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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Movies I Watched with My Sister Antoinette

You do not know how you will remember your loved ones until after they have died.

I suffer from a degree of "face blindness" – I find it difficult to recognize faces. And yet my mind spontaneously resurrects my sister's at least once a day. It's as if my consciousness had hands and were running over every pore, her tweezed brows, her green eyes, her fine nose, her sarcastic smile. Sometimes she is a bean-pole teenager. Sometimes a lush, young siren. Then a matron, weighing more than I, which is more than I ever thought my sister would weigh. As I emerge from a car, she looks down from the balcony, smiling an unselfconscious, friendly greeting. I had not seen her in a month. I wish I could return her smile, but I gasp. What a brain tumor can do to a woman's appearance. And then she is gone, and my day continues.

September 23 is her second birthday since her death.

Had I died first, she wouldn't think of me for more than a week. I am ashamed for missing her so much.

Our relationship was imperfect.

A kind of memory I never predicted has punctuated my days. "I watched that movie with Antoinette."

Here are some of the movies we watched together.

* "GONE WITH THE WIND" 1939 Victor Fleming
Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia De Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen

She read the book first, then I read it. It was the 1967 Pocketbook paperback, with a sky-blue cover. She probably read it in a couple days. As a teenager, she read Cervantes' "Don Quixote," also about a thousand pages long, in the original, seventeenth-century Spanish.

It took me forever to get through "Gone with the Wind," sitting alone on our nubbly, concrete stoop on long summer days. It was 1,037 pages long, and I was a dyslexic twelve-year-old who insisted on looking up words I did not know.

As we left the Colonial Theater, my mother said, "When I was younger, I hated Scarlett. Now that I am older, I understand everything she did – everything she had to do." Mrs. Manning and my mother's other friends nodded in agreement.

"I understand Scarlett" justified beating their kids and yelling at their husbands. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they kept us fed.

I fell in love with Ashley. Everyone else fell in love with Rhett. This makes me weird. There's no escaping it.

Antoinette fell in love with reading.

I was sitting in the front seat of the car while Antoinette was driving. We were debating whether there was such a thing as true love. I said no. "If Scarlett had been unattractive, Rhett would not have loved her." We used movies and books to explore big ideas.

When Antoinette was in the bed from which she would never rise, "Gone with the Wind" was on her large TV. I haven't operated a TV with much success since there were seven channels. Antoinette was in no shape to tell me how to work the gizmos on her new-fangled TV. Scenes from "Gone with the Wind" flickered, beyond my control.

The Yankees were burning Atlanta. Scarlett held pale Melanie's hand as Melly sweated in the bed.

"I'm not afraid. You know I won't leave you."

"It's no use. I'm going to die."

"Don't be a goose, Melly. Hold on to me. Hold on to me."

"Talk to me, Scarlett. Please talk to me."

"Don't try to be brave, Melly. Yell all you want. There's nobody to hear."

"Ma says that if you puts a knife under the bed, it cuts the pain in two," but Prissy knew nothing about birthing babies.

It's the last movie Antoinette and I watched together.

* "IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT" 1934 Frank Capra
Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Antoinette and I watched "It Happened One Night" five times in one week. One of the seven local TV channels – maybe channel 9 or 5 – used to show the same classic film every day at one o'clock for a week. Watching the same movie over and over was our film class.

"It Happened One Night" is the great granddaddy of all romantic comedies. No one has surpassed it; moderns can only hope to achieve its magical combination of airiness and profundity, its celebration of the nitty-gritty details of everyday life while at the same time transporting the viewer to the romantic paradise beyond the rainbow.

Heiress Ellie Andrews wants to marry gigolo King Wesley who flies an autogyro to their wedding. Her millionaire father objects, she runs away, in a satin gown, and has breathless adventure on a rickety, crowded, long-distance bus full of Depression-era characters.

A passenger named "Shapley" sits down next to Ellie. "My name is Shapley, see? And that's the way I like 'em. Shapley. There's nothing I like better than to meet a high-class mama that can snap 'em back at ya. 'Cause the colder they are, the hotter they get. Yes, sir, when a cold mama gets hot, boy, how she sizzles." How many times Antoinette and I repeated his routine to each other.

Life was a big adventure waiting only for the right, spunky young woman to open her door and mount the ride. Every line that anyone spoke was ripe to be written down to laughter or tears. There was some danger but you were quick and smart enough to elude it. And men like Clark Gable could be met on overnight busses.

