Three men arrived in Morgan Friday on the three-thirty train from Memphis. They have come to rob the bank next day and along the way bring resolution to the sleepy little town’s wide array of soapy problems.
For me, Violent Saturday is the most outstanding example of the way we misremember. The boys at school were all agog at the amazing scene in the film when Ernest Borgnine jags Lee Marvin with the pitchfork, and I saw it full of expectation and was thrilled. I searched out the book, by someone called Heath, and... found it the most dreary, unsuspenceful thing. What went wrong? Years later, I saw the film again and realised it was as bad or worse than the book. This I now see as a pattern.
With the exception of the very excellent, I find that the films I saw when I was young are nothing like the way I remember them. Obviously, I used to add scenes that I thought ought to have been there, exaggerated what was there in my mind, and generally forgot the rest. Just like any typical kid.
However, in the case of the books I read at the same time, I find that they are exactly as I remember them. Books obliged me to use my imagination in the way the author intended and I find it was my imaginings that I remembered—whether they arose from the book or were added by my brain to the films. Movies leave the imagination idle—it is the film-maker’s imaginings you see, not your own—and since nature abhors a vacuum, so my own imagination filled in bits that the censorship, the limitations of special effects and the formulaic structure of films did not allow to get on the screen.
Conversely, if the film was of very high quality, the film-maker fulfilled all my needs and my own imagination became redundant. In this way, I created a curious discernment—remembering the terrific films as they were, and filling in bits to make the ordinary films terrific as well. Thereby, I loved all movies.
Movies are an emotional and impressionistic experience, having more to do with our mental condition at the time we see them rather than with what actually appears onscreen. Maybe it is because the whole business is such an illusion anyway. Books, however, are fixed objects and the mental state is created by the book—you can’t read when you are upset or over-excited. This is why there is a sense of immediacy about seeing films and why such emphasis is placed upon the initial release by the marketers. Only great films retain their glow, the rest tarnish almost immediately. Whereas books remain what they are forever.
And so I knew far earlier than I should have, that it is not the way things actually are that we remember, but the way we imagine they were. Accuracy of memory relates entirely to a balance between circumstances where the imagination is strongly charged, but the parameters confining it are equally strong. Which, I’m sure, is related to the fact that we remember best those moments when our emotions were most fully engaged.