Notice: Undefined variable: n_bookId in /var/www/domains/booqster/index.php on line 177 Widescreen dreams by Patrick E. Horrigan, ISBN 9780299161644 -

Widescreen dreams

Madison, Wis. : University of Wisconsin Press, c1999.

Widescreen dreams Overview

In 1973, a sweet-tempered, ferociously imaginative ten-year-old boy named Patrick Horrigan saw the TV premiere of the film version of Hello, Dolly! starring Barbra Streisand. His life would never be the same. Widescreen Dreams: Growing Up Gay at the Movies traces Horrigan’s development from childhood to gay male adulthood through a series of visceral encounters with an unexpected handful of Hollywood movies from the 1960s and 1970s: Hello Dolly!, The Sound of Music, The Poseidon Adventure, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Wiz.

Widescreen dreams Table Of Content

1 The Happiest Family in All the World! 3
2 Love Barbra 54
3 The Wreck of the Family 106
4 Like Home 139
5 Coming Out, with Al Pacino 180
Notes 221
Works Cited 225

Widescreen dreams Excerpt

Chapter One

The Happiest Family
in All the World!

I will not describe the specific locations. I will tell you the mood, the feeling, the effect that I would like to see.


    Silence ... (where am I?) ... whispering wind ... whssssh ... whssssh ... whssssssh ... brown rocks gently pierce the clean white blanket of snow ... drifting quietly ...

    When suddenly the earth disappears, drops a mile straight down ... a new world opens below ... gentle green mountains fall with grace into the valley ... a river burning in sunlight wends its way into the distance ... (and for the first time in my life, I feel like I can fly!)

    Soaring now over the tree tops! (is this Maria's mountain? For I have seen The Sound of Music before, but I can never remember exactly when Julie Andrews as Maria will appear on a mountain top, singing ...)

Isolated locales are selected by the camera and photographed with such stylized beauty that the world below, however real, will be seen as a lovely never-never land where stories such as ours can happen, and where people sometimes express their deepest emotions in song.

    Now, another steep drop (it wasn't Maria's mountain after all) to a broad, sparkling river with tiny white boats pushing against the current ... the camera now moving faster ... now skimming over rocks and trees (is this Maria's mountain?—no) ... another cliff ... abroad green valley (Mom says that the hills around Reading, Pennsylvania, look a lot like the lower mountains in Austria—she says that when she visited the Alps she felt like she'd come home) ... an eccentric patch of evergreen trees growing on top of a sharp cliff ... a village peaceful in the shadow of an onion-domed church (why don't any of our churches in Reading have those pretty domes?) ... an aristocrat's palace soaking quietly on the banks of a lake (I wish we lived in a house like that. I want to go to Disneyland to see Cinderella's castle, which Mom says is modeled on an actual castle in Germany; I want to go to Germany to see the real Cinderella's castle. I want to go to Austria to see where they filmed The Sound of Music. I asked Mom, can we go there some time, and she said Honey, I would love to take you there someday when you're a little older; she said she's already been there once but she wouldn't mind going again, it's one of her favorite places in the whole world; she said Honey, someday you'll get to go there if you want to. But I don't understand how I'll get there unless she takes me. I don't want to go there by myself, I wouldn't like it there by myself. I want to go there with my Mom. Will she be gone forever someday? Someone told me that heaven isn't a real place—it's not a place, it's a state of mind, they said—so if heaven isn't a place, what happens to you when you die? I'm scared of infinity: a winding staircase that keeps turning and turning and has no beginning and no end ...)

And now something is subtly happening to us as we gaze down at the enchanted world. FAINT SOUNDS are beginning to drift up and penetrate our awareness ... the tinkle of cowbells ... the approaching and receding song of a swiftly passing flock of birds ... the call of a goatheard echoing from one mountain side to another. And with this, we are aware that the ground seems to be rising. The treetops are getting closer. Our speed seems to be increasing. Without knowing it, we have started to approach a mountain.

