Stories of innocence lost
This year, as we know, is defined by the presidential campaign: the nomination battles of the Republican party; the relentless attack ads in which both sides writhe in the mud and facts are road kill; memory and attention spans are three beats long; the blustery political conventions; the carefully staged speeches; and finally the face-off on November 6th, after which pundits of both stripes predict the end of the world as we know it if their candidate loses. Not a few Republicans believe Obama, if re-elected, is going to turn this sovereign nation over to the control of the United Nations and forcibly confiscate all personal arms. Democrats can’t quite match that level of craziness. Still, levelheaded folks have to look hard for safe haven in these political climes.
Oh, but, the year merits another look. Let’s put a little spin on it, as the candidates do daily.
Have you by chance noted this is the 30th anniversary of the blockbuster 1982 sci-fi film “E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial”? Filmmaker Steven Spielberger is re-releasing the film on Oct. 3rd for a one-time only viewing in theatres around the country to mark the occasion. Wasn’t the movie just magic? And you didn’t have to be a kid to find it so. It enchanted both kids and adults then and maybe even more so today when its child-like view of the world still denies the fears and vagaries of the world we get up to 30 years later.
In the film, a little guy named Elliott, reeling from his parents’ divorce, adopts and names a childlike alien left behind on a scouting expedition from another planet. The story is told through the eyes and physical perspective of a child knee-high to the adults in charge. Elliott learns to care for this abandoned creature, developing uncanny mental communication with it, and vows to help E.T. get home.
The story is based on the imaginary friend Spielberger concocted when his parents divorced. “He was a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father I didn’t feel I had anymore,” he’s been quoted. The curious face devised for E.T. on the retractable neck is an amalgam of the faces of the American poet Carl Sandburg, the scientist Albert Einstein and the literary game-changer Ernest Hemingway. E.T. cost $1.5 million to develop. In this film, anything is possible: an alien can become a brother and little boys on bicycles can fly airborne across the face of the harvest moon. The movie, a celebration of innocence, shows how common ground can be found between cultures “alien” to each other.
Another film with pivotal standing in American movie history – as well as in the minds of any woman who was ever a teenager – is marking its own milestone this year. It’s been 25 years since the sizzling Patrick Swazye airlifted the eyes-wideopen ingénue Jennifer Grey in a breath-taking move to the unforgettable tune “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.” Set in a Catskills Mountains resort peopled by wealthy New Yorkers in the ‘60’s, the story tells how the pampered but high-minded “Baby” falls under the thrall of a tough Irish kid, Johnny, the lead dancer in the resort’s dance corps. Its soundtrack of throbbing and sensuous teen music of the day sets the stage for a romantic drama in which innocence comes face-to-face with adult issues and the matter of class. “Dirty Dancing” is a coming of age movie, not unlike the ultimate theme of “E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial.”
A remake of “Dirty Dancing” has been in the works for several years, and 2014 is now the target date for release. Reviews say the problem has been in finding cast members who can re-create the roles played by Grey and Swazye. I hardly see any way a remake could come close to replicating the original. The film is a classic, and you can’t make something already great, greater. There’s also the problem of trying to find actors who can bring the chemistry to the screen that Grey and Swazye exhibited. But here’s a funny thing. Off camera, the two were very much out of sync and had trouble relating, despite a screen test that crackled with potential. While we’d like to believe the two characters were meant for each other on and off the screen, the fact is that they were “acting,” in the truest sense of the word. There went my innocence.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.