Author Topic: Film as Memoir  (Read 221 times)


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Film as Memoir
« on: August 08, 2018, 11:49:36 PM »
In thinking about a marathon for the next few months, I’ve been thinking about  what I’m actually interested in doing.  I know I want to write, if I can, but I have too many things to write about.   In this period of transition, some want me to write about some events in my life, although that sounds too weird.  It’s one thing to see a doc about someone who lived a life that most people didn’t, but it’s another to write about it from one’s one perspective.  It is too easy to sound uncomfortable or boastful or degrading one’s work. 

One think I am fascinated about is how movies and songs influenced the direction of my life and the actions I took.  So instead of just writing about movies, or just writing about my life, I’m going to have very personal takes on films.  Few of these reflections will sound like reviews.  I might have review elements in these essays about  these films, but mostly I’m going to use the films to reflect on different events  or themes that I’ve experienced. 

There will also be songs that I might write pieces about, but I won’t post them here because they aren’t film oriented.  I’ll post all the pieces together on a blog, so if anyone wants to read the song pieces, they can catch them there.

One last thing: I have lived a very Christian life and so these memoirs will reflect that.  I hope to be reflective enough to be honest with myself so that I can stand apart from the Christian and to critique myself outside of that standpoint.  I don’t know if anyone can honestly evaluate their own life.  But I will try.  Here’s the list of films I plan to be working with, but not the order in which they will be presented:

Jesus Christ Superstar
Big Fish
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Lawrence of Arabia
The Island
The Mission
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Human Condition I
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Wendy and Lucy
Another Year
Short Term 12
The Gleaners and I
Red Beard
You Can’t Take It With You
Topsy Turvy
The Overnighters
Certified copy
After the Wedding
« Last Edit: August 09, 2018, 08:57:06 PM by oldkid »
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Re: Film as Menoir
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2018, 03:49:23 AM »
This sounds great, I will definitely be following.

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Re: Film as Menoir
« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2018, 05:49:05 AM »
In this period of transition, some want me to write about some events in my life, although that sounds too weird.  It’s one thing to see a doc about someone who lived a life that most people didn’t, but it’s another to write about it from one’s one perspective. 

I would have to say from what I have glean on the forum, yours is a life lived that most people haven't.

It is too easy to sound uncomfortable or boastful or degrading one’s work. 

Too true.

I am looking forward to following along.


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Re: Film as Menoir
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2018, 07:02:55 AM »
I freaking love this idea. Excited to follow along.
Check out my blog of many topics

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Re: Film as Memoir
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2018, 08:46:20 PM »
Overture: Jesus Christ Superstar

As a child, I ran up steps to porches.  Doors fascinated me.   What made me nervous: what was behind them.  On the other side of the door was people and they scared me.  They could yell at me for entering at the wrong time or the wrong way.  They could make demands of me I was unprepared to enact.  I didn’t know how to deal with these confident, insistent human beings.

So I avoided going through doors.  I hesitated knocking on them, approaching them.  But steps were amazing.  Each pathway toward doors was the face of a house.  Some stairways were full of life, plants hanging and almost blocking the walk.  Some were painted colorfully.  Some expressed a patriotic theme.  To walk up a stairway and remain on a porch gave a taste of a person, a sense of them, without having to meet them, to pursue the intricate, complex science of small talk.  No, I just want to run up, touch the porch, and run down.  That is as close to the interior of houses I want.  More than that, and I am trapped.


I was eight years old and my parents were at the house next door at a party.  As usual, my mom would whip up some TV dinners, every course tasting of tin, and we would watch TV, calmly, as long as we could.  Strangely, this night my mother returned early, all dolled up in a thin dress and her best make-up and called me to come with her.  I was led by the hand into the neighbors house, through the drinking neighbors who all seemed strange without their children to order about, into a small back room that only contained a folding chair and a stereo set up with vinyl upon the player.  “Here, listen to this.”  She sat me down and placed an enormous, puffy pair of headphones on my head, and adjusted them when they failed to remain.  Then she set the needle onto the record. 

