My Friend George R. R. Martin an Essay by James Bonner

Discovering the Magic of the Jean Cocteau: A Journey of Creativity and Inspiration with George R. R. Martin

The Jean Cocteau is a single-screen movie theatre on Montezuma Street in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The cinema had been closed for some time, well before I even moved to Santa Fe, and while I was working at the bookstore across the street the theatre reopened, under new ownership. I was curious about it, as was my way, but also because I was working directly across the street. Shortly after the Jean Cocteau’s grand opening, when it seemed quiet and between showings, I tiptoed up to the ticket window and asked if I could take a look around, “Of course,” a man that I would later learn was the manager replied, excitedly, and then standing even from his chair to direct me through the hall.

I Walked inside into a small open space stacked with books and memorabilia on shelves against the wall, in the back of which was a winding tiled, mosaic hallway that inclined and opened up into a common area where the classic movie theatre concessions were located, there was also a decent cafésque menu: espresso, sandwiches, bakery items, and the like. Surprisingly, in the back left corner of the lounge was a full bar, the lounge was modern and tidy with black baroque pub tables, and black leather couches. The lounge whispered, except for the course of the sounds of concessions and the smell of buttered popcorn in the front corner whispered to me "Speakeasy."

The Jean Cocteau was far more than a movie theatre, over the next few weeks I would start spending a lot of time there, sitting on a stool under one of the tall black baroque pub tables with a cup of coffee, or sometimes with something a bit…warmer and responsive (depending on the time of day), with my computer, writing. I heard that George R. R. Martin bought, renovated, and reopened the Jean Cocteau in his image, and that, along with proximity to the bookstore, piqued my interest in the Jean Cocteau. I never expected to see the great George R. R. Martin sitting there and making a daily habit of it. When should have been working on his magnum opus, A Song of Ice & Fire.

Over the following weeks and months, I attended many events the theatre hosted. Under the ownership of GRRM, the Jean Cocteau was a breeding ground for creativity, and the events hosted there were sometimes unbelievable. Author readings by Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon, sketch comedy shows, new release films, and showings of classics, Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s brother and co-writer, was invited for a showing and Q&A of The Prestige, which I attended. Afterward, I sat with Jonathan Nolan, George Martin, and a small handful of people, drinking of course, and talking, I mostly listened.

As much time as I was spending at the Jean Cocteau, and as often as GRRM was there, George eventually noticed me and started conversations with me. George R. R. Martin is, as many of you may imagine, an interesting, remarkable, and very observant man—although he enjoyed keeping the latter to himself. GRRM would see me emerge from the snake-like hallway, walk behind the bar, and begin preparing us drinks, although he was often only topping his off. George would hand me a drink and the two of us would sit on one of his black couches and talk.

One of the most intriguing things, except when he would ask me questions, was when he would start talking in the middle of a conversation, a conversation that didn’t belong to me or the two of us, it sometimes seemed as if he was picking up where another conversation, with someone else entirely, ended, or (and perhaps more fun) a conversation he was having inside his head, with a character; in either case, it often felt more as if I was listening to him tell stories with no apparent beginning or end than we spent time getting to know one another. I never brought up my writing with him, it felt strange to me. I didn't want the friendship we were developing to be tainted by leverage.

I met a woman, and we started building a relationship, one that very quickly turned controlling and prison-like, and my life changed shortly after. I was forced to stop going to Jean Cocteau—the indirect demands of a new relationship—except for six days when GRRM was on Facebook (he added me, and then abruptly deleted his account), George Martin and I lost touch, unfortunately. The friendship that George Martin and I were developing, the time that he and I spent drinking and talking, though relatively brief, impressed me. Martin’s mind is unique, and it would have to be to imagine something like the Game of Thrones, to create a world so tremendous, and to have explored that mind, and also for him to have recognized something in me to intrigue him enough to mix drinks and banter is a cool thing. And I’ll always appreciate that.

George and I only ever spent time talking at the Jean Cocteau, and when I look back on my time there, I realize that it was more than just a movie theatre or a hangout spot. The Jean Cocteau was a hub for creativity, a space where art and imagination came alive. And George R. R. Martin, the mastermind behind it all, was the usher through that creative energy. And though life took me in a different direction, I’ll always value those memories of those days at the Jean Cocteau, where stories came alive, and the boundaries of reality were stretched.

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