#176. The Lost Weekend (1945)

I’ve been so busy for the past couple years, ever since I started the Project, that I haven’t had the interest or time to go out and get wasted as often as I did before the Project (especially in the couple years after college when I didn’t know where I was going). I talked this way back with Phantom Carriage, the first movie on the List to make me uncomfortable in its depiction of alcoholism, because I saw myself in the portrayal.

I still can’t say with certainty if that period of abusive drinking was just a phase. My job at the time dind’t have such great prospects and I was submitting a book to agents for the first time, finding the publishing world way less accessible than I’d expected, or — the dark alternative — was that two-year stretch of drunken misery just an instance of my falling into a hole that’s always gonna be there waiting for me when things get bad? A genetic disposition toward drink has ruined an aunt and a great aunt and a grandmother and a couple other relatives. If it’s the case that this is some monkey that’s always waiting to jump on my back unless I stay busy, burn the candle at both ends doing shit that I’m passionate about, then I guess that’s how I’ll have to go live: jumping from project to project, juggling them, staying in constant motion.

lost weekend 1
Don and his judgmental/enabling bar tender.

Bob told me a while ago that somebody, maybe Kierkegaard, had some scathing remarks about men who busy themselves with work because they’re trying to avoid something within themselves. It made me cringe for a minute to think I was one of those people — but then I was like, “Why cringe, if that’s the kinda life I lead, just because Kierkegaard says it’s bad?”

This is a thing with me: some writer or filmmaker, a person I respect, will say that a certain belief or behavior is dumb or pointless or reprehensible and suddenly, if I do that thing, I’ll start to feel terrible, like I’ve been found out, when really I should be asking myself if I agree with that person. A professor of mine in college said that whenever somebody accuses you of being “obsessed” with something, especially if they say it in a sneery way, the more constructive response than to try explaining yourself is to just not question your “obsession,” or feel bad about it, but rather to ask yourself what t is about that person’s paradigm, her standing in life, that makes her feel compelled to discourage you from paying so much attention to the thing you’re obsessed with. Because her apparently allergy to another person’s passion might be a way more toxic trait than so-called “obsessions.”

So yeah: I’m not talking about one of my own obsessions here; I’m just saying that I shouldn’t read a line by Kierkegaard about how guys like me are trash and then conclude, “Oh shit, I must be trash. I should change.”

If I’m seriously concerned that having too much free time is gonna tip me toward the bottle again, then I should cut down on that free time. How is that a bad choice? I’m choosing productivity over alcohol abuse.

Anyway. Lost Weekend is about an alcoholic who talks day and night about the great novel he’ll someday sit down to write about his drunken exploits. As the movie begins he’s avoiding a weekend sobriety retreat that his brother invites him to. Shortly after that he alienates his girlfriend and, once his two caretakers are out of the way, spends the weekend hitting bottom. He tries selling his typewriter for a bit of booze. He gets reprimanded by a bar tender who thinks that he, Don, is the epitomy of drunken debauchery, but serves him anyway. He’s committed briefly to a sanitarium where he sees other men who’ve irreparably fucked themselves up with drinking. At his lowest point he pretends to have a gun so he can rob a liquor store — not for cash, but for a bottle of rye.

lost weekend charles jackson
Charles Jackson, author of the novel on which this is based.

And I cringe to say that so much of the portrait here is familiar. The sluggishness, the way that time seems to speed up when you’re drunk and freeze when you’re sobering up and hungover. Being broke because you drank every dime. Not being able to write. Wandering around town not knowing what to do and feeling tormented by the two-hour slots where you can’t have a drink.

This was my day-to-day about two years ago.

The movie’s based on a novel by Charles Jackson, whose biographer, Blake Bailey,, did some press for the biography a few years ago and would talk, at every event, about how the movie is so terrific, how it struck such a chord with audiences, and how puzzling it is that the movie’s equally-terrific source material, as well as its author, have faded into obscurity.

I was wondering the same thing while writing about The Seventh Victim: it’s a good movie, stylish and brief and cheesy and charming, and even though it was relatively easy to find, and enjoys the dignity of appearing on Amazon as opposed to YouTube or some other thrify streaming service, its presentation on the site is pretty lackluster. No poster art, few comments; it only costs a dollar to rent.

Feels disrespectful.

lost weekend 2
Our hero, unraveled.

I don’t necessarily believe that The Seventh Victim, this obscure hour-long movie that doesn’t supply any chuckles or mindfucks or thrills, is worth the standard $4 to rent…but there’s a part of me that feels like it’d be an affront to all of the people who worked on the movie if we didn’t at least give it a nice presentation. Right? Or is that as cheesy as it is impractical?

Cuz there’s a million other movies and shows vying for that same space on the display. We can’t champion every serious production that’s ever been mounted and released. And with all of the media being produced each year, from established and indie outfits, I guess we do need to be pretty discriminating about what we give our time to. What we preserve.

Anyway. This is a great movie with an ending that’s gratifyingly redemptive if not exactly believable. Tough to watch on account of the personal bells it rings.


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