As we were watching it in the background, I thought of that time in my film life and all the films I saw and loved. What I realized was that a good deal of those films I could not and would not see today. Certainly The Godfather would still be among my viewing choices now, but I would struggle much more with its violent moments than I did back then.
In my teens, my Dad used to constantly question my film taste and wax on about the gentler films. He loved the musicals and the John Wayne’s where, he pointed out, you did not need to see guts spilling and heads blowing off to know that a man was dead. If the Duke fired a gun in someone’s general direction and they fell careening backward or clutched their heart and doubled over, that’s all you needed to know. My rebellious teenaged argument was that those films did not reflect reality! The death and destruction depicted in them was fake. I needed real, man!
“New films are showing it like it is, Dad! It’s reality!”
“So is throwing up, but I don’t want to pay two bucks to look at it,” would be his response.
First of all ... 2 bucks????!!!! But I digress.
Of course this conversation happened in the 70’s and some of the scary and violent films I am referring to are Straw Dogs, Joe, Walking Tall, Easy Rider, Chinatown, The Godfather of course, The Wild Bunch, Bonnie and Clyde, Exorcist, Clockwork Orange, and Wait until Dark to sample a few.
Was I disturbed by them? Hell, yeah. Never ate pea soup again. But it was a right of passage, a way of rebelling. It was one of the ways I could separate myself from the parental units and all they stood for. I adored them, but I deemed them old-fashioned and out of step regarding “film”. The movies I was flocking to see shocked and thrilled and opened up new worlds to me, both in their subject matter and the style of the filmmaking. I could escape into them. It was a different escapism than my parents, but it was mine and my generation’s, and I owned it.
When I look back on it now, I realize that I was able to embrace these films that literally spewed a kind of reality for the simple reason that I had not tasted reality as a person yet. Any “reality” in my Real life existed only in my Reel life.
I remember the first time it changed. It was two weeks after I lost a beloved Aunt to breast cancer and my darling 25-year-old friend in childbirth. I went to see Terms of Endearment, a movie lauded by critics and audiences alike. And I despised it. And with good reason. In the weeks before I saw it, my reality had morphed into my former escapism. I also remember in later years when my husband and I were watching season two of E.R. and he got up in the middle and said, “I’m done. I cannot watch one more baby die or one more couple say goodbye over a death bed.” The real life picture of our precious baby sleeping in the other room trumped his reel life.
So now, as is the way of life, I have become my father in this specific regard. This year I cut a swath through every Oscar film I could see, leaving out Warhorse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Cannot do 9/11 again and cannot see horses being hurt and killed. After all, I’m the girl who ran out of Benji the Hunted. Not even joking.
And in fact, if I had known about the dementia aspect to Iron Lady, I probably would have passed on that too. The reality is that since those early film days of shock and awe, I have been shocked and awed by life more times than I care to count.
And yes, I know it’s reality. But I don’t want to pay 13 bucks to look at it.
Barbara: This is so interesting, Deb! I had never thought to compare my early film-watching days versus my older ones. I might actually be the opposite—that the films I could and would watch when I was young were actually less dark and graphic than the ones I often choose to watch now. I don’t know if I was trying to preserve my innocence back then or whether I thought I could never grasp the true significance of the story because I was so, well, innocent.
Nowadays, I rather revel in the harder films. I’ve certainly watched more horror films in my middle age than in my adolescence. Why? I’m not sure. I don’t know if it’s my burgeoning curiosity, innocence be damned, or if it’s because I have seen so much more in real life and want to see how others do it in reel life (those others being characters in a movie, sure, but still, somehow they become my psychic other halves). That said, I did step away from E.R. years before it ended—although I think it was Phil who uttered Colin’s exact words. Until I started watching the forensic procedurals. Until I stopped watching those. You know, I think those shows lost it for me more because the formula got sooooo boring than that I was too sickened to watch them.
I don’t know. Such an interesting question, Deb, you've got me thinking!