History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 February 2011

Here's Looking at You, Kid: More About Romance in the Movies

I'm indebted to Tracy for her Valentine's Day post about romance in historical movies, which afforded me a week of delicious meditation on some of my own most romantic movie moments -- historical or not.

Or should I say historical AND not? Because when considered over my own lifetime of film-going, even a movie as utterly, aggressively of its own historical moment, like Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, becomes a document of that moment, an opening to an era as heady as the 1960s when I careened into precarious adulthood.

But then, movies are always this combination of historical and not, because they're always simultaneously documentary and imaginative. Reality, as Godard has famously said, twenty-four frames a second. When we're watching a movie (though NOT a DVD), for most of the experience we're sitting in the dark: the time slices between the frames are longer than the time it takes for the frames to flash by us. What's happening at the movies is that for most of the time we're reconstructing, remembering, making motion in our heads out of the just-past memory images burned onto our retinas.

The persistence of vision, it's called, wherein all movies are in a sense historical movies. And all movies (again, at least when we're at the movies) are like dreaming.

So it wasn't entirely surprising that when I compiled my own dream list of romantic movies, what came to me were moments rather than whole arcs. Moments of dream vision, like those moments of action and utter passivity that dreams are made of. Those doubly conscious mirror-moments (as in the Breathless still above) that you get when you're not quite conscious.

And not surprising either that my list contains as few typically happy endings as it does. To me the romance of the film moment is in how simultaneously fleeting and indelible it is (best, perhaps, when seen through now all-but-forbidden, delicious, poisoned, shimmering miasmas of cigarette smoke).

Moments of unsatisfied longing passing into moments of ecstatic memory.

For every HEA couple strolling together into the future (here's
Charlie Chaplin and his then-wife Paulette Goddard, of course, at the end of Modern Times), I remember a moment of near-unbearable renunciation, frustration, loss, and sadness (like Claude Rains, at the right, in Notorious, as one of the most heart-rending villains in film -- directed, of course, by Alfred Hitchcock, who knew as well as anyone that we can't all be Cary Grant. I hope that for as long as I'm able to write romance, I won't forget the pathos of unrequited lovers; I tried to put a little of it into Rackham, in The Edge of Impropriety.)

But I hadn't meant to get too snagged into sadness in this post. OR into black-and-white -- especially because part of this meditation was jogged into being by our recently renting the DVD of The Secret in their Eyes, the wonderfully romantic Argentinian film that won an Oscar last year. Which Oscar might be why we haven't seen it until now -- foreign film Oscars, it seems to me rightly or wrongly, being too often affairs of cute kids and wise people of the village.

The Secret in their Eyes
has none of that. It's a smart, compelling mixing of past and present, political and personal: it's a murder mystery that starts during Argentina's military dictatorship in the 70s and also the for-many-years unrequited love of a man for his beautiful, upper-class boss. And it uses color exquisitely: no sepia tones for the past, it's done in the pure rich hues of live memory and lovestruck point of view. Check it out with someone you love.

As of course I did, with my husband, the lifelong filmfreak who taught me how to love and appreciate the obnoxious genius Godard, who took my on our first date to the rapturous French costume epic Children of Paradise (no time for more than a still here, but rent it if you don't know it, you won't be sorry).

And who also introduced me to my all-time favorite romantic movie dance routine, that I blogged about this week on my own page, from the not-very-good 1958 Damn Yankees, a sublime Gwen Verdon and her husband and choreographer Bob Fosse.

Check out my page to see why I love it so much. And check out the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIiZuAVZH4w”.

And happy Valentine's Day, a little late. And still.

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Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Pam! So many wonderful movies. "Notorious" was actually one of my inspirations for the Charles/Mélanie/Raoul triangle (which is an inversion of the Notorious set-up with the husband as the hero). I even referenced it with a reference to Mel and Raoul meeting on a bench in a park in Lisbon.

I have to say, though, that while I find the Claude Rains character quite sympathetic, I don't sympathize with him that much at the end, given that he's been going along with the attempt to murder his wife.

4:19 PM  

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