In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« The Nature of Order, Now | Main | Moviegoing: "Terminator 3" »

July 05, 2003

This Movie is Me

Friedrich --

Your lovely "Animal House" posting -- and how pleasing that such a lowdown comedy has prompted such personal ruminations -- has me thinking about how movies/books/etc can become these gravitational-pull things around which longterm personal feelings orbit ...

Oops, lost control of that one. Anyway, your posting got me wondering, Is there a movie that gets close to how and where you come from? That you can point to and say, Yeah, that's the kind of life I was born into, and whose assumptions I still carry around with me?

As for smalltown, Western-NY me, there aren't too many candidates. One of the only movies ever filmed near where I grew up is the horror movie "Lady in White." Have you seen it? Poetic, touching, beautiful, faux-naif in a likable way ... And I think I'm not just expressing my delight in seeing the physical details of my background up on screen. (I met the director of the film once, and as we chatted it emerged that not only did we grow up on the same side of town, we may have played junior-high soccer against each other.) But its operatic, soulful, Italian-American tone is a million miles from the Waspy-rube-with-pretentions tone of my upbringing -- that's not how that life looked to me. So I guess I'd say that the movie I've seen that's closest, both tonewise and physical-detailwise, to how I grew up is the midwestern bicycle-racing movie "Breaking Away." Cornfed, lovely and wholesome, yet perplexed, goofy and yearning too -- yup, that about does it. Stir a little "Magnificent Ambersons" into the family's psychic mix and the picture's complete.

How about you? The movie that does the best job of showing the matrix (so to speak) from which you emerged. No fair getting too metaphorical -- no Sergio Leone, for instance, just because that's how it felt. Literal-minded, please. The Wife, a whacky southern Californian, tells me that the movie that best represents how she grew up is the George Axelrod/Tuesday Weld black comedy "Lord Love a Duck." (If anybody ever wanted to characterize our marriage, they could do a lot worse than describing it as "Lord Love a Duck" meets "Breaking Away.") And how about your wife?

Eager as well to hear from any and all visitors.



posted by Michael at July 5, 2003


In terms of how it felt EMOTIONALLY, I think "Pleasantville" comes close. In the sense of my childhood feeling like a well-ordered, "safe", highly repressed black-and-white place and feeling like the theme of my life has been adding the technicolor. (I made my comments elsewhere about "Animal House", but I think the adding-the-technicolor part is a fundamental part of that movie's appeal). One of my most favorite movie transformations ever is Reese Witherspoon, trapped in Pleasantville, virginity left behind long ago, bemoaning the fact that she is still in black-and-white, while everyone else who is discovering passion is in color, and saying "I've had three times as much sex as all these people, and I'm still in black-and-white!" Then, bored to death, she actually puts on her glasses and reads "Huckleberry Finn", which, much to her surprise, she loves. Voila! Technicolor. Very sweet message. That, and her mother, embarassed and thrilled to be in technicolor after a passionate encounter with the art dealer in town, being lectured by her husband that they can "just forget this" and she can just "go back to black and white." And she quietly launches her own declaration of independence: "I don't want to go back." I don't think my mom wanted to go back, either, she just didn't know how to go forward.

PS-- I was a student in Indiana when "Breaking Away" was filmed. VERY accurate picture. I liked it, too. (Remember the last line---"Bon jour papa!!"). I was recently in Bloomington and saw the giant limestone library. I always think of the father when I see that, when he says that they were the miners of the limestone, and then the buildings went up, and he no longer felt "good enough" to enter them?

Posted by: annette on July 5, 2003 6:30 PM

Hmmm. With my current mood, I'd have to say "Gaslight." Apt description of gender roles as I have lived them. Except for the part where Joseph Cotton shows up to save the day.

Posted by: j.c. on July 6, 2003 3:59 AM

Just for goofiness, Dazed and Confused is a note-perfect, Texas-teenager-in-the-late-70s movie. Linklater got everything right, from the cars to the clothes, the lingo, the music, the characters, etc. I don't think there's a scene in that movie that me and my goat-roper buds didn't live, in one form or fashion.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on July 6, 2003 8:15 AM

Pleasantville, Dazed and Confused -- it's the real America. Annette: did Pleasantville catch the look of your background as well as the feel of it? Scott: Have you ever read Tom Perrotta? NJ instead of Texas, but the same era and lots of fun -- Dazed and Confused meets Nick Hornby, basically. For those moments when you aren't deep in the middle of a Cormac McCarthy novel.

