Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I want me this cat I found (A holiday story)

I want me this cat I found is a line from the The movie J.T.

I remember this movie from my childhood but I haven't seen it in 40 years. The story is set around the holidays in New York city circa 1969. It isn't a Christmas story per se, and as I recall it wasn't broadcast as any type of holiday special. But the story, nonetheless, carries the spirit of Christmas in fine form.

I first saw this movie when I was about the same age as the story's main character J.T. The movie just kind of showed up on television one Saturday afternoon without any fanfare. I remember clearly I wasn't planning to watch TV that Saturday afternoon but my calendar was clear for the day so I took up residence in front of the set. That small decision turned out to be a big decision that will follow me for the rest of my life.

I think the movie was only broadcast a few times after that. And just as mysteriously as it appeared, the movie disappeared from the airwaves never to be seen again, or so I came to believe. I think I probably saw the thing a total of maybe one and a half times but that was enough to make a lifelong impression on me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had a similar affect on a cohort of other kids as well. Rather than just let the movie disappear into the recesses of our collective subconscious memories, for some reason we all held on to it. For me it was always near the surface of awareness, but just out of reach. And there it remained, through puberty and graduations and marriages and children and divorces, undiminished by time or fading memory. Sporadically reaching out with brief flashes to remind me it was still there.

Over the years I would occasionally look for this film. Whenever I was in a video store I would carefully search the videocassette holders for a hint of those images burned indelibly into my young psyche. But never was I able to find those unmistakable pictures. When I later found out that many others were looking for J.T. as well, but not finding, I knew it was just a matter of time before I found him. Unable to remember any details about the movie or even the name of the movie my childhood friend was nearly lost. All I could remember were those gritty scenes etched into my young mind. Those all too real depictions of life that they don't usually show on TV were as but a dream. In an age of blow dried, air brushed, photo shopped and scripted to the last detail television, J.T. was reality TV to the nth power. And it was almost lost.

The one thing that I and the others were able to hold onto was that one memorable line that each of us had probably uttered in all earnestness at some point in our young naive lives: "I want me this cat I found". That was it, that was all the evidence I had that this movie ever existed. But that was all I needed (uh, that and the internet) to find my lost childhood. You see J.T. was me, J.T. was everyone who was looking for him. And there are a lot of us. Now I realize, of course, that perhaps that is exactly what the filmmaker intended to accomplish.

J.T. brought it all back, the memories, the hopes, the dreams, the sweet, the sour, all neatly arranged in the recesses of memory. There, once again, was the naivete of that little man child who managed to maintain his innocence despite having his childhood forged by the blighted, racist, uneven world of ignorance and selfishness that now seems quaint when compared to the gamut that today's youth must face. J.T. may not even register with today's kids whose concept of poverty means people who cannot afford new ipods and Xbox games when the old ones are tarnished with the stench of last semester. Looking back, I guess the movie J.T. was probably a little too real for the seventies and maybe even the eighties. But now it is time that the movie was seen again.

Every December the annual favorite "A Christmas Story" is broadcast on 24 hour continuous loop during the holiday season. "It's a Wonderful Life" is not far behind. The animated holiday treats "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" once signaled the true beginning of the holidays but have been subjugated to second tier status lately although they still manage to bring the spirit of the season. But J.T. towers above them all in my mind. It is a beautiful story that captures the ugliness of life as it truly was, or is. It is a story of making do and working with what you have to get the best that can be had from it. It is a story about me. It is a story about you. I plan to ambush my now chronologically grown kids and make them watch this with me one day. I suggest you watch it with your kids too. And if you are really, really lucky they will be young enough to still be affected by the film.

I do not claim any copyright to this film and I suspect JTClarion, its Youtube poster, does not own the rights either. So I call upon the great TV powers that be to bring back the movie "J.T." for all to see. Until then (or until the copyright police kick in the door) for your viewing pleasure, I present, courtesy of JTClarion, the best television holiday special you never saw.

1 comment:

  1. I cried again when I saw this movie last year after buying it.

    I sat down with my kids and my husband, who also remembers seeing it when growing up, and I just wept all over again watching it.

    They need to re-air this for everyone to see.

    I think it's even more relevant today than it was since the time it was first produced.

    It will shock people how far we've come on some levels, and yet, how little we've evolved on others.

    Brilliant screen play/production.