Saturday, 25 June 2011
Columbo, My Mother, And Me
COLUMBO, MY MOTHER, AND ME
We now live in an age where television and film help form part of our own personal historical and emotional landscapes. Yesterday came the news that Peter Falk, the actor who played Columbo, was dead. I felt sad, in a way which touched me viscerally. This is ridiculous, I thought, you didn’t even know the man. But then I realized that it wasn’t about the whole celebrity movie star thing - where you can feel as if you know someone and are then sorry for their passing. This ran deeper. And I realized it was much to do with my emotional landscape. This led me to reflect, blab out loud in the ether, about the intimate interaction between ourselves and that box in the corner of the room. Television has a way of inveigling itself into our lives on an emotional level, maybe even deeper than literature in the form of favourite books, can.
I would not have been bereft if I’d seen in the newspapers that Lizzie Bennet had died or that Jo March had been run over by a bus. These, I know at a deep intellectual – yes and emotional - level are fictional characters. And yet, onscreen with a much-loved television character the identification and emotional melding with character also embraces the actor: a living embodiment of a much-loved fictional character. Even though one’s intellectual brain is telling you that they are a separate person, somewhere on a more primitive visceral level there’s a bit which connects the onscreen with the actual. Our perceptions of reality are blurred.
I don’t mean that if I’d met Peter Falk I would have been one of those crazies, convinced that he was Columbo and not Peter Falk – but I’d also be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that a little voice somewhere would be trying to pipe up with “Look, there’s Columbo!”
So why did Peter Falk’s dying make me feel more sad than I’d ever been about other stars/ celebrities passing? It came to me, like one of Columbo’s flashes – “Doh,’ slaps head with hand – it’s because it’s a connection to my mother. I have fond memories of sitting on the sofa with my mother – now herself long dead, and who had loved Columbo. I adored my mother and absorbed many of her loves. I grew up with Columbo as part of my emotional landscape. My mum told me how Peter Falk was part of the new American cinema new wave alongside John Cassavetes, Gina Rowland, and Ben Gazzara. She told me all about his glass eye, as I tried to figure out which one. Yes, Columbo is inextricably woven into memories of my mother. With him gone, another piece of her goes too. Rational? No. The truth? Yes. Or something close to it.
Oh, and one more thing.