Sometime in the early eighties, when my wife, Alice, and I and our daughters were about to leave New York for Nova Scotia, where we spent our summers, I was asked this question, point-blank: “Is it true that in Nova Scotia you lock people in your barn and make them watch your home movies?”
“You’re close,” I replied.
But I would submit that there’s more to the story. The term “home movies” conjured up in those days the rough equivalent of today’s cell-phone videos on Facebook or YouTube: the toddler making his unsteady way across the back yard, the new kitten doing something excruciatingly adorable with the old dog. The movies being shown in our barn had plots—not terribly believable plots, I’ll admit, but plots nonetheless. There were costumes—some white lab coveralls, for instance, and a 7 UP deliveryman’s shirt and a pair of nurse’s scrubs and a witch’s hat and a Bad Boys Bail Bonds T-shirt that bore the motto “Because Your Mama Wants You Home.” There were actors—our daughters, Abigail and Sarah, and neighboring kids and the kids of guests. Adults appeared briefly in bit parts, often doing something humiliating, in the tradition of physical comedy that scholars of the dramatic arts can trace from the ancient theatre to, well, “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” The adults’ most sustained appearance, in “It’s So Crazy It Just Might Work,” was a series of painfully untalented hopefuls trying out for a talent show—acknowledged in the credits as “a supporting cast of oppressed grownups.”
Also, it’s a bit harsh to say that the audience was locked in the barn. It’s true that we invited people to our barn every summer to see the movie we’d made the previous summer—or maybe the movies we’d made the previous two or three summers. Refreshments were served. People were free to leave. They might not be invited back the next summer, of course, but they were free to leave. We were confident that nobody would, in fact, leave. For one thing, refreshments were served. For another, many of those in the barn had appeared in our previous summer’s movie themselves. That made the gathering something like one of those Hollywood premières that include the movie’s stars in the audience. Those watching Manford Blacksher as a South Shore fisherman do a showstopping rendition of “By God Those Tourists Are Some Dumb” (sung to the tune of “The Lady Is a Tramp”), for instance, would have included Manford Blacksher himself. Also, Manford Blacksher’s parents.
Read more at the New Yorker.