Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties
seen on TV @ TCM

I've never thought of the drinking of alcohol as a vice. I remember my father letting me have a sip of his beer as a kid, every once in awhile. I thought it made me feel grown-up. (I think he drank Michelob, but I don't recall for sure.) My beer of choice is Heineken (sorry, Frank Booth), but I usually only drink on special occasions. I'm not a prude, I'm just not that into beer, which also means I'm not a regular bar-goer. Hand me a beer, though, I won't turn it down (especially after spending twenty hours on a train).

Same goes for wine and other spirits. When I traveled to Barcelona for a summer, I was only 21 and still learning about the rest of the world, so it took me a bit by surprise when I saw how commonly people over there drink wine. Either my first or my second night there, I tried some of the local vino. I can't say with any authority whether it was good or not because I was unused to the taste of wine in general. Suffice it to say it wasn't to my liking. I stuck to Coke and bottled water for the remainder of the vacation. And of course, I've had champagne on New Year's Eve, but that tastes even weirder.

I'm certain I've never been falling down drunk - and no, it's not a matter of "if I have been, I wouldn't remember," either. It takes longer for someone as big and tall as I am to get drunk. I have a few friends who are recovering alcoholics. Once, I was at a comics convention and I was crashing with one of those friends. We had come from a party in the hotel and were walking across the parking lot to her car. I was finishing off a beer. As we got into her car, she said to me, "Please don't drink that in my place," and I was quickly reminded that she was, indeed, still clean and sober. I hurriedly drained the bottle dry and stuffed it into my backpack, out of sight.

In thinking about Prohibition, I can't help but be reminded of the so-called "war" on drugs. Without getting into a big political debate, let me just say that curtailing vice through legislation seems to create more problems than it solves. I think the most you can do is make it harder for people to engage in, as opposed to eliminating it altogether. Here in New York, laws have recently been passed banning smoking not only from bars, but also from parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas. I still see people lighting up, though - and cigarettes haven't gotten any cheaper either.

The Roaring Twenties plays kinda like a documentary in that the narrative is sprinkled with voice-over montages describing what Prohibition was like in the 1920s, how people profited from the liquor bootlegging business, and how the law combated it. I'm sure this movie was meant to be as much cautionary tale as entertainment; after all, Prohibition was still within recent memory. It's unsubtle, yet interesting to watch, and doesn't detract much from the main narrative.

Jimmy Cagney's in fine form, as always. I really felt for his character as he goes through his rise and fall. It was odd at first to see Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role, but there's no mistaking his presence - and he shares some great scenes with Cagney.

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