As a writer, I’ve just accepted something about myself.
I love to eavesdrop.
To listen in on conversations going on around me in the public square.
To enjoy the characters and hearts I find in real life…. surreptitiously.
As I did the other evening, standing in line for a one-night-only showing of one of my all-time favorite movie musicals. ON THE BIG SCREEN.
I’d debated all week if I should really go. I could always watch it on video. I shouldn’t really spend the money right now. (But… oh, to see it as it was originally meant to air!) Finally decided it was worth a refreshing splurge. Maybe even a treat God wanted to bless me with. And so much healthier than a dish of Culver’s oh-so-yum frozen custard hot fudge sundae which I’d been fighting against giving into.
Laughter and music… good for the soul.
So, there I stood, waiting my turn, grinning inside at the conversation going on beside me. Two little girls about eight or so, and their mom.
One child to the other, a bit of “I wanna be cool but I don’t really know if this is uncool,” in her voice… as she asked the other…slight tongue in cheek… “Hey, wouldn’t you like to go see Singing in the Rain?”
She asked a couple of times to no answer from her buddy, when her mom suddenly piped in. “OH, that’s a GREAT movie!” she exclaimed, lilt in her voice. Suddenly the child’s whole tone changed. “REALLY? Well, maybe we can –” she started with enthusiasm, then noticed the sign. “Oh, but it’s only showing tonight!” Obviously waiting for another show, their conversation closed, but the dance of her words on the air whisked me back to my childhood. How one word from my mom about how wonderful a movie or play or show was – and excitement churned like homemade ice cream delight inside me. Classic movies… fun or beautiful music… and bygone era celebrities – three loves my mom taught me to value and appreciate. I smiled to myself, stepped up to get my ticket.
Settled in my seat, I watched the screen as movie trivia FAQs rolled across, listened to voices all around me shouting out the answers while silently giving them the “that’s right!” – not even knowing how much of these answers I’d absorbed from my own love of this slightly before my time era. Getting a kick out of listening in on the people my age or younger around me… not really a stereotypical crowd.
The theater darkened, voices hushed and there was the Turner Classic Movie host, Robert Osborne, introducing this one night showing celebrating Singing’s 60th anniversary… starting off with an interview with star Debbie Reynolds at a recent Hollywood celebration. The only leading star from the movie still alive, she’d been just 18 when it was filmed in 1951. Eyes still twinkling today in her 70’s, conversation still sparkling, she talked of the young girl who’d been so unaccomplished back then, the “green” one who felt scared to death to be working with mega-talents Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Undampened by some of the more notorious tragedies she has lived through, she says “I have been so blessed, truly blessed, in my life…God has given me much.”
Looking at the tender-faced ingénue she was back then, I am completely floored by her unbelievable performance. Can’t even imagine myself being so poised and achieving such performance beauty at that young age.
Interspersed with her reminiscences, clips of late 90’s interviews with an elderly Donald O’Connor came up onscreen…. sharing his own stories of the fun and work of making this movie. Saying how much he admired Debbie as a friend and co-entertainer, had no idea she had been so scared because she’d been so calm and professional on the outside… been such a trooper in the often 40-takes of complicated and frenetic dance routines that left their feet raw, bodies aching.
I teared up listening to them, watching their young selves next to the older ones… Seeing Donald’s face so animated and alive there before me, remembering the unlikely, but small-world-means-God-has-of-making-it-happen way that Donald and his wife became friends with my dad and mom through a business situation. How his wife and my mom had shared their love of the Lord and prayed together over the phone, how Donald died just a few years ago and my father hadn’t known he was sick… how we’d wished we could have encouraged him and his wife with prayer in that time… Thinking now… O God, life goes SO fast!
I remembered seeing Gene Kelly once too, many years ago… I can still see him in my mind, humble and easy-going at his youngest daughter’s confirmation service, staying in the alcoves of the same church school class where my young cousin was making hers. Just a dad, there for his daughter, quiet and purposely unassuming in dress so as not to take away from her in that moment of faith…
Sparkling across the screen, these stars turned their umbrellas into these thoughts of mine, spreading a non-stop grin across my face for the next two hours, lifting me out of everyday worries and concerns trying to wrap around me lately, so alive and larger than life, captured in their prime forever… Something more magical than ever, here on theater screen…
All those familiar and delightfully remembered scenes skipping laughter and song joy over me… Gene jumping from the top of a bus as he tries to avoid being smothered by movie fans, landing in Debbie’s old 1920’s car to her fright.
Debbie, Donald and Gene singing and high stepping it over a couch in the bright “Good Morning! Good Morning!” Gene gloriously splash-dancing in water with exuberance…creating ballet elegance with Cyd Charisse… Donald hoking it up with dance and mime and his one of a kind hoofer glee.
Love songs like “You Were Meant for Me,”flowing effervescence over my heart.
And some lines I never quite picked up on before… resonating inside me as a writer, always struggling against “am I good enough” feelings… I watch as Debbie’s character, pretending nonchalance at meeting a renowned silent movie actor (Gene’s character), subtly puts him down with her chatter. “Oh, I don’t go to movies much…” she feigns. “If you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, and you know those actors – they’re NOTHING like wonderful stage actors! Without words, all they can do is swoon and make crazy faces onscreen!” Leaving Gene’s character, one of those swooning overly dramatic film actors, flat… down… in… the.. dust.
“Am I REALLY any good?” he soon queries his long time buddy and musical-accompanist, Donald.
“Of COURSE you are!” Donald encourages, astounded at the question, the insecurity in the voice of one usually self-assured, even a touch vain.
“Well, maybe you should keep telling me that, sometimes,” he mumbles… “I need the encouragement.”
Timeless, age-old themes we all struggle with… especially in the creative.
I pondered that.
Lies, came His whisper. My people are listening to lies. It isn’t about you…but about you letting Me shine beauty in you. Trusting that I am… Not listening to one who would tear you down, but being encouraged by MY SPIRIT moving in you…
Truth, I know, but sometimes hard to remember…
Often, in places as we watched, a soft clapping rumbled across the theater audience around me…like a breathless surge, yet controlled, people cautious, not wanting to look silly…but eventually building to a full clap at the end of the picture. I love it. Classic musicals still rock! Wished Debbie could see this.
Sitting a moment to savor the ending, I found joy and music still mingled in the voices, like exuberant fireflies dancing their light here and there.
“Oh, wasn’t that fabulous?” came a dreamy teenage voice next to me, a young couple holding hands and out for a date with an old fashioned movie. Again…I love it.
“Mommy, I loved when Cosmo (Donald) was dancing and making those funny faces!” I heard a child pipe, to the affirmations of others in their party.
Stepping down the aisleway, I caught the lilt of people whistling the happy tunes… remembered how it used to be that way when I was growing up. Movies… plays… musicals that swelled your heart long after it was over, leaving songs singing inside you on your way out and dancing on your lips for days..
Pushing through the glass doors to the daylight outside, I overheard, “Oh, wasn’t that a treasure?”
Mmm… yes. My eyes glimmered with the absolute joy of it all. Debbie is right. Blessed by beauty, fun and joy in creating.
And a sudden, maybe fantastical thought played across my mind till I voiced it silently. “Father… won’t you whisper to Donald and to Gene there with You tonight,” I prayed. “Just to let them know. ‘Well done, guys. I am still touching through the way you used My gifts… still sparkling joy through you… still dancing a song in hearts.’ “
Oh, that He could do that through me.
© Pam Depoyan
I’m linking this with Michelle today for Graceful Summer… for this fun and magical way to spend a summer evening…