Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil


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Be Careful of the Under Toad!

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‘The World According to Garp’

Something extremely rare is happening here in Los Angeles. It’s raining. For the first time since moving into my current home (over two years ago), I’ve sat in on a dark, cloudy, raining Sunday watching a film. And that film was “The World According to Garp” – a viewing I haven’t had since it came out 30 years ago.  The beaucolic feel of the rain outside while watching a film that was shot in towns near my home town made me feel like I was back in New York. Then, the painful realization of the passage of time hit me, and I’ve been melancholy ever since the end credits rolled.

I remember reading ‘Garp’ long before the film came out and found it astonishing, quirky and amazing.  The film left me with the same sickly sweet feeling over the adult themes and the churning emotions, the sexual questioning, the anger of maimed woman and the infidelities of people testing their boundaries within the course of life.  No one else could portray these characters other than this cast.

Life is one long adventure. That’s what Jennie Fields told her grandson by the Long Island Sound – where I learned to swim as a child over on the Rye side and where my parents’ ashes where spread decades later.  And I believed it then as a teenager when this film came out. I was looking ahead at life as a wild open field, ready to fly like Garp. But I never realized that in living life and soaring over buildings, subways and oceans,  I would constantly be looking to find home again.  Home – the same place I started before leaping off into the wilderness.

The movie was filmed in the spring and summer of 1981 (released in 1982) when I was still living in Ardsley New York – a small town in Westchester County, NY – very close to the Eastchester filming location for ‘Garp’. I don’t remember hearing about a movie being made with Robin Williams back then, but I do remember being on the AHS Girl Track team and hating the girls over on the Eastchester High School squad. I remember loving The Police, and running track and cross country and daydreaming on rainy autumn Sundays about being with Jimmy Oxley, my Freshman crush. And there are moments in this film that gripped me, like when Garp discovers his sexual awakening, when he falls in love with Helen, when he plays with his children, or when he angrily takes them out of the house on a rainy night after finding out his wife was cheating on him –  or the horrific circumstances that lead to the death of  their child.

Yet, with all this powerful adult stuff happening, just viewing T.S. Garp and Helen growing their family in their “pre-disastered” home, made me feel like I was back home – my real home – Ardsley. The early spring leaves and the lighting captured cinematically transported me back to the cosy world of my childhood, where everything was safe, and my daydreams flourished. Back to a place and a feeling that I’ve longed to find again, struggled to re-live, yet despite the long road and different homes and cities traveled to or lived in throughout the years – just cannot find again. As hard as I try.

And the saddest part is that I stand here today, thirty years after this film was made, 3000 miles away from home. My parents gone. My field still open, but longing to close in on another road. And no more Robin Williams. I wish he could have stayed with us a bit longer. He was so beautiful in this role.


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Rest in Peace, Mike Nichols

graduate last scene

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The first adult film I ever saw as a child was “The Graduate”. It had a profound affect on me. Although I was too young to understand the nuance and meaning of what was going on, I was emotionally taken by the beauty of Dustin Hoffman’s turmoil, the sun baked 60’s dream of California and the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. It wasn’t until I was in college when I understood the meaning of the film to its fullest. As college students, standing on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, where do we go? Here we are – some of us all stars in school, track phenoms, valedictorians, big man/lady on campus (others not) until we turn the tassel of our caps to the other side on commencement day (“commencement”= the beginning of something), and then the real work starts. A little hot-shot fish in a big, giant paranah eating world. So much pressure is on our shoulders. What are we supposed to bring to the world? Do we live our dreams, or place ourselves in boxes, allowing the conventional constraints our families and society impose to stifle us? Or do we break the pattern of living unconsciously, day by day.

My heart still aches at the site of Benjamin screaming from the window door atop the church, crying, screaming “Elaine!” just in the nick of time, just before she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life.

Then, the astounding, groundbreaking last scene. Two young people having just fought off an army of tight jawed, bigoted, good-ol-boy, country club robots, locking them into the church – a clan of hypocrites in their house of God (which in some cases, is known for its hypocrisy).  The getaway…a bride, breaking the cycle of her mother’s deadness. The bus. The laughs. The looks. The realization of…”Now what?”. The fear, as the confused couple rides into the sunset. This was never done before in film.   The anti-happy ending.

Although the screenplay of “The Graduate” was written by the fantastic Buck Henry, Mike Nichols had the vision that brought this story to life in a way no other director could. His intelligence and sensitivity to the characters, plus his humorous view of the world, as per his legendary comedy career with Elaine May,  made this story a voice for a generation.

Some other favorite Mike Nichols films for me are: “Heartburn”, “Working Girl”, “The Birdcage”, and “Angels in America”. Brilliant projects that have stayed with me for years. I plan on viewing more of his work this weekend.

There are just too many amazing people passing away this year.  Some before their time – others whose time was up. Sad to end a year this way.

Rest in peace, Mr. Nichols.