Thursday, May 9, 2013

Orson Who? But you know Brad Pitt.


Many modern Americans live in a societal vacuum. If a movie or a book or a historic event was filmed, written, or occurred before their birth then it just doesn't enter their sphere of existence.

My heart thundered, panicking as Mr. Rochester stepped up behind Jane Eyre and enfolded her in his arms. That huge, expansive chest of his completely engulfed her, and I halfway expected poor little Jane to pop like a bug right in front of my eyes. But it was fine. He clung to her for a moment before sharing some dialogue, and then released her just as I exhaled a huge breath of relief. Such was my introduction to Orson Welles when I was twelve-years-old.

Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine in Jane Eyre
When Elizabeth Bennett brutally refused Mr. Darcy, her eyes flashing as she reprimanded him with every ounce of dignity she could muster, I wished I could step into her place. Her curls, the sway of her skirt, her prim lips as they pouted in defiance, every elegant line of her form planted my desire to be every inch a comparable lady. A desire strengthened because she won Mr. Darcy's heart so effortlessly and he bestowed on her the most radiant smile, embracing her on a stone bench in the garden while "The End" flashed in gigantic letters upon the screen and the movie faded. Thus was I introduced to Sir Laurence Olivier when I turned thirteen.

Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson in Pride & Prejudice
And Terry Malloy, the prize-fighter employed by corrupt union bosses, who developed a conscience through the influence of the radiant Edie Doyle. My hands clenched in my lap, mouth dry as Terry and Edie fled down a dark alley before the lights of an onrushing truck, praying they would survive. My hormones unexpectedly awakening as they embraced in her room, Edie's innocence suddenly torn by the rush of desire for the simplistic Terry who had never before tried to do the right thing because it simply never occurred to him. This was Marlon Brando, in one of his first and best roles, when I first watched On the Waterfront in my late teens.

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront
All of these moments are pivotal to me, memories locked up tight until I see that actor's smile or hear their voice or catch a flash of them on the screen, and then my first encounter with them surges back. Which is why a little part of me dies every time a peer my own age does not recognize their names. I remember the whirl of activity surrounding Brad Pitt during his glory days of Troy. The glitz and glamor shining from the eyes of multiple generations of women, hands clasped in glee at the romanticism of it all. Yet, they do not know the genius of Orson Welles (yes, I overcame that initial panic over the immensity of his chest) or the sensuality of Marlon Brando. How is that even possible?

For me, I could as soon turn off my love of old movies as live without air. It's not going to happen. I may go for months, possibly even years, without plugging in a Marlon Brando DVD. Then the bug bites me, and I spend a month reliving my attraction to his sensual masculinity. I'm the same way with Jeremy Northam or Elijah Wood or Richard Armitage or a host of other big names in Hollywood today. Just because I watch old movies doesn't mean that I don't watch new ones.

So, why is it that many young people never research earlier than their own birth year if they can help it? My parents would never have forced me to watch classic film; I was curious about the movies and the eras that were unfamiliar to me, and so I researched them. I picked up The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. I laughed myself silly with Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace.

And I learned that this whole "Now is all that matters" mentality is total BS. I like to know where I've been so, hopefully, I can see where I'm going. There will come a time when Brad Pitt's name is forgotten, just as Orson Welles has been forgotten. But at least with Orson Welles, he left a few substantial roles behind that impacted society like The Third Man. Can Brad Pitt say the same?

My dream isn't for wealth or power, but for American society as a whole to start appreciating the generations that have gone before them. Not that they have to love old movies the way I do, but it would be fantastic if I could mention Bob Hope, and not have my conversation partner's eyes glaze over. It would be nice for a change.

4 comments:

  1. I'm not an active, adamant old movie watcher, but I enjoy them once in awhile -- lately I've been watching a lot of the old Biblical epics and both enjoying them and laughing at them (the routine "okay, we're being spiritual now, so let's randomly speak in King James English!" cracks me up -- as does the whole "OMG, I LOVE YOU! WE JUST MET FIVE SECONDS AGO, BUT I LOVE YOU AND I WILL DIE FOR YOU!" approach).

    I may not "know" all the old actors, but I know OF them... mostly because that's all I watched at my grandma's house. She was a BIG fan of... Clark Gable... Jimmy Stewart... Cary Grant... etc. And of course, Vivien Leigh and Bette Davis. =)

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  2. PS: Brad Pitt can't act his way out of a paper bag. He's hot. That's the only reason girls like him. He has no real talent. (Rewatching "Troy," I cringed every time he opened his mouth. DUDE, how did YOU get in a movie with Peter O'Toole?)

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  3. Exactly. You know of them, and that really is enough! It's those blank stares if I mention Clark Gable or Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart that make me want to rip my hair out by the roots. I don't care if you've never seen one of their movies in your life, but at least know their names, people!

    *snorts* Ahh, Brad Pitt. He was cute, once upon a time, but now he's just . . . a weird leftover from the hippies, a generation he never even belonged to in the first place. So strange.

    I would never miss Brad Pitt's movies if I swore off of them right now.

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  4. ... not knowing who Cary Grant is would just be tragic beyond comprehension. He offers so much hysterics it'd be a shame not to know who he is. ("DO YOU WANT TO BE KILLED? DO YOU WANT TO DIE?!")

    Brad Pitt is/was very pretty. Now he's just Angelina Jolie's boyfriend. Heh. But I WOULD miss "Interview with the Vampire" if we parted ways. ;)

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