Friday, 3 March 2017

FSG Film Club

Welcome to the newest addition to my vintage sewing blog, the Feeling Sew Good Film Club! I wanted to continue my classic film reviews but I felt the format of my general reviews was rather limiting. The FSG Film Club has a stronger emphasis on analysis and comparison of films through themes and subject matter.

The first installation to this series will be an analysis of the "romantic drama" genre through the films Come Back Little Sheba (1952) and Autumn Leaves (1956). 

What is Love?

Romance films aren't exactly my forté. To be perfectly honest with you, I tend to shy away from them because my perception of romance in film has been tainted by too many bad Julia Roberts and Richard Gere movies. Romantic films these days tend to be more comedic in nature and often times are resolved with a happy ending. A few weeks ago I had a hankering for some classic cinema and I really wanted to watch a love story. It was still cold and dreary outside, I was cooped up, and I desired something soothing and dreamy to wash away my winter blues. What I ended up with was quite the contrary...

I started by perusing TCM's film catalog in their e-store, and I was surprised to see that there actually wasn't a romance genre available as a search filter. I thought, how odd! Weren't there love stories back then? I'm not sure why they don't have films categorized as romantic, perhaps they put them in with the screwball comedies and the dramas? But I feel they are deserving of their own category, provided love is the central theme of the film. So after scouring the internet I came up with two films that I had only watched partially in the past. In both cases I had only seen the ends of the films but I was enthralled by them. I knew I had to seem them in their entirety. 

Both of these films have been assigned to the "romantic drama" genre. I struggle with that decision, but after watching these movies I began to question how I define the romantic genre. I had to ask myself, what is love? What constitutes romance? Is it ooey gooey touchy feely stuff? Is it characters pouring their hearts out? Self sacrificing? Dreaming dreams? Loving against all odds? My god, what is romance?!

Perhaps romance is too abstract for a precise definition. Perhaps it's too subjective to assign it a meaning that we can all agree upon. If you watch these films, I guarantee that you'll be asking yourself these exact questions. Why? Because it's complicated. Back then the formula for the romantic genre wasn't so clear cut. It wasn't always a happy ending and the characters weren't always likeable. I recall a "romantic comedy" involving Joan Crawford as a character with a slutty fiancé who cheats on her at every opportunity but once she threatens to do the same it's suddenly "unfair". It certainly didn't feel romantic to me, it just left a bad taste in my mouth. So again, you can see how abstract this genre is; as long as love is the central theme, even unrequited bad love fits the label.


Romance in Come Back Little Sheba

This is a film I highly recommend you watch. If you've seen What's Eating Virginia Wolf, it's a lot like that only a thousand times better. I'm biased though. I hated Elizabeth Taylor's performance in that movie. It was a horrid grating thing that droned on for too long and was too vulgar and symbolic. Come Back Little Sheba - based on a play - tackles very similar subject matter, only there's far less in-your-face metaphorical shit. The characters in this film aren't super likable, they aren't meant to be, so arm yourself with that knowledge prior to watching the movie.

The film centers around a dysfunctional relationship shared between a married couple, Doc, a recovering alcoholic who works as a chiropractor, and Lola, a layabout "housewife" who neglects her marital duties. The couple invites a young art student, Marie, to rent a room from them, which puts added stress onto their already strained marriage. As the film progresses both Doc and Lola see reflections of themselves through Marie, as Marie attends school and hangs out with this dickbag named Turk. Where Lola reminisces about her glory days of being beautiful and in love, Doc is reminded of all the negative aspects of their youth together.

SPOILERS! If you wish to partake in the film club discussion, please stop here and watch a copy of the movie.

This is a really sad story and I'm sure most of us know people like Lola and Doc. When Lola and Doc were courting, Doc pressured naive Lola into having sex with him, she gets knocked up, they get hitched, he drops out of medical school, she's disowned by her father, the baby dies somehow, Doc blows his inheritance on booze, and Lola's only spark of happiness, the little dog Sheba, has run away. That is a lot of depressing crap. It's a reflection of the times when premarital sex was taboo. Their marriage is a marriage of inconvenience, not based on love but because Doc felt it was his duty to take care of Lola. And of course what would society think of an unwed mother? Heaven forbid...

