[We most often think of writer David Thomson as one of our most perceptive writers about the movies. When EDF asked him if we could publish an excerpt from his newest book, How to Watch a Movie, he offered, as a bonus, the following piece that he was writing when we called. It is both touching and witty, reminding us that he should step outside our expectations more often in addition to enlightening us about cinema.
Marie Hatch died in San Francisco on Thursday March 3. She was ninety-seven, and most people die long before that. Ms. Hatch developed a cold; she went into hospital briefly, came home and died. She had a cancer, too, but death was ascribed to natural causes. Or maybe it was excitement.
Not that it seems to have been what newspapers would call an exciting life. Marie Hatch had a son and a grandson. She had worked in a bakery, but then a bad knee compelled her to retire. There were photographs of her, and she looked younger than ninety-seven, alert and concerned. Indeed, she looked anxious.
She had lived in a pleasant two-bedroom house in Burlingame, a suburb to the south of the city, for sixty-six years. It was in 1950 that she had moved into the house and the landlady, Vivian Kroeze, had said she could live there for life. If she paid the rent, and she did.
Vivian Kroeze died, and in turn her daughter and then her grand-daughter maintained this agreement. But in 2006 the grand-daughter, Pamela Kantz, was killed by a boy-friend as she was in the process of getting a divorce. So the estate passed to the grand-daughter’s estranged husband, David Kantz. After nine more years, Mr Kantz said that the rental agreement was over. In December 2015, he gave Marie Hatch sixty days’ notice to be out of the house so that he could sell it and raise money for his sons. Estimates were that the house might fetch $1.2 million.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported this story in February, and had large emotional response. There really wasn’t more than one sentimental side to the case and that was forced home when Mr Kantz gave a statement: “I feel bad for the elderly lady, I feel bad for my sons, I feel bad for me.” Mr. Kantz had a point, but he was impaled on it.
The reader reactions were wild, instant and generous. Several hundred people sent money, cheering messages and offers for places where Marie could live. A famous attorney in the city was soon acting for her and presenting a lawsuit against Mr. Kantz. This case, he claimed, “was the tip of the iceberg as to how senior citizens are being treated in the Bay Area in terms of being put out on the sidewalk.”
There are many housing problems in San Francisco, ranging from the rising price of real estate to the average rental price of nearly $4,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. There had been an extensive tent city under an overpass until very recently when the police moved those homeless people on because of excrement, hypodermic needles, and the threat of violence on the streets. But don’t get me wrong: San Francisco is a fine place to live, if you have a lot of money.
In Burlingame, Marie Hatch was no threat. She and a room-mate (eighty-five years old) split a rent of $800 a month and lived very simply. That ended with the eviction notice. Whatever age you are, you doubtless understand “stress” and can you imagine what Ms Hatch felt as the settled order of her life had only sixty days to go.
So the cause of death is debatable, and if Ms Hatch was cast down by the eviction notice, she must have been astonished by the outburst of good will that came when her story went viral. Let’s say the swings of fortune were too much for an elderly constitution to withstand. So she died and now Mr. Kantz can start to feel better. The case won’t come to court, and the city goes on with just another piece of lively folklore.
Maybe excitement killed Marie Hatch. But it can be the most precious exercise the human organism knows. Excitement can take physical turns, to be sure, but it is in the head too, and it probably makes you wake up earlier just to see what the hell is going to happen.
Which reminds me to say that, the day after Marie Hatch died, it was announced that Rupert Murdoch had married Jerry Hall. Now, there were two people who could seem to be steeped in excitement – or if not steeped, then at a moderate, comfortable incline. Murdoch, eighty-four, is a press baron and a media tycoon. As such he must have a special keen sense of hearing for breaking stories. The cracking must sound to him like the fracturing of an egg shell to an emerging chick.
For her part, even as fifty-nine, Jerry Hall has that startled look, as if excitement had just happened, or is about to happen. I suspect that uncertainty can grow tiring, for her and others, but even if you’re eighty-four (Rupert’s age) you’re going around with one of the great photographs of the end of the twentieth century. And people into excitement seem to like that.
At a more practical level, this marriage can set about the task of equalization. Hall and Murdoch both have a net worth around 15; it’s just that his rates in billions and hers in millions. There is work to be done, and shifting large sums of money does seem to be an excitement that keeps people interested in life.
(Copyright ©2015 by David Thomson.)
David Thomson has written about film for The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, The New Republic, Salon, Movieline, Film Comment, and Sight & Sound. He is the author of more than thirty books on film, including The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, and Why Acting Matters. He lives in San Francisco.
The excerpt from How to Watch a Movie is here.