Magnificent Obsession is a cornball flick. It is the sort that I find fascinating too - a tale of morals and manners and altruism. Something the wealthy Americans of the post-war era needed. As a melodramatic overview of our morals and dreams, it's a watercolor work of art.
Some time this afternoon between my run to Karl's Jr and the Asian Water Place, I was thinking about Islam, and why I don't have a Christian reason to support Israel. The thing that bubbled out of my brain as I merged into the left lane of PCH was that their DNA is not far apart. Oh yes, and it was in the context of why 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' was such a sucky flick. It makes no sense for sentient civilizations capable of engineering that genetically hybrid thing Klatu was to archive Terran fauna at the scale they did. The DNA is simply not that different. If intelligence evolves in an emergent way, then the paths converge - thus the Singularity, thus Judeo-Christian merges with all the sky god religions. The differences aren't so great. Which means that the Klatu aliens were fratricidal, like all them Semites. Our moral instinct is therefore to show the similarities and the differences. And eventually we will. With film.
So Magnificent Obsession, like the Philadelphia Story and several other classic American films I like, are immediately translated by me as a habit I've had since childhood, into a black cast. But while I was watching this one - the only person I could think of as Rock Hudson was in fact Wesley Snipes. He's the only black actor I can think of who can play an intelligent and sensitive badass. Jackson can't do it. Denzel isn't bad enough. Omar Epps could pull it off but you can't make him look big. Delroy Lindo could do it, but I've never seen him do convincing romance. Fishburn is just too damned bumpy. Hmm. I'm fresh out. It leaves only one man, now that I have gone through the lot. Eriq LaSalle. Eriq LaSalle could play a snot nosed millionaire playboy who suddenly gets religion falling in love with... hmm, who's the woman? I suppose it would have to be Angela Bassett done softly, which she could do very well.
Translating Magnificent Obsession, which has a very subtly Christian undertone, and too damned many ethereal choruses in the background when somebody says something 'profound' into an Islamic themed motion picture would be the job of a proper multicultural artist. I would have thought, way back in 1988 when I got on board that wagon, we'd be knee-deep in that kind of talent by now. Perhaps not until movie production is even cheaper will the industry not be a single file line of ass kissers - meaning some kind of anime something. Perhaps that will be the final great contribution of the videogame industry. Books about manners don't have quite the impact of watching men and women do what they do. Sorry.
You cannot look at Magnificent Obsession and not feel like you're watching, at least you can't from my generational perspective, animated versions of Barbara Ann Bread. (Well what do you know, Googlewhack). OK how about Little Debbie? You know what I mean. You cannot for the life of you imagine these women naked - they had a kind of naive respectability about them which was an affect that in the end actually made them respectable. Everybody in contemporary film and TV is gratuitously naked as compared to Agnes Moorehead, not that she was a romantic figure in this or almost any film - but there she is in this one, the stern and proper nurse; she could very well have been wearing a burka throughout. But you wouldn't mind that because she was supposed to be respectable, which is something we understand at the compiled end of Judeo-Christian-Islamic ethics. Women who aren't sluts shouldn't dress like sluts - or undress like them for that matter. Today it is de-riguer for a woman who is supposed to be attractive to have at least one introductory scene in which she's acting like a model - the introduction of the fiance of the First Son in the new season of 24 is illustrative. The little twat gets petulant because her man wants to spend 20 minutes talking to his old best friend instead of roll in the hay with her one more time. She's liberated. She takes her jollies seriously.
At least in the 70s feral motorcycle flicks the gratuitous show of boobs was, well more obviously gratuitous. Now we look at women in long dresses as if something has gone horribly wrong with their sense of self.
This recession could be a very good thing for us conservatives. Sex could become complicated again. Speaking of which, I just caught a bit, while falling awake and asleep of Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, and it suddenly seemed completely obvious how men and women of his temperament could talk their ways completely out of marriages. It's astonishing when I looked at those arguments between drooping my head down, how emotionally unsuited for anything approaching marriage those pathetic souls were. I'm going to get through those again and give myself the comfort of knowing I undid myself well. When I was 13 and watched 'Billy Jack' I didn't realize that was a rape scene. It seemed kinda cool. I figured that's how it went, you know, now that pre-marital sex is OK. After all, it's the 70s and everything is better now than in the old-fashioned days. More freedom!
Rock Hudson was, of course, homosexual. We all know this in hindsight because we're supposed to. And it was a secret in Hollywood, or an open secret or something, because it was supposed to be. And films like Magnificent Obsession poured a great deal of time and effort into demonstrating how a fool who expects everything from the world might become a wise man who contributes instead, and how difficult it is in that kind of moral world to find love. True love worth pursuing. For our hero it takes years. But how is the sex? Isn't that the bottom line - how did Rock do it? How did Jane Wyman do it? Wouldn't it be interesting to know that Rock and maybe that other hunky guy were doing it? That's what enquiring minds want to know these days. Because 'how is the sex' is what the question is all about, if you can find out. Which is why a smart producer would keep the details of his actors' sex lives under wraps. At least that's how it used to be when in the years like 1956 when they still made movies about true love, ethical true love that takes years to achieve back when women wore elbow length gloves and strings of pearls that never suggested cleavage. All the 'how' about sex was still generally a private matter between respectable people. You could make those kinds of movies today in an Islamic nation I bet.
What is America's Magnificent Obsession today? It's such a catchy title that you want to just send your lawyer to talk to their lawyer so you can use it in a commercial about underwear or high cholesterol foods. If I had to guess, I'd say that Radiohead gets it right in that song Creep.
I don't care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice when I'm not around
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special
But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell I'm doing here?
I don't belong here
We've been convinced. Well, I don't mean me in that we. You've been convinced, my beautiful Americans, that you're not good enough - that the complexities in your life are your fault. That if you could just win that game show, if you could just... You know. The next movie I'm going to write about is THX 1138, and the preview is that what they do is that they confess. You know. The people. They confess to a god they can probably guess does not hear them, but they confess anyway.
Americans don't confess. We obssess.
We keep looking for a perfect way out. We keep trying to make ourselves better, holier, stronger, faster, smarter, more ethical, more *something*. Because the guy next door disgusts us. He drinks the wrong beer, and those pants! What is he thinking? There's judgment out there, America. The world is judging us, right? And when the shit comes down, I don't want them to think I'm like you. Sooner or later the shit's going to come down, right? And we're going to be all wrong - I mean look at all the *stuff* we've taken from the planet. That's what makes us all wrong, right?
I'm toying with you. Sorry. What I want you to do is confess your sins. To yourself is ok. And then give yourself permission to go ahead and feel content. Rock Hudson and Eriq LaSalle, they had to prove it to Jane Wyman and Angela Bassett. And the Jews and Muslim stars of the same film had to prove it as well. And once we saw them prove themselves worthy of true love, with all their clothes on, somehow the fact that everybody in the film was stinking affluent or stinking rich didn't smell so bad. It's an old story about how somebody who is achieves noblesse. It's rather about exceptionalism. Exceptionalism still counts - it always has and it always will. It's in our DNA and our DNA converges over time. Somebody just has to take a little extra time and translate, or run parallel versions in our imaginations.
I had nothing else to do and I wasn't sleepy so I decided to let you in on that.