... gliding over a dense forest of trees rushing beneath like water bursting forth from a dam (Maria's mountain!) ... another swath of green trees ... and beyond, a carpet of green grass on the crest of a shapely, rolling hill ... flutes twitter their whirling way down a spiral stair in hasty retreat from the onrushing of brass and strings now at their trembling peak!

Faster and faster we skim the treetops. And then suddenly we "explode" into:

* * *

To film what is one of the most famous openings in movie history, a helicopter swooped down just as Maria rushed up to her beloved mountain. The timing on that shot had to be perfect. So, to make sure Andrews came up the hill at the moment required, Marc Breaux [co-choreographer, along with Dee Dee Wood] hid in the bushes nearby. As the helicopter ascended, Breaux, using a megaphone, cued Andrews and she rushed up the hill and began singing.
"The funniest memory I have of the movie," said Breaux's wife, Dee
Dee Wood, "is of Marc hiding in the bushes yelling `Go, Julie!'"
"The helicopter was a jet helicopter," Andrews recalled. "The cameraman was strapped onto the side of the helicopter, hanging out so he could get the shot, and he came at me sideways. I'd start from the end of the field, and I'd hear Marc yelling `Go!' from a bullhorn. The helicopter would come at me, clanking away, then it would go around me to get back to the beginning to repeat the scene. But when it circled around me, the downdraft from the jets was so strong that it would literally knock me over. I couldn't stay up. They had to do this shot about ten times, and finally I got so angry I yelled, `That's enough!'" (Hirsch 149-50)

"Our helicopter pilot was the greatest ace, a real daredevil," recalled Pia Arnold [the German production manager on the film]. "But he was too reckless. I heard that he was killed in 1968 working on some film." (Hirsch 83)


My mom kept our record player in the little hallway between the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom. I guess she wanted it there so she could listen to music while she worked in the kitchen. There's a photograph of me in front of the record player from around 1967 when I was four years old. I can't say I "remember" the time, the feelings, the experience it refers to. The picture may contain all that's left of my memory; it may even have created the memory within me: I lie asleep on the floor in front of the stereo console's speaker panel, flat on my back, my legs spread akimbo like a frog's, my arms flung out on either side of me, my hands gently resting open, my mouth sweetly agape. I'm wearing Charlie Brown pajamas. On the floor to my right, the album jacket of the Broadway cast recording of Hello, Dolly!; to my left, the album jacket of the movie soundtrack recording of The Sound of Music.

    Now I never go to sleep without music playing. And when I awake, the first thing I want is to hear music.

    For as long as I can remember, I've known that The Sound of Music was my favorite movie. Based on the memoirs of Maria von Trapp, it's the story of a girl who leaves the convent to marry a naval captain, becomes the stepmother to his children, transforms the family into a successful singing group, and leads them in a hair's-breadth escape from Nazi-occupied Austria. The film opened in March of 1965 to mixed, even hostile reviews, such as Pauline Kael's for McCall's magazine, which said that The Sound of Music is the kind of film "that makes a critic feel that maybe it's all hopeless. Why not just send the director, Robert Wise, a wire: `You win, I give up'" (qtd. in Hirsch 175).

    My parents took me to see the film sometime during its original release, which lasted a record-breaking four-and-a-half years, so I could have been anywhere between eighteen months and six years of age (fig. 1) when I first saw it. When it was rereleased in 1973, I saw it several more times and learned then that lots of people, not just me, were obsessed with this movie. My mother had already seen it five times or so, my Aunt Pauline something like seven times. Seven seemed a crazy number of times to have seen a movie; its being an "odd" number no doubt invited associations with deviance—though wasn't seven also a "lucky" number? Did that then mean, somehow, that to be odd was also to be lucky? And did that in turn mean that if I or anyone else were in any way odd (for example, if I were a sissy, which lots of kids in school thought I was) it might not be such a bad thing after all? The Sound of Music seemed to bring about and validate a counter-counterculture of nerds, weirdos, sissies, and squares whose obsessions with the film were immediately understood to be as newsworthy as the film itself. The key to the success of the The Sound of Music, Joan Barthel argued in a November 1966 New York Times Magazine article, was "people" — not just the people behind the scenes who made the film, but also