JC: Gaslight?!!! You grew up in circumstances like Gaslight? Wow. Sounds like it may be time to write a memoir and cash in big.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 6, 2003 9:37 AM

Yep---the look of it, too. Very Leave-It-to- Beaver midwest suburbs.

Posted by: annette on July 6, 2003 2:14 PM

Hmmm, this is a really tough one for me. I can't get one movie to describe all aspects of my youth, it was too schizophrenic. The closest I could come would be "Hoosiers," the small-town Indiana basketball flick with Gene Hackman. The natural setting was a perfect match for my upper Midwestern upbringing. And Hackman's hard-ass, "I don't care what anyone thinks of me as long as I'm doing the right thing" attitude seems genuinely Midwestern (he plays a sort of Ulysses Grant in peacetime.) As far as school goes, "Election" was close to perfect. "Dazed and Confused" captured a lot of the feeling of milling around aimlessly during high school (the hero was a dead ringer for a good friend of mine--so much so I spent a few seconds thinking "Nah, that can't be him, can it?"

Of course, the perfect flick for the maternal/Italian half of my inner life is, of course, "The Godfather." (Just thought I'd sneak that one in, heh heh.)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 6, 2003 5:53 PM

I think I'll put in a word for THAT THING YOU DO, masterminded by Tom Hanks in 1996 but set in 1964. I was 12 that year and several years younger than the characters in the movie, but I think it captures the midwestern small-town ambience of the time. What's especially appealing is that Hanks is not sneeringly condescending towards the midwestern small-town types. The central character is a little older than the others and has a stint in the military already behind him, while another character is planning to join the Marines - with no big deal made out of either. The hero's father runs a Main Street appliance store and is probably facing eventual doom at the hands of shopping-center discount barn that's even open on Sundays; while Pop doesn't approve of his son's musical inclinations and wants him to stay at home and be responsible and work in the family store, the father isn't made into an ogre, either. Pop may be wrong and short-sighted, a bourgeois stick-in-the-mud, but he's not evil and has problems of his own with the looming threat to his livelihood. (The set decorators must have raided every Goodwill store for miles around to come up with the vintage console stereos, irons, mixers, and radios to stock that appliance store, too!) In general, the movie seems more or less "right" to me.

On the other hand, there's something a little strange about the background. It's set mostly in the summer of 1964. There was a very contentious Presidential election that year, but the movie doesn't say a word about Johnson or Goldwater, not even a car with a bumper sticker. The songs heard on the soundtrack aren't real songs of the period but synthetic songs written circa 1995 to simulate the sound of 1964. Hanks and his merry crew took it even further by developing a _past_ for their alternate world, including a couple of largely washed-up '50s stars now touring on the state fair circuit such as the singer of an also fictitious '50s TV show's theme song. Since I lived in that era, I can appreciate what Hanks & Co. did to simulate the time and the music (their Ventures sound-alike song is dead-on), but I'm a little put off by the surrealness of the obviously fictitious songs and singers, when another movie would have just licensed real period songs to set the atmosphere. (Like FORREST GUMP, another Hanks vehicle.) And the movie was just the surface. The movie soundtrack CD has liner notes written as though it's really a collection of songs by the movie's fictitious pop group along with other tunes of the time to fill it out, and Hanks (assuming that's who wrote the booklet) carries the alternate world history much further than the movie could.

But the really home-hitting part of THAT THING YOU DO was subjective. One of the characters -- Jimmy, the talent of the movie's garage band and who wrote the title song -- was the living embodiment of the person I wanted to be when I was 15. And it was scary to see my idealized projection made real -- and to see what that character would have been like in real life, and how he would affect the people around him...

Posted by: Dwight Decker on July 7, 2003 2:37 AM

Michael, it's funny you mention McCarthy, as I am currently mired in DeLillo's latest (slim) novel, Cosmopolis. I fear you've infected me with some form of critic-itis -- I am receiving no pleasure from it, even though it's full of his usual linguistic pyrotechnics. I could use a sparse McCarthy piece to cleanse my palate.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on July 7, 2003 9:04 AM

I'm noticing a strong middle-American tilt here ... Where are 2Blowhards' urban visitors? Do we simply have none? Have we scared them off? Or do they refuse to take part in silly (if fun) let's-compare-notes games like these?

