When the present disappoints, retreat.
Remember movies? Not art films or docudramas. Not IMAX or 3-D. Seems like they are riding the pendulum back.
The Sunrise Theater, as in previous years, hosted a summer classic movies event. Tonight CNN launches a six-part Sunday night series, “The Movies,” which provides backstories (and numerous clips) from biggies like “The Graduate,” “Jaws,” “The Godfather,” “Titanic,” “Forrest Gump,” “Casablanca,” “Singin’ in the Rain.” I can’t wait.
Recently I watched “Judgment at Nuremberg” in black and white, starring the incredibly handsome Maximilian Schell — plus Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift — on commercial-free Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Mesmerizing — a great story performed by superb actors.
Maybe that’s why the oldies are making a comeback. Plots. A real story line that does not involve the supernatural or ridiculous special effects which, if used sparingly, might be entertaining but overdone, become boring.
These days I’m sure make-up artists take a course in recreating decomposition of the human body, primarily the face.
I mean plots that do not need extreme violence, potty talk or explicit sex to get a message across. I tried to watch award-winning “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” twice before giving up. But I still get chills picturing the towering Native American chief lift the sink and hurl it through a window, then escape, in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
A plot must capture not only the imagination but the intellect. Nobody believed Forrest Gump ran across the United States, but we knew what it represented, just as we saw stranded E.T. become a lonely boy’s friend. Why have a dozen phrases jumped from “The Godfather” into everyday lexicon? Why do people still discuss the cryptic Rosebud 78 years after “Citizen Kane” was released? What is a “Mrs. Robinson” relationship?
Take my opinions with a grain of popcorn salt, since I hardly go to movies any more. Too many disappointments. Waste of money. Yet watching DVDs (no smart TV, don’t even want one) reinforces how much the experience itself meant. Lucky me…I grew up at Radio City Music Hall, where even the restrooms were art deco palaces and the theater itself splendor and glory. I was 11 when we moved to Asheville, home of a smaller art deco gem, The Imperial, where kids’ admission was nine cents and movies ran continuously. I remember a blistering Saturday afternoon before residential AC, when my friends and I sat through “Singin’ in the Rain” three times. Taking my children to “The Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof” in wide screen was positively thrilling, more so than the super hero/Transformers/car chase flicks my grandsons demanded.
Yet after dozens of those, in 2009 the boys, then 10 and 12, were transfixed by “The Blind Side.”
It had a plot. It was relatable. It provoked discussion, as did “Up,” which was only the second animated feature to be nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture. “Slumdog Millionaire” won that year. Talk about a spellbinding plot, which reminds me of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the first a sophisticated comedy with undertones, the sequel, awful.
Of course not all classics and classics-to-be are wonderful. For every superb Laurence Olivier (“Marathon Man”) and Daniel Day Lewis (“My Left Foot”) there are a dozen OK Ryan Goslings and Bradley Coopers. No one has appeared to fill Meryl Streep’s shoes. Multiplex lobbies filled with food courts and arcade games have replaced the art deco palaces and prices have pushed dinner-and-a-movie dates into la-la land — which, coincidentally, was the last movie I’ve seen with flashes of intelligence, taste, plot, romance and beauty.
The real problem with taking movies out of theaters and onto TV screens, no matter how large, is the ambiance. Even with streaming and commercial-free cable stations distractions are inevitable. The room may not be darkened, the phone will ring, the dog will bark. Pressing PAUSE for a bathroom break breaks the spell, even in homes equipped with a media rooms. Because the purpose of a movie is to suspend reality, transport viewers to another time, another place, a different situation: Experience terror in “Silence of the Lambs.” Jubilation in “Rocky.” Relief when Holly Golightly finds Cat, circa “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Revulsion as Linda Blair vomits pea soup in “The Exorcist.” Anger at Tom Hanks’ persecution in “Philadelphia.”
Somehow, I can’t see the same nostalgia happening for current flicks, in 50 years.
But you never know, Rosebud.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org