* "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" 1962 David Lean
Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains

After the lights came up in the Colonial Theater, I felt as if all the stuffing had been dragged out of me. I was 13 and went in knowing nothing about the Middle Eastern history Lawrence had affected, and even less about male rape, the insidious corruption that feeds on idealists, and recently liberated, former colonial people's tendency to flub their own fates. During the car ride home, I felt the wizened veteran with an advanced case of PTSD.

We saw it together only once and we never stopped repeating lines from the film. Antoinette would sing, "I'm the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo!" and I would respond, "The Nafud is terrible!" which we had misheard as "The food is terrible!" a funny thing for Omar Sharif to shout during a debate of a difficult desert crossing in wartime.

* "LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON" 1957 Billy Wilder
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier

Director and screenwriter Billy Wilder and his partner IAL Diamond were geniuses, but we didn't know that. We just loved the lapidary dialogue and gemlike set pieces.

Audrey Hepburn, daughter of Private Eye Maurice Chevalier, falls in love with aging playboy Gary Cooper. They have an affair – but only in the afternoons. She struggles to keep up with Cooper's man-of-the-world, casual sexuality. He tries to resist falling for her sincerity and innocence. Add Paris, when it was still Paris, and a gypsy band playing a schmaltzy waltz, "Fascination." It's a crepes-and-champagne movie and it deserves to be better known.

* "THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS" 1971 Anthony Harvey
Joanne Woodward, George C. Scott, Jack Gilford

Woodward is an unattractive spinster, a brilliant doctor who is unappreciated by her peers. Of course we, smart girls who felt ugly and out of place, would love her. Scott thinks he is Sherlock Holmes. At one point, he says to Woodward, "No one you have ever loved has loved you," a line I hear in my head about once a month, in Scott's voice.

Convinced that Dr. Moriarty is closing in on him, Scott tries to create a distraction in a supermarket. He grabs the microphone and starts announcing sales. "Ham, ten cents a pound." We might be shopping in a store and Antoinette would suddenly turn to me and say, in her best George C. Scott imitation, "Ham, ten cents a pound."

* "THE MARCH OF WOODEN SOLDIERS" aka "BABES IN TOYLAND" 1934 Director Gus Mains is not a well-known name. He committed suicide after facing morals charges for indecent acts with minors.
Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy

A measure of how weird this movie is. A mouse is played by a monkey. Really. They put the mouse costume on a monkey.

My mother's sister Phyllis, her husband, and her four kids would come for Thanksgiving. My mother liked Phyllis so she'd be in a good mood all day. The big, wooden table would be pulled apart and the extra leaf inserted. My mother served, simply, everything. There are diners that don't have as much on their menus as my mother served on Thanksgiving.

Slovak Grandpa would smoke a pipe and play cards. Men, of course, watched football. I played with Little Phyllis, the cousin closest in age to me. My oldest cousin, Greg, played with my brother Phil, and Antoinette played with her age-appropriate cousin, Regina.

We watched "March of the Wooden Soldiers" on channel 11, WPIX. It was one weird movie. It disturbed me. One good part of growing up is I don't have to watch weird movies any more.

I was astounded when Regina didn't come to Antoinette's funeral, and I'm sad that Little Phyllis disappeared from my life. I actually still hope that a letter might someday turn up in my mailbox. We used to write to each other.

True, I did not go to Aunt Phyllis' funeral. I did visit her before I left for the year in Poland. She was almost bald, and bedridden, but I must say – this always beautiful woman now radiated a light and peace that she had never shown in more mundane hours. She showed me a rare kindness, saying to me, on our final meeting, "Don't stop writing." I was so touched by that. I didn't even know that she knew that I wrote. But she knew her sister, my mother, was a fine writer.

I received the inevitable news while living in a student dormitory in Poland. Thousands of miles away, young Poles who had never met Aunt Phyllis mourned her passing.

* "INHERIT THE WIND" 1960 Stanley Kramer
Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan

We all but memorized the script, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and the ironically named Robert E. Lee. We especially loved this exchange, in which Gene Kelly delivered the zinger:

"You're the stranger, ain'tcha? Are you looking for a nice, clean place to stay?"

"Madam, I had a nice clean place to stay... and I left it, to come here."

Kelly had mostly stopped dancing onscreen by 1960; it was a revelation to see he could be as nimble with dialogue as he was in tap shoes.

