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Sunday, February 20, 2011

For Love of the Movies

It’s award season for the movies, my favorite time of the year for one of my family’s treasured traditions, the Oscars. For some families, it’s sports…for mine, it’s the movies.

My family speaks “moviespeak.” It is a bond that transcends our lifestyles and ages and continues as a tradition through our generations.

Movies have been part of my life since my mother took me with her every week to the local Chicago theatres. It was both escape and entertainment for her while she waited for my dad to return from WWII.

I barely fit on the seat and often fell asleep while watching adult dramas or cowered under the seat for horror films like The Thing.

Later my mother took me to live performances at the elegant Chicago Theatre where musicians sometimes performed before a movie. Together we saw Harry James, the great trumpet player of his time, a sold out event similar to major concert tours today.

Mom adored the actors, read Photoplay (a precursor of TMZ and Entertainment Weekly) and the celebrity gossip magazines. She lived her life vicariously through film stars and knew not only their film credits but their personal lives as revealed through the “rags” of the day.

Movie stars were her special friends. She knew them the way diehard soap opera fans follow their favorite characters. Our family’s Super Bowl was the Oscars ceremony which we watched faithfully every year as the film stars accepted their awards.

As a girl, I dreamed of someday accepting an Oscar. I got as far as a high school drama award that looked like an Oscar statuette.

Growing up in Chicago, movies along with Looney Tunes cartoons made for a perfect Saturday morning following the serial adventures of Tarzan while enjoying Good & Plenty candy and jujubes as well as air conditioning before most homes had it, and sometimes even a special event on the theatre stage like learning how to do yoyo tricks (never did master “walking the dog.”)

On hot summer nights, the family would pack up the car and go to the drive-in movies. Later we would stop by a Dairy Queen or Dog n Suds for a sweet ending to our family outing. We were together, entertained and shared a treat. Life was simple and we were satisfied.

My mother’s love of the movies is a legacy in our family. My brother quotes movie lines when the occasion calls for it. My son remembers and recalls favorite scenes in great detail like sporting fans that have total recall of their favorite sports moments.

No matter what else is going on in our lives, movies are a part of the family. As my mother started and we continue, we cast our votes for the Oscars as to who will win versus who should win. Like my parents, we critique and share our opinions about movies.

We consider ourselves well-informed critics with a wealth of movie going experience as well as followers of the movie industry, my daughter as a TV producer and my son as a writer. We simply love stories, and movies tell and preserve them better than anything else.

Movie Star Namesakes
I learned in my teens that my name came from a movie character. The Greek family tradition is to name the firstborn after a grandparent. My pregnant mother found the perfect equivalent for my grandmother’s name in what is now a black-and-white cult film from the ‘40s, The Curse of the Cat People. Simone Simon played a horror film’s heroine named Erana.

Years later, I named my daughter Dana, the name of the lovely British actress Dana Wynter who starred in the '50s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was an unconscious coincidence that I was following in my mother’s footsteps.

Over the holidays, we always go to the movies. Our tastes differ, but we want to share the family experience. We may not have read the same book, but we’ve seen the same movie. Even now, when I have a long day, I escape with popcorn to the movies, on the big screen or via Netflix or Blockbuster.

Movies still have the magical power to transport me to a place where I am totally engaged and the rest of life can be put on hold for awhile. They still move and sometimes scare me.

They take me away from the ordinary and involve me in their stories where I feel empathy with the characters, their problems, struggles and victories. They make me feel more alive. I love the movies.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010-2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Chicago Theatre photo by Chris Ayers
Popcorn photo by Steven Kapsinow

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Secret Valentine

Today, just before Valentine’s Day, I found an old love letter from a “soul mate” from years ago, a restless, poetic man who stirred and quickened my heart with his artistic brooding and literary references.

Some 30 years later, I was touched again when I read the intimate thoughts, revelations and literary allusions we shared in expressing our exciting chemistry and the irresistible attraction of the power of the words we gave to each other.

We were both struggling to be understood and self-realized through our writing.

We wrote to each other with great fervor and flourishes, the struggling Irish poet submitting his work to New York magazines and a cocooned woman who wanted so much to just be free to express herself, trapped in her stable but stifling middle class life.

Our real passion was expressing our yearnings and desires as writers to be understood and connected in a creative sharing where we dared to write our personal and confessional thoughts, touching with our minds and heartfelt outpourings.

Looking back, it was a secret love as if written in another era, a series of lovers’ letters in a Victorian novel.

The idea of being with each other through our love of language was more exciting than any other intimacy. It was a “love match” of words where we indulged ourselves in our intimate correspondence.

At times it was excessive and very much like a suffering Lake Poet speaking to a love he could never have, but the wanting brought such ecstasy of what could be and fueled desire.

How ironic that the letter should reappear just before Valentine’s Day. I’ve been single for a long time, and it’s been years since I’ve had a “real” valentine.

I found myself holding the letter against my heart as if hugging it would bring back the sentiments expressed by my “unrequited” love.

It spurred me to see if I could find my restless poet online, but I didn’t; and even if I had, who would he be now?

I prefer to preserve the memory of my long, lost love because it’s part of the romance that will never end. It will always be there in the letters.

I returned the sweet, weathered letter into its envelope and safely back into the nightstand.

It is a cherished reminder of a brief, romantic period of writers’ passions awakened but not fulfilled, that were never meant to be.

For me, it was the beginning of the woman who would eventually set herself free to someday write from her heart.

Today, just before Valentine’s Day, I got a valentine that warmed my heart.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010-2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Valentine photo by Billy Alexander
Envelope photo by Kriss Szkurlatowski