The film culminates in a breakdown of the marriage between Doc and Lola. Marie's presence exacerbates a rift that had already existed in the relationship. Doc, who had successfully reached a full year of recovery from alcoholism, finally regresses into his addiction when he believes he witnesses Marie throwing her future away for sex. This is where the film strays from the contemporary romance formula; Doc is a violent man when he's inebriated and all that pent up resentment toward Lola is unleashed in murderous rage as he chases her around the house with a knife calling her a fat slut. It's only when the neighbors and the AA people come to her rescue that Doc is dragged away to some kind of mental hospital where he is committed for a few days.

Lola is left at home alone to reflect on the event. She attempts to reach out to her parents for support but after all these years (the couple appears to be in their 50's) Lola is still unwelcomed by her father. Afterwards, Lola speaks of a dream that's heavily laden in symbolism, it sparks a revelation and encourages her to change her ways. I couldn't find a transcript of the dream, but in general it speaks of the couple's history together and a need for Lola to pick up and move on with her life. She does this by cleaning up her act, getting up before noon, making Doc breakfast and redecorating the house. Her transition into her role as the perfect housewife is possibly a way for her to take care of Doc as opposed to simply co-habitating with him.

If you can look past the sexism of expecting all women to be subservient housewives... the "romance" in this story seems to lie in Doc and Lola's ability to overcome the past and live for the future together. During his stay at the hospital Doc calls out for his "pretty Lola", and upon his return he breaks down begging for forgiveness, to which Lola says she could "never leave him". There is an apparent need for one another, but is that considered love? Or is this simply co-dependency? They're both vulnerable in their own ways. Doc is susceptible to relapsing into his addiction, and poor Lola, nobody seems to enjoy her company for no other reason than that she's not a good enough housewife or she's too nosy. It's like they're so dysfunctional they couldn't possibly be with anybody else! I knew a couple like that, they were so scared of being alone that they ended up staying with each other... but is that really love?

I think the most awkward part about this film is that it hits on a personal level for me. I can't say with certainty that my paternal grandmother was pregnant before she was married. I don't pry but I would honestly not be surprised if that were true. The only thing I do know is that they were married in England, and then he went off to Canada, leaving her with my father in her belly. There were long periods where she heard nothing from him, no money or anything, then suddenly he tells her she's going to Canada. I can't remember if he came back to see her, or what. I do remember her saying when she arrived that she was completely alone and had to call up friends - who just by chance, happened to live in that region of Ontario. My nan would've otherwise been stranded, and lord does the thought of that piss me off. He literally plucked her out of England, with no regards to how she felt about it, and dropped her in a new and foreign place, pregnant, with little to no support system. He went off somewhere, we're all pretty sure to cheat on her. It's just awful to think about. You don't want to believe these things but I've heard it plenty of times now. They had a hard relationship. They were always fighting, lots of yelling, they did not seem to get along. They put up a front around the kids but it seldomly lasted. I think we all knew my grandfather struggled with alcoholism. I'm pretty sure it's what killed him in the end. Now, my nan lives alone and her mental health is slowly deteriorating. In a way she misses him but I can never be sure if that's love, ya know? I don't know if she loved him. It's not my place to ask. But as an outsider looking in, I don't think she loved him romantically. Maybe for a small time, but that was it. She just dealt with him. And this is why Come Back Little Sheba is a tough pill for me to swallow, not only because of the sexist stuff but because it's hard enough for me to imagine that my own nan was romantically in love with this person who treated her like shit and made her pay for everything, while he went off and blew his own money on booze. I know her story is only vaguely similar to this film, but there's enough there for me to think no, Doc and Lola aren't in love, they're just putting up with each other.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between Lola and Doc? Is this love or something else entirely? What do you think about the ending?

Next Time:

I will discuss the film Autumn Leaves (1956),  a movie starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson which focusses on the blossoming love between a young soldier and mature typist.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Coming Soon...

New to Shop!

First I'd like to thank all who participated in the I love the 50's sales event. It was a great success. I'm excited to announce that Perfectly Antiquated will be expanding to include vintage garments for a limited time only! This is a trial run, if it garners enough attention/sales then I might move into selling some vintage repro as well. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for some groovy new additions!

Happy Sewing ♥