Sunday, July 19, 2009

Farewell Jason Miller, Farewell The Gathering

Rebecca Marshall-Ferris generously shared her odyssey of discovery with us this morning - a documentary about Scranton’s native son Jason Miller. It was the perfect finale to our conference’s theme – There and Back Again – Time, Place and Story.

Jason began his life on the west end of Scranton. He rose to critical acclaim through the writing of play That Championship Season and the Priest in the Exorcist. His time in the spot light was brief and his downward spiral to obscurity was pitiless to his artist’s soul. He died as he lived his last years, sitting in a pub.

The film Rebecca has crafted is unflinching but gentle. She uses the controversy over a public sculpture in his memory as a vehicle to transport us through the poignant ironies of his life and the community he sprang from.

His meteoric rise was for a play written about men nostalgic for their brief time of glory. In retrospect his life’s experience followed the same path. Watching the film I wondered if at the end of his life he saw that connection too. Furthermore, his play can also be seen as a metaphor for Scranton herself – bursting forth from the coal industry then withering away to a shell of its former brilliance.

While this might sound like a depressing thing to watch, I was surprised and delighted by how much humor was in the film. I laughed out loud quite a few times. My favorite scene was of a young man aptly synthesizing why Scranton was the place Jason belonged while getting an Exorcist Tattoo.

Another thing that I appreciated about the film was how she allowed the characters of those on camera reveal themselves to the viewer. Seemingly without prejudice or value judgement the sentiments and pickadillos of the people featured in the movie are captured in equal measure.

She sets a tone that is warm but not smaltzy. She refrains from cynicism, sarcasm or any other ism that would browbeat the subject. For that I say - Bravo!

Ultimately she casts a portrait of a man and a city that are down on their luck, but still fiercely beautiful and worthy of our affection. Thank you Rebecca!

And so The Gathering comes to a close for another year – after a scrumptious brunch at the Hull Family farm. I know we were all heartened to hear that next year’s theme and lecturers are already in the works – "Chaos and Creativity – Where the Strange Crossroads Lie." Featured guestspeakers are as of now: Jennifer Armstrong, Gail Carson-Levine, Dara Sobo, and Billy Collins. Mark your calendars –July 15-18 2010.

And so, sitting in the shade in this bucolic setting, I am reluctant to rise to my feet and return to the spinning vortex that I call my life. But this weekend I was reminded by Salman Rushdie that no one’s life is ordinary. So away I go to embrace my story more fully. See you next year!

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