I started taking a film appreciation class at the local community college in September of ’95. I wasn’t sure what the age group would be for such a thing. Would they be way younger than me? It turned out, at the age of 20, I was about the youngest one in my class. I’m not talking about a few years either. There were white haired ladies in that room. We had this curly auburn haired lady, rather bohemian in looks who was our teacher. Where they got her and what she was on, nobody knew. She speed-talked her way through every day. I was wondering if she was a long lost sister of director, Martin Scorsese’s. No. I think she spoke faster than him. She talked with the urgency of a marathon runner after a race. There was only one conclusion…coffee. This woman must have had some serious “java blues.” High as a kite from caffeine. This would sometimes get in the way of trying to learn…um, make that decipher what she was saying. If anyone could muster up the superpowers of being able to process and crack the caffeine enhanced code, good for them. Within these ramblings, we were eventually treated to films for our senses to feast on. To start, our fare consisted of D.W. Griffith’s classic Birth Of A Nation from 1915. Georgianne must have pressed pause on that VCR a thousand times to give us an anecdote about a scene, actor, or piece of history. It’s all such a blur, just like her caffeine fixed speeches. We moved on to others like Pulp Fiction. Then there was the first five minutes of Hitchcock’s Marnie. The pesky video tape wouldn’t play. That was all. Another film I remember vividly is the 1930 classic, All’s Quiet On The Western Front. During then, Georgianne had gotten a b&w picture of screen legend, Joseph Cotton when he was quite young. I don’t remember why, but it went over very well with my post-menopausal classmates. If you ever want to see white haired ladies salivate over what is the equivalent of a major rock star, then Mr. Cotton will do the trick. Getting back on track, All’s Quiet was very much a masterpiece and definitely affected me deeply. Maybe it was because Georgianne wasn’t hitting the Folger’s or Sanka as hard, I heard everything. I was able to keep it in the file cabinet of my mind. I felt something for the lead, that being a very young Lew Ayres. Keep in mind, this is a silent film about war. As usual came the barrage of finger pressing on the pause button, but it was so different. Georgianne explained to us the symbolism used throughout the film. The sexual meaning behind innocuous items that fit best for a still-life substituted for any human interaction. Film was only in its toddler stage, yet those directors sure knew how to use things without showing much. Not so much of covering up for mystique, but because they couldn’t show anything graphic. Film was for family. They didn’t have ratings like nowadays. That symbolism was very effective. So effective that I decided to use it for my own writing. I’ve had “scenes” in my stories where symbolism is used. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not.
I accentuated Evelyn Winthrop’s feelings in Marlboro Blues with a scene that showed her confusion in trying to compare two guys she deeply cared for and how they saw her. Another was used for writing about baring naked feelings, both in a figurative and literal manner that could leave an author stunned. When I think of it, there’s loads more throughout that story in particular due to the psychological drama involved.
In The Freedom To Rock, an already pained Tina Merrick comes across a crushed cassette tape that bears the logo of the little record company she had loved deeply. If anybody has to guess, the symbolism was right there. Crushed. Destroyed. Stepped on. It’s how she felt, herself.
Symbolism pops up and will continue to in my stories. It’s the greatest thing I learned out of that caffeine fueled lady’s film study course. I will always treasure it. What I do know is, you have to be careful in how you write it. You don’t have to write everything. Let your reader figure out the meaning and connections. Give them brain food. Nosh on that symbolism. If there’s too much, it becomes clinical and your suffocating your story for the sake of trying to please an audience that doesn’t get it. Tell what needs to be told. Let them use their imagination.