Monday, December 17, 2007

Out With The New

I think watching old movies might be dangerous for me.

The Hollywood writer's strike has been going on for weeks now and it has finally caught up with us on the small screen. We are fresh out of fresh episodes of our favorite shows. And while some shows will be starting or returning in January (Lost, New Adventures Of Old Christine, American Idol and a thousand other reality/game shows), the momentum built up so far this fall is at an end. As an avid TV viewer, this has put me in a terrible quandary. What am I supposed to do with all this free time and my incredibly honed staring skills?

It is with this in mind that I have recently returned to watching old movies. What can I say? I am a homo, and I love an old movie. Last month was Guest Programmer month on TCM and even though I owned "The Letter" on DVD, I have never actually watched it. But I did TIVO guest programmer Gore Vidal and that film last month and finally this weekend, at a loss for new TV, settled in to watch it. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.

I have seen the enormously famous opening and closing scenes a million times, but the whole movie in between was a swift and engaging good time. Somerset Maugham (who I have decided might be my new favorite dead playwright, knowing now that he also wrote the source material for the hilarious Being Julia with Annette Bening) wrote the original play and it starts off rather delightfully with a quiet night on a rubber plantation interrupted by Bette Davis plugging six bullets into a man trying desperately to get away from her. It is all shot very dramatically and powerfully and I thought William Wyler might have used his best tricks in the first two minutes, but the overall film remained sensational right up to Bette's famous final declaration, "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed." Gore said the film still gives him chills, which at his age could honestly be caused by almost anything. But as much as I liked the film, I fear it might stay with me the way other recent old movies have.

I am well known as a soft touch when it comes to the movies. I might have gone to see the most-awful Deep End of the Ocean with Michelle Pfeiffer because I cried TWICE during the trailer ("Children don't get lost. People lose them!"). As much as I love a good comedy, I think I love to cry at a movie even more. I like it best when I cry at a movie you would least expect tears from, like the unexpectedly poignant ending of the Albert Brooks comedy "Defending Your Life." After all, there is no challenge in crying at something like "Dumbo," easily the most gut-wrenching 64 minutes ever committed to celluloid, although it is satisfying just the same.

This week on my train ride, I settled back in to watch "National Velvet" with a young and powerfully earnest Elizabeth Taylor. You can see instantly in the movie why she became a star and her clarity of character is staggering, especially in her scenes with Anne Revere who plays her mother. Taylor breaks your heart in every scene, her pure faith in that wild horse never wavers, and I can usually wring at least five or six cries out of every showing. Even jammed in the drunk train home on Friday night, I freely let the tears flow for all to see. And this is part of the problem.

I let myself become overly involved in this movies, even to points where I don't realize they are influencing me. I am just too susceptible Years ago in Los Angeles, my roommate Eric and I were shopping for wine at Trader Joe's and I picked out a bottle. "I've heard good things about this one," I said, not being a wine drinker myself. "No you haven't." Erik replied flatly, "There is a billboard for it outside our apartment." The moving images on the screen are even more of a draw to me than a flat advertisement under the warm California sun. Eight weeks after a chance purchase of "Christmas In Connecticut" with Barbara Stanwick and dozens of viewings in a row, I abandoned my perfectly comfortable Manhattan apartment for a house in the country with a bay window, a fireplace and a piano. I guess after buying a whole house, running around all the time saying "I know men. Some of my best friends are men" in a throaty rendition of Tallulah Bankhead in "Lifeboat" isn't so bad, but the end result is the same.

Maybe the problem is that I feel out of control in the whole process. The movies are long since finished and in the can, but my life is still malleable and open to broad interpretation. Not that I think that watching a movie will lead me to stand trial for murder, join the circus, or sit out on the open sea for as long as 43 days with a Nazi; it's just that after buying a house and nearly purchasing bad wine, I am filled with some caution. Then again, these movies can also provide important life lessons, like my favorite from "National Velvet":

"Win or lose. It's all the same. And how you take it that counts. And knowing when to let go. Knowing when it's over and time to go on to the next thing. Things come suitable to the time. Enjoy each thing and then forget it and go on to the next. There is a time for everything."

So I guess now is the time for me to watch old movies, and sit in the window box of my room and blog while the deer and squirrels roam through the yard like extras in a Douglas Sirk movie. And then at some point, it will be time for me to do something else. In the meantime, I suppose I can learn some lessons on my own. Like, just because there isn't anything on TV, that doesn't mean I don't have plenty of other things to watch and do. Another Gore Vidal pick "That Hamilton Woman" is sitting in the TIVO now and since it is unlikely that the Queen of Naples will rise from the dead to oversee my affair with Lord Nelson, I think I am safe for the time being.

1 comment:

Joelle said...

I've always wanted to see National Velvet. When I was little girl, people used to tell me I looked like Elizabeth Taylor in that movie, but at the time, I didn't really get it.

Thanks for having us on the show yesterday. :) We had a fabulous time.