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Confessions of an Anastasia Junky

I have a confession to make. Over the past few months I have seen the movie, Anastasia, perhaps twenty times, perhaps more. As a sin it is no great thing. Still, it is an odd thing to have done and doing odd things is always a sin.

Some people think it strange that one might wish to see a movie or read a book more than once. I find this attitude passing strange. Few people abstain from sex after performing it once. No one thinks you odd for having rutabagas again and again if rutabagas are your favorite dish. (They will think you odd for liking rutabagas but that is another matter.) Some might say that an unread book is terra incognita – once read there is no mystery left. On that reasoning there would be no reason to sleep with someone more than once. (That there are people who, having slept with them once, one does not want to sleep with them ever again is not to the point.)

Repeat movie viewing is not beyond the pale. Weeping female adolescents watch that great ship go down time and again. Clark Gable keeps not giving a damn. The Sound of Money keeps strumming heart strings. The Rocky Horror Picture Show yields in venerability only to The Mousetrap. (One wonders if there is an Englishman now alive who has actually seen The Mousetrap.) There must be a register of movies which one is allowed to see over and over again. I doubt that Anastasia is on the register.

Nor is it a suitable movie for intellectuals. I doubt that it is even permissible for an intellectual to admit to enjoying it. That’s all right. I don’t admit to being an intellectual. Indeed I have been reliably informed that I am a pseudo-intellectual.

Perhaps you do not know the difference between an intellectual and a pseudo-intellectual. The difference is this: an intellectual goes to Harvard; a pseudo-intellectual does not. How do I know this? I will tell you. Quite some time ago I was intent upon exploring a relationship with a young woman of my acquaintance. She informed me that I was a pseudo-intellectual. I was a bit taken aback by this. I didn’t ask her to explain but I did relate this accusation to a mutual friend who, upon inquiry, determined that attendance at Harvard was indeed the criterion.

The object of my unrequited lust was quite determined in her ambition to snare a Harvard man. At one point she was sleeping with two roommates, both of them Harvard men, at the same time. (Well, not exactly at the same time, at least not that I heard of.) In the end she married one of them. She deserved it. She was intelligent and deliciously stacked; she was entitled to wed a true intellectual.

You may wonder how it is that I became an Anastasia junkie. I will tell you. Bear with me. I appreciate that this is pointlessly tedious but it is confession. Think of the good you are doing my soul. Think of how much you care. Scratch that – there are some topics that it behooves me not to raise. Concentrate on the good you are doing my soul. As a saving grace, you need not pretend that you think highly of the movie. It were mannerly, though, if you did not conspicuously laugh.

Long ago I was a social movie goer attending sundry movies with friends or an amiable female. I went to the sort of movies that pseudo-intellectuals watch, Bergman, Kurosawa, Woody Allen, arty Italian movies, that sort of thing. Then I became enmired in Entrepeneurship, in the inordinately time consuming business of bringing a company into being. There were years in which I saw no movies at all.

Then it chanced I went to see Aladdin. This struck my fancy and I went to see it again, several times until it stop showing at the local theater. The same thing occurred with Jurassic Park – once was not enough. I started going to movies again, seeing as many as two or three a year. I even purchased a VCR and watched some movies on the telly. I won’t mention my favorites – it is quite enough to confess a sin or two – there is no need to do it wholesale.

When Anastasia came out I went to see it at a nearby hyper super cinema complex. It chanced that I missed the beginning of the film so I went a second time. I was hooked. I understood how this went, or so I thought. There would be many showings while the crowds were good. When they thinned it would be taken out of prime viewing hours and pushed into odd corners of the schedule. Eventually it would disappear. And so it happened. I saw it a few times. It disappeared from the hyper super cinema complex. I was done with Anastasia.

Not long after I was sitting one morning in my favorite diner, having my coffee and reading the paper. By chance I glanced at the movie notices and saw that Anastasia was playing at a theater in Arlington. “Goodness,” I thought to myself, “Anastasia lives. I shall have to go see it again.” And so I did.

