Monday, December 21, 2009

What's Your (Guilty) Pleasure?

Soooo, let me just preface this by saying this was not my fault. I blame the blizzard. See, Channel 23 was SUPPOSED to be broadcasting the Steelers game at 4:15pm. BUT, since the Ravens game got pushed to 4:15 so the Chicago Bears had time to get to town, I couldn't see the Steelers game (except for the amazing last two minutes of it!). So, I was innocently flipping channels and landed on - "Top Gun". The Volleyball Scene, no less. Gay, straight, whatever, you all know what I am talking about, don't even lie.

I remember very specifically the first time I saw "Top Gun", in the theater. It must have been the summer after my brief stint at the University of Pittsburgh (having already received the highest honors in my double-major, Pool and Quarters). It was two of my best friends, Lauren and Ace (both of whom I am very happy to say I am still in touch with), and I, and I think we went to a weekend matinee at the dive-y theater in a strip mall on Route 30 in Latrobe. Volleyball Scene on the big screen? Oh, yeah... If they re-released it I admit I would go pay to see that.

Not too bad on my 42" screen neither. So I lingered. They were all there... Iceman, Hollywood, Wolfman, Maverick... Goose, thankfully with his shirt ON... I was transported back to my slack-jawed youth.

This, however, was the first time I was seeing the movie as a filmmaker. Since I had come in late, it wasn't much longer until the worst part - when Goose dies. It still makes me cry. Say what you want about "Top Gun". Yes, in retrospect it was quite possibly the most homo-erotic movie ever made. Brokeback Mountain has nothing on Fightertown. But Goose's death scene still holds up, the montage that follows is heart-wrenching, and no matter how much I hold it together up until that point, when Meg Ryan touches Tom Cruise's face while she smiles and cries at the same time and his jaw twitches while he tries not to lose it, I do. I honestly think it was the best acting either one of them have ever done.

Another movie from my young adulthood has been playing non-stop on the TV Guide channel - "Dirty Dancing". If I didn't know it backwards and forwards before, I do now. I do think it is a great movie, and there is a line that I have borrowed from it for 20 years:

"I carried a watermelon?"

Remember that? The first time Baby meets Johnny? She is so flustered, that is all she can think to say, and then he walks away and she repeats the line, incredulously berating herself. When I meet a hot guy and say something ridiculous, upon retelling the story to my girlfriends, I follow up with that line, and they all know what I am talking about.

Like "Top Gun", "Dirty Dancing" takes me back. I was living in a two-room studio apartment with my then boyfriend, later husband, even later ex-husband, in Pittsburgh. I don't think I saw it in the theater. We had HBO so we watched it probably ten times. Our relationship had some (loose, and non-dancing) parallels to Johnny and Baby's. He was only a year older than I was, but with more life experience. Even at 20, I was still pretty naive (I know, hard to believe, right?). We were very young and very happy. Not really worried about where life would take us. Just happy to be together, and not thinking that anything could ever be more important than that.

I could tell you lots of stories like that, about which movie makes me think about what period of my life, and I am sure you have many similar stories. These blasts from the past have made me think about how I, and others, will think of "Smalltimore," 20 years from now. It is already a little dated for me, as I wrote the first draft five years ago, and parts were based loosely on what was going on in my life at the time. Life is not as dramatic as that for me these days. Well, I guess it is, just in different ways.

When I was writing the script, I purposely left out any political remarks or other statements or scenery that might date it. The first draft had a reference to Murphy Brown, and someone who read the script, who was about ten years younger than I am, had no idea what that was about. While I was watching "Top Gun", it was the soundtrack that really dated the movie. Every other aspect of it could be taking place right now. Remember? "Highway to the Danger Zone," "Playing With The Boys," etc... It made me think about my own soundtrack. I think it is going to hold up over time. So much of it is rockabilly... a little techno, a little hip-hop... and some beautiful ballads, some of which I first heard ten years ago, so I think they will last.

Something in "Dirty Dancing" that made me smile and think, "80s", even though the movie was supposed to take place in the 60s, was Jennifer Grey's permed bob. Which, incidentally, looks remarkably like Kelly McGillis' 'do in "Top Gun"!

When I was teaching my pre-production class at the Creative Alliance a week and a half ago, I was talking about soundtracks, and how in this town there is no excuse for a bad one. I gave a few examples of bad soundtracks, like, "He's Just Not That Into You." One of my students asked me if I thought this, and other production value things we were talking about, really mattered to the average movie-goer, or if only filmmakers noticed these kinds of things. Yes, I certainly notice these things more now, but these are the types of things that can pull you right out of a movie. I explained it to her like this: I grew up in the restaurant business. When I lived in D.C. I managed a four-star restaurant in a posh hotel. It is easier now, but for years it was difficult for me to really relax when dining out, because I notice everything. To this day, I know when I am in a very good restaurant - when I don't pick up on things like mismatched silverware, or the waiters thumb touching the food on the plate as he serves it.

The devil is in the details. When I am so wrapped up in the story that I forget I am watching a movie, then I know it is a good movie. There are so many things that can pull you right out if that, though. Bad acting, bad lighting, blatant continuity issues, scoring that has nothing to do with the mood of the scene, dialogue that doesn't ring true... just everything.

Anyway, this is just pure stream of consciousness today. I did see snippets of "Dirty Dancing," again yesterday, and I did finally notice something that I have never seen before. When Baby first says, "I carried a watermelon," then it cuts to Johnny's face. He gives her a strange look, walks away, then it cuts back to her and she says the line again, to herself, "I carried a watermelon?" Between those two lines, while the camera is on him, you can see Baby's profile but you are focused on Johnny. Next time you see this scene, watch her instead - you'll see that she mouths, "I carried a watermelon?" before you hear/see her say it again. Now it is always going to bug me. And now it is always going to bug you!

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