"Inherit the Wind" presents itself as a docudrama reenactment of the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial. Antoinette and I were Northern girls, and Catholics; we were all too ready to believe nasty stereotypes about Southern Protestants.

In fact, it was a big, fat, propagandistic lie from beginning to end, written by Christophobes eager to defame Christianity and the South. Thus it is ironic that one of the playwrights was named Robert E. Lee.

There are numerous webpages pointing out "Inherit the Wind"'s many divergences from fact. Here's just one:

* "THE HAUNTING" 1963 Robert Wise
Julie Harris, Claire Bloom

There may be scary movies as good as "The Haunting," but none is better. Julie Harris' character was something like me, an unattractive, unpopular, misfit. Claire Bloom's character was something like my sister. Confidently sexy, superior, at times tender, at times cruel. They sleep together in the room of a house haunted by parental cruelty. Julie Harris' character is sacrificed to appease relentless ancestral demons. Been there; done that.

* "THE EXORCIST" 1973 William Freidkin
Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair

Antoinette read "The Exorcist" while staying, alone, at a friend's isolated lakeside cabin.

I saw the movie with Otto. I spent the first twenty minutes inside his shirt. Finally, I got up and left. I never even made it to the part with all the expert make-up effects. Even so, I was terrified for weeks afterward. I have since met much scarier things than cinematic Satans; that broke the spell.

Antoinette laughed through the whole movie. She laughed so much people complained. She said, "I'm a nurse. Patients puke pea soup on me, and much worse. This is ridiculous."

I never understood her, or anyone's, taste for horror. She loved Stephen King. I couldn't make it five pages into one of King's books. I was glad that before she died I was able to tell her that I'd received a generous writers' grant from Stephen King.

* "AFTER THE FOX" 1966 Vittorio De Sica; Screenplay by Neil Simon and Cesare Zavattini
Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland, Victor Mature

"After the Fox" is a cruelly funny farce about the power of celebrity and the allure of movies. Screenwriter Neil Simon was the king of comedy in the 1960s and 70s. His co-screenwriter, Cesare Zavattini, wrote the landmark neorealist film, "The Bicycle Thief." Vittorio De Sica had directed "The Bicycle Thief." De Sica, Simon and Zavattini cooked up a hilariously funny movie that makes fun of films, directors, and film fans.

"The movie! The movie! I want to be in the movie!" she would cry, in a stage Italian accent. And I'd laugh.

Years later, I tried to share "After the Fox" with a fellow grad student. It sailed right over his head. I didn't realize, when I was a kid, that I was living among some of the smartest, most aesthetically astute people I'd ever know, and that I'd spend the rest of my life aching for company at their intellectual and creative level.

* "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" 1939 William Wyler
Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Flora Robson, Geraldine Fitzgerald, David Niven

From an alcoholic, impoverished, abusive household, Cathy and Heathcliff escape to the wilderness of Peniston Crag and, using their imaginations, they create their own world with its own rules. They play in the heather, a wild flower – really almost a weed. They pretend that Peniston Crag is a castle where Cathy is queen and Heathcliff is her knight.

Back in civilization, though, Cathy and Heathcliff torment each other. She humiliates and betrays him in her search for a life with more money than, and none of the pain of, their childhood. He mocks her pretentious airs and graces, and runs away.

He finds other women. Geraldine Fitzgerald is nice and she loves Heathcliff but in an intimate moment all he can say to her is, "Why does your hair not smell of heather?"

Antoinette was a bitch. But she was funny and smart and after I ran away and found other playmates, I never – well, almost never – met anyone with whom I could talk for hours, never get bored, always feel surprised and intrigued and eager for more.  

* "THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD" 1938 Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Errol Flynn, Olivia De Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains

* "CAPTAIN BLOOD" 1935 Michael Curtiz
Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone

* "THE CORSICAN BROTHERS" 1941 Gregory Ratoff
Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Akim Tamiroff, J. Carrol Naish

Swashbucklers! Swords! Honor! Period costumes! Hot men in tights! Slightly subdued S&M torture scenes! Oh, we ate this stuff up.

In "Captain Blood," wicked pirate Levasseur (Basil Rathbone) menaces an elderly captive. He holds a knotted cord in front of the captive's head and says, with lip-smacking glee, "This is the rosary of pain. It is possible to screw a man's eyes out of his head."

