Memory lane: King of Hearts | AspenTimes.com

Memory lane: King of Hearts

Su Lum

A few weeks ago I was trolling the library and came across the old movie “King of Hearts,” which was one of the early Aspen cult films, shown regularly by Dominic Linza at the Isis and continued by Jon Busch at the Wheeler.The movie was made in 1967, so it must have been about 40 years since I’d seen it. Movies were slowly wending their way to Aspen in those days, none of this “released to the entire world on the same day” practice, and this was an “art film,” so it might have come to us sooner than later.I must have seen it at the Isis because I didn’t remember it being in French; Jon said that Dominic had run the dubbed English version, whereas the Wheeler ran it in French, with subtitles, during its long run in the early ’70s. A thumbnail sketch of the satirical plot: The star, played by a young Alan Bates, is a hapless Scottish soldier during World War I whose mission is to defuse a bomb, set to destroy a strategic European village. The alarm is spread throughout the village and everyone in town vacates the area, leaving only the local lunatic asylum, with its inmates living lives of stultifying boredom.The asylum’s guards run to escape the bomb, the inmates emerge from the asylum to find the lovely village at their disposal and proceed to take over. They dress themselves at the local haberdasheries and milliners’ shops, release wild animals from the zoos, ride on camels and bicycles holding parasols; one becomes a bishop, another a madam, another a barber, and they dub Alan Bates, who is desperately trying to explain their peril, the King of Hearts and arrange a wedding for him.In the end, disaster is averted, the final scene being Alan Bates shedding his uniform and standing naked at the asylum gates, wanting to get in.The military on both sides of the conflict are depicted as idiots and one of the messages was that war is idiocy, but the greater message was that the inmates, the people on the inside, were a lot saner than the war-waging people on the Outside.This was right about the time when American citizens were starting to seriously question our role in Vietnam and Aspen “hippies” were being arrested from crimes such as “sitting and looking at the sun” (i.e., vagrancy), an attitude that was quickly trounced by public opinion, the press and the courts.Looking at “King of Hearts,” lo these many years later, I could see exactly why Aspenites adored this movie. It was about US!Back in the “good old days” that newcomers are so sick of hearing about, we WERE the lunatics who had escaped from our various asylums, firm in our belief that it was the rest of the world that was crazy.We came here, often by accident, and found our planet, a whimsical place where no one cared squat about credentials or money, where we might have – holding parasols – ridden camels in the streets if there had been any camels (I used to tie my horse in front of the Hotel Jerome Bar), a place that to this day we are desperately trying to save, to hold onto the shreds in the face of invasion by the outside world: the genuine lunatics.The people who were attracted to Aspen dropped their old lives the way Bates shed his uniform, taking any job, living in closets and sheds, just to stay here, to be here.Su Lum is a longtime local who will never forget how great a place it was. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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