the people out front. Not only the extremists like ... the woman in Wales who sees it every day, or the man in Oregon who saw it so often he sent the studio a copy of the script written from memory, but the average, garden-variety movie-goer who has seen it once, twice, perhaps three times, and has spread the word. Like the people in Moorhead, Minn., where the picture ran for more than a year in the town's only movie house and sparked a protest demonstration by students of the local college who, under the name POOIE (People's Organization of Intelligent Educatees), picketed—"49 Weeks of Schmaltz is Enough"; "Don't Get Caught in the von Trapp" — for a change of bill. Or the people in Manila, who got so unruly in their demand for holiday tickets that police emergency squads had to be dispatched to cope. Or the people in Salt Lake City, where the theater showing it recorded an attendance of 509,516 as of last month, although the city's population was only about 190,000 in the last census. (47)

    Between the time of its initial release in 1965 and its rerelease in 1973, my connection to The Sound of Music derived mainly from listening to the soundtrack album and from looking tirelessly at the pictures and reading the text in the eight-page, record-album-sized "storybook" that came with the album. Among the pictures in the storybook were twelve black-and-white stills from the movie. Each corresponded more or less to a musical number on the record, and there was a blurb of text adjacent to each film still that explained where the musical number occurred in the story. Paying little attention to the accompanying text, however, I would stare at the pictures and enter into them and animate them as I pleased, the music washing over me all the while.

    In one of my favorite stills (fig. 2), the seven von Trapp children sing "So Long, Farewell" at the dinner party given in honor of their father's soon-to-be fianc‚e, the Baroness Schraeder. The children, whose ages range from five to sixteen, stand on the short flight of stairs that rises up from the parquet floor of the family manse's grand entrance foyer. Below the first step stands Louisa, the second oldest von Trapp girl—who, because she had long blond hair, would have been, to my mind, my sister Suzanne, who was the second oldest in our family and who also had long blond hair. For at this point I interpreted pretty much everything I heard and saw as having something directly to do with me and my immediate family (fig. 3). On the first step stand the two von Trapp boys, Kurt, the younger one, and Friedrich, the older; to the extent that I could identify the boys with myself and my older brother John, Kurt would have been me, and Friedrich would have been John. Standing on that same step and peeking out from behind Louisa is the youngest, Gretl; though Gretl was the youngest of seven just as I was the youngest of six, she was too inarticulate and fat-faced and infantile for me to have seen myself in her. On the third step peeking out from behind Kurt stands Marta, while behind Friedrich stands Brigitta; neither Marta nor Brigitta fully corresponded with my sisters Karen and Betsy, though like Karen and Betsy they were brunettes and "middle children." On the fourth step stands the oldest, Liesl, by herself; she would have been my oldest sister, Mary Jo, for both Liesl and Mary Jo were beautiful, brunette, interested in boys, and kind to their younger siblings — or at least Mary Jo was attentive to me in particular, for I was her biggest fan, I loved to laugh at her jokes, I considered her "my favorite sister," and I would often say so to my other siblings whenever I got into a fight with them.

