The Guilty Party

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Revisting the '70's




Yep, that's me, circa 1973. A grainy bit of detail taken from my high school yearbook as part of the Masque and Dagger Club, of which I was Co-President. The 70's were for me the decade of high school and college. Almost my entire acting resume has a 1970's date to it. Much of the music I listen to now I either discovered in the 70's or is an easily traceable product of what I was exposed to then. It was the decade of my first real job, my first real romance and my first truly memorable heartbreak. The 60's have been getting a lot of press lately, especially the year 1968 and its so-called Summer of Love, and there is no doubt that I carry a lot of that baggage, both good and bad, with me too (The Monkees, anyone?). But if pressed, I would have to say that this adult is a child of the 70's.

And what is more natural than to want to revisit some of the cultural touchstones of ones formative years? So a few evenings ago I announced that I wanted to watch Star Wars. We have a set of VHS tapes with the first three Star Wars movies, you know, the good ones? that have been sitting on a bookshelf, unplayed for many years. Surprisingly, my wife and daughter were agreeable to the plan, so, along with our two dogs, we plopped ourselves in front of our hopelessly antiquated 27" non-wide screen television, powered up the relic of a VHS player, and settled in for some good, old-fashioned space opera excitement.

Was it what I had anticipated? In a way. It was fun, it was hokey, it had bad dialogue (anything Lucas gave Carrie Fisher to say was straight out of "How Not To Create Character Through Dialogue") and Harrison Ford was, as I remembered, the best thing in the movie. I am a tremendous Alec Guinness fan, but he just didn't have enough to work with. The special effects weren't all that impressive, but that may have more to do with not only what has happened in that field in the past thirty years and the limitations of our ancient "home theater" than any fault of Mr. Lucas and Co.

But it wasn't quite the touchstone I had hoped it would be. There wasn't anything from that movie that seemed to have become a real part of me. Maybe I was too old (twenty-two) when it came out, but I don't think that's it. I think what was missing was the deep humanity that informs all great art. It was all surface. Fun surface to be sure, and possessing a want to be more, but not really knowing how to get there. It would have been a better movie if it hadn't even tried.

And then a couple of days ago I was at Costco, looking to spend some birthday money. I bought a silk shirt ($19.95), a pair of Costco's famous sneakers ($15.95) and an eight-pack of Mel Brooks movies. I am a fan of Mr. Brooks, but will also be the first to say that a little Brooks can go a long way. But just as one song can make you buy an entire album (yes, album), this one movie called to me to buy the entire set. The Twelve Chairs, possibly Brook's least famous cinematic effort. I wouldn't even have been at all familiar with it if it hadn't been paired with Monty Python's The Holy Grail, way back when that movie was playing at Harkins Camelview Cinemas back in 1975. Yes, Virginia, there once was a phenomenon called The Double Feature. it is curious that those two movies should have been playing together, as Mr. Brooks' film was produced in 1970 and the Python one in 1975, but there they were. Anyway, my friends and I went to see The Holy Grail many, many times. That meant we saw The Twelve Chairs many, many times. And it became a part of us. Phrases from that movie became our phrases, our cultural links, our ways of making each other laugh and our ways of dealing with difficult situations. We didn't have "May the Force be with you." We had "Oh God, you're so strict!" and "Boys! I've always liked you! We come from the same village." And of course, from the theme song, "Look for the best, expect the worst."

So last night, on my birthday, after a long and unprofitable day on the car lot, the entire family (this time my twenty-one year old son joined us) sat down and watched Dad's Choice again. Mel Brooks (he wrote, directed and had a part) mugged, Dom DeLuise hammed it up, Frank Langella didn't even try to put on a Russian accent and was wonderful anyway, and Ron Moody, who most people of a certain vintage probably know only as Fagin in the movie version of Oliver, brought enormous humor, humanity, greed and pathos to his central role of the man who will travel the length of Russian (twice), swim rivers, assault priests and walk a tightrope (literally) in his pursuit of "instant" wealth. As a piece of art that touches the heart, informs the head and strengthens the spirit, The Twelve Chairs had it all over Star Wars.

Tonight we will watch The Empire Strikes Back. I am sure I will enjoy. But next time it is my turn to choose, I'm going for Silent Movie.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

2 comments:

Lexi said...

Belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY Alan!

plumboz said...

Thank you!

Very much.

A Bit About Me

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.