well, you can guess why. What if my jacket was in that screening room scene, but you couldn’t really see it? Rachel told me that she was either wearing the jacket or holding it folded on her lap. She wasn’t sure which moment actually made it into the movie. I’m not even sure Rachel saw the movie. And to be honest, we never really talked about it much. Now Rachel and her Australian husband and daughter are in (of all places) Australia and for some reason, all these years later, I decided that maybe it was just time to see the movie already. If I was going to keep on talking about my famous jacket, well, I should at least see how well it performed. You’d think.
So I should say right off that the film “Celebrity” is pretty much awful. I’m not sure why Kenneth Branagh was playing the Woody Allen role, but if you ever wanted to see someone else precisely impersonate Woody Allen, here’s your movie. But you know what? No one wants to see that. Except I guess Woody Allen. And when the Charlize Theron character refers to herself as polymorphously perverse, I realized depressingly that Woody Allen either no longer remembers his older movies or just loved that line from “Annie Hall” so much he figured he’d use it again. You know how whenever Woody Allen writes anything for The New Yorker it is so so not funny? This is the same guy.
Anyway. I watched about 35 minutes of the movie, cringing the entire time. “Do you want to go to a screening with me tonight?” says Joe Mantegna’s character to Judy Davis's character, finally. “Finally!” I thought.
And then there was the screening.
Now in my experience with actual movie screenings, the screening rooms are kind of small, and they’re never filled entirely. Which is what I expected. But in the scene of the screening in the movie, it was a packed room, full of all kinds of people, none of whom looked like Rachel. The problem with the film too is that it was in black and white and a green jacket was not going to jump out at you. But I took comfort in the fact that Rachel has very distinctive curly hair, which I was sure would jump out at me. But it didn’t. In fact, as I got to know very well the faces of the other extras, I realized that Rachel must have been so far in the back that her face (and hair) (and jacket) couldn’t possibly be seen, no matter how much I magnified the screen. (Note: I didn’t actually magnify the screen.)
And so I stopped watching the movie because really it was just so awful. Though for one fleeting moment, I wondered if there could be another screening later in the movie, prominently featuring my green jacket. But I then instantly realized that though it would have suited my purposes dramatically it wouldn’t have suited the movie’s purposes dramatically, and was highly unlikely. And yet. I seem to be leaving open the possibility here because I’m not quite ready for this story to end. I know that my jacket was in that room with Kenneth Branagh and Rachel and all the rest of them. That's how I have always begun this story. And that's how it's going to end too.