I know now that what I heard was a single thin, distorted guitar, giving over to an organ.  Chills fell through my body, and I wondered if she had arranged for me to listen to a horror soundtrack.  The music was disjointed, a conglomeration of various pieces that didn’t fit and I couldn’t predict what was going to happen.  I wanted to push the headphones off my head and run out of the room.  But I knew what would happen then:  The adults would see me run and mock my fear.  So I remained, despite the depth of my discomfort as the overture continued, ending in a spooky choir.

Suddenly, the strangeness fell away and the single guitar returned.  It seemed richer, fuller.  And a man began singing, “My mind is clearer now…”   His voice was powerful, filled with rage, shouting the word, “Jesus!”  The horns pounded inside my skull, and while the rhythm drew me, the fury was attacking me, as if he were going to enter the only exit, blocking my release from his horrible presence.
With a jarring suddenness, Judas’ voice and the music softened and he became pleading, desperate, recognizing that he wasn’t in control.  He was as scared as I was. This allowed me to appreciate him, as he cries out, “Don’t you see that I just Want. Us. To. Live.”  Who is he speaking to, some leader named “Jesus”?  What is Jesus’ problem?  Why doesn’t Jesus listen to the sage advice of this desperate, reasonable man?

Certainly I had heard the name, “Jesus”.  You can’t live in Orange County, California, without noticing crosses or steeples and the name floats above the atmosphere, but for a grade school kid who didn’t go to church (perhaps one Easter Sunday I was forced to wear an uncomfortable button up shirt and tie), Jesus didn’t have any solid flesh.  A poltergeist that created stained glass.

But he meant a lot to this poor man, shouting in my ears.  And to the buffoons chanting “what’s the buzz?”  And the woman lulling, “Everything’s alright, everything’s fine.”  And to the strange bass voice and countertenor who were having an odd argument with a rock beat.  It was all so odd, compared to the soft 70’s rock I was used to listening to.  So much more dramatic, as if more were at stake.  That life was serious and required serious action. 

After the first side of the first album ended with the group of bad guys fading on “This Jesus must die,” I pulled the headphones off my head and escaped with my mind full of opera.


Was it three years?  Seems like forty.

I wake up just like every morning, remaining in bed for a few minutes.  I run through the work of the day:

Walk my daughter to school.
Warm up the soup.
Drive to St. Johns.
Set up the chairs and clothes.
Serve the meal.
Tell Beverly that she has to share the clothes, she can’t take them all, besides she must have five closetfuls of clothes from what she’s taken before.
Preach a sermon no one wants to hear.
Find out that Alexandra’s frostbite is worse they’ll have to amputate her foot at least she’ll get housing now.
Drive to Gresham.
Start making soup.
Set out prepared food.
Open the door.
Calm Mark down because he’s drunk again and he always gets angry when he’s drunk and will blame people for things they never did so he’ll have to be escorted off the property.
Give out a couple sleeping bags.
Get a report from the co-pastor.
A call from the neighbor.  Another death threat.
Open the mail.  The city is threatening us with another zoning complaint so I need to send them an email
O God can’t I just die today a stroke would be so easy and then its done and I won’t ever have to get out of bed again.
Serve the soup.
Check to see if Judy is available to wash the dishes.
Close the door.
Wash the dishes.


It was more than ten years after first listening to the album that I saw the film, directed by Norman Jewison.  I had no idea that it was the same director as Fiddler on the Roof, a masterful musical with every song perfectly re-created on screen.  All I knew is that I could do a much better job on bringing Jesus Christ Superstar to screen than what I saw.

In ten years of pouring over this original album with Ian Gillian (from Deep Purple) as Jesus and Murry Head as Judas, conceived by Andrew Lloyd Wright and Tim Rice as a concert performed on an empty stage, I knew every precise note, every word.  The double album came with a tall, narrow book containing the libretto, which I read so many times that I could feel the texture on the brown cover on my fingers today.

