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Valentine’s Day special: Michael Lister on Richard Curtis

I first met Michael at the 2009 Bouchercon in Indy. I knew he was a talented writer, but quickly came to see he was a very cool guy whose passion and knowledge of films reminded me of my own.

I asked him to share some of that passion for Crimespree Cinema for this day of love and could think of nothing more appropriate than his article on Richard Curtis, the man responsible for some of my own all-time favorite romantic comedies.

So let me quit my yapping and present Michael Lister’s MY LONG HAPPY LOVE AFFAIR:

I fell in love in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1994.

It started out as a one night stand, but blossomed into a passionate love affair that has been happily going on for fifteen years now.

In honor of National Coming Out Day (and with love and support for all my GLBT brothers and sisters), I’m going to use this column to confess my love for a man.

I first fell in love with Richard Curtis while experiencing his delightful film, “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

I was alone in Tulsa with a free evening, and had been hearing good things about this indie British film sweeping the states. The theater was packed, and though I’ve never liked group dates, the presence of the crowd was powerless to prevent me from finding a soulmate.

Though his films are often laugh-out-loud hilarious, he has a smart, witty way of capturing moments that are both realistic and wildly romantic. His characters are multi-faceted and complex, and easy to identify with, but mostly they are charming. He writes about good, guileless everymen and women trying to connect, trying to matter, wanting to be everything to someone. As one of his characters offers in his toast, “True love. In whatever shape or form it may come. May we all in our dotage be proud to say, ‘I was adored once, too.’”

“Four Weddings and a Funeral” follows the fortunes of Charles (Hugh Grant) and his friends as they wonder if they will ever find true love. Charles thinks he’s found his best chance with Carrie, an American he meets at the wedding of a mutual friend, but, as Shakespeare said, “the course of true love never did run straight.”

Romantic comedies, like most genre works, often fail to get the critical recognition they deserve (though “Four Weddings and Funeral” did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture), and are instead, dismissed out of hand for being unrealistic. And, of course, there’s no dearth of crass, clichéd examples of so-called genre works, but like James Lee Burke or P.D. James in the crime fiction field or Cormac McCarthy in the western field, Curtis represents the very best of the genre—he’s so good, in fact, he transcends genre categorizations.

Speaking about this unfortunate reality, Curtis said, “If you write a story about a soldier going AWOL and kidnapping a pregnant woman and finally shooting her in the head, it’s called searingly realistic, even though it’s never happened in the history of mankind. Whereas if you write about two people falling in love, which happens about a million times a day all over the world, for some reason or another, you’re accused of writing something unrealistic and sentimental.”

Weddings and funerals are seminal moments in life—a time to live and a time to die, a time to rejoice and a time to mourn, and Curtis uses them masterfully for both laughs and tears.

Perhaps the most piercing moment of the film is at its only funeral when the deceased man’s lover quotes a W. H. Auden poem.

Upon leaving the theater, so moved, so in love, so heady with the world-fading-oneness that love (and infatuation) brings, I drove straight to the first bookstore I could find and bought Vintage International’s edition of the Collected Poems of W. H. Auden, and when I pulled that book off my shelf while writing this, I discovered a bookmark from Novel Idea Bookstore, 7104 S. Sheridan, Tulsa OK, fifteen years later still marking the page with this poem:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

My love affair with Richard Curtis has only intensified over the years—through “Notting Hill,” “Love Actually,” and “The Girl in the Café,” but it all began fifteen years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

Richard Curtis has my highest recommendation, and in future columns I will share with you what is just so singular about each work, but for now I’d like to invite you to a wedding—a few weddings, in fact (and a non-weddings and a funeral). If you missed the film or just haven’t seen it in a while, do yourself a favor and find it. I’m about to watch it again for what must be nearly the fifteenth time, and can think of no better way to celebrate my fifteenth “Four Weddings and a Funeral” anniversary.

Michael Lister
Though writing is is his primary creative expression, Michael Lister dabbles in many art forms, including acting, playwriting, filmmaking, and the lost art of air guitar. He is the author of five books: Power in the Blood, Blood of the Lamb, Flesh and Blood, North Florida Noir, and Another Quiet Night in Desperation. His website is: http://www.michaellister.com/.