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The Moviegoer (Walker Percy)

by J. Pomp
The Moviegoer (Walker Percy) by J. Pomp
“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man” (7). “Until recent years, I read only ‘fundamental’ books,… Read more

“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man” (7).

“Until recent years, I read only ‘fundamental’ books, that is, key books on key subjects, such as War and Peace, the novel of novels; A Study of History, the solution of the problem of time; Schroedinger’s What is Life?, Einstein’s The Universe as I See It, and such…I lived in my room as an Anyone living Anywhere and read fundamental books and only for diversion took walks around the neighborhood and saw an occasional movie…The greatest success of this enterprise, which I call my vertical search, came one night when I sat in a hotel room in Birmingham and read a book called The Chemistry of Life. When I finished it, it seemed to me that the main goals of my search were reached or were in principle reachable, whereupon I went out and saw a movie called It Happened One Night which was itself very good. A memorable night. The only difficulty was that though the universe had been disposed of, I myself was left over” (70).

“Before I see a movie it is necessary for me to learn something about the theater or the people who operate it, to touch base before going inside…There is a danger of slipping clean out of space and time. It is possible to become a ghost and not know whether one is in downtown Loews in Denver or suburban Bijou in Jacksonville…Yet it was here in the Tivoli that I first discovered place and time, tasted it like okra. It was during a re-release of Red River a couple of years ago that I became aware of the first faint stirrings of curiosity about the particular seat I sat in, the lady in the ticket booth…Once as I was travelling through the Midwest ten years ago I had a layover of about three hours in Cincinnati. There was time to go see Joseph Cotten in Holiday at a neighborhood theater called the Altamont—but not before I had struck up an acquaintance with the ticket seller, a lady named Mrs Clara James, and learned that she had seven grandchildren all living in Cincinnati. We still exchange Christmas cards. Mrs James is the only person I know in the entire state of Ohio” (75).

“Tonight, Thursday night, I carry out a successful experiment in repetition.

Fourteen years ago, when I was a sophomore, I saw a western at a movie-house on Freret Street…The movie was The Oxbow Incident and it was quite good. It was about this time of year I saw it, for I remember the smell of privet when I came out and the camphor berries popping underfoot. (All movies smell of a neighborhood and a season: I Saw All Quiet on the Western Front, one of my first, in Arcola, Mississippi in August of 1941, and the noble deeds were done, not merely fittingly but inevitably, in the thick singing darkness of Delta summer and in the fragrance of cottonseed meal.) Yesterday evening I noticed in the Picayune that another western was playing at the same theater. So up I went, by car to my aunt’s house, then up St Charles in a streetcar with Kate so we can walk through the campus" (79).

Fort Dobbs (1958, Gordon Douglas) – Not on MUBI: Binx goes to see it at the Moonlite Drive-In with Lonnie and says it “is as good as can be” (144).

“Back to the Loop where we dive into the mother and Urwomb of all moviehouses—an Aztec mortuary of funeral urns and glyphs, thronged with the spirit-presences of another day, William Powell and George Brent and Patsy Kelly and Charley Chase, the best friends of my childhood—and see a movie called The Young Philadelphians. Kate holds my hand tightly in the dark” (211).

There are other mentions of moviegoing and movie stars in the novel (e.g. Binx says the only useful thing he learned in college was that he was beginning to pick up the mannerisms of Akim Tamiroff), but this is, I believe, a complete list of the specific titles referenced.

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