23 December 2010

2046 as Christmas

My Christmases sound like Mark Kozelek's "Have You Forgotten," Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown and Nat King Cole where holiday cheer is washed with a certain aching nostalgia.

These Christmases look like Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, a film featuring a recurrence of December 24ths I've watched more or less every winter since it came out in 2004. I saw it first almost by myself at Landmark La Jolla, slicing Haribo gold-bears bilaterally with my incisors and looking contentedly at the reds and greens onscreen. It was a less a sequel than a coda to In the Mood for Love and I always prefer codas, a fluidity of time instead of a march, circles instead of lines.

Intervening years have, of course, changed me and now, watching Tony Leung's dapper newspaperman Chow Mo-wan, I'm gutted (I notice I've even started wearing sweatervests like he does). It's not just the suspicion that romance might be dead in our culture. It's that even in the best, most symphonic partnership the question "Why can't it be like it was before?" is always coming. That's what Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi, astonishing every time) asks Chow-san again and again until he has to turn away. He walks around with his hurt smile every day with the same question in mind, not that it helps, as "before" is quite a different place for him.

I like to identify with Chow, his omnipresent memories of Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung in ITMFL, Gong Li in 2046, that one) and the power of atmospheric noodle stalls in the rain.  Then I look down the way to Fremont where some fluorescently minded person has installed the exact opposite.

The movie also proves writing itself is like the train to 2046, the paradoxical future location where everything is as perfect as it was in the remembered past. The hours spin away as you move closer and closer to an ideal past tense reflection where nothing ever changes. A past perfection that must be there, even if no one has ever taken the train back.

This Christmas I decided that, if I had a moment with Chow, I would read to him Liam Rector's "Song Years" and it would go like this.

Song Years

For years I lived in a kind
Of wistful song world where
One foot was always out

The door, almost like a sailor
Ready, anxious even, to decamp
Once more for the sea,

And always the American highway
And its great story calling, built by
The American restless and all

Its subsequent moving. Loosely
Around the seasons I moved
Looking for what I thought of

As a natural life, and looked back
At anyone who stayed put as if
They had given up,

Given up something
That should never be
Given up,

No sooner
Would I get some place

Than I'd begin
To check train schedules
And other venues of departure.

I hated the notion
Of insurance and never
Had any. I gave

Myself no place to fall.
I thought of all this as keeping
Myself clean, keeping

Myself honest. It really
Wasn't a variant
Of the old high school

Locker-room chant of find 'em,
Feel 'em, fuck 'em,
And forget 'em, I told myself,

But sometimes,
Especially when I was packing,
It surely felt that way.

I was always leaving one
For the next one. I wished them
Well and remained friends

With most of them. I hoped
A right one one would come along
For them, and they would be

More ready for their lasting lover
Given the lessons, good and bad,
We'd taught each other.

Fall would come
And I'd head north
For apple-picking, winter

Would find me holed up
In Vermont for a moment,
Working on some chilly construction,

And spring was always
A sure-fired scamper south.
Summer mostly meant

Going out west for, I suppose, hope.
Change is slow and hope is violent.
I wanted the speed and handling

Of a good sports car; I wanted
Things not as they should be
But things as they are.

Most songs are sad and most people
Do not want to live in song world,
Except when some loved one leaves

Or maybe over a drink, alone, at home,
Or perhaps in a car, ever more alone.
Someone is always falling or being thrown.

Most songs say
But one thing:
"My heart aches,"

And if you doubt this
Listen to the songs.
And tonight

Let us all together send out
Our love to the songwriters
For moving us.

I moved this way
Until the cruelty of it
Overwhelmed me.


Merry Christmas Chow-san. Tell Wong Kar-Wai I need you in just one more film. Maybe set in spring?

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