Friday, May 12, 2006

See, This is the Thing

with nostalgia and the past as envisioned by entertainment media:

I saw a movie, years ago, I don't remember the title. But I remember it was set in 1939. And so the director shot a street scene in which he lined up a lot of shiny new 1939 vintage cars on the street, parked or cruising up and down. Bet he was pretty proud of himself for the authenticity.

But it wasn't authentic at all. Go downtown and walk around. How much of what you see and touch is made in 2006? Not much. I wasn't alive in 1939, but I can bet if you walked through an American town there was about 20 older models on the road for every brand new car, including a lot of mud-spackled flivvers, probably, as it was the Depression, after all.

When you got change at the restaurant, you didn't get a handful of gleaming-from-the-mint 1939 dimes.

The other mistake Hollywood tends to make is, oddly, the opposite one. If they're shooting a movie set in the Middle Ages, they might go look up some museum pieces to recreate the set. But they'll do it exactly, and unthinkingly, and make all the tapestries faded and the wood furniture look 700 years old, encrusted with an inch of polish, not bright and burnished as it would have been then.

But maybe the directors have gotten smarter since then. I don't see nearly as many films as I used to.

OK, while I'm carping I might as well get it all out.

1. If you study recent hairstyles, you can date just about any period film -- a Western or an 18th-century drawing room drama, or a swords and sandals epic -- within 12 months of its release without reading the credits.

2. I've watched movie sets at work and heard the story a dozen times how real rain doesn't look like rain on film. I don't know if that's right or not. But what Hollywood does in place of it sure doesn't look like rain, either. It looks like a couple of people trying to say their lines standing under water shot from a Coast Guard fire patrol boat on a sunny day -- unless you're in Bangladesh it never rains that hard and half the time you can see sharp-edged shadows of buildings and stuff in the background.

< /rant >