For the first time in the five years since I moved into in the All-New Duckhaus, I can say that I am Fully Unpacked… at least, as unpacked as I am ever going to be.
This startling development came about because I am expecting a visit soon from my father and his wife. They will be staying nine days (which ought to be a real challenge for all concerned)… this meant that I had to get the guest room ready to receive customers. Before I could even think about vacuuming, I needed to get the boxes up off the floor. And as that’s the room where I keep the lion’s share of DVDs, I needed to get the closet space organized, too.
It took me probably three, three and a half hours spread out across two days to re-organize the whole lot and shelve five years’ worth of accumulated DVDs. During this time I was reminded of something that I knew, but don’t often think about: When you sort movies by the year of their issue, you create a timeline of your own life.
It’s not so noticeable when you’re working with movies that were made well before you were born. Unless you were passing through some significant event the first time you saw, say, Casablanca, or unless there’s some special memory attached, like seeing The Wizard of Oz in a movie theater on a big screen after a lifetime of watching it on television, the pictures made before you were walking on the planet constitute history, and are largely safe from associations.
But now that I am well into my middle years the films that were made in the last three decades of the twentieth century and beyond all carry memory with them. Yesterday, as I was sorting material that was made in the last fifteen years, I was able to look at the shelf and say, this is where Mom’s leg was amputated — this is where she died. Everything beyond that point represents a new life. The hard last years of her life occupy maybe a foot and a half along the shelf, along a timeline that extends back and back and is filled with other connections: this is where I started working at the newspaper, this is where I was dating such-and-such a woman, this is the last movie that all my friends and I went to and watched together.
We’re the sum of our experiences after all; and a life spent in the cinema is a life that can easily be retraced along a row of dusty old DVDs. I suppose the same thing is true with comics, which also tend to be sorted by their issue date rather than by such things as title or author or LOC. But I more or less stopped reading comics in the mid-eighties, by which time Marvel had been thoroughly ruined by a succession of moronic editors-in-chief… movies are the consistent path leading me straight through and beyond my comic-book-reading years, in both directions: here’s where I started drinking (the Gerry Anderson TV series UFO is, I found out, so much more entertaining when you are slightly soused). Here’s where Mom and Dad broke up. Here’s where I met my best, longest-lasting friends, one of whom left us here; here’s where I graduated from High School, and visited my cousins and grandparents in Minnesota for the last time.
The shelves are fraught with beginnings and endings. The movies don’t just belong to the people who created them: they are woven into our lives.