The movies saved my life. I grew up in the great depression, the only child of a pair of star crossed lovers. My father lost his job. My mother drank. They fought. The movies were my escape. Of course, this was true of everyone back in the thirties. Forgetting for an hour or two cost a dime. But the movies represented a lot more than escape to me. They represented moral guidance. What I learned at home was despair and hopelessness. What I learned at the pictures was don’t give up the ship, we have only begun to fight, it’s always darkest before the dawn.
Tom Edison (Spencer Tracy) fought against all odds to invent the light bulb (and just about everything else). Young Tom Edison (Mickey Rooney) fought to grow up to be that great inventor. Don Ameche was Alexander Graham Bell who struggled to invent the telephone (and ultimately got to say, “Come here, Mr. Watson, I need you”). Edward G. Robinson played Dr. Ehrlich, whose magic bullet cured syphilis. Clark Gable crossed the wide Missouri.
Greer Garson played Marie Curie who discovered radium. Paul Muni was the great Louis Pasteur, who revolutionized medicine by proving the existence of germs. Jimmy Stewart filibustered in Washington and soloed across the Atlantic. These were the movies I saw and when they were over, I would emerge from the theater into the afternoon sun, saying to myself, “Yes, I can. If they can do it, so can I.”
I truly believe that these pictures saved me, gave me the inspiration to overcome what I was going through at home and do whatever was necessary to make a life for myself.
The movie moguls who churned out these pictures were immigrants. They understood what made America great, what set it apart. They loved their new country. If they didn’t consciously set out to make movies glorifying the American dream, it never really occurred to them not to do so. Belief in it was as much a part of their psyches as non-belief in it is a part of the psyches of today’s filmmakers. Where are the cinema heroes today, the characters who refuse to surrender, who just won’t give up? Not in Hollywood pictures.
You think audiences aren’t hungry for heroes? There’s a little movie out there called Slumdog Millionaire, which almost didn’t get released and is now being touted for best picture. It takes place in India and tells the story of a young man who overcomes impossible odds to succeed. People are lining up to see it. Why aren’t the many genuinely talented folks in Hollywood making pictures like that? You’d think that simple greed would tempt them to do so. Cecil B. DeMille worshipped the almighty buck.
The truth is they’ve forgotten how. They went to college and were taught that their country is wrong, that the system stinks, that to be a hero is to be a sucker fighting for a lie. Like Louis B. Meyer and Sam Warner before them, they want to make picures that have meaning. But their “meaning” is very different from that of the movie makers of my boyhood. When they churn out what’s in their hearts (the depressing view of life as they actually see it), no-one buys a ticket. Then, because they have to make a living, they revert to meaningless special effect extravaganzas and tell themselves there’s no market for “serious” pictures.
There are a few rays of hope out here in LaLa land. Some raunchy comedies like 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, SUPER BAD and KNOCKED UP come with the requisite number of bodily function jokes but also wear surprisingly sweet hearts on their sleeves. Mainly, though, it’s pyrotechnics and space travel. I see where they’re planning a new high tech version of Flash Gordon. I liked it better when you could see the wire holding up the rocket ship.
My son-in-law, Andrew Breitbart is premiering a new blogsite called BIG HOLLYWOOD, which deals with the questions of why Tinseltown is the way it is. He has asked me to contribute to it from time to time, which I am happy to do. I remember the glory days of film making. I used to go to the movies a lot.
Not so much, anymore.
Z: I loved this article by Orson and wanted you to read it. Please check out Andrew Breitbart's new BIG HOLLYWOOD.. This new Blog is dedicated to Hollywood and conservative values (or the lack thereof)... This Blog's a week old and there are already some very good pieces there. I urge you to check it out from time to time!