Lest Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

This year, as time slouches toward another birthday, my mind is focused on pleasant nostalgic memories rather than its usual dwellings on mortality and loss of short-term memory. One reason: The powers that be just rereleased one of my very favorite films, The African Queen.

I recently got on board Netflix (no, not the click-and-view, but the one-DVD-at-a-time-via-snail-mail version). Of course, one of the first films I tried to order was The African Queen. Surprised it wasn’t on the vast Netflix list, I checked Amazon, and found the notation “Available March 2010.” And so it was.

The African Queen stars Humphrey Bogart as Charlie Allnut and Katherine Hepburn as Rose. Too often, we find our idols have feet of clay, but not that night, not that film. I think the color may have been cleaned up a bit, or my memory had sepia-toned itself over time. But there it was: Bogart gin-soaked and disheveled; Hepburn starched and prissy (at least before the first waterfall and bug swarm); the jungle as lush and menacing as it had been back in…back in 1951 (!), when I saw it in the theater.

My favorite Hepburn line as she pours Bogart’s booze into the river: “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we were put on earth to rise above.”

As long as I’m revisiting memories gathered before the birth of most readers, how about Alec Guinness’s films? I rarely get a blink of recognition when I mention The Ladykillers, All at Sea, Kind Hearts and Coronets, or The Horse’s Mouth—though he swims into modern ken as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, a performance for which he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination in the dim days of 1977.

I wonder what memories are being stored today for tomorrow’s nostalgia—say, 20 to 30 years ahead. Will Avatar be viewed in 2059 with the same thrill as I revisited The African Queen? Will technology have gone so fast and far that information will be encoded electronically in the brain for instant inner replay?

I won’t be around then, unless technology makes some really big leaps, but I’d like to think that the old African Queen, on some as yet-to-be-invented medium, still will chug down the Ulanga to Lake Victoria, where Charlie Allnut and Rose will torpedo the German gunboat, and swim off through the wreckage into a new dawn.

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