Friday, June 22, 2007

Revision and History

First and foremost, I must say I can't believe I left Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry off of my Top 10 Books list. It absolutely gets a place. You see, I told you my lists were subject to much revision.

Second, I am pondering old movies. Today I watched a classic, In Old Arizona, which I of course procured from my good friend Netflix. This film is from 1928, and it received several Oscar nominations that year (although it lost Best Pic to The Broadway Melody). Well, I love it. It is so sassy! All the innuendo, no-small-parts characters, and self-satisfied cheesy jokes are a ton of fun. Also, it is possibly the first talkie western, and the first with so much sound recorded outside, according to somewhat reliable sources.

So after watching it I find myself thinking about humanity. How similar we all are underneath it it all, across the miles, across the centuries. Allow me to explain.

The other day I listened to a conversation between two people I know as they discussed old movies. It started out about westerns but veered into reflection on classics in general. I wasn't really participating in this conversation as I was just kind of doing my own thing. But I listened. The person with whom I agreed was talking about how westerns are genius, and old movies have so much to offer, etc. The person with whom I disagreed was apparently put off by a lot of stylistic things like the overwrought manner in which people talk and a kind of similarity from film to film in expression. The person with whom I agreed continued to press the point that the person with whom I disagreed would find quite a bit to like in old movies, such as the no-bones-about it manner in which they get things done (that last bit may have been chiefly about the westerns).

As I watched In Old Arizona today I was struck not by how archaic and different everything seemes but by how similar so many things are to "our" day. For example, I loved that besides the bandits and the sheriffs and whatnot there was the random Mexican barber who was devastated when the bandit villain robs the stagecoach in which he had sent $87 he had saved up to his sister back home. It made me think about the ridiculous things people today say about immigrants, "guest workers," and nonsense like "now they're all taking 'our' jobs."

Also I thought about how saucy the characters in this flick are. Beautiful Tonia Maria gets her flirt on with the two male stars (I won't spoil the ending for you) and they don't hold back. Garters are snapped, lascivious thoughts are implied, and there is a particularly satisfying suggestive fade-out after the camera cuts to sizzling bacon and eggs and a phonograph.

What I've learned is that the films from the 1920s are actually a lot less "innocent" than the next couple of decades, because the Hays Code had not yet come about. That was the production code of 1930 in which the studios agreed to a bit of self-censorship in order that the government might not engage in a lot of censorship. That is fodder for a whole other blog post, or two, or ten. But it's yet another reason it's interesting to watch 1920s films.

Besides the saucy flirting, I also enjoyed the fact that a few characters spoke Spanish and they didn't even bother to subtitle it, and I REALLY enjoyed the girl from Boston drowning her sorrows in an Arizona saloon with no plans to return to her East Coast home. Yee haw!

Honestly, I think right now we are the luckiest people that ever lived. Film, I daresay, may be the most incredible art form. There is so much that is right there before your eyes. And we have an entire century of film to watch, now. In 1928, one might eagerly await a new movie because one didn't have a hundred years of movies to order up on Netflix. We, right in this moment, have a wealth of movies from which to choose. And great new films are being made every day. If you really stop to think about it, it's beyond mind-boggling.

Today I am watching people act fully eighty years ago--incredibly well-preserved--and drawing the not-so-remarkable conclusion that they would be a damn lot of fun to hang out with.

I often think about this when reading classic books, too. The old adage "there's nothing new under the sun"--well, we all need reminding of that sometimes. We didn't just invent sex, or immigration, or betrayal, or highway robbery, despite any and all notions of the good ol' days. But today I find myself particularly pleased by humanity's common ground.

I talk even more about how much we are like early 20th century people in today's literary supplement.

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