I’ve seen “Fargo” a few times, but I couldn’t remember if the woman to whom I was talking had ended up in the wood chipper. You hate to ask. Was that your leg, or Steve Bucemi’s? Not a question you want to put to an attractive lass. She played the kidnapped wife in “Fargo,” and we were in Fargo – in a bar behind the Fargo theater, which has a statue of Marge from “Fargo” in the balcony lobby. But we’ll get to that.
We were at the Silver Moon Cafe, named after a famed supper club that pulled in the quality crowd in Moorhead until it went up in flames. The owners, keenly aware of the attractions of history, have a small collection of original items on display – menus, an ashtray, press notices. I’d driven past the place when I was last in Fargo, two weeks ago, and it had seemed uncommonly elegant. Now I’m in the backroom with my favorite bourbon, and the executive producer is telling a story about the dog-ghost she saw when she was stationed in Germany while in the Navy -
Perhaps I should step back and set the scene. Summer before last I wrote about being an extra in a movie. My daughter was an actual cast member, right down to a credit at the end. It’s really an exceptional film, and unlike so many independent productions that wither and expire, it lives and prospers: the DVD comes out this week, and the movie’s opening in many cities, including Chicago . . . And Fargo. When the director asked me to come up for the premier and introduce it, me being a Fargo lad, I said well hell yes. So Friday I gassed up the Element, tuned in the limited-run Monty Python Channel on XM, and headed up Highway Ten.
Again. (Mind you, I’m not setting out to make Serious Documentaries about Highway Ten. I’m pointing the camera out the window while looking straight ahead at the road. These were shot with the Kodak Zi8.)
The movie was showing at the Fargo, the renovated jewel of renovated downtown; the theater put us up at the Hotel Donaldson, a former flophouse remade into a boo-tique hotel.
I had a grand room, and more bed than I could possibly use. Possibly the most comfortable bed in which I’ve ever slept. It was somewhat daunting to note that I could purchase the bathrobe for $125; in my days in Fargo, that would have bought you two months’ stay in the selfsame hotel.
I wandered down to the bar, had a bison burger and coffee – $13, total – then edited some video before wandering down to the theater. Went a block north to get some twilight neon:
Then the Fargo.
A quick video tour:
The film was running in the smaller annex theater. The main theater was showing “Paranormal Activity,” and you could tell who was buying tickets for which movie. The older cineastes went to “Temptation,” and the pierced / goatee crowd went for “Paranomal.” There was some confusion – a young blonde collegian came out of the annex theater and announced she was in the wrong place, and couldn’t find her friend, even though she was here! She said this to me and the director, because we were middle-aged men in suits, and hence had the trappings of Authority Figures, I guess.
“How do you know she’s here?” I asked. She held up a Blackberry.
“She texted me so!”
“Did you look in the main theater?” She said she did. “How about the balcony?”
She looked at me as though I’d suggested she check the smargo-f’tang, or somesuch equally mysterious place.
“The stairs there go up to the balcony,” I said.
“Are they showing Paranormal Activity up there too?” she asked.
Good. Lord. “Yes! You can see the whole thing.”
She thanked us and headed up the stairs. God bless her: she came down a few minutes later to say she’d found her friend.
When I first got to the theater there were seven people in the room, and one was my father. The other was his wife. Two of them were investors. Ah. Cripes.
“Thanks for coming,” I said to Dad.
Doris gave him an elbow. “He wanted to watch football.”
“There were three games on tonight,” Dad said.
“Who was playing?”
“Well, Army versus Rutgers,” Dad said.
And he gave that up to see his son talk. I love that guy.
By showtime every seat was filled. Nod to the projectionist, nod to the usher, take a drink of water, take the stage. I told everyone I was not the director, but that I was in the movie, for one second, and it was my best work. Did six minutes of pre-show palaver – at one point I saw my Dad grinning, and it just made my night; he’s never seen me speak – and I introduced the movie, sat down. Dark. Roll it.
I know this movie, so there’s an early moment that kicks you hard in the diaphragm if you know what’s coming. But this is Fargo! Stifle! As the movie rolled on I had that uncomfortable feeling you get when you watch a movie with your folks and there’s, y’know, sex stuff and bad language. There’s not a nude moment in the movie, and the way it implies and suggests without showing is quite remarkable; think 70s film vocabulary used to communicate 50s concepts – and I couldn’t help think of my Mom, who would sometimes cluck about a TV show being too “raw.” But: the people who’d come to see the film were here because of the review in the paper, which was forthright, and you could feel the room enjoying the movie. Laughs in all the right spots. Dead silence at the end. Me, I’m trying not to blubber – if the emotional gong the movie hits at the end isn’t enough, there’s the slow dolly down the row of little girls, all of whom are my daughter’s friends, and the shot ends with my child and the little girl who plays the – well, you’ll have to see the scene. Dead silence through the credits. Strong grateful applause at the end.
No one got up when the lights went up.
I introduced the director, Mr. Patrick Coyle, and he came down for a Q & A. No one got up. Fifteen minutes of sharp, keen questions; at one point Patrick noted how pleased he was with this audience; I cut in: it’s Fargo. What did you expect?
Got the chance to introduce my Dad to Patrick. My Dad said he thought it was a really fine movie, and I know him well enough: he was absolutely sincere. Said he’d teared up at the end. I’ve never heard him say that about any movie. Not even “Victory at Seat.” Doris loved it. Loved Jeremy Sisto. They were as verklempt as a couple of Greatest Generation folk can get. How good is this movie? My Dad was so caught up in the end he didn’t notice his son or granddaughter. That good.
In the lobby afterwards the post-show klatch convened, and that’s where I met Kris Rudrud, who was the kidnapped wife in “Fargo.” Been a looong time; same high school, same coach: the inestimable beloved Rhoda H., the teacher eulogized in this space last year. I learned that the Bleat about Rhoda was read at the funeral. Friends, that was one of those bear-down / keep-it-together moments, because I had no idea. To this day her oratorical instructions echo in my head, in the withering cutting tone that made us all stand up straight and avoid the fig-leaf or the reverse-fig-leaf or many rhetorical fallacies she scourged from our mental processes.
Really, think of it: your best high school teacher. Your home-town movie theater. New friends who made a movie. Home-town folk who read the Bleat. A movie with your daughter. Your dad watching you perform, and smiling. It’s an unbelievable confluence of elements that creates a preposterous amount of joy. And now to the bar.
“Why do you take that old highway ten?” my practical father asked the next morning.
Maybe I like proving Thomas Wolfe wrong a few times every year?
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