    In the picture, the children's mouths are open wide in song. Not only do they get to enjoy the festivities of the party past their normal bedtime, but now they themselves have become the center of attention at the party. As if on stage, they are framed by the ornate, white railings of the stairway, and they are mounted on the steps, so elegant and wide that the carpet need not stretch from side to side. (By contrast, the carpet on our narrower, straight-up-and-down staircase at home was wall-to-wall.) Two slender white pillars rise up from the stairway landing and go somewhere beyond the top of the picture frame, high above the children's heads, suggesting a vast open space—again so unlike our stairs at home, where the low ceiling over the stairs sloped at the same steep angle as the stairs (because another identical staircase led from the second floor to the attic, and everything had to be sandwiched together). I loved the grand, ceremonial, open feeling of the von Trapp family villa: its broad and sweeping arabesque lines, its color scheme of white and gold (only the white and gold baby grand piano in our living room evoked the interior of the von Trapp villa), its theatrical staircases, its high open spaces perfect for seeing and being seen, for watching and putting on shows.

    Everything, in fact, that the von Trapp children did, every move they made, had a theatrical quality to it. When Maria first meets them, for example, they march in single file from oldest to youngest, tallest to shortest, down the foyer's elegant stairs (we're supposed to think that they're having a terrible time, marching rigidly like that, but it looked like fun to me); and when it's thundering and lightning, one after another, as if they'd rehearsed it, they race into Maria's bedroom seeking shelter. And then when Uncle Max comes for a visit, he presents them with their very own marionette theater! We got a marionette theater, too, for Christmas one year, only ours was much smaller than the von Trapps', and eventually we had to throw our marionettes away because they got so tangled up we couldn't use them anymore; and anyway we never really figured out how to work them properly, whereas the von Trapps manage to put on a perfect show the first time they try it, and to the perfect tune of "The Lonely Goatherd." (Why couldn't it have been like that in our house?)

    While the picture shows the children singing good night to the party guests, to me it was about the excitement of getting to stay up late, of getting to see how adults behaved at night after you had gone to bed—only the difference was, you were still awake to see it! The von Trapp children feel that same excitement when, in an earlier, magical scene (made possible by widescreen cinematography), they stand in one of the tall, widely spaced doorways that open from the brightly lit, gold-encrusted ballroom onto the garden and patio, in the gauzy night air, and watch the elegantly dressed adults inside dancing the Laendler, a traditional Austrian folk dance:

    BRIGITTA: The women look so beautiful.

    KURT: I think they look ugly.

    LOUISA: You just say that because you're scared of them.

    KURT: Silly! Only grown-up men are scared of women.

    GRETL: I think the men look beautiful.

    LOUISA: How would you know?

    [Gretl gives her a look of mock-disdain.]

Seen through the open doorways, the adults inside look like dainty figurines delicately turning on tiny spindles before the open lid of a music box, or like pirouetting shadows cast on a screen, the darkness of the garden in contrast with the blazing lights of the ballroom evoking the cool, dark, and dreamlike space of a movie theater with its projector rolling.

    Although the blurb corresponding to this image in the soundtrack's storybook describes the scene inaccurately—"the children, who have been watching the dancing from the stairs, sing their goodnights" (they were watching the dancing from the patio, not the stairs) — it correctly identifies the basic fantasy enshrined in this scene: whereas "bedtime" means reluctantly having to mount a set of stairs, the rules of bedtime are now happily suspended. This is probably one reason why, some years later, I became enamoured of Hello, Dolly! in which, at the climax of that film, Dolly descends a staircase: when you're a child, the only time you ever get to come downstairs at night is when, having been banished to your bedroom, all of a sudden, you're invited to come back downstairs again and join the party—Dolly's descent felt like that. Maybe all scenes involving stairways in film musicals—and there are dozens—are meant to evoke this childhood bedtime drama? After all, in The Sound of Music, before going off to bed Louisa asks her father, "I'd like to stay and taste my first champagne—yes?" ("No," he replies.)

    On New Year's Eve of 1967, my parents took all of us to a party at the house of their friends the Horners. I remember nothing of that occasion except that although I must have fallen asleep long before the stroke of midnight, I was awakened by the tugging rise and fall of being held in my father's arms just as everyone was saying their good nights and he was carrying me, still wearing my party hat and holding a pom pom — I've seen a photograph of this—out into the frigid night, with the snow falling down and the Horners' outside Christmas lights still blinking and everyone saying so long, farewell, good night, good night ...