Later we were in the kitchen. Antoinette dipped the wooden spoon into the simmering pot of my mother's famous spaghetti sauce, and fished out a meatball. She thrust it toward me. "We call this the rosary of pain," she said, in a perfect pirate accent. "It is possible to screw a man's eyes out of his head."

I scoffed, grabbed the wooden spoon, dumped the screwed-out eyeball / meatball back in my mother's big pot, stirred some more, and fished out a very large sausage. I held it, dripping bloody red sauce, toward my sister. "This is the arm of a baby we brutally murdered."

"The Corsican Brothers" is about conjoined twins, separated at birth, who experience weird synchronicity throughout their lives. After they are separated as babies, something odd happens. One baby cries, but it is the other baby who has something snagged around his neck. He can't make any noise. The other baby cries for him.

"How strange. Mario was choking, and yet it was Lucien who cried!"

"What could it mean?"

"I don't know. From the first I've had a dread premonition concerning these children. They were born to be one. The same bloodstream! The same nervous system! I have separated their bodies. What of their souls?"

Antoinette and I experienced vast gulfs of separation, and yet … something held us together.

* "THE LONGEST DAY" 1962 Many directors, supervised by Darryl F. Zanuck
All-star cast

*"VICTORY" 1981 John Huston
Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow

In "Victory," Max Von Sydow, one of those impeccable movie Nazis, politely invites POW Michael Caine to play soccer against Germans. Von Sydow lists all the Allied countries players might come from. There will be English, American, and French players …

I leaned over to Antoinette and said, "What about the Poles and the Czechs?" I was conscious, even then, of how Eastern Europeans were being erased, or lied about, in cinematic World War II recreations.

Immediately, Michael Caine, onscreen, said to Max Von Sydow, "What about the Poles and the Czechs?"

We stared at each other, elbowed each other, and never forgot it.

Really, you had to be there.

* "STAR WARS" 1977 George Lucas
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness

My senior year of college, Antoinette did something bad. She hurt me a lot. We fell out of contact. I was homeless for a while, and penniless. No access to TV, no money for theater tickets.

We reunited. I forget how or why. She certainly didn't apologize. She never apologized. We didn't talk about it. We never talked about it.

I do remember that she said, "This movie has come out –"

What was left unsaid, but understood, was, "This movie has come out since you and I last spoke, since I betrayed you when you needed me, since you were homeless and couldn't afford to go to the movies – "

"This movie has come out and you have to see it. I'm going to take you to see it. It's still in theaters. I'm not going to tell you anything about it. I can't wait to see your reaction. You are going to love it."

So, we went to see "Star Wars" in Wayne. We hadn't been to the Colonial Theater in years.

I can see myself sitting there, to Antoinette's right, staring up at the screen, watching the famous screen crawl, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," and I sat there, and I waited. And waited. And waited. Waited for *it* – for whatever it was that made this such a great flick, worthy to become one of our movies, up there with "Gone with the Wind" and "Love in the Afternoon."

And then the closing credits.

The lights came up.

Antoinette stared at me. "Well? Isn't that great?"

All I could think was, "Who *is* this woman? And what has she done with my sister?"

I didn't get any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, either, or the TV show "Lost," all of which she loved.

Maybe I really was adopted.

* "BROADCAST NEWS" 1987 James L. Brooks
Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, William Hurt

We didn't watch this movie together. I think I was living in Poland when it came out. When we reunited, Antoinette insisted I see it. Holly Hunter plays an ultra-competent TV producer. Her boss corners her at a party and says, "It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room." And she replies, " No. It's awful."

Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, George C. Scott

"We had faces then," Norma Desmond said. To those of the Greatest Generation, and we Baby Boomers, their children, Golden Age movies stars were larger than life embodiments of mythic, primordial archetypes, but they were also as familiar as family members around the kitchen table, as the characters in your own dreams. John Wayne was raw manhood. Greta Garbo was heightened drama. Hard to convey this to folks raised in the age of disposable celebrity, of Kardashians.

"The List of Adrian Messenger" is a murder mystery. It's veddy veddy British, as crisp and dry as a gin and tonic. There are not one but two fox hunts. After the killer is found, the detectives calmly enjoy tea with him.

The movie's gimmick: *after* the closing titles, various characters from the film step forward, removed their makeup, and are revealed to be big name stars who had been in unrecognizable disguises throughout the movie. After their makeup was removed, they winked and waved into the camera, thus breaking the fourth wall. World-famous actors' winking at us, letting us in on their joke, felt very intimate.