This theater was not a hyper super cinema complex. It was, er, a cinema palace of an older era. They were, however, playing Anastasia, mostly at off-peak hours when there were few movie goers. Once I was the only person watching it. That is an exquisite experience. One hears the beat of a different drummer playing quite loudly against the score.

In due course Anastasia disappeared from Arlington.

Quite some years They Who Plan built a ring highway, route 128, around the Boston metropolitan area. At the time the towns bordering route 128 had low populations and minimal industry; route 128 provided a high speed, high capacity road from nowhere through nowhere to nowhere. It was scoffed at as a boondoggle. In due course the skeptics were proved wrong. New companies, many of them high-tech, sited themselves along route 128. In turn, people moved into the towns adjacent to the highway. Route 128 was denominated “The Miracle Highway”; it became a model for beltways elsewhere.

Encouraged by their success, They Who Plan constructed still another ring highway, route 495, still further out, confident that the economic miracle would be replayed. Much the same sequence of events occurred; first a period in which the road was little used and then a steady siting of new businesses.

Route 495 passes through a suite of towns which exist by virtue of the necessity of not having blank areas on the map. Before the advent of the highway most of these towns were economically marginal. They were too inconveniently located to be exurbs and had little industry (the day of mill towns being long gone). They serviced a semi-rural, low income area. With the coming of route 495 there came exurbanites, strip malls, taco bells, and other horrors too numerous to mention.

The town of Franklin is such a town. It is a curious mixture of old and new, commonplace in the area. There are red brick stores and buildings left over from the last century and a new wave of fast food joints and a mall. It is not the sort of place I would ever think of visiting unless I knew someone who lived there. Indeed I was not even aware of the existence of the town of Franklin until quite recently.

Why the town of Franklin? Franklin is the home of the Zeotrope cinema. The Zeotrope is not one of your major cinema complexes with a parking lot handling thousands of cars, lots of plastic pizzaz and bank upon bank of movies. Scarcely. It is, so to speak, the end of the line.

The Zeotrope is housed in a building with irregular floors (one gets used to sitting in seats that are an indecorous distance from the horizontal – I am reminded of those houses of mystery in which, due to tricks of perspective, balls appear to roll up hill.) The building that houses the Zeotrope was probably built in this century but not after 1950. The building houses various other commercial establishments – a martial arts studio, a Chinese restaurant, and a small shop vending premier hot dogs.

All shows are three dollars.

It is an economical sort of place; I have become rather fond of it.

And what does the Zeotrope have to say to anything? Very simply, long after all other theaters in the Boston area had long ceased showing Anastasia they continue to run it in their Saturday and Sunday matinees. I keep expecting that surely the end will come but it does not. Even with the release of the video it keeps showing.

It keeps drawing an audience. It doesn’t pack the theatre but it draws a steady crowd of parents and small children – and me. I suppose I should be embarrassed by this but I am not.

It is part of the psychobabble of the age that one is supposed to be in touch with one’s inner child, in a state of spiritual auto-pederasty, so to speak. That being the case I can virtuously explain everything by claiming to be in touch with my inner child. Alas, it’s all a shuck.

Being in touch with your inner child does not fare well under the acid of social convention. There are degrees of this sort of thing. We speak of people being in their second childhood and being childish. In the former case we really mean the youth-challenged pretending to be adolescents and in the latter case having character flaws that adults should have left behind in childhood. The idea that adults might actually enjoy and be rapt in pleasures reserved to children is, well, strange.

I certainly wouldn’t want to be considered strange.

In truth the matter is more complicated than that. An adult can have a mind that is open to some of the simple pleasures of childhood and yet an adult is, none-the-less, an adult and a child is a child. The adult has baggage.

