Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sissi and Gigi and Roy and Me.

When I was 12, amongst many cinemas in Cork, Ireland, where I grew up, there was the small Lee Cinema. The Lee showed mainly foreign films. With subtitles. But often there were peculiar little festivals like the Roy Rogers Festival where for a whole week they showed Roger and Dale beaming from atop their horses, all large cowboy smiles with gorgeous American orthodontistry on display, said smiles sporadically removed by the wicked Indians attacking them. But always victoriously restored when Indians were quickly dispatched. I loved Roy. Resented Dale. Why wasn’t I born over there and maybe I could capture Roy’s heart? And then maybe he’d let me borrow Trigger occasionally?

But above all, I loved the foreign films. I loved the sound of Italian, French, German and Spanish that poured from the screen (so much so that I took 5 languages in high school). The sheer exotica of the films themselves were much sliced and diced by the censors if not outright banned from our pristine emerald shores. Every film shown was suitable for all ages - a 12 year old could watch alongside a 95 year old as no minds, no matter what the age, could be polluted with sex. Violence -yes, of course - but never the naughty bits and their nefarious displays and placements. Sex hurts more than guns was the message.

I never knew what Gigi was all about until I saw it uncensored over here in Canada. Many movie plots made no sense whatsover, being heavily scissored and chopped to maintain the remarkable purity and childlike innocence of the natives.

What remained was the angst, the locations, the costumes, the drama, the music, the foreign languages tripping so unerringly off the pouty lips of alluring, exotic actresses. Pouty lips were banned in Ireland in those days.

The very best of foreign films, in my child-view, were the “Sissi” series, made in Austria in German.

I just couldn’t get enough of them. They introduced the exquisite Romy Schneider to the world and the story of the real Sissi was heavily romanticized. But there could not be enough of that for a 12 year old! I lapped them up, time and again.

And I also read the many biographies written about her, an independent woman, born long before her time and brutally and randomly assassinated at the age of 60 in 1894.

Over the years I’ve tried to get copies of these films in the original format and thought I had succeeded a few times, only to return them. One series was dubbed into awful English. Another was dubbed into French with English subtitles. I returned that. I wanted the original German with the English subtitles. I never gave up. My tenacity has finally paid off. On its way to me now, as I write, is the original series, in German, with English subtitles.

I can hardly wait. But part of me knows I can never go home again, I can never recapture the feelings of a 12 year old watching those films. So maybe I should just leave these past experiences alone?

Do you have any tales about attempting to recapture a memory from childhood?


  1. Although we had a cinema quite close to home we seldom went there. The place we went was 'The Blind'! Sounds funny, but a local residential school for the blind (as it was known then) ran a picture show on a Sunday afternoon for the princely sum of 4d.

    None of the films remained with me, only the heckling when one roll finished and the next one proved to be backwards. Oh, the innocent fun!

  2. i think movies you loved at 12 you might not love now. but who knows? i still love a lot of books that i loved back then.

    when i was very very small--3 years old or so--if you were to ask me my name, i would tell you "dinah shore." and if you asked again, saying, "i know you're not dinah shore, who are you really?" i would look you in the eye and say, "Dale Evans."

  3. I don't have a specific memory or attempt to recapture it, similar to that your describe, WWW.

    I loved to "go to the pictures", as we called a visit to the cinema.
    In those days the programmes were continuous, so one could go in at any time and stay for any length of time up to the end of screenings.

    I often stayed to watch the film twice. Sometimes I'd go in part-way through the main feature, and would then know the ending before the beginning - which gave a time travel feel to the whole thing.

    I wasn't a great fan of Roy Rogers or Dale (or Gabby Hayes). My favourites were the 1950s musicals,
    and especially Gordon MacRae and Gene Nelson.

    Another memory -the female stars in those days had such tiny tiny waists - I so envied them!

  4. I have fond memories of going to open air cinema on the island of Buyukada during summer vacations, which is off the cost of Istanbul, Turkey when I was a little girl.

    The quality was utterly horrible and everyone was chatting away during the movie, but I had tons of fun with my friends. We didn't go for the movie itself but for the fun of being there....

    If you watched the movie Cinema Paradiso? (Italian movie) You will know what I am talking about. It was sort of like that!

    What a fun post WWW. :)

  5. Childhood memories have a special magic it's almost impossible to recreate once you're older. I've revisited childhood haunts and experiences but it's never the same. I think only brand-new experiences can excite in the same way.

  6. We mostly went to the Drive-in for our movies. Treking to the snack bar was an adventure in it's self. I was a Big fan of Roy, Dale not so much. Roy came to the ranch to hunt pheasant numerious times. When my Dad brought him to the house to meet his biggest fan, I hid. It was too much, too close, for a little cowgirl.


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