March 8, 1961 [L'avventura]

In The Time of Your Life, Saroyan's great bar play, the comedian Harry delivers his monologue about being behind the eight-ball, buying the newspaper, reading about Hitler, and ends by squalling, "Everybody's behind the eight-ball!" McCarthy the longshoreman tells him it's the funniest thing he's ever heard--except he doesn't laugh, and considers maybe it's a new kind of comedy, and people will need to catch up.

That was L'avventura for me: over two hours I kept watching--although occasionally my attention wandered, I looked at the background, thought about the framing, the look of the sea or sky--or considered the people, their cleverness, small cruelties, wandering minds--like my own, leaving the picture every once in a while.

But funny thing: When I'd wander back, there it still was, waiting for me, passing along a strange closeup or offhand comment, passionate kisses and cutting remarks given equal footing. It was beautiful to look at--but I didn't have to keep looking--even though I did, until the end, the moment of hope punctuated by a crescendo of some kind of dark curtain falling, the frame cut in two--broad sea on one side, blank wall on the other--possibilities and dead-ends together.

A new kind of tragedy, or maybe just the end of the movies--with the camera still rolling, though, catching little indiscretions and surprising tears, bullies needling the women and women grinning at the men--all of it incidental to--what? I'm there with McCarthy, watching something I'm not sure I've seen before: a movie I can take or leave--it doesn't care, because it follows me anyway.


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