Sunday in the Park
December 16, 2011
There are few folks I know who will be sad to see this year end.
I include myself. It has been year I think of darkly and said this to a dear friend recently, both of us talking on our phones me in my living room, she in her car late at night. She, wise woman, counseled and reminded me that, just like the physical year, there are seasons of the soul. And this was a dark night. The calendar and pagan traditions this week herald the shortest day coupled with the longest night. The payoff is the movement that starts the very next day with more light and the promise of yet more light to come.
I believed her. I did. But I tumbled the next day into more darkness. Each morning I would awake in darkness and return home in darkness. The days were filled with swirling moments of diffused light. My spirit trudged along, marking time. At least there was one day I had been looking forward to for months going to an afternoon movie, with kids.
Not my kids exactly. None I am related to. But children I have become attached to nonetheless. Children I have worked with a year or more in some cases. Bright children, slower children, children of two-parent homes and single-parent homes, children who have skipped grades, children with learning disabilities held back. Children who visit us for hours on end at the MegaGenius Supply Store and IQHQ.
Sometimes, in some places, my private and public worlds collide and become enmeshed. The free one-on-one literacy tutoring center is such a place. It feeds me to be surrounded by books most afternoons, sharing stories, listening to kids make up stories, reading stories to them and with them. It was out of one such book adventure that the movie afternoon came about.
A few years ago, a book group I belong to, in a virtual way, sent me the newly Caldecott-awarded book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." Which I thought odd, since this book group is generally about nonfiction from wonky thinky folks. But this was too rich not to share, the curator thought. So I sat right down and started what appeared to be a daunting 550-page tome.
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But Caldecott winners win because they are picture books. There were 300 pages of magical drawings, telling a story like a movie would, frame by frame. Which was precisely what the author, Brian Selznick, a distant relative of film great David O. Selznick, had in mind. The story, set in Paris in the 1930s, has orphans and a train station and secret passages and silent films and a mystery and sadness and darkness. Until the very, very end, when you reach the light.
One of our staff members, who understands the power of both books and movies, suggested (when we learned it had been made into a Scorsese film) that we have kids read the book and then take them to the movie as a reward.
And so we did, yesterday. These are kids who all have cell phones. Who snowboard and wear headphones. Who move @ the speed of technology. We opted for the 3-D version. Some staff, volunteers and a parent came to wrangle. Which turned out to be unnecessary.
From the very opening frames, which they recognized from the pages of the book, we were, to a human, engaged. We cared about the characters so we cared about the story. Just like the book. And what a gift this lush film is. Reviewers have called it Scorsese’s best, ever. Johnny Depp is listed as a producer. (Though I can find no listing of him, I’m fairly certain he has a cameo as a background band member with a thin mustache in the train station.) Ben Kingsley is perfect as the toymaker, and Sacha Baron Cohen (thank everyone) underplays his role as the station gendarme. Jude Law appears briefly as Hugo’s father. The 3D actually helps advance the story and puts you right into the action but not in a creepy touch-your-face sort of way.
There’s a moment when Hugo, the boy of maybe 12, says: "I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come in the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason."
I looked around in the darkened, mostly empty theatre at the kids with their goofy 3D glasses on and they were actually on the edge of their seats. So was our 40-something single-guy volunteer, and the 60-year-old staff member, and the pair of 30-somethings. In that moment, I felt our Island of Misfit toys belonged to each other.
The next few weeks can be booby-trapped with expectations too great to be met. Try not to set yourself up. Remember the light is almost here. And when in doubt, read a book, find a child, go to a movie. Turns out we all want and need to slow down, to let life and stories unfold. Which can happen any day, like Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.