Dwight -- "That Thing You Do" hadn't even occurred to me (actually I'd long forgotten it), but you're certainly right -- it really gets a certain slice of that era ...

Scott -- I apologize. "The killjoy," that's what they call me. But how about those Perrotta books?

Oh, another couple of movies that sort of hint at my upbringing: not just "Election" (based on Perrotta -- thanks to FvB for that one), but the other two Alexander Payne movies, "Citizen Ruth" and "About Schmidt." The first gives a picture of lives a couple of miles farther out into the blue-collar country than where I lived, and the second a picture of life one smalltown/suburb over and up an economic notch. But I watched both movies feeling like we all grew up on the same side of town. And those shots in "Schmidt" of the sad, abandoned small-midwester-city downtown looked like my nearby Western NY city circa 1970 ... Whatever my misgivings about Payne (not numerous) it's certainly nice that he's out there putting mid-America on film. Did those movies ring any bells for you other mid-America types?

I'm trying to come up with a book that nails my background/upbringing and am having a much harder time of it. A bit of this, a bit of that. A little "Winesburg, Ohio." Those Tom Perrotta books. A little Sinclair Lewis, a little Nick Hornby (in a very indirect way). A few of the Scott Fitzgerald short stories. But most lit books about smalltowns and suburbs strike me as missing it entirely -- one of many reasons I often prefer crime books; at least I'm semi-likely to recognize the worlds they portray. I've always felt like I should read some Booth Tarkington -- judging from a couple of movies based on his novels ("Ambersons," "Alice Adams"), it seems like there's a good chance they get the funny combo of provinciality and pretention that was my childhood lot ... But, nope, I don't think I've ever read a book and thought, that's it, that's where I come from. Unless my memory's going, which of course it is. I envy Southerners sometimes, who have such a lot of the South between covers...

Have any of you had that experience? Reading a book and thinking, That's where I come from?

This is probably the purest kind of comment-whoring, but I really am curious to hear from everyone about this. Turbokitty? Aaron? TankMommy? Mercer? Andre? Laurel? James? Deb? Will? Sauer? JW? Bizness? Sucher? You too, Birnbaum. Do it for my sake: it's an odd experience, enjoying all these conversations with people yet having no idea whatsoever where y'all are coming from, even in the most general way. So pitch in, please. Eager to get to know you in an ever-so-slightly less disembodied fashion. Chris? Alice? Brian? Felix? Peter? No, I wouldn't imagine so: the Brits are much too discrete to take part in this kind of thing...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 7, 2003 9:58 AM

I'm off subject, but just a quick comment about "That Thing You Do." There were a couple of great comments in that movie that do in fact remind me of people from my "Home." One was when one of the other band members discusses Jimmy and says "If he's a GENIUS, I'm U Thant." U Thant!! Omigod---straight from grade school social studies. The other is when the older and wiser Hanks is talking to the disillusioned band member and mentions his girlfriend, who the band member is being rather careless with. "Jimmy will take care of himself. But (girlfriend) she's special, isn't she?" It was nice to see an older person provide some gentle, good advice...not as much of that in my childhood as I would have loved.

Posted by: annette on July 7, 2003 11:11 AM

Sorry, Michael, but I had the most normal of childhoods--I cant think of a movie that epitomizes it --Maybe "My Dog Skip" and maybe the sense of being a child in an adult world you get in "To Kill a Mockingbird." For some reason that movie always reminds me of the sense of freedom and the intensity of play that I felt as a young girl.They dont write movies being normal and having a secure family life in middle America.

Posted by: Deb on July 7, 2003 11:28 AM

Ok, I thought of another--not a book or movies tho. Garrison Keillor talking about Lake Woebegone is about as perfect a rendition of my childhood I can think of. The sense of community with all it's warts, the division between the Lutherans and the Catholics, the sense of place and everything else as other and suspect. I'm always amazed at how apt his stories are.

Posted by: Deb on July 7, 2003 11:58 AM

Well, since you begged, and since not being British I am indiscreet: I never thought of myself as being anchored in this way. I sprang fully-armed into the world, you see, like Athena from Zeus's brain. The books that appealed to me featured characters who invented themselves out of whole cloth, like Julien Sorel in The Red and the Black, or various Doestoevsky novels, whose protagonists seem to have no childhood at all.

