For the longest time the Siren refused to look up anything about the New York Times' Verlyn Klinkenborg because she preferred her imaginings of the man--essentially, Uncle Henry in Understood Betsy. There's Verlyn is in the parlor of a 200-year-old farmhouse in Vermont, having his niece or nephew read Sir Walter Scott by an oil lamp while he mends some tack (whatever tack is).
Well, Verlyn is actually a rather trim fellow and much younger than Uncle Henry, and his farm is apparently in upstate New York. The Siren is happy to report, however, that his taste in reading material isn't too far from Uncle Henry's. Verlyn's a Dickens man, something which always makes the Siren feel comradeship with a writer. And he loves Eliot, and he likes to re-read his favorites:
Part of the fun of re-reading is that you are no longer bothered by the business of finding out what happens. Re-reading “Middlemarch,” for instance, or even “The Great Gatsby,” I’m able to pay attention to what’s really happening in the language itself — a pleasure surely as great as discovering who marries whom, and who dies and who does not.
The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger.
The Siren was struck, when reading these paragraphs months ago, at how you could easily substitute re-watching movies for re-reading books. The Siren wants to see some of the Oscar bait out this month (Up in the Air) and some of it she does not. (The Road--are you bloody well kidding me? I don't care how good it is, I am not doing cannibals for Christmas. And that goes double for Precious.) Well, the Siren would love to be one of those encyclopedic cinephiles who has seen everything, new and old (howdy, Glenn, Peter, Andrew, David and the whole sidebar gang) but she keeps running into the same secret, shameful vice:
She re-watches movies. A lot.
One of life's great pleasures for the Siren comes when, like a dolled-up old broad hitting the jackpot at the slots, she flips over to Turner Classic Movies and hits a well-loved film. Somehow it's better when it's random, and not the process of careful selection at the DVD shelves. There's a particular thrill to turning on a TV and finding a movie that suits your life or week or mood precisely, like Mr. Blandings coming on last week as the Siren unpacked, or White Heat popping up just when the Siren needed a shot of Cagney. And when you tune in to a scene you adore, it's like running into a well-loved friend on the street.
The holiday season is a good time for re-viewing, as you naturally hunger for familiarity and warmth. So, in the spirit both of confession and renewal, the Siren is naming, strictly in the order in which they pop into her head, 10 films she's seen about 10 times, and a favorite scene (or two or three). Some I've mentioned before, some I haven't, but you aren't going to find surprises on here. This isn't a list made to impress. It's made to make the Siren happy.
1. The Maltese Falcon: Chipping away at lead. "Well sir, what do you suggest? We stand here and shed tears and call each other names, or shall we go to Istanbul?"
2. The Thin Man: Myrna: You asleep?
Myrna: Good... I want to talk to you.
(Not only does the Siren cherish this scene, she's played it.)
3. Citizen Kane: "A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl."
4. Rules of the Game: The hunt. Octave and Christine in the greenhouse.
5. Letter from an Unknown Woman: Joan, suddenly come back to life in Jourdan's memory, holding the gate for him once more. The Siren has probably seen this movie only about six times because it kills her but she's listing it anyway.
6. The Band Wagon. All of it, but I particularly love trying to figure out what "Louisiana Hayride" is supposed to be doing in the show within the movie. The most utterly incongruous number in the history of American musicals, if you ask the Siren, and that is some accomplishment.
7. Footlight Parade: My favorite 30s musical. Any scene with Cagney makes me happy.
8. Now, Voyager: Claude Rains. Bonita Granville at her bitchiest. "My mother. My mother! MY MOTHER!"
9. Twentieth Century: "I close the iron door..." (A catchphrase with an old boss of the Siren's.)
10. The Pirate: The "Nina" number. Such perfect Gene Kelly, in so many ways.
Oh, what the heck. It's the season of generosity. Here's 10 more.
11. My Favorite Wife: Cary Grant in the elevator. Irene Dunne laughing over the shoe salesman, with one little hand gesture to indicate the guy's height, and another for Cary.
12. A Night at the Opera: When the orchestra strikes up "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" the Siren falls over, every time.
13. Stagecoach: "Looks like I got the plague, don't it?"
14. Captain Blood: Some of the 1930s' most amazing eye candy, but the Siren's favorite is Basil Rathbone, lounging around that prison. Ah, Basil.
15. Shadow of a Doubt: Joe and Herb, discussing the perfect murder. The most obvious counterpoint in the world ("on the nose," in a popular phrase the Siren can't stand for some reason) but Hitchcock makes it perfect, building on their innocent chatter until you find it as unbearable as Charlie does.
16. Stage Door: Any time Eve Arden or Lucille Ball is on screen. "A pleasant little foursome. I predict a hatchet murder before the night is over."
17. All About Eve: Not mentioned much, because it isn't one of those famous barbs, but Sanders, purring to Barbara Bates: "Tell me, Phoebe, do you want someday to have an award like that of your own?...Then you must ask Miss Harrington how to get one. Miss Harrington knows all about it."
18. Mildred Pierce: "Not too much ice in that drink you're about to make for me."
19. To Be Or Not to Be: The Siren's favorite part of the running gag: "So they call me Concentration Camp Erhardt." "I thought you'd react like that."
20. Singin' in the Rain: Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont is a desert-island performance if ever there was one. "What do they think I am, dumb or something? Why, I make more money than Calvin Coolidge--PUT TOGETHER!"
That's all the Siren will allow herself, but if anyone wants to chime in with a few of their own, that would make her happy too. Consider it a gift.