Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.
Being that I'm about to turn 40, and being that I grew up in central Iowa where the mall was the center of consumer experience, I remember the old days when holiday shopping meant you had to go out among the living. Going out among the living meant driving to the mall and circling the parking lot for 25 minutes until you saw a space open up that was 2.5 miles away. That long non-funeral funeral procession to the mall, though, no matter how cold it might be, was a breeze compared to being inside the mall. Oh my God, a mall at Christmas. In his book "The Christmas Blizzard" Garrison Keillor captured it just right, writing of "The anguished jollity of store clerks living in the hell of holiday shopping."
"Serendipity", my beloved "Serendipity", damn the grinches or those merely looking for a well-made motion picture, actually contains an image that implicitly, excellently encaptures this anguished jollity. It is not among the more famous images usually broached by film professors, like the recurring NYC snowfall that is transformed into a winter wonderland so rivetingly old-timey that it approximates a visual Shakespeare sonnet (reader grabs Nick's keyboard away from him)
No, this image happens in the earlygoing, during the opening shot follows a pair of gloves that have apparently been placed in the wrong section of a Bloomingdales as a sales clerk takes them from the wrong place to the right place, and as she does so, she is forced to navigate a crowd of holiday shoppers, given the film's Christmas setting. In the frame below, you see her there to the right, with her back to us, and so in this shot, she momentarily gets lost, giving way to the guy to her left, the guy moving toward us, which is the guy we want to talk about.
There's this thing you start to realize when your primary mode of getting around is public transportation - you start to realize, particularly at rush hour, that people don't let you off the train before they want to get on. The train stops, the doors open and as you go to get off, people are already piling on, advertently styming your progress to further theirs. I confess...I did this once. As the train pulled in to the station, I noticed more open space than usual at rush hour and so when the doors opened, absent-mindedly, idiotically, I made my move onto the train. I ran right into this guy who was simply trying to exit. He gave me a look that unmistakably said: "You dumbass." And you know what? I was a dumbass. I felt awful the whole train ride home. I wanted to track that guy down apologize. I wanted to tell him he was in the right and I was in the wrong. Now I will stand aside and let everyone off a train even if it means I get stuck with a crappy spot because other people are shoving their way past people trying to exit.
Anyway, long story much shorter, this guy in "Serendipity" is like the guy trying to get off the subway car at rush hour. In the audio he keeps saying "Excuse me...excuse me." It's not an angry "excuse me", though, it's a weary one; it's the ten-thousand and one "excuse me" of ten thousand others on an awful day of holiday shopping. Holiday shopping, in other words, is trying to get off a subway car, just in a department store setting, over and over and over again. And in the forthcoming narrative of transplendent, or thereabouts, romantic destiny, well, I nevertheless also love imagining this exhausted holiday shopper still out there somewhere in perpetual anguished jollity. If the cosmic needs a counterweight, it's him.
Pour one out for the extra...