Neither here nor there, but the TV show "Get Smart" broadcast an episode entitled "The Mess of Adrian Listinger," a joke I have remembered for forty-seven years.

* "THE WIZARD OF OZ" 1939 Victor Fleming
Judy Garland, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton

Every kid in North America watched "The Wizard of Oz" once a year. It was telecast annually from 1959 to 1991.

We knew that one of its famous gimmicks was switching from black-and-white to color. We knew that others had color TVs. We had a small black-and-white TV. We knew that we were poor. Antoinette, who worked like a horse, and never received any handouts from anyone, addressed that in her life. She died with money.

* "YOUR CHEATIN' HEART" 1964 Gene Nelson
George Hamilton, Susan Oliver

* "JIM THORPE ALL AMERICAN" 1951 Michael Curtiz
Burt Lancaster, Charles Bickford

If anyone asks you, "Which pop music star who died young would you bring back from the grave? Janis Joplin? Jimi Hendrix? John Lennon? Jim Morrison? Freddie Mercury?" the correct answer is "Hank Williams." Williams was a huge talent. The "Hillbilly Shakespeare" died at 29. Drugs, a recent beating, and heart failure.

If someone is debating the all-time greatest American athlete, surely the name "Jim Thorpe" will appear near the top of the list of candidates. Thorpe had to relinquish his Olympic medals. Some say it was because he had been a professional athlete before the Olympics. Others say it was because he was a Native American.

We saw these B-movie biopics back to back, and they made us cry.

We debated whose story was sadder, Thorpe's or Williams'. We were trying to understand human suffering, fate, compassion and hope.

* "THE HASTY HEART" 1949 Vincent Sherman
Ronald Reagan, Richard Todd, Patricia Neal

Richard Todd stars as Lachlan MacLachlan, a 23-year-old Scotsman and loner who is gruff and cold to everyone he meets. It turns out he was an abused child, a theme sure to tug at our hearts. "They say sorrow is born in the hasty heart," he says. He has learned not to trust anyone. Suddenly, a group of strangers are nice to him. They know something he does not know – he has only weeks to live. He makes some friends, he falls in love, his life appears to be looking up, but he has a fatal kidney condition, and he dies.

We both fell in love with Lachie MacLachlan, and wanted to reach right into the TV screen and rescue him. In movies and in real life, we only really fell hard for the suffering man, the outcast, the troubled guy who needed rescuing.

"The Hasty Heart"'s combination of tear-jerking pathos and lighthearted humor probably helped post WW II America deal with mass death.

* "THE ART OF LOVE" 1965 Norman Jewison
Dick Van Dyke, Elke Sommer, James Garner, Angie Dickinson

Just a very funny Carl Reiner comedy about creativity, capitalism, betrayal, suicide, and execution by guillotine. A really good Madame Defarge joke.

* "THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL" 1965 John Sturges
Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasance, Jim Hutton

The only Western on our list. If you don't have time for the full movie, give yourself a treat and listen to the boffo theme song. As a YouTube viewer commented, "'Epic' is too small a word."

* "A NEW KIND OF LOVE" 1963 Melville Shavelson
Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor

After Antoinette received her terminal diagnosis, I made her a get-well card with Paul Newman's picture on it. She loved him. She knew I loved Gary Cooper. She gave me a vintage movie poster of the Cooper anti-slavery movie, "Souls at Sea," and a boxed set of Coop's DVDs.

I tried to re-watch "A New Kind of Love" recently. It is sooo misogynist, which, somehow, I missed as a kid.

The main character is that character we loved in film after film: a highly intelligent, competent female who excels in a man's world. In this film, though, she must change into a frivolous sex kitten in order to gain the lover she wants: Paul Newman. She plays the same game Audrey Hepburn plays in "Love in the Afternoon" – she tells Newman sex stories. A phone-sex Scheherazade. When Hepburn did it, under the direction of Billy Wilder, the master, it was effervescent.

We missed all the misogyny when we saw the movie as girls.

Antoinette told me she couldn't watch "Mad Men" because she lived through the early sixties and she remembered the pressure on girls not to be smart, to be Barbie Dolls. She had some regrets of her life, and that was one of them. Not realizing till later that she was smart, and that being a smart woman was a good thing, not a curse from the Gods.

