(Publication date:  May 14, 2004)

Fade to Black

The stomach virus that has been stalking Albany came knocking the other day and, like an idiot,
I answered. A couple of nights later, I was setting the bedsheets afire with fever and making a
pilgrimage every twenty minutes to the next room to worship at the Altar of White, the one with
the porcelain finish and the little handle. (You’ve finished breakfast, right?)

I was fresh out of good ideas about how to make myself feel better. I figured aspirin was a
waste of time, since anything dropped down my gullet roared through my tunnel like a BART
train over Key Route and, just like BART in Albany, didn’t appear to be making any stops at
Digestion Town, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, with little else to do at three in the morning, I got to thinking about death, since it felt
like I was pretty much there. I don’t know what effect intimations of mortality have on you, but
in my…um…heightened state that night, they brought to my mind the movies.

Croaking on film takes many forms, of course. There’s the Who Cares school, as exemplified in
Star Wars by the demise of Darth Vader’s storm troopers at a rate of approximately 117,000 a
second. In contrast, there’s the Oh My God school, which some people, including all the
females in my house, think is well illustrated in the famous panoramic railroad depot shot in
Gone with the Wind, with its hundreds of moaning supine actors stretching to the horizon. I’ve
always felt that scene was more typical of the Give Me a Break school, unless I’ve been unduly
influenced by all of Scarlett O’Hara’s incessant weeping.

Actually, though, as I lay on the family room couch and watched the moon pick its way
through the branches of our neighbor Tom’s English walnut tree, I was thinking of cinema
sayonaras that are somehow more personal. Not crowds of bad guys with photon tommy guns,
knocked on their kiesters like so many tenpins at the Albany Bowl and looking about as lifelike,
but heroic individuals reclining in quiet dignity, accepting their fate with superhuman grace. You
know, people like me.

Or like Carrie-Anne Moss in
Matrix Revolutions. In this one, she plays Trinity, a woman
who…well, actually I still don’t understand exactly who she is, or who anybody else in the
movie is, for that matter. Or what they’re doing. Or where they’re going. Or what they’re
saying. But after surviving the first two installments in the trilogy, during which she has to take
orders from a guy who superglues his sunglasses to his nose, Trinity meets her end in a
spectacularly pyrotechnic time/space/dimension-warping crash, which may or may not have
been a metaphor for her onscreen sex life with Keanu Reeves. She ends up impaled on what
appears to be the tentacles of a giant piece of metal calamari, hold the garlic and lemon butter.
Meanwhile Reeves, as Neo, hovers over her wearing a bloodied blindfold, confirming what I
always thought was a faintly kinky relationship from the moment she first blew in his ear with
that softly compelling whips-and-chains voice, backed up with her fashionably skin-tight black
leather evening wear. But I digress.

“You can’t die,” croaks Neo.

“Yes, I can,” she whispers. And does.

But I didn’t. Eventually, Tom’s English walnut tree filled with morning sun. The fever melted
away with the moon--apparently I had lived to see another day. And, although I wasn’t much in
the mood for popcorn, I hadn’t been this happy to see a sequel since
The Godfather, Part II.

Life Is a Movie