Choosing to Hit Record
You know that feeling where something special is happening in the present moment, and you’re right there in it, but just for a moment you step out of yourself long enough to become acutely aware that you’re forming an indelible memory?
Seriously, I’m asking: do you know that feeling? Is that something that happens to everybody?
Last weekend in Florida, I had several of those moments. And on top of those sure-to-be-permanent memories, countless other fleeting moments were weird and wonderful in a way that it’s easier to appreciate in retrospect. If you’ve been following along here, you’ll know that I wrote a movie (adapted from my own stageplay) called THE MIRROR GAME. The director of the film, my good friend Will, is from St. Petersburg, Florida, and last week we had the opportunity to see our movie in the Sunscreen Film Festival there. We stayed with his family, who still live there. My dad joined us as well, which was an added treat. But while he’d seen the film in its big-screen debut in Dubuque, Iowa the week before, Sunscreen marked the first chance either Will or I got to see the movie in a theater1.
All week since, people have asked me, “How did the screening go? What was it like?” And each time I’m asked, I pause for a beat before replying that it was “great” or “wonderful” or “so much fun” or whatever I go on to say. The pause isn’t because those answers aren’t the truth. It’s just the moment when I’m weighing whether or not it’s worth going into the whole truth. Which is that the most thrilling part of the weekend came well before our actual screening.
Will and I had just taped a segment for the local ABC morning show (an experience bizarre and thrilling in its own right, to be sure, but not the one I’m building to). Afterward, we’d driven back across the Howard Frankland Bridge and made it to the Sundial AMC just on time. Our film would be screening there on Saturday night, and as an anxiety-reduction measure, we’d made a special arrangement to check that the picture and sound for the film seemed right.
I’d seen the thing countless times before that moment. But from that unreclined leather seat, dead-center in Theater 3, I think I understood for the first time that we had made was actually a movie. A real, entire movie. At some point during the five minutes we watched, and not for the first time that day, I stepped out of my body. I saw my hand on my own cheek in a post of abject astonishment, and I felt the memory forming even as the moment slipped past.
We both thanked the theater coordinator and left, heading to our respective restrooms. When I emerged, for a moment I was alone in a quiet theater hallway. But it wasn't quiet. The projectionist hadn’t stopped our movie yet. I crept toward the theater doors, soaking in the feeling. How many times had I heard the roar of a movie overflowing into the passageways of a cineplex? But this time, the words I was hearing were ones I’d written myself.
By the evening of our screening, I’d had time to adjust to the idea — real movie, real movie theater, check. On top of that, it had been an eventful day, and the presence of an audience in the theater made it hard to focus on the the film itself, rather than obsess over their reaction to it. I remember that Will and I didn’t look at each other once during the whole 87 minute runtime, but as soon as a particular central scene of the film had passed, we both reached for a sip of water at the same moment, as if it had been choreographed. I remember we answered audience questions blithely afterwards, as if all of this had been no big deal.
For some reason, though, no moment of that night felt as real as those seconds when I was hovering in the hallways, hearing the soundtrack spill out through the cracks between the theater doors.
On our plane back to LA, I opted to watch a movie.2 I settled on Mike Mills’ 2021 film C’mon C’mon , which ended up being appropriately themed to the quiet, character-driven indie movie vibe that had characterized the trip. I hadn’t known, when I hit play, that the movie’s main character, Johnny (played by Joaquin Phoenix), was a podcaster. In the movie, he’s often carrying portable recording equipment with him, or letting his young nephew wear it (along with a big pair of headphones) to pick up the sounds of the city.
At one point early in the film, Johnny tells his nephew why he relishes making recordings of the noises he hears. The rumbling of a passing elevated train, or the sounds of skateboard wheels grinding against cement ramps; just by choosing to hit record, you’ve given them weight and meaning they didn’t have before. You’ve saved them for posterity, and in so doing, imbued them with implicit meaning.
I can’t constantly hit record on every moment of this life and save it to give it meaning. I have to pick and choose what moments from a momentous weekend to revisit and retell. Even in this space, it’s hard to choose what stories are worth sharing.
I think I’d like to remember that after picking up my dad from the airport, we arrived back at the house the very moment our interview aired on Morning Blend. We watched it standing up in the living room, both our parents recording the widescreen TV on their phones, held vertically in their hands.
I’d like to remember that my best friend had sent advance flowers to the house where I’d be staying, even though I don’t remember telling her where that would be, and she couldn’t have gotten the address from me because I didn’t know it.
I’d even like to remember how we were walking down the newly remodeled pier and I suddenly had the sensation that I was inside a 3D rendering — the kind architecture firms put up when construction is going on so you have something to look forward to.
Because the written word has magical properties for posterity (much like audio recordings) I can see how I’m manipulating things here. If I don’t write down the stress and the humidity and the mask anxiety and the unglamorous hours I spent working remotely in an air conditioned garage, and instead choose to tell you about an amazing grouper sandwich and a frog that jumped onto Will’s head at a local brewery, those less delightful things can fade away, and the fun stuff becomes a matter of record. It’s given special significance just because I took the time to write it down.
I think I’m ok with that. What’s more, if the truthful answer to “how was the screening?” is “it was not the part I’ll hold onto,” so be it. Even without this written record, I have my cinema hallway. I have my hand on my cheek in the empty theater. It was a wonderful trip.
The first several festivals the film played, including its premiere at Cinequest, which I wrote about quite a bit, have all been virtual-only so far, a holdover of cautions surrounding the Coronavirus and its many unpredictable variants.
I don’t often fly Delta, but I have to commend their vast and diverse collection of movie options. New, old, short, long, serious, funny, smart, dumb — they had it all.