Life in a big city; life in a small town. They can be both. So: a few weeks ago someone backed into my wife’s car in a parking lot, and drove away. The bumper was dented. (I almost wrote the denterr was bumped.) (It’s late.) She wanted me to get it fixed while she was away on the cruise, so I called the place where I take my car, and they said they didn’t do it. But they recommended a place down the street. Ask for Adam.
I knew the place, inasmuch as I gas up at the crappy station next to it all the time. It has a mural on the wall, an old classic car. I have looked at it in summer and looked at its summery promise in winter. Lately it’s been looking rough - faded, chipped. You figure these things are hard to maintain, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s painted over.
So I called. Asked for Adam. He wasn’t there, but the nice woman on the phone said I could run the car by tomorrow. Name?
“Oh, you’re the James Lileks in the paper.” Why - why yes! See, small town. Big town. Small town. “And you were on the radio, too?” Why - why yes, I was. KSTP AM 1500, once upon a time. And do I get the famous radio-newspaper media guy discount? Ha ha suuuuure.
So I drive my wife’s car over, and the woman to whom I spoke is in the office. Charming and friendly; we have a nice chat about how busy they are, might not be able to get it in until next week. I note that my wife had asked me to get it done in the two weeks she was away, and I have absolutely no excuse for not doing it, but that’s not her problem. She said she’d have the guy - I’ll call him Charley - take a look, see if he can punch it out. Out from the back comes Charley, and imagine a Grizzled Prospector without the big hat. You could imagine him in Gunsmoke at the Long Branch, having a shot of rye at the bar. We go outside and he takes a look, says he’ll see what I can do.
Back inside, I note the box of business cards. The woman to whom I’ve been speaking has a card, and it says OWNER.
Huh. Why, then, would I have asked for Adam?
We get to chatting about the place, and it turns out her husband died a few years ago, and she took over. Her husband bought it from the people whose pictures are up on the wall. They got it from someone else, I think, because the place goes back to the 20s.
I didn't know there were pumps on the site.
I'm standing on tip-toe, holding up the camera to a tiny picture, and look what details can be retrieved:
TOWING, it says on the car. The sign says . . . Oilzum?
Yes, Oilzum. And it still exists!
Rustic Lodge? It's a nearby street. The "Motor Inn" sounds like it offers rooms, but I don't think so. That's the address of the shop.
Havoline, says the sign. So it's a Texaco operation.
Today it's shrouded with vines. But the original buidling is still there.
Ah, pumps. When did you bring the tanks up? I asked.
Minor readjustment on her part: that’s not a question she gets too often, I expect. I explain our family is in the gas station business. Pull out my phone, show her pictures of the station, the fleet. We talk about the crappy gas station next door, the pictures on the wall.
As it turned out, the owner’s cousin was my radio producer at KSTP in the pre-Diner run. The Rookie, if you’re a GL listener. Whoa. I was digesting that when the Prospector came back in, said he’d heated up the bumper, pushed it back, and touched up the paint - as well as touching it up elsewhere on the car, and here’s the leftover paint.
What do I owe you?
Oh, I don’t know. Twenty?
I will never go anywhere else.
I often say these aren’t reviews, but sometimes they turn out that way. My main objective is to find something about the time, the place, the actors - stories behind the movie, as well as the interesting images the genre invented.
This time, something different. Only pictures, with a kicker.
This is is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The compositions, the use of natural scenery, the close-ups - you can’t find an American movie from 1932 that’s comparable. You can understand why Hollywood tried to import its director.
As I said: 1932. The industry had come quite far since its early days, and silent movies were full of great vistas. This is one has such grand scale, though, you almost want to worship the mountains. Humanity, after all, is fallible and suspect:
The natural world isn't idealized. It doesn't have to be. Just showing it as it was makes it seem perfect, and now and then humanity has a place in it.
But humans are insignificant, for the most part.
Their interior lives: troubled.
You also understand why Hollywood tried import its star.
The star was the director. The star was the writer of the movie.
And that’s what I hid, because it colors your reaction to every frame of the movie.
Wikipedia: “In 1937, a re-release of the film removed the names of Mayer, Balázs, and Sokal, since they were Jews."
The director, by then, had moved on to bigger projects, thanks to her patron.