Repost from May 2009
For several years, I lived within walking distance of an old Dobie Gillis style neighborhood grocery store that some eccentric but enterprising soul had transformed into a movie theater. They tended to show second run Hollywood hits on weekends, but Monday through Thursday was devoted to a steady diet of Art House fare. This was before the days of Netflix, before the days of cable TV even, so if one wanted to see a movie one actually had to trim one’s ear hair, become somewhat presentable and go out in public.
It was in the friendly confines of that theatre that I saw my first foreign films, and therefore my first indication that not everywhere in the world was exactly like southern Virginia. People in foreign films didn’t care much about washing their cars, whether the Redskins would make the playoffs or understanding the book of Ephesians in minute detail. They didn’t go deer hunting, listen to car races on the radio (seriously, lots of folks did this) or worry about whether their yards needed mowing.
They did seem to enjoy themselves a lot. They sat down to sumptuous meals that consisted of something other than fried chicken and Pepsi. People ate slowly and talked and laughed and had witty conversations. They went on relaxing and enjoyable vacations. Most families I knew just went to Virginia Beach and ate bologna sandwiches and squabbled.
Characters in foreign films also knew how to be charming, romantic and elegant. Consequently, they had sex more often and with much less effort than my good ol’ boy friends who went out “bird-doggin” women every night. I wasn't sure what "bird-doggin" was, but I did know the women in our neighborhood, and they didn't seem the type that would be easy to bird-dog. Whatever that was.
The romantic aspect alone was enough to peak my interest in learning about European lifestyles, and I became something of a regular at that modest cinema palace. I saw such films as Amarcord, Clair’s Knee, Belle Du Jour, Weekend and, of course, everyone’s naughty fave, the original Emmanuelle.
The zeitgeist on display in Emmanuelle was so alien to me that the film may as well have taken place on the planet Saturn. Here you had a group of white people living in a foreign country, Thailand in this case, who weren’t even missionaries! I had been taught that spreading the gospel and military service were the only acceptable reasons for overseas travel.
The women in this film spent their days lazing in the sun, playing tennis, skinny-dipping and having copious sex with strange men and each other. I was dumbfounded. When did they iron? Who shelled their peas? Did they forget about Wednesday night choir practice?
In my mind, this movie defied rational explanation, and it shockingly laid to waste every preconception I had about how adult men and women should conduct themselves. I loved every frame of it.
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