I’m content with the spare setting in the film and the odd hippie-influenced clothes and dance moves.  But the Judas and Jesus of the film didn’t seem to know the tone or mood of the lines.  The mouth movements and audio don’t even match.  I appreciated the couple extra songs, including giving Peter twice as many lines as in the original cast recording.   As a young Christian, I didn’t have a problem with the story ending at the crucifixion, but the way the cast were all shaking their heads at the crucified Jesus, leaving him hanging, was horrible.  In general, I questioned the choice of giving this director the all-important task of bringing one of the most important rock operas to the screen.

Swift notes on JCS: The Film

White Jesus/Black Judas

Why do all the priests wear the High Priest’s breastplate?

Mary Magdalene as a prostitute is an old church tradition, not from the gospel story.  Rice, your roots are showing!

The hyper-percussive dance tries to imitate the hyper-dramatic music, but often misses the cue.

White Jesus receiving the sexualized worship of women and people of color.

Mary = Jesus’ MPDG

I LOVE the series of paintings after “Just watch me die.”

Re-watching the film for this essay, I think I understand what Jewison was attempting to achieve.  He wanted the feel of a live performance, as if we were sitting in a concert among the desert rocks.   He wanted us to have a fresh sense of experiencing Jesus for the first time.  But even more, he is telling us that in this world of the film, only Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene had a sense of the reality of the proceedings.  Everyone else is just a “puppet”, a performer.   But even I, who knows all the words and notes by heart, can’t predict what Judas or Jesus will say.  I have a fresh sense of Mary’s dismay and practicality.   Everyone else is locked into their positions, but you can’t control these three performers.

This is just what Judas says about God’s manipulation of him. “Why did you choose me for this Dark. Bloody. Crime?!”  It is interesting that this is one of the rare theological speculations in this opera.  God takes a back seat to the political struggle and Jesus’ manipulations.  Because it isn’t God who forces Judas into a position of betraying Jesus, but Jesus himself.

Throughout much of the film, Jesus is just receiving worship designed for divinity, blithely unconcerned for the future he is preparing for his apostles.   But this is just the surface that Judas sees and complains so much about.  Underneath, Jesus understands a basic principle: to get ahead in life, one must first die.  And he doesn’t mean this metaphorically.  He weaves his spell over the priests and disciples and even Herod and Pilate, forcing them all to the same conclusion: that he must be given a dramatic death.  This death is the foundation of spiritual leadership, the secret of being a leader, not just for decades, but millennia.

And yet, and yet.  Death is a severe undertaking.  In the film, Jesus suffers a bit from the whipping and crucifixion, but so much more severely from the thought of dying, from surrendering his all for the sake of a future he would never experience.  Death is frightening.  It is complete vulnerability.  Complete loss of control.  How would one’s reputation increase?  In whose hands are the stories being placed?  For what reason?  Who even would care to remember?  This is Jesus’ real struggle.  The potential pointlessness of his plan.

This is the musical that shaped my life.  Other entertainments I was exposed to earlier: Mary Poppins, the albums of Cat Stevens (made memorable by their placement on 8-track tapes).  But none did I listen to so persistently, so early.  Jesus was not so much an object of worship for me, even later as a young Christian.  Sure, I’ll sing the songs and go through the worship steps, but I realized early that Jesus never requested or really responded to worship, even as portrayed in the Jewison film.  He allowed it, but it wasn’t significant.

What was important is the secret, the understanding that “neither judas, nor the twelve, nor the priests, nor the scribes” understood was, “To conquer death, you only have to die.”   Jesus suggests, both in JCS and in the gospels that imitation is a sincerer faith than flattery.  That accomplishing great action without regard to one’s life is a better religion.  That seeking self-sacrifice is the path of the true hero. 

This is not the message of the film.  The final scene has the troupe packing up, most glancing at the dead Christ.  Some eyes say, “What a shame,” some just sorrow.  But Judas, the voice of the story, gazes and shakes his head as if to say, “Why was this necessary?  Why should this have happened?”

The album is different.  It ends with the screaming suffering of Jesus and the spaceship-soundtrack of the crucifixion.  The final, unspoken words of the last instrumental (“John Nineteen Forty-One”) is, “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.”  Yes, he’s dead.  But he achieved his goal.  He became a superstar.  A hero par-excellence. 

