Monday, January 26, 2009

"'Feel-Good' Movies"

Recently, on a TV news report, the reporter observed that when economic times get tough, movies inevitably take a turn to the “feel-good” variety. During periods of gloom, audiences gravitate towards movies offering uplift and hope. You go in feeling bad; you come out feeling better. That’s the theory.

The reporter used Slumdog Millionaire as an example of the prototypical “feel-good” movie for our current hard times. I saw Slumdog Millionaire. But let me go somewhere else first. A small digression. I will return shortly.

I wasn’t around for The Great Depression, but I’ve seen many of the movies made during those, arguably even worse, at least so far, hard times. This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of Depression-era movies. I know Warner Brothers in particular made a number of gritty gangster pictures, but even those had a positive, albeit an inverted positive, message.

Gangster movies were, “Don’t do that” movies. You could tell they were “Don’t do that” movies, because in the end, the head gangster was always gunned down in a hail of bullets. The unmistakable message: If you don’t want to be gunned down in a hail of bullets…don’t do that.

The Depression did have its darker offerings. The Good Earth. The Grapes of Wrath. But the era’s entertainment mainstay was fluff. Lavish musicals, goofball comedies where rich people cavorted in ball gowns and tuxedos drinking “high balls”, whatever they are.

A digression within a digression. This will be quick, I promise.

If I were desperately poor, but had somehow scraped up the dime, or whatever, to see a movie, I would have hated watching rich people partying on the screen, no matter how foolishly they were made to behave.

The subtext of these movies was for the audience to feel superior, their unspoken message: “They’re wealthy but they’re idiots.” That wouldn’t have been enough for me. “Enough” would have been, “They’re wealthy, but there’s poison in the caviar.”

For me, there’d have been no satisfaction watching movies about wealth and privilege, then going home and eating my shoe.

But apparently, I’d have been in the minority.

There is one performer from that turmoiled period who really gets to me. Shirley Temple – the cinematic icon of Depression-era cheerfulness. A curly-headed, chubby-cheeked, multi-talented dynamo, Shirley Temple embodied the “never-say-die” spirit of a nation on its knees. (My favorite Shirley Temple movie: The Little Princess.)

She’d lose her position. She’d lose her father. She’d lose her dog. Nothing could stop her. Shirley Temple would always bounce back. With a smile and a giggle and a “Keep you chin up, the good times are just around the corner.”

Back to today.

I am known (by those who know me) for refusing to patronize dark and/or violent movies. Faced with diminishing movie-going options, at least by my entertainment standards, I was looking forward to the “feel- good” movies of today. (I’m sorry millions of people had to lose their jobs so I could get to see one, but what are you gonna do?)

Which brings me to what I’ve heard called the “feel-good” movie for our time –

Slumdog Millionaire.


A young boy sees his mother murdered before his eyes, toughs it out on the murderous “mean streets” of Mumbai, is recruited into a gang of urchin criminals whose leader deliberately blinds one of its young members (blind street singers make more money) by pouring acid into his eyes, loses the girl of his dreams to prostitution, his brother and later, a sadistic mob boss, he finally gets a break appearing on a television game show, where his life’s experiences fatefully provide him with all the answers, but he’s suspected of cheating so he’s brutally tortured by the police.

Oh me, oh my. Something has happened to the “feel-good” movie.

The “feel-good” movie of today has stuff in it that makes me, at least, feel disgusted.

The question then is:

Where do I go to feel good?
Ever since his last posting (Friday, January 23), my Uncle Grumpy has been bugging me:

“I went too fast and left a mistaken impression. I used an example about terrorism on our soil – my point being that mostly likely, the timetable for terrorist attacks is primarily in the hands of the terrorists – but I don’t want your readers to think I only yell at the television about one thing.

I keep hearing on cable news that during the Eisenhower administration, the top tax level was 90 percent. It was, but nobody paid it! There were millions of loopholes! They keep saying the ninety percent, but they never mention the loopholes!

They also report that the approval level for Congress is, like, eleven percent. Maybe so, but how does that fit with the voters’ continually sending over ninety percent of them back? People hate the idea of Congress. But they keep re-electing the vast majority of the people. Those news guys keep focusing on the wrong thing!

Those are just two things I yell about. There’s hundreds of them! I didn’t want people thinking there was just one.”

Uncle Grumpy has re-spoken. Hopefully, now, he’ll leave me alone.


Anonymous said...

I thought it was just me. I loved Shirley Temple movies. Still have a couple on DVD and was hoping that movies would again become happier, less silly, more hopeful. I have not seen Slumdog Millionaire and now I won't. I'm sure it's a well done movie, but I watch movies and TV to be entertained, not horrified and heartbroken. The only movie I've seen lately that I really truly enjoyed was Enchanted.

Jess Kiley said...

His rant felt good. Cleared my own heart out a bit.

Anonymous said...

Just another voice to let you know you're being read. Never actually saw a whole Shirley Temple movie, but I did experience the Reagan administration; sort of the same thing. And I have been to Temple Texas. Talk about your feeling better leaving.

The popular highballs in our old neighborhood were always a shot of some sort of whiskey over ice, with the rest of the tall glass filled with club soda or ginger ale. But I guess it's highballs all around whenever the water's that cold -- right up through the old loopholes.

Now I understand it's pretty much any mixed booze drink in a tall glass including even sake. I knew things were going to hell when the American Kennel Club recognized the appletini. Is there no shame? At long last, is there no shame?

Work In Progress said...

Have some patience! We've only just got into the re-depression; give it time. I only hope it'll inspire a spate of new sitcoms in place of "reality" shows. That's where the real entertainment of this age is really at. Most people watch movies on DVD. For feel good TV there's nothing superior to MY NAME IS EARL, unless maybe DEXTER, what's funnier than a serial killer who tortures for good? I expect the sit com next year.

Funniest movie out currently is TROPIC THUNDER, on DVD. Enchanted is great as well: hefty recommendation. LARS AND THE REAL WOMAN.

Jeremy said...

I'm with you on the "Feelgood Movie" thing. I have no desire to watch really nasty stupid evil violent movies (although I must confess that I enjoyed Dark Knight) (Okay, and I laughed a lot during Burn After Reading, but my wife didn't).

I've been hearing that Slumdog Millionaire was a feelgood movie, and I generally try to catch most of the Oscar nominees, so I was gonna go see it... but after reading your description, I'm not so sure...