Saturday, January 02, 2010

Old, soft hat

We spent the evening watching Norman Jewison's deeply chiselled familiar moments and juxtaposed passions in Moonstruck for about the umpteenth time — I see new things in there every time I watch this flick. E.g., Loretta comes home and tells her Pop she has news. Vincent Gardenia chops the time in two and gestures Loretta into the kitchen for a confab. Yes, it's Italian, it's ethnic, it's cute. It's also Jewison carving a crystal moment out of timeless incoherence.

Look what happens! They pour out the split in two glasses and plop in a pair of sugarcubes. Loretta says she's going to marry Johnnie and, boundaries drawn, they fight. Jewison may as well have laid out a chessboard — formal, stylized, simple combat. Gardenia closes the parentheses with the exact same come-along gesture, "Let's tell your Mom."

The deconstruction proceeds onion-like, in pungent layers. This may be the most conscious movie I've ever seen. Ronnie and Loretta's semi-doomed romance (it is a comedy, after all) is paired against La Boheme; Puccini's exact redeeming duets contrast with Loretta's doubletake at Ronnie's fury in a bread-bread-bread speech that is, read cold on the page, almost pathetically inarticulate and inadequate to the moment. Maybe only Cage could have pulled that off. Marlon "Scum-sucking pig" Brando, not so much.

At the Met, the couples queue up and pass through a gallery of mirrors. If they reflect and recognize each other, we see more. Mona's earrings, ridiculously, are tiny copies of the Met's chandeliers. But Mona's decolletage and sparkle drown in the blaze of authentic glory from the elegant purple Dior to her immediate right. Cosmo and Mona, Loretta and Ronnie... degrees of inarticulate passion which faint and fail next to Puccini's ravishing arias, but these ordinary couples burn every bit as desperately and possibly just as white hot as the transcendent Rodolfo and Mimi. Rough and smooth, they may be, snooker balls bouncing off the banks of head and heart. Yet Mimi's soaring passion is exactly as unbearable as Loretta's, her curtain just as permanent as the demimundane Mona's.

How do they sort it all out? The table scene at the end is the altar which consecrates all these lives, as imperfect as they may be, and pulls them all into the light. That must have been a ferociously difficult moment to pull off, but this is one of the great films of all time; although it's odd how tables feature throughout the film, ubiquitous and silent non sequiturs, almost characters in themselves. Danny Aiello's proposal at a table, the philandering Professor's public drenchings at a table, Cosmo and Mona's tryst at a table, Cosmo and Loretta's family news at the family table; tables of anger ("Old man, give those dogs another piece of my food and I'll kick you until you're dead") and reconciliation ("And go to confession!"), epiphany ("Yes, Johnny, in front of all these people...") and catechesis ("A la familia!").

And who are these moonstruck? Lovers standing at their bedroom windows. Loretta's face covered in light and shadow, like prison bars, like law, in black and white. Rose's moon casting lacework shadows on her face, pure but troubled. Cosmo's altogether missing and forgotten moon, present only as a story, a grace remembered from Rose's courtship. Raymond and Rita Cappomaggi's moon, solid, simple, human, clumsy, passionate. (We struggle, out here in real life, to remember who Raymond's Orlando Furioso might be. Disneyland? A lunatic moment of self-recognition, that.) And the Old Man's moon, pure and absolute, dangerous to dogs and holy fools, howling with laughter.

A great film from 1987, with the Twin Towers still standing. As the Old Man says, the moon brings the woman to the man, and the nostalgia is almost unbearable.

I looked it up. A "split" of champagne is a quarter bottle, sometimes (usually?) rounded up to 20 centiliters. A bottle is a half a magnum. A magnum is 1.5 liters.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home