It is the album that became my life’s theme.  Every time my young hands placed a needle on the over-used vinyl, this message was reiterated: death is not to be feared.  Every time I heard the electronic copy of Ian Gillian sing, my brain was grooved with the idea: extreme cost is a benefit.  Every time I forcefully prayed the song, “Gethsemane” I shaped my mind to accept that suffering was the path to accomplishment.  “Break me, bleed me, beat me, kill me.” The concerns and paths of normal mortals was simply performance, the actions of comics and villains.  My life had to be higher.


25 > 3

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

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Re: Film as Memoir
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2018, 10:02:21 PM »
Woah! I didn't know you were going to be so dense. I'm going to have to read that a few more times. If this is setting the tone for this marathon, it's on a whole other level.


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Re: Film as Memoir
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2018, 10:18:48 PM »
They won't all be this dense, but some will.
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Re: Film as Memoir
« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2018, 09:16:04 AM »
Find out that Alexandra’s frostbite is worse they’ll have to amputate her foot at least she’ll get housing now.

Good old oldkid, always finding those silver linings.
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Re: Film as Memoir
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2018, 03:37:35 PM »
Leave No Trace

Frank and Ruth were a father and daughter who lived in one of the largest city parks in the United States: Forest Park, made up of 5200 forested land in Portland, Oregon.  A jogger from Australia happened to catch a glimpse of them from a trail and called the authorities.  They were separated, tested, given housing and mild threats if they didn’t stay in that housing.  Within two weeks, they disappeared, never to be heard from again.

If you’ve seen a trailer of Leave No Trace, you might think I’m describing the movie.  I’m not.  This is a real family story that was on the cover of the Oregonian newspaper for more than a week.   We wanted details of how they lived and how the child was educated.  We wanted them to be safe and sheltered and cared for.  As usual, what the well-meaning public desires isn’t what is actually needed.


The heart of Forest Park is right next to St. John’s bridge, which I am looking at right now through the window of a local burger joint.  I have taken my children down the trail where Frank and Ruth were found.  We have read the fantasy novels, Wildwood, based on the park by The Decemberist’s lead.  But this park has a life beyond the imaginations of those who walk through it.  Forest Park is home to possibly hundreds of homeless folks.  No one is really sure, because even the rangers are afraid to beat the bush and find out where everyone lives.  Some of the folks in the park have set booby traps to protect themselves from thieves and well-meaning authorities.  They are well-hidden, so they can have their privacy, but they trade this for proximity to city services, such as free meals, health care or cold-weather shelters.

Like Frank and Ruth, the houseless of Forest Park could catch a bus to get downtown and obtain some of these services.  If they have an income.  If they feel that they can endure the crowds and chaos they are trying to avoid.


My wife and I debated this last Friday whether we would watch Leave No Trace or the documentary on Mr. Rogers.  I said that Leave No Trace, of the two, is the one I’d most want to watch in the theatre because the cinematography is supposed to be delicious.  It was.  In the very first scene, my wife whispered to me, “I hate them.”  Because we are amateur photographers and we joke about how we “hate” anyone who can take better pictures than we.  And there, on screen, were some of the most beautiful depictions of the Oregon forest I’ve ever seen, in a forest where I thought we’d spent a lot of time in and captured images of.  Perhaps I can comfort her now by saying that they were actually filmed in Eagle Fern Park, where we haven’t been yet.

As the movie went on, I was shocked that the disappearance of the family was only about a third of the way through the film.  Perhaps they had tracked the family down and found out the rest of the story?  At the end of the film, I saw that it was based off of a novel, My Abandonment by Peter Rock, so the rest of the story, the characters were invented.  As many of us wondered about this father and daughter, their motivations, their ability to survive and what happened to them, so did Mr. Rock and he developed his imaginations into a full-length story.   How difficult.  I am satisfied with his development of their story, but I am dissatisfied that I cannot hear from the family themselves.  Their words, their voice of what it means to be homeless and why the father chose to educated his daughter on an encyclopedia and a Bible instead of sending her to school.  Were they forced to live outside, or were they forced to by economics or family relations?


