Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Went Thataway

A recent TCM showing of Since You Went Away (1944) starring Claudette Colbert and Joseph Cotton, caught and held my attention. The movie assuredly is wartime propaganda, but this is not a fault. Displaying a very 1940s mix of sophistication and innocence, the film centers on Anne Hilton (Colbert) and her two daughters getting on with life on the home front while Anne's husband is in the service. The strains intensify when he is reported MIA. This is a family as we would like it to be, made up of flawed but fundamentally decent individuals who are as we ourselves would like to be. It all seems so very much worth fighting for. The movie is another example of that special 40s knack for portraying common nobility without coming off as Pollyanna or preachy.

There is a long standing argument over whether drama should reflect an audience or elevate it. Very long standing. Aristotle complained about Euripides, saying, “Sophocles presents men as they ought to be, while Euripides portrays them as they are.” In truth, there was room for both dramatists in the Theater of Dionysus, and there is room in the multiplex for both sorts of movies today. There is even a place for other types of movies altogether, such as those that portray us as we're glad we're not (Hannibal Lector) or as we fantasize being (Spiderman).

Any type of portrayal, of course, is incidental to the real purpose of movie-making: selling tickets, DVDs, and downloads. Sam Goldwyn's dictum is still largely heeded in Hollywood: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." Since You Went Away sold tickets in 1944 because virtually every household had someone who went away. Our soldiers still go away, though not in such overwhelming numbers, so would a modern remake find a commercial audience? I don't know, but I suspect not. Audiences have changed a lot since 1944. To ensure ticket sales, the homebodies might need to be sexy martial artists with secret identities.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cat and Mouse

"I've been in love 10,000 times
All I have to do is remember my lines"
-- ZZ Top

The orders of magnitude in that lyric may be hyperbolic, but most single adults know the feeling.

The advantages to being single are innumerable. There are no negotiations about the ordinary business of life. Our idiosyncrasies have free rein. There is no need to explain why exactly we are getting up at 3:30 in the morning to watch a DVD of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. There is no argument over whether to remodel the kitchen and, if so, how much to spend on it. The only obnoxious friends and relatives in the house are one's own. There is no discussion over what munchables to toss in the microwave (or whether to remove them from the box first). There is no struggle for a piece of the blanket at night. There is no question about the current checking account balance. There is simplicity and peace of mind. Add to this Mark Twain's grumble that love affairs end either of two ways, badly or tragically.

And yet… and yet… even the most curmudgeonly of us for some reason is sometimes tempted to complicate life, despite having been there and done that repeatedly. Some of this is hard-wiring, much the way a sated cat is hard-wired nevertheless to chase a mouse, without thought of what to do with it if caught. In the case of humans, what we catch almost invariably comes with baggage that no sane person actually wants. It may be worse if we are the mice.

Humans, unlike cats, have the option to ignore their hard-wiring – not easily, but we can do it. Then something eye-catching scurries by...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


According to a study funded in part by the NIH and published in Addiction, ninth graders who listen to songs that mention marijuana are significantly more likely to use marijuana.

Well OK, but just a thought regarding chickens and eggs: might not stoners be more inclined to choose songs about pot than non-stoners? Just askin’.