In another picture, Maria kneels before the Reverend Mother, who in turn looks down upon Maria benevolently, holding her hand (fig. 2). It's the scene where Maria, upset because she realizes that she is in love with Captain von Trapp, has returned to the convent thinking she is now ready to take her final vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty:

REVEREND MOTHER: You've been unhappy. I'm sorry.
MARIA: Reverend Mother.
REVEREND MOTHER: Why did they send you back to us?
MARIA: They didn't send me back, Mother, I left.
REVEREND MOTHER: Sit down, Maria. Tell me what happened.
MARIA: Well I—I was frightened.
REVEREND MOTHER: Frightened! Were they unkind to you?
MARIA: Oh no—no, I—I was confused—I felt—I've never felt that way before. I couldn't stay. I knew that here I'd be away from it—I'd be safe.
REVEREND MOTHER: Maria, our abbey is not to be used as an escape. What is it you can't face?
MARIA: I can't face him again.
REVEREND MOTHER: [as if what Maria has just said is in some sense unnatural] Him? [to Sister Margaretta, who has been listening to the conversation all this time] Thank you, Sister Margaretta. [Sister Margaretta leaves] Captain von Trapp? Are you in love with him?
MARIA: I don't know—I don't know—I--the Baroness said I was—she— she said that he was in love with me, but I—I didn't want to believe it. Oh there were times when we would look at each other. Oh, Mother, I could hardly breath.
REVEREND MOTHER: Did you let him see how you felt?
MARIA: If I did, I didn't know it. That's what's been torturing me. I was there on God's errand. To have asked for his love would have been wrong. I couldn't stay, I just couldn't. I'm ready at this moment to take my vows. Please help me.
REVEREND MOTHER: Maria, the love of a man and a woman is holy, too. You have a great capacity to love. What you must find out is how God wants you to spend your love.
MARIA: But I've pledged my life to God. I—I've pledged my life to His service.
REVEREND MOTHER: My daughter, if you love this man it doesn't mean
you love God less. No. You must find out. You must go back.
MARIA: Oh Mother, you can't ask me to do this. Please let me stay, I beg of you.
REVEREND MOTHER: Maria, these walls were not built to keep out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.

    If only my mother or father had said (or sung!) that to me—about how our house wasn't built to keep out problems, how we have to face our problems—when boys at school used to call me "faggot," and then when I began to feel overwhelmed by my physical attraction to those same boys. If only I'd felt, like Maria, that I could seek safety from my sexuality in the places most familiar to me, the places where God dwelled—home, the church, Catholic school. If only my parents hadn't been afraid to discuss those things openly with me, even if they like the Reverend Mother had insisted that I could never solve my problems by hiding from them at home. If only: The Sound of Music has always appealed to the part of me that wishes dreams could come true. For one of the amazing things about this scene was the way the Reverend Mother lovingly confronts Maria's anxieties about her sexual identity. She acknowledges, to begin with, Maria's unhappiness, whether or not she thinks Maria ought to be feeling that way and without even knowing why she's unhappy: "you've been unhappy. I'm sorry."

    During my sophomore year in college, I started falling in love with my best friend Martin. The fears that I'd had ever since high school that I might be gay were coming true. One night my parents called me, as they regularly did, to say hello and see how I was doing. "How are you? What's new?" my mom asked. I wasn't sure how much she really wanted an answer to her questions.

    "Oh, I'm not too good," I began to say.

    "Why not, honey?" she asked with a worried intensity.

    "Oh, I don't know ..."

