As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it is my view that the majority of American movies follow the same storytelling trajectory:
Somebody wants something…
And they get it.
Not a lot of suspense there, but that’s what audiences like. And if moviemakers give audiences what they like, they can fulfill the trajectory of their story:
Moviemakers want money, and they get it.
Movies in the sixties were different. They were more like:
Somebody wants something,
And they get shot to pieces.
Those endings weren’t quite as upbeat. But, considering the times, where our leaders were being picked off like birds on a fence rail, they fit. On the other hand, if you don’t dwell on the “dead” part, the upbeat and downbeat endings were arguably the same. In what way?
Sixties heroes wanted martyrdom,
And they got it.
A downbeat, happy ending.
Around 1976, however, things started to change. The Viet Nam war was over. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds. The moviemakers noticed. And, wishing to continue fulfilling the trajectory of their stories, they changed the movies. Most noteworthily, they stopped mutilating the heroes. Once again, I could watch movies without covering my eyes.
There’s a philosopher who talks about the clash of thesis and antithesis finally morphing into…a third thing. That’s what happened in movies. They couldn’t go back to happy endings – that’s so 50’s. They couldn’t keep obliterating the heroes – that’s so 60’s. So they came up with a third, “in between” kind of an ending.
Which happens to be my favorite kind of movie ending.
It started with The Bad News Bears (1976). A disreputable coach takes a hideous assortment of no-talents and turns them into a competitive Little League baseball team which winds up playing for the championship. A throwback storyline. Biblically inspired. It’s David versus Goliath, and – “Spoiler Alert”, for those working their way through the Bible – David wins.
But there was one difference.
The Bad News Bears lost.
After years of enforced optimism, followed by a decade of Armageddon,
I can’t tell you how refreshing that felt.
The kids had fun, they got to spray each other with beer, they learned the value of effort, teamwork, believing in yourself. But you look on the scoreboard,
I felt giddy watching it. It had never happened before. And The Bad News Bears was a hit. So it wasn’t just me.
In the same year, 1976 – so it appears something was definitely in the air – there was Rocky. No-name palooka, gets it together, and winds up fighting for the title.
And God bless him,
Though it feels like a victory. Why? Because Rocky’s goal was to “go the distance” and he did. To prove that’s all he wanted, when his victorious opponent screams, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch!”, Rocky triumphantly croaks back, “I don’t want one!”
For me, that was the highpoint of an exhilarating movie. (And of the franchise. Holding Rocky at his word about rematches, I ignored all the sequels.) In Rocky, the natural way of things, not movie formula, determines the outcome. It was a million times more satisfying that if Rocky had won.
The eighties came, and happy endings were back.
Nothing lasts forever.
Though every so often, there’s a welcome reminder of the endings I love. It’s rarely in an American movie, but at least they show it in America.
Once (2007) is not a sports movie; it’s a romantic musical. But like Rocky and The Bad News Bears, it has my favorite kind of ending. If you haven’t seen Once, you should check it out. Unless you require classically happy endings. (Or you’re stuck in the sixties, and you’re not content unless the good guy’s in the morgue.)
Once involves a relationship between a Dublin street singer and a gifted immigrant musician, who find each other, collaborate on some songs, and then
They go their separate ways.
From a traditional romantic musical perspective,
It’s a loss.
They meet, they make music, they experience some not totally specified feelings, and they go on with their lives. A little movie, chronicling a memorable encounter. It was more than enough to send me home happy.
I like movies that aren’t obligatorily triumphant. I’d like to write one someday.
In the meantime, I’ll write here.
Like the movie endings I enjoy, it’s a natural fit.
It goes without saying, almost, that when I talk about the 60's, it only ends calendarially on the last day of 1969. The 60's probably didn't begin until at least 1963, when President Kennedy was shot, and didn't end till they started wearing bell bottoms.