Friday, February 5, 2010

Bad weather and guilty pleasures

Warning: Winter weather in north Florida may cause hail. Some restrictions may apply. See store for details. And there it is: hail, falling from the sky and bouncing around on the back porch.

In weather like this, you can go out in it and face it bravely, or you can cower indoors and watch old movies. Hmm. Tell you what: I'm thinking old movies. The great marriage of elderly technology, for me, was that of Tivo and Turner Classic Movies. TCM brought the guilty pleasure right into our living room; TiVo and its descendants kept it there. So I say we leave the great outdoors out there, for this evening, my loves, and watch an old movie.

Movies connect people, on so many levels and with so many vocabularies. If that sounds trite and unoriginal, the Emperor said in Amadeus, There it is. But it's also true. During the years Rodney's dad stayed with us as Alzheimers slowly unraveled his memory, movies many times helped preserve such familial connective tissue as remained between us all, saved us from boredom and pointless focus on a situation that could not be changed. Movies reflected back to him the years Pop could remember as though they were last week, and gave us a window into his history. Those movies of war and romance, of escapism and propaganda, filled with virtue and goodness as well as tragedy and heartbreak; those movies from 1930 until about 1970 provided blessed if temporary sanctuary. Even better: we came to love them even more dearly than I had as a school-skipping teenager and the affection crossed generational boundaries in ways we hadn't expected.

Holiday movies, I suspect, may perform a similar function in many families; it may be why It's a Wonderful Life was, several years ago, so over-presented on TV that people kind of hated it, for awhile. In our family, The Man Who Came to Dinner became de rigueur. Katie was infected eventually, so that we watched it in June or September; it didn't matter. It was hilariously written, brilliantly acted and in its way a marvelous period piece, recalling as it historical figures from Walter Winchell to Eleanor Roosevelt to Haile Selassie. My sons would quote from it - and it has truly delightful, witty Moss Hart dialogue, and it is not unusual for someone in our circle to be referred to as "the moonflower of my middle age, and I love you veddy much," in the plummy tones of Reginal Gardiner. And that's just the starting place, of course, but it created a framework for Witty Children, and with such have we been rewarded. One of the daughters of our circle, Hannah McNoface, is actually a movie reviewer and, I believe, a future filmmaker. (Imagine this: her father shot the video for our wedding. For the city where we live may be large, my loves, but the circles are small, small. Forgive me; I digress.)

You could watch a movie with devices almost unrecognizable to the youngest of modern viewers: the typewriter, the telephone when it still had a cord connecting it to the wall and was heavy enough to have been used as a murder weapon in Clue, cars of such size and weight as to resemble sculpture, and that list, of course, goes on and on. And certainly you could track the nation's progress through some of the signal events of the 20th century, if you had the perseverance. The First World War, the Great Depression, and certainly World War II and every war was all on film. Not objective journalistic works, with some exceptions, but if you look closely the history of the 20th century is there for you, in film. Even shameful things like racism are there. A movie graced by the elegance of Lena Horne and the astonishing voice of Ethel Waters is rendered appalling by the racist lens through which it was created: Cabin in the Sky. This lesson in racism was wasted on Pop, but not on our children; it is in stark relief for them in the current decade. Watch it sometime. You will fall off your chair.

Such ugliness contrasted with such beauty: while Katie was in Africa there was a month or so of TCM showing the entire body of work in film produced by Grace Kelly. We recorded every single one of them, thinking of curling up on the couch like a litter of puppies when she was home, watching wide-eyed, savoring each of them like manna from heaven. And there were a bunch of Bogart films, too. Not the ones you always think of fondly, like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, but those and many more I'd never heard of...Passage to Marseilles, for instance, and The Petrified Forest, too many to name. And as unexpected delights, there were Lawrence of Arabia and, o, ye gods: The Lion in Winter. Yes, it's all there in the movies, my loves, and all saved by The Great and Wonderful TiVo, so we can watch every minute when Katie comes home.

Photo courtesy of Rodney
Copy editing: Dylan


  1. This reminds me that I DON'T WATCH NEARLY ENOUGH MOVIES!

  2. I don't watch enough movies from the current century, either, but I've found several other decades I enjoy quite a lot. XXOO


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