    But before I got very far in trying to explain (though I wasn't ready at that point to come out to her), she showered me with protestations of "Oh, honey, we all feel sad once in a while, but we just have to look on the bright side of things. Sure, there are days I don't feel like getting out of bed" (were there, I suddenly wanted to know? Why don't you tell me about that?), "but I do it anyway, and as the day goes on, I feel better, and I forget about my troubles—we all have to, you know. You can't just sit and do nothing and feel sorry for yourself, honey. Talk to God when you're feeling blue, that's what I do, and it helps, it really does help. Okay? You know your father and I are always here for you and we love you—all of you kids—very much ..." I remained silent.

    The Reverend Mother asks tactful but pointed questions to find out what's bothering Maria: "Why did they send you back to us?" "Tell me what happened." "Were they unkind to you?" "What is it you can't face?" "Are you in love with him?" And not only does she help Maria to admit that she is in love with a man, but she reassures Maria that loving a man is something good: "Maria, the love of a man and a woman is holy, too. You have a great capacity to love.... if you love this man it doesn't mean you love God less." Although this scene examines the tension between a woman's love of God and her love for a man, not the tension between heterosexual and homosexual love, Maria's love for the captain is so unexpected, so forbidden, and so seductive within the terms of the story that this might as well have been a gay coming out scene. It was always possible for me to hear in the Reverend Mother's speech the simple promise that loving a man is good ... if you are in love with a man it doesn't mean that you are less the person you already are.

    Although my parents and I never directly addressed the possibility of my being gay in the way that the Reverend Mother urges Maria to embrace the possibility that her calling might be a heterosexual rather than a celibate one, still when I was ready, finally, to come out, my parents were the first people I came out to. It was August of 1985, the summer after I graduated from Catholic University and one month before I was set to move to New York City to begin working as an editorial assistant in a publishing firm. I had just spent the weekend down at Catholic U., in Washington D.C., visiting my friend Patrick, who had also been my boyfriend for a few months during my senior year until he dumped me, having decided, he told me, that he wasn't really gay after all. A full ten months after our breakup I still wasn't over Patrick, and so I came home feeling dejected and lonely. I arrived, however, only to discover that my dad was planning to leave town that very night for a business trip and my mom was going with him, leaving me by myself for the next three days (by this time, none of my siblings lived at home anymore). I couldn't bear the thought of being alone with myself and my feelings of unrequited love for Patrick for three whole days, so I began to cry.

    "What's wrong, honey?" my mom asked me.

    "Oh, nothing," I said, still crying.

    "Yes there is something, tell me what it is."

    "Nothing," I said, afraid to tell the truth but unable to conceal it any longer.

    "If it were nothing, you wouldn't be crying like this. Now, please, honey, tell us. What is it? You can tell us."

    I decided to fib.

    "It's my friend Robert. I'm feeling sad about him." Robert was an acquaintance from college who at that time was dying of leukemia and whom I'd also seen the previous weekend in Washington. My mom had met him at my graduation and so she knew about his illness, but she also knew that although I was fond of him, his illness—even his death—would not have affected me in quite this way.

    Turning to my dad, she said, "Jack, you go without me, I can't leave him here like this."

    "I'm not leaving either," my dad said.

    "I'm going to make a pot of coffee and we're gonna go sit down in the living room and talk about this.

    "No, I don't want you to stay home because of me," I protested.

    "No, honey, we don't mind at all. This is more important. We want to stay here with you. Now let's go into the living room."

    What followed was the beginning of a long, uneven, sometimes unpleasant process of becoming reacquainted with one another, a process that continues to this day. Many—perhaps most—gay men come out to their parents having first developed some kind of support system of gay friends and lovers, but I came out to my parents in the same moment that I came out to myself and before knowing intimately anyone who was openly gay. I think I did it this way because, despite my parents' limitations, in some sense I did experience home, family, and even the Church, as welcoming and loving. And this scene from The Sound of Music, where in the end the Reverend Mother sends Maria back into the arms of the man she fears but knows deep down she loves, would have confirmed in me that feeling from the very first time I saw it.

