In the summer of 1985, our family went camping. This was a big deal, because we were not known as campers. Not by a long shot. We would always go on a major summer holiday every year, but we would stay in motels or with family along the way. Most of the time they were road trips, but sometimes, when we were very lucky we took the train. My parents, especially my Dad, was determined that his kids would get to see as much of Canada as possible on his watch. His patriotism shone strongly and would never entertain the thought of a trip to Disneyland over a trip to Ottawa. To be fair, my brother and I were not the type to whine about not going to Disneyland either and were just as happy (if not happier) to travel to Churchill (which we did one year), so it made things easier for everyone.
So it was a bit of a surprise when my parents told us we would be taking a smaller scaled holiday that summer, and that we would be borrowing our Uncle Barry and Aunt Betty’s camper trailer. I have a number of funny memories of the four of us “city slickers” trying to make our way in nature, even if “nature” really just meant sleeping bags and a portable toilet. We found ourselves in Clear Lake, MB at one point that summer, and that is where this story really begins.
Clear Lake is the perfect place to camp if you hate camping, because there is a cute little townsite minutes from the campground where you can go and get ice cream, or shop, or do any number of non-camping things. The last time my wife and I camped there, we ended up ordering a pizza and the guy asked which campsite we were at and was going to deliver it. We were alarmed and reassured him that we would just wait for it and take it back to our camp ourselves. I mean, really. How embarrassing, right? What would the other campers think?
Clear Lake also has one movie theatre, and in that summer of 1985, it was showing Amadeus.
Amadeus won the Best Picture Oscar that year and was based on the Peter Shaffer’s play of the same name. It was a fictionalized (but maybe truthful!) account of Mozart’s life as told by a rival composer to his priest in the form of a confessional. (That last sentence was PRETTY POORLY CONSTRUCTED, but I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, right?)My parents saw this movie when it came out months before, and my Dad was super stoked to take my brother and me. My Mom was happy to have a night away from the three of us, and the movies were a civilized way for my brother and me to forget that we were actually camping, so off we went. My parents had struck up a conversation with an older couple camping next to us, and they expressed doubt as to whether this movie was an appropriate thing to show to an 11 and an 8 year old, but my Dad just said, “It’s a good story, and my boys can handle it.” This may seem out of character for my Dad, as you may remember stories of him “previewing” movies himself (like The Last Starfighter and Aliens) and deeming them “too violent” for me, or maybe you may remember the terrible moment during the opening scene of Young Sherlock Holmes when I thought he was going to march my brother and me right out of the theatre, and demand his money back.
But what you may have forgotten was that my dear old Dad also was Irish, and if you suggested that he shouldn’t do something, he just bloody well would want to do it twice as badly. This trait was passed on to me and it drives my wife nuts sometimes, but I can’t help it. As they say in The Crying Game, it’s in my nature. So we headed off to the movies: my brother, my Dad, and me. My parents had bought my brother and me new sunglasses that day, and my brother insisted on wearing his to the movie. So even though there was only a couple of hours worth of sunlight left in the day when we left our campsite, my Dad let him bring them along. Keep that in mind for later, I’ll come back to it. New sunglasses/Mozart.
Back to the movie.
Well you know what? That older couple may have had a point BECAUSE THE MOVIE OPENS WITH A PRETTY GRAPHIC THROAT SLITTING SCENE which either my Dad totally forgot about, or maybe didn’t remember how disturbing it actually was. To his credit, I think he turned to us just as it was about to happen and said, “You may want to close your eyes RIGHT NOW”, and I think maybe we did for the worst of it. Well, after that opening, the movie did settle into a lavish three hour retelling of Mozart’s life that insidiously gets under your skin. The priest is the audience’s surrogate, and while he is cheerful and upbeat at the beginning of the film, he is absolutely drained and destroyed by the final frame. I felt the same way watching it for the first time. My 11 year old self couldn’t believe that a movie could make you feel such things as Amadeus made me feel that night. I don’t think I can really adquately express what that movie meant to me after seeing it. I do remember that my cheeks and forehead were flushed, and as the cool summer evening air hit our faces as we left the theatre, I felt transformed.
Little did I know then that Amadeus, and the music from that movie, would stick with me for almost 30 years. How that movie and its music affected me will be more fully explored next time, gang. ‘Til then, let these gentle summer memories from a long ago childhood warm you as you gaze out the window at another winter storm.