Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Movie Hog Heaven

The year I was born, Charlie Chaplin filmed a classic scene in "The Gold Rush," boiling and eating his shoe while snowbound. This month, as driveways are piled high, I know just how he felt, consuming not footwear but an overdose of many movies made since then.

In the grip of cabin fever, the mind reels at thoughts of lowering the deficit, Winning the Future or understanding Egypt or Tunisia and just wants to settle into two-hour hammocks of alternate reality in which people behave the way you want them to and, most of the time, end up happy.

Thanks to the Christmas present of a device that streams movies from computer to TV, and reliable old Turner Classic Movies, it has been a month of contentment in the past, reliving again a pre-World War II childhood of vicariously experiencing American life through shadows on a screen.

Back then for a ghetto dweller, every week at Loews or RKO there were new places and new people to see, in restaurants and offices, at beaches or in woods, in cars or trains or ships, singing, dancing, joking. Book-lined rooms wrapped them in warm light, and oh how they talked! They moved through the world in a cloud of words, clever and sure, and even when their hearts were breaking, they knew just what to say and how to say it.

Social scientists had filled ten volumes titled "Movie-Made Children" to prove that movies were ruining kids like me, teaching us to lie, cheat, steal and sin. They did shape us but not in that way. Our childhood was spent in the dark, studying American life: how people dressed and talked and ate, what their homes were like, the looks on their faces and the words they said when they were happy, angry or sad. Movies taught us how to be in a world where the ways of our immigrant parents would never do and made us see that life could be more than working, worrying and trying to stay out of trouble. They showed us how to be American and hope for more.

Now, in a new century, movies have come full circle to brighten old age but with a curious twist. As I spend time with old friends like Paul Newman, Paddy Chayevsky and Nora Ephron, my computer is spying on me as surely as the FBI or CIA but trying to play Big Brother for my own benefit.

Based on previous choices, Netflix is trying to narrow down new selections but, as in all attempts to divine the human heart and mind, not quite getting the subtleties.

Based on watching "Notting Hill" and "IQ," it concludes that I like romantic pairing of opposites but fails to see that the latter's attraction is a sly performance by Walter Matthau as a match-making Albert Einstein.

The computer rightly suspects a leaning toward British movies but fails to grasp that "Howards End" is more than that, a revisit to one of the 20th century's great novels.

But not to worry, such spying is benign. Until the snows melt, it's comforting to be living in the past and see the past parading before my eyes. Happy watching to all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You probably know director Sidney Lumet quite well. One of our favorites of his is "Running on Empty."