* "TOMMY" 1975 Ken Russell
Roger Daltry, Oliver Reed, Ann-Margaret

We saw this in a movie theater down the shore. It was around that time when the age difference between Antoinette and me weighed heavily. I was an asexual tomboy who spent all my free time in the woods or libraries. She was a glam, brainy vamp, renting beach houses, drinking, smoking, and committing other mortal sins. Let us draw the curtain over this unfortunate scene.

* "SLEUTH" 1972 Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine

Sadistic, claustrophobic, clever mystery. We saw it once in the Colonial Theater and never again. Did not become one of our favorites. Too much of an all-male, self-satisfied head game.

* "WHITE CHRISTMAS" 1954 Michael Curtiz
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, Dean Jagger

"Sisters, sisters, there have never been such devoted sisters."

She loved it that Bing Crosby called Danny Kaye a "weirdsmobile."

* "A FISH CALLED WANDA" 1988 Charles Crichton
John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin

I've never seen a single episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." I can repeat entire routines, just from listening to my sister.

We saw "A Fish Called Wanda" with her husband in a mall multiplex near her home after I got back from Poland. I think she was trying to initiate her husband into our film-loving society of two. It didn't work. I don't think he's much into films. But I don't know.

* "GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK" 2005 George Clooney
David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr

In the early 90s, Antoinette did some bad things that hurt me a lot. Her death was not the first time I lost her. Not the first time I had to go through grieving losing her.

After our mother died in 2001, she came back into my life. Who knows why. I don't. We didn't talk about these things.

I tried once. She was driving. I mentioned that event from my senior year in college. She literally drove her SUV off the road.

"What? He did *what* to you?"

She hadn't even known. But then, she had never asked.


We spent time together again after many years with no contact. We watched movies together again.

"Good Night and Good Luck" is a modern black-and-white movie. I told Antoinette that I wanted to see it and it was playing in her upscale neighborhood, but not in my low-rent one. As a favor to me, she agreed to see it. She wasn't into artsy fartsy new black-and-white movies any more than I was into horror or neo-Flash-Gordon "Star Wars" space drek.

I tried to pay for her ticket and mine. She pushed me away from the cashier and paid for both of us. In this small way, and in her paying for my pomegranates, she was still my sister.

"Good Night and Good Luck" is the umpteenth Hollywood movie about the Red Scare. The Red Scare, from the perspective of my historical seat, was much ado about nothing. In Poland and Czechoslovakia, Communists were torturing, murdering, and burying our people in unmarked graves. Some American Hollywood Communists lost jobs that they got back later after the Red Scare passed. We saw the movie that one time and never mentioned it again. I don't even think we talked about it in the car afterward, except to say, "Meh."

* "MY COUSIN RACHEL" 1952 Henry Koster
Richard Burton, Olivia De Havilland

Olivia de Havilland was a queen of Golden Age Hollywood. She starred in "Gone with the Wind" and "Captain Blood." Richard Burton was a star decades later, when stardom meant making lousy movies but being followed around by Paparazzi interested in your latest divorce from Liz Taylor. What could be more different from "Gone with the Wind" than Burton's biggest critical hit, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"?

But Burton and de Havilland shared one movie: "My Cousin Rachel." It's one of those rare Hollywood films where the female lead is older – in this case by nine years – than the male. Even so, Olivia de Havilland, at 101 years old, is, as of this writing, still alive. She has outlived Burton by thirty-three years. He died in 1984, of the same toxic stew that took down Hank Williams. Booze, drugs, pain, fame.

In "My Cousin Rachel," Burton's character visits the widow of his deceased cousin. He suspects her of murdering his cousin. But then he falls in love with her. You never really know what the film is telling you. Is Rachel an innocent victim of her own allure and his lust-thwarted paranoia? Or is she a diabolical black widow?

I wonder something similar about my sister. She could be so wicked. But I miss her like crazy. These memories of watching movies with her are nothing but pleasant. Like the movie "My Cousin Rachel," I cannot provide you with a final judgment. I'll leave you with the final lines of the movie.

"Blessed Rachel, only you know the burden that I must carry to the end of my days. This question that I must ask myself again and again, every day of my life, never to be answered now until we meet at last in purgatory. Were you innocent, or were you guilty? Rachel, my torment, my blessed, blessed torment."

Watch this space. At some point I hope to post "Recipes I Cooked with My Sister Antoinette." 

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