Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day Reading and Marriage In The Movies

From Groundhog's Day thru Valentines Day, we traditionally spend a lot of time reading love stories and watching romantic movies.  As I've pointed out in this blog in past years, Hollywood sometimes does romance well, but rarely love itself.  And marriage?

Well, that's the subject of a new book by film historian Jeanine Basinger:  I DO AND I DON'T:  A HISTORY OF MARRIAGE IN THE MOVIES.  The author deconstructs the social history of marriages in what individual marriage films exist--and she finds more of them than I had ever imagined possible.  It occurs to me now that she missed Friendly Persuasion, with Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire, based upon the novel by Jessamyn West, but all of our other favorites are in here.

Last week, Two For The Road was on one of the local television channels.  I thought more of the film when I was younger.  Audrey Hepburn was eleven years older than Albert Finney, although you can't see that in the film.
Cooper in Friendly Persuasion

Basinger says that in Two For The Road, the married couple are staying together despite their ups and downs, and that the traditional marriage film formula of "affirm, question, reaffirm, and resolve" is challenged.  It is reconstituted as "question, affirm (in past tense), resolve, reaffirm."  She says, "It's a difficult form to make work despite its initial honesty.  It works against itself."

She discusses marriage in television shows too, including Ozzie And Harriet and The Donna Reed Show.  But in Basinger's opinion, one of the finest shows ever presented on marriage was Friday Night Lights (with Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton), and she takes several pages to explain why she thinks so.  She says, "Friday Night Lights is not really a show about football.  It's a show about how marriage works when it actually does work."
Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn

"In all the movies about marriage I watched, I observed a constant attempt to find the best strategy...Satirize it, romanticize it, criticize it, idolize it.  Pretend the couple weren't really married.  Tell the story in flashbacks.  Reverse the roles so the woman was smarter, richer, higher ranked than the man.  Make it really about divorce...These constant strategies made it necessary to shape a marriage story into something constructed, plotted, designed."

"When I thought about all the marriages I viewed in movies--and television too--the Friday Night Lights marriage stood out for its lack of such strategies. . .  Over the five years it was on the air, there was no strategy for their marital story, no clever plot twists, no dream episodes, no other woman or man, no cheap theatrics or misunderstandings.  .  .she's loving, but so is he. . .The Taylor marriage was a marriage not governed by genre rules or assaulted by plot development."
Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton

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