Movies about trains

EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT - EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT by Jessica Zafra () - November 3, 2006 - 12:00am
Somewhere near the border of Italy and Austria, May 2004. The train station is tucked away in the grotty part of town, like a senile relative you keep hidden from the guests. It’s old, but not old enough to be of historical or architectural interest. The big clock on its façade is permanently fixed at 11:08. The building is gray, as are the people who trudge in burdened with suitcases. They walk through the dingy lobby like zombies, their bags bumping and scraping on the cracked floor. The tourism posters on the walls are faded, the destinations unappetizing. A despondent man pounds on the vending machine that refuses to dispense his cigarettes. The magazine stand is closed. Enrique Iglesias and Anna

Kournikova are on the cover of a magazine, unsuccessfully evading the paparazzi. Enrique Iglesias being one of the Philippines’ best-known contributions to popular culture–his mother is Filipino. Well, Spanish-Filipino. The others are Rob Schneider, star of Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo, Fil-American; and Lou Diamond Phillips, who portrayed Richie Valens in La Bamba, then assorted native Americans.

And don’t forget Billy (formerly Billy Joe) Crawford, a former That’s Entertainment regular who’s now a bona fide pop star in Europe.

A teenage boy in a blue hooded sweater walks up to me. "Per piacere," he begins. "I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian." People are always asking me for directions, which is funny because I have a lousy sense of direction. I don’t even bother to remember signposts and landmarks because I know I’ll get lost anyway. Don’t even show me a map: I’ll assume all adjacent locations are within walking distance of each other.

I figure if I just keep moving forward I will bump into my destination eventually.

The train is arriving in ten minutes. I hesitate at the door of the station canteen, basically three tables and a glass case containing some dispirited-looking sandwiches. This is the most depressing train station I’ve ever been in; it makes throwing yourself under an incoming train seem like an exciting prospect. In the movies train stations are always vibrating with romance and intrigue. Everyone is on some top-secret mission, with microfilm sewn into their underwear and a cyanide pill to swallow in case of capture. Everyone is off to an illicit rendezvous, or escaping their nasty pursuers. Joan Fontaine is searching the crowd for Louis Jourdan, the handsome pianist she loves; when they meet again he

won’t remember who she is, and will seduce her all over again (Letter From An Unknown Woman, directed by Max Ophuls). Marilyn Monroe is va-va-vooming down the platform while Curtis and Lemmon in drag gape at her in awe (Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder). In real life people are doing boring stuff like going to their jobs or visiting relatives. Movies are our defense against the tedium of daily life.

The station door bangs open and the passengers hurry out to meet the train. I haul my two bags into the coach and find a window seat. I wonder who my seatmate would be. A jolly old English lady in tweeds who will vanish in mid-trip while everyone denies she was ever there (The Lady Vanishes by Alfred Hitchcock)? A sociopath offering to trade murders (Strangers On A Train, also by Hitchcock)? Cary Grant eluding the police (North by Northwest, yet another Hitchcock)? The train groans and begins to move. There is no one on the platform running alongside the train or even waving goodbye (like in Summertime by David Lean). Rick isn’t standing at the door reading Ilsa’s letter as the words are obliterated by Raindrops (Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz).

I read somewhere that one of the biggest stars in Philippine cinema worked in a train station as a child. Nora Villamayor was from a poor family; she helped her parents by selling water to thirsty travelers. She would run alongside the train crying "Water!" in her startling alto. Someone suggested that she join a singing contest. The voice that emanated from the petite teenager was not that of a child, but of a woman who had known bitterness and regret. You can guess the rest. She was renamed Nora Aunor, and her rise to stardom was a kind of revolution. She was the first Filipino superstar who looked like an indigenous Filipino: not white or mestiza, not tall or aquiline-nosed.

The more her detractors picked on her ethnic looks, the more her fans adored her. She graduated to the movies, displaying an innate understanding of the craft. She did not need to be beautiful. She did not raise her voice or contort her face; she drew the viewers into her bottomless pain and need. She played the poor girl, the underdog, the victim who crushes her tormentors in the end. And gets the nice mestizo boy. Nora Aunor was the surrogate chosen by her millions of fans, who saw show business as their only ticket out of the slums. Her relationships were played out in public, and her personal excesses were known to everyone. The fans embraced her imperfections. These days she entertains her loyal followers in the Filipino communities of California and Nevada. The voice is older, but still seething pain,regret, lost love, and bitter memories of the home they thought they’d left behind.
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You can e-mail me if you like at emotionalweatherreport@gmail.com.
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