    When I was a child, the first thing I decided I wanted to be when I grew up was a priest. Ideas about eternity, uphill struggles, self-sacrifice, and strong leadership had already been planted within me by the time I first saw The Sound of Music. My family made friends with certain of our parish priests, in particular Father Mike, who was handsome and extremely sweet-tempered, and who everybody said looked like me, or at least as though he could be my older brother, because we both had the same auburn hair and the same pattern of freckles on our faces. Mike was in his mid-twenties when he came to our parish and must have needed the security and the sense of belonging my family provided him. He seemed to be around a lot, joining us for summers at the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey, where his mother lived year round.

    I haven't seen Father Mike since he was transferred to another parish in 1970. The only concrete thing that I have left of him is a picture someone took of the two of us at his going away party in the cafeteria of our parish grade school, a picture I keep on the wall in my bedroom. Whoever took the picture—probably my dad—was adding to the myth that Mike and I were related in some fundamental way, a myth that I now cherish as I search for usable pieces of my past with which to surround myself. In this five-by-seven-inch color photograph (fig. 4), Mike, seen in profile, stands at the back of the auditorium, intently observing something that is happening at the front of the room—it might have been someone paying tribute to him and his invaluable service to Sacred Heart Parish, his inspiring sermons, his appeal to young parishioners, and so on. He is holding what looks like a folded piece of paper, maybe his notes for the farewell speech he is about to give. There is a serious, almost frightened look in his eyes; he might have been thinking, "I don't ever want to leave this place. Where am I going? Will I make new friends? How many times in my life will this happen to me, getting settled only to have to tear up my roots and start all over again?" He is dressed entirely in black—black pants, a black short-sleeved shirt and Roman collar, and a black leather belt. He has (easy for me to see this now) beautiful forearms covered in light-auburn hair and fleshy biceps just visible beneath his short-sleeves. The photographer has caught his shiny auburn hair and sideburns perfectly in the light. (Did I think then, in any way, that he was "sexy"? What does a six-year-old know about sex? I don't remember what I felt for Mike, except that I'm pretty sure "I liked him," whatever that might have meant.) To his left and in the background of the picture, there are several long, cafeteria-style tables, covered in white paper tablecloths and decorated with green, red, and blue crepe paper flowers. I am sitting by myself on one of these tables, facing in the same direction as Mike, with the same serious, attentive look, holding a Coke cup. I'm wearing a short-sleeved dark blue shirt and dark blue pants with blueprint-style drawings of sailing ships all over them, my tiny pair of black shoes dangling a few feet off the floor, my auburn hair echoing Mike's—right down to the faux sideburns cut around my ears. "Bookends," my parents liked to say about us when they looked at this picture, thinking how much of a matched pair we made.

    My parents loved Father Mike's sermons, and they even invited him to say mass at our house a few times, in the dining room. As years went by, they would often quote things they remembered him saying. In a letter I got from my mom a few years ago, she wrote, "a thought came to mind Tuesday evening of a time way back in the 60's when you kids were little. We went to adult Education classes run by Fr. [Mike] and I remembered a point he made to the young adults who were there. He said, `you don't have to find out if you are compatible with someone "below the waistline"—that's already been proven, that 99 times out of 100 that works out. It's whether you can get along "above the shoulders" that really counts.' I never forgot that." Mom's letter came in the wake of an argument we'd had the week before. I had gone back to my hometown of Reading to visit my parents for a few days, and while I was there my mother had inadvertently come across my diary and started reading it. She was shocked when she read about the sex I'd recently been having with my boyfriend, and she was upset that I'd acknowledged her anger at me for not having visited Reading in several months (to admit her anger about this would have meant admitting how drastically things have changed between us over the past several years, how much less we now trust each other). My mother's letter to me, in which she quotes ú Father Mike as a way of expressing her disapproval of my sex life, reminds me that I know very little about Mike. What would he think of me if he knew me today, no longer the sweet little redheaded boy who everyone said looked so much like him?

