A.O. Scott, in the New York Times, describes Charade as “a light-hearted, frivolous bauble….  It’s a work of great craft and artistry, not a great work of art, but a marvelously fun movie.”

Ignoring the fight I’m itching to have as to what constitutes a “work of art,” I admit that Charade has a special place in my heart.  My sister introduced me to it when I was nine or ten — in fact, she insisted that I watch it with her.  So I did, and after that first viewing, I was traumatized by one image:  a man, suffocated to death with a plastic bag, his feet bound to a radiator, his hands tied to a heavy piece of furniture.

Charade continued to be broadcast once every three years or so, a network stand-by to fill those long programming dead zones on Saturday afternoons, and watching it became a ritual:  at the appointed time, we convened in our mother’s bedroom (where the television was), on her waterbed, and waited for Charles Lampert to get tossed from the train.

I understand why Charade is one of her favorites:  it stars Cary Grant (one of her favorite actors) and Audrey Hepburn (one of her favorite actresses), wearing couture by Givenchy (one of her favorite designers) and being pursued by James Coburn (not one of her favorite anythings but totally freaky as the tall, sadistic Tex).

I sometimes wonder, though, if there’s something more in her affection for it.  For instance, it may be something she first saw in Vietnam before we came to the States.  (My mother, conceivably, could have introduced it to her; she loves Audrey Hepburn too, particularly in Roman Holiday.)  But, really, I suspect that it has to do with the clothes.

My sister has always been a clotheshorse, she has an unerring eye for style.  She knew an arcane language of designer names long before they had penetrated the popular consciousness:  Kamali, Versace, Gaultier.  In her room, she had an array of cosmetics in colors harvested from prehistoric insects, and she was meticulous in their application.  (Today, whenever I see a woman apply lipstick directly from the tube to her lips, I want to pull her aside and say, Meet your best new friend, the lip brush!)

She taught me the ways of fashion:  she steered me away from Z. Cavaricci when it was all the craze in high school (“Their zippers are made of tin!  They’ll rust shut.”).  She introduced me the invisible line that aligns the shirt buttons and the pants zipper.  She told me to always wear a belt if I was tucking in my shirt, unless I was wearing suspenders, and never a belt and suspenders.

Her clothes, hermetically sealed in dry-cleaning bags, still crowd the closets (including a good chunk of my closet) back in Colorado.  Many haven’t been worn in decades.  On my last visit, I thought about donating the more obviously out-of-date duds to Goodwill, but realized that it would have given her a nightmare similar to what Audrey Hepburn endures early in the film:  rushing through the house, opening the closet doors, only to find the drawers empty, the hangers swinging forlornly in the breeze.  All those beautiful clothes:  gone, gone, gone.

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