Review: Light in the dark

Hooker’s memoir, ‘Somewhere Under the Moon,’ basks in glow of silver screen

David Hooker.           ISSUE photo by Andy Coughlan

David Hooker is a veteran of the local theater scene, and anyone who has ever met him knows that he is passionate about many things — opera, theater, his kids — but get him on the topic of movies and he will bend an ear with entertaining anecdotes and trivia.

Hooker’s new memoir, “Somewhere Under the Moon” explores a love of movies as he grew up in Beaumont.

Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” is a memoir that centers around specific Arsenal soccer matches and Hooker adopts a similar model, using a particular movie or actor as a starting point for a story. He moved to Beaumont in the early 1950s and the book is a nostalgic stroll through the town’s movie history from the opulence of the Jefferson, Liberty and Gaylynn theaters to the bland boxy multiplexes of today. Along the way, Hooker gives us anecdotes that show Beaumont as it has changed through the years, and in the process shares his journey from five-year old transfixed by a Western to the erudite 71-year-old English teacher with a love cinematic showing of opera.

The thrill of seeing a movie in the cinema as opposed to sitting at home with a DVD or streaming is important, partly because of the screen — “size matters,” he jokes — but mostly because of the shared communal experience.

“Somewhere Under the Moon” begins with a love letter to the shining beacon that makes Beaumont home — the San Jacinto Building clock. “I have always savored the idea that Beaumont is a city watched over by a clock tower,” he writes. This is important because, for Hooker, even in provincial Southeast Texas, movies offered a glimpse at a wide world, and Beaumont was just as important a part of his word as anywhere else.

“The clock was light and time,” he writes. “It shone out over the town as a great pharos or lighthouse, a beacon of warmth and joy. It had always resonated in my young, impressionable mind, with London’s Big Ben over the Houses of Parliament…and with the charming old burgs in Europe, also dominated by their own town clocks, as in many an old tale or movie.”

Hooker gives us a collection of anecdotes, each revolving around a theme. follow his occasional quests to rediscover movies from his childhood, quests built from fleeting memories of a scene or a snippet of a story. These quests always speak to a larger issue — the way movies transport us and allow us to dream.

The most interesting chapters come early, as young Hooker discovers a love for movies, particularly old horror films, which might surprise those who listen to the this English teacher wax lyrical about Puccini operas or Ingmar Bergman classics. But the fact that schlock horror B-movies (shown on the late-night “Shock” series of the late 1950s hosted by the wonderfully named Dr. Ghoulman), brings him so much joy speaks to the power of movies. What is good or bad in many ways is irrelevant. If it sparks one’s imagination, it must have value.

Now creeping into his 70s, Hooker’s youthful enthusiasm brings a smile to the reader’s face.

Anyone growing up with Beaumont’s old movie houses will enjoy revisiting the now-gone facilities (although we have a chance to replicate some of the experience with movie nights at the renovated Jefferson Theatre).

There is wistfulness when Hooker laments the passing of the days when going to the theatre was an event, when the curtains opened to reveal the opening credits, it had a sense of anticipation — and people did not talk or text through the show. We should allow Hooker this moment of old-fuddyduddery because he is right.

Each of the 30 stories is a self-contained essay, each seemingly written to stand alone, which sometimes leads to a little bit of repetition, but that is a minor quibble.

The chapter on meeting Vincent Price is an absolute delight, as is his interaction with Basil Rathbone, “Darkly handsome in a somber and lugubrious way as a young man, with pronounced aquiline English features, Rathbone, as he grew older, rather began to resemble his name.” A meeting Lash LaRue is a classic schoolboy meets his hero story and the story of the Beaumont-set “Sno-Line” is both interesting and amusing — Hooker had a small part but has no illusions as to the film’s merits.

Hooker ends the book with a list, compiled somewhat obsessively from memory, of the films he has seen and where he saw them. Who can resist a game of “How many have I seen?”

The book gives the reader the impression of sitting in a room, post show, listening to Hooker hold court about the magic of film. This natural storyteller’s enthusiasm shines through and makes for an entertaining read.

Now, I think there are a few old movies I need to hunt down.

Hooker will be signing copies of his book at the Mildred Building’s First Thursday event, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Oct. 5.­­­

“Somewhere Under the Moon,” by David Hooker, is published by Clockface Books and is available on Amazon and local booksellers.

Review by Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor

David Hooker. ISSUE photo by Andy Coughlan