The 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.
I had been eagerly looking forward to reading Jeanine Basinger's I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies ever since Raquel first wrote about it, because it addresses a topic, the way marriages are depicted in movies, that I had observed on my own, however indirectly.
I first started seriously watching classic films in the mid-90s, when I worked in video retail, so I can't say I grew up immersed in their images and ideas of relationships in general, and marriage in particular. Still, I had absorbed enough pop culture to formulate my own ideas about romance, and movies were part of that.
At one point in my life I believed I would get married. I've written here before about my childhood sweetheart and how we thought we would get married one day, after high school. I know I believed it would happen. I loved her, but I pushed her away... and I've been paying for it ever since.
So when I first started watching old movies about love and marriage, it was easy to fall for them, to believe that things could work out in real life like they did in front of the camera. Every now and then I'd see a movie that would have that effect on me. Not just the old stuff, but the newer stuff too. Movies have that power.
In watching more old movies in recent years, I found what seemed like mixed messages. Here's what I wrote, for example, about the Jack Lemmon comedy How to Murder Your Wife:
...The movie goes out of its way to sell us the idea that marriage in general is not all it's cracked up to be, framing this notion within the context of the eternal battle of the sexes. Well, if marriage ain't so great, then why do we as a society place so much value on it? Can it really be as simple as women hoodwinking men into it? God knows we men go to absurd lengths to impress women, but Murder would have you believe that we men value our freedom even more. Nothing in the film addresses this paradox head-on; it prefers to dance around the issue, or side-step it altogether. We never see Stanley struggle with his feelings for the Italian girl he marries. We never see him doubt his commitment to the bachelor life, which he upholds so stridently.
Basinger cites numerous examples throughout American film history, with a huge emphasis on the Golden Age of Hollywood (I'd estimate about 80%), of how certain notions of marriage have evolved depending on certain circumstances, such as outside events like World War 2, cultural changes like the sexual revolution, and more. I Do reads very much like an alternate history of American film, and as a result, familiar films suddenly seem fresh.
It's also worth mentioning that Basinger touches upon gay marriage late in the book, as well as non-romantic, same-sex relationships in the movies that function almost like a marriage. She cites Laurel & Hardy as an example.
I Do is written for the casual film fan, as opposed to the hard-core cinephile or academic, so it would make a nice gift for anyone with a moderate interest not only in movies, but media in general and its effect on society - or, indeed, anyone who's ever wondered why relationships work the way they do. This is one of the best film books I've read in quite awhile. It's well worth checking out.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star