I think a spate of good luck might be coming my way. Just last week I found a copy of Vincente Minnelli’s The Long, Long Trailer in the clearance section of the Webster Place Barnes & Noble for less than five bucks, along with a package of Raoul Walsh’s Battle Cry and William Wellman’s Battleground for around eight. And I had gone into the store just to use the bathroom!
I’m a fan of The Long, Long Trailer, though it’s such a deliberately grating film that I can return to it only once every several years. “Pure agony to watch,” proclaimed Dave Kehr in his laudatory Reader capsule, noting that “Minnelli amplifies [Lucille Ball’s TV persona] into the personification of Consumer Culture—a shrill, castrating harpy who drags the helpless Desi through humiliation after humiliation in her maniacal pursuit of middle-class bliss.” Like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, the film makes American consumer excess seem grotesque, even unnatural. For weeks after viewing it, I find it difficult to enter a shopping center without gritting my teeth.
So I consider myself lucky to have revisited Trailer after establishing sufficient distance between Webster Place and home. Clybourn Avenue between North and Fullerton is a mile-long stretch dominated by strip malls and blandly respectable storefronts. Although there are several good restaurants along that mile—Pequod’s Pizza being my favorite—as well as the PAWS Chicago Adoption Center, I try to avoid the area unless I have good reason to be there. It reminds me of everything I disliked about growing up in the suburbs—particularly the common belief that going to the mall is a cultural activity comparable to visiting a museum. I hate the impersonal lighting and layout of most malls and chain stores, which feel designed to make the consumer goods appear full of personality by comparison. It’s not hard to imagine these places devoid of people, like in Dawn of the Dead, the lights still on and the escalators still running, as though the commercial spectacle were self-perpetuating and didn’t even require shoppers to validate it.
The only time I think to see a movie at the Webster Place 11 is when I’m in the mood for Pequod’s, but that might change now that the theater has installed big, cushy recliners in some of its auditoriums, as I learned last week from the electronic sign outside the building. The latest in a wave of gimmicks intended to draw people back to the multiplexes, these recliners promise to make moviegoing more like hanging out at the Room Place and testing out the showroom La-Z-Boys. (Last year I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about ultramodern multiplexes being good places to nap—I may have to write about this again in earnest.) Count me curious, albeit somewhat skeptical. Have movies gotten so bad that they can’t even distract viewers from uncomfortable seats?
Seeing this mannequin-esque model unsuccessfully attempt to look relaxed in a chair that seems not quite big enough for comfort, I’m reminded of Lucy and Desi struggling to make their death trap of a mobile home feel like the normal, cozy domicile they were promised at the RV trade show.