Posted by Richard Harland Smith on December 21, 2012
I’ve been dreading this day since last Friday, which ended in the horrific aftermath of the violence in Sandy Hook, Connecticut — an act of unthinkable cruelty that left among the dead twenty children. Twenty. Twenty kids murdered in their elementary school eleven days before Christmas. It’s the kind of abomination that makes you want not to live anymore. The killings in Sandy Hook affected me more profoundly than did 9/11, in which I lost people known to me. In both cases, I was well out of range of the event. A long-time resident of New York City on September 11, 2001, I was in London when the planes hit and spent a week stranded across the pond before we could get a flight back. I live in Los Angeles now but I spent the first 25 years of my life in Connecticut, the backdrop of my childhood. My family lives there and in many ways it is still home. I have direct ties to Sandy Hook, even to the targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School, where former teachers of mine taught and where people close to me now had friends, some of them among the dead. As with 9/11, I had to get my information about Sandy Hook from television and, as I did eleven years ago, I spent a lot of useless, empty time that day waiting for news, unable to focus, barely able to cope, restless, and feeling terribly, terribly guilty for being safe and sound when so many others were hurting so badly or just gone.
“We do what we can and it has to be enough,” Stephen King once wrote (I’m quoting from memory here). “And if it’s not enough, it has to do.” These words came back to me in the terrible aftermath of Friday, December 14, 2012. It happened to be my elementary school-aged kids’ last day of classes before the holiday break — a short day. After hearing about the shootings, as bits of information began to trickle in, I wrote off the workday. I participated in a couple of Internet discussions about gun violence, got angry and frustrated, and then I had to pick up the kids. By the time I got my loved ones home, I had no more fight in me. I decided to break from social networking, to withdraw from the Coliseum of Public Opinion. I hugged my kids, let them play, and grieved with my wife — who fell quickly into the habit of referring to the twenty dead children in Sandy Hook as “the kids.” We had family in town for the weekend and no chance I would lose myself in work. In my downtime I read. Coincidentally, the latest issue of Video Watchdog came in the mail over the weekend and it proved to be my salvation in those first terrible days. I don’t expect everyone to understand this, and I’m not saying “Pick up the new VW, it’s good for what ails you!” No… but I am saying it helped me step back from my own rising grief, and in a very intriguing way. The feature of the new issue is an interview with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, and the subject his “Top 50 Best Sequels.” Now, I’m not into lists, in particular, or in ranking order between films made by different people, under different circumstances, and for different reasons… but the talk between Tim and QT drew me in and held me in a safe and nourishing place. It took me a while to catch on to the synchronicity here — that the conversation was about movies that continue the story, that carry the tale forward, that focus on What Happens Next and that prove there is always more story after the final fade-out. We’re all well acquainted with QT’s King of Cool status but the interview isn’t about cool, it’s about love, and lots of old movies get mentioned along with the expected Eurocult and Asian titles: Bulldog Drummond and Nick Carter movies, Dead End Kids and Tough Little Guys vehicles, SON OF MONTE CRISTO (1940) and even DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). There’s a lot of love in this room and that gave me heart, it uplifted me, a little.
Elsewhere in the same issue, Tim Lucas reviews another Blu-ray set of Universal Classic Monster movies, and with a such a passion, such acuity, and such attention to detail that I was drawn out of the real world for many precious minutes, charmed and comforted by Tim’s attention to such small matters at a time when, for me anyway, the evil of the world seemed to loom so large. No surprise that Tim is a hell of a writer but I guess I was a little knocked out by how he has remained a hell of a writer for so long. Reviewing these particular movies yet again, he makes their consideration feel fresh and primary. Part of the equation here is that Blu-ray technology has revealed a wealth of visual detail in movies we have lived with for so many years in such degraded condition but the other part of the equation is that the revelation left Tim feeling as though he were seeing these films for the first time. Again, the moral of the story wasn’t lost on me — and though I may risk overstatement I will say that I was encouraged by Tim’s palpable sense of renewal, of reconnecting with something cherished. Again, I don’t mean to suggest that issue 172 of Video Watchdog made everything better. My heart is as broken as it was on that day — maybe more so, now that I’ve put faces to the names of the dead. Things will never be the same. I accept that. It’s not as though I were living in a bubble of sweet, sweet naivete before 9/14 but even in my cynicism and vigilance I was ambushed by last Friday and I’m changed now. For the past week, I’ve stayed out of the loop, disconnected, but recognizing I had a hard deadline in today, that I would have to wear a public face in this forum. Though I knew it was a small matter on my end — it isn’t my loss, it isn’t my tragedy — I also knew it couldn’t just be business as usual, not a week later, to the very day. So I offer this chronicle of my descent into despair and the slow, incremental way by which I — with the help of some old friends — was able to work my way back into a world that is so much poorer seven days later… but one that needs every one of us to be here, to do his or her part, to help carry that weight. Each of us takes strength in the things we love, the things that make us who we are. I hope you find yours during this tainted holiday season and that you are able to work your way back to a place where we can all do some good. Until then, as the song goes, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
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