I think it might have took up two cassette tapes, but I remember watching Hatari! over and over. It'd been taped off the TV by my Mother's best friend, Pat Lucky, and she'd let us borrow it on one of our visits with her. It would be months before we'd return it. Hatari! was a milestone film in that it was perfect escapism and yet it began to awaken an itch in me to direct. I don't even know if I understood films were directed yet but I wanted to make a movie that would make me feel like Hatari! did.
Pat Lucky was a Jehovah's Witness as were we in those days. But all the dreary trappings of the religion seemed to have no place in her house. Her house meant Cokes in mugs that had Fonzie on them and a gift of the latest Disney release in the clam shell case. My mother is a perennially unelectable mix of firebrand liberal and prudish social conservative so that meant practically no TV or movies, not so at Pat Lucky's house. Provided it wasn't too violent I could flip through the channels in wonder at being able to watch movies on TV. I formulated mental lists of movies I wanted to see.
She sent me gifts at my dance recitals and little cards to cheer me up. Sometimes your parents' friends are people you have to endure, not her, she was family. Family I prefered over quite a few actual relatives. She was a Howard Hawks woman, sharp, funny, and bright. Because of her I could hear Henry Mancini's safari chic score playing in my head when meetings got duller than usual. I even learned "Baby Elephant Walk" for a piano recital.
But the rupture came, a sharp, jagged mess that I still don't know how to talk about. It was over my Cousin's wedding and my Uncle not being allowed to give her away or be at the reception according to Witness rules. As there was no windmill my mother couldn't charge at the situation exploded and soon after I found myself no longer a Jehovah's Witness and no longer allowed to talk to the kids I'd grown up with. Movies became even more of an escape and safe place, especially after it was clear it meant no more Pat Lucky too.
Over the years I wondered about it, how she could love movies and TV shows and have an active curiosity in the world and still follow so lockstep a fundamentalist sect like that. It was a hard lesson that art can't always save you, you have to save yourself first. It's made me question my own moral absolutes and served as a warning against that kind of thinking. To beware of thinking anything a panacea or that Utopias are possible. That people who push both are dangerous, deluded at best and predatory con men at worst.
It doesn't stop the ache that things could be better nor should a person feel bad for wishing so. Hawks understood that too, how often life could disappoint us and leave us wanting or leave us where we never expected to be. But there is hope in Hawks' universe, a sensible, tempered by experience hope. Just keep your own counsel. Things may not be perfect, things may not even work out, but life will continue and there will be friends and partners along the way. To close with a line of dialogue from another one of his best, the incredulous Pat Wheeler asks Sheriff John T. Chance:
"A game legged old man and a drunk. That's all you've got?"
"That's what I've got."
That's what I've got. And it's enough.