On a borrowed MacIntosh, I wrote out an elaborate plan and gave it to my wife.  I would quit my job, she and the kids would go to live with her family for a time, until I could settle us into a pattern of caring for the homeless.  We can listen to the homeless for years, which we have, I mention in an early paragraph, but we cannot truly understand them unless we live as them for a period of time.  I am not interested in having my family live without shelter or food, but I need to do this myself, eat at shelters and get to know people on the street as a person on the street.   

Presenting this to her, I figured that she would say that I was crazy, toss the paper on the floor and start yelling at me.  I am crazy, in that I am a fanatic.  I always have been.  In my opinion, everything can be improved by a little extremism.  If we are to follow Jesus, and Jesus was poor and homeless, then that is our best option, as well.  If we are responsible for the education and upbringing of our children, then we need to take charge of it through homeschooling, and not just throw them into the school system where we don’t know what will happen to them. If a church is really a representation of God, they will be sacrificing for the needy in their community and I will hand out tracts in front of churches telling them so.   If we are going to have a ministry to the poor, we don’t begin by gather resources, asking for grants and setting up a building, we use what resources we have—church and food connections—and make them available for those who need them.  So now it is our time to be homeless, to be the people we want to work with.  It is a natural progression.

Strangely, Diane just thought for a moment and then said, “Okay, sure.”  The worried look I expected her to give me I now gave her.  I fully expected, I guess needed, some critiques, some questions, some statements of unbelief.  A necessary compromise.
“Really?”  I said, doubting the simplicity of her answer.

“We need to talk over a lot of the details, of course.  But what you are saying here makes sense and you have enough of a plan to take care of the kids and I so I think that it’s a good foundation for us to build on.  It is a reasonable step for us to take.”

Now I know she’s crazy.  More so than when she first agreed to marry me. Maybe she adapted too much of my fanaticism.


Ruth and Thom (her fictional counterpart) was taught from an encyclopedia and her father was smart enough to teach her the basics.  Will (Frank’s counterpart) had severe PTSD, causing him to continuously move when he is anxious.  But he took the upbringing of his daughter seriously.  He wanted her to become a smart, independent, fully capable woman.  The best way he knew for him to deal with his mental health issues and to raise his daughter responsibly was to live a life in the forest.  A generally comfortable life, but with hazards.

Many people think that the greatest dangers living on the street are the weather and the psychos.  These can be dangers.  My friend Robert this week was attacked in his sleep, with someone stabbing his tent over and over in the middle of the night.  But the real danger to Robert, and to almost all houseless folks are twofold: loss of survival property and those who think they know how to live your life better than we do.

To live on the street successfully, we limit what we have to what we can carry in order to survive.  We want sentimental trinkets or extra clothes, but we need to find someplace apart from our camp to store such items.  To lose a camp stove, a sleeping bag, the fly to our tent, is to endanger our very lives.  But there is no lock, no security to protect us.  We are completely exposed.

But the greatest danger are those who consider us to be criminals, mischief-makers, addicts, mentally ill (dangerously so) or simply disgusting.  That last label is pervasive in the United States.  Dr. Susan Fiske, sociologist, discovered that most Americans, when they see a homeless person, the emotion of “disgust” is lit up immediately.  “The majority of us see homeless people as giant piles of trash,” she says.

In Portland, the city receives 400 phone calls a week, complaining about the existence of houseless people in their neighborhood.  The city invites these calls, for they spend a million dollars a year “cleaning” after houseless people.  When they receive a phone call, they mark the camp on their map.  They send out authorities who post that the camp will be removed in no less than 24 hours, but no more than two weeks.  Then they send police to check on the people in the camp, to see if they have any warrants or have missed a meeting with their probation officer.  If they have, they are immediately arrested.  Then the city comes in a day or two and takes any possessions that are left: tents, sleeping bags, stoves, bikes.  All these survival possessions are taken to an unknown location in Portland to be stored no more than 30 days. The houseless person can only receive their possessions if they call the proper authority, phone number on the removal notice, and tell them the day and place of the removal. The organization asks for a return number, which many houseless people do not have.  It doesn’t matter, however, because we can call them three times, they will take your number and they won’t call us back.   And nothing can be done because they are following the legal process.

