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Watching The Birdcage on Acid

Someone had spiked the punch, so by the time I got home, I was tripping balls. I wasn’t angry about it, though, which was so weird. I was just like, okay, yeah, so apparently tonight is an acid night. 


And by the time I pull into the driveway, the steering wheel is slipping through my fingers and turning invisible, or not invisible but more just all brushy and transparent and impossible to find. Then I parked the car and sat there looking at my hands. I decided I would only make my fingers wiggle if I could catch the moment when my intention to make them wiggle became my command for them to wiggle. And then I realized I’d done it, and my fingers were wiggling and occupying multiple positions simultaneously, and I could see through their blueness, and whatever they were doing, as I marveled at how I controlled them, it was all one phenomenon occurring through elastic time being held together in my continuous perception, and then I asked how I was perceiving that I was perceiving and who was perceiving anything, and I flashed onto infinity. And then I told myself to go inside. 


I could have done yoga. I could have made bacon and eggs. But I decided just to do what I’d more or less been planning on doing before I’d gone out, and watch The Birdcage. So I got a glass of water and went and got comfy in the new black leather armchair, which is cushy and swank and crackly all over with that creased, leathery friction. I pulled on the side-thing to extend out the footrest and turned on the TV. 


I love the view out my windows behind the TV. People are always saying how lucky I am to have my place, and know what?—they’re right: I might have the best view in the city. It’s near enough to the river that you see the water, but far enough back that there’s also a good stretch of skyline visible (you’re looking north to downtown). And on this night, the buildings are sparkling, like reflections. 


The Birdcage is the best queer American film. Full stop. Notice I do not qualify this appraisal by saying, for instance, The Birdcage is the best queer American film of the nineties, or the best queer American film directed by and starring a bunch of straight dudes; I simply say it is the best queer American film. I have found that positing this opinion is semi-controversial among my homosexual peers, some of whom think I am a fuddy-duddy born two to three generations too late, or say that the performances of the cast of The Birdcage are equivalent to blackface (as though it could possibly be offensive to be portrayed by Robin Williams and Nathan Lane!). But I literally cannot convey how much this movie means to me. The first time I saw it, I was eleven. And the way that it affected me and affected my life—


So I’m turning it on, and my history with this movie is always a part of my experience when I watch it. Because I try to watch the movie for itself, and just concentrate on its own merits, but inevitably I’m also engaging with all my past other viewings, and remembering the people I was with when I saw it different times, or the people I wanted to be with, and the viewing when I loved a particular scene the most I’d ever loved that scene—


So, opening shot: camera swooshing steadily shoreline to crest on the Miami coast, and gliding on up to the glitzy, gaudy establishments along the beachfront. Queens and drag queens doing their thang up and down the drag outside the clubs. Camera pushes in further upon the titular club. Enter. 


Robin Williams, playing gay in a Hawaiian shirt, is being the boss, circulating to keep things on track, charming (non-dominating control) his way through arising challenges to his plan. 


Why does no one ever point out that Boogie Nights stole this opening?—the tracking shot inside the club, the big disco anthem, the manager greeting guests and handling problems, while the camera tries to keep up? The Birdcage came out the year before Boogie Nights, and it was made by Mike Nichols. Mike Nichols is a big deal. And what Paul Thomas did one year later, that had everyone gushing how he was the new Scorsese and Tarantino and Altman rolled into one, Mike had done the year prior. It irks me. 


It’s coming at me now—less the filmmaking than the acting: the expressions that are there and gone, like a little flash of hurt or recognition on someone’s face.


Is it always like that in real life, too, that a moment arrives and is gone right away? So you won’t catch the little look on the face of someone you love if you aren’t paying attention or your heart isn’t open?


And I am noticing time. And the moment that was just here is gone. But it never arrived. There was an event: someone had a feeling and their face showed it. But in real life you can’t rewind and pause to see it again. Unless you recorded it on your phone. But even then, if you watch it again on your phone, you’re still just looking at the past, while the present is going right now


The present is always going and we delineate it by referring to events. It was during the scene where they’re rehearsing the dance number that my sense of the present was peeling off of the surface of my consciousness, until I had rippled and shifted, and found I was mentally inhabiting many different time-locations simultaneously. 


I was across time. It wasn’t this exactly, but it was like I was looking at a giant opening fan—an array of Birdcage viewings, with each leaf of the fan bearing the moving image of a scene. I knew exactly which each viewing was—at which time in my life it had been, and with which companions, and how much attention I’d been paying to the movie. I knew because I was there again, and having each Birdcage experience again. I was in all the times at once, but I was across them. Though I could localize by focusing, if I chose. 


I saw that I will keep on watching the movie until I die. I saw viewings that in the present I didn’t know yet, that hadn’t happened to me yet back in the present, when I would be with friends and lovers and relatives I’d never met yet. 


I could have time-traveled to these future viewings, but I decided to come back to the present, and I re-coalesced in my chair. It was at the scene where Armand follows Albert out to the bus stop by the harbor, after Albert has been rejected by prissy, callow Val. And Armand, that’s Robin Williams, gives Albert, that’s Nathan Lane, a palimony agreement. Now obviously, this is very pre-Obergfell, but that’s not what matters. What matters is Armand’s kindness. 


It’s maybe my favorite scene of the movie, and as I was sitting in my armchair, my heart was expanding and expanding, because the last time I had watched The Birdcage had been with Hank, and during that scene I had cozied up against him and put my head on his chest, and then I’d realized that this was how I’d been waiting to watch that scene all along. 


He was what I’d always wanted, exactly what I’d always wanted—a man in his fifties who called me Nathaniel and never Nate, who cooed about my curls and had the wisdom of extra decades to stay calm and gentle when I tried to provoke him. I loved his grey sideburns. I loved this quality he had—this quiet, alert strength. I couldn’t predict him. I would think I understood what he was thinking or what he wanted, and then I’d realize he was seeing more clearly than I could, and that I couldn’t stay ahead of him. He would change in a flash. 


And is that time really just gone?


Maybe I was too young for him. Maybe my being the clever guy got old. I don’t know. I miss him all the time. But this time, missing him is different. I saw that it starts as pain, but that pain and missing are just the front impression of something greater. They open onto an expanse of love. And that expanse opens onto another expanse. But it is hard to discover this, because first, you have to not resist the pain.


So I accepted it completely, and my heart opened until it had no boundaries at all, and I was my love in eternity. 


Robin Williams standing stiffly in a suit, suppressing any possible gesture that might read as gay. 


I took my glass and take a big sip of water. I concentrated on just drinking water. Water in my mouth, on my tongue, through my throat. What is water? Is it one thing or is it divisible? Does it dissolve? Does it flow? Does it change? Am I just perceiving it?


What is love? What is my love that I have for Hank? Why does it expand and expand in my heart? Where is it? Is it in my heart?


What is the quality in Robin Williams’ eyes when he smiles?


The prickling of my fingertips, the melting of my toes, the opening of my heart forever, are all the same thing. And there is no distinction between my feet and the floor, between my chest and the air. Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest, as Senator and Mrs. Keeley, arrive at the Goldmans’/Colemans’ condo for an excruciatingly uncomfortable round of hor d’oeuvres. Then Albert comes in flouncily, dressed as a Palm Beach housewife, and Senator Keeley’s eyes light up.

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