per amica silentia lunae

or, across the ferny brae with the evil voodoo celt

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old age hath yet his honour and his toil
One of the latest additions to my favorite movie list is Bubba Ho-Tep.

It sounds like some kind of camp horror farce- a "redemptive Elvis mummy movie", as the director put it- but it's actually low-key and oddly affecting. Bruce Campbell essentially submerges himself in the role of the King without going over the top; Ossie Davis gives an underlying quiet sincerity to a role that a lesser actor would have made ludicrous. The score is brilliant, and the whole thing is crafted with loving care. Sure, it's also a hoot- I laughed 'til I cried at certain bits.

But I also flat-out cried at spots. The story is as much a meditation on the helplessness of old age and the fading of youthful glory as anything else. Elvis is old, treated with contempt and dismissal by people who think he's a delusional Elvis impersonator, unable to walk far without help; even his manhood is betraying him. But a danger threatens, and he rises to the occasion- and prevails. It ends his life, to be sure... but he wins. Not only does he save his soul, and the souls of the people he's fighting for- he gets his self back; he is the Hero, the King one last time. Out in a blaze of glory, instead of guttering away in bed.

Sure, it's easy to focus on the camp aspects of the movie, go away snickering that Elvis's last words were "Thankyou. Thankyouverramuch". Or it can make you think. The Western world has discarded the old, but it doesn't have to be that way. I don't think it will, either- more and more Boomers are entering their 50's and 60's, paving the way for a revolution. And there's other things to be hopeful about, too:

monsteralice and I went to the American Visionary Art Museum this past weekend. "Visionary" (also known as "Outsider") art is, essentially, art produced by people outside the usual art world- often with no formal training, these people create because of a need or drive that transcends the usual definitions. Here's a more detailed description.

At any rate, most of the current exhibit is Golden Blessings of Old Age a celebration of "the many global manifestations of late-onset creativity generated by visionary artists aged 60, 70, 80, and far beyond.". Some of these people didn't even find their muse until very late in life. And so much of it is stunning, powerful; often terribly disturbing, but many of these artists work to satisfy a demanding vision or to exorcise (or at least control) their inner demons. The exhibit commentary, as always, includes mini bios of the artists, some touching, some tragic. And there were some illuminating summings-up, as well. One Swedish gerontologist has found that people in their "twilight years" often move to a different mode of consciousness, one that suffuses the world with meaning. I find this immensely encouraging.

One of the snippets of poetry they used to frame the exhibit was from Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle". I've always had a troubled relationship with that poem- it's a powerful incantation against death, but I've seen too many relatives lose all semblance of themselves long before their bodies died to be of the "life at any cost crowd." But I've resolved that being old and grey and full of sleep will not stop me from living. The light will not die until I put it out.


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