There is always the shelter system, the place where the city wants to hide the homeless.  The drama and bedbug level are high with everyone living in a dormitory, even families with children. It is good for those waiting to get into better housing.  But those who have been enclosed into a social misfit box, those who suffer from PTSD, those who cannot sleep without the wind on their face after years of sleeping outside—shelters are not an answer.   But the city will continue to prosecute those sleeping outside until they are granted one of the few beds in a shelter.

This is why Frank/Ruth/Will/Thom hide. Because they realize that, despite the advertising, this is not the land of the free.


Spending my nights outside, I realize that sleeping is not an option.   I lay there, waiting for a stranger to approach me, for the police to tell me to move off of public land, for the rain to start or to stop splashing my face.   I realize that sleep is a precious commodity on the street.  So many people become crazy or drug addled on the street because of a lack of sleep and because of the hatred by so many neighbors.  After a couple days on the street, I gather my couple possessions and walk back to where I have a room to stay in, about ten miles away.  On the way, I am thirsty and stop by a church for some water.  They also give me a meal.

My supporting church didn’t want me to stay on the street at all.  I chose to be there only a couple nights, but to eat my meals at free locations around town.  I am mostly left alone because I don’t belong to their black-market economy.  If I had been out there longer, I could have found more about the nocturnal lifestyle, the good places to camp and how to sleep for longer than thirty minutes. 
Instead, my family and I learned the other lesson about being homeless.

Diane was staying with her mother in Pennsylvania for four months with our two kids.  We would email each other every day.  She told me about how our son would not follow any boundaries that his grandmother found acceptable so she would find it necessary to discipline him roughly, which Diane found unacceptable.  Diane heard daily about how she is an inadequate mother, an inadequate provider, an inadequate woman.   Her resolve, her strength began to crack.  But it wasn’t long, just a few months, until we were together again.

Then we stayed with a Vietnamese family who we allowed to stay with us for four months when they first entered the United States.  We asked to stay in their house for four months, in return, as homeless.  They allowed us to stay in a spare room all winter, unheated next to the freezing garage.  We were safe, loaded down with many blankets.  And I was peppered with questions: Why did I homeschool my kids?  Why didn’t I just get a job?  Why didn’t I take better care of my family?  Why don’t I act better?  Because no explanation is good enough.  No matter how one is homeless: on the street, in a car, or in a friends’ home, you get treated as the one who must be trained, who must be improved.

After four months, we were committed to leaving, even without a place to go.  But on the day we packed up to leave, another friend of ours called and said that she’d help support us with the other funding we received to get an apartment.


In 2010, Tim and Sam with their newborn Paloma, who stayed in our house for about a year, saved enough money from Tim’s job to move to an apartment in St. Johns, across the bridge from Forest Park.  Having just gotten off the street, they are very sensitive to the group of fifty or so houseless folks who call St. Johns their neighborhood.  There are no services, no showers, no meals.  A few years ago, Exodus Church had a weekly ministry to the houseless, but the neighborhood gathered together to close that church down.

Sam asked me to help them start something for the folks there.  They started making sandwiches and handing them out at the park.  And I did what I do.

I attended a network of churches in the St. Johns area and asked about services for the houseless there.  Sam was correct, there was almost nothing there.  I arranged for a few volunteers to serve a larger meal in that park, hot soup and meals and clothes and referrals to other resources.  Eventually a church allowed us to meet in their building once a week and we served the homeless there.  This became a center for other services to meet with folks and get them into housing, if they wanted.  We also had a church service, but that was always separated from the meal.  Up to fifty people would show up for the meal and clothes.  About ten would stay for the church time.

Trevor and Gloria walked across the St. Johns bridge from their camp in Forest Park to share our meal.  They were quiet people, Trevor speaking with a low, rough voice.  They were survivors, but not much more than that.  They were private, and didn’t want to share their problems.  We didn’t press, but we listened.  And prayed.  And let them live their lives.
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Re: Film as Memoir
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2018, 12:03:39 AM »

I just found this. I can't imagine a more wonderful way to explore film. I'll be reading along!
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