' ' Cinema Romantico: What Books [Movies] Would I Display on My Shelf?

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

What Books [Movies] Would I Display on My Shelf?

During the Pandemic, My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I have taken to watching PBS NewsHour most evenings at 6 PM CST. The voice of Judy Woodruff is the closest analogue to the late Peter Jennings, famously of ABC World News Tonight, in his calming but inquisitive air always the #1 evening news anchor of my heart. When I watch PBS NewsHour, I feel among adults, which is more than I can say for most TV broadcasts these days. When COVID-19 forced Judy from the studio to her home for filming, she set up shop, like most in these times of home offices have, in front of a bookshelf where, for the first couple of weeks, looming conspicuously right behind her was Ron Chernow’s recent Grant biography, as if nudge-nudge-wink-winking at us to remember a Chief Executive who really did hold the nation together through perilous times.

Indeed, as Katy Young wrote at The Guardian, the Pandemic has given us the opportunity to judge “famous people by their bookshelves.” Kate Middleton, for instance, had a bookshelf highlighting the canonical classics because of course she does. She’s the Duchess of Cambridge, son. Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour’s righteous White House Correspondent, has frequently positioned Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” in a prominent place on her bookshelf, ensuring people see it, like her home is an independent bookstore and she’s offering a staff recommendation. During YouTube’s Stephen Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, the legend Patti LuPone placed D.J. Taylor’s “Orwell” biography in a prominent place on the bookshelf behind her, flying her anti-totalitarian flag, just as Cate Blanchett, as reported by Gal Beckerman for The New York Times, shouted out“ Postcapitalism” in her Late Show With Stephen Colbert appearance. Desmond Howard, the ESPN college football analyst, went a step further during the NFL draft, but by utilizing records rather than books. Every time the camera cut to him at home, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner had a different piece of vinyl propped up behind him, visually shouting out everyone from John Coltrane to Stevie Wonder.

If I was called upon for a televised segment to discuss, gees, I don’t know, the best Keira Knightley GIFs to use on social media during the Pandemic, I would probably ensure that my copy of James Harvey’s “Watching Them Be” or Jeanine Basinger’s “The Star Machine” were in prominent positions on my bookshelf to tout the Movie Star. Or maybe I would ensure that David Thomson’s, uh, unauthorized pseudo-biography of Nicole Kidman was conspicuously in view just to fuck with everyone. (If I was somehow a political correspondent I would, of course, have Unger’s “Lafayette” in bookshelf pole position.) The more I thought about that, though, the more I thought that, no, I would not want books on display, I would want movies. To that point, on the Press Box podcast in late March about this very topic, co-host David Shoemaker said  “Instead of books, I would have a shelf of VHS tapes…the worst ones I could find”, citing those infamous white, vinyl, giant Disney cases and the “Porky’s” and “Meatballs” oeuvre and a tape dedicated to Marv Albert’s sports bloopers. That sounded right to me.

Part of me would like to impress upon people my good – nay, eccentric – taste. I could put “Mistress America” next to “Mission - Impossible: Fallout”, and put “Meet Me in St. Louis” next to “Miami Vice” (2006), and put “Captain Blood” next to “Cold Weather.” But the more I thought about it, the more I kept thinking about a 2003 Onion classic with the apt, comical headline “Harsh Light Of Morning Falls On One-Night Stand’s DVD Collection.”

MILWAUKEE, WI–The harsh light of morning fell on the terrible DVD collection of Marc Koenig Monday, when Traci Pearle discovered it upon waking up from their one-night stand.

"It was a wild night, and from what I can recall, I had a great time with Marc," said Pearle, 25. "But I wonder if I would've felt the same way had I known the guy is the proud owner of Rollerball."

A nearby DVD shelf revealed similarly banal choices, including Driven, Evolution, Swordfish, Tomcats, Point Break, Pushing Tin, Bedazzled, Flatliners, My Blue Heaven, and Proof Of Life.

While acknowledging that the majority of Koenig's movies were "not out-and-out horrible," Pearle wondered why anyone would own those particular titles.

"They're the sort of things you'd rent, not buy, if you watch them at all," Pearle said. "Out of the thousands of movies you could own, why would you spend your money on this stuff? Don't you buy a movie because you're somehow passionate about it and want to watch it again and again? Does this guy feel that way about Hard Rain?"

That’s ticket, yessirree. I would position myself in front of a shelf of DVD titles like “Cliffhanger” and “Striking Distance” and “Out for Justice” and “Goodbye Lover” and “Best Laid Plans” and “The Sum of All Fears” and “Volcano.” So that when I was explaining to Judy Woodruff that “Anna Karenina” Keira GIFs are the best option in times of crisis, everyone watching at home would be squinting at the screen and scratching their head and saying “Why the hell does this guy own ‘An Innocent Man’ starring Tom Selleck?”

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