My readers, if I have any left at this point, may be wondering why on Earth … I have my reasons. One of them though is the tantalizing thought, each time that I go see it, that this is the last time I will ever see it on the big screen. If I don’t go there is the apprehension that I could have seen its last showing and blew it.

The big screen matters. As of this writing the video is out and I have it. The telly is good and all that but it doesn’t have the visual dominance that the big screen has.

As to its merits in my eyes the principal ones are the animation and the music. Animation with cels has its charm but the new computer animation permits a wealth of depth and detail. More than that, the animated film is a natural medium for musicals. Indeed, it is virtually the only one left. Ballet and opera we have, yes, and the occasional stage production but who does musicals in the movies anymore.

With respect to musicals animated film has an advantage over live actors – there is an element of fantasy when people drop what they are doing and burst into song. This is often jarring in productions with live acting; however fantasy is natural in animation. Thus, the ghostly ballroom scene.

I suppose one should say something about misrepresentations of history in Anastasia. The major complaint made is that the film simply glosses over the revolution. Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Kerensky simply vanish. World War I and the terrible slaughter of Russians is ignored. The plaint is that children are exposed to a rendition of history in which Soviet communism is merely a footnote to a curse by an evil Rasputin seeking revenge. (Although speaking of it as a Communist revolution does its own violence to history – the Bolsheviks stole the revolution.)

The prolog takes liberties with the history that it does record. Rasputin died in 1916 (oddly enough, drowned under the ice, although he was first poisoned and then shot – a very hard man to kill) all right but the monarchy did not fall until 1917. Likewise the real Anastasia story is considerably different from that in the movie.

“… We thought he was a holy man but he was a fraud, dangerous and power mad.”

The thesis (Rasputin caused the revolution) has an odd element of truth in it. Consider the matter from the viewpoint of the Dowager Empress and the aristocracy generally. In the decades preceding the revolution there was, among the aristocracy, an obsession with the occult and a sense of living on the edge of impending doom. Despite the events of 1905 et al there was no perspective on the contrast between “an enchanted world” and “the spark of unhappiness”. The aristocracy understood that Rasputin (whose influence spanned the final years) was an evil occult influence – that was, after all, why he was killed. The Czar was faced with a multitude of crises; he failed utterly in meeting them. Perhaps no effort would have sufficed; however far from making his best effort he and the government made their worst; Rasputin was symptomatic of that worst.

That Rasputin enabled the revolution ignores history; that the disposessed believed that he did is plausible.

In one sense the complaints about historical inaccuracy are beside the point; the movie is and was intended to be a modern fairy tale. Many fairy tales, myths, and children’s songs are rooted in distorted versions of real events. But are the modern cinematic “fairy tales” legitimate offspring of the traditional fairy tale? Is it legitimate to construct new “fairy tales”? How in the Hell would I know?

Still, Anastasia violates the Disney format in a fundamental way – it is not blatantly set in the fairy tale universe. It has too much historical immediacy. The critics do not approve of this.

Likewise the characters are more “adult” than those in the traditional Disney offering. This is good. I don’t feel the need for a thorough going villain in the Disney tradition. However the elemental bad guy is a staple of animated films and may be a commercial necessity. The presumption is, after all, that such movies are made for children and that children expect sharply drawn good guys and bad guys. Me, I suspect that children don’t. But, then, what the Hell do I know?

One final thought about historical immediacy. Implicit in the film is the attitude that being a princess is a wonderful thing. This is a popular thought – witness Dianamania. Still these “fine titles and glittering jewels” were paid for with a horrendous price in human misery. The princes and princesses in fairy tales are sufficiently far removed from reality that no one is there to pay a price. Not so with the Romanov’s.

As a final comment there is an odd thing about seeing a movie (or reading a book) many times. It gets shorter. They say that no matter how long you watch an eclipse it only seems to last a short time – the mind stops recording time when it repeats something over and over again. So it it, it seems, with re-watching movies.

There. That’s done. May God have mercy on your souls.

This page was last updated May 13, 1998.