Friday, June 5, 2009

'50s Experience

In my second year at university I fell in love. Before or between lectures we strolled through the botanic gardens in that blissful state of involvement with some significant other that happens only once for the first time. I mooned around daydreaming about the strange sweetness of existence. We went to the Boranvansky ballet together - Swan Lake ever since is associated in my mind with romance

I was grass green over matters of the heart. Much of my learning about relationships between the sexes was based upon what I’d seen on the movies. One early third-term day she suggested a walk in the park. No manoeuvres, straight to the point. She'd been seriously thinking about her study, and how our relationship stood in the way. She owed it to me to tell me I cared for her more than she for me. A Minister's daughter she did not want to be a manse wife herself. She was the first girl I had taken out seriously, I should take others out as well. Hurt, I realised the correctness of her assessment. Not like later, when head over heels in lust and desire, rejection stung like hell, and numb with despair I hung in hoping for the miracle. The fact that I didn't do this tells its own story. She did it well, disengaging herself graciously. My compliments across the years.

After the break-up I joined the hostel movie brigade: Friday 5 o' clock session, rushed pie cart meal, 8 o' clock session, the same formula repeated on Saturday evening. For a while I saw just about every movie in town. They were fifties movies - great on the Second World War, John Mills on the bridge of a destroyer saluting the flag as his ship went down; the Carry On capers, Sid James and cronies with their sexual innuendo; other English comedies with Alec Guinness, Rex Harrison and Terry Thomas; and musicals of which Carmen Jones ("beat out that rhythm on a drum") endures most.

I saw a thousand Apaches bite the dust and Alan Ladd, Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper hang up their guns time after time only to sling them round their hips again ("a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do"). I identified more with their heroic deeds than with James Dean. The film from the period I recollect most vividly is Shane. I swallowed that American dream holus-bolus, while not responding to more complex portrayal of its consequences (On the Waterfront, The Wild One or The Blackboard Jungle).

My adult’s generation's movies symbolically ended with Charlie Chaplin disappearing into the horizon twirling his cane - poignant and sentimental melodrama. Mine ended with the gunman spurring his horse over the ridge to his next lonely battle. It was not an era for the camera of ambiguity. The movies that impacted mostly ended with defeat - The Caine Mutiny and Viva Zapata.

Among the female actors there I recall Kay Kendall who died tragically young, sultry Ava Gardner, always Marilyn Monroe, and a young waif called Audrey Hepburn in her first film Roman Holiday. Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock saw the beginning of a new craze. When rock and roll burst upon the scene, enjoying my exploration of classical music I was not greatly impressed but took part in the gyrations that seemed to be called for.

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