I realize this is disappointing, but I can't think of a single movie that resembles my own experience of childhood in the slightest. My mother would say that I just wasn't paying attention. My psychiatrist, if I had one, would no doubt say something else.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on July 7, 2003 5:41 PM

Gaslight indeed. My post about that, and about who and what goat ropers actually are, has vanished.

You are all in on it!

Posted by: j.c. on July 7, 2003 9:08 PM

I've not seen Perotta, but I've got him on my list now.

JC - Goat ropers were the old-school version of the Urban Cowboy. Snuff, boots, hats, buckles, pickups, and nary a horse or cow between the lot of us. In our defense, we were at least growing up in the town with the World's Longest Running Rodeo.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on July 8, 2003 12:35 PM

Ya think Mesquite, Texas had goat-ropers?? Try Paris, Texas. Which is also a movie. In the rest of the country, the last thing the driver says before an accident is "OH, shit!". In Texas, the last thing the driver says is "Hold my beer---and watch this!" Goat ropers---y'know.

Posted by: cindyincidentally on July 8, 2003 2:38 PM

Proud to say that I lived in Paris (TX) for a year, sophomore year in HS. My dad was going to the JC's watchmaking/jewelry design class there. It were, as they say, an eye-opening unmitigated blast of a year. Lots of the material in Dazed and Confused scans like it came from my time in that fine town. There's no need to discuss which parts, but vans, Trans Ams, and water towers figured prominently.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on July 8, 2003 11:18 PM

Good god, now I'm getting envious of everyone else's upbringing -- not a healthy thing. Why wasn't I hanging out with the Dazed and Confused crowd?

Hey, fellow semi-mid-Americans, it occurs to me that a woman I know, a little older than I am, who grew up in the real midwest, once told me that the movie that really brought it all back for her was "Picnic." Does that work for any of you?

And, getting a little metaphorical here, "The Music Man" sometimes does it for me. Benign local prissy eccentrics and quaintness galore. Plus my dad was a jovial, likable salesman -- like the Robert Preston character, at least on a very good day. On his bad days, he was a little like Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt"... But does "Music Man" work for anyone else?

And how do y'all feel about David Lynch? I liked a few of his earlier, more courtly movies. But with everything since he seems to me to be catering to the big city's fantasies about what mid-America is like -- ie., seething with repression and kinkiness and evil.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 9, 2003 12:48 AM

I'm a little iffy on "The Music Man" because... well, as far as I know, Meredith Willson was utterly sincere and meant the show as a warm tribute to that time and place, but the "Ya Got Trouble" always bothered me because "it seems to me to be catering to the big city's fantasies about what mid-America is like" -- i.e., seething with whooping and heaving religious fanatics.

I'm not sure if there's a movie that really does it 100% for me. I mentioned "That Thing You Do" up above, and there are moments in "A Christmas Story" that ring a bell even though about 25 years before my time and I was more into electric trains than BB guns...

Posted by: Dwight Decker on July 9, 2003 2:04 AM

In no particular order:
- You're only envious because I'm not talking about the countless hours and days and weeks of massive boredom inherent in N. Texas.
- Never heard of Picnic.
- It's my goal never again to willingly watch a musical (so far, so good).
- David Lynch is a genius, but must be taken in small doses, or I get really weirded out and depressed because none of those wacked Blue Velvet-type things happened to me (cf. boredome, above) and I'm left to ponder how I missed all the fun.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on July 9, 2003 11:20 AM

I'm a little iffy on "The Music Man" too. I dont remember any Hermione Gingkold charachters in the town I grew up in.

Posted by: debknits on July 9, 2003 8:42 PM

Like Deb and Aaron, my childhood (and my life in general) seems to be lacking in a cinematic equivalent. I'm an urban visitor, albeit an Australian one... do I still count?

Posted by: James Russell on July 10, 2003 11:56 AM

The Music Man?? My goodness---I'd love it if I grew up in a town as entertaining as the The Music Man, or ever met anybody half as interesting as Hermione Gingold!! If any part of your childhood reminds you of that, cherish it!

Posted by: annette on July 10, 2003 5:10 PM

Like I say, with "Music Man" I'm starting to cheat. It's metaphorically a bit how my smalltown life felt at (very cheery) times, though not at all how it looked. And, heck, my dad on a good day was a very jolly guy. But now I really am cheating.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 11, 2003 8:26 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?