    My mother's letter reminds me, too, that the figures I've used in constructing a mythology for myself about who I am and where I came from (Mom and Dad, my siblings, Father Mike, the scene in The Sound of Music where Maria confesses her love of Captain von Trapp to the Reverend Mother, and many others) exceed my grasp, don't do everything I want and need them to do for me, have a life of their own quite apart from the use to which I've put them, can in fact be used against me. And yet, without them, how else would I conceive of myself? What I've made of them is partly a fiction, but I can't live without some kind of fiction about who I am. For one thing, I would never be able to communicate my sense of who I am to anyone else without some amount of cutting, pasting, editing, quoting, sampling, shaping, framing—that is, without some kind of fiction-making.


Widescreen dreams Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[Horrigan’s] personal anecdotes illuminate the complex relationship between film and the imagination.”—Publishers Weekly

“Horrigan transforms a series of his critical writings on film into a touching and insightful look at a gay youth coming of age… This fascinating autobiographical tribute to American film-making is highly recommended.”—Library Journal

"Widescreen Dreams is a terrific book and an impressive debut."—William J. Mann, author of The Biograph Girl and Wisecracker

Library Journal

This memoir began as an experiment in merging cultural studies with autobiography, and it succeeds beautifully. Horrigan transforms a series of his critical writings on film into a touching and insightful look at a gay youth coming of age and coming to terms with himself. Each of the five chapters discusses a film in the context of Horrigan's family life and personal development. The book begins with The Sound of Music, moves on to the Barbra Streisand era, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Wiz, and ends with Horrigan's memory of Al Pacino's role as a gay man in Dog Day Afternoon. Particularly interesting are Horrigan's childhood fantasy movies and his mock interview with Dick Cavett about his own role playing Sonny, Pacino's young lover in a film he writes himself. This fascinating autobiographical tribute to American filmmaking is highly recommended for academic libraries with gay/lesbian and film studies collections.--Lisa N. Johnston, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA

Kirkus Reviews

A blathering memoir describing how an odd handful of movies moved and influenced Horrigan (English/Long Island Univ.) in his youth. Born in 1963, the author was raised in a largish Irish-Catholic family in Reading, Penn., and spent his childhood listening avidly to Barbra Streisand records and mooning over his favorite movies, especially The Sound of Music; Hello, Dolly!; The Poseidon Adventure; The Wiz; and Dog Day Afternoon. Into oppressively detailed transcriptions of scenes from this bleak canon he inserts anecdotes from his life and various fantasies the films inspired, but there is not much insight to be found in his shaggily meandering chatter. Horrigan's piano teacher commented on Christopher Plummer's cardboard character in The Sound of Music, and the author muses, "Apparently Mrs. Hasbrouck didn't think all men were alike or that they were all as bad as Captain von Trapp. Hmm!" Aerial shots and grand spaces fascinated him—the Poseidon's ballroom, the restaurant into which Streisand descends during the title number of Hello, Dolly!, the von Trapps' villa, the Alps, several screen depictions of New York City—but it seems the chief reason for this attraction was that his own house was too crowded for him to masturbate comfortably. Grasping at straws, he reads The Poseidon Adventure as a metaphor for the homosexual's struggle to come out. Horrigan imagined his life would become special only if he were a movie star, and the book climaxes with a lengthy treatment of a homoerotic film in which the adolescent author would co-star with Al Pacino ("So Al would bury his face in my neck, but rather than lift it again, he would linger there," etc.), followed by a sophomoricimaginary interview with Dick Cavett. Horrigan seems not to have grown out of the juvenile self-absorption re-created here, however; he invites us to wallow with him in his obsessions, but he does nothing to make us care. (photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Readers' Reviews

Widescreen dreams

Book Info

  • Book Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13: 9780299161644
  • ISBN-10: 0299161641
  • Edition: 1
  • Number of Pages: 256
  • Dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)
  • Approx Price: $3.92
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