Some people obsess about sports; they can name the starting pitcher for the Yankees in every game since 1945, or list the scoring history of the Dallas Cowboys. Others obsess about literature; perhaps they can recite all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets or describe the personalities and motivations in each of Herman Melville’s characters. Then there are car people (like my husband), who can name the make, model, year, and engine type of any vehicle he sees, and who knows what sort of car each of his coworkers, friends, and acquaintances drives.
Personally, I’m all about movies.
(But before I get to the movies, a sidestep about music. We always called my dad the Gene Miller Automatic Song Machine, because whenever anyone said something that reminded him of a song — which happened very frequently — he would begin singing said song. When I was growing up, I thought it was silly or funny or annoying, depending on my mood. Then I became an adult, and some time around the age of 30 I began singing when people’s words touched off a memory. Now I do it all the time, and my children think that it’s either silly or funny or annoying, depending. I assure them that in 20 years, their turn will come. My mom loves it.)
Anyway, back to film. I love movies. Not all movies, by any means: some comedies (especially British ones), most action films, some romances, no horror movies, absolutely no weepy endings. If I like a movie particuly well (or, actually, even if I don’t), then the characters’ faces and voices stick in my head, often accompanied by large swatches of dialog. These bits and pieces also occur to me during conversation, much like the songs I tend to sing at odd moments, and much, I suppose, like sports analogies or literary analogies spring to mind for people with those interests.
Thankfully, I’ve passed this hereditary movie memory to my daughter. During dinner, the same quote from Noises Off or The Addams Family may occur to both of us at once, and with the passage of a single snip of dialog, we’ll both begin to laugh. (We both know these two movies almost by heart.) If something happens or someone says something that sets off a movie memory for one of us, but we can’t place it, then the other one is almost always able to fill in the blank. Strange but true: Relating moments from life to moments from favorite films is part of our everyday fabric of life.
Occasionally, I’ll see an actor or actress in a movie and know I’ve seen them somewhere else … but where? As I try to remember, my mind’s eye tends to focus on the appearance of their face as they speak, and the sound of their voice, and match that exact shape and sound with another memory from another film. This need to figure out where I’ve seen the person can get a little ridiculous; the face gets stuck in my head until I figure out the connection. Fortunately, my mental database has worked well for me in the past.
For example, after watching the movie Constantine, it took about 15 minutes of memory work for me to place Peter Stormare, who played Satan, as the icky doctor who replaces Tom Cruise’s eyes in Minority Report.
But last night I got stuck, and had to resort to using imdb.com. We watched Strictly Ballroom — a marvelous, offbeat, funny, moving Australian independent film. One of the actresses got stuck in my head. I knew her face; in particular, I recalled a specific sarcastic, doubting expression she formed with her eyes and mouth. Normally, as I said earlier, if I focus long enough on the expression and the sound of the voice, I’ll get it. Not this time. I gave in, did my online search, and discovered that the same acress played cousin Nikki in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. No wonder I couldn’t place her! She went from a blond with an Australian accent in 1992 to a black-haired Greek Chicagoan with a midwest accent in 2002. (OK, it’s no excuse for the breakdown of my internal memory system, but she was very different.) My need-to-know was satisfied, and I could relax and move on to something else.
What’s that? I’m sounding pretty retentive? Maybe so, but I’m busy singing “Shall We Dance?” and can’t worry about it right now.