#39. The Crowd (1928)

Even though I’m posting this essay about The Crowd right here, where it belongs in the chronology of the List, I didn’t actually watch it until several weeks later. The movie, best as my research could tell, never came out on VHS or DVD; or, if it did, it was never in a wide-enough release that any of the big media outlets or streaming services can find it. I had to get my copy from some company in the UK that bootlegs old movies. So it took a couple weeks to pin down the service, get the disk, et cetera.

the crowd work
Couldn’t find the gif, unfortunately, but this is the most famous shot of the movie, where the camera, from this height, zooms in slowly, amid all the identical desks, to find John scribbling away, happy, ambitious.

The Crowd is about a young guy named John Sims (James Murray) who sets out for New York City in the grip of a shapeless conviction that he’s somebody, that he’s gonna be a major player in history somehow, and there in the city, in his youth, he proves to be a quick-striding fool at the workplace, brimming with piss and pride and thunder, working hard all day and studying all night so that he can Be Somebody™, fuck knows who, but then – so sure is he of his destiny – John allows a friend to distract him from studying one night so that they can go on a double date. Here, John meets Mary (Eleanor Boardman) and falls in love with her. He proposes marriage like six hours later, selling himself on the fact that someday he’ll be rich. So they wed, they get an apartment, and shit’s all sex and harmony for a while until suddenly it’s not. John is humbled before her successful brothers. He starts drinking too much. He’s tormented and puzzled to find that the world (the Crowd) refuses to acknowledge how special he is. Starts taking it out on his wife. Acts like he’s pissed about her shortcomings as a person, as a spouse, when really what he’s railing against is a world that refuses to recognize or take pity on him. Finally Mary tells John that she’s pregnant. Convinced as he is of the unsung glory in his scrotum, John is happy again. He starts treating her well. She gives birth, and John is over the moon about it. Then she has another kid and…well, now they have two kids. Now Mary is the one who’s miserable, trapped by their lives’ routine, the demands of motherhood.

Another thing that happened recently to make this movie feel pertinent, apart from the fact that I’m starting to have doubts about my second job, is the fact that I got a Facebook message the other night, out of the blue, from the woman I mentioned in my essay about The Wheel (and who I’m sure’ll be mentioned here in the future, though I haven’t settled on a nickname yet) and after trading a few written messages with her, with Molly (call her Molly), we launched a three-hour video call through Facebook, each of us well into our cups, and all throughout the conversation I was this giddy reed of drunken rapture, all smiles and glee, and I think she got a laugh in too, Rapunzel did, grinning like a kid from basically start to finish. When her face got red she’d smear her fingers over it in the way she apparently still does. And her mouth puckers to the side when she’s pleased. “Fuckin Sorondo,” she calls me. And for a while even the silences are fluent, pleasant, and to be talking to her again is like sitting in a room full of candles all scented with the Past and if ever this lady dies I figure she’ll dissolve into a song in the sheets, just vanish, her freckles left behind to dot the pillow but nothing else. Just an urn full of wine for the mantle.

the crowd scene

And yet for all of this rapture in seeing her, talking to her, hearing again the rhythm of how we were…am I divested yet of this newfound, potentially circumstantial, but overall pretty adamant conviction that romance isn’t for me? That relationships are doomed? I know it’s social anathema at this point to quote John Updike with anything like respect in your voice but there’s this line I like from his collection of the Maple stories, Too Far to Go: “That a marriage ends is less than ideal; but all things end under Heaven, and if temporality is held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds.” Is it possible or healthy to go passionately into a relationship, and to really enjoy it despite this understanding that it won’t work out at all like you planned?

Can the same be done with a vocation? Can I enjoy the practice and pursuit of authorship for the rest of my life even if no single project makes headway toward recognition, toward commercial success? Will I someday reach a point where simply putting the words on paper and shaping the sentences to my liking doesn’t satisfy me anymore, where I need the world, the Crowd, to take up the page and say to me yes to say yes I said yes I will Yes?

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2 comments

  • Please continue writing. You write really well and it will be fun reading it when you are older. This may sound pessimistic but who knows, maybe you’ll be one of those authors who became famous after they died. If you want my relationship advice, I would say go for it; though I have not gotten into relationships I enjoyed because I knew they would end in bitterness.

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    • Thank you for the compliment! I’d obviously prefer to find success in my waking life but, maybe you’re right, the afterlife served Kafka pretty well.

      As for the romance: it’s all on hiatus at the moment for exactly your reason. Anything I get involved in now will end in bitterness.

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