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Monday, June 3, 2013

Double Feature by Owen King


When I was a boy I loved going to the movies on the odd Saturday afternoon for the double features first with some friends then with my favorite girl. So often one was a musical or even an Elvis Presley movie.   Double Feature by Owen King is from the other side of the camera. A father, Booth, and a son, Sam, wake in Sam’s godfather’s house, Tom Ritts. Ritts has gone to work and left a fresh pot of coffee for the late sleepers. Booth a former B movie actor whose career is dead has read Sam’s screenplay, Who Are We, (oh the angst) and is criticizing it too early in the morning and definitely before that important first cup of morning joe. A great father son riff, especially when the son refers to his dad by his first name, Booth. And an interesting point Sam says to Booth, “Do you listen to anything I say, Booth? Because I have the impression that, to you, my voice in on the same frequency as a dog whistle.”
Sam hustles friends and others for the money to film in the fields at his college in upstate New York. He hustles a named actor to appear at scale. He makes regular sex phone calls to Polly in Florida. He keeps getting a bill from a man who made a nose with a mole on it for his father, who has no cell phone; lack of payment and Sam is expected to pay a debt incurred by his father. The sins of the father and all that jazz. In spite of nature’s inconsistency, a three-day hospital stay, the movie gets made, but not as planned. Someone mentioned he should have had Booth, his father, in the movie. Sam said “Yeah, should have but never thought about it.” Then he falls into the place of remembrance about Booth and his time with him when he was a boy with his mom and dad, Booth. He can’t rely on Booth now that his assistant director, Brook, and moneybags have altered his work. Time to regroup, Sam’s been hustled.
Fade out Sam, 2003, Zoom in Booth 1969. Booth at twenty-nine, is an old time carnie huckster, a talker, a flim flam man, a con man a la Prof Harold Hill. I see Christoph Waltz playing him or Booth playing Waltz. He assembles a crew of unsuspecting people, including, Allie, Sam’s mom to make an improbable movie, New Roman Empire without a budget etc etc. It is the classic Mickey Rooney Judy Garland quip of “Let’s make a movie.” Well as fate would step in, a New Yorker critic is stranded in a one-theater town for the night and she happens to see it. It is so bad it is camp and instantly the movie develops a cult following of critics who liken it to Orson Welles, Booths’ hero and muse. But this is Booth we have learned, and perhaps the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His defense of Allie’s honor against her music professor is so Groucho Marx. Booth is so movie oriented it is as if he stepped out of the movie and into real life, as in The Purple Rose of Cairo.
Fade out Booth, 1971, Zoom in Sam weddingographer, 2011. Weddingographer? What happened? He lives I Brooklyn now with an acrophobic roommate, Wesley.  The DVD of Who We Are that he thought he threw away in 2003 has reemerged and is a cult film in bars and on college campuses across the country. Sam was able to get his name deleted from the film. Commercials have to be silenced so he doesn’t hear the voices of Polly’s husband and Booth’s. He is even skipping out bathroom windows to avoid women. Sam and his half sister, Mina, join forces as life gets crazier and more insane and Booth is ill, Sandra is committed, and a vagrant wields a sword.
Flashback to 1991 and career day when Booth goes to Sam’s class for some ‘interesting’ interaction between father and son. His learning begins with Allie and Tom as they answers Sam’s question about why they like Booth, his dad. A classmate, Gloria, just hopes Booth won’t be boring. He isn’t. Father and son see lots of movies together. Booth’s secret to acting is in his suitcase of fake noses. But Sam hates Booth because he knows Sandra, Booth’s mistress who constantly calls the house and hangs up when Allie answers the phone and is hung up on by Sam.  “Tom Ritts gave him (Sam) a VHS camcorder for his twelfth birthday. ‘From your dad,’ Tom said, the sole instance that Sam could recall of his god-father having told him a lie.”
Returning to 2011. Booth is dying according to Mina. It’s a lie, just a guise tom get Sam and Booth together. Sam spends time getting closer to his father. This is Act IV and the falling action is collecting it all together for the denouement. My favorite word ‘succubus’ comes up. It is defined incorrectly by Booth. No matter. I always used that word to test dictionaries. It’s a great word. It happens to me all the time in my dreams. When Sam is talking to his godfather, Tom, about Booth, Sam recalls, “Tom said that wasn’t the kind of thing they talked about, he and Booth. ‘We’re a different generation, buddy. We’re not open about our feelings. We’re old school.’” This brought me back nearly forty years. Greg, my best friend, best man at my first wedding, and godfather to my first child died tragically at twenty-five in a motorcycle accident. I was devastated. I had known Greg all my life; we were inseparable.  What I always remembered and loved about our relationship was the fact that we didn’t have to talk. He’d come over, come in, sit down, and we’d just sit in the room looking out the window at the ocean or sit I front of a fire or sit at a table drinking coffee or a beer or he’d thumb through a magazine mindlessly. After an hour or more, sometimes without saying a word the whole time, he’d get up and say on his way out, ”Thanks, see ya later.” We didn’t have to have conversations, but when we did they could be deep. We were best friends and when he died part of me died too. I don’t know if I ever recovered. I even stopped going to Nantucket after that. So when I read this account by Tom about his relationship with Booth, I got it and realized what it would have been like for Greg and me today. I still have a framed photo I took of his mom clearing a piece of cake with her hand from his chin at my daughter’s his goddaughter’s fourth birthday party a month before he died hanging in a prominent spot in my house. It’s amazing what books do to us. Everything and everyone comes together as a GTO ends up in a maple tree and Sam doesn’t give a Jurassic Park reference.
I can’t help but think of my own son. I really enjoyed the movie references throughout the novel and how appropriate they were to the action and served as great